Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Gift Giveaway!!

As the curtains rise for Mother Nature’s most spectacular performance of the year, I’m kicking off my favorite season with a FREE GIFT to you!

I’m giving away My Little Prayer Book, my latest project combining my passion for photography with ancient prayers from the Christian faith. The book was made with a soft cover and spiral binding to allow the book to lay open easily on a desk or prayer corner.

It’s easy to enter, just leave a comment here with your contact info and your name will be entered in a drawing to be held on September 7. Help me share the news by posting on your blog or facebook, and I’ll ADD YOUR NAME TWICE : ) Be sure and let me know!

Contest is limited to residents of the USA.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


1 Corinthians 13 tells us all about love...
that it is patient and kind.

I was reminded today of that, to be kind to others, especially when I'm hurried and tend not to take notice of others so much.

People can hurt so much on the inside, concealing the hurt behind a smile...
can be so close to tears, but have to carry on through work or classes or parenting.

There was a beautiful woman I saw today and she was kind.
She was going through a divorce...
She had a black eye.

† † †

Give someone some encouragement today:
praise their good work, or new hair-cut, or parenting skills or the sweetness of their laugh
...or decide to overlook someone's fault that caused you a delay or inconvenience.

We all need love and want to be understood; some people rarely receive kind words and actions ...and they so much deserve them.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Russia more Christian than the USA?

From a land where atheism gave rise to the great beast of communism and the torture of human souls, is it possible that now, only a century later, this same land is leading the way in Christian spirituality? Well, spirituality may be a difficult element to quantify, but when considering the words and actions of Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev, it’s worth a pause to contemplate.

The truth is, Russia is rebuilding churches and monasteries -on a grand scale- lost during the aforementioned era of hell, and on the taxpayers dime. At last count, over $100 million (US) as of late summer 2010. And Vladimir Putin has openly praised the Russian Orthodox Church for “educating citizens in a spirit of patriotism and love of country, passing on love for spiritual values and history.”

Whoa! did you catch that? The Prime Minister is praising the church for teaching his citizens a love of country and spiritual values. Oh, that America would once again incorporate a love of country and spiritual values in our government schools. I can clearly remember the days of Mrs. Lewis’ 4th grade class, in the 70s, where we began each day reciting not only the Pledge of Allegiance but the Lord’s Prayer as well. And here we are, some 40 years later, watching the US government persecuting high school graduates, smashing their first amendment rights when they mention Jesus Christ in their graduation speeches or sending kids home, such as happened in CA last year for wearing a T-Shirt with an American flag on it...sigh. But I digress.

I don’t watch Larry King Live, but was interested to learn the story that emerged from his interview with Vladimir Putin in 2000. Even though Putin’s father was a militant atheist, his mother was an Orthodox Christian and attended church regularly, even during the time when the Church was under control of the state. She secretly arranged the baptism of her son and took him to church services with her.

As the story goes from the interview, she gifted to Putin a simple cross necklace when he was to visit Israel and asked him to have it blessed at the Tomb of the Lord. This Putin did; the cross became very sacred to him and he had it with him always. Later, while visiting his dacha, a fire broke out due to complications with the sauna and Putin literally had to run to safety; he had taken the cross off just prior to entering the sauna. Sifting through the remains of his cottage, to his great surprise, the simple aluminum cross was found, intact.

Putin said of this event, “I was surprised completely when one of the workers, just muddling through those ashes of the remnants, found that cross intact. And the house fell, that was a surprise, a revelation, and therefore I always now keep it with me.”

Russian military celebrating new holiday to mark Christianity coming to Russia

Or, consider the fact that in 2010 Russia celebrated a new annual holiday to mark its anniversary of Christianity, originally adopted as the state religion by Prince Vladimir over 1,000 years ago. This was supported and approved by President Medvedev and even though some of the populous criticized the endorsement of religion by the Kremlin, the overwhelming majority seem to be enthusiastic and full of hope for the future of Russia’s religious landscape. Patriarch Kirill of Moscow,(the spiritual leader of the Russian Orthodox Church) speaking at the liturgy in Kiev to mark this event said, “Facing aggressive atheism and resurgent paganism we remain firm in our belief in God.” Celebrating this holiday at Veliky Novgorod’s St. Sophia Cathedral, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said, “This was an event of colossal significance ...Russia made a historical choice.”

Veliky Novgorod, St. Sophia Cathedral

Can you even imagine an address by Barak Obama in which he praised the Christian influence on our founding fathers ...without also mentioning the importance of Ramadan?

Russian Patriarch Kirill

More recently, Patriarch Kirill visited Mordovia, an area that housed two of the largest prison camps in the Soviet Union. During the 1930s, over 30,000 prisoners were held in these camps, including priests, scientist and artists. Many of them were executed for holding views that opposed the communist vision, “enemies of the people” they were called. Before the Bolshevik Revolution, some 600 churches and 14 monasteries existed in Mordovia. Following the revolution, all were either destroyed or closed.

Now, what began in the 1980s is ripening. Cathedrals are being rebuilt which has renewed the city’s vision for beauty and holiness. Presently, 300 churches and 13 monasteries have been rebuilt and surrounding areas have been inspired by the construction to plant trees, clean the streets and in essence, carry on the beautification initiated by the building of churches. Of the transformation of Mordovia, the Patriarch said, “This is a good illustration to the idea that any economic, political or social changes must begin with a spiritual revival.”


It is this essence that I find the most beautiful element of Russia --the depth and breadth of her spirituality. What happens when you take a nation with a 1,000 year history of Christianity as her foundation, suppress her in the vice of communism and then release her? When crushed, she releases her most exquisite perfume. As Pastor Wurmbrand ( a Lutheran minister who survived 14 torturous years in communist prisons) so eloquently stated:

"A flower, if you bruise it under your feet, rewards you by giving you its perfume"

Richard Wurmbrand

Closer to home, Russia is reaching out to American evangelicals like never before. Even though some may regard the recent changes in the Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations policy regarding the limitations of evangelical groups to do ministry work in Russia, I see a country that values her spiritual traditions and history. Why shouldn’t a nation be suspect and limit the scope of religious organizations who take no heed of the culture or history of the people they are ministering to? (Hello, America?!) As an example, this scrutiny has put Russia in an elite world role by disallowing Gulen schools. Russia has said the schools promote an aggressive Muslim education and as such, they are not welcome.

Metropolitan of Volokolamsk, Hilarion

It is clear that Met. Hilarion wants a positive dialogue with American Christians just as much as Christians from other parts of the world, knowing there is common ground among conservative positions, such as abortion, the family and marriage. I hope to see more Americans, especially evangelical Christians, taking notice of what’s going on with our brothers and sisters in Christ in the treasure-filled land of Russia. A land that is home to a people who love and serve the Lord Jesus Christ and who, by the spiritual mettle they’ve gained, have much to impart to us. †

Боже, благослови Россию

To the best of my knowledge, all images are found in the public domain.

Sources and related articles that may be of interest:

From Russia, with Love

Ministry Values: Is Russian Leadership more Christian than US?

Ministry Values: New Russian Holiday

The Voice of Russia: Patriarch Kirill

Friday, August 5, 2011

Open Letter to Vogue:

Congratulations, Vogue. You’ve just landed on the doorstep of the multi-billion dollar child pornography industry. I didn’t realize you were so desperate for readers. If the sexualization of a 10-year is now par in 2011 and deemed "art" by your supporters, in what year will you “civilized” people sell young ones for sex?

Congratulations, Vogue, on teaching young girls that they are a commodity, their worth being linked to the appearance of their bodies.

In your lush photography studios around the world, with your fans and make-up and you arrange your subject’s body in the most “attractive” way, you may think yourself a world away from a Rajasthan village, where girls, just as beautiful are made-up in similar fashion.

You’re closer than you think.

† † †

Best wishes to you Dove, on your campaign for Real Beauty. I hope your message continues to be heard in such a barbaric segment of our society:

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Amy Winehouse, Addiction & Paths Through the Wilderness

Since my brother-on-law has embarked upon a new journey as a student working towards a degree in counseling, I’m enjoying a new dimension in our conversations and the concepts he shares with me about this latest field of study.

I’ve long held an interest in psychology, probably spending way too many hours reading things that are fascinating to me, but maybe not all that edifying. Exploring questions like “Why do people act the way they do?” and “Why do some seem bent on a path of self-destruction, even when other options are available?” often occupy my thoughts when reading the news. I’ve wasted a lot of time trying to figure people out but even so, I’ve made a few interesting discoveries worth blogging about.

A few weeks ago, I couldn’t tell you anything about Amy Winehouse, except that she was a singer ..or maybe an actress. However, thanks to Yahoo headlines, I end up reading about all sorts of unimportant things, such as the lives of the famous.

Amy Winehouse, Image from Harper's Bazaar Photo Shoot in 2010

Amy Winehouse’s death intrigued me, from a psychological viewpoint, because of her apparent history of self-destructive behavior, including the use of opioids. It’s no surprise to most of us that fame and self-destruction seem to go hand-in-hand. What seems apparent, that fame begins a break-down of the essence of a human being, must become so distorted for those swimming in the mire. I’ve noticed that “successful” (my definition, which has nothing to do with monetary value) celebrities are those who have learned to live outside of themselves...finding satisfaction and relevance in giving back to others through charities or other organizations they deem “the greater good”. The ones who have become sophisticated in protecting their privacy and value the balance between work and family. They’ve learned a technique for staying sane among an environment that promotes lascivious, sycophantic relationships; a way to remain connected to that beautiful emotive core of the human soul.

For others enveloped by fame, well, the lure of drugs is too powerful, too immediate and pleasing to pass by. With drugs, opioids in particular, the user discovers a way to insulate themselves from the wild emotions and pain the body/soul/spirit now has to deal with. Painful emotions that stem from lack of self-worth, mistrust in relationships, being false to self, employing a counterfeit paradigm for making decisions --in essence, the death of morality brings these painful thoughts and feelings. Fame and it’s twisted tentacles appear to be a very wicked tool in the possession of our enemy. With one hand he coaxes and flatters, with the other he numbs the spirit, with the goal to kill the body and snatch a soul. And with opiates like heroin, the physical body becomes utterly dependent upon these pain-killers, which replaces the body’s natural way of coping with pain through endorphins.

As I was reading about Amy’s death and following up to learn more about opioids, a question in an addiction recovery forum caught my attention. A young man wrote to say that he had been addicted to hydrocodone/oxycodone for about 6 years. He was now on his way to full recovery and talked about the healing process. The question burning in his mind was, [paraphrase] “Does anybody have any opinions on opiates or other depressants and their potential ability to inhibit spiritual growth?” I’ve been thinking on that one.

Knowing that we are created by God, in His Divine Image, of three parts: body, mind and spirit, how can an illness in one part not affect the others?

As an Orthodox Christian, I know that to nourish my spirit, I need communion with my Creator. I know I need to be in His Word, to be praying, fasting, receiving Holy Communion and doing my part to aid the suffering. These are activities that nourish the spirit. It seems reasonable to say that to do the opposite of these things, would diminish the spirit. I’m speaking of gluttony/over-indulgence, being self-centered, being ignorant or apathetic to God’s Word, or inflicting pain on self or others. These indulgences, derived from laziness and lack of self-control, dull sensitivities and cause a disconnect between our three-part nature. So, yes, absolutely opiates can suppress spiritual growth, inasmuch as these drugs can be used by our enemy to sever the bonds of harmony in a human being.

Interestingly, as I was talking with a friend about this topic, we went on to discuss morphine, codeine, and other drugs in the opioid family that are used in the medical community to alleviate severe pain from trauma (i.e, Izzy!). How can the spiritual needs of these patients be met whilst they receive heavy doses of pain-killers? It’s a far-reaching question if you consider this statistic: The USA makes up only 4.6% of the world’s population, but consumes 80% of its opioids -- and 99% of the world’s hydrocodone, the opiate in Vicodin.*

What is the spiritual ramification of a country that is dulled from its senses?

I believe it’s easy to read an article about someone famous like Amy Winehouse and think - wow, that’s really a life-style on the edge - and how unrelated it is to our own faults and sins. But is it really so unrelated? or does it just have so much momentum and exposure that in all its raw ugliness, it grabs our attention - for the tiniest bit - like train-wrecks wont to do?

I was asked once, “Do you believe there are any healthy addictions?” The jury is still out on that one. I suppose it depends on how you define “addiction”. I would never say, “I’m addicted to God” because it sounds ridiculous, but yet, I cannot live apart from Him. The term, addiction, has such a negative connotation. Is an exercise addiction healthy? Well, not if the exercise routine steals time away from another important aspect of life, like family needs or going to work.

My brother-in-law & I were talking about the nature of addiction once and he spoke of a beautiful mental image that stayed with me. He spoke about how, with addicts (of various sorts - drug users, shop-lifters, video-gamers,etc.) the thought process becomes so routine and ingrained as to become a sense of comfort to the person, even if the consequences to their actions cause pain to themselves or loved ones. To overpower that “pathway” of routine thought patterns, is to break something very commanding and forceful - and this, too, can be painful but oftentimes necessary.

The beautiful part of this mental image comes as I considered those “pathways” for healthy thoughts and actions. He said, [paraphrase] ‘Picture a path in the you wish to go on and you walk it over and over and over until it becomes such a familiar place, so ingrained that you won’t want to depart from it’ An aha! moment came... isn’t this exactly the nature and mystery of prayer? I sometimes go to my prayer corner angry...or tired...or apathetic. Sometimes I forget those I want to pray for, sometimes I fumble over my words and my mind wanders. But I go.

I go to that place in the dark morning hours, light the candle before our icons and speak to God. I return there at night to pray before sleeping and it occurs to me that even when my attitude isn’t just right, I am going - I am moving on a pathway that is beautiful and meet and right. A pathway that nourishes my spirit regardless of my bad temperament. And how much more so of the saints?

Those spiritually mature people who walk the high road and experience a taste of heaven on earth, inhaling the fragrant breath of God on their journey. They walk a path set before them by other spiritual giants who desired to be a part of the Kingdom of Heaven- the road marked by honesty in confession, repentance with humility, forgiveness with love, integrity, honor and a continual pursuit of Truth. A road that we, as followers of Christ, are invited to follow. To paraphrase a quote I read recently, ‘God does not tell us to avoid sin in order to punish us --He tells us to avoid sin because it hurts us’. If only men knew the glory that awaited them in heaven!

If only they knew.

*according to ABC news 4/2011

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Izzy's New Leg

Well, I'm sure you've been wondering and so, without further ado, here she is with her brand new leg, smiling for her daddy...

Her beautiful hair is growing back, she's all smiles and truthfully, I might have more photos to share if I could get her to stay still long enough. When she's not swimming or riding the 4-wheeler with her cousin or riding her bike, you just might find her playing with Charlie (her lovable, extremely tolerant WV Brown Dog) , playing with her baby dolls or teaching her ignorant aunt about the simplicity of using her new leg. You can't tell from this photo, but they made the shell (the part that her limb fits into) hot pink -- just for her.

I'll have to get more photos to share, as you just have to see how the toes were made. She can actually wear flip flops again : ' )
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