Monday, August 28, 2017

Gravity Love

I suppose it's been my whole life, but lately, more so... The examples in the creation that God put on this earth and in the cosmos, to show us examples of His divine goodness and essence simply astound me.

Recently we drove south to experience the full total eclipse in Idaho. It was amazing. Imagining the sun being blotted out after Christ was crucified. How utterly terrifying if you didn't know to expect it. To see the world, the horizon, the stars, the bugs, the birds, the everything completely differently for over two minutes, not to mention the temperature significantly drop.... and it all happened so very fast. It simply reminds you of who really controls things. How our large spinning ball we call Earth is held up by His mercy. How perfectly He holds up the Sun each and every day. How the Sun reminds us of His exceeding brightness and strength. How the moon so elegantly decorates the night sky and how even it is an example of how we can be bright spots that can reflect God's love into the world if we so choose.

To see the moon blot out the sun. That was something else. I don't think I've had enough time to ponder's only been a week.

Gravity has been on my mind this year as a great example of God's abounding love for all of mankind...not just the "good" ones. Gravity doesn't choose favorites. It holds us all down to earth at it's own choosing and all equally. It "loves" each and every one of us. Whether we choose to dislike gravity or not. We are "loved" by it equally and perfectly. It stabilizes us. It does not waiver on whether it is having a good day or a bad day. We aren't subject to it's daily mood swings. Some days it does not treat us badly and hold us accountable and make us very heavy... And other some days it does not let us lighten our load and be a few pounds lighter because we behaved well. It's just the same, never changing, always consistent.

We humans subconsciously relate God to our parents, it's a natural thing to do. We decide that God loves us only if we are good because that's how our parents (imperfect humans) usually show their love to us. They are happy when we behave well and upset if we behave badly. It's only natural we would assume God thinks this way as well. This is why many of us are stuck in the, "well, if I'm good then God will love me better." so we go through the motions, follow all the rules, but we still miss the mark. God loves us regardless of our actions. Gravity holds us down whether we are alcoholics, good mothers, bad mothers, thieves, priests (good or bad), or innocent children.

We have the choice, however, to turn to His love in thanks and awe or to turn away from it in disbelief and annoyance. The fact that it exists, however, still remains. The love is there whether we like it or not...grounding us, literally.

God grant us eyes to see our transgressions and strength to bring them into the perfect light that You shine so that we can repent and turn our darkened faces toward Your brightness.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Fantastic Curried Lentils (no turmeric)

My mother is an amazing cook. I never appreciated her cooking when I was a kid, but now-a-days I wish she'd be my live-in cook and just feed me breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. She has run her own bed and breakfast in our Alaska home when I was a teenager. She would bring home stray church guests almost every Sunday and feed them a big hearty Alaskan sourdough pancake meal with real Vermont maple syrup. Not to mention that she cooked us a full dinner from scratch every. single. night even though she worked as a school teacher. We always had a salad, a vegetable some grain and a main dish. When my dad was finally willing to retire they were asked to come run an Inn in Hawaii for two  years where they would cook a fancy breakfast about half of the time for people staying there. My dad became a master of Hawaiian fruit platters and my mom would whip up amazing casseroles, scones, killer oatmeal, apparently amazing gluten free things for her special needs guests as well. I visited them there once for about a week, just me and my little 1-year-old and I thoroughly enjoyed getting spoiled by her cooking and relaxing by the pool.

As you probably know by now we are Orthodox Christians and we fast for about half the year, this means that we eat a vegan diet on our fast days. (We are allowed shrimp, scallops and other shell fish as well on those days.) Needless to say, we very much appreciate the Internet and all the vegans out there in the world publishing their delicious recipes. It has given our generation a lot of access to the cuisine of other countries and their favorite recipes. I have discovered that we really love Indian and much of the Thai food in addition to the Chinese (obviously). Growing up my mom would make Curried Lentils, but I was never a fan, it had turmeric in it and I realized I just don't love turmeric. It's the classic bottle of curry powder that you buy at the store, it is always yellow. Once I realized that Indian food didn't have to contain turmeric I started enjoying it far more. (What Wikipedia says about curry.)

My mom brought out dinner to our house a few years ago on a fasting Sunday afternoon. She was cooking for my sister's family and my family. Our husbands tend to struggle with the amount of legumes, rice, potatoes and general non-meat dishes that us wives prepare. Of course, like any wife who cooks often, we fall into bad grooves and finally our husbands have to beg us not to cook that dish ever, ever again. She brought us Curried Lentils and of course my first reaction was the yellow lentils as a child that I would have to eat and endure and in my mind ask my mother never to make them ever, ever again. I think she sensed my lack of excitement and explained that this was a new recipe she'd found in Good Housekeeping (Jan 2014) and she'd even add some shrimp for the extra meat and protein. Well, we all fell in love with it, but none more than our husbands. My husband and my sister's husband were in fasting-food heaven. I asked for the recipe and have made it quite a few times. Coconut milk seems to be that amazing secret ingredient in so many of our new favorite recipes these days...It makes the most basic ingredients creamy and fantastic. I have started buying the canned goodness online by the case, because I get the best deal and can keep it on hand. It's not cheap at the grocery store, usually between $3-$4 per can.

Curried Lentils
Makes about 6 main-dish servings

Blend in food processor your curry spices paste:
2 med. shallots, quartered (I never have shallots, I always use onions)
1 can (6 oz) tomato paste
1 jalapeno chili, stemmed (I typically have jalapeno slices in a jar that I use)
4 thick slices peeled ginger (I buy the ginger in the tubes in the produce section, it's quick and lasts quite a long time)
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper
-Blend these until mostly smooth, transfer to a slow cooker or thick bottomed pot. Be sure to use an 8 quart if doubling this recipe.-

Then add:
2 c. Vegetable broth
1 1/2 c. lentils, picked over
1 can (15 oz) light coconut milk (I usually use reg, not light)
3 c. large cauliflower florets, placed on top nicely after everything else is combined
-let this all cook for an hour on the stove on low or 5 hours on high in the crock pot or 8 hours on low-

Before serving add:
1 c. frozen peas, thawed
1 Tbsp lime juice
1 lb of shrimp-optional
1/4 tsp salt (taste it, be sure it's enough)

Serve over rice, garnish with pistachios if you like. You could also garnish with shredded mom just served me the curried shrimp with the turmeric powder when I was visiting her 2 weeks ago. She had chopped apples, shredded coconut, raisins and cashews to put on top, it was so yummy and fun to eat! I think that would be a fun addition to this recipe as well.

If you want to get really fancy you could sprout your lentils one or two days ahead. You won't need nearly as much liquid, so back off on the broth when you cook them. This seriously upps the protein in your grain and it's fin to eat little lentils with cute tails on them. It's also better for our bodies if we presoak our grains but especially when they're sprouted.

My last night in Hawaii with my parents.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Sweet and Sour Anything

The first time I ever ate this a young woman, who was a budding brilliant cook, brought this over for dinner when I had my son who is almost 17 now. It was love at first bite. She used chicken in her recipe. It's one that I for some reason forget about, you need to have canned pineapple, and that's not something I normally keep. But if I have it, I'll make this cheap and delicious meal.

Here's Christine's recipe she wrote out for me 17 years ago.

Sweet and Sour Chicken serves 4-6

Fry in frying pan with oil:
4 pieces boneless chicken breast
1 egg, 2 Tbsp. cornstarch
cube chicken and mix in egg and cornstarch

Mix in a large saucepan:
1/2 c. vinegar
1/2 c. white sugar
pineapple juice from the sm. can of pineapple chunks
Boil, then add:
pineapple chunks (what's left in the can)
2-3 Tbsp. soy sauce (to taste)

Mix in a little bowl:
1/4 c water
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
then add to the pineapple mixture

Add chicken once sauce has thickened and let simmer for 5 minutes.

Serve over rice. I usually double this recipe for our large family.

I add peppers and onions to as much as I can now, also celery is cheap and easy to throw in too. Carrots are good as well as most "stir fry" veggies...those stir fry frozen vegetable bags would work for this. If we're fasting then I'll cook the sauce in a separate saucepan and fry up my veg in a large pan, then add the sauce on top. Don't overcook your vegetables! Only cook a short time then add your sauce, you want them still a bit firm like in a stir-fry.

For Tofu:
If I use tofu I fry that ahead of time with no egg or cornstarch in a non-stick pan. I have been using peanut oil lately for frying things and that worked nicely tonight. I use the firm tofu that come in little boxes that you have to cut open. This way they are shelf stable and don't have to refrigerate. Also, when you open them up I dab off as much water as I can. I slice the block in half and dab it more. Then cube it up and add to a hot pan with oil. I used 2 boxes tonight for my family of 8.

This I'll just add to the vegetables. Shrimp cooks fast, add this last then the sauce.

Cheating recipe:
What I did tonight was instead of buying pineapple and making sauce, I actually bought two 15oz cans of Carnation sweet & sour sauce at the store. This was plenty to cover my vegetables and tofu and I got to skip making the sauce. I bought it for a night that I was tight on time and that was tonight. I prepared my tofu and vegetables and made my rice before church, then when we got home I fried the veg and tofu for about 5 minutes then let them cook in sauce for 5 min. Then served. Easy! I have a feeling that the Carnation sauce has all sorts of unhealthy things that I wouldn't have put into mine. But it was good.

Tofu, celery, onion, peppers before adding sauce.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Vegan Pumpkin Bread or Muffins

I really wanted a spiced pumpkin bread today with all of the snow outside and the pretty Christmas tree set up and pretty decor inside. I found a nice vegan recipe and changed it a bit. I'm writing it here so I don't loose it. Not having zucchini in the garden this year I'm using up some of the cans of pumpkin puree that have been collecting years of dust in the pantry. I'm posting a doubled recipe here for two loaf pans.

The kids love it and I think it's great. I went way light on the sugar (I just did 1 cup brown) and think it could use that extra 1/2 cup of white or brown sugar to it so I put it into this recipe. You could also toss in an extra banana to sweeten it more too. It's VERY spicy, so if you don't like so much of the spice you could pair it down, the cloves are strong.

Vegan Pumpkin Bread

-preheat oven to 350, grease 2 loaf pans-
-mix dry ingredients in lg bowl-
2 c white flour
1 1/2 c wheat flour
(if you have flax seed, sneak in 1/4c in here)
1 c dark brown sugar
1/2 c sugar
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp cloves

-whisk wet ingredients in medium bowl-
2 c or 1 15 oz can pumpkin puree
1 mashed banana in a 1 cup measure cup
fill the measure cup up with oil
1/2 c maple syrup
1/3 c water

Combine wet into the dry ingredients, stir until just mixed, don't over mix. It's a thick batter.
Add 1 cup walnuts if desired.
Bake 45-50 minutes. Let cool for about 20 minutes, then loosen bread from sides with butter knife and pop out onto a cooling rack.


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. My Orthodox Christian take on Marie Kondo's book.

Last week our family was at a book store. My kids were all absorbed in different exciting titles when a little turquoise book caught my eye. The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo. "I think I have actually heard of this book," I thought. (Which is a small miracle in and of itself, as my head has been buried in the sand for almost two years now.) "Is this the one my mom had just told me about?" I had just turned 40 two days before and decided to buy it for my birthday present. I have been trying to learn how to find joy in the last few years, and one way is to buy myself a birthday present that I like. In this way I can empower myself to not become bitter if I don't receive something to my liking. It's still a broken process for a broken woman, but for now it's helping me. Regardless, about the book...I figured, how could it hurt? Maybe it will actually inspire me to keep my house clean once and for all! 

I am almost finished reading the book. Let me first say that Marie, is NOT a Christian. She is from Japan and visits shrines, Buddhists temples, and is a pagan worshiper, she discusses that briefly in her book. One of the opening lines in the book is quoting from her fans and one of them says that they were SO helped that not only did she get rid of all of her clutter but she also got rid of her husband and divorced him. Um, yikes. My 18-year-old scolded me when she read that part of the book wondering what sort of crazy trash her mother had purchased. Good for her, she’s my fiery child and keeps me honest. I decided to be rebellious and read it anyway.

I was antsy to do some of her recommendations, but I didn’t want to dive right in and do it in her correct order. (my rebellious side rearing it's ugly head) In hindsight I now see why she lays down the law so-to-speak, it can create issues if you go about tidying in the incorrect manner.

The other evening I decided to tackle some of my husband's clothes. I folded his laundry the Marie Kondo way, put it all nicely away in his drawer. I discarded some socks and shirts that had holes in them and “kondo-ed” his main large top drawer. I asked him about this nice pair of pants that I bought him a few years ago. Mainly I was asking if we could get rid of them since I didn’t see him wear them, I was trying to be true to Marie saying that you can’t just get rid of other people’s things. In my mind, I thought that getting rid of them by asking him first was perfectly fine, but in reality it wasn't. He reluctantly said, “Well, fine, I guess.” He was clearly annoyed, so I re-asked, “Well, do you like them? Do you wear them a lot?” He replied, “Well, I do like them, but I don’t wear them a lot.” I realized that I had been too pushy, I re-asked, “Well, I don’t have to get rid of them, it’s ok, I don’t want you to be annoyed.” He replied, “Well, I am annoyed, but I already said that you could get rid of them, so take me at my word and just do it.” Ouch. I still didn’t see, really, what was going on there…

This morning I was walking around in our bedroom, making the bed, admiring his clean side of the room that I had worked on tidying up. I then walked around my suitcase on my side of the bed, and got dressed. I picked up the t-shirt off of our chair and put that on, the jeans that were also on the chair, I put those on, I picked up the socks that were on the floor and put those on. Not one item did I remove from my tidy closet as I have my clothes “stored” on the chair and on the floor around it and on the comfortable couch. It’s easy for me to get dressed when the clothes aren’t put away. My error hit me like a painless loud slap across the face.

“Look at you,” I thought. “Look at your clothes messily draped on the only chair in the bedroom so that neither of us can sit there, look at the pile of clothes that fell off of the couch.  Look at the opened suitcase that you haven’t bothered to unpack after being home for 7 days, look at the box of stuff just sitting on the floor there that you don’t know what to do with, that has been there for over a month now. No wonder my poor husband was annoyed at me, I’d rather clean and sort his things rather than my own. The whole time I was asking him about his one pair of pants he was looking at more than 20 pieces of my clothing strewn about behind me. How much are my sins that are the same way? How often have I done this to him in our twenty years of marriage? How does he stand it? How often do I look straight past my own clutter and sins and look at his? How blind I have been?! How selfish and pretentious.”

Our soul is often referred to as a room. We have to clean out the room of our soul in order for Christ to have a place to sit. My husband literally doesn’t have a place to sit in our room because of MY clothes, how much more do I need to take a closer look at my soul so that Christ (and even my husband) has a place to sit? What sort of little sins have I allowed through my front door? Sins can grow just like our piles of clothes can. It sits on the couch and before you know it the pile is covering the whole thing…just as sin will grow into a giant beast and getting rid of it is much harder than getting rid of a cute little harmless baby sin. How do we get rid of these? Frighteningly, the only way I can see is with fierce violence. “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent men take it by force.” (Matthew 11:12) My unwillingness to look not only at the clothes in front of my face nor my sins reminds me of how weak and lukewarm I really am. I remind myself of that frog that’s in the pot that is slowly being boiled alive. How often do I make excuses every single day for the sins that I commit? The Lord says, “Because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of My mouth.” (Revelations 3:16)

There are so many similarities in the way Marie approaches decluttering to the way that we must approach the spiritual life. Marie says, “To quietly work away at disposing of your own excess is actually the best way of dealing with a family that doesn’t tidy.” Woah, that sounds familiar. Compare this with our own spiritual struggles. How many times have we been told to quit looking at your neighbor’s sins and concentrate on your own?! “As if drawn into your wake, they will begin weeding out unnecessary belongings and tidying without your having to utter a single complaint. It may sound incredible, but when someone starts tidying it sets off a chain reaction.” (Marie Kondo pp. 52) The funny thing is that the other book that I’m currently reading is, “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives” by Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica. I literally just read the part, “It is of great significance if there is a person who truly prays in a family. Prayer attracts God’s Grace and all the members of the family feel it. Even those whose hearts have grown cold. Pray always.” (#14 in Chapter On family life) How amazing the similarities of these two statements…our families and friends don’t need us to fix their ways, they need us to fix ourselves. Clean up our own hearts and our own bedrooms and only then can we, with true humility and meekness, help them to clean up theirs.

The other thing that Marie harps on is making sure that the things you keep spark joy, you must purge those things from your life that drag you down, but in order to do that you must find the things that give you peace, joy and comfort. How badly do we need this also in our every day life? 

Finding joy is not always easy, but that is what God truly wants from us. He desires us to be fulfilled, joyful, grateful... He gives us roofs over our heads, money in our wallet, food in our belly, and we complain. Why?? Well, we have people that we love who have died, we might have house in dis-repair, we might have a mean boss or even spouse. These hardships, like the thorns of a rose, bring us to our knees. On our knees we can repent of our sins and ask God to help us get up again. These hardships bring us closer to our Father who deeply loves us beyond measure. Our job is that we must be thankful always and joyful always. It is our duty. We must look at the roses rather than their thorns. Remembering that the money we possess, the house we own, the car we drive are not ours, but gifts from our Creator and the lover of mankind. 

For me this reminder from Elder Thaddeus was helpful and may indeed help me on my tidying up journey, “Any work we do here on earth is God’s work. However we always work with reservation, without sincerity. Not only can God not bear that, but no human being can. We know that the universe belongs to God, that the Earth is God’s planet, and that everything belongs to God, no matter what type of work we do.”

I’m thankful that I’m reading Marie’s book while reading Elder Thaddeus. He keeps things real. I realize now that my job, the one that God gave me, is to focus on my family, my husband and my children. I’m supposed to keep a tidy house, to cook good meals for them. I always wanted this job while I was a kid and after 20 years of marriage I’m finally waking up and realizing what my actual job is. God gave me my heart's desire and I have spent so much of that time being miserable in the work that He gave to me out of His deep love for me. I took a left turn somewhere along the way. Let’s pray that I can have the strength and courage to stay on track.

I appreciate Marie’s book and her attitude to look at all items with extreme scrutiny. She encourages you to thank each item for its purpose that it had in your life and then give it away or discard it. With the sin that we face we will not give it that gratitude like we do with our things. We must spit on it when we shove it out the door. If we treat it with kindness and love, then we still love that sin more than God and we are not really getting rid of it. Just like I have taught my kids to tidy up their room, you start with the largest items taking up the most floor space first, you get a cleaner room in a much faster way. We will do likewise and tackle the big sins first, not those little ones. If we first uproot the large beasts from their comfy chair we can more easily see and then deal with the smaller sins that remain. I wish that tidying our hearts was as easy as tidying our homes. It. Will. Be. Hard. But, it is do-able. We CAN uproot the sins that keep us from drawing closer to our families, our husbands and our God. Maybe decluttering my heart will help me to start dealing with some of my physical clutter, and maybe decluttering my house will allow me to face the past, thank my struggles for teaching me valuable lessons and then move forward on the path towards Christ. I know that it’s far more important to declutter my soul than my house, but with Christ’s help, I can end up doing both in this process.

Glory be to God for all things!!!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Every Day Miracles, a couple of ours

Look at the birds. They don't plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren't you far more valuable to Him than they are? 
Matthew 6:26

I think it's time to tell some stories about this last year.
Today I was inspired to do so a couple of times due to a book I was reading called, Athonite Fathers and Athonite Matters...don't let the book title fool you. It's quite fun to read. It's written by Elder (now Saint) Paisios who only just died in 1994. He died about 2 months after I graduated high school, a very short 22 years ago. I have read a couple of books that had mentioned him lately, and he sounds like the most precious, loving human who ever lived. I saw this book was written by him and it immediately sucked me in by his self deprecating and lovely personality.

The first thing that convinced me was the very first paragraph where he bemoaned the fact that he didn't take the time to write down more of the miracles that happened on the Holy Mountain while he lived there. He had to write the book on memory alone and he wished that he had taken more notes. But as he mentioned, these miracles happened so often that one hardly wrote them down because they would have to write a lot. How similar is this to being a parent?! Our children do miraculous things on a daily basis! They sit up, they roll over, they crawl, they walk, they climb up, they say two words in a row, they sing the alphabet, the list goes on forever!!! I know I'm often feeling guilty for not writing down enough of the fantastic things that are mile-stones in my seven precious children's lives.

I then read about the very simple minded monk who thought that the Ascension was a saint. He would pray to, "Saint Ascension". He received a sick monk one day at his monastery and didn't have any nutritious food to feed the sick man. He went to the cellar that contained such limited food supply and stuck his hand out the window that was on cliffs high above the Mediterranean Sea. He prayed, "Saint Ascension, please give me some food so that I might feed this man." And into his hand jumped a fish. He gave glory to God and made the sick monk a fish.
Rewind to last week. One of our kids threw up in our room last Wednesday, then on Friday night I caught the bug but managed to avoid the throw-up part (thank God!) On Sunday night the real fun began when the baby got sick and the roller coaster has not stopped yet. The 24 hour stomach bug is much more serious and lasts longer when hitting a family of nine.
Tonight, at dinner time, a family from the church drove into our driveway. Fortunately I had gotten dressed by this point, that is a small miracle in and of itself. I answered the door and they happily handed me a bag of pre-made food. They had some leftovers from the soup kitchen they had served tonight. A gallon of lentil soup and a box of sandwiches. Wow. I felt like Saint Ascension had just placed a fish in my hand. God certainly uses what ever means to take good care of us...and in spite of my lack of faith, God handed us dinner tonight. This sort of thing could be called coincidental, but is it really? I needed a break, and this was just what I needed.
The last year is literally a blur. I know that it was very hard and so hard in fact, that I literally had to give over any semblance of control over my life into the hands of God. This has really changed me and now that the hard year is over and we have had some really nice few months of breathing room, I'm extremely thankful for it all. There are a few miracles to note. I'll try to write one or two of them down now.
After we got here we had only our nine seat Yukon. It was a nice car that we had bought only the year before. We had to sell both our beater car and our beater truck in Alaska, they weren't worth bringing to Washington. But now we only had one car and very often my husband has to be to church an hour or two before I do if we go up to the Monastery for church. We were trying to figure out how to afford a second car. We realized that we may have to sell the Yukon to afford a second car or hope that God could drop a good beater car into our lap. The bummer is is that the Monastery is much further away than our church in Alaska was and it's up a major highway 15 minutes, and it's up in the mountains another thousand feet up and in the winter here the roads are more sketchy than in Alaska, so the reality is that we needed a second reliable and hopefully four-wheel-drive car. We had no idea how we were going to afford it.
About two nights later our Yukon was stolen out of our driveway because brilliant me left the keys in the ignition and left the doors unlocked. They took it out, rallied it very hard, it had branches stuck in it. Basically they beat it all to hell. Then they returned it to our driveway and went and stole two other cars that same night. It was exactly one year ago tonight. My husband woke me up on August 4th (our daughter's birthday) and asked me if I had gotten into a wreck the day before and had forgotten to tell me. I tried to recall and strangely had a dream about being in the back of our car while going over a huge jump and the boys driving it were having a grand time...but I realized that that had been a dream and I just couldn't remember crashing the car the day before. Boy, that was a headache, but at that point so much other stuff had happened that this was like no big deal. It was a big deal but it was comical at that point at how much "temptation" had been thrown at us by this point. I don't really know another way to phrase it other than as temptation, but I could also call it part of our struggle of moving here.
We had just paid off the Yukon with the money from selling the house. My husband was convinced that he had just taken the insurance off of it and that we only had liability. Even if we had full coverage State Farm would surely not cover this theft when we left the keys in the car. I told him I'd call them anyway just to check. We had insurance, full coverage with a $500 deductible. And apparently they still cover it if the crazy wife leaves the keys in the car. I didn't hide that.

State Farm offered us a settlement of about $13,000, this was a much lower number than I thought it should be. (I figured I'd just share the car prices since it makes it easier to follow). I decided to do the work of taking all of their cars that they compared ours to, a list of about 30 and go through the list with a fine-toothed comb to be sure that the comps were valid and in-line with what is reasonable to comp us with. I found many errors on their part. With the VIN they provided me I could actually look up the comp vehicle that was for sale to see if they were correct with their pricing and list of amenities our car had versus the others. Remember, this was a NICE Yukon with decent miles...not the middle-of-the road one. It had taken me about 3 weeks of research before we decided on this Yukon the previous year. It had even just had a new transmission installed in it at 80K miles.

I read some articles written by insurance adjusters saying that they want to please the insured, but it is their job to offer a too-low of a bid to see if they can get off easy. They encourage the insured to do their own research, so I researched my tail off. I followed one of the fellow's advice and came up with one perfect comp and asked for that exact number. I finally got a different person on the phone after playing phone-tag with them for about 10 days. She had been doing this a while and was happy with my number. I asked for $17,376 (the number was more than what I had paid in Anchorage, but the reality was is that is what I *needed* in order to replace it with a comparable car). This even included the extra 8% tax that I asked for because you must pay sales tax on cars in Washington and the insurance is supposed to pay that. They also added in extra to cover the new license and registration fee of a new car. In the end we got about two thousand dollars more than what we had paid for it a year before that. I was stunned.

With all of the research I was doing on replacing the car and how expensive and virtually impossible it really would be to find one exactly like ours, I was very pleased to hear that the fellow that owned the body shop right in town was selling his Suburban. Also black. And he wanted $3000 and was happy to change out all of the seats in order to make it fit nine people. He liked his Suburban just fine but wanted a newer one for his family. I wasn't sure weather to trust him or to be leery of the car since it was older and had a lot more mileage...but it just felt like such a good match. The mechanic that I had become acquainted with worked on this Suburban and knew the owner. He assured me that it was a fine car and we shouldn't be afraid to buy it. In general it wasn't as nice, but for $3000 and it being generally the same vehicle? It was hard to ignore the fact that God was handing us our solution. This left us with $14,000 to find a good daily driver and leave the Suburban at home for the most part...just take it out for family outings like church, but there was no reason I couldn't normally drive the newer, smaller car to run errands while the kids stayed home.

So, to complete this story, I agreed to my husbands long-standing wish of buying a new Subaru. I was usually the scrooge of the family especially with cars. With this sort of down payment it was hard to say no. I don't mind researching cars or haggling over them, so I found a good deal on a 2015 Forrester in the color we both liked that was on sale to get ready for the new 2016 models. I asked them to lower the price and they bumped it down another thousand dollars In all honesty, I could not find a used Subaru for a better deal, less money, sure, but the miles get wracked up on them so fast that it didn't end up being worth it. We now have an affordable car payment and it will be paid off in 4 years (well more like 3 years now). We have had zero buyers remorse on either vehicle and it's exactly what our family needed exactly when we needed it. It was a bit hairy of a way to get there, but hey, Glory to God!
Another big miracle was when our rental house caught on fire. I'll have to share that another time as it's late.

Our Yukon the day we found it totaled.

Officer taking prints.

Our newer Suburban. Can you tell the difference? He even put my nice tires on it.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Our thoughts and feelings are not us!

I think there are re-occurring themes in our life. I believe there is a reason. You hear it once, it goes in one ear and out the other. You hear it again and think, "that's strange, I just heard something similar..." You hear it a third time and you take notice..."I see a pattern here." We probably don't consciously see that God is poking at us, but He probably is.

One thing that I have heard lately is, "Our thoughts are not us." Yes, it is true that Elder Thaddeus wrote a book called, "Out thoughts determine our lives." That is also true...but what thoughts? That's where the real tricky work begins, separating out those pesky thoughts...the bad ones and the good ones. What we give over to, the thoughts that we choose...those are what determine our lives.

A larger theme that was in this post has been re-occurring in the last four years of my life. "God loves me." This one is huge. If you don't get it, you just don't get it... I'm just at the beginning stages of getting it. This concept is crazy with how different this makes E.V.R.Y. L.I.T.T.L.E. T.H.I.N.G. in your life sooooo different/better/amazing/simple/awesome.

We recently were given the name Ss. Joachim and Anna for our new little mission parish here in Goldendale, WA. Our mission is right on Main Street in a store front building in Goldendale. Just 10 minutes up the mountain on highway 97, almost to the top of Satus Pass, lies the most wonderful Greek Orthodox women's monastery, St. John the Forerunner. They just celebrated their 20th year! I could talk for days about the nuns and the monastery and how integral it has been in our lives, so God putting us here at the mission next door is God loves us!

I have loved Saint Anna since I was a kid. After all, she shares my name. Often, I would wish that I was closer to her...knowing that she must have been a wonderful and wise mother. I could learn a lot from her, if only I prayed to her more, then I could get to know her better.

I thought (somewhat selfishly) it would be quite fitting to have wonderful married saints as a supportive parish right next door to the monastery church. Both monastic and married are so important in the life of the church and I was cheering on these saints to be our patrons. It also, just literally dawned on me, that Saint Anna was St. Elizabeth's aunt...Elizabeth the mother of St. John the Baptist. Ss. Joachim and Anna were Saint John's aunt and uncle!

My husband called me up one afternoon in January, with the good news, while my 15-year-old son was driving us into town. I started weeping with joy, my poor son didn't know what was the matter. Metropolitan JOSEPH had written us a letter telling us that Ss. Joachim and Anna were going to be our saints and that they have always been dear to his heart. What a wonderful gift! God is so good and loves us so much!

In doing research about their life tonight, I stumbled upon a blog called, "Holy Nativity Orthodox Church" and an old post from 2010 called "The Poor" where the priest talks about Ss. Joachim and Anna's charitable donations, giving a third of their money to the local temple, keeping one third to live on and giving one third to the poor.

Liking how the author wrote and the words he said rung true, I followed the blog to it's new home on Ancient Faith Radio's blogs called, "Praying in the Rain." The priest is Fr. Michael Gillis from Langley, BC. I know I have heard his name before, but I'm not sure where from. Now that we're in the Pacific Northwest, there are a lot of new priests to meet! We're not so secluded as we were in Alaska, and now I hear names in passing but they don't stick...probably not 'till I hear them a third time...

One of the newer posts he wrote caught my eye, "The Almost blind leading the blind." That has been another theme recently (the blind leading the blind) I clicked on it. One of the other themes popped up in the post. "Our thoughts and feelings are not us." Where he explains to a new Orthodox person who is just now discovering for the first time, that those thoughts that pop into our heads do NOT belong to us and we have a choice on weather to listen to them or not. We can talk to those thoughts, let them control us, or we can slam the door in their face. We can smack them away like a mosquito.

She asked him four questions. He answered "I don't know." to two of them and focused on the first and fourth. (Don't you appreciate people who can just say,"I don't know", when they don't know?! I love that kind of honesty.) The fourth issue she had is not currently a theme of mine, so I won't even mention it but he will mention it briefly, since they are related. She wrote this about her thoughts: “I find myself stopping before I move on to a secondary emotional state….  I am able to pause after the impulse reaction before engaging with the secondary emotions/thoughts that usually perpetuate frustration/anger/etc. or provide distraction from what is truly being revealed.” 

He responds with these following paragraphs... (the bold part in the second paragraph is crazy, yes, yes, yes!!!)

"Beginning with question #1, noticing thoughts and feelings before they get into that secondary state is very important.  When you do this, you realize that you are not your thoughts and feelings.  You have those thoughts and feelings, but you decide what to do with them—if you can notice them before they take on a life of their own.  As you continue the practice of noticing thoughts and feelings, and then controlling yourself and/or channeling the thoughts and feelings in a healthy way, then the Holy Spirit will teach you deeper things.  The Holy Spirit will teach you about your own darkness (which is connected to your question #4) and you will learn to accept Light in those dark areas.  What I mean is that you will learn to hold both your brokenness and God’s love for you in your heart at the same time.  This will not be easy; or rather, this will be painful, it really doesn’t have anything to do with easy or not easy."

"It will be painful because we all wish we could offer God a better offering than who we really are, but part of our salvation is realizing that we have only our broken selves to offer God—only the two widow’s mites, only the precious myrrh earned by prostitution of some sort, only the brokenness of a prodigal who has wasted all of her Father’s gifts.  As we know this more deeply, two things happen.
First, the amazing extent of God’s love becomes more real to us.  When I see myself as a basically good person who merely makes mistakes, then it doesn’t take a very big God to love me.  But when I begin to see the depths of my darkness, then God grows exponentially in my eyes.  It takes a very great God to love such a broken person as me.  A corollary of this realization is that if God loves this much someone as broken as me, then God must be able to love everyone, no matter how broken they are, just as much as God loves me.  Seeing and accepting both your own brokenness and God’s love for you also helps you understand and not judge the brokenness of others: especially the brokenness of those in the Church or of the sins and mistakes Church itself both today and throughout history."

"The Fathers talk about three stages or aspects of our salvation: (1) purification, (2) illumination and (3) theosis.  Purification has at least partly to do with your question #1.  As we purify our nous by prayerfully attending to our thoughts, we put ourselves in a position in which illumination is more conducive (we are better able to notice the light of illumination because we are cleaning up the inner noise and garbage running rampant in our thoughts and feelings).  And this then leads to theosis, actual transformation, becoming more like Christ.  However, transformation, or theosis, is not something we can see in ourselves (as a student doesn’t realize her growing knowledge, but only how much more there is to learn than she ever imagined before—but it is her very growth in knowledge that enables her to realize how much she doesn’t know).  So for most people, especially those living in the world, our experience of theosis is mostly in area #1, purification of the nous by attending to and managing thoughts and feelings through prayerful attention (often by practicing the Jesus Prayer).  Then, as we do this, we have moments of awareness, #2 illumination.  But what is illumined is what had been in the dark, often something we didn’t want to see, often something ugly about ourselves.  Here is where the verse comes in, “Agree with your adversary quickly while you are on the way with him.”  Our “adversary” here is the Holy Spirit illuminating something we don’t want to see in ourselves.  But rather than trying to justify ourselves, we agree (which is, by the way, what ‘to confess’ means)."

"However, we can only agree if we are secure in God’s love.  Remember the verse, “with the same measure you use, it will be measured to you”?  When we judge others harshly, it becomes difficult for us to accept God’s love for us as we are illumined by the Holy Spirit to see how broken and dark we really are.  In these cases, we either fall into depression or arrogant delusion.  But if we are generous in our judgement of others, it is easier for us to accept God’s love for us when we experience moments of illumination.  That is, we end up judging ourselves as harshly or as mercifully as we judge others."

"The resulting fruit of this process is transformation, or (3) theosis, which we can never see in ourselves.  As I said, what we mostly see is the “spiritual warfare” of the battle to be aware of and control our own thoughts."

Wow. Ok, so some of this went over my head, I'm clearly not at the the third paragraph...but that's ok. The parts in bold were the ones that got me...they seem to be re-occurring themes in our house lately, or at least in my mind. I will never be a big reader, so thank God for priests (and smart Deacon husbands) like this who read and take the time to teach via blogs and home discussions with me and the kids. Because, every now and again, God finds a way to poke me with what I need to hear that day.

Most Holy Saints Joachim and Anna, pray to God for us! (Already I'm praying to her more! Glory to God!)