“Remembering a sin we have committed does not mean that the sin has not been forgiven. This remembrance of our sins is only a warning to us lest we become proud and sin again. In fact, we—not God—are the ones who cannot forgive ourselves. We cannot forgive ourselves because of our pride. A genuine sign that a sin has been forgiven is the fact that it has not been repeated, and we are at peace. It is also important how we spend the last years of our lives. A God-pleasing life in old age blots out the sins of youth.”

Excerpt From: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood. “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives.” Saint Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 2013-09-26.

My father often said ‘Getting old is not for the faint- hearted” and as I age in my 60’s I am beginning to know this to be true. However, emotionally and spiritually I love this time of life. I have the time to genuinely care for others without my ego needing to be stroked. I can relax into God’s presence without having to set an alarm to remind me of the next task at hand. I’m at peace in a way that was more difficult to achieve with the hormones of youth. And the above quote comforts me.
My father lived the last 20 years of his life as a consistent though certainly flawed faithful servant of Jesus Christ. Those years were truly one of a God-pleasing life. His example thruly inspires me to do the same. May the last decades of my life be as God- pleasing not for my own sake but for the sake of all whom I touch.

A dear friend of mine, Craig Bullock, posted this precious meditation fron St. John of the Cross. I hope it blesses you as it is blessing me.

If you want, the Virgin will come walking down the road pregnant with the holy and say,
“I need shelter for the night,
please take me inside your heart, my time is so close.”
Then, under the roof of your soul, you will witness the sublime intimacy,
the divine, the Christ, taking birth forever, as she grasps your hand for help,
for each of us is the midwife of God, each of us.
Yes there, under the dome of your being does creation come into existence eternally,
Through your womb, dear pilgrim-the sacred womb of your soul,
as God grasps our arms for help: for each one of us is his beloved servant, never far.
If you want, the Virgin will come walking down the street, pregnant with Light and sing.

St. John of the Cross

It’s been three years since my Dad died and for some reason I am feeling sadder this Father’s Day weekend than I was each previous year. I’m letting the tears flow and the grief work it’s way. I’m listening to Hymns on Pandora and remembering singing these old hymns either standing on the pew next to him when I was a child or watching him sing in the choir in his later years. Sometimes we’d sing duets at home while he plunked out the melody on the piano. But my favorite was watching him sing hymns while he rode his precious John Deere law mower.
Recently I was visiting my Mom and brothers for a few weeks. I always look forward to mowing the grass Dad mowed and I too sing while sitting on his old mower. I get his joy in doing the simple work of life. He saw work as worship and joy. Such a rare way of life!
So this weekend as I do the laundry and mop a floor, and put things back together after a months long renovation I am singing along with those hymns on Pandora. And tomorrow, if the sun shines I will be mowing our small patch of lawn singing along with Dad in the heavens. I’ll think all night of which hymn to sing because it will barely take the length of one hymn before our lawn is clipped. No matter – I probably won’t remember all the verses anyway. But my Dad will know them and he will complete those hymns just as he completed a life so very well lived.

I am not much of a gardener but I come from a lineage of green thumb, avid gardeners. I have very early memories of walking in the rows of gladiolas that my grandfather grew to sell to florists. I can still taste the delicious sun drenched and warm tomatoes from my mother’s garden. To this day, at age 88 (which we are calling double infinity) my mother has a gorgeous garden encircling her house. My husband and I brought home offspring of her beautiful Lenten Rose, three kinds of Hostas, and several “Hen and Chicks”. I’m hoping that by planting plantings from her garden, that my garden will grow.

Last Fall became Winter before I got around to putting my garden to bed. Several plants needed to be pruned before being covered with compost. That didn’t happen. I hate pruning. It feels so mean plus ….I forgot. As a result, my perennial flowers are struggling. My small Rambling Rose seems to jump out and bite me, I swear! It made me so angry that I almost pruned right out of the ground! My poor Lavendula is working hard to push past last years dead stems. My climbing Clematis is bulging, wild and fearsome. Several bushes are now becoming compost having not survived the winter.

Pruning is evidently necessary to healthy growth. But I don’t like it. I like it even less in my own personality and lifestyle. But oh the suffering I cause myself and others when I refuse to let go of what is dead and gone or needs to be. I annoy myself with reruns of what I shoulda, coulda, woulda done if I could redo ages 25- 45. I apologize and then apologize all over again instead of just accepting pro-offered grace. I can be really annoying, mostly to myself. And even that judgement could use a pruning.

I believe Autumn is the season for pruning so perhaps by then I will have steeled myself to cut off that which has not born fruit and let what is done be done and gone. I am in the season of being a crone. I’d like to be a lively and wise crone like my double infinity, green thumbed mother who has also taught me the importance of doing what needs to be done and then letting it be. Amen. Let it be so.

Although I have blithely gone through life thinking I knew how to ask for forgiveness and to sincerely apologize, my adult children have attempted to correct this delusion. They tell me I am terrible at apologies. So I have searched for some direction in this matter to no avail – sort of a “if you don’t know I can’t explain it!” What no win situation. And yet, God answered their prayers today when I received a recmendation from another blog
And here I quote the salient points:

1) I’m sorry for…: Be specific. Show the person you’re apologizing to that you really understand what they are upset about.

Wrong: I’m sorry for being mean.
Right: I’m sorry for saying that nobody wants to be your friend.

2) This is wrong because…: This might take some more thinking, but this is one of the most important parts. Until you understand why it was wrong or how it hurt someone’s feelings, it’s unlikely you will change. This is also important to show the person you hurt that you really understand how they feel. I can’t tell you how much of a difference this makes! Sometimes, people want to feel understood more than they want an apology. Sometimes just showing understanding– even without an apology– is enough to make them feel better!

Wrong: This is wrong because I got in trouble.
Right: This is wrong because it hurt your feelings and made you feel bad about yourself.

3) In the future, I will…: Use positive language, and tell me what you WILL do, not what you won’t do.

Wrong: In the future, I will not say that.
Right: In the future, I will keep unkind words in my head.

Now let’s practice using positive language. It’s hard at first, but you’ll get better. Can anyone think of a positive way to change these incorrect statements?

Wrong: In the future, I won’t cut.
(Right: In the future, I will go to the back of the line.)

Wrong: In the future, I won’t push.
(Right: In the future, I will keep my hands to myself.)

Wrong: In the future, I won’t take your eraser.
(Right: In the future, I will ask you if I can borrow your eraser.)

4) Will you forgive me? This is important to try to restore your friendship. Now, there is no rule that the other person has to forgive you. Sometimes, they won’t. That’s their decision. Hopefully, you will all try to be the kind of friends who will forgive easily, but that’s not something you automatically get just because you apologized. But you should at least ask for it.

As a teacher, I know that asking for forgiveness puts the offender in an uncomfortable and vulnerable place of humility. However, this seemingly obvious yet widely underused phrase is very, very powerful for both the offender and the offended. It is the key to reconciliation and often the first step in restoring friendship.

I also know that the second item, “This is wrong because…” is powerful in changing the longer-term behavior of the offending child. Forcing the child to put themselves in another’s shoes will increase empathy and help them understand better how they have hurt someone else. This exercise in trying to see themselves from someone else’s perspective can be very powerful.

I don’t know about you, but now that I have read the directions. I have a whole lot of phone calls to make and letters to write. I wish I knew this 40 years ago! Thank you CuppaCocoa.com.

Choosing Joy

Through out my life I have had a tendency towards depression. In part, this is likely due to my genetic and biochemical make up. I remember my Dad’s dark moods and often overwhelming sadness. The tragedies of life can appear overwhelming and good reason to be mournful. But such habits of sadness are not only painful but useless and counter to the joy of the heart promised by the transforming power of Christ.

Somewhere along the line, I have learned that joy is a much better spiritual practice. In fact, it is our nature as children of God. The first lesson in this journey was becoming aware of my self-talk, the running commentary in my thought process. I was shocked to discover how negative I was, judgmental, expecting the worst, never satisfied. Who wouldn’t be depressed?

The second lesson was even more important than the first: the antidote. The Prayer of the Heart also known as the Jesus Prayer, practiced by monks and mystics, ordinary women and men, continuously spoken 24/7 in Ortodox Monastaries around the globe and most especially in the Holy Lands. It is quite simply this: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner.” I started practicing this prayer a few minutes out of my day. Soon I found myself remembering to repeat this phrase whenever my judgements surfaced. It’s been years now and this prayer has become an unconscious constant in my thoughts. I wake up and this prayer is my first thought.

This isn’t because I am so holy or good. Truly I’m not! Rather this is the Grace of the Holy Spirit at work in my soul even when I am a grump or an idiot or a farce. Because you see this Joy of being at-one with God is a choice, a choice that requires practice. It’s not magic. It’s a miracle of grace.

The children stole the show at our church today. One child was excited to find an Easter egg in the toilet. Another had trouble getting up the stairs with her long, lovely Easter dress. But the scene stealer was a two year old who thought sitting in the circle on the floor with the pastor was an invitation to play Duck, Duck, Goose!” At one point, he looked out and saw the congregation and proceeded to say “Hello everyone!” followed by “Where are you Mommy? “. Soon he just had to go find her but then returned to the “stage” with his hands turned up and out proclaiming “I’m back!”
Which just may have been the most understandable declaration of Christ’s return from death that I have ever seen. Certainly it was the most entertaining.
The central message of our faith is that in the midst of the darkest hour on earth when evil seemed to have overpowered all that was good as Christ Jesus died a cruel death, just a few sunrises later he proclaimed “I’m back!” And one day we too will return from the many deaths of this weary world resurrected and whole.