My Journey to the Way- Part 5 – Lent

I joined in about 2 weeks late, but I fasted for Lent, giving up dairy and meats.  It was not easy.  My body reacted by making me ravenously hungry. And I can’t say I read every label and completely followed every element, but I did pretty good.  I went into it not knowing really what was the purpose of Lent.  I knew part of it is to identify with Christ in His sufferings. I am still not clear about all of it, but the self-discipline of it, the denial of self, the focusing of our energies of Christ, makes us better followers of God .  I felt that.  I am eager to do it again next year.

Not just the fasting, but also the services. I attended all I could.  It is amazing how the worship services are so saturated in scriptures.  Two of the services were approximately 2 and half hours in length.  We read all of Psalm 119 in one service and several long passages in the gospels in another.  I managed to attend the Monday night Matins of the Bridegroom about the 10 virgins, the Friday night service about Lazarus, the Holy Saturday Matins, and the 11:30 pm service that lasted til 3:30 am.  We went back then for the 1:30 Sunday service.  Quite an exhausting experience, but spiritually refreshing as well.

Father Timothy had walked me through it during my session with him, so I knew some of what to expect.  There were beautiful aspects of it.  I was very moved with the icon of Christ being taken down from the Cross.  We marched around the church like a funeral procession led by the icon of Christ being borne above the heads of 4 men.  They stood in the doorway of the church still holding it high while we passed under the body of Christ and kissed the Word of God as we entered.

Time stood still as we commemorated the death and resurrection of Christ.  We stood with Mary and John there in Jerusalem at His Cross.  We went with Joseph as he brought the body of our Lord to the tomb.  We watched the stone being rolled into place and the guards set.

The lights came on, the  priests wore white, the people rejoiced as they sang “Christ has risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and to those in the tombs bestowing life!” over and over.  Jerusalem shone and Mary was radiant.  We felt all that as that sacred moment in time stood still.

We rejoiced further to realize once again that as Christ called Lazarus’s name and he came forth alive from being in the grave 4 days, so He will call His own by name some day and we will also come forth to live with Him forever.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

The most important event ever to take place was celebrated.

I felt so much closer to the people after that.  I want to be closer still.

There is the matter of confession.

to be continued…

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Touching the Real

5/16/14
It has been at least 2 years, maybe more, since I have been to my daughter’s grave. Today, I felt the need to get in touch with something real, something true. Death is real; death is true. Thirty-four years ago, I said good-bye to a precious 2 year old little girl named Susie. And I cried today as if it was today. As I stooped down and brushed away the few strands of grass that had grown over the flat engraved stone, I wept. I wept because life is bigger than me. Accumulated pain is drowning me. It never gets any better.

Now at 57 years of age, I have more questions than I do answers. Where is the wisdom that is supposed to come with age?

Another cruel stone thrown with a vengeance on my life’s pile of painful stones has made them all come crashing down upon me again. It is a cascade of evil leading to destruction if it has its way, leaving nothing but questions in its path.
I thought if I prayed and lived a clean life, God would honor that. I thought if I was faithful to tithe and serve Him in the church, He would reciprocate. I thought if I put all my heart and soul into being a good parent, learning as much as I could about it, and putting it into practice with prayer, it would reap good things. I depended on His protection for my children. And yet, there was something I did not see that was happening to my children.

There is plenty of blame to be placed, but I blame myself for my blindness. Why did I not see what was happening? Why did I think that staying with their dad was better than leaving him? Why did I think the virtue of having a dad outweighed the detrimental influence of his emotional sickness and the evil in him? Why did the church teach that divorce was wrong across the board? How long will my children continue to pay for my stupidity, for the behavior of their father, and the negligence of the church?

More and more I find that I do not know what is real and what is unreal, what is true and what is not, what is right and what is wrong. The lines between the sacred and the secular have become more and more blurred as time goes on. We live in such an imperfect world that it seems ludicrous to suggest that there can be any values built upon it. If the foundation is wrong, there is no logic to anything rising from it. Anyone can justify and rationalize any behavior or way of thinking by only slightly tweaking the schematic. And who is to say they are wrong? Maybe they are right in their logic. Maybe I am the one who has hang ups.

But you know what? I have to get up out of bed every morning and make myself go to work and survive. Every breath I let out cries to be brought back in, and so I breathe again, wondering when that final breath might be, and how painful it will happen.
Life goes on and life finds a way. I don’t know how. I don’t know what to do with the irreconcilable differences between the holy and the unholy (if I can even tell the difference). Thank God this world is not my home. It is a veritable hell at times. I look for a better country and I seek the fellowship of a God Who loved me so much that He gave His Son to die for me. His Son has been born in me, and that is what keeps me going. Because He lives in me, I can face tomorrow.

In this confusing painful life, I know I have one steady thing on which I can always count and on which can always cling. That one Rock that is faithful, steady, and true. I had to feel something real today, so I knelt beside death. What is more real than death? Death means there is something real and true. Death is something to be reckoned with because it is real. It is going to happen to every one of us. And since death is real, it stands to reason there are other things that might be real. Life is real. Life and death. And Who has the words of eternal life?
And so once again, He is my strong habitation whereunto I continually resort. More than that, He is my Redeemer. No one else can take a bad situation and bring beauty from it. No one else can make beauty from ashes.

I need Him now more than I ever have. I feel the darkness of evil rising up to devour me and my children and grandchildren. I fall in desperation at the foot of His Cross. There is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved. In the cesspool of my sin, blindness, and mistakes, because I am helpless, I have only one recourse: to cry out from my slough of despond for Help.

We are fighting a spiritual battle with the demons of hell and the father of lies and the distorter of truth. I do not know how to fight, but I know I can pray to the One who promised He would hear me when I call.

“Memories…light the corners of my mind.”

I lost my little girl when she was 2 and a half years old.  It devastated me, but it also taught me never to take people for granted.  Even now, when my grown children leave, I assure them that I love them.  It could be the last time I see them.  How precious my parents are to me!  How I wish I could spend more time with my brother and my sisters!  And now there are my precious grandchildren that I miss so much when I am not with them.

I remember vividly when we dropped my oldest son off at college far away.  He walked away from the car after saying good-bye, and I lost it.  He didn’t see it or know it, but I cried for the next two hours.  I lost him forever that day.  Life was never the same, and to this day, I still miss him so much that my heart aches when I think of him.  He was and still is my pride and joy.

Dropping off my daughter at college tore me up as well.  I always felt like she was my own heart walking around outside of me, and when I had to say good-bye to her in less than ideal and possibly unsafe conditions…well…I learned again to let go and trust in God for her safety.  But, a huge hole was left in my life.  Everyday, I miss her.

I am forever grateful that the memories they left behind were wonderful ones.  Danny and I loved to laugh together.  He loved to sing and seek the truth about things.  He still does.  Amie amazed me so many times with her boldness and bravery when I knew that inside she was just a scared little girl.  She let nothing stop her. She was always the leader, the captain of her little army (her brothers and sisters), the risk taker, and the seeker of new adventures.

What precious memories I have to keep me company!  They are like gifts I will have forever.  Forever I will have the memories my little Susie left me when she died, gifts of hugs and kisses, memories of the way she talked and the things she did.

I hope that when I die I will leave good memories to the people I love.  I really hope they don’t remember my bad moments.  I would like them to remember that I was kind, loving, and patient.  I want them to remember that above all I loved God and lived for Him.

After Susie died, her grandparents out of their love for her, latched onto her sister Amie.  We had moved about 3 or 4 hours away at the time, and they would make a point of visiting on Amie’s birthday.  They would take us all out to eat at a pizza place and shower her with gifts.    I remember though, that Amie did not care about the gifts.  She loved being with her grandma and grandpa and ignored the presents.  One birthday, when they finally said good-bye and walked out into the night, Amie cupped her face to the window and watched them drive away until way after she could no longer see them.  Then she walked to the couch, and picked up her stack of boxed presents and carried them around the house until bedtime.

How that incident spoke to me!  Those gifts were all she had left of her grandparents and memories are all I have left of Susie.  But what of the memories I leave?  What kind of presents will my loved ones open after I am gone?  I don’t want to leave gifts that stink of grouchiness, moodiness, anger, selfishness, or neglect.  I don’t want to leave dark miserable gifts of dishonesty, hypocrisy or regrets. When my children and loved ones open the gifts I will leave, I hope they find the beauty of a life filled with God’s grace that spreads to others.  And I hope that the memories of God’s faithfulness to me will carry them through the rest of their lives.  These are the gifts I want to leave with them. These are the memories I want to light their way.