In the blink of an eye

There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.
Washington Irving

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(the fleeting frozen rains from hopefully the last cold snap / Julie Cook / 2015)

And just like that, in a fleeting single blink of an eye,
the triumphant joy ceases.
The crowds have quickly lost their jovial revelry.
Things are taking a turn–yet what sort of turn is yet to be seen.
There is a subtle shift in the winds.
Deep dark whispers now drift along the alleyways, replacing the recent laughter and jubilation.
A few dried palm branches are trampled underfoot, unnoticed.

What is passion?
Is it intensity?
Is it a feeling of indescribable and voracious love, longing, desire?
It is a consuming flame within the very core of one’s being, psyche, soul, heart?
Is it with or without control?
Is it with or without pain?

Groups of men are seen huddled together.
Any observer can note the seriousness of their conversations.
There is a hurriedness in the steps of those more official looking individuals.
Even the animals sense the change.
All are now anxious, fretful, nervous. . .
The sky grows dark, a storm seems to be brewing.

Is grief anticipatory?
Can sorrow be foretold?
Is the heart warned before breaking?
What of fear and anger verses hope and love?
Is one greater than the other?
Does love trump all other emotions?
Can one be broken hearted and full of love simultaneously?

Paranoia gives way to determination,
As a final solution is now at hand.
Selfishness, greed, control, swirl into a toxic mixture of treachery
A pigeon is found and a mole is set loose as the silver is gathered.
There are those who rub their hands together in twisted satisfaction as
there are those who wring their hands with foreboding and trepidation

Sorrow and love are now woven as one
There is no turning back as the die has been cast
The sequence of events is no longer reversible.
The truth of the matter is. . .they never were.
This pivotal moment was determined eons ago
Everyone has had a hand in it.

There is but one lone figure who has remained very far removed,
yet it is he who has watched this all unfold, generation after generation.
He stands in solitude perched somewhere between space and time, watching, waiting yet knowing
A single tear is seen to fall.
It is now left to time, which is all that remains separating. . .
what was
what is
and
what will be. . .

Heart of the matter

God our Father has seen fit to grant us, in the heart of his Son, “infinite treasures of love,” mercy and affection. If we want to find evidence that God loves us — that he not only listens to our prayers but anticipates them — we need only follow the same line of thought as St Paul: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things in him?” (Rom 8:32)
(excerpt from a homily given by St Josemaria Escriva June 17, 1966)

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(Calla Lilly / Julie Cook / 2015)

Imagine this is your last week, as you know it, on earth.
Your death has been set.
There is no maybe that it happens, no maybe it doesn’t.
No 50 / 50 chance.
It’s set in stone.
The end of the week.
No getting around it, it’s going to happen, like it or not.

It is not a death of natural causes or illness.
It is not set to be some tragic accident.
It is not a death by lethal injection, electrocution, firing square, poison, hanging,
nothing so orderly and deemed oddly humane and / or neat.
No, your death is not to be easy.
It’s going to be horrific actually.
Slow
Agonizing
Painful. . .

And it comes when all those whom you love have run and hid, with some even turning their back.
Alone, deserted, abandoned.
There is no stopping it
avoiding it
averting it
altering it
moving it
preventing it
hiding from it. . .
It’s coming.
At the end of the week.

Armed with the sickly stalk reality of your demise.
Given it to be brutal, awful, horrible. . .
What do you do?
Do you run?
Do you hide?
Do you beg?
Do you plead?
Do you find another to take your place?
. . .Another to take your place. . .
Ahhhh. . .
A novel idea.
A substitue!

Some hapless sucker who you can perhaps pay off, talk your way around,
promise or lie to that it won’t be so bad.
You’ll tell them they have little if anything to lose, but you on the other hand,
you have too much to lose. . .
You’re too important.
You can’t die.
You have things to do.
They, well, it’s pretty obvious they have nothing.
Nothing to lose. . .just their seemingly insignificant little life.
and you, well you can keep your hide safe for yet another day

However imagine that something odd begins to takes place,
You discover that you don’t have to actually persuade this person.
You don’t have to beg
There is no pleading
No cajoling
No lying
No false promises
No bribing
No payoff

They want nothing from you.
They don’t want your phony promises
Your money
your lies
your bravado
your falsehoods

There’s no having to talk them into this
No sugarcoating the horrible details.
“Sure” they say, they’ll do it.
Just like that. . .”sure, for you, I’ll do it, gladly”
Gladly?
Huh?
Are they crazy you wonder.
Are they daft?

And then you find yourself questioning. . .
You question
their motive
their motivation
their sanity. . .
This seems too easy you think
Why so agreeable?
so willing?
so stupid?

Maybe you’re starting to feel guilty
A bit bad that you’re setting up an innocent man up for something that is meant for you?
Feeling a tad badly that you’re getting off so easily
Getting away with another’s man’s death, another man’s murder, another man’s execution. . .
The one that was meant for you.
Who’ll miss this fellow?
All that matters is that you’ll escape
You’ll walk free
The horrible, painful ordeal will not be yours to contend with.
Walk away, just walk away, and don’t look back. . .

Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.
Hebrew 7:27

Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.
Hebrews 9:26

Lambs and palms

“In the divine Scriptures, there are shallows and there are deeps; shallows where the lamb may wade, and deeps where the elephant may swim.”
― John Owen

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(a little woolen black faced sheep holding an old palm cross from a long ago Palm Sunday / Julie Cook / 2015)

Palm Sunday.
A Spring day associated with newness, freshness and arrivals.
A day Christians remember as a day of holy joy and triumph.
The marking of a celebration–as proclaimed by the ancient prophets, the remembrance of Jesus riding into Jerusalem. He rides on the bare back of a young colt as the masses enthusiastically greet him, laying giant palm branches before his retinue.

He is welcomed, honored and proclaimed as King, Messiah, Savior.
A miracle worker whose benevolent and kindhearted ways were oddly unfamiliar and foreign.
A liberator who had finally come into the impoverished lives of those living in the dry,
barren and forsaken Roman outpost, as Jews were still living under siege and occupation.
For this man Jesus, had come to set the captives free. . .
Or so both wise and misguided solely believed–for each,
their idea of freedom was to be a double edged sword. . .

As the palms waved. . .

Sheep and lambs–
Is there anything seemingly more simple or docile?
The epitome of blessed peacefulness.
Nothing like a beautiful green field dotted idyllically with a flock of such easy going grazing animals bahhing and bleating til their heart’s content.

For some odd reason, I had always proclaimed that I would one day be a sheep farmer,
a shepherd of sorts.
A bucket list since I was a wee lass.
Tending and caring for the sheep and lambs.
The black faced ones, in particularly, seemed to call out to me much more so than
their all white or black counterparts
What do I know about raising sheep?
Absolutely nothing.
I was raised in a city with the closest sheep being at the zoo.
There was no 4H in my urban school affording this would-be shepherd any opportunity at the whole herding dream.
It was to the way out, miles out, another life out, out to the fleeting countryside where there were only cows upon cows with nary a sheep to be seen.

Yet sheep called.

Bach’s pastoral cantata, Sheep may Safely Graze was and continues to be a favorite.
Melodic, light, lulling, soothing. . .
Visions of an ancestral home in either Ireland or Scotland, depending on the side of
the family I was currently fantasizing about,
sweetly beckoned as I knew there were fields full of sheep each awaiting my care.

As the sheep called.

Yet as sweet as sheep and lambs appear, age has taught me that sheep are no pushovers. They can be a stubborn lot. Refusing to be guided yet needing constant direction.
Left unto their own devices, sheep can quickly wander into trouble.
They need to be coxed, prodded, and herded. They need to be watched as being almost entirely defenseless, they fall easy victim to any and all cunning predators. Running is about their only means of defense. They need shearing, feeding, protecting and lots and lots of space as they are voracious grazers.

Yet sheep called.

Maybe because I always saw myself as the 1 out of 99.
Maybe because I love the Little Drummer Boy, who had nothing to lay at the feet of a king but his tender lamb.
Maybe because I understood all too well the whole not being the brightest of the animal kingdom and needing lots of oversight and protecting as wandering lost was very real. . .because all of that hit too close to home.

And the lambs called

Maybe it was because I saw Abraham with his hand held high balancing his heart between love and obedience, as a single knife reflected the light from the heavens above. Obedience was set to slit the throat of his young son Isaac, love being almost crushed and silenced.
Tears flowed, a heart was breaking, young questioning eyes, frightened, stare into his fathers, as obedience was set to act. . .
When mercifully a substitute was graciously found.

And the lambs called

Maybe it is because of the words of Isaiah. . .

He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.

(Isaiah 53:3-9)

Still the sheep called.

As the sheep continue to call.
As a lone woolen sheep magnet triumphantly clutches a long ago discarded palm cross, worn on a long forgotten Palm Sunday. . .

And the sheep calls as the palms wave

Yet it is to the Shepherd who tends His flock that my ear is attuned. As the sheep whose shepherd calls their name and they respond, I too respond to the call of my own name being called.
Misguided
Lost
Wandering
Stubbron
and even defiant
The Shepherd patiently calls,
as the sheep knowingly responds. . .

as the sheep continue to call, the palms continue to wave. . .

Change is in the air

Life belongs to the living, and he who lives must be prepared for changes.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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(these “wood” eaters seem to enjoy nectar as well / Julie Cook / 2014)

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(a seasonal carpenter bee has returned for “spring work” / Julie Cook / 2015)

They’reeeeee baaaaacckkkk. . .
Those pesky seasonal hungry wood rats, I mean carpenter bees, those true harbingers, I mean heralders of Spring.
I caught this one in mid bore, hanging upside down on a post out on the back deck.
They eat right into the wood of decks, porches, siding, eves. . .anything wooden that’s a part of a house. . .be it painted or not, stained or not. . .they eat, chew, drill, bore. . .
creating nesting sites.

They can sting but usually don’t as they prefer the art of intimidation. They will “buzz” toward anyone who enters their “space” or territory, usually hovering in place until you swat at them, only to quickly return to bother you some more. It is the males who tend to be a bit more aggressive then the females with regard to the whole dance of intimidation. You can recognize them by the yellow dot on their head—right between the eyes.

The only way I know that they sting is when my cat finds it fun and adventuresome to jump on the hovering pests, grabbing said bee up in his mouth while attempting to run inside with his “catch” in order to “gift” me with his latest accomplishment. Most of the time he won’t make it inside as the bee will have stung the inside of his mouth, forcing him to open and drop as he begins swatting frantically at his mouth. One would think that one experience, maybe two, with the bees would be incentive enough to leave them alone—sadly the idea of a prize seems greater than the pain. . .

All of this talk of bees and of this busy time of newness and growth naturally brings the whole concept of being ready, being prepared, being mindful front and center to my thought process.

Spring is a time of great transition.
Not only are things greening up, budding, blooming, buzzing, pollinating. . .
Spring becomes a time of doing. . .renovations, cleaning, planting, tiling, changing. . .
It’s time to discard the old and bring in the new. . .as in clean, fresh, bright. . .

Spring is also a time when there is literally change in the air, or more precisely, the winds.
Winter’s cold winds are pushed aside for the warming lilt of Spring. Jet streams lift and revert.
Yet it is this very pushing of winds, the time of warm meeting cold, which becomes most problematic.

Our incoming warmer days and nights can exact a heavy price producing tumultuous Springtime storms. Skies can grow angry quickly, as air masses fight for dominance. Thunderstorms with their wicked lightening strikes and spawned tornadoes make Spring one of the deadliest times of year as far as Mother Nature is concerned.

Living in the proverbial tornado alley swarth, which cuts through the mid and southern tier of our United States, dictates caution while keeping one eye directed to the sky at all times.
Joining with the rest of humanity as we transition from a wicked winter that overstayed its welcome to a feisty new tempestuous Spring, with giddy exuberance and joy, I do so not with reckless abandon but rather with a bit of cautious yet hopeful optimism.

As we journey now, a bit worse for the wear, toward the end of Lent. . .with Palm Sunday, Passover and Easter all knocking on the door—may we rejoice in this new birthing of Nature as well as the birth of renewal within our spiritual selves. May we marvel in the busyness of the bees, the jittery darting and dashing of the myriad of birds who are hurriedly toiling building their nests. May those of us who suffer grievously from seasonal allergies find relief, and may we all remain vigilant when the warming skies decide to turn ominous and dark . . .

Here’s to Spring,
Here’s to life,
Here’s to new,
Here’s to change. . .

For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call upon the name of the LORD and serve him with one accord.”
Zephaniah 3:9

The planting season

“The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.”
Thich Nhat Hanh

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.”
― Robert Louis Stevenson

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(a newly planted petunia / Julie Cook / 2015)

Many years ago when I was a mere wide-eyed impetuous young fire cracker,
I spent a great deal of energy wishing I was 10 years further down the road.
I believed I had much to do and I was chomping at the bit to do it.
Anxious,
Anticipatory,
Impatient.

Could God not see my energy, my enthusiasm, my willingness.
I was ready.
Why was He not?

College was frustrating me.
I didn’t know how best to direct my path.
I was more than willing to chuck it all out the window, if God would just point the way.
I knew I had much to do, it’s just that I wasn’t exactly sure that I actually knew what it was,
I was to be doing.
I was in a bit of a desert, or actually stuck on some lone island–languishing and unnoticed.

I wrote countless letters to my poor godpoppa, lamenting my seemingly unproductive position.
I was the anxious kid on the bench with hand jutting up and down,
waving wildly high, “put me in coach”
I was ready, willing and more than sick and tired of waiting.
What in the heck was the hold up??!!

As I’m sure all those letters upon letters from an angst ridden college freshman, sporting rose colored lenses, whose time truly had not yet come as the body may have been willing but, in blessed hindsight, the mind was truly not yet fully developed. . .must have driven him crazy.

He was a wise man.
He was a learned man.
He was a busy man.
He was an important man.
And yet, he would always take time from his most consuming day, stopping all his important things long enough to appease an unripe fruit whose mantra was over and over. . .
When
Where
Why. . .

Found within one of the loving letters written in return was a single key sentence. . .
“There is one thing you need to do, bloom where you are planted, do that one thing you don’t want to do—but do it for me.”

I can remember anxiously finding his letter sitting in my little mail box. I was so excited hurrying back to my dorm room clutching the most wonderfully official looking letter. I just knew within the envelope the key to my future was ready and waiting. His words were always truth personified in my book, if he said it, it was so.
Reading feverishly I came to that single sentence.
“Bloom where I was planted”. . .hummmmmm. . .
But as he added, “do this one thing you don’t much want to do, but do it for me”
I shrugged and resigned myself to holding tight.

And now all these many many years later. . .
an entire lifetime later, I still consider that simple little phrase. . .
Bloom where you are planted

God knows where we are.
He puts us where He wants us.
Often frustratingly to Him, we usually take it upon ourselves to move and relocate–most often prematurely.
However, no matter where we wend up, we must remember God originally planted the seed.
He planted the seed long before we were even born.
The seed has to be watered, fertilized, nurtured, and allowed to grow.
Sometimes the seedling is moved and transplanted. . .no matter, as He continues
Watching
Tending,
Pruning,
Warding off insects and disease.
Without warning and miraculously one magical day,
seemingly out of the blue, a bloom bursts forth.
Hopeful,
Beautiful,
Joyful,
Stately. . .
We are planted and we will in turn bloom—
It’s all just a matter of God’s good timing. . .

Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them.
1 Corinthians 7:17

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(forsythia / Julie Cook / 2015)

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(tulip magnolia blooms / Julie Cook / 2015)

Waiting

“I realized that the deepest spiritual lessons are not learned by His letting us have our way in the end, but by His making us wait, bearing with us in love and patience until we are able to honestly to pray what He taught His disciples to pray: Thy will be done.”
― Elisabeth Elliot

Wait on the Lord” is a constant refrain in the Psalms, and it is a necessary word, for God often keeps us waiting. He is not in such a hurry as we are, and it is not his way to give more light on the future than we need for action in the present, or to guide us more than one step at a time. When in doubt, do nothing, but continue to wait on God. When action is needed, light will come.”
― J.I. Packer

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(a few rain kissed quince buds waiting to bloom / Julie Cook / 2015

We are a waiting people are we not?
It seems, since the beginning of time,
We, humankind, have waited.

We wait for birth
And we wait for death
Living, falls someplace in between

The Israelites waited and wandered,
Wandered and waited for years. . .
As it seems they continue waiting. . .

We Christians wait. . .
We wait for answered prayers,
We wait for signs,
We wait for good,
We wait for justice,
We wait for peace
We wait for the final judgement

Society waits. . .
It too waits for justice
For peace,
For answers
For change,
For better, never worse
For instant
For perfect

I wait. . .
I wait for the happiness of those I love
I wait for a closer peace
I wait for answers
I wait for direction
I wait for truth
I wait for righteousness
I wait for healing

Waiting
Through the yearning
Through the tears
Through the frustrations
Through the anger
Through the impatience

Tempering the anguish
Trying not to dwell
Not to obsess
Fighting the whys
the why nots

I cry out in the silence
How much longer oh Lord?
Can’t you see?
Do you not know?
Why don’t you do something?!
NOW!
Do you not care?
How can you let him hurt?
Please
Hear me
Do you hear me?
Please

“Wait”
is the single reply. . .


Wait for the LORD; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the LORD.

Psalms 27:14

Expect. . .

Each day holds a surprise. But only if we expect it can we see, hear, or feel it when it comes to us. Let’s not be afraid to receive each day’s surprise, whether it comes to us as sorrow or as joy It will open a new place in our hearts, a place where we can welcome new friends and celebrate more fully our shared humanity.
Henri Nouwen

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(a wet quince bloom / Julie Cook / 2015)

Driving on Atlanta’s notorious “top end perimeter, otherwise known as 285. . . the oddly shaped loop which circles around Atlanta proper like a cowboy’s lasso around the neck of a steer, is to any driver, the coming together of the perfect storm.
From stopping suddenly, to herkyily jerkily bolting like a bullet en masse along with tractor trailer trucks, buses, motorhomes, dump trucks, pickup trucks, SUVs, motorcycles, cars and emergency vehicles, all dodging and weaving in a precarious dance between speed, traffic and death is unlike any high stress experience imaginable.
And sadly, it seems as if it is indeed a near or complete death experience, on any given day, for any unfortunate motorist. A sometimes unavoidable necessary evil to traverse.

If it’s not the typical snarl of Atlanta’s Rush Hour, which begins around 5AM or better, lasting until around, say the lunchtime hour, only to ramp back up around 2:30 and lasting somewhere between 7 and 8 PM. . .throw in an accident and the constant ongoing road construction or frustratingly the added construction of the Braves brand new state of the art baseball stadium, any time spent on this particular interstate is truly a white knuckle adventure to say the least.

So imagine my double take this morning as I was barreling making my death defying peaceful morning commute into town to Dad’s when glancing, ever so quickly, over at one of those large electronic roadwork signs perched over the interstate which flashed, not the speed limit, not the travel time between the next conjoining piece of interstate but rather flatly reading. . .
EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED

WHAT? I quickly glanced back over to the sign but the sign was now about a mile behind me as I was keeping up with the manic flow. . .
What a novel thought.
Pertinent information such as weekend hours of construction, lane shift dates and times, road fatalities are the usual fodder for these giant roadway signs. . .not exactly the place for philosophical waxing and waning. . .yet truly not only a good piece of wisdom for the harried motorist, but for the average person simply trying to navigate throughout their day.

Was God trying to tell me something as I made my way to the awaiting and ongoing loon factory at Dad’s?
Expect the Unexpected. . .hummmm

For good or bad, thinking ahead to what could be either figuratively or literally down the road is a good piece of wisdom.
Take nothing for granted, be prepared, think ahead, anticipate, take no prisoners, go forth, keep going and no matter what, go forward, don’t stop and never go backwards. . .

As I continued on my raceway drive to Dad’s, I considered what lay ahead–of me, of my day and of my life. . .
What would be waiting?
Who would be waiting?
How would poor ol Dad be today?
How would the caregiver be fitting into their lives?
What of the loons flying about, laying in wait with those haunting sounds. . .
Thoughts of what could be, what would be. . .
Yet one thought remained. . .
No matter what was down the road, what was around the corner, what was waiting for me at Dads. . .
God was already there. . .
He knew
He knows
And that’s okay by me. . .

I will always expected the unexpected
I will keep a vigilant eye out for what waits down the road. . .
All the while knowing that God is with me, behind me as well as ahead of me,
as I travel to whatever that may be. . .

When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.

Isaiah 43:2