“Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”

So, I did it again. LOL. I got another tattoo. At my age, with my grandma, crepe-y skin. It hurt. And it bled more than my other one. This one has colors. LOL. But it is still small. It’s on my wrist, just like my other one. I’m a tatted-up grandma. Cracks me up, just to say it, let alone be it!! LOL!  I find it so interesting how people look at you when they see tattoos. I know, because I was like that, too. Immediately judging a book by its very colorful cover. It is such a shallow view of life. Truly, it is. I had one of the best conversations on God, the Crusades, and modern faith with the man who tattooed my first one, a year ago. How people choose to decorate themselves is up to them. Some have different colors of hair, or hairstyles, each time I see them. There are those who pierce themselves (which just looks painful to me!!). Others have long, fake, fingernails in a variety of shades. Women wear all sorts of make-up. Then there is jewelry and clothing, the car you drive, the house you live in, the job you have, the church you go to. It is all adornment of some sort or another. Look at Matthew 6: 25-24 below:

Therefore I say unto you, Be not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than the food, and the body than the raiment? Behold the birds of the heaven, that they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not ye of much more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit unto [a]the measure of his life?  And why are ye anxious concerning raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:  yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God doth so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?  Be not therefore anxious, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?  For after all these things do the Gentiles seek; for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.  But seek ye first his kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.  Be not therefore anxious for the morrow: for the morrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”

The Lord cautions us not to worry about our clothing (or any adornment) or the food on our tables, but rather, be concerned, firstly, about His kingdom and His righteousness. And don’t worry about “the morrow,” because today has all its own evils. My tattoo is an “omage”, if you will, to my family. I got a “Forget-Me-Not” flower surrounded by 4 hearts and a little swirling going on, all the size of about a quarter. The Forget-Me-Not is the state flower of Alaska. It is also the flower for Alzheimer’s and Dementia. Both of my parents suffer from them. Our nuclear family consisted of mom and dad, my brother and me. So I got the 4 hearts for us. As my brother and I were chatting the other day, he said when he and I start going dementia on our families, and people comment on it, we can say, “It’s just normal in our family.” And we laughed. As I got tattooed yesterday, I died a little bit inside. Because that is the truth of it. We are losing our parents and more than likely, our families will lose us, too.

As I woke up this morning and saw this tattoo – after removing the bandage I wore all night – I noticed all the blue. LOL. I am not really a blue person. I tend more to greens and reds, and lately, purple. The swirling and hearts are purple. But wow, that is a lot of blue. There is even yellow in the center. LOL. Yellow. Yeah; not my color. And as I thought about seeing it all the time, I realized that it may make me uncomfortable, but Alzheimer’s and Dementia are not comfortable, at all. When my oldest son got a tattoo of the “crown of thorns” around his bicep, I cringed. It was ugly. His comment to me was, “Well, Mom, the crown of thorns was ugly. It is supposed to be ugly. If Jesus could wear it on His head and live through it, I can wear it on my bicep and remember that sacrifice.” Now, he wants to morph it into some sort of Celtic thing with his Spartan helmet for his unit in the Army. He sacrificed much for our country and he will be incorporating that crown of thorns into it. I get that. But when I first saw that gorgeous young man of mine with an inked arm, I actually cried. Because I had grown that baby in my womb and the Lord and I labored over making the perfect skin…and he inked it. LOL. I was not a happy mama! And now I have one more tattoo than he does! He was having a ball, giving me alleluia for getting a second one last night! The stinker.

We memorialize things in this world, to remind us of important events and feelings. The Islamists get this and they regularly destroy statues and memorials to history, because they want to erase it from our memories. “Out of sight, out of mind.” People in the South are tearing down memorials to the Confederacy. It seems stupid to me. The Confederacy is alive and well in all its descendants, as is all of our shared Christian history. Tearing down a memorial won’t erase those memories. For me, I have tattoos to remind me; to give me comfort. They are not for anyone else. They may assault the senses of others; they may cause others to look at me differently or perceive who I am differently…that is okay. If my new ink bothers you and you cannot see past it to see me, I am sorry. Perhaps we were not meant to be close friends, after all.

And I wept, thinking about how my parents will be forgotten themselves, as they, too, forget. Neither of them wants a gravesite. Neither wants any sort of memorial service, either. Both asked to be cremated. My dad is donating his body to a medical school in Texas and when they are done with it, they return the cremated remains to the family; my mom is donating her brain to the Alzheimer’s Association and once they remove it they will cremate the rest and return it to her family (me). So I will have no memorial to visit for my parents. And if I somehow am lucky enough to be gifted with Alzheimers and/or dementia, when my family sees my tattoos on my wrist, I hope they will remember the struggles my parents had, and I had with them, and be gentle and kind to me. That they will see my tattoo of the Cross of Jerusalem and remember how fervently I loved God and fought for my faith – to keep it and witness it to them. My personal “Crusade,” fought and lost and won, for them and for me. That when they see this little flower all wrinkled upon my body, they will recall I waited until I was 61 years old to get it, and that I got it for my parents and for them, too. So none of us will forget each other, as we wade into the uncertain future.

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“…the kindness I sought…”

Today is one of those days when this saying came springing itself into my mind. Some days, all we can do is pray. Have you ever had the feeling that you are standing next to a damn that is about to give way? Or near a complex set of dominoes someone made into a design, and they are about to all tumble? Or rocks, just starting their landslide, which you know you need to get out of the way from?  I am feeling that pressure more and more as each day passes by. When will it start? When will that little pebble holding the damn have enough pressure to give way, and the wall of water will come raging down the ravine in my life?

This past winter, the state of California saw more water than it has in years. The deserts are gloriously green. The pastures are blooming. But the damns are not doing so well. Apparently, every 100 years or so, California gets an abundance of water. And this was that year, according to some pundits commenting on it. I recall growing up in California and we always had enough water. I have memories of Saturday mornings with the smell of fresh cut lawns, the sounds of mowers in the distance, and the sounds of the sprinklers all popping up and spreading moisture over those hungry, grassy, front yards, coming though open windows – with no screens. Ah, the joy of those mornings. (Until the 70s when we learned about rationing gas, and water. Not sure why they coincided, but they did). And now the damns that have needed upgrading and repair are desperately trying to hold back this “100 years” of water.

I can hardly wait until Spring is well and truly here. I long for these mountain vistas and having our windows open; the smells and sounds of springtime in a mountainous region pouring into our stuffing, winterized houses! And trust me, living where I do, Spring and the joy it brings is a real thing! And it is Holy Week, meaning Easter/Pascha is sneaking right up on us. And in the back of my mind, I struggle with this impending doom; a sense that all the dominoes are about ready to fall.

And so on a day like today, I am trying to surround myself in prayer. Because “I called to the Lord with my mouth; praise was upon my tongue….But God did hear and listened to my voice in prayer. Blessed be God, who did not refuse me the kindness I sought in prayer.” Psalm 66:17-20 And I also read today, “Blessed be the Lord day by day; God, our salvation, who carries us.” Psalm 68:20  I know the Lord holds my heart in His hands. That God has what is best for me always in His heart. I trust God completely. And so to ease this sense of things beginning to happen (that will pick up the pace a tad bit) I cling to these Psalms, and to the Scriptures. Today, I read about the Washing of the Disciples’ Feet in the book of John, Chapter 13, verses 1-17. In this reading, I grasped onto some sentences that I had not noticed before: “Not all of you are clean” and “Amen, Amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master…” and the one that really stood out for me was, “I have given you a model to follow.”

This model is not just one of service to others, which it is mostly used to illustrate. For me, I saw it as a total way of going through life. We truly need to serve others; no slave is greater than his master. But we also need, at least to me, to see this model for more than just Thursday’s service during Holy Week. I need to work on following the model Christ has left for me – in all things. And so when I am stressed and worried over dominoes crashing in my life, or that damn breaking and my life being flooded in so many ways, I must always, always, look to Christ as my model.

Christ accepted, willing, the Cup from His Father. He knew what was coming; the pain, the heartbreak of being betrayed. He willingly accepted His Father’s Will for His life. That is the model He gave us to follow. And so, with the things in my life seeming so insignificant in light of Christ’s sacrifice for me, the very least I can do is to model my life on his example and to accept the Cup offered to me. And God will get me through it. All of it. Because He promised me that He would never leave me, ever.

“To everything there is a season…”

Christmas Ornaments

Well, we did it. We put our tree up. Normally, it’s up on Black Friday. This year, I was feeling sort of bah-hum-bug-ish and did’t feel motivated to decorate. But now, I am glad we did. Sometimes we need to force ourselves to do things we may not want to, and we may even like how things turn out.

Saturday, my husband and I had a date. We went to this “door buster” sale that said it started at 7:00am. I was up and showering at 6:30, while my husband enjoyed some coffee. Off we went, expecting crowds, and me with wet hair, in the snow. We arrived to a pretty much empty lot. I was worried I got the dates wrong, checked my phone and my coupons, but I was right. We entered and remarked to the many employees, who were wearing their ugly Christmas sweaters, that we were lucky no one else arrived early. They had been expecting crowds, too. And for those of you who are men and can relate, my husband was able to relax with so few people around; shopping is not his thing. We try to spend at least one day each Christmas, just the two of us, shopping for the family. I refer to it as our Mr. and Mrs. Claus day. Last year we videod a message for our grandchildren who live out of state, while we shopped. It’s usually a good time and Saturday was no exception. We felt blessed. We had hot coffee, coupons, there were indeed “door buster” sales, and there were no crowds! And the bonus? We were home, unloaded, and sipping more coffee by 10:30am – done with our annual Christmas shopping and watching a huge snow storm!! (Which ended up lasting all of about 1 hour!) Whoot-whoot!

Christmas sales. jpg

It’s nice to set a goal, get moving, and accomplish something. And it’s nice when things sort of come together. I am working at being healthier in my approach to expectations. I know that God expects me to always do my best, especially when it comes to my faith and family. But sometimes my expectations are pretty out of whack with reality. It leads to depression and disappointment. Up here, we have so few hours of daylight during the winter, that depression is a reality. They have “happy lights” they sell at all the local stores. But one of the best things about winter and Christmas and decorating, is the lights. We have this tradition of lighting the inside, as well as the outside, of our homes – and by lighting, I mean a lot of lights!! We try to get the outside up before the first snow/freeze and the interior ones usually stay up until almost Easter or Pascha. And this year we have lots of interior lights, which just makes me smile. Most are mixed colors, some are red, and our tree is all white. So I am glad my family pressed me into decorating. It does feel good.

I am also an avid Christmas song person. My cell phone even has a Christmas ring tone. I love some of the songs that an a cappella group, Pentatonix, does. They have done an amazing job of “Mary, did you know?” If you want a treat, google them! They are worth it. We played Christmas songs off our various iPods and phones while we hung lights and decorated our tree. It was good. To add to the environment, it was snowing like crazy. Perfect!

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One of the most wonderful things about being Byzantine is that through our Vespers and other prayers, as well as our Liturgical songs, we are never left surprised by the holiday or feast day approaching. The Nativity Fast is one of those things that helps us prepare for the Christ Child. I think that sharing this with others make the season so much more alive. We often skip the prep and go straight to the event. But the journey is the most important part. A pastor spoke at a funeral and the gist of what he said was when you see the dates on the death announcement, remember our lives are lived in the dash marks (like 1945-1995). And how do we fill that space? For each holiday, each season, how do we fill our days? My expectations, as I said above, make movement sometimes difficult. We freeze out of fear of doing it wrong. Within the gentle movement of the liturgical year, we are brought forward for each feast. More than likely, we fast prior to the feast. It is the Church’s way of preparing us. We sacrifice our stomach’s demands, the demands of self, and bring our reality into line, focusing on the feast. Like dragging my feet about decorating, I realized I was becoming a reluctant participant in this glorious preparation of the Nativity Feast (aka Christmas Day) because I am worried about doing it wrong. What if I neglect prayers? Proper fasting? What about all the gifts for all our family and friends? When do we see whom? What do I serve for dinner? Who goes to which home, which day/night? So many things to juggle around these high-pressure holidays.

Nativity icon

We are all called … very few come. There are some amazing things about the Nativity of Christ that get lost in all the red and green, lights and tinsel, gifts and cooking. “Today the Virgin is on her way to the cave where she will give birth to the Eternal Word of God in an ineffable manner. Rejoice, therefore, O universe, when you hear this news, and glorify with the angels and the shepherds Him who shall appear as a newborn Babe, being God from all eternity.” (Kontakion of the Preparation). We’re missing the point of all this stress, all this hoopla. And I am as guilty as the next stressed-out parent! Historically, in the quiet of the desert, the Theotokos (Mother of God) was making her way, on a donkey, escorted by Joseph, her espoused husband to the land of Joseph’s birth, Bethlehem. I do not think they were concerned with anything other than finding shelter so She could give birth to the Son of God.

desert.bethlehem

How can I help myself, my friends, my family prepare for the celebration of the Birth of Christ? It is hard when many we are close to do not attend Church, and Christmas is all about Santa Claus, not even St. Nicholas. Some children I am very close to do not even know who Jesus is, let alone that Christmas is when we celebrate His birthday. And I had an “ah-ha” moment. The “ah-ha” was this: keep it simple! For Thanksgiving, I reverted to paper – plates, napkins, tablecloth, utensils, etc. I had people bring dishes to share. I simplified everything and we had a wonderful day. But since that is a secular holiday, how do we infuse Christ into this, a Holy Day, a Feast Day celebration? I am thinking, that in addition to simple, we need to share what we believe. We need to invite people to come to services at our churches with us. We need to send cards that reflect what we believe. Our priest has been talking to us (repeatedly) about Christmas cards. His point was that text messages and emails are nothing but steam, or smoke, or keystrokes. But a card? A card you can hold in your hand? A card with a personal note is like letting someone know you thought of them; that they were important enough for you to spend the time and effort to think of them, and bring them in, with you, to this joyous holiday, to that cave as we share this journey through the desert to Bethlehem.

Christmasdinner

Around our communities, our friends, our families, our tables we should share who we are and what we believe. We need to put our actions where our faith is. Too often we cave to the media’s interpretation of who we are, what our country is like, what Christmas is all about. Schools are telling teachers, parents, and students that they can no longer say “Merry Christmas” but must refrain. No mention even of Santa Claus. There will be no Christmas vacation; it’s now Winter Break. Happy Holidays, so we don’t offend anyone. Instead, let’s be the Christ Child, simple, quiet, unassuming, yet firmly who we are. Let’s invite others to share our faith walk. Let’s simplify Christmas in the gift giving and instead “do” for others. Make dates, have dinners together, park days, hikes. Shovel a neighbor’s driveway; help elderly people by singing Christmas Carols to them. Call old friends. Mend fences that need to be mended. Be present. Be loving. Above all, put self last and other first. Forgive without expectation. Love expecting no love in return. Give until you have nothing left to give. Often, even if we are reluctant to participate, or feel afraid of failing, we need to commit to being a part of this world we live in. But instead of being of the world, be in the world, but be a person of God. Sometimes, in this life, we are the only Jesus people will ever know. I know that I am reconfirming my determination to take deep breaths, reaffirm my determination to love others, and to positively share this faith I proclaim. I am going to be present when the Christ Child comes to us, and I am going to invite everyone to share in His Birthday.

“Today the virgin, gives birth to the incomprehensible One;
and the earth offers a cave to the unapproachable One;
Angels and shepherds glorify Him;
the Wisemen journey with a star;
since for our sakes is born the ETERNAL GOD, as a little Child.”

Christ is Born