the simple difference

Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.
Winston Churchill

“Perhaps it takes a purer faith to praise God for unrealized blessings than for those we once enjoyed or those we enjoy now.”
― A.W. Tozer

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( a leaf dances along the wind, Cades Cove, TN /The Great Smokey Mountains National Park / Julie Cook / 2015)

Today was busy…
It was a day of cooking, preparing and sharing.
It was a day for an early Thanksgiving celebration… for one part of my husband’s family.
It was a day of reconciliations of sorts.
A day for some healing…between an elderly in-firmed father and two of his three grown children…of whom he had estranged himself from years ago.

Lives have been lived…as grandchildren have grown, as now great-grandchildren have grown as well…as time has, all too casually, been allowed to pass…
when it never should have been allowed pass,
for such a very long time in the first place…

The two now grown children had suffered grievously as children under the destructive blanket of abusive alcoholism–only to have suffered again years later as adults..
Odd how that cycle of hurt and pain seems to simply ebb and flow over the odd passage of time…

A small bridge was crossed today…and that was good.
One can never give back nor take back the words, the abuse, the pain, the embarrassment, the resentment and the grievous loss of place, time and years…and yet one can’t help but see the positive effort now taken in the writing of one small wrong in a sea of many wrongs—as it is the uplifting conscious admission of this one said wrong which is what now really seems to matter most.

And as I feel that a small bridge was indeed crossed today, it obviously will never erase or take away that which was…yet it does however bring a bit of peace to two sorrowfully long grieved hearts…

And as I silently stood back watching these tiny hopeful events unfolding during the course of this very cold yet sunny Sunday, resting gratefully in the idea and concept of thankfulness…my mind has not been far removed from the heavy thoughts of Paris and now of the black cloud which hangs heavy and low over Belgium…

I found myself pondering over the “us verses them” divide…that great crevasse which separates the sane and insane within the whole craziness of ISIS Islamic extremism and that of the rest of us…

…As I have labored racking my brain as to what it is that makes a person, or in this case an army of people, to be filled with such seething disregard for the gift of life and living…I have merely been left mystified and stymied–scratching my head in a totally overwhelming disbelief.

The recent pictures of that young woman flashing a familiar hiphop / rap hand sign, garbed in the hijab, who would later don a suicide vest, detonating herself in hopes of taking out as many law enforcement and civilians as possible, goes beyond the average human being’s comprehension.

What sets us apart from these mostly youthful members of an army of hate and destruction…?

Oh we hear the familiar bleeding excuses of disenfranchisement, of socioeconomic disadvantagement, the lack of schooling, the barriers of culture, language, religion, the inability to assimilate to a new country….etc, etc, etc…
…none of that holds water nor is a true paving stone filling the gulf between right and wrong, hate and love, murder and life….

And then it dawned on me—
As simple and perhaps even childlike that it may sound, the divide rests not in the amble abundance of vehement hate, as there is certainly plenty of that found in both words and deed, but rather the difference, the separation, is found in the lack of the simple ability to find and produce a true sense of heartfelt thankfulness.

It all boils down to the simple matter of hating verses gratitude and thankfulness.
–or rather the ability to offer genuine gratitude and thankfulness.

True genuine thankfulness…not the insane thankfulness to Allah that they all died, or all were blown up…but rather the genuine ability to feel real thankfulness which is found in the simplest of places and gestures.

Thankfulness and gratitude not for the materialism of life…not for the gathering of things, the loftiness of status of position, the greedy accumulation of wealth and prestige…but rather thankfulness for the simple and genuine gratitude of the heart…for the most simplest of pleasures—the pleasure of a smile, the thankfulness found in reunions, the gratitude for the bridging of gaps, the thankfulness for waking each day, the marveling in watching a leaf dance across the wind, the delight felt in a single touch, the joy felt in being alive on a cold but sunny November day…

And whereas all of the experts and the powers that be who continue sifting through and within the dust of the whys and hows…it really comes down to something as small and as tiny and as simple and seemingly insignificant as thankfulness and the ability to offer a true heartfelt “thank you” — which is the actual barrier, the true great divide between the us and the them…

Gratitude and thankfulness to, for and in something greater than ourselves…
to Something that revels in life not death, love not hate, freedom not imprisonment…
The gratitude in knowing that there is indeed a Creator who gives and a Savior who waits for us all in the midst of this ever growing turmoil…..

The LORD is my strength and my shield; My heart trusts in Him, and I am helped; Therefore my heart exults, And with my song I shall thank Him.
Psalm 28:7

Mediocrity

“And I — my head oppressed by horror — said:
“Master, what is it that I hear? Who are
those people so defeated by their pain?”
And he to me: “This miserable way
is taken by the sorry souls of those
who lived without disgrace and without praise.
They now commingle with the coward angels,
the company of those who were not rebels
nor faithful to their God, but stood apart.
The heavens, that their beauty not be lessened,
have cast them out, nor will deep Hell receive them —
even the wicked cannot glory in them.”

― Dante Alighieri

“The world would hate His followers, not because of evil in their lives, but precisely because of the absence of evil or rather their goodness. Goodness does not cause hatred, but it gives occasion for hatred to manifest itself. The holier and purer a life, the more it would attract malignity and hate. Mediocrity alone survives.”
Fulton J. Sheen

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(a lone warbler / Cades Cove, TN. / The Great Smokey Mountains National Park/ Julie Cook / 2015)

Do not hide yourself behind mediocrity,
while basking in the average of mundane.
Do not opt for the middle of the road while choosing
neither high nor low, fast nor slow.
Do not settle on simply blending in
nor being like all the rest…
For climbing the ladder, rung by rung, will lead you neither up nor down.

Dare rather to choose your side refusing to straddle the fence
Roll up your sleeves and sweat if you must, as the outcome is now dire
Be not afraid to make a stand for Darkness has chosen his
Time is no longer on your side with the stage having long been set
It’s life or death for you my friend yet ignore it if you so chose
For mediocrity loves a crowd for indifference is no stranger…

Authentic representation

To be nobody but myself-in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make me somebody else-means to fight the hardest battle any human can fight, and never stop fighting.
e.e. cummings

No one man can, for any considerable time, wear one face to himself, and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which is the true one.
Nathaniel Hawthorne

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(a charming little sheep sculpture made by artist Marina Hamilton– County Donegal / Julie Cook/ 2015)

I had fallen in love.
For 15 days, I had fallen in love.
I had traversed the countryside, climbed upward and downward to what seemed to be each hill and dale, skirted the coastline, stood upon pinnacle after pinnacle gazing out over land and sea all the while as I tasted, saw, heard, felt and sensed what it was, what it is, that made/makes this island nation so enticing… as I had simply fallen in love with the sheer wondrous beauty which was lovingly laid out by a masterful Creator before my very eyes…

Yet I had fallen in love with something else as well…as in head over heels in love…for I was taken with and smitten by the endless sea of sheep.

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(a soon to be sheared sheep / County Cork / Julie Cook / 2015)

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(a sheep sits enjoying the day, somewhere near Slieve Liag, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

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(a freshly sheared sheep, County Cork, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

White faced, long haired, short haired, with horns, without horns, black faced, black sheep, brown sheep, all white sheep, spotted sheep–every kind of sheep imaginable…I had loved each and every one I encountered.

Why?

I’m not sure…I’ve just always had a deep affinity for sheep, as I have always fancied myself one day being a bit of a sheepherder.

Most likely it’s because I identify with the spiritual analogy of sheep–of our being like lost sheep with Jesus being the shepherd who goes out in search of that one lost sheep–aka, me…
He didn’t let it go, cutting his losses, but actually left the flock to go searching for the not so bright one who wandered off….

Or maybe its the whole sacrificial lamb analogy…the deeply mournful words spoken by the ancient prophets…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.

Whatever the reason the love has always been there…but the recent adventure, which brought me face to face, pretty much cemented the deal of true love.

Never mind that they are dirty…bearing poop stained butts. Never mind they don’t make for the most loyal of pets–if you can call them pets. Sheep are skittish, flighty, loud, and are certainly not the brightest animals on the food chain— hence why they are more or less dinner for many an opportunist predator…yet there is just something about them…

And maybe it’s just seeing them sitting, standing, grazing in a most pastoral idyllic picture perfect, kodak moment, locale of sheer sheep beauty that just seals the deal–peace on earth kind of wonderful.

How does one capture, taking home that whole feeling of the moment… of that love at first sight sort of instantaneous feeling—tasting it, savoring it, holding on to it for later when both you and it are parted and far removed from the very moment of being delightfully caught together in time?

There are a million touristy, kitschy, chotskies of the made in China variety of the cutesy Disneyesque sheep any tourist can snap up at any numerous shop throughout the country. Yet I wanted something real, something tangible, something as close to the real deal and unique as I could find.

As our time together was drawing to a close, I felt myself slipping a bit into the heaviness of melancholy as I was actually mourning–it was hard to still be happy, enjoying the moment as I knew I was mere days away from departing—and for who knows how long—a year, a few years, a lifetime?
Would I be back?
I could not say.

Wandering into a little shop of locally made crafts, in the middle of County Donegal, I immediately spotted my keepsake.

He was a little sculpted ceramic sheep made by a local artist. There were actually two perched on a display pedestal. I looked them both over–picking them up, feeling the unglazed heft of clay in my hands, the weight of something solid and substantial…all the while as I looked into those black glassy eyes. I made my choice and gingerly carried my “skelybegs” (a butchering amalgamation of the gaelic surroundings) to the counter. As he, yes it was a he I had decided, was a piece of art, he did not come cheap, but to me, he was worth the cost and then some as he spoke volumes of my Irish adventure.

Once home, I excitedly and carefully unwrapped my prized possession. I had painstakingly carried him by hand the final leg of the journey, even on the long plane ride home, so having unwrapped him and seeing he was in one piece, I breathed a huge sigh of relief.
I then lovingly placed my little sheep on the counter in the kitchen right next to one of my favorite Russian Icons of Jesus…as it only seemed fitting to have the sheep by the Shepherd.

I greatly enjoy seeing that sheep each and everyday as I lovingly labor about in the kitchen as it helps me to hold onto a very special place and time.
Yet my little clay sheep is but a mere representational reminder of something that, although I deeply love, is far removed from me and my daily life.

The clay sheep is a token of remembrance, a reminder and a representative…
yet he is a far cry from the authentic real deal sheep.
He merely captures the spirit of an enduring love and intrinsic connection to something deeply important.
Which got me thinking…

Jesus–that icon or image of the mystical shepherd sitting next to my little sheep…
Obviously not the real deal either…yet it is rather a visual representative of someone who was… and in my heart and mind, of someone who still is…

Obviously I understand that, feel that and acknowledge that…but what about others…?
What about the countless numbers of non-belivers or other faith believers or even those Christian believers who do not have that knowledge of that tangible Being…how are they to ever understand the depth of the love offered by the one true Shepherd…certainly not from a mere picture, icon or image…it certainly has to be more….

What of those countless numbers of folks currently around the globe, during these terribly trying times, who are more wary than ever before of what being a follower of Christ truly entails.

And then it hit me….

It’s not a matter of those of us who “get it” or truly understand being simply rote, mindless, empty, lip-syncing followers who merely show up to “worship” on Easter, pull out those dusty nativity scenes at Christmas or slap some sort of fish on the back of our car window or flippantly check off on a form that we are of the Christian persuasion but rather it is imperative in these ever growing darkening days that an authentic representative understands that he or she is to step up to the plate…one who understands what it means to be a true imitator of Christ….picking up and taking up the Cross and in turn understanding that that means dying unto self…as an authentic representative understands, grasps and lives the idea that a true imitator of Christ is called to do just that…imitate how Jesus lived and that living often exacts a tremendous price…a price often paid with ones very life, a price we must all be willing to pay….

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.
Ephesians 5:1-2

Around and around we go

Round and around and around and around we go
Oh now, tell me now, tell me now, tell me now you know.

lyrics by Rhianna

There is only one secure foundation: a genuine, deep relationship with Jesus Christ, which will carry you through any and all turmoil. No matter what storms are raging all around, you’ll stand firm if you stand on His love.
Charles Stanley

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(floor in Christ Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

Spinning in circles
Round and around and around….

Dizzying
Unsettling
Disorienting
Confusing
Sickening

Out of control….
As our lives and this world are now spinning out of control…

Make it stop!!!

Just as the child on the playground innocently climbs upon a spinning roundabout merry-go-round…
At first she joyfully, merrily and enthusiastically commands to be pushed and pushed, faster and faster…
Only soon to discover she can no longer hold on, for she is now feeling deathly sick
and is so terribly disoriented that she feels completely out of control as she is about to lose her hold and will come flying off…
She finds herself crying, pleading, begging for the spinning to stop…

All the while as a voice we no longer recognize as our own, rises up from somewhere deep within and cries out to an Unseen and Unknown presence for immediate help…
We hear ourselves pleading, crying out, begging “I want to get off”
Please, make it stop, I want to get off…..

There is but One who remains unseen, who sees, hears and answers during our time of distress…

I am feeble and utterly crushed;
I groan in anguish of heart.
All my longings lie open before you, Lord;
my sighing is not hidden from you.

For I am about to fall,
and my pain is ever with me.

Come quickly to help me,
my Lord and my Savior.

Psalm 38:8-9,17,22

Cast your cares on the Lord
and he will sustain you;
he will never let
the righteous be shaken.

Psalm 55:22

these absurd times of our surreal lives

“I have nothing but respect for you — and not much of that.”
― Groucho Marx

“Seeking what is true is not seeking what is desirable.”
― Albert Camus

Surrealism: An archaic term. Formerly an art movement. No longer distinguishable from everyday life.
Brad Holland

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(an early marketing advert used by Guinness Beer / the Guinness Factory Museum / Dublin, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

It’s not easy knowing what to say….
It’s difficult figuring out what to do…
It’s a challenge understanding how we actually should be feeling…

It’s no longer easy nor comfortable figuring out what we are to say, how we are to react, or to whom we are to speak candidly and clearly to…
All of which is a reflection of the sad state of affairs of our current trials and tribulations.

We currently have crazy Islamic extremists running around the globe attempting to kill as many people as possible who are not a part of their “movement”…

And because the crazy Islamist extremists claim that their movement is a “defense” of their extreme branch of their religion, everyone out there has now decided that all religions are bad.

As now so many people, even the President who made mention of such in a recent speech, seems to think that had those Christians just not gone on those crusades almost 1000 years ago, none of this would be happening…uh hummmmm

We have planes blowing up, cars blowing up, people blowing up….

As we have people strapping bombs to themselves in order to blow themselves up, as well as anyone and everyone within close proximity–not even children or infants are considered hands off or scared…

We have Christians still being crucified.

We have people cutting off the heads of other people.

We have crazy Islamic extremists parading around in the desert blowing up ancient historical monuments just for fun, while they strap a few innocent souls to these monuments just for kicks, as they blow everything and everyone up to smithereens.

We have people who can’t wrap their heads around the crazy Islamic extremists who in turn don’t give a damn that nobody can understand what they’re all about, as if death, murder and mayhem leaves much to understand. So everyone just kind of stands around scratching their heads.

We have satirical magazines being just that, satirical…as well as irreverent–as they spread the love for each and all– it’s as if they think that it makes it all ok if they ridicule, belittle and make fun of everyone equally as nothing, I mean nothing, remains “sacred”…but it’s all good and its all ok cause they make fun equally and we’re all about some fun…

We have thousands of people displaced and on the move on a global scale because no one seems to be able to stop the bad guys in these peoples home countries–with everyone left wondering whose going to take care of all these displaced folks.

We have bad guys mixed in with all the displaced roaming global people…
all the while as the world Governments think they can weed out the bad from the good, as places like Paris must now think otherwise with Germany, who was leading the charge of come one come all, now closing their borders.

We have a president along with his fellow world leaders who are either too afraid, too arrogant or to ignorant to call the mass murders of the crazy Islamic extremists what they are, mass murders carried out by crazy Islamic extremists, as they fear they might just hurt somebody’s feelings…I wonder how the families of all those killed thus far by these crazy Islamic extremists are feeling about hurting the feelings of others as their entire beings now hurt and ache in the deep abyss of loss…

We have young black college students all over this county now fighting the powers that be, screaming “black lives matter”…when I thought all lives mattered–of who now dare to say that the terror attacks in Paris have stolen their thunder….

We have policemen who are afraid to be policeman because we have had some bad policemen doing bad jobs and the lack of leadership to do anything about it.

We have violent crime, tragically deadly home invasions, carjackings, smash and grabs, child molesters running amuck and ruining lives because our legal systems seems to favor the bad guys.

We have too many people living their too busy, self consumed, self obsessed, rule free lives who won’t stop, can’t stop, long enough to actually see what’s taking place

We have a bunch of people who want to be president so they spend millions of dollars as they wine, dine, schmooze and waste countless hours debating with a tit for tat mentality of fussing children all the while as people are dying by the hands of crazy Islamic extremists.

We have folks all over the Globe wondering what’s going on.

We have Muslims afraid to say or do anything to or with the crazy Islamic extremists because they are afraid of what will happen if they do.

We have the leader of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, sounding the alarm but he is maligned and ignored by world leaders as an extremist bully himself.

We have a divided Jewish nation who haggle over their religion verses their heir apparent nationality.

We have people who now think we’d never be in all of this mess if it hadn’t been for religion in the first place so they want to do away with religion as they see Christians as the main ones at fault…so it makes sense just to crush the Christians.

We have people who don’t understand that we have basically turned a blind eye to God and that maybe, just maybe, we have not lived our lives as He would have had us to live…

We have Christians afraid to say anything about everything because they are just that, afraid…afraid of offending others, afraid of retribution, afraid that maybe their beliefs are wrong, afraid that their faith is not as strong as it should be…Christians who are depressed, frustrated, simply too nice, too kind, too naive, too passive, too distracted—forgetting that God decreed some very powerful tenants for living all the while as the powers that be within the “Church” have watered down the Word of God, tweaked and rewritten it all to appease desired lifestyles of those wishing to have their cake and eat it too–never mind that we choose sin over His Word or that His Word just seems to interfere too much with how we want to live… as in lets all hold hands and sing kum-ba-ya while we continue to make God little…all the while as we turn our God, Creator, Savior into just another friend rather than the Absolute God of all that was and is and will be, who desires, as well as deserves, our utmost homage…

As each new day brings a new piece to the surreal puzzle we now call our absurd lives…

For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.

The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And…

“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”
So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

1 Peter 4:3-19

The Great Divide

“The messengers of Jesus will be hated to the end of time. They will be blamed for all the division which rend cities and homes. Jesus and his disciples will be condemned on all sides for undermining family life, and for leading the nation astray; they will be called crazy fanatics and disturbers of the peace. The disciples will be sorely tempted to desert their Lord. But the end is also near, and they must hold on and persevere until it comes. Only he will be blessed who remains loyal to Jesus and his word until the end.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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(a worn weary relief of Jesus adorns an ancient cross, marking an equally ancient grave in the Rock of Chasel Cemetery / County Tipperary, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

On a random day oh so long ago, in a place and time unknown,
a bond of union and love was irreparably broken…

Ripped apart and torn asunder, a Heart was left in pieces.

A chasm so consuming was cut instantly deep and wide.
Two sides now existed where before there had been but one.
Where there was once only Light…darkness now laid claim.

As the separation of man and his Creator was now catastrophically complete.

For He who is without sin may not, can not, gaze upon he who is of sin…
and man had made his sinful choice as Death was now his eternal companion.

With the Heart that knows no sin splayed open…broken and shattered, shame enjoyed the show, as sorrow and contempt swept across the land…
Agony and darkness joined with pain, colliding together as one.

Nothing could, would, ever be the same.

“GO” was the agonizing command, “Be Gone from this sacred place for you are no longer welcome”
There was to be no turning back nor return.
The gate was forcibly slammed as it vanished far from sight.

Now lost and alone for the very first time, the fallen wrapped themselves in shame as a sick and twisted laughter worked to fill the deafening void.
Ridicule and mockery rushed to offer service…
As pride and arrogance proceeded to build a shrine.

As the eons of time drifted along the wind, sorrow, division and separation remained.
Suffering, illness, lies and deceit lay cluttered across the land.
Hatred, self-centeredness, self obsession, mistrust and ignorance perfected their craft,
As man was hopelessly lost unto himself…

And so there was yet another day not so random, yet oh so long ago, that the Heart which once lay broken offered the only solution possible for a seemingly lost state of irrevocable divide…
The only option remaining was for that which was once broken…to break itself again.

And so it was, on a not so random day, equally long ago, chosen particularly by Love itself…there was a cross, then a tomb, and finally a unified Heart…

You must be a gambler

“Yes, I can understand that a man might go to gambling table – when he sees that all that lies between himself and death is his last crown”
Honoré de Balzac

Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

James 4:14

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(an unmarked ancient grave in the cemetery of St. Kevin’s Monastery Glendalough, County Wicklow, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

Words were once uttered.
Promises were clearly made
Covenants and tenants were freely given.

A roadmap, if you will, to living within the realm of balance.

Dos and Don’ts
Cans and can’ts
Yes and no

The wisdom of one Wiser than yourself issued a decree.

Ancient words now reduced to dust
Mumbo jumbo and poppycock
Fairytale dribble

You deem its relevance unnecessary

Was it real or imagined
Made up, fabricated, perpetuated
Promises given or just a pack of silly lies?

Yet in the back of your mind, you’re always left wondering…
There are days you consider the possibilities
Did He?
Didn’t He?
Was He?
Wasn’t He?

Is He…?

You live your life as though He never was.
His words, if they were His words, mean nothing to you.
You scoff, you ridicule, you curse His very existence.
Yet the words dog you, nagging and nipping at your heels.
Why curse that which you deem non-existent?
Why do you let it bother you, allowing it under your skin,
if it’s nothing but a tale?

You roll the dice each morning when you wake.
You’ve perfected a poker face…all the while hiding behind the emptiness
You live your life as if the odds are stacked forever in your favor…
yet you can’t help but wonder…

Take the risk or play it safe, throwing caution to the wind…
Or do you simply turn around, walking away forever…
A friendly little wager of “what if”…
…or is it really something much more costly…

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.
Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.

Ephesians 5:15-17