Newness

Finish each day and be done with it.
You have done what you could;
some blunders and absurdities have crept in;
forget them as soon as you can.
Tomorrow is a new day;
you shall begin it serenely
and with too high a spirit
to be encumbered with your old nonsense.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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(spicebrush swallowtail butterfly / Julie Cook / 2014)

While out walking in the woods, on a most blustery day, a tantalizing surprise made its presence known. . . Gloriously, it appears that our long weary wait, through a never-ending winter, may soon, blessedly, be drawing to a close.

Life has been painfully cold, unseasonably so. Nightly lows have remained in the mid 30’s. Wind and rain has been the featured guest as of late, but today, joyfully today, a glimpse of Hope.

Lithely, without rhyme or reason, bouncing on shimmering translucent wings, the first butterfly of the season dances past non believing eyes.

Still bundled up, fighting March’s final fierce stinging winds, we wander along the trail just happy the sun has decided to make a long awaited appearance. Are we seeing things? Was that truly a butterfly wistfully flitting past?

A spicebrush butterfly makes its way to a small twig in order to bathe in the warm rays of an early spring morning.
A sign of new days and new ways, as the heavy unending winter mercifully dwindles and wanes, becoming nothing more than a shadow.

Today is a new day indeed.
A glimpse of a happy change has made its presence known and for it, we are most grateful!
We sit perched on the edge of a happy new month.
Oh Blessed Happy Day!!

Quietness of the heart

“Humility is perfect quietness of heart. It is to expect nothing, to wonder at nothing that is done to me, to feel nothing done against me. It is to be at rest when nobody praises me, and when I am blamed or despised. It is to have a blessed home in the Lord, where I can go in and shut the door, and kneel to my Father in secret, and am at peace as in a deep sea of calmness, when all around and above is trouble.”
― Andrew Murray

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The old church yard at Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo / San Antonio, Texas / Julie Cook / 2014

Up, up and away…

“Congratulations!
Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!”

― Dr. Seuss

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(the persimmon Up band by Jawbone / Julie Cook / 2014)

“What is this?”
It’s an Up band.
“What is it for, what does it do?. . .”

So the other day a friend of mine, (and just so you know, I may be using the term friend a bit loosely right about now) told me she’d bought an Up band.
“A what?”
“An Up band”
“Why?”
“It monitors my steps throughout the day plus it monitors my sleep”
Ahh the kicker. . . She knows that I do not sleep well, nor does she for that matter. . .not since we’ve both reached that certain age—the age women reach when they don’t really talk about it any more.

Humm.. .
So she’s telling me that I need to go buy a bracelet. Some sort of bracelet that’s going to tell me how much I’m not sleeping. Why do I need to be reminded of my tortuous nights?!
“How much is this little puppy going to set me back” I inquire.
“A HUNDRED AND FITY WHAT?!” I practically scream over the phone.
She tells me there are a couple of versions but the one she had syncs to her phone wirelessly.
“I’m telling you, it’s worth it. You’ll be amazed tracking your steps and movements. You can log-in the food you consume and it’ll tell you how many calories are burned and turned into energy.. .”

“Is butter converted to energy” I feel my brain digressing.. .

Off to the Best Buy I go.

Walking into the store I immediately inquire as to the Up bands. The nice man points directly in front of me to the huge display. Wow!

They come in 3 sizes and 4 colors.
Hummm.
I quickly call my friend.
“There’s a size guide attached to the package” she explains “but you’ll want a small.” “People with chicken wrists wear a small” she quips.
My wrists are indeed the smallest thing about me—my husband calls them grasshopper wrists. I’ve always wondered what that means. . .

I choose a small band in Persimmon—they didn’t have the blue in a small so persimmon beat out the black or white.

I get home and quickly tear into the package.
I download the Up app to my phone inputing my data—age, weight—why does everyone keeping wanting to know those things?!
It tells me that for a female of my age (arg) that I need to average 10,000 steps a day.
Next I plug the thing into my computer to charge it up.
Once it’s fully charged, I put the band on my right wrist.

Off I go.

Sure enough it keeps pace with my steps. Alerting me to my idle burn, my active burn, my total burn—as in burning calories I assume. It alerts me to the percentage reached of my goal of the 10,000 steps and how many I need in order to reach the magic number.

Humm . . .

By 8 PM I notice I’m at 94 percent of my goal.
Ohhhh, I need to get a move on before it’s time for bed!
I begin running in place at the sink while doing the dishes.
“What in the world are you doing” my husband snaps as he rounds the kitchen corner.
“I’ve got to up my steps if I’m going to reach my goal before I head to bed later” I sputter breathlessly.
He rolls his eyes.
I than take a few laps around the house. ..

In the morning it tells me how much sleep I logged. Heavy deep sleep. Light sleep. How long did it take me to fall asleep. How long was I awake in the middle of the night.
Humm. . .this should be interesting.

“You woke 0 times”
WHAT?!
I’m sorry but when the cat jumped up on the bed, landing on my face at 2:45 AM and I had to make certain I still had both eyeballs in my head and was not bleeding profusely, and you’re telling me I woke up zero times. . .Houston, we have a problem!!

Ok, so I think it may be a little off.
I wake up all through the night, but I just lay there real still like, fighting my brain to go back to lala land. . .so perhaps it’s not registering movement, or whatever it needs, to alert itself that I am indeed a wake.
Trust me, I know awake and awake, on an off all night, I am.

Then there is the elliptical.
My nemesis.
Remember, there’s a June wedding in our future.
Have you forgotten my husband’s suggestion of duct taping my butt in place?
The elliptical and I are one each morning.
30 minutes of pure torturous bliss.

The band has a spot on the app for me to input a workout. It will measure my heartbeat and pulse, but it doesn’t seem to think an elliptical equates to steps.
Let me tell you one thing, if my knees are moving up and down, trust me, I’m stepping!!

So yesterday morning, I was working out really fast and furious.
I wanted the blasted band to be proud of my workout.
“Did she just say she wanted a plastic band to be proud of her?”
Stay with me. . .
I was huffing and puffing.
Up and down I went.
4.3 , 4.5 , 5.0 mph while coming up on mile 2. . .5.4 mph. . .
Faster and faster.
We should note that I like to put in a piece of gum in my mouth before a workout as my mouth gets so very dry.
Pushing to 6 mph as I’m moving my legs up and down, sweat is dripping down my face. I glance downward noting what looks like droplets on the cement floor. A small wave of panic. You must remember that woman of a certain age who have had children can have, well, accidents when jumping, coughing, laughing—-thankfully this time it’s just the sweat pouring off of my head.
Whew!

At this point, I have just 3 more minutes to go.
I push it even harder, practically hopping up and down.
I’m so tired I lean down onto the stationary handles as my legs kick into hyper speed.
I’m so out of breath by now that I’m sucking in any available air through my open mouth. . .when it happens.
Imagine a car barreling down the interstate at 80 mph.
A bug meets the car.
Woosh.
That bug is either splattered or is sucked into the the grill.
Suddenly the gum that was in my mouth is sucked down my throat.
Sudden panic sets in with the blink of an eye.

“Oh dear God, I’m going to die!!”
The gum is going to lodge in my windpipe (I think we call that a trachea)
I’m going to fall out right here, in the basement.
My poor husband will come home, many hours later, only to hear the odd sound of music rising up form the basement. He’ll go to investigate finding me sprawled out on the cold basement floor in a pool of now dried sweat, with Bono blaring from my phone as U2 is on shuffle mode—sadly it will be determined that I had asphyxiated on my sucked in gum.
All because I wanted the damned band to be proud of my speed. . .

Within the millisecond the gum went down my throat and my brain preformed my funeral, I’m relieved to realize that I am very much alive, sweating, sucking in air and still pumping my legs like a mad woman.
The small alarm sounds.
The 30 minutes are up.
I’m sweating, huffing and puffing, and wobbling on jello legs.
All the while as the thoughts of what happens to the a piece of swallowed gum circles my brain.
Surely I will live, right?!
How many pieces of gum did I swallow as a kid?
Does it digest?
Will it clog my poor pipes.
That’s just what my poor guts need, a ball of plastic stuck somewhere in the recesses of my feeble guts. . .

I look down at the band muttering. . .
“I hope you’re happy” I disgustingly tell the orange thing on my wrist.
A quick check the progress on the phone. . .
“you are at 38% of your goal”
“WHAT?!”
Damn band!!!

Balancing Act

“Your hand opens and closes, opens and closes. If it were always a fist or always stretched open, you would be paralysed. Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding, the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated as birds’ wings.”
― Rumi

Be not angry that you cannot make others as you wish them to be, since you cannot make yourself as you wish to be.”
― Thomas à Kempis

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(a poor mallard duck who was trying to nap as I took his picture / San Antonio, Texas along the River Walk / Julie Cook / 2014)

Life is our tightrope and we spend a lifetime furiously trying to balance our footing.
Too much lean to the left, or too much lean to the right equates to certain disaster.

Oddly ours is a society of excess.
Excess does not equate to balance.
If you should want for anything, you are encouraged to go for it. . . and if you should want more, then by all means, go for it again, and again, and again—until you get your fill.

Nope, not much balance in excess.

Any child can explain balance.
Eat too much candy, the consequences are not pleasant.
Therefore there must be a balance.
Some candy is good, too much candy is bad.

Yet it seems to be such a difficult process for most adults to wrap their heads around such a concept.

We are constantly robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Meaning we pull from certain areas of our lives in order to increase other areas. Shaving off time, resources, energies on one side, pouring it over to the other side, all in the name of efficiency and performance.

We rationalize the need for or lack of sleep by consuming massive amounts of heart jolting caffeine, reassuring ourselves that we’ll make up for our sleeplessness by rationalizing that we’re one of those folks who can get by with just 4 hours, or that we’ll sleep in on the weekends. Yet our weekends are so jam packed and our eyes so blood shot and our bodies so sluggish that sadly the sleep never comes.

We chronically lie to ourselves about our time—time spent with our children and family. We justify our absence by claiming it’s all in the name of love. We spend copious amounts of time away from the very individuals who need us most then scramble like mad trying to make up for it with overindulgences.

We bargain with our health as we constantly rationalize. . . “It’s okay if I binge on this or that. . .I’ll work it off at the gym tomorrow, I’ll drink lots of water and take some aspirin, I only do this on the weekends, I’ll have just one more, it’s not like I have to have it, You only live once, I’m only young once. . .”

There is no balance in rationalizing, lying and bartering.

Rather balance is the equity in our lives and it is the key to living harmoniously. And without balance and harmony, our lives become a dangerous journey on the tightrope.

Without balance there are repercussions and consequences.
Sadly we continue to believe we can simply put a band-aid on it all, pop another pill, down another energy drink, have another drink, tell our kids another tale, tell ourselves another lie. . .that it will all work out because eventually down the road, when we’re finally older or retired or thinner, or healthier, or more grounded, or more finically sound. . .then, finally then, our lives will even out.

Funny thing about that thought process, those evened out days never seem to come.
Things happen.
Life happens.
Our best laid plans get steamrolled, sidetracked and smashed.

The moral to this rambling tale you ask. . .
Simply put, balance—
And that means balance now! Not later, not down the road, but now!
Quit lying, bargaining, haggling with and to others, but more importantly, quit lying to yourself.

Balance
Harmony
Equity

The Balance of
Time
Work
Rest
Play
Prayer
Joy
Fellowship
Peace

May you find your balance— sooner than later.
Remember, later is never a guarantee.

A troubling story

“If the Tiber rises too high, or the Nile too low, the remedy is always feeding Christians to the lions.”
― Tertullian

“Bless them that persecute you.’ If our enemy cannot put up with us any longer and takes to cursing us, our immediate reaction must be to lift up our hands and bless him. Our enemies are the blessed of the Lord. Their curse can do us no harm. May their poverty be enriched with all the riches of God, with the blessing of Him whom they seek to oppose in vain. We are ready to endure their curses so long as they redound to their blessing.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer,

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(Riproduzione dal “Sacrdmentarium Gelasianum–Francia nord-orientale Bibloioteca” Apostolica Vaticana vii secolo–a little something I picked up on a trip to Rome from a wonderful shop run by a group of monks–the shop sells art work form a variety of worldwide Catholic missions)

Now I don’t usually wish to dabble too much in current news or hot button issues or even any sort of political mess here in cookieland—as sadly that is what most news and current events consist of anyway. . . a bunch of mess! However, that being said, it is this particular story, of which I’ve included below, having read yesterday, which has left me deeply troubled.

Like the story’s author, I typically go about my day often irritated by the little issues in life which truly equate to nothing more than small inconveniences in a busy hectic life. The testing of our patience as we wait in this line or that, be it at the grocery store, the super sized discount store, the DMV to renew a drivers license (at last word, someone told me that they waited in line for 5 hours to renew their license– having the necessary papers in hand–proof of birth, residence, self. . .yada, yada, yada—but I digress as that is a post for another day), standing in line at the Post Office is in itself a test of patience, as I wrote a post on this very issue just a few weeks ago.

And so the litany goes on.

We tend to let these little annoyances and inconveniences really get under our skin, that is until we pause long enough to read a story such as the one below. Quickly we are jolted back to the reality of life and of the struggles and hardships which our fellow kith and kin are reeling in and with worldwide. My irritation at standing in a line at a store suddenly pales in comparison to these other raging world issues.

Case in point, the story below.
This is a tale of the ignored and forgotten current persecution of Christian believers.

This is not a story of the ‘feeding them to the lions’ sort of persecution, but rather a tale of a more sinister means of attack. This, as the standards of torture have evolved to a much more insidious and evil practice. Of course the age old standards of beatings and rape still stand up against the test of time but it is now, the psychological attack, which is comparable to, if not exceeding, the assaults to the human body.

There was a time when most countries in the free world would raise up in arms over the intolerance, tortures and murders which are occurring on a daily basis—-but sadly that is no longer the case.

Whether it is due in part to the deep secularization occurring in our countries or to the laissez- faire attitude many have for “religious Christians” –such stories will continue, as they are currently, to repeat themselves as there just doesn’t seem to be anyone who will take a stand against such barbarism.

This is why I am opting to share the story. “If not me, then who– if not now, then when” is the phrase that is echoing in my mind. Why do we not rise up to stop these sorts of atrocities?! We will quickly pick up a placard and march concerning gay rights, abortion, capital punishment, drinking and driving, freedom of speech, the stopping of wars. . .but we won’t say anything about Christian men, woman and children who are being tortured and murdered every day for their beliefs. We won’t speak up to stop Christians from being tortured and killed but we will quickly speak loud and clear over the likes of Hobby Lobby and their providing or not providing contraceptions for their employees.

What is wrong with this picture?!
I’ll let you explain it to me. . .

Christians in captivity — the agony of waiting
By Lela GilbertPublished March 24, 2014 FoxNews.com
Patience is in short supply these days. Despite our instant communication capabilities, just about everyone is waiting for something. The phone doesn’t ring. The cable guy never shows up. A check is always “in the mail.”

Last week I found my own patience stretched into a thin membrane by a pile of complaints – thankfully small ones. But mostly I was struck by the inevitable silence of waiting. When we’re hoping for answers, no news is far from good news.

When we’re hoping for answers, no news is far from good news.
And in fact, it was bad news that distracted me from my own woes as a headline scrolled down my iPhone. “Asia Bibi appeal hearing postponed.”

Asia Bibi is a Pakistani Christian, and her name is familiar to those of us who follow international human rights. Her story is almost unbelievable – and all too true:

“In June 2009, Asia was involved in an argument with a group of Muslim women with whom she had been harvesting berries, after the other women became angry at her for drinking the same water as them. She was subsequently accused of insulting the Islamic Prophet Muhammad, a charge she denies, and was arrested and imprisoned. In November 2010, a Sheikhupura judge sentenced her to death. If executed, Asia would be the first woman in Pakistan to be lawfully killed for blasphemy.”

Many have spoken out on Asia Bibi’s behalf, including Pope Benedict. Two prominent Pakistanis, Shahbaz Bhatti, Minister for Christian minorities, and Salmaan Taseer, Governor of Punjab, were assassinated in 2011 for opposing Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws on her behalf.

Nonetheless, since 2009, this falsely accused woman has been on death row in a filthy prison cell, wondering if and when her death sentence will enforced. She longs for husband and five children. Day and night, in squalid surroundings, she fights off her fears, endures physical illness and prays.

Unsure if she will live or die, Asia Bibi waits.

Another story emerged last week from Iran, about US-citizen and former Muslim Pastor Saeed Abedini, who is serving an eight-year sentence because he “undermined the Iranian government by creating a network of Christian house churches and … attempting to sway Iranian youth away from Islam.”

Despite urgent requests for medical care – his body is internally wounded from abominable prison conditions including beatings and torture – he was denied treatment. Eventually, presumably under pressure from several international organizations’ outcry, Abedini was taken to a medical center, unshackled and even permitted a brief visit from a family member.

What happened after that? Once the encouraging proceedings passed, Abedini was still in pain, still bleeding from internal injuries. He remains hospitalized but untreated. Like Asia Bibi, he is the focus of much international prayer and non-governmental activism. Even the EU has spoken up, as has President Obama. But Abedini is entirely unsure about the future. Will he see his wife and two small children again? Will he live or die? He has been behind bars since September 26, 2012.

The family watches and keeps faith. Concerned people post and tweet and pray.

And day in, day out, Saeed Abedini waits.

Other captives are waiting, along with their loved ones, in Egypt. According to my friend and colleague, Coptic scholar Samuel Tadros, the big stories of church burnings and murdered Christians have diminished somewhat under Cairo’s new military regime.

But less publicized evils remain. Most notably, kidnappings are rampant. On March 20, MidEast Christians News reported that two young women, 17 and 18, were abducted in separate incidents just days before.

Coptic World observed, “Coptic children or adults abducted at gunpoint and held (and sometimes killed or forced to convert to Islam) by “unknown persons” in exchange for money—are on the rise in Egypt…”

Muslim kidnappings of Christians are also taking place in Iraq, Syria, Pakistan and beyond. Captives are often raped, beaten, forcibly married, starved and eventually, if financial terms aren’t met, murdered.

Meanwhile, the victims’ loved ones worry, weep and console each other. Of course, like all believers they pray, recalling the ancient promise:

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint (Is 40:31).

So hoping against hope, they wait.

Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world and abuses have surged exponentially in recent years. At the same time, the United States government, once a global champion of religious freedom, offers dwindling intervention.

Reliance solely on the nations of the world to act, diplomatically or politically – with rare and notable exceptions – will likely result in the longest wait of all.

And waiting is agonizing.

Lela Gilbert

The paradox, the conundrum and the dichotomy

“The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it emotionally. A higher paradox confounds the emotion as well as reason and there are long periods in the lives of all of us, when the truth as revealed by faith is hideous, emotionally disturbing, downright repulsive. Witness the dark night of the soul in individual saints . . .”
― Flannery O’Connor

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(ball moss found in a tree in San Antonio, Texas / Julie Cook / 2014)

If I am a follower of the Christ
I am called to die.
For to follow Christ means death.
Death in the eyes of the world

A Christ follower must die unto self.

If therefore, I am dead to self, I am, in turn also, alive
For it is in death, and only in that death, that I might live

For if I am dead to self, I am now born again in the Spirit

If I am a follower of the Christ
I am therefore charged to love those whom I hate and those who hate me
If I am struck, I am to turn, allowing myself to be struck again
For I am not to return evil for evil

Being careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone
(Romans 12:14)

If someone takes what is mine, I am to give them more
If I have riches I am to give it all away. . .
only to become poor

For it is only the poor who inherit the Kingdom of Heaven

If I am a follower of the Christ
I am to forgive those who do me harm,
and forgive those who harm the ones I love
I am to forgive seventy times seven

As 490 was once believed to be a perfect continuum.

If I am a follower of the Christ
I am in the world, yet not of the world
I am a foreigner in my own country
As I become an enemy of the world

I am charged to offer only love to those who call me their enemy

If I am a follower of the Christ
I am a prisoner, yet, I will find myself free
I may be bound and persecuted in body, yet I will be free in Spirit

For if the Son sets you free, then free you are, indeed
(John 8:36)

If I am a follower of the Christ
I must give to Caesar what is Caesar’s
Yet I am to give my heart and soul to Christ alone.

For I can not serve two masters

If I am a follower of the Christ
I may be lost, yet, I am newly found
I may suffer, yet, I will also rejoice
I may cry, yet I will be filled with joy

I may die, yet I will live
For it is only in Christ that we are offered new life

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Galatians 2:20

(A thank you to Lynda for reminding me of the dichotomy of our faith)

focus

“Nor did demons crucify Him; it is you who have crucified Him and crucify Him still, when you delight in your vices and sins. ”
― Francis of Assisi

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(statue in a yard in San Antonio, Texas / Julie Cook / 2014)

We threw caution to the wind
Living for the moment

Self centered, selfish, self
Focusing inward, never outward

As the hammer hit the nail

They did it
That was our familiar cry
It was all them, certainly not me
We claimed none of that

Again a hammer hits another nail

Blood poured out upon our hands
yet there was no acknowledgement
How could that be
Self becoming blood

Another nail is struck

Blood mixes with sin
Flowing down a tree
Spreading out over the dirt
I pick up the linen

Blood covers my hands
It doesn’t wipe off

Lightning streaks across the blackened sky
Was it the thunder which shook the ground
The bitter taste of bile swirls through a dry mouth
I didn’t do this, I swear

The women cry as the people turn away
Three times a rooster crows
There’s another one dead
As the body twists on the noose

The demons in hell are dancing
For once, this was not their doing

Hands still stained
Metal striking metal
There’s money on the ground
Was it just a dream?

Needing to hide,
We run to the shadows
Still claiming none of it
It’s all too much to ignore

Voices cry out
I hear my name
Clean hands reach for the blood soaked hands I hide

Eyes meet mine
Guilt is freely taken
Brokeness made straight
The demons dance no more

Shadows never lie
As Light now breaks the darkness
Battles rage no more
with Victory now at hand

We step out from the grave
The Price is paid in full
Death has lost again
Triumphantly Hope remains alive