You are both God of tempest storm and peaceful calm

My heart is in anguish within me,
And the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
Fear and trembling come upon me,
And horror has overwhelmed me.
I said, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest.
“Behold, I would wander far away,
I would lodge in the wilderness. Selah.
“I would hasten to my place of refuge
From the stormy wind and tempest.”

(Psalm 55 5-8)

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(the native azalea survived Winter’s fury / Julie Cook / 2014)

For you are the God of both tempest storm and peaceful calm.
You see us and know of the terror caused by a blackened sky
We neither sleep nor rest as the winds howl all around us
Our nights are filled with anguish and dread, for in the darkness hides an unforgiving twisting wind.
The rains cause the creeks and rivers to flow from their banks, taking away what is ours
The hail assaults our dwelling place and causes damage to all things exposed

When we emerge from the shelter of the pit,
Our eyes stare in disbelief at the destruction.
Lives now scattered like fallen leaves.
No identifying markers reamin.
We are helpless to stop the storm
It chooses neither rich nor poor, young nor old.
It discriminates not as it sets a random course.

Our eyes are swollen with dried up tears
As our tongues stick to a dry and tasteless mouth
Missing now are pets, friends, neighbors, schools, homes, cars, businesses.
Nothing remains
Neither grass nor leaf, flower nor bird.

And yet You hear our cries.
You know of our broken lives.
You are not absent in the wind
You know of each lightening strike as you count each and every drop of rain.
We cry out to You and You are there.

As skies darken for a third straight day, draw close to us as we look up in fear
Bring peace to the raging storm
Quiet the fierce winds
Spare us oh God, for you are merciful and You alone know of our distress.

And should the storms descend upon our lives, scattering all that we cherish,
Be with us as we pick up the debris of our lives.
Help us to rebuild and make new what was taken.
Grant us strength in the face of our weakness.
We need not fear for it is only in You that we have already overcome Death.

When does 669 equal 15,000?

“The soul is healed by being with children.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky

“I work on the motto that if something’s not impossible, there must be a way of doing it.”
Nicholas Winton

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(Nicholas Winton in 1938 with a young Jewish boy in Prague)

The year is 1938.
You’re 28 years old, a young British stock broker—successful and living the good life.
You’ve been keeping up with the current events throughout Europe, with a particularly keen interest in Czechoslovakia.
Hitler is on the march.
The Czechs, particularly the Jews, are trying to get out while they still can.
The war drums are beginning to echo from across the English Channel.
You’ve got two weeks vacation saved up.
Seems like a perfect time for a trip to Prague. . .

Fast forward to Sunday evening, April 27, 2014—time for 60 Minutes.
Correspondent Bob Simon hosts the story “Saving The Children”
He introduces us to 104 year old Nicholas Winton.

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(Sir Nicholas Winton today)

I was just in the process of finishing up the dishes when the story started. Intrigued with the story’s intro, I immediately stopped what I was doing in order to give the story my full attention.

By the time the 60 Minute story ends, tears are streaming down my cheeks.
A tale of heroic action by one who simply thought he had to make a difference.
He had no corporate financial backing.
He had no Governmental backing.
He was not a member of the military.
He was merely a young man with a big heart.
A young man who simply knew that there were people, in particular families with young children, who were now in trouble. Never mind that these people were on the continent proper, hundreds of miles from his own home.
He had no clue as to what he would find.
He had no idea as to how to he could “fix” the current “bleeding”
He simply knew in his heart that he had to go and he had to try to help.
Hitler and his dreaded Nazis were coming, as was now Nicholas Winton.
The two were on a collision course with destiny.
One to save lives, the other to take lives.

I’m providing a link for anyone who would like to view the original story here:
http://www.cbsnews.com/news/saving-the-children-during-world-war-11-60-minutes/

Mr. Winton, who is actually Sir Winton, is a most unassuming 104 year old British gentleman. He has a gentle, soft spoken demeanor, with an ever so sly smile. For nearly 50 years, Sir Winton never actually spoke of the life changing events which took place during a trip to Prague in 1938. Had his wife not found an old faded yellow and long forgotten scrape book in their attic, filled with the grainy black and white photographs of hundreds of young children, the world may never have known of the difference one young Englishman had made so very long ago.

When asked by Bob Simon as to why he never told any one of his most heroic feat which spanned 1938-1939, Sir Winton replied that it wasn’t that he kept it secret, he just didn’t find it important to go on about it.
That was then.
This is now.
And he currently has other irons in the fire.

At 104 Sir Winton is currently involved in working with the elderly mentally handicapped of London as well as for building homes for senior citizens. Interesting that a man of 104 feels a deep need to take care of those who are a bit younger than himself when it seems as if he would be the one in need of care.

I will briefly delve into only the general specifics of Sir Winton’s heroic act of 1938, as you may certainly visit the 60 Minute link or peruse the Web for a more in-depth story of this remarkable man— I will however whet your appetite with a few of the highlights.

As the Nazis rolled into then Czechoslovakia, wanting to literally take the Sudetenland, which they felt was rightfully their own, just as they had rolled into Austria and soon Poland and Hungary, the citizens of Czechoslovakia began to panic, especially the Jews. Nicholas Winton was reading about these disturbing unfolding events in the daily news with keen interest. He decided to use his time saved for holiday for a trip to Prague to see what, if anything, he could do to help.

The short end of story is that Sir Winton decided to get out as many children as possible from the impending falling death ridden curtain which was quickly descending not only over Czechoslovakia but over most of Europe. He had no particular resources except for his own ingenuity and creativity laced with a bit of deception. He orchestrated the deportation of eventually 669 children. He had even written to President Franklin Roosevelt asking if the United States would help by taking in some of the children.

When explaining all of this to Bob Simon, Sir Winton rather nonchalantly recalls that the United States refused to be of assistance and what a pity that was as he suspects they may have been able to save many more children.

The truly sad part of the story was the interview of Mr. Hugo Meisl. Mr Meisl was 10 years old in 1939. He vividly recalls the day Adolph Hitler rode through the streets of Prague. He along with the other children of Prague were lined up along the street route and were all told that as soon as the Führer rode past, they were to give the obligatory raised arm salute of Heil Hitler.

He was one of the 669 children that was saved during Nicholas Winton’s deportation scheme. Bob Simon asks if he remembers his parents taking him to the train station to send him to what was to be a journey to the safety of a new life in England. Mr Meisl recalls as if it was yesterday his parents taking him to the station that fateful day. They were not emotional but had told him that he was to go to England on a 2 month holiday, at which time they would then come join him.

Bob Simon presses Mr. Meisl asking if he had believed his parents. “Of course” Mr Meisl answers “We had every reason to believe our parents.”
As the interview continues, we all painfully realize that Mr. Meisl never saw his parents again. Bob Simon interjects “After the war you went back to Czechoslovakia… Was there one instant where you accepted the fact that your parents were dead?”

At this point, Mr. Meisl becomes quite emotional (as do I) explaining that for the next three years following the War, as the trains returned from Siberia, Russia, returning back to Czechoslovakia those who had fled or who had been taken prisoner, he searched for his parents.

I was personally so taken by the raw emotions of this man, who is now nearing 90, as he recalls the day he said good-bye to his parents and then of the 3 year search and wait for a return and reunion that never took place.

As a parent myself, I am hard pressed to imagine having to send my young child away to what I hoped was safety, knowing I most likely would never have seen him again. The total lack of control over my very life and that of my child’s life is something I simply cannot wrap my brain around. I find it a tragedy that so many free Americans and Europeans today have no true cognizant or emotional concept of the price paid by so many of our parents and grandparents during a time the majority of us have no understanding of—

We think that we would not tolerate such action taken against us or our family, and yet, the citizens of much of Europe in 1938 most likely felt the same as we do today.

In 1939 War was declared and the trains, with their cars full of young hopeful futures were all stopped, no longer being permitted to leave for the promise of safety and a future. A train was actually loaded up and was ready to depart the station just as the War was declared. It was in just a few short months that those same trains, now full of more children along with their parents, did indeed again depart Prague, but this time it was for a one way trip destined for what was to be Hitler’s final solution.

That 669 number of saved children, who were given the chance of freedom and life, went on to grow exponentially. The 669 married, having children, grandchildren and now great grandchildren. 669 saved young lives grew to 15,000 lives–all full of hope, dreams, love and thanks to Nicholas Winton, life.

Ever grateful to the gardeners of our soul

“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”
― Marcel Proust

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(a happy orange poppy blossom, Julie Cook , 2014)

I pray that we have a least one person along the long and wending path we call our life, the one (or multiple) person or persons who has / have taken the time and interest to “garden” along our well traveled path—that rare individual or persons who cares enough that we are happy, healthy and that our souls are indeed ready for full bloom.

I also pray that we may, from time to time, offer our gratitude and thanks to that very individual or individuals who has / have bothered to take such care and time along our life’s path in order to prep the soil, weed the way, hedge the edge and trim the pathway, in order to make room for a long awaited blooming.

On this new morning to the new week, as we prepare to close out one month and transition towards the new month of May, may we be mindful of our life’s path and of the gracious gardeners along that very personal walkway. Here is my heartfelt thanks to those gardeners who have cared enough along my own path to make certain my soul was always ready for blooming.

“you say you want a revolution. . .”

Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.
Anne Frank

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(detail of an antique fire bonnet/ Julie Cook / 2014)

Whoa retired art teacher. . .those are some pretty strong words are they not?
I suppose you’re right dear reader, the word “revolution” does evoke all sorts of radical connotations.
Just posting the word on the blog probably has some government top dog out there curious as to the tom-foolery this retired educator is trying to stir up. . .

With the ongoing escalation of tensions between the US, Europe and Russia regarding the state of the free and democratic country of Ukraine, the continuing saga in the Middle East between Palestine and Israel–peace talks on, peace talks off. I’m 54 years old— these “peace” talks have been ongoing and the tension ever present. . .long before I ever entered this world and it has all been going on almost since the beginning of time. Even before Israel became an independent state, the discord has existed, and will continue as the biblically minded among us simply nod in a sad understanding. . .it does seem that the world at large is indeed in need of some sort of Revolution.

And then there were the headlines out of Chicago this past week. . .

I was fortunate to have visited the toddling town this past August, falling in love with life on the shores of Lake Michigan. The city itself is full of delightful green space, attractions for the eyes, the intellect, the tastebuds, the sports minded, as well as for the outdoor enthusiast. We walked to most destinations and took taxis for those out of reach. We felt safe and thoroughly enjoyed our visit.

I am also quite familiar with Chicago’s darker past of the bygone days of Speakeasies, Gangland activity and Government corruption. Sadly it seems, however, that the past may never have truly been eradicated and redeemed as news from this midwestern hub of commerce and charm appears most dire and grim.

Over the course of the Easter weekend, there were a reported 45 shootings in the city, out of which there were 45 wounded or dead.
(see the full article here: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/04/22/how-chicago-became-chiraq.html)

Many of the victims were children. Reportedly, involving one most disturbing incident, when a car pulled up, at a park were young children had gathered after Easter Church services to play— a passenger in the car points a gun at a group of kids, with the oldest child being age 11, asking if they were members of a gang. Before the children could respond, they were all shot.

I should have suspected something was a rye when, on the morning of our final day in Chicago, I had flipped on the morning news. It was a Monday in mid August, the first day back to school for the kids of Chicago. The lead story was of the neighborhood safety watches, with individuals literally posted along sidewalks, in order for the kids to be to able to walk to school without fear of gun violence. “Wait a minute,” I silently muttered, “we did not see anything like this during our visit!. . .” The teacher and parent in me filed this away as most unsettling.

The city, of which I have recently learned, has the dubious nickname of “Chiraq”—a butchered mixing of the words Chicago and Iraq—and with 45 shot dead or wounded during the course of a single weekend, I can understand the war zone distinction. But I suppose we could say the same for the streets of Compton, Detroit, Atlanta. . .as the list goes on and on.

We can argue that all of this is a direct result of guns or that it’s because of the drugs, or it’s because of the gangs, or it’s because of the broken family unit, or it’s because of welfare, or it’s because of unemployment, or it’s because of race, or it’s because of the social structure, or it’s because all of the above and them some. . . etc, on and on, ad infinitum, as it does go on and on.

We can tout that if we simply eradicate, educate, communicate, placate, eliminate, etc, then we can fix our mess of violence in this country as well as in this world.

Did any of that intellectual rumination matter this week in Kabul, Afghanistan when the man chosen to guard, defend and protect 3 American doctors and medical volunteers, who were in that country to help save the lives of woman and babies, thought it better to shoot and kill these selfless aid workers at point blank range?

How simple was it to understand that their mission was merely one of service and aid, yet even that didn’t seem to matter to one who convinced himself that their death outweighed their service.

Who thinks like that?!
Who thinks it’s ok to shoot kids?
Oh I best not start with the questions, as we’d be here all day. . .

The revolution of which I speak is a not a Revolution of unrest, violence and destruction but rather a Revolution of Love.
Not some dippy hippy, day of yore, let’s make love not war, mubmo jumbo. . .but an actual revolution of Agape.

Agape–ἀγάπη, agápē
Greek for unconditional love.
Not a romantic love, not a sexual love, not an obsessive love, not a self love, but the love of one human begin for another–the same love of the omnipotent God for His creation and in turn, His Creation for Him.

Unconditional, meaning without strings attached–the concern of another human being without regard to self and self’s wellbeing—just like what those doctors in Afghanistan possessed. . .

But Julie, how can one love others when staring down the barrel of a gun, when one is holding a dead or dying loved one in one’s arms, when all one has spent a lifetime working for and building is destroyed and or taken. . .? Does not violence, hatred, death and destruction beget only more of the same?

Examples are indeed all around us—as they have been down through the ages.
Notable examples of such are the Polish priest Maximilian Kolbe who voluntarily gave his life in place of a jewish man in the death camp of Auschwitz. Mother Teresa who spent a lifetime picking up the diseased and dying Hindu and Muslim in the streets of Calcutta. Corrie Ten Boom, the Christian Dutch resistance underground worker whose family spent much of the War hiding Jews in their home, who were all eventually arrested, sent to Ravensbruck Concentration camp, where she alone survived. Her book The Hiding Place documents this harrowing and dark time of the world’s history.

We can also say that individuals such a Mahatmas Ghandi and even Martin Luther King Jr were also shining examples of what peace and the demonstration of Love can accomplish when staring at violence and death head on.

I for one have grown weary of the gangs, the drugs, the wars, the hate, the resentment, the needless killings, the disregard for human life and human dignity.

When will enough ever be enough?

You say you want a revolution
Well, you know We all want to change the world
You tell me that it’s evolution
Well, you know We all want to change the world
But when you talk about destruction
Don’t you know that you can count me out
Don’t you know it’s gonna be all right?
All right, all right
You say you got a real solution
Well, you know
We’d all love to see the plan
You ask me for a contribution
Well, you know
We’re all doing what we can
But if you want money
For people with minds that hate
All I can tell is brother you have to wait
Don’t you know it’s gonna be all right?
All right, all right
You say you’ll change the constitution
Well, you know
We all want to change your head
You tell me it’s the institution
Well, you know
You better free you mind instead
But if you go carrying pictures of chairman Mao
You ain’t going to make it with anyone anyhow
Don’t you know it’s gonna be all right?
All right, all right!
All right, all right, all right!
All right, all right, all right!
All right, all right!

(Lyrics by John Lennon and Paul McCartney)

In just a few short weeks, a little bit of Southern Heaven for expectant tastebuds

Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.
May Sarton

ADD A LITTLE OF THIS:

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(a small section of the plowed garden)

PLUS A LITTLE OF THIS

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(a few heirloom tomatoes ready for planting)

WHICH EQUALS A LOT OF THIS:

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(part of last year’s bounty of heirloom tomatoes)

AND OF COURSE THE BEST PART IS THIS:

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(sliced heirloom tomatoes, shredded basil, chopped chives, fresh green peas, sea salt, fresh ground pepper—add blue cheese or feta—yum. . .)

Yep, it’s that time of year again.
Actually we’ve gotten a rather late start.
Things should have been plowed and planted by now, but as this was the year for the winter that wouldn’t let go. . . we’ve had to wait.

Yesterday the ground was plowed, boosted with the addition of fertilizer and plowed again.
Hopefully a nice little passing rain shower, which is predicted for this morning, may grace the freshly tilled soil.
Add the water, let dry, plow again, then add tiny tomatoes, eggplants then the myriad of seed packs—yellow crookneck squash, black beauty zucchini, leeks, Blue lake bush beans, Silver Queen and Peaches and Cream Corn, yellow wax beans, bush baby limas, bush cucumbers, red and orange bell peppers, etc

And now, we wait. . .

“Give me Liberty or Give me Death” or everyone has “stuff”

“However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names. It is not so bad as you are. It looks poorest when you are richest. The fault-finder will find faults even in paradise. Love your life, poor as it is. You may perhaps have some pleasant, thrilling, glorious hours, even in a poorhouse. The setting sun is reflected from the windows of the almshouse as brightly as from the rich man’s abode; the snow melts before its door as early in the spring. I do not see but a quiet mind may live as contentedly there, and have as cheering thoughts, as in a palace.”
― Henry David Thoreau

Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad.”
― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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(beautiful white azaleas in Julie’s yard / 2014)

Most individuals who we currently read about today in the annuals of our History, those brave men and woman who have gone long before us, paving the way for the life we all know and treasure today, have grown, no doubt, larger than life exponentially with the passing of time. Exploits and deeds take on lives of their own as the truth, history, fact and legend mix precariously through the ages.

We tend to think of such individuals as almost super human, void of the things we mere mortals suffer and deal with on a daily basis.

I think Steven Spielberg helped us humanize Abraham Lincoln in his most recent movie “Lincoln”. The movie portrayed a man acquainted with deep sorrow and affliction. We actually saw a man (albeit the actor) wrestle with grief and loss while dealing with the shared pain within the dynamics of his family, all the while as a Nation wrestled with tremendous growing pains.

The cynics among us can say that Mr. Spielberg may have taken liberties with the emotions of a man that we know only through grainy black and white photographs and the myriad of writings, letters, and documented statements regarding his actions and reactions. Yet it is the actual seeing and viewing of such actions and reactions, via the medium of stage and screen, that which we see with our very eyes, which makes the man, truly a man.

I say all of this as I read most recently a most interesting article regarding Patrick Henry. Our famous Revolutionary War hero whose immortal words “Give me Liberty or Give me Death” have cemented his fame and notoriety in the pages of the birth of this mighty Nation.

Not knowing a great deal of Mr. Henry’s personal life, I was intrigued by this short article regarding such. It seems that one evening, several years prior to the turbulent days of the Revolution, Mr. Henry was entertaining some guests. As everyone had gathered in the parlor for after dinner brandies and conversation, a commotion was heard coming from somewhere in or under the house. A scratching sound and the faint shrieks and screams of what must be a woman or perhaps bobcat. Appearing somewhat confused and baffled, Mr. Henry moved his guests to another room of the house where the remainder of the evening was quiet and without further distraction.

Was it a ghost the guests, and now reader, perhaps wonder?

Upon the departure of his guests, Mr. Henry returned to the parlor where he first heard the dubious sounds and proceeded to pull back a rug from the floor, revealing a small trap door. Mr. Henry pulls open the door, and with a candle in hand, proceeds down the steps to a dark labyrinth which ran underneath his home. He makes his way hesitantly through the dark and wending alley like maze. Suddenly the candle casts an eerie glow towards something huddled in a darkened corner. Cowering in this dark tomb crouches a figure, which at first glance appears to be that of an apparition or other worldly specter— but in actuality was that of a woman.

She is dirty with wild darting eyes. “There there my dear” the reader hears Mr. Henry utter, whispering across the span of hundreds of years.

The story now takes on a sad twist verses one of some other worldly shenanigans.
It seems that Mr. Henry was once married to a woman named Sarah– to whom he greatly loved as she in turn loved him. During the course of their marriage, she bore six children for the couple, but as the years passed, it was noted that her mental health became more an more erratic. Her actions became violent as she attempted to cause harm to not only the children and Mr. Henry but to herself as well.

Given that this was the mid 1700’s, in a young new land, facilities and care for the mentally ill were quite archaic if non existent. The notion was still widely believed that those who suffered mental illness were actually demonically possessed or were practicing witches. Treatment for such individuals was often more torturous then restorative with many patients dying in unspeakable conditions.

Historians continue with conflicting theories as to Mr. Henry’s intentions for locking Sarah in a damp and dark cellar. Some believe that, fearing for her safety as well as for the rest of the family’s, it was the only solution but to lock her away (shades of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights comes to mind). Others theorize that his reasons were a bit more sinister and selfish as he was embarrassed having a wife who was mad and wished that no one knew, or as few individuals as possible, of his wife’s “condition”.

Either reason mattered not upon her death, at which time Mr. Henry cleared both house and heart of any and all reminders of his wife, never speaking of her again.

It was not much longer until the Mr. Henry we all now know grew into his own with his famous Revolutionary battle cry.

This story is but one small reminder that we all have our burdens to bear in our lives. No one is exempt from the mishaps of life. Some of us may seem to be more blessed than others, living more charmed lives than others, but that is merely only on the surface. Chances are that even the most fortunate among us have had their share of trials, sorrows, tragedies, setbacks, struggles, miscues, and misadventures.

Even as those who saw the recent movie “Saving Mr. Banks” came to learn, that even the most magical among us, have had to bear hardship, often times at the hand of physical and emotional abuse.

The real story here is that greatness can and does rise up from adversity. We may either allow the circumstances of our lives to ruin and destroy us, or we can use them as a stepping stool, reaching upward and outward, working our way toward bigger and better places.

I have written often about the dysfunction and mental illness which plagued my own family as I was growing up, so I can speak first hand of its devastation and darkness, but I am here to also speak of the saving Grace and Hope that can be found waiting as well.

Do not allow life’s darkness to cover the radiant light that lies deep within your own heart. Do not succumb to the hardships and sorrow. It is all merely the furnace which is being used to forge, shape and mould the beauty in your own soul.

No one says that you must love these difficulties and burdens but they will tell you to learn from them and to use them for making not only yourself and your life better, but use them for making that of the World’s existence better as well. . .