Sunday, December 22, 2013

In a strange spot between the move I want and being stuck here still.

This has been a different Christmas season for me.  I have tended to find Jesus hidden where I least expect him.  I found new meaning in gift giving for this reason.  We hide our great treasure that we've made or bought for a loved one behind a pretty exterior.  We spend hours do wonders to hide our gift (some of us, and some wrap it in a grocery bag.)  Everyone either oohs and ahhs at how pretty it is or wonders either inwardly or sometimes outwardly why it doesn't look so good.  But the treasure is inside-- hidden.  Does the exterior really matter in the long run?  When our loved one receives the gift they don't even remember the outside.  In fact that pretty exterior gets ripped right off the gift and ends up being thrown out.  It is the gift that gets their full attention.

With Jesus sometimes we look at the exterior-- the church, the activities, the hoops we jump through to make us look like Christians/Catholics/Orthodox/Protestants/whatever we are- Jesus followers.  When what we really need to look at and focus on is just Jesus.  Faith without works is dead- yes, but also it isn't works that is going to get us to heaven -or even heaven on earth.  Debate this for a moment.  Think of Mary's words when Saint Gabriel came to her-- "I am the handmaid of the Lord, be it to me as you have said."  She didn't say "Oh well let me help- I'm engaged to this great guy Joseph and he could help me and we could have a baby and make this happen!"  She simply submitted, even though she couldn't explain how all this was going to take place.  She allowed God to work in her and create his son.  He was hidden inside of her for nine months, then they were hidden together in a cave/stable in a little town that you could blink and miss.  When they were threatened with certain death they were hidden in another country.  God took care of it.  It wasn't fun, nor easy.  In fact in reality Mary almost was stoned, then almost divorced, then almost had her Son yanked from her arms and killed.  Key word almost.  God took care of it.

Jesus still is hidden. He hides in our quiet time.  In the church service we only went to because we promised him we would he's waiting.  In the little things that we could blink and miss, but somehow we paid attention he showed up-- unexpectedly.  He's there whispering in our ear as we wrap a gift then place it in yet another box and wrap it again as a joke--  "I am like that gift.  I am your surprise.  Will you receive me for who I am?"  He's there if we will look.  I don't want to miss him.  I want to slow down and help my family find him also.  I want to see his smile as he becomes my daily surprise.  He shows up in the man who opens the door before I get there and smiles saying "Merry Christmas." when I hadn't even given anyone a smile in days.  In that moment I am reminded, and I smile back and give the birthday greeting.  I want to change the life of my family, but in those moments I am reminded it starts with me finding my Savior, then doing my best to reveal him to others.  Maybe his hiding is what's changing me.  Or maybe it's me changing that is making me think to look.  All I know is I want to find him in all that I do.  I don't want to miss him.  I want him more now than at any other time in my life-- and very honest I've always had a craving for God.  Lately though, it is so strong!  He is everything to me, and if I would miss him somehow I don't know how I would even handle that.

It is the same with our planning on moving.

I want to do this his way.  You see I am Eastern Rite Catholic.  My church is four hours away, and for ten years I have traveled to be able to spend time in fellowship because my husband's job is here.  We've tried to move before, but it hasn't worked.  The 'doors' would get slammed in our face.  I have been trying to raise my family to love God, but when your fellowship is so far away that is hard- maybe harder than I first realized it would be.  I wasn't always Byzantine Catholic (another way of saying Eastern Rite Catholic or you can shorten it to just Byz).  I told you a little of my journey in my last post - 'What Christmas is all about to me';postID=6680885258977523207;onPublishedMenu=posts;onClosedMenu=posts;postNum=1;src=postname.  Twelve years ago I was confused.  I was technically protestant and I had been in more denominations than I can count as I searched for the truth and what I was missing.  For three years I studied scripture and history trying to understand what I was hearing God say to me.  Why did I have a problem with every church I was in?  Why did I see all the faults and have to be so stiff backed about having perfect clarity?  Finally I broke down and cried to God to allow me to go back to the church closest to the Acts of the Apostles church.  A church that hadn't been shredded by all the fractures that I saw within all of Christendom. Then we began working on the adoption for my son.  My son in from Bulgaria-- about two hours or a little more from Istanbul (use to be Constantinople-- the capitol of the Byzantine Empire).  At the same time my friend Mary that I told you about in my last post began at a new church.  She had been Byz for about a year or two and part of the Roman Catholic church before that.  She kept telling me about her new church and I could feel God calling.  I could hear him speaking, but I was afraid of being even more different than I already was.  Besides we had just moved because of my husband's job to this new city here in Northeast Iowa.  I had gone to the Greek Orthodox church here a couple times and it was definitely close to where I felt God leading.  I put off going to my friend's church for almost a year until after we knew we were going to adopt Peter.  Then I knew I couldn't put it off any longer. 

I walked inside that Sunday in July of 2003 and I knew I had a problem bigger than any problem I had ever had before.  I had found my church.  That day, without my husband there even, I talked to the priest and began figuring out what I would have to do to become Byzantine Catholic.  The next Sunday I brought my husband to the church, and he didn't feel the way I did.

For another two years we split our Sundays between our Baptist church and my Byzantine church until both of us knew we could not keep having our family church and my church-- or by then Hope, Becca, Peter, and my church.  Megan had decided as had Todd that they were not going to be Catholic- no animosity, just it wasn't something they could do at that time.  So in 2005 we all began going to the Byz church four hours away twice a month-- at least most times.  The problems came--  What do you do when it is snowing?  What do you do when one of your children are sick?  When the friends hosting you overnight can't?  When the wind sends your van sailing into the muddy grassy area in the middle of the interstate?  When you hit a deer-- or rather a deer hits you and skirts around your van while you're going 65 miles per hour at dusk?  When you don't have a working vehicle to drive that far that will hold your family?  When your sister's daughter is baptized Byz and you've made a promise to raise her within the faith then your sister moves out and won't let you even see the niece you made this promise to God and the priest about?  What do you do when your young teenage daughter refuses to go? 

What do you do as you watch your children rejecting their faith simply because they haven't gotten to know it as well as they could have if you were there like most families are?  Does your husband leave his job for a new job to become closer?  Does he request to move to the closest office where he works which will cut your drive down to two hours?  Do you become Orthodox?  Do you become Roman?  These are all questions we have had to try to answer.  Sometimes not having a good answer.  We are not independently wealthy, and we are not entrepreneurs so we are dependent on a fulltime position with a company to support our family.  My husband has been with his company since May of 1998, and so just switching companies isn't really a good answer-- especially now when most places are laying off people and my husband's position is pretty secure.

In late 2007 things began to change rapidly.  My fifteen year old had snuck out of the house to go to a party, and while there had been drugged and raped.  She didn't tell anyone.  I didn't find out until two years later.  By that time she was on drugs, alcohol, smoking, and doing a host of things I cannot imagine to talk about here.  June of 2010 as we found out Megan was pregnant (she was also raped when she went out with friends, but she did tell)-- Three weeks later she found out she was pregnant while Becca stoned and drunk became pregnant with my granddaughter.  We still do not know who her biological father is, and probably never will.  Megan was engaged, but her to-be finally could not handle things and so a few months after my grandson was born they split up which has been hard, but she's a good mother, she works hard, and life is coming together for her and her son. 

All of this changed my perspective-- plus several more things I could write a whole book on by themselves-- I realized where we are is not where we need to be.  That's not to say that I would ever stop being Byz-- I can't it's part of who I am.

The problem is Bec was raped in this neighborhood.  Peter has had trouble with friends in this neighborhood, and we've had trouble with break ins and things being stolen and cars being broken into.  This is a 'good' neighborhood.  This is scary.  Worse yet, without the influence of a community I've seen the influence of the world with my children.  I've seen how having our church so far away has hurt us.  Yet I've also seen when during Easter when we stay for almost a week how attitudes and bad habits change and almost disappear until we get back 'home'.  I feel the tears inside me as we have to leave to come back home.  I don't want to be here.  I want the community twelve years ago I didn't think I needed.  Now I realize you need truth, but you also need not to forsake your fellowship.  I've realized for sometime that where we are is not good for our kids.  Then sometimes I get glimpses of the future- 

This last October I received a flash of days not so far away.  I didn't like what I saw.  There was about two weeks I battled and prayed on what to do.  Why had we stayed here so long really?  Would moving really help?  Did I have any hope of saving my family from any more tragedy?  Around that time I posted --;postID=7441827288169716970;onPublishedMenu=posts;onClosedMenu=posts;postNum=8;src=postnameI

Then God in not so silent words ask me a question.  What would I sacrifice?   If we stayed here I knew the sacrifice was my family.  I saw us all falling and not recovering.  I saw the future ten times worse than it had been since we had lived here.  That was something I could not live with.  So what was I willing to sacrifice?

The answer was whatever I had to, but not my family.  So moving became the only choice.  As this was becoming apparent so many people began to 'see' things, and speak to us.  Funny thing was it was always the same everywhere we turned we were given the same advice.  To move, and in that advice and our prayer we knew where.  Now we know where and we have found a church that will give us community there during the week, and we'll only be a little less than two hours from our church home so we'll be able to be there most Sundays, but now we are waiting on the position.  It should happen.  We've been praying for it.  If this is God he will see us through to do it too.  Yet we're still stuck here, and I am learning-- all be it slowly-- to trust God and to believe-- and to hope even when I can't see it.  I'm learning to find Jesus in the places he hides.  I don't want to be stuck here anymore, but I also don't want to miss Jesus even while being here.  I think I am more scared of missing Jesus than even not moving--  And that's huge because seeing what is to come would scare anyone!  But missing my Savior?  That's absolute destruction.  I've already had enough of that.  Still we are in a weird place between moving and being stuck.  Even here Jesus hides waiting for us to find him, and I think he is even more excited than us when we do.

Monday, December 16, 2013

What Christmas is all about to me-- A little different than most-- or at least some.

Alright.  I'm not going to talk about Christ is the reason for the season-- per say.  Though I do firmly believe that, but let's go a little deeper.  I feel as if there is something I need to expound on. Mary-- You know the Mother of God-- And if you believe Jesus is God in the flesh then that is her title.  But let me talk about her from a different perspective-- no matter  you're faith persuasion.  Unless you just don't believe Jesus is the son of God-- then I can't help you because that is one fact I am sure of-- more than I can put into words.

Even though I was not raised in a religious home we had lots of talks about Jesus.  And I knew the basics as I think most people do.  I had a religious grandma and great aunt who showed me God pretty nicely and I had a dad that though of no affiliation or conviction was the best evidence for God.  At seventeen I decided to pursue God in the form of Christianity.  There was never a thought that God wasn't real.  It was more a choice to bring him fully into my life and choose to follow his ways instead of my very worldly ways.  Very honest my family had taught me well how to be selfish and put my needs first, and a few very abusive relationships had done the rest.  My perspective was skewed to say the best, and at worst I was angry, self destructive, super selfish, and could not see the nose on my face even to save my own life or anyone else's.  So at seventeen-- still not seeing my faults I somehow did see that God was my answer.  But I did not understand at that time what he was my answer to.  Mary was unknown to me.  Catholics were from the devil in my skewed view and Christianity was not real unless you professed to be 'saved'.  The question in my mind even as I searched was-- 'saved' from what?  No one answered that well.  --Saved from the devil?  Even then I knew no one was really.  Saved from the hole in my heart?  That wasn't working.  My hole consumed me and caused me to do things that no good Christian should.  Saved from condemnation?  No one could see my darkness it seemed.  They thought I was so innocent.  Saved from death?  My life was a daily death.  Hence all the answer that could be given me really after consideration didn't hold water.  Yet it took me fifteen years to outrightly ask the question-- and that answer is what took me from being Protestant to Eastern Rite Catholic.  Funny thing is I asked it of a Baptist minister not a Catholic priest.

But at this time I was about to have my first introduction to Mary at a Christian convention.  I was eighteen and half and was really starting to realize I had more problems than I had solutions, and it wasn't getting better. I sat down in a chair in the middle of the room with about a thousand other young adults and listened to a woman talk about Mary's interaction with the Archangel Gabriel, and listened to her response to him for the first time.  'I am the handmaid of the Lord.  Be it to me as you have said.'  I stewed on those words for almost two years.  They were part of my prayers.  I read them again and again in scripture.  I prayed for God to help me be his handmaid.  But my life was spiraling downward and I couldn't seem to turn it back.  I felt alone and by now so unworthy.  More than anger I was full of unresolved grief that I couldn't make better, and no one could help me out of my pit.  Christians talked about how when they came to God all their problems disappeared, but that wasn't what happened with me.  Why did I feel so alone?  Why did I not receive victory like the others I knew?  Why was I so confused?  Why did I keep making the same mistakes over and over and over?  Then the next morning I would ask for forgiveness and mean it just to do it again?  Why did the people in my church see me as so damned pure?  Couldn't they see the puss that oozed like a fountain from the lesions in my soul?  Now I hated Christmas, and wanted to avoid it like the plague.  I saw all the people just overflowing with joy and happiness when I was alone in a crowd with no one I felt like I could share anything with.  But this Christmas season was about to be altered universally.

Back at the beginning of November right before I turned twenty I made an astronomical mistake that was about to reorder my life.  The day after I came to church and cried through the service.  At the end of the service I ran into the singles minister, and for the first time he-- someone-- could see I wasn't doing so well.  I told him how black my life seemed while everyone thought I was so perfect.  How could God just accept me when I kept disappointing him?  He drew a triangle. 

The bottom angle represented where I was standing, but God was at the top angle and he could see where I was going to be, and he loved me because he understood what was really going on.  I kept the little drawing in my bible for years because that day he changed my life.  He gave me hope.  I don't know if he realized it or not, but he caused me to make a very important choice that day.  But something bigger was happening and I didn't have a clue that day. It was something that would bring me in direct contact and understanding of Mother Mary and my first hook into Eastern Catholism.

Four weeks to the day from that day I took a test and it was positive.  At barely twenty, alone, unmarried, confused, and deeply hurt I found I was pregnant.  It was the beginning of December just two weeks after my birthday in 1989.  The day I found out I was going to a play at my church where again I was presented with Mary.  They showed her as a young confused woman-- alone.  Fighting for what she believed, but vulnerable and in danger of being stoned.  I was already being stoned by my family.  My mother was enraged. My aunt wanted me to abort.  The father I hadn't told because we barely knew each other, and he was a different nationality than I was.  When my family found out I knew they would devour me.  My family was not to considerate of other races. 

Mary resonated with me, and realizing her dilemmas helped me grip mine.  It gave me an inkling of a like for the Christmas season. It also sealed something God had been working in me.  It was 'Catherine, I chose her to raise my Son.  I trusted her.  I trust you too with this child you are carrying.'  That thought, or instinct-- I would have not dared called it the voice of God then-- though now I most certainly know it was-- changed me.  My response was-- 'God then I have to change because I don't want my baby to be like I am.  Please help me.'  I didn't realize then that Mary was there with me, and praying for me.  I did not see her as the Mother of God then only a woman who carried God's Son.  Yet she was.

It would be eight years until my next introduction to Mother Mary, yet in that time I wondered about her, thought about her, and yet felt very odd when I thought to much about her.  I was told Catholics worshiped Mary, and so they were idolaters.  So each time I thought to much about her it would scare me.  I didn't want to anger God.  He'd done so much healing in my life, and though I still lived in pain it was different now.  I had a husband who loved me and our family.  By now I had three children-- all girls.  Each of their names had been chosen by God-- that somewhat frustrated me--  I always thought I would chose their names.  But He had other plans.  I had just met a new friend and had just begun a journey that was almost bigger than my original journey with God.  I had begun homeschooling my girls.  My friend was Catholic.  It was very evident to me as I got to know her that she was not an idolater.  In fact she loved God like I did, and she knew him in some ways even better than I did.  Ironically her name was Mary.

Mary's kids and my kids were best friends.  Mary and I fastly became best friends.  We would talk about so many things, but during this time I was searching for the truth.  I just could not accept most of what was being preached at me because when I would search scriptures I would find the errors, and when I would go back to the minister with the problems either they would ignore what I was showing them, or would say something like-- 'Yes that is what the bible says, but what it really means is...' and I just could not accept God would not be plain with us and mean what he said.  Mary would laugh when I told her, and tell me what she saw, and somehow it would always line up with what I was understanding too.  This sparked great questions and debates.  That would lead to more questions for both the 'teachers' around me and study of scripture.  Which would again lead to Mary and I discussing for some times weeks at a time some point.  Finally this led to me just reading the whole book of Acts and crying.  "God!  This is the church I want to go to."  It was a soul cry.  I wanted what the apostles had.  I wanted truth, and I really wanted preachers to stop telling me what scripture 'really' meant.  Why couldn't they just read a passage of scripture in context and not skip around to make it say what they wanted it to?  Mary must have been laughing hysterically inside of herself because that was what she received every week-- little did I know.  Mary though gently listened and every once in a while infused what the Catholic Church taught, which I would insist was not biblical, and then as I researched --always in context by the way, I was a stickler for this-- I would find it was completely biblical.  How was this possible?  Her church taught exactly what had been driving me batty that the church did not teach-- yet hers did.

Finally we got into the discussion of Mary- by this time we had known each other for a few years, and I had begun a study of biblical Mary.  Who was she really?  How important was she?  Because I was tired of accepting the old myths of Catholics not being Christians and only worshippers of Mary.

What I discovered was beautiful and frightening and it left me breathless and unsure of what to do.  Mary and her family had moved to Chicago as my family had moved an hour further west into the interior of Iowa.  Mary and I were still the best of friends, and spent time visiting by either meeting for a retreat, or me driving to her house over a weekend.  We were both natural health fanatics and so there were alternative treatments we would decide to try together, and during these times I would stay with her and would go to what would later become my own church home.  I didn't know it then.  During one of these times Mary taught me the rosary, and as my curious nature demanded I had to understand the origins of this prayer.  I found that it was biblical.  In fact the words spoken in the Hail Mary came from three sources and two of those under the direction of the Holy Spirit.  The third source was the Archangel Gabriel.  I was aghast.  Everything I realized that had been said about Catholics was not true.  This was not worship, but love.  And how could I not love the one who carried my Savior?  I began to pray.  For forgiveness for my brothers and sisters that were deceiving so many.  For truth to know this woman that is the Savior's mother.  For truth where I had been lied to.  For courage because I knew what was being asked of me.  I knew the condemnation that Catholics came under.  I'd seen it first hand many times.  I didn't want to be Catholic.  I was a conservative Protestant--  At that moment Baptist.  But I kept asking questions, and I kept searching out answers.  The final question-- though I didn't realize it at the time was to our pastor at our church minutes from our home.  "What do you mean when you ask if someone is saved?  Do you mean redeemed, because I realize Jesus does redeem us when we come to him, but salvation is a work that is not complete until we finally reach heaven.  So what do you mean?"  I thought of a verse-- work out your salvation with fear and trembling.  I thought of all the places I had looked in scripture for the answer myself, and I asked Mother Mary to help me understand what her Son was showing me.

The question turned into a battle of sorts, because he thought of 'saved' as redeemed, but then could not give explanation to the verse I mentioned above.  Which finally turned into 'Well scripture means saved when it says redeemed'.  In that moment I realized he didn't know the answer, but I did.  Saved was short for salvation, and an error.  Because salvation scripture made very clear was a lifetime work.  It was not a one time work.  God is not that small, and we are not that perfect.  I knew I could not give up the wonderful woman that raised my Savior from an infant to a man, and I could not give up the scriptures and I could not give up all the truth I had found.  As the years after this went on I came to rely on Mary as a mother to me.  When my mother moved two thousand miles away-- I cried into Mother Mary's tenderness.  When my biological mother died it was to Mother Mary I went to once more.  Because I am adopted as a child of God that makes Mary my mother.  I love her so much, and I trust her with my heart and tears.  But I love her most because she was open to being mother to Jesus who has saved me--  Saved me from myself, my mistakes, my selfishness, the lies that sought to entrap me, but most of all from being forlorn.  He not only gave me himself on the cross so I could come to God in eternity, but also could come to Him on a momently basis.  He is working salvation in me and cleansing me daily so that I will one day be able to enter heaven.  I was forlorn because I was alone, but he gave me his mother to teach me how to seek her son.  He handed me to her so I would have a mother even when I don't.  He handed me to his mother so I would know how to be a good mother to my own children.  He handed me to his mother so she would help me pray and hand my prayers to him in the way he wants me to.

We celebrate a baby's coming that redeemed us and at the end of things will completely save us.  But he came by a vulnerable woman who was willing to be called blessed.  She was only a girl really, and if not for His intervention she would have been stoned.  Yet he made her to be Ark of the Covenant-- He made her to be the Mother of God.  He made her to be my mother--  The mother of the motherless.  I cannot worship her.  She did not make herself.  I worship Jesus, but I dearly love his mother.  When I celebrate this season I celebrate His birth, but part of his birth is the making of a mother.  So I celebrate his redemption even in his own mother.  I celebrate him taking a broken woman and making her blessed.  I cannot separate what he did and what he did in her-- as he has done in me.  I am too grateful.  May you have a blessed season.  I am planning to. May you also understand that the Son is the most important part of this season, but he is very intertwined with his blessed mother-- Mary.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

New Computer-- great and groans

So around the time of my last post my computer started having issues...  Like it would turn itself off at odd times, and once in a while would overheat.  So my super techie husband says "I think it's a cooling fan issue."  I am not a techie at all--  not one ounce-- nada.  So I say "Well can we fix it?"  He groans.  Translation, not easily, and not les expensive than getting a newer one.

 We were only a few days away from Black Friday anyhow, and I had wanted to get something more portable-- and with more battery life, but until this issue came up had given up on it because our finances aren't the greatest.  But this was a big deal.  With trying to get The Key to Her Heart out and now doing all the stuff to get it noticed a computer is a must.
 So long story short I got a new lap top.  It's smaller and more portable with Windows 8 which is a little bit a pain in the butt!
 For the most part I like it, but because I am not a techie this has been-- shall we say-- an interesting transition.  I think I want to just stick with this machine for a long time because trying to get things transferred over and working, and me learning how to get places all over again is a little like teaching an older cat new tricks-- it doesn't work and the claws sometimes come out when I don't mean for them too.  So excuse me for not posting in so long, but here is my first post since I got my new computer--  Computie--  that's the name of all my computers. 
I tend to name things.  My van's name is Midnight.  We once had a house I named-- I haven't done that recently.  Mainly that is because that turned out to be my least favorite house of all the ones we have lived in.  When I had my ileostomy I named my stoma though.  Alright that is kinda of gross, so lets drop this.  Computie and I are trying to become friends, but that might take a little longer. At least it travels well which should help with all the book stuff, especially as I am working on Patrick's Rose to get it ready for publication sometime in the spring-- we'll see.  It needs a lot of attention, but so does publicity for The Key to Her Heart.  Busy busy busy-- that seems like the tune to my life.  Not that I mind.  I like the busy.  Anyway I am rambling, so I'm going to sign out for right now.

This is Cat out!