Stop having a love affair with the couch….ouch!!!

Palmer June 2016

One of the best things about living in a large state that is sparsely populated is that you get to meet some of the most interesting people, and see some amazing sights. This is a photo of a small town in Alaska by the name of Palmer. This was taken facing east, from the Pavilion in their downtown area. Downtown area. Full of traffic. Yeah, right! This is still something I am getting used to – a different definition of “downtown.” The wind was blowing (typical for that area) and we were attending their Master Gardener’s Annual Spring Plant Sale. My hubby and I had a date for the afternoon. We had so much fun talking to the gardeners and learning about what plants grow in what zones (how different it is from our last home in WA state, or before that in sunny SoCal).  One character was named Rex and he commented that his wife is the brains, he just lifts heavy stuff! I liked him immediately and after talking to him, we got two red raspberries for our yard, and one for our son’s yard. I love fresh berries!  We also purchased an Alaskan Tundra Honeyberry plant. If you love blueberries, you will love honeyberries!

Alaskan Tundra Honey Berry Plant

It is so interesting to learn new ways of doing old things, like planting, and harvesting. It is also great to stretch your taste buds now and then. I have come to adore Halibut. I can honestly say that cold water fish are a delicacy I had never really known, until I sampled fresh, Alaskan fish. I have developed a love of Halibut, even though I find the fish themselves to be gross. And it does not help they are bottom-feeders and have both eyes on one side of their heads. Ugh. But man oh man, when my daughter-in-law batters and fries that with some broccoli and cauliflower (also battered and fried) with her home-made honey-mustard sauce (I don’t like honey mustard anything, but I adore her sauce) and we sit down to feast with a locally brewed craft beer, it doesn’t get much better than that! Alaskan summers at their best! Thank goodness for fishing charters because at $30/lb in the stores, you don’t want to waste a morsel!

Fried Halibut

Another of my favorite things about summers in Alaska is the wildlife and the fishing (my hubby could fish daily, if he could figure out how to make it work!!! Ha-Ha). We have had black bears stroll down our block; we’ve already seen a mamma moose have a calf at the local Lowe’s parking lot; and the long days of sunshine. The wildlife, yes, is amazing, but so are the many gorgeous views of green everywhere! There is simply no better place, in my mind, than Alaska in the summertime. It is stunning. Flowers and wild berries, trees of so many shades of green. And if you have a hankering for water, well, we have over 1 million lakes! There is water everywhere! We live across the street from a creek and less than a mile from a river, and less than 5 miles from two lakes. The area below is less than 10 minutes from my house.

Eagle River Nature Center

I can get in my car and drive 10 minutes, and just 10 miles, up the road and gaze at this. I am blessed beyond my wildest dreams to call this place home. And I readily share it. This year, we are expecting quite a few guests, some of whom will be back-to-back. The furniture stores seriously have these sales around Memorial Day where they promote “guest sleeping options” with sales on blow-up mattresses, futons, fold-out couches, Murphy beds, bunk beds…you name it. So many people have Alaska on their bucket list and I am more than happy to show them around our beautiful state. Below is a photo of the local Reindeer Farm. You can go there and pet them, feed them, and look at all the babies. It is such fun! I firmly believe everyone should visit here at least once in their lifetimes. You will not regret it. Promise!

Reindeer Farm.2016

There are upsides to a small community; there are downsides. This state is the largest in the union (sorry Texas) and has one of the smallest populations. We are rated 47th in population, while being #1 in size. And that is good, but also hard. We have hamlets (villages) of people across the state, but many are accessible only by plane or boat. My son recently worked on an island for two weeks, accessible by boat or plane. They flew in, but their food/supplies had to be barged in. The island is inhabited by seagulls, sea lions, and puffins. No people. That is not uncommon in a state like Alaska. The fact of the matter is that it is a hard place to live in. It is nothing like the home we had in WA – on the 14th green of a golf course. In CA, we lived in a variety of places, even on farms. But there was no wild. But it was hard to find true wilderness in such a heavily populated state. There was no real weather danger, either. There were stores 10 minutes away. We have stores within 10 minutes here as well, but oftentimes the weather is too severe to get to them. This life is not for everyone. I get that. I still love it.

monkimage

The same thing goes for how we choose to worship. My daughter-in-law described it to a neighbor by saying that we preferred a more “European” sort of Church. I guess that is true. But it is a little more than that. We love our Melkite faith. It is a different expression of Christianity. It is a much smaller community than say Roman Catholic or Pentecostal Christians. We are fewer in number and the form of worship is so very old and has not changed, nor adapted to more modern ideas of worship, making it as not well spread or known as others. (It is also historically an Arabic Church, from the Middle East). But the essence of it, and the root of it, is rich and full of our beloved Scriptures. In the early years of the Church, only the Holy Men of the Church could even read. To read was not something the common man could do. And that is one of the reasons the Icons in the Church became integral to people’s faith. They told stories of scenes from the Bible, and shared the lives of the Saints who went before us. And I love to share it with others. We have icons all over our home, and at times, it makes people uncomfortable because it is so different. It is like some of the road blocks I experience when sharing Essential Oils with people. They smell good, yes they do. However, their origins are ancient and the use of them is older than recorded history. But it makes some people uncomfortable, because it is different and people think it is a fad, or the latest thing. And it requires you to think differently about common practices in our homes and in our lives.

young-living-eos

When you have a treasure, you want to hoard it. Protect it. Savor it. Like Rumplestiltskin and his golden thread. But there comes a time when you have to open the doors and share. There are so many instances when the small communities we all belong to become warped and sick, and doors need to be opened, the air refreshed and new blood needs to be allowed in. And then there are times when you need to move on, to experience a new treasure; opening your minds, hearts, and souls to something that is “other” to your norm. Like making a bucket list of places to see. And for me, I am wanting to share. My home, my faith, my oils, my life. Is it scary to share? It is!

dog on sofa closeup_26205

I’ve been challenged lately to stop having a love affair with my couch. Now, realistically, I’m not in love with my couch. It’s okay, but not my dream couch. But I love being at home. I do. I have been a stay-at-home mom for most of my 31+ years of marriage. I have also homeschooled all our kids (our oldest son is 30). I am at home a lot. And I like it there. I got comfortable being at home. I am, by nature, gregarious. But as I have aged and been at home, I have discovered I like being alone a lot, too. More and more I enjoy the quiet of living in a more rural environment with the sounds of the winds in the trees all I can hear. Or being inside on a blustery, and very snowy day, with just the crackling of our wood stove to listen to. And to share what I want to share with others, well, that means I have to leave my house. I have to operate outside of my comfort zone. I also have to step outside of the small community I have developed for myself and stretch my social skills muscles. And it makes me uncomfortable…

get uncomfortable

There are groups that I need to get away from and out of, and that is also taxing. I am developing new contacts and learning to turn on those social muscles more. But I have to tell you, living where I do, it is sooooooooo easy to become isolated. So easy to see no one except my family on a daily basis. However, there is so much I want to share with others. I want to share this state with friends who have never ventured this far. I want to share my faith with those who have questions, or perhaps do not understand my Byzantine mindset. We are growing our vegetables from seeds in a raised bed garden! I would love to share that journey with people. And I very much want to share my healthier lifestyle since I have discovered Essential Oils and the many products I use, based on Essential Oils and the science behind them. I live pretty much a chemical-free life in what I use to clean my home, my dishes, my clothing, my teeth, my face, my body, my hair…all because of Essential Oils. Why would I not want to share all of this? Because it makes both me, and the person I am sharing it with, uncomfortable. Look, I don’t want to make money off anyone. I truly do not. So for the oils part, I just want to share how it has impacted my life for the better and how I have incorporated them into every aspect of my life. As for my faith, that, too, makes many people uncomfortable. I do not want to take your faith from you, nor do I expect you to “come over” to my way of thinking. It is just fun to share information and history and styles of worship. It’s fun to share new ways of doing old things…even eating freshly grown vegetables out of your own garden. The lotion you use – I make my own, using Essential Oils! Would you like to learn how? It’s time…I need to start…

comfort zone

Would you care to join me?

 

 

 

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“We give thanks to You, invisible King..”

 

Food Thanksgiving

We give thanks to You, invisible King. By Your infinite power You created all things and by Your great mercy You brought everything from nothing into being. Master, look down from heaven upon those who have bowed their heads before You; they have bowed not before flesh and blood but before You the awesome God. Therefore, Master, guide the course of our life for our benefit according to the need of each of us. Sail with those who sail; travel with those who travel; and heal the sick, Physician of our souls and bodies. By the grace, mercy, and love for us of Your only begotten Son, with whom You are blessed, together with Your all holy, good, and life giving Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.” (Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom)

This week is hectic. It’s Thanksgiving here in the USA. So many ways to celebrate; so many ways to give Thanks. Each time we attend Divine Liturgy, we continually beseech God for mercy, and we constantly give thanks, “to You, invisible King.” This holiday season is one where tensions fly with family members and friends, alike. Everyone has a plan in their head of what the “Holidays” are supposed to be. For whatever reason, they ALWAYS fall short. Why is that? I remember a conversation between two siblings, wherein they were recalling incidents in their youth. One of them remarked, “Were we even raised in the same family?” It was because their memories were vastly different of the same events. And I know that is what happens each year. We have fond recollections from our youth, but they are quite often not what truly occurred. We laugh and laugh as our boys retell certain instances in their lives, because to the mind of a child, it happened a particular way. But, we, who experienced it as adults, have a far different recollection.

kidsthanksgiving

Hosting the holidays has been stressing me out. It’s because I have a very tiny house and there will be a lot of grown-ups trying to cram into it. I do mean a tiny house, with a one-butt kitchen. (If you have one, you know what I mean). There are other reasons, too. Like trying to live up the expectations of a family feast for my kids, grandkids, and extended family members. We also have many, many subjects that will naturally be taboo at our table. (A varied belief system, political system, and even agnostic/atheistic tendancies). There will be football! Ha-Ha! But even that can be heated (we all like different teams). The food is coming in from a variety of people, so all I have to worry about is the turkey (they don’t stress me out – just a big chicken), stuffing, cranberry sauce, and sweet potatoes. Should be simple. We will have far more food than we can eat but hopefully everyone can taste something they like. My kids have already said that since they are now adults, I can’t make them eat what they don’t want to eat. So if all they eat is stuffing, gravy, rolls, and pie, washing it all down with a beer, I need to deal with it. Ha-Ha.  Well, okay then.

I am missing the days of attending Divine Liturgy and feeding the homeless, as we did in previous years. Our current parish is hosting a meal after the Divine Liturgy and I will miss it this year; perhaps next year we can hop from place to place, enjoying the company of a variety of family and friends. Perhaps sharing our previous experiences in helping the less fortunate will be something I can share around the table, maybe even inspiring an openness to giving to others. Who knows, maybe next year our family (extended as it is) will help to feed the homeless? One can always hope. One particularly happy Thanksgiving was shared with friends in Washington State a few years ago. My god daughter flew up for the weekend and we went to a friend’s house. They had invited a lot of disparate individuals and their table conversation was incredible. We had such a wonderful time. It was nothing like we had experienced in the past and to this day, it is one of my favorite holiday memories.

Hand held table

Thanksgiving, or Turkey Day as I like to call it, is a peculiar holiday to America – and I like the idea of it. But with all the political correctness going on, we don’t really focus on the Pilgrims being grateful for a harvest helped by their interaction with the native peoples, and with them sharing their bounty. We instead are focusing on our own small families (in perspective) and on what time the stores are having their “Black Friday” shopping hours! People are boycotting lists of stores who are opening on Thanksgiving itself, and many who are already set up for Christmas. Don’t get me wrong, Christmas is my second favorite holiday. For most of my life, it was my favorite holiday (I have been converted to Pascha. I adore the whole environment of Lent and Easter, especially learning all the new traditions here). In recent years, it seems like more and more that the marketing world leads us from Labor Day in September, right through to Thanksgiving and Christmas – all at once. The ads and the deals; retailers trying to get your money. It is taking away from the “thankfulness” of the season. I wish we could return to simpler, quieter, and slower days and years. We just seem to be rushing through all our days lately. Perhaps it is because I am getting older and I notice it more. And I truly wish we could get over this attachment to all the “stuff” we need to buy. Remember the old saying, “You can’t take it with you?” Seems so appropriate. We should stop and be content, be grateful for what we do have.

But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.…” (1Tim 7:6-8)

My prayer for my family and friends is a grateful heart and spirit. Silence, peace, and loving kindness to everyone. Being sated by what we already have and being able to recognize our wealth – in things, yes, but in our family, friends, faith, country. Enjoying those around us. Feeling the blessings God has laid before us in our lives. God is good and He knows what is best for us. Hosting Turkey Day is good for me. It lets me work on my “Martha” and learn to be more “Mary.” God is working in me, even in the week of “Thanksgiving,” as I am learning to redefine my essence of “family” and being grateful for those who darken my doorstep and gladden my table.

11122015_DawnCamp_ThanksgivingThankful

From a wonderful site, “(In)courage ~ Home for the Hearts of Women” and an article entitled, ” A More Mary, Less Martha Thanksgiving”  by Dawn Camp, came the following WONDERFUL advice:

If you’re an anxious holiday host, I hope these thoughts help you, too:

Don’t experiment with new cooking methods or recipes on crucial dishes unless you have a backup plan. Delegate, delegate, delegate: ask other guests to bring bread, sides, or desserts. More Mary, less Martha: spend more time enjoying your guests and less time cleaning; use paper plates! Let your guests help you set the table and get the food ready to serve; they’re thankful you’ve opened your home and want to assist you. Enjoy the people you’re with; you probably don’t see enough of them. Thanksgiving is about being thankful; make it the focus of your holiday.”

I plan to take her advice to heart. I am about to sojourn to the store with my youngest son. I plan to get paper plates and lots of napkins, even plastic silverware and cups. I want this to be an easy Thanksgiving; a joyful and thankful day. And I hope by simplifying things, we can enjoy one another more (and I will even help myself destress a little bit) and truly be in the mindset to give Thanks.


HappyThanksgiving

“What do we do with it?”

IMG_5362We had the most wonderful time yesterday.  We have friends who we have known since we were all much younger and their eldest son was married yesterday. Boy, what a great wedding.  The thing that set it apart was the simplistic sincerity in each detail.  There were few of us (about 50 or 60) in a large parish church that was not overly decorated and the decorations they did use were all hand-made.  The clothes worn by the attendants were simple and tasteful (the girls wore cowboy boots, as did the bride) and the ceremony was simple, the readings perfect for them, and the singing was wonderful (the sister of the groom did a phenomenal job!).  Father’s homily was really good and you could tell he spent some time with the couple. We laughed with his stories and we just felt blessed to be there. The light coming in through the casement windows cast a surreal look over it all and I just sat there and smiled; I couldn’t help myself!

IMG_5358It is fun to see our friend’s children grow up and become husbands and wives, and eventually, parents. It was another example of the continuity of life.  A couple found each other on their first day of college and 5 years later, they are married.  They knew from that first day and never wavered in their love or commitment to one another. I am such a sap for a good love story!

This couple gave me confidence in our young people! They chose to keep things very simple and they made so much of what they shared with us. The most amazing was their flowers – all made of paper! They had to let me see them up close to believe they were paper!  So wonderful.  They also took the time to learn to dance and their first dance had us all in tears.  It was just such a beautiful way for them to start their marriage. One of the groom’s brothers played his Ukelele and serenaded his brother and mother for their dance – not a dry eye in the place! (Somewhere Over the Rainbow!! The same version as in the movie, 50 First Dates!).  Even their centerpieces were crafted by the family and it helped to make it so personal and tight – like a community of families had come together to worship and celebrate together. It felt like a glimpse into another realm.

1069393_737670656253509_1832234864_n“Acquire the Spirit of Peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved!”                    St. Seraphim of Sarov.

And for me, it just became so clear.  We were surrounded by all these people who had one thought – to support and love this couple who were starting out together.  They all shared it with one mind; it was almost palatable.   For the record, there were quite a few people I had never met before, most of whom had come to our area specifically for the wedding.  So these people came together, as one, without knowing each other, but with one heart and one goal in mind – this young couple. It shows just how much we can affect those around us.  I love that quote above.  Imagine if we all acquired this sense of deep-seated peace, where we know, to our marrow, that regardless of our behavior, regardless of our doubts, regardless of our words or action, God’s got our back? Or as Mark Hart the Bible Geek likes to say, “God’s got this”!!!

Fr. Stephen Freeman said, “Each of us (certainly in our Baptism and Chrismation) have been given the grace of God for our salvation – that is to bring forth the fruit of the Spirit and to conform us to the image of God in Christ. The question is what do we do with it?”  And in his article, “What St. Seraphim Meant,” he goes on to quote the Saint again:

You cannot be too gentle, too kind. Shun even to appear harsh in your treatment of each other. Joy, radiant joy, streams from the face of him who gives and kindles joy in the heart of him who receives.”

He tells us that we simply cannot be too kind.  It is a stark reminder that the world around us is NOT a kind place.  Yesterday we shared a beautiful day with people all around us that were sincerely joyous. There were guests present who had flown in from as far away as New York.  They could not get over the beauty of the place in which we live.  They were overwhelmed by what we see, and are privileged to see, everyday. They kept rushing outside to take photos as the sun made its play on the snow and trees.  As the sun began to set, the colors and light on the mountains were overwhelmingly beautiful. The environment made their joy even greater! Everyone in that small lodge was there, laughing, feasting, dancing, and celebrating. You could not help but smile at people you did not even know.  I wanted, so much, to bottle that up and share it with everyone I see, day after day, after day.

1972401_737024466318128_1850487592_nAs Fr. Stephen said, we are all given this grace, but “what do we do with it?” Yesterday I was shown that we share it.  We certainly do not hide our light under a bushel basket, but rather we place our light on a candle stand, where it can light the whole room (Matthew 5:15).  And isn’t that part of the Great Command from Christ, A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)?  

Through Grace we are given glimpses into heaven; glimpses into what eternity can, and should be.  One of the readings they chose yesterday, in which love was explained (1Cor13) has this phrase that I treasure, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.” (1Cor 13:12).  This line promises me everything will come, in its time. I have had these moments of complete clarity, but they have been fleeting, coming in spurts, with no regularity to them.  As I progress on this road of salvation, or Theosis, God allows my glimpses to be more clear, regular, and far more enticing. It seems like the more you know, the more you realize what you don’t know, and the more you want to learn.  Our process of salvation occurs over our lifetime.  We struggle, we fall, but we get back up and we keep on trudging forward.  And that is the beauty of this Divine Grace we have been given…we have the strength, the fortitude, and the resolve, to get back up again! We keep growing and learning through God’s Grace acting in us, and on us.  And that same Grace drives us to love more fully, and to want to share this love with those around us.

This Lent is becoming more fortuitous the longer it goes on.  It’s wonderful that God allows such a simple thing like a Thursday-afternoon, sunshine-filled, lovely wedding to become a lesson in my salvation.  And a glimpse into what being a part of the Heavenly Kingdom will be like.  We’ll be laughing, feasting, dancing, and celebrating together, filled with the joy of Christ in our hearts.

Blessed Lent.

Holy Season of Lent

“…an accounting to God…”

Don't compareOne of the most profound things I have learned this past year or so, I learned through reading the book, “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives” by Elder Thaddeus. I know I have quoted him here and have mentioned this pivotal book more than once.  I told some other parishioners about it yesterday.  As Saint Seraphim is quoted as saying, “Acquire a peaceful spirit and thousands around you will be saved.”  We cannot look to externals for verification; we certainly cannot look to the standards of our modern culture to know if we are “okay” or not.  Faith is the manifestation of God living within us.  It is a quiet thing, a personal thing, an internal thing.  It becomes external in how we interact with those around us.  Elder Thaddeus cautions us again and again that how we believe what we believe, determines what happens in our lives and around us.  There is a song by the Beatles (written by John Lennon) that is titled, “Imagine.”  Most of the lyrics annoy me because it is the mantra of a “free” world; but he is alluding to a world free of pretty much every line drawn or every rule…”and no religion, too.”  One of the stanzas says, “…A brotherhood of man…imagine all the people sharing all the world.”  And that stanza stayed with me through the annoyance of the rest of it.  Because it truly is what we are – we are the brotherhood of man.  We are all brothers, through the Son of Man, Who came to save us from our sins.  He Who bore our sins in the stripes on His back, the holes in His scalp, the wound in His side, whilst hanging on the Cross.  But we do not think that way, and consequently, we do not behave that way.  The outcome is the world you see about you.

Elder Thaddeus has taught me that I can win over doubters and non-believers by silently praying for them, and behaving as the believer I purport to be.  Even if I struggle liking a particularly surly person, or one who, for whatever reason, pricks some annoying portion of my soul, I can still pray for them and show them love, asking God to step in for my lacking, for God loves perfectly.  We cannot look to another Christian for the level of behavior we are supposed to have for our brother; man is forever and always fallible.  It is the gift of free will.  We trip over that every time.

Abba IsaiasRecently, there have been disparate news items that have gelled for me into a cohesive unit of sorts.  We have security leaks; we have our government spying on us; there have been articles in many Protestant circles decrying our overt sense of patriotism and lamenting the lack of fervor in our faith-life; and now we have the possibility of involvement in another war in the Middle East.  But all of these things are harbingers of the shift in our culture.  We have gone from a country of workers who had pride in the products they made; where factory whistles blew the hours in many, many towns.  We had acres and acres of productive farmlands with cottage industries surrounding the farms.  There are now countless factory towns and remote farm towns that lay empty; devoid of workers and families who have fled to the city from the countryside.  But what have they fled to?  Seemingly they went for a better life to be had in these cement jungles.

Children have no idea where milk comes from.  Trust me.  We lived on dairy farms for years and you would not believe how misinformed the local population, people who lived within walking distance of these dairies, were about what happened on a dairy.  We had to block the view from the road so people who drove by could not see a cow giving birth, because when a farmer had to help his cow deliver her calf by yanking it out by its feet, animal rights activists thought it was cruel.  Cruel would be allowing cow and calf to die because she could not deliver it on her own.  School children think milk comes from the store.  Now, this is a silly example in light of the above sentences about governmental spying on our cell phones and emails, but nevertheless, it says something about our culture.  We have such narrow, specialized knowledge that we are missing out on the world.  If a child grows up not even knowing where milk comes from, how can they care about the plight of farmers who own the cows?  Why would they worry over food sources when Costco sells in bulk? These children, instead, have iPads, iPods, iPhones, their own laptops for schoolwork, regularly visit all sorts of social media, and dress in the latest trends.  They have soccer lessons, swim lessons, they attend camps for music and get after school lessons at places like Sylvan Learning Centers (because the schools are failing our children), and with all those resources, still don’t know where milk comes from.  The companies that have sold us all these goods keep tabs of our log on habits, where we view what, how we spend our money. They tie in our financials with our social information.  They gather all the information on us that the government asks them for.  (Note, the corporations were gathering that information for data to sell to their vendors, to improve “point of sale,” so they say). Soon the IRS will be tied into our medical records with Obamacare.  We keep the 10 Commandments on the front of the Supreme Court building, but do not allow prayer in schools or even a basic understanding of the history of the world that led to the Incarnation of the Son of Man.

And all of this has created a chaotic, noisy world.

Our country does not produce much anymore, not even food products.  I was speaking to an engineer from a large aerospace firm who told me that even if we did want to put a man on the moon, we lack the internal knowledge base; we lack the capability to build a spaceship of some sort, and the capacity of creativity or thinkers to create such a thing.  We’ve outsourced it all.  We purchase every single television set from outside the USA.  Not a single light bulb is produced on our soil.  Think about that for a moment.  And all that is planned by the powers that be, in the sense of controlling what is done by whom, for whom.  The money allocated for this or that.  A loaf of bread, a new car, braces on your daughter’s teeth, a gallon of gas – prices are out of our control, as is this economy.  Why?

Where is God in all of this?  He is sitting in the still, quiet of our hearts, waiting for us to call on Him, to acknowledge Him, to act upon the faith that is inside of each of us.  God does not allow us to fall unless we have allowed ourselves to stumble in the first place.  My husband and I are at the lowest point in our 30 years together, financially.  We made decisions we felt were based on God calling us in our lives to live where we are now.  It is a hard thing to do, to sit back and allow the Holy Spirit to truly guide us, to have faith in it, and to rest in the Presence of God in our lives.  Once again I quote Mark Hart the Bible Geek, “God’s got this.”  But God only has it if we ask Him; if we allow our faith in Him to be manifest in each moment of our lives.  If we do that, we influence thousands around us with our love and our peace.  I know it’s a corny example, but if we show one schoolchild where milk comes from, don’t you think that during play period on the schoolyard they will share with every kid who stands still long enough to listen to their story of their day on a dairy farm?!  How much more so with our experience of God?

EphesiansYesterday after Divine Liturgy, during coffee hour, we had an opportunity to chat with various parishioners.  One in particular is what I would call a doomsday prepper.  I am not sure if they have a bunker or not, but if I would hazard a guess, it would be that they do (something not that uncommon up here).  He told us he is done with politics because it is such a mess. He said that he realized it boils down to simply good versus evil.  He fully believes that socialism and a one-world-government (the type of utopia John Lennon sang about in “Imagine”) is well on its way to establishing itself.  He believes we will engage in war on our soil and that the enemies in our world want to wipe out the USA.  He is preparing for nuclear and chemical warfare on our soil. He believes it is evil, manifesting itself in governments and their agencies worldwide. His solution is to act simply, one soul at a time, to share the faith in God and bring about change, one person at a time.  It is that conversation that brought me to the computer today.  Because as I stated above, the disparate things that were brought to my attention all really gel around this idea that “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives” and it is global in its perspective.  Yes, “imagine no countries, nothing to live or die for” is what this utopia of John Lennon’s is like.  The reality is not far from it.  The Protestant author I recently read was lamenting that her fellow church-goers knew more national anthems than they did church hymns.  Perhaps that is so and that is sort of frightening on its own.  They believe, she thinks, that being American supersedes being a Christian.  Which is backward.  I agree…our faith should imbue all of who we are and what we do.  The fact that it does not has gotten us to where we are.

Elder AM

I believe that each of us needs to draw closer to that sweet spot we have inside of us, that special place where our faith in God resides.  The Orthodox call it the nous, and believe we hold God close to our heart, in a place devoted solely to Him.  We need to acknowledge the Real Presence in each of us and share with one soul at a time; that person who we meet moment to moment in our lives.  Trite as it sounds, the grocery store clerk, the postman, the hair stylist, bank teller, fellow parishioner, our children, our parents, our friends….they all hunger for the Word of God, the touch of faith, in their lives.  If we truly believe “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives,” just imagine the world we could have and I do not believe it looks anything like where we are now.

“..struggling towards…”

My house is a mess, a chaotic mess.  We are moving in a couple of weeks and I am seriously purging and packing.  I opened it up to our homeschool group online and a young woman, just starting out, came by to look at our things.  When I say my house is chaotic, you have to watch where you walk.  There are plastic crates stacked in the living room; my dining room is my packing table.  There are items from my cupboards in the kitchen all over the countertops.  There are piles of “things to keep” and “things to get rid of,” as well as piles of “just throw away.” I can barely function.  And this sweet young lady, carrying her 1-year-old boy, says nothing of the mess.  We walk into the kitchen so she can peruse the dishware and her first comment to me was, “Oh, I love your icons.”  And I looked over at our mantle across in the family room area, the only place left that has not felt the packing chaos, and it was a place of serenity.  There is the Blessed Theotokos, holding the Christ Child, looking down at us. There is Christ, Pantocrator, gently showing us his book of Scriptures and gently beckoning us closer; the many saints and Holy Day icons…we have at least 25 icons on our mantle.

Mantle with icons I realized that this little nest of Our Lord, the Theotokos, the Saints…they are a bastion of sanity in life.  I was drawn to just look at them, standing there in the midst of packing crates and packing paper, tape, and kitchen stuff!  And I sighed deeply and just smiled.  “ And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:4)  I smiled because I was helping someone, and witnessing my faith at the same time; it felt wonderful.  My husband has been worried that I was being forced to leave so many “things” behind and that, after 30 years, we would be moving with less than I brought to this marriage.  I actually smiled and laughed at that, because I am finally at the point in life where I don’t want the stuff.  I don’t want to have to worry about things because I want to spend my time with my family, not cleaning and dusting a big house full of things.  I want small, simple, and humble…freedom from the burden of things.  Christ exhorts us in Matthew 6:19-21: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal,  but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” And I really feel like I am getting there, closer to where I want my heart to be – surrounded by my family.

As I was going through things today, I was contemplating a dish and realized I didn’t actually need it but that I liked it; I also realized that God is asking me to give it up.  I looked at the icons and realized the Heavenly Hosts are around us all the time.  They are watching us, interceding for us, and praying for us.  They encourage me through the words of others, and through their presence in the Church Triumphant, to make the right choices when faced with decisions.  The greatest gift God gave us is the gift of sharing His life.  We have been made “partakers of the divine nature” (2 PT 1:4) and when we live a life of faith, this relationship is deepened, furthering the process of our divination or theosis.  This movement continues through our life and death and will not be complete until the resurrection of all mankind on the last day.  Then our risen bodies as well as our spirits will share in the resurrection life and partake in glory, “We know we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” (1 Jn 3:2) [God with Us publications, “What Eastern Christians Believe”].  I am certainly not a finished product, but a work in progress.  Today I learned that this process of theosis begun in me is sparked now and then through the words and actions of others.  Just bringing my attention back to the icons on our mantle took the drudgery aspect out of purging, packing, and moving, and brought me back to the reasons we are doing this – a new life. And it was so very easy to put that dish I was contemplating into the “give away” pile.

Russian baptismGod has given me this incredible gift of faith and even though many would find me to be middle-aged, or even old (agh!!), I feel like I am just beginning to live what I believe with no compromise.  I spoke with a man on the phone today who is a devout Catholic, husband, and father who is suffering through a divorce he does not want.  He was lamenting how easy it is for most people to set aside their beliefs and choose the culture over those beliefs.  I agreed with him and tried to offer him some comfort.  But there is not much I can say, other than to agree with him.   It is much easier to accept what we don’t believe, when their is societal pressure to do so.  That is witnessed by the divorce rate, abortion rate, unmarried parenthood the norm; so may examples to cite.  And it is a one of the prime motivators in why we are choosing to move.  We are going toward family, but it is also an opportunity to do with less, to live simply, and to become the people we really want to be.  My husband is free to choose a completely different career.  We are also choosing to shape our daily lives in a different way; time is going to be spent enjoying our family and not so focused on working.  We are also going to worship in a more family-oriented way.  God has been giving us chance after chance, and we are taking this one and choosing the path that God is offering us.  A step in faith, to be sure, but it is not out of fear, but with that same joy I felt when I looked up at the icons on our mantle; a joy deeply felt that God is with us, and with the cloud of witnesses there to comfort me.  And I know this is right.

Blessed Seraphim