In this life there are many things to prepare for, but the most important is for our entrance into the kingdom of heaven. I will take you with me, should you want to come along, on my personal journey to the door which will lead to eternity, through which every soul must pass. Where the angel of death waits to ask the all important question, "Are you prepared for the Kingdom?"

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Location: Anacortes, Washington, United States

Two years ago I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I was one of the fortunate ones who survived surgery along with chemo/radiation treatments. Recently, it was discovered that the cancer had returned and although I am again on chemotherapy, in all probability I have perhaps one more year to live. During these last months I would like to share what I have learned about the most important thing we'll ever do in this life and that is, prepare for the kingdom of God.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

A Life of Mercy

Well I'm finally back home after nearly two months. It was well worth the trip. Nothing like peace and solitude to get life in perspective.

Today I went up to Washington Park which is a beautiful place on the west end of Fidalgo Island, where I live. I sat at the top of the summit and watched the tourists stop their cars and admire the fantastic view. This is truly a spectacular place and one group even applauded when they parked their car and gazed at the San Juan Islands.

So I had this thought. These people come here for vacations and I go to a monastery! An interesting concept. Yet I too enjoy this spectacular scenery, but it can only go so far. All of these visitors will soon retreat back to their homes and remember what a wonderful time they had on vacation. I, on the other hand, will soon retreat to my spiritual home which hopefully will be far beyond anything I could ever experience here.

What I've discovered is that knowing God gives us the advantage of experiencing a little bit of heaven here on earth. He gives us all the beauty of nature as well as the treasure of His presence. In the solitude of Mt. Tabor, I found comfort and joy. I met wonderful people and felt the love and warmth of those who continually pray for me. I truly believe that God is keeping me alive through their heartfelt prayers.

He has also blessed me with additional iconography work for which I am very grateful. As long as I am able, I will do whatever He wants. After all, there is really no other reason to be here except to do His Will. I am on his bonus time, not my own. And actually, we can all be on His bonus time if we choose. It's really a good idea if we want to have a peaceful death.

For those who are still on the fence and not sure about whether to let God take your life and make it what it needs to be, the following prayer by St. Ephraim the Syrian might provide inspiration to humbly come before the Lord and ask for his infinite mercy.

Before the wheel of time stops in my life, have mercy on me;
Before the wind of death blows and diseases, the heralds of death,
appear in my body, have mercy on me;
Before the majestic sun in the heights becomes darkened for me,
have mercy on me; and may Your light shine for me from on high,
and disperse the dreadful darkness of my mind;
Before the earth returns to earth and decays, and before the
destruction of all the features of its beauty, have mercy;
Before my sins deceive me at the Judgment, and shame me before
the Judge, have mercy, O Lord full of gentleness;
Before the hosts come forth, preceding the Son of the King,
to assemble our miserable race before the throne of the Judge,
have mercy;
Before the voice of the trumpet sounds before Your Coming, spare
Your servants and have mercy, O our Lord Jesus;
Before You lock Your door before me, O Son of God, and before I
become food for the unquenchable fires of Gehenna,
have mercy on me.

Repent before death, and, because you do not know the hour of death, repent today, even now, and cease to repeat your sin. Prologue of Ochrid

May the Lord have mercy on us all as we bow before Him with repentant, contrite hearts.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Complete Trust

Today is the Feast of the Dormition of Our Lady, or in the Latin Rite, the Feast of the Assumption. I would like to take this time to say a little bit about Our Lady.

What can I say that could possibly describe her complete trust in God? I do not have the words, but St. Nickolai Velimirovic puts it quite beautifully:

“Out of extreme humility, she commended herself to God, and did not trust in her own deeds.”

This year the Dormition of Our Lady has a special meaning for me. I have reflected on her death as something very beautiful. Her greatest desire was to be with her Son. How wonderful it must have been to have Him meet her soul at its departure from this life and to take her, body and soul, into his kingdom for eternity.

Her life was one of complete trust in the Will of God and her reward was eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven. She is truly the model of perfection that is pleasing to God.

Somehow, thinking about her death is comforting to me and takes away the fear of letting go. I pray that at the hour of my death she will be there to comfort my soul and to take me to the kingdom of her Son.

“Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.”

Monday, August 07, 2006

On Letting Go

Yesterday I took a walk up the mountain to a beautiful place overlooking the valley. As I sat there the words from Psalm 90 came to me, “Under his wings you will find refuge.” As I looked up there was a large bird flying overhead. I realized that I am far from ready to make the journey into the other life. I find that I’m still very attached to things of this life that make letting go seem impossible. I fear that if I die in this state I will wander endlessly through Purgatory trying to find a way to let go. When your heart is not willing to detach, for whatever reason, it makes death seem very threatening to the soul. I pray the words of the Great Doxology:

Lord, have mercy on me, heal my soul, For I have sinned against You!
I run to you Lord, teach me to please You,
For You are my God, the source of life, And in Your light, we see light!

Holy is God, holy and mighty, holy and immortal!
O God, have mercy on us!

At times like this, I have no other recourse but to cry out to God. There is nowhere else to go. Perhaps this is where He wants me and this is the only way to get me to this place of complete dependence on Him.

Blessed are You Lord: teach me your Law!
Blessed are You, Master: make me understand your commandments!
Blessed are You, Holy One: fill my mind with the wisdom of your decrees!

I’m writing this on the Feast of the Transfiguration. I pray that He will show Himself to me in a way that will transform my soul so that I might have the faith to let go of this life and follow Him into the next.

O God, make haste to my rescue,
Lord, come to my aid!

(Psalm 69)

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Wait

One of the most interesting things about knowing that your time here is short is “the wait.” Although I’ve been told I have approximately a year, that was now four months ago, so we’re down to about eight months now if all goes as the doctors expect it will, sometimes it’s still hard for me to comprehend. I feel as though I’m in this place of waiting, almost like waiting to go on a trip somewhere. But I’m not sure of the exact time or place of departure. That may sound a little odd because I’m speaking about death, but really it’s kind of like going on a trip. I hope it’s more like a permanent vacation!

I find myself talking with people, especially here at the monastery, as though I’ll be leaving soon. I wonder sometimes what they’re thinking when I talk this way.

Most people don’t really want to discuss the subject of death. But I’ve been fortunate in that most everyone I talk to seems to be encouraged by the conversation. When you have the same faith and the same hope in the promises of Christ, it’s much easier to communicate about these things.

I was just talking with a woman who is on a retreat here about how I like to know a little in advance about things so that I can make plans and have time to prepare. Then it suddenly occurred to me that the Lord had given me just that! He let me know a little ahead of time about my departure from this life. He set things up so that I could handle them in a way that I’m most comfortable. He didn’t spring this on me at the last minute; He gave me time to prepare.

And I know it’s not always like that. Just last week I was sitting in a restaurant having lunch when I overheard a conversation at the table next to me. It seems a friend of the woman at the table had just gone into the hospital and was told that she had cancer and was going to die. When she asked the doctor how long it would be, he said, “two weeks”!

What a shock that must have been, and yet this happens all the time. I can’t imagine having only two weeks to prepare for death. It takes at least that long just to get over the shock. I pray that this person is in a good place spiritually and will meet death without fear.

Again, I can’t stress enough the importance of preparation, especially in the emotional area. This is a great event in our lives and all of us will experience it. I am certainly not without my moments of sadness. When I think of leaving those I love I can’t help but get emotional. That is the human condition. But the Lord’s promise to those that believe in Him is life in the heavenly kingdom. I hope to share this life with those that I will leave behind.

My wish, as was the wish of St. Therese the Little Flower, is to live my eternity helping those here on earth to find the path that leads to the Kingdom of God, especially those that I love so dearly. And as I wait here for my hour to come I hope I can offer some words of comfort and assurance to those who have chosen to follow the One, Jesus Christ who is The Way, The Truth, and the Life.