Tarnished

“Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean,
who is neither tarnished nor afraid.”

Raymond Chandler

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(polishing a few silver pieces / Julie Cook / 2015)

There once was a time, several generations ago, when young brides-to-be would receive silver items as wedding gifts. Sterling silver, as well as silver-plate, trays, bowls, silverware, etc. all most often monogramed. It was all the rage. Girls would register at various stores for a particular silver pattern such as something produced by the likes of Reed and Barton, Gorham, Tiffany, Wallace to name but a few. Gifts would range from place settings, a single serving piece, picture frames, ornaments, candle sticks. . .with the list going on and on.

As each generation seems to set its own mark on the world, it appears that today’s modern day brides-to-be are a bit more practical in their choices of what sorts of gifts they’d like to receive. Coffee machines–as in cappuccino, espresso, single cup. . .towels–both kitchen and bath, sheets, glasses, plates, bar ware, cookware, outdoor serving items, candles, goodies form Crate and Barrel, William Sonoma, Pottery Barn, Macys as their lists go on and on.

By the time I got married, almost 35 years ago, silver was not as popular a wedding gift as it was in, say, my mother’s day. The cost of sterling silver had begun a slow assent upwards and the truth be told, the upkeep and usability of silver was quickly loosing its appeal and practicability. Shiny pretty silver certainly has a wow factor but keeping that brilliant mirror surface sheen is another matter entirely.

We all know from basic chemistry that certain metals, when exposed to various substances, can change. In the case of silver, especially sterling silver, a mixture of air and hydrogen sulfide turns the surface of silver items, at first a cloudy dull grey gold which will, if not wiped away, eventually turn black.

Tarnish luckily is not a permeant problem. However if salt is added to the mix, a silver piece really has problems! The salt will corrode the surface, eating into several layers of the silver, pitting the item–with the damage sadly being permanent.

Polishing silver, in order to remove the tarnish, is an arduous painstaking task. It is a labor intensive, time consuming and messy process. When the silver piece is polished, using a cream paste and soft cloth, a thin micro layer of the surface is taken away as the tarnish resides only on the top layer—the other layers remain intact. Rust on the other hand is a corrosive reaction on certain metals which eats through layer upon layer, eventually destroying the metal.

Tarnish is often what deters folks these days from wanting to buy silver items. The upkeep in today’s busy, everybody’s working world, is enough to turn anyone away from the beautiful things found in today’s antique and specialty stores.

As we all know. . .tarnish will always comes back.

I’m a lot like silver.

Being exposed to certain elements, I eventually succumb to the effects of “tarnish.” I lose my brilliant surface appearance, my beauty fades as I eventually turn a very dull lifeless black.

I allow the oxidizing agents of the world to affect my sheen and brilliance. I become sullied and dulled by the exposure to negative elements. Not merely the eating and drinking of the wrong elements for my betterment, but to the more shady and insidious elements. . .those negative things which I expose my eyes, ears, heart and mind to. . .be it certain forms of entertainment such as music, television, movies, even down to the books and magazines I choose to read. . .I allow negativity, violence, foul useless language, sexual promiscuity and selfish gratification to permeate my world. I am lured away from that which helps to keep the tarnish at bay.

God looks and sees a once brilliantly shining creation dulled and darkened by the exposure of time away from Him. . .His word, His people, His realm.
My perception dims.
I can’t distinguish that which is positive and that which is the negative.
Exposure to the world verses exposure to my Christian spirituality. . .as sadly I choose, even often unknowingly, the world.

I allow an often tired body and mind to choose the easy way. . .the path of less resistance to dominate and take over. In order for me to choose God and His desires, it calls upon certain factors such as vigilance, diligence, observance, prayer, fasting, communion, reading and digesting the Word, healing, confession, even praise—often times not easily felt or desired. Sometimes it all seems to be counter to my mood, my disposition, my feelings, my abilities, my strength. . .a conscious choice and determination must take hold. . .

Yet thankfully God does not tire of polishing or re-polishing.
He doesn’t mind the time and effort spent.
He doesn’t mind the elbow grease required to wipe away the heavy layer of darkness which encases my entire being.

Slowly but surely the black is lovingly removed as the tiny areas of brilliance begin to reemerge.
God holds me, enfolds me within His welcoming hands. He gently, yet determinedly, focuses in order to rub over and over those negative tarnished areas of my heart and soul.
Allowing the brilliance, that is His creation. . .
to shine forth, yet once again. . .

“For just like the lightning, when it flashes out of one part of the sky, shines to the other part of the sky, so will the Son of Man be in His day.
Luke 17:24

The patience of assurance

“Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. “Pooh?” he whispered.
“Yes, Piglet?”
“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s hand. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”

― A.A. Milne

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A chive bloom and small stinging fly / Julie Cook / 2015)

The phone rang 4 times Saturday.
It was Dad, all 4 times, wanting to tell me the things he had previously told me in the previous calls. Of which were reiterations and various renditions of what he’d told me throughout the week, throughout last week and the week before that.

So far today the phone has rung 3 times. . .all calls from Dad.

Today’s calls each consisted of different subject matters yet with familiar themes.
“When are you coming back?”
“Do I have new pills?”
“Well Dad, I was just there yesterday and I’ve got a few things I have to do here at home throughout the week, but if you need me I can come back today, tomorrow or when you’d like. . .”
And yes Dad, the Doctor gave you some new prescriptions but the nurse hasn’t brought them yet—so you don’t have to do anything yet.”
“Why do I need physical therapy?”
Do you remember your little fall last week?”
“I didn’t fall, I just kind of laid down on the floor”
Sigh
“A strange little green card came addressed to me in today’s mail, wonder what I’m suppose to do with it?”
“It’s the certified mail receipt from mailing in your tax payment Dad. . .and there’s nothing to do.”
Sigh
“Oh and what’s this paper that came today from the doctor about new pills?
“That sheet is from yesterday Dad and it’s just a recap of your visit with his notes about the new prescriptions which the nurse is going to pick up for you.
“I don’t have them here?”
No not yet Dad. . .”
Sigh

I found out a long long time ago to never pray or ask for patience.
Something about God having a sense of humor and the notion of being careful what one prays for. . .It seems that there are required, repetitive actions which are necessary in order to hone one’s patience. . .that being situations, often unpleasant, trying and tiring which in turn demand more and more of ones patience. Something about those repeated situations eventually helping to produce the requested end-result of patience.

Motherhood and teaching are both good places to practice the art of needing, requiring, polishing and honing patience. But be warned, neither are for the faint of heart.

My dad and his current world are working in tandem to polish and hone my skill of patience. I didn’t realize that I was in need of an update, a refresher course, an in-service or that I had inadvertently asked for some more patience in my life. I had rather thought that I was most full in that area. . .

Yet apparently not necessarily in the area of Dad’s current tremendous need for reassurance, with that coming from the one person he’s known the longest in his now ever shrinking world—-me.

I won’t talk about guilt or the associated guilt that is a often a by-product from ones need of assurance as this post is not about that. I do feel badly when he obviously has this need to have me as a constant presence in his world. Not that I’m not there with him in and out throughout each and every week, but when life and family here call upon me, it is never easy being in two places at once—but somehow motherhood was a good training ground for being stretched thin, the need for miraculous bilocation as well as the carrying of constant guilt. But as I say, all of that is for another post, another day. . .

This current need, resonating deeply in my dad, has my head and heart swirling with the thoughts and palpable feelings of my own need for reassurance.
Reassurance that reaches beyond my need from my family and friends. . .
It is to my constant need for that of my Heavenly Father, Abba, and of His endless reassurance.
For it is in Him that I find my resting place, my solace, my lifeline.

Just like a frightened child, who in the dark of night, continuously calls out to his / her parents for the reassurance of the parent’s protective presence, I too cry out to my Father in Heaven for the reassurance of His presence in my current uncertain world. . .

And just as sweet little piglet so eloquently expresses to Pooh, “I just wanted to be sure of you”, there is indeed something deep within us all that seeks the resting reassurance of presence.

“Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; For the LORD GOD is my strength and song, And He has become my salvation.”
Isaiah 12:2

Growing up

“The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.”
― J.D. Salinger

That’s one of the things we learn as we grow older — how to forgive. It comes easier at forty than it did at twenty.”
― L.M. Montgomery

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(Guinea Wasp among the flowers / Julie Cook / 2015)

When did you know that you were all grown up?
Really grown up. . .
As in no longer childlike but rather the designated, tag you’re it, authority of all things known and those things yet known. As in you are now the expert, the one everyone has decided to turn to for help, advice, strength, guidance, knowledge, direction, responsibility. . . the one who had now been taxed with the hard decisions, the tough choices, the yeses and the nos. . .??

For some of us it was perhaps a catastrophic event early on in life. A harsh reality thrust upon us far too early and much too soon.
For others it seemed to come at the cold uncaring hand of fate, the economics of our world, the poor choices of others.

Some of us mark the milestone in much the same way as certain ethnic tribal groups who have ceremonial rites of passage. The hoopla of a 21st birthday, the last hooray of a bachelor or bachelorette party before one’s impending nuptials. Some of us know the passing of the torch occurs the moment our first child is born. . .

I thought my moment came at age 25 when my mom died and I had to care for a father who was suddenly a lost child, readily foregoing adulthood while wrapped in his utter grief. I was pretty certain it hadn’t come at 23 when I married—as I was still so green and terribly wet behind the ears back then.

I think it also happened again when my son was born. I had to put my wants and needs aside as I was now responsible for the well-being of another. Resposiblilty should equate to growing up, should it not? There was just something about losing a parent and then becoming a parent. . .
Surely that was it, the time. . . the time of losing a parent and becoming a parent that signified life as a grown up.

At 55 I figured I was pretty grown up.
No doubt about it, grown.
I had retired had I not?
One has got to be pretty old to be able to retire right?
One would think.

My son got married last year.
I have a daughter-n-law.
My hair is turning rather silveresque.
My bones are a bit more brittle.
My eyesight is eluding me.
My mind may not be exactly as sharp as it once was.
My husband keeps reminding me I’m not as young as I once was.
I’m not keen upon hearing that.

Yet events of recent weeks have once again reminded me, that I’m still not totally grown up. . .
not by a long shot.

It slowly dawned on me, as I sat splayed legged on the floor of my old bedroom, of which now acts as Dad’s office, sorting through a myriad, or more like a mountain, of unpaid bills, forgotten tax information, past due this and that, a plethora of saved junk mail, folder upon folder of the years past all while spending countless hours on the phone sorting out the disaster he had slowly created when, on the fateful day we can’t seem to recall which was which, that he woke up and his mind decided it no longer wanted to be the grownup mind of a dad, my dad.

It may have come when I began writing countless checks, signing my name where his name should have been. When I called the numerous insurance companies seeking help. When the nurse came from the insurance company to evaluate his needs. When I called a care service. When I had to tell him NO or YES to his insistence that there be no care service, that he indeed needed “help”.

Maybe it was today when we sat filling out the healthcare questionnaire for the new doctor. The personal, oh so personal, questions I had to ask, had to listen to his answers. Questions you never imagined asking your dad or having to have him explain. Maybe it was when I had to explain to him about how he had to work the blood occult test kit as he politely told me, “no thank you, I don’t want to do that.”

As he now looks to me, or rather at me, for reassurance, for direction, for help, for rescuing, with questioning rummy eyes, which now look while pleading and searching for answers. . .answers I don’t readily have. The same eyes that were the ones I looked to when, as a little girl, I would call out each night for the various stuffed animals elected to guard and protect me throughout the night, as he’d throw them to me from across the room from their daily resting spot, thrown to my excited open arms in order for me to catch them, one at a time, as we performed our nightly ritual. . .

We all know parents aren’t exactly human. . .they’re a lot like the teachers I’ve spent a lifetime alongside–superhuman, not like mere mortals. They don’t have the same ills or issues as others. They are invincible and beyond the ordinary.
That’s their role is it not. . .?

Theirs is to provide, to guard, to protect, to lead, to guide, to always be there. . .

. . . as now the child reluctantly finds herself becoming the parent,
the lonely role of grown-up. . .

Train up a child in the way he should go;
even when he is old he will not depart from it.

Proverbs 22:6

The simple path

“After all,” Anne had said to Marilla once, “I believe the nicest and sweetest days are not those on which anything very splendid or wonderful or exciting happens but just those that bring simple little pleasures, following one another softly, like pearls slipping off a string.”
― L.M. Montgomery

“The Simple Path
Silence is Prayer
Prayer is Faith
Faith is Love
Love is Service
The Fruit of Service is Peace”

― Mother Teresa

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(a simple lovely breakfast / Julie Cook/ 2015)

5 readily available ingredients. . .
eggs, simmered 6 minutes–preferably as fresh and organic as they come, hence an orange yolk
1 slice of bread, lightly toasted–preferably a nice little rustic slice
butter, a light unctuous spread of the real deal
sea salt
fresh ground pepper
and there, my friend is a meal fit for both king or pauper.

Simple, unadulterated, humble fare.

And please excuse that sound of retching in the background because when my aunt sees this picture,
she will begin to throw up as she does not like eggs–not the sight, sound, smell or taste
but we shan’t allow that to stop this particular thread of thought this morning, she’ll quickly scroll past the picture.

Now, back to where we were. . .

Simple fare.
Nothing frufru,
nothing fancy smancy
A soul satisfying plate of bare bones simple.
As in less is more.

As human beings we have grown greatly accustomed to making more from less
We think more, bigger, extravagant equates to better, perhaps even best.
We want to top this with that.
We vie to go beyond.
Often not knowing when to leave things be.
We perfect and perfect some more.
We build upon what was there striving to make it all so much more special, more grand.
Stopping is not an option let alone failing. . .
We examine, expand, explore. . .always being ready to fix and to add
We pile on while always going beyond.

Satisfaction is fleeting
Settling unheard of
Resting on laurels passe

Yet it is when we scale back
Strip things bare
Pare down
Slow down
Detox
Declutter
Downsize
Clean out
Throw out
Simplify

Life becomes sweet, savory, pleasant, peaceful, complete.

So on this new morning to this new week, as life prepares to offer you a myriad of paths throughout a busy and most likely chaotic week, don’t be afraid or deterred when choosing your path– make the conscious decision to choose the simpler path. . .you just may be surprised that the choice of the simple and the less, in the end, is delightfully more satisfying.

Elusiveness

Truth is mysterious, elusive, always to be conquered. Liberty is dangerous, as hard to live with as it is elating. We must march toward these two goals, painfully but resolutely, certain in advance of our failings on so long a road.
Albert Camus

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(my elusive blue jay / Julie Cook / 2015)

Out of all the birds who frequent my yard, my blue jays are the most standoffish, persnickety, skittish—it’s as if they know I’m trying to snap their picture. The minute they see me, hear me, sense me. . .off they soar.

The jays seem to prefer hunting and pecking as compared to all my birds who relish in the abundance of seed and suet offered in the plethora of feeders I make available for both local and transient bird alike. Perhaps jays are a more independent lot. They are larger birds who are louder and more garish then their more demure counterparts. Maybe they prefer their independence to dependence on my offerings.

Spying a jay lighting on the ground in the backyard from out the kitchen window–I dash to grab my camera, making my way out to the deck–as quietly as possible, gently positioning myself, focusing the camera. . .when poof, they’re gone.

They are beautiful birds—very few creatures in the animal world are blue. How special is that?!
And maybe they have a sense of that “specialness” with no need for the likes of me and my birdseed–preferring to keep their distance doing what they do without human interference or intervention.

I often wonder if God must not think I’m a lot like that jay.
I may not be blue. . .however I am still one of a kind despite being just one in the massive sea known as humanity.
I am more often than not, fiercely independent— stubbornly preferring to always do things my way despite the gifts of abundance God has bestowed at my feet. I often go about my everyday mundane tasks without ever acknowledging His presence.

I remain standoffish, often eluding His best attempts to be near me.
Yet, very much like my own attempts to seek out the jay, despite all the other birds who make themselves happily and easily available to me for close encounters, God remains steadfast and determined to seek me out despite my often elusive behavior. He continues tirelessly working His way to me, trying to get closer to me every day, despite the fact that there are so many others who have made themselves freely available to Him.
He waits for me and me alone.
Patiently, He continues waiting, watching, hoping, offering. . .

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To prune or to be pruned. . .

For before the harvest, as soon as the bud blossoms And the flower becomes a ripening grape, Then He will cut off the sprigs with pruning knives And remove and cut away the spreading branches.
Isaiah 18:5

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(pruning a few young shoots off the new apple trees / Julie Cook / 2015)

If the truth be told, I’m not a very good gardener.
Oh I love to dig, to pot, to re-pot, to plant, and on occasion, to weed.
But the pruning part, well, that’s another story entirely.

It’s like when we’ve planted our vegetable gardens over the past several years. . . the nice little seed packet of squash or zucchini directs one to put in 4 to 6 seeds in a little mound.
The directions further instruct the gardener that, as the tiny sprouts emerge,
one is to pull out all but 2.
Why not just plant 2 to begin with?? Why the sacrifice??
I know, I know. . .you’ve got to factor in the variables like some seeds not germinating, seeds being whisked off by opportunistic birds, or just plain ol bad seed.

Less is more, more often than not, when it comes to gardening.
If 5 squash seeds are allowed to sprout and grow, the plants will overcrowd one another as they vie for growing space. The blooms will be few. The plants will fight for nutrients, water, sun and the squash will be small, if the little plants “fruit” at all. . .
Still I just can’t bring myself to pluck away a seemingly healthy little seedling.

Same thing with my fruit trees and pecan trees.
A good looking branch to be, being cut away, will help with top growth, spreading of the canopy,
balancing the shape, ward off insect infestations, and aid in fruit production. . .
Sadly, for me, it’s just so terribly hard to look at a healthy young branch or a dependable old branch while holding a pair of pruning shears in one’s hand.
It’s as if I want to tell the tree, “it’s for your own good.” I want tell the little branch “you’ve got to take one for the team. . .” and of course, “I’m sorry” as I close my eyes preparing to cut or whack.

A good gardener knows that one has to sacrifice a little to in order get a lot. Again, “less is more” sort of thinking.

People who deal with wildlife populations refer to it as culling. They have to “thin” the herds. It’s done for the wellbeing of the entire herd. Too large of a population is more prone to devastating disease as well as destructive in-breeding.
Just knowing I could never look a Caribou or a deer in the eye and say, well, “it’s just not your lucky day. . .”

And yet these sorts of decisions have to be made by farmers, ranchers, wildlife management specialists, biologists, agriculturalists all the time. Even Vets know when it’s time to “put down” a beloved pet whose time draws nigh for whatever reason—
However I’m not going there today—Not an option. . .

And so as I made my way to the apple trees, with shears in hand, I was poignantly reminded of the pruning that I, as a child of God who is the Master Creator, must constantly undergo–as in He is constantly having to prune me, we, us.

It’s hard and not always pleasant for either Pruner and prunee.
I would imagine He must not always be fond of having to pluck, cut, whittle, pull and even re-pot as He knows that such upkeep will not be easy on us. He does so, however, with a loving eye turned to the potential of what will be. He sees ahead and knows what must be removed in order for us to receive the abundant blessings of Life as we are to, in turn, pass blessings on to those we meet along our journey of growing.

He sees how we’ve grown leggy, how we’ve spread out too much, and how we’ve grown too dense and thick. We become non productive, root bound, we become diseased, we wither and fail to thrive. . .

We are often left feeling stunted, betrayed, lost, hurt, abandoned and alone.

Yet just as a gardener must prune his plants and trees in order to yield the proverbial bumper crop, so too must God, the Creator of the Universe, prune the children He loves.
He does so, as the wise gardener He is, out of a deep and tender abiding love for you, me, we. . .

Here’s to pruning, weeding, sorting as well as sprouting, thriving and growing. . .

The pursuit of purity

“I used to be Snow White, but I drifted.”
― Mae West

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(azalea bloom / Julie Cook / 2015)

I suppose if anyone could exude a rather racy, even wanton lifestyle, it would be the famously baudy actress Mae West. Mae was considered a maverick well before her time as she was a fierce woman of independence long before such was fashionable. She began her career acting in Vaudeville and continued writing, producing, singing, appearing, performing for the next 7 decades.

Her famous line full of buxom appeal and coy shift of shoulder, “why don’t you come up sometime n see me” left audiences, in 1933, a bit shocked as well as intrigued by this overt coquette of an actress. Wholesomeness, innocence and purity were not virtues claimed by Mae West.
She made no bones about it as her life reflected, up to her death at age 87, a woman who didn’t seem to care much for social norms.

Whereas Mae West was always up front and honest about basically being bad or a pushing the envelope sort of individual, there are today so many others who wish to project an image of pure goodness without much regard for honest self examination. Meaning, the best foot forward may be well intended or even purposely placed, yet the truth of the matter is that it is actually greatly soiled.

Projecting a persona of humility and squeaky clean living while actually racing toward the polar opposite would or should certainly require a bit of self reflection and introspection. Who among us wouldn’t benefit from a little delving into our hearts? Examining our intentions, our desires, our ambitions, our drive, the pursuit of our goals—questioning our true motives and asking the hard questions as to whether our desires, pursuits, lives, thoughts are as pure and as good as we project and actually believe, or rather are they not perhaps a bit soiled? We work so hard trying to fool others, yet are we not the ones who are truly fooled?

It is to each of us, each single individual, to consider the purity of our own lives and heart.
Some of us will claim we don’t have time to bother with a life where purity or wholesomeness is involved.
Some of us will even wonder why we should dare take to the time to even consider such.
Some will argue that the idea of a pure life equates to a boring life. . .and by world standards,
I suppose that might be true.

Purity equates to wholesomeness, chastity, and innocence. Not exactly popular virtues by way of Hollywood’s or the Entertainment industry’s standards. It’s a sad observation that virtues consisting of the positive and of goodness simply don’t sell like vices such as sexual promiscuity, violence, greed, self absorption, etc.
Yet there remains buried deep within our hearts a desire to seek that which is pure.
That which is whole, clean, virtuous, good . . .

To be washed clean.
To be given hope.
To be made whole.
To be turned around.
To find true peace.
To be made pure

Life changing.
Life altering.
Life saving.

And it is to the One who is Pure. . .it is He who calls our name and to whom we all long.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
John 14:6

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
2 Corinthians 5:21