a little more empty during a tough year…

“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


(The Very Rev. and Mrs David B. Collins–David and Virginia “Ginny” /
Julie N.Cook / 1981)

In this grainy old photo you see two people who were very much in love—

…and those two people were two individuals who I loved very much as well.

He had been a Naval Officer during WWII and she a staring actress in the original
production of Carousel on Broadway—and yet they somehow met, fell in love, married
and loved one another well into their 90’s….

And they had each loved me.

The year of the photograph was 1981 and it was taken during an evening
a group of us had met up at our favorite British Pub in Atlanta.
The Churchill Arms.
One could have walked into this pub and felt magically transported across the
proverbial pond to a different place and time.

I think both young and old in our group that night wished we were all in England–
during a different time.

Back then, back when I was young, at that pub on Thursday nights,
the Atlanta Bagpipes and Drums would hold court and practice.
There were the nightly dart competitions.
And on Friday and Saturday nights, a dear older lady would play the piano
as everyone would gather around to sing rousing renditions of Waltzing Matilda,
Keep the Home Fires Burning, Over There, etc….
all the while enjoying a pint of Whitbread, Guinness or New Castle….

Funny thing thinking about a bunch of late 70’s college kids singing Waltzing Matilda
and actually knowing not only the words but what the song was about and when it had actually been popular….

I think the pub is still there…where it was back in my youth…
But it’s now a modern trendy sort of place sans all the typical Anglophile
paraphernalia.
No longer does it harken back to a better place and time.
As it beckons to the cutting edge millennial…with it’s more otherworldly
bar atmosphere of the 21st century.

It was probably an odd place for a group of college kids to gather along with their
parish priest, the current Dean of the Episcopal Cathedral of St Philip…along
with this vicar’s wife…..but the church was no small parish,
he was no small church vicar and we were no average lot of kids.

There was very much a homey feel here, there was a fire place, lots of wood—
a place we, a bedraggled little extended “family,”
could all gather to enjoy one another’s company.
A place we could chat, catching everyone up on life at our various colleges and
hear what we had missed at Church.

The drinking age at the time was 18 so we were all good and by the time this
picture was taken, I was well into my early 20’s.

I’ve written about both of them before.
For various reasons…be it because of my adoption, my faith, my family, my life…
as they each had had a prominent role in my small corner of the world.

They each taught me a great deal about life, love, living, dying, fighting,
believing…. as well as lessons about Faith, God, hopefulness, healing and Grace.

They each saved me, more times than I care to recall, from myself.

They each knew of the failings and egregious actions of my life yet
loved me none the less.
As I certainly worked hard at testing that love many a time.

I am who I am to this day because of them.
Better because of who they were.

They actually laid hands upon my head, several times, as they prayed for healing.

Not for a physical healing but for a more profound and more important healing.
A deep spiritual healing.

He was adopted, just like I was.
We shared that—just as she shared us.
She knew the importance of deep healing.
And she knew how important such healing was for both of us and to our pasts—-
to the two people she loved.

They had 4 children of their own…
and then there was me—the surrogate 5th.
They claimed to be my Godparents…by proxy really…for when I was baptized
as an infant, our paths had not yet crossed.

The relationship was set in motion in 1966 when they first moved to Atlanta
in order for him to take the over the position of dean at the Nation’s largest
Episcopal Cathedral.

They are not my parents yet my own parents knew of the great importance and role
this couple played in my life…and where there was jealously there was also
a knowledge that the relationship was necessary for all of us….
Just as their children knew that they were sharing their parents with me
and yet they often spoke in terms of me being “the truly good child”.

Over time, I learned, as I grew and matured, that they needed me just as much
as I had needed them…
life has a way of teaching us such things.

The end of the year will mark a year since he’s been gone.
Her passing was on Tuesday….
And now they are Home, together.
This I know.

Yet that doesn’t make me less sad.
Doesn’t make me feel less lonely.
Doesn’t stop from reminding me that all my parents are now gone…
along with an aunt and uncle, a brother and cousin along with all grandparents.
That all are gone…but me.

Odd how that makes one feel.
Even at almost 60 years of age.
Good-byes are never easy.

There was a time when I could not have weathered this tremendous amount
of loss I’ve experienced this past year…
but I now have a deep knowledge and understanding of Grace.
I am saved by that Grace.
They taught me that…and then some…

the underdog who wants its Sunday’s back

But I will go down with this ship
And I won’t put my hands up and surrender
There will be no white flag above my door
I’m in love and always will be..
.

White Flag lyrics by Dido

The great danger for family life,
in the midst of any society whose idols are pleasure, comfort and independence,
lies in the fact that people close their hearts and become selfish.

Pope John Paul II


(Alice, our grand-dog, is not an underdog necessarily, rather a very much loved dog
/ Julie Cook / 2017)

I have always been a person who likes to pull for the underdog…
that team, group or individual who has the odds stacked against them, him or her.

Maybe that’s because, as a wife and mother, I have often felt my brood has
at times fallen into the category of the underdog.

Those who stare from the bottom of the barrel upward at those perceived to be bigger,
better, brighter, smarter, richer, luckier, more successful, more this and more that.
As the bottom is pitted against the upper—
with the odds never being good or favorable.

Maybe it’s that little college team that has no chance playing against that top
ranked huge opponent but who must play anyway…all in order to bring much needed
revenue in to their less advantaged school.

They are out coached, out weighed, out numbered and out financed..
To play is a risk both physically as well as mentally…but nonetheless,
play they do.

They go forward despite the odds.
The roll up their sleeves despite the inevitable.
They hold their heads up knowing they will soon be knocked down.

Yet there is never shame in trying and holding ones ground.

And so when I read the latest post, of which I have provided the link…
a post from a delightful blog I follow—
a blog that doesn’t post often, but when there is a post, it is usually very profound
and or powerful….
I was reminded again of why I like an underdog….

The blogger and family wouldn’t dare consider themselves profound or powerful—
for theirs is a simple sort of life but one that possesses a deep
rooted spiritual faith.
They are a Catholic family living in the shadows of Notre Dame…
who are just one more link in the chain of defenders of this collective
Christian faith of ours….

Thoughts from the side of the House…..

America Implodes on “Black Friday”…. Meanwhile, POLAND Leads the Way Towards Sanity

This post captured my feelings exactly of how I feel not only about Black Friday
but how I feel as to how America, along with most of Western Civilization, has turned
Christmas into something totally unrecognizable.

And maybe that has been the goal all along.
No longer is it Christmas as we thought we knew Christmas…
but rather it is a “winter” moment, or if in the Southern Hemisphere,
it is a “summer” moment…a moment that just so happens to have copious gift
giving attached.

And just when we thought the world had gone mad with all things materialistic
and secular… in steps the often mocked, maligned and overlooked nation of Poland.

I have written about Poland before, for various reasons.

I don’t think many of us living in this Western Civilization of ours actually
realizes the debt of gratitude we truly owe to Poland.

Poland for well over 1000 years has stood on the defining line between
Western Civilization and all sorts of barbarism, communism, socialism, Nazism, totalitarianism and now secularism.
For every ‘ism’ out there—Poland has stood against it as the defining line
of right verses wrong.

Poland was the line between the Mongols, the Saracens, the Nazis and the Communists…
just to name but a few of the invading hordes whose sites were always set on
freedom and democracy.

But Poland has said “NO!” time and time again,
even at the greatest cost to herself and her people.

She sacrificed herself more times than not…and yet was the butt of
every American’s jokes in the late 60’s and 70’s…
“how many Pollocks does it take to unscrew a light bulb?”
You remember the jokes.
Even Archie Bunker of All in the Family fame helped fuel the ridiculing fires.

Yet it is to Poland and her people who those of us enjoying life in the Western World
owe a great deal of gratitude to…
gratitude for the very freedoms we each enjoy today as it was Poland who stood on the
defending line of “us verses them” for over 1000 years.

Selflessness verses the often sought self preservation

She has even disappeared off the map more than once when she was gobbled up by
usurpers who ate the nation and her people only to later spit them back out.
A sacrifice made and given as that has been her lot and her role.

When we think of mighty nations, Poland does not come to mind.

Yet it was in Poland that Hitler had the majority of his Death Camps.
And it was Poland who was sacrificed to Stalin by Roosevelt.
And it was Poland who stood up to the mighty USSR.

And it is now Poland who wants her Sundays back.

Sundays back you ask…???

Sundays yes…because out of all the nations, Poland is still considered to
be a decisively Christian nation.

No other nation is considered such—not even
France, Ireland or Italy…as most of the the West, along with most of North America,
has fallen to the god of all things secular.

Here in the West, we have gotten quite accustomed to living life 24 /7
Meaning we can go, do, buy, see whatever it is we want on any given
single day of the week.

It use to not be that way.

Sunday was the sabbath….
It still is but most folks have forgotten that little fact.

Most everything was closed in observance of the Sabbath.
People were off from work, they would attend church, they would spend time
visiting, eating together, being a family together….

In the West we had what was known as blue laws—laws that restricted certain
activities on Sundays as Sunday was to be a day of Christian religious observation.
Malls were closed, banks and the Post offices were closed, many stores were closed,
bars were closed, most restaurants were closed, the sale of beer, wine and liquor was prohibited…on and on it went.

Then that all changed.
For a myriad of reasons— profits, selfish wants, greed…
The notion of wanting and having when and how one wanted things took precedence.
Laws were changed.

But Poland wants to see all of that changed…reversed back to Sunday being a day of
reverence, a Sabbath, a day for family….
“Just this week the lower house of the Polish parliament passed a bill to phase out unnecessary consumer spending on Sundays.
The law would curtail most shopping in order to allow the Polish people
to spend time with their families.”

Once again, Poland, that underdog of nations, demonstrates that despite being small
and considered by others as less than….no one will ever say that Poland is afraid
to stand up against what she perceives to be wrong,
standing even that means she stands alone for what is right…..

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all
kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven,
for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew 5:10-12

It’s time to think

“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking.
It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”

― Albert Einstein


(the sun hides behind the weed stalk / Julie Cook / 2017)

Notice how Einstein said “the world as we have created it…”
He meant man….
He did not say, nor did he intend to say, that it was God who had been doing the creating….not God, but man.

For it is a world very much which man has indeed created…ever since that
fateful day in a now sealed garden…
Very much a pandora’s box sort of world—as all manner of things, both good and bad,
have been unleashed…..

And it is with that notion that several thoughts have been coming to light over
the last week or so…as time has allowed for such thoughts and tidbits, if you will,
to percolate, fester or ferment in this mind of mine….

Firstly the other day, I read a comment by a young gal on the site of a fellow blogger,
who happened to be a young lady of color.
I couldn’t tell but guessed that her feelings about Christians and or Christianity
was a bit ambivalent to actually being somewhat hostile as the tone in which
she wrote / spoke rung of mixed signals, mixed messages and outright
hypocrisy regarding Christians / Christianity and the current witnessing of the
whole Black Friday consumerism mayhem she had been seeing, as it sounded as if
it had seen as a bit up and personal—
All of which, if the truth be told, has sadly become the notable marker
to the this whole holiday season—
never mind that it use to the the lighting of an Advent candle.

Somehow the lighting of a candle verses being the first in line for a door buster
goodie just doesn’t seem to ring of the same sense of importance.

This young woman sees it as if ‘they speak of all things love and acceptance
but act like hungry crazy sharks who’d punch a fellow human being in the face
over the last door buster flat screen TV…

ahh humanity……

She went on about sharing the Thanksgiving holiday with a Middle Eastern friend who
was Muslim, along with the friend’s entire family. And that she found them
(the friend and friend’s family) to be warm, gracious and hospitable which was a
stark contrast to what she presumed to be the Christian hate of all things Muslim….

Would it help any if I defended “us” by saying we’re not suppose to be calling it
Christmas in the first place….but rather ‘winter holiday’… or some other similar generic winter mumbo jumbo…
a time that just so happens to be earmarked as a time of over the top giving????

How are we to help the fact that the savvy marketeers of all things materialistic
have turned Christmas gift giving into some sort of high end art of a feeding frenzy….

And therein lies much of our trouble—
we have allowed this to grow out of control by playing right into the middle
of it all.

And secondly, I don’t recall it being a Christian mantra that “we hate Muslims”…

But either way, this young lady obviously had been given some sort of bad vibes in
order for her to “feel” this level of resentment for Christians and Christianity….
because I don’t think she just pulled all of this out of thin air…

As in what kind of Christians / Christianity has she been witnessing???

The other thing that has been resonating with me as of late is the fact that
there is evil in the world.
I’m talking real serious evil.

I bring this up because evil is something that has always been
at the forefront of my relationship with God as Father and Christ as Savior….
As in I’ve always known that the devil is real and there is a raging spiritual
war all around us…and it was Christ who went to hell to do battle
over our very salvation.

I just think we the faithful often prefer to down play the real ugliness of evil….
except only when it’s convenient or practical—as in ‘that violent act was so evil’…
never mind the guy punching the other guy in the face on Black Friday at the mall
as also being an evil act…it just wasn’t “as” evil as we like to define our evils.

We tend to gloss over it, him, whatever…
I think in part because it’s a topic we don’t much like to think about nor do we
consider it a tasteful topic…preferring to think of Flip Wilson and Geraldine
“the devil made me do it” sort of nonsense…saving the sinister one and his
minions for Halloween.

So in the comfort and safety of our homes how much are we willing to
recognize such as really being real?
We tend to ignore or just push aside that which we don’t like to talk about because
gloom and doom and the Devil are not things we really think we need to talk about or address.

Those of us “Christian” bloggers, as much as we talk about what it is we
talk about…that being of faith and or witness, is all well and good but
I wonder if we are really reaching our target and or are we truly presenting our
case, testimony, witness or whatever it is we’re presenting as well as we should??

Oh we have our “friends” who read our words, offering their supportive “amens”,
and we even have our atheist “friends,” whom we’ve gotten to know over the years,
who we truly do like as we both simply seem to enjoy our daily or weekly tussle and arguments…

But what of our real message and target…the one with words and the one with actions?
The ones this young lady missed, or maybe didn’t miss and those things we’re afraid
to talk about??

Satan is slick.
Just ask Eve as she was engaged in conversation with a smooth talking serpent.

When Rio was about to host the Summer Olympics, I think it was 60 Minutes who had gone
to Rio to do a story about its darker side.

Rio is rife with poverty, crime and drugs.
That is a fact but a far cry from what the Olympic Committee or the Government
wanted anyone to see or realize as images of the Girl from Ipanema was to be the
focus and not what was going on in the slums just up the hill.

The reporter was granted an interview up in those slums with a drug lord.
Jabba the Hut came immediately to mind.
This large slimy looking man was surrounded by geeked out followers just waiting
for the next offered hit—he was more than creepy… he was downright evil.
His vantage point was one of looking directly down on those beautiful Brazilian beaches.

That man, I had no doubt, would put a bullet in your head so fast, if he felt one
inkling of betrayal…it would literally make your head spin before you fell over dead
as he was / is the type of person who does indeed scare me.

Those very cold unfeeling people who have no regard for human life.
Think Mafia and organized crime…think psychopaths like Charles Manson.

I’m currently reading the book A Very Expensive Poison,
The Assassination of Alexander Litvinenko and Putin’s War with the West

by Luke Harding.

If you don’t think there is real evil out and about—then you are living much too sheltered under your rock or much like my aunt, preferring the covering of sand
over your head. And if you think it is far removed from your safe little
corner of life, again you are sadly mistaken.

There is so much going on that the average human being really has no clue.

And much of it will simply manifest itself in the ugliness of greed, materialism and
entertainment that is so far removed from a Christian’s mindset but is consumed
mindlessly as we rationalize away any thought that it could actually be harmful
or dare we say it, evil.

And I don’t say this as some paranoid Henny Penny the sky is falling chicken running
about with hands to head wailing ‘oh woe is me.’

I think it is time that Christians really need to start thinking about what it is
that makes them, us, you, me…believers.
We need to figure out our faith and how that faith is to manifest itself to a world
rife with evil.
And anyone promising a happy life of pie in the sky is simply delusional and lying—
because being a Christian is so very much more.
It is to truly be at battle….as very real battle indeed.
And it is not a pretty battle.

Yet maybe the route you’ve taken is because you were raised as such and
that’s just how it is? A quiet simple go the Church on Sunday sort
of deal with that being that.
Maybe it is because you go to church on Sunday, maybe even on Wednesday night, and that makes it all good—as in you’re checked off for the week?

Maybe it’s because you are the typical and dying breed of WASP and that’s
just the history of how your life has always been…?

Maybe you throw money in the red kettle this time or year, give a little extra something
to those who cut your yard, your hair, carry your groceries, etc…and that’s
your humanitarian effort for the year?

Are you just living your life, doing your thing, while all the bad guys are out there,
over there and far removed as you rationalize you and yours are good to go
as those “others” out there are busy in the world of all things destructive
and evil?

I’m afraid itsjust not so simple.

And until we as Believers can figure that out—that we keep allowing the bad,
the Evil one, to get and keep that upper hand while we politely turn our backs….well
it certainly is more comfortable to be cozy in this kitchen of mine as I chat about such
and as I oddly find myself humming the Girl, or in my case the boy, from Ipanema….
all the while folks are still putting cold compresses on those black Friday beatings…

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous.
Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed,
for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Joshua 1:9

up, down or through

“I can see how it might be possible for a man to look down upon the earth
and be an atheist,
but I cannot conceive how he could look up into the heavens and say
there is no God.”

Abraham Lincoln

What I am looking for is not out there, it is in me.
Helen Keller

I try to avoid looking forward or backward, and try to keep looking upward.
Charlotte Bronte


(view looking up a hollow tree that has a small hole on the way up / Julie Cook /2017)


(looking down the opening to a different hollow tree / Julie Cook / 2017)


(looking through a third hollow tree / Julie Cook / 2017)

God looks down…
We look up…
He sees through…

Some writers use the word charity to describe not only Christian love
between human beings, but also God’s love for man and man’s love for God….
On the whole,
God’s love for us is a much safer subject to think about than our love for Him.
Nobody can always have devout feelings:
and even if we could, feelings are not what God principally cares about.
Christian Love, either towards God or towards man, is an affair of the will.
If we are trying to do His will we are obeying the commandment,
‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.’
He will give us feelings of love if He pleases.
We cannot create them for ourselves, and we must not demand them as a right.
But the great thing to remember is that, though our feelings come and go, His love for us does not. It is not wearied by our sins, or our indifference;
and, therefore,
it is quite relentless in its determination that we shall be cured of those sins,
at whatever cost to us, at whatever cost to Him.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952; Harper Collins: 2001) 132-133.

traipsing in the woods amongst the fungi

“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.”

J.R.R. Tolkien

Traipse:
intransitive verb
transitive verb
traipsed, traips′ing
to walk, wander, tramp, or gad

When out in the woods my husband, more often then not, walks with a sense
of focused purpose and direction..

Me on the other hand, well I tend to lag behind…
traipsing about, camera in tow….

(all pics taken in the mid west Georgia woods last Sunday–Julie Cook / 2017)

“But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens,
and they will tell you; or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you;
and the fish of the sea will declare to you.
Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?
In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind.

Job 12:7-10

joy….to give or to receive…

“I don’t think of all the misery,
but of the beauty that still remains.”

Anne Frank


(the work of a day / Julie Cook / 2017)

Thanksgiving afternoon, I was complaining to my daughter-n-law, dreading the notion
of having to begin the yearly arduous ritual, of “putting up” Christmas.
Some people will go into a feeding frenzy of all things consumerism and
I will go into light mode….

“Why do we do this?” I lamented.
“Why do we work our butts off, schlepping stuff up and down from basements
and attics every year….

Why do we move all this stuff in while moving all the other stuff out…
making way for holiday paraphernalia…
just to turn around to then put it all away again in just a couple of weeks???”

I lament so because I am the one who pretty much does it all….
all the lights,
all the decorating,
all the tree,
all the buying,
all the wrapping,
all the cooking,
all the cleaning etc…
because bless my husband’s heart,
he runs a retail business.

Suffice it to know that our lives are not our own right now…
nor will they be…not until about the middle of January.

Neither my husband or I truly “get” this Black Friday absurdity that consumes
this nation of ours.
He does nothing out of the ordinary for it and I don’t even acknowledge it.
Something about the wantoness of all the materialism consuming this country of ours
just oozes of emptiness.

Why do people stand in line for hours on end when they should actually be
home just enjoying Thanksgiving, family, time off, being outside, being inside, being someplace other than a strip mall, a big mall, etc…
oddly preferring to scoop up “stuff”????
Stuff no one really “needs” to survive.

Places like Syria just keep coming to mind when I see cars parked 4 deep,
wrapped around parking lots, just so folks can buy a flat screen TV or clothes,
a mixer or whatever it is they think they JUST have to have in order to survive Christmas…
along with all the other trivial things no one really needs in order to survive.
Like I say, I just don’t get it…..

So my daughter-n-law reminds me, “well you know he really does appreciate it”
He being my only child and son who was born a week before Christmas.
Christmas is his official holiday….but certainly not his dad’s.

The night our son was born, oh so many moons ago, in the wee hours of a December Monday morning…my poor husband had to leave us shortly after the birth so he could go
open the store and work all day…after having been up all night.
Missing his only child, his new son’s first day of living…
He is remorseful all these many years later, but it was how he fed us,
and for that we give thanks.
Yet how does one ever get back time?
They don’t.

In this family of ours, there is definitely some resentment concerning the consuming madness of holiday shopping…. on all sorts of levels…
and yet our son just adores Christmas…what are those odds?!

Sigh…..

So as I was lamenting, my daughter-n-law tells me about a movie they recently went
to see —-a movie I would never ever consider watching.

They are only in their late 20’s—they watch things on television and at the movies
that I pretty much consider toxic—
of which I hope they too will soon realize as toxic…but until then,
I just pray….

My daughter-n-law relayed a line from the movie which actually resonated with me….

She said that in the movie the main character was grousing, much like I was, about
this whole Christmas business.
In walks the mother who deadpan responds….
“don’t you know, mothers don’t receive
joy, theirs is but to give joy”
(a paraphrase)

It hit me like a ton of bricks.

An understanding as to what exactly a lot of this is really all about.
It hit in certainly not a martyresque sort of understanding…but a deeper sense of understanding.

It is an understanding that none of this is about me….never has been.

It’s not about what “I” can get,
not about what I can buy,
not about what I can have….
nor is it about what I want….
but rather it’s about what I can give.

It’s about the ability to give verses the ability to get and receive….
And that giving has nothing to do with stuff—not of things gathered
from a store, or from on-line or from any place else for that matter.
Nothing tangible….

It has nothing to with with savvy shopping, marketing strategy, deals, door busters
or the madness that has become what we know as Christmas in the modern world.
A time that won’t even allow most schools to utter the word “Christmas”
but rather “winter break.”

What this season is about…isn’t about all this decorating,
or about all this consuming, or about all this buying and wrapping of “stuff”….

It’s not about the amassing or consuming….or materialism.
It’s not about the biggest gift, the best deals, the nicest trip to some
exotic wonderland.
Rather it’s about what we can offer and what we can give…

Because the original notion of this holiday Christmas business wasn’t about
Black Fridays and sale margins…it wasn’t about cyber Monday’s or on-line surfing…

It was about a gift…. but not a gift in the modern mindset of what constitutes
as a gift…

It was a single tiny gift that was actually given in order to save…
to save both you and I, as well as all of mankind, actually from ourselves….

He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything
we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.
This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time..

2 Timothy 1:9

the small gift of the holidays— or when a cousin comes to visit

“It’s an universal law–
intolerance is the first sign of an inadequate education.
An ill-educated person behaves with arrogant impatience,
whereas truly profound education breeds humility.”

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn


(the cousins on the couch resting after the big meal / Julie Cook / 2017)

With the arrival of this almost two month long “holiday” season–that time
prior to Thanksgiving, of which usually is now ushered in just following Halloween,
with the big lead up to feasting and fellowshipping—
all the way to just after New Years, with its big exhale and let down…
many of us will experience the comings and goings of family and friends
those who come home to roost or those who are simply passing through.

Perhaps it’s us who are the ones doing the visiting…
making those often precarious trips here, there and yon

Either way…all sorts of folks are coming and going.

College students return home.
Schools shut down for the holidays
Work schedules become erratic.
Vacations begin…
Things just become topsy turvy… for what was once just a couple of weeks
to something now which has morphed into almost a 2 month celebration.

As a kid, do you remember having family come visit for the holidays…
or maybe you were the one traveling with family to do the visiting?

Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, cousins…. folks you wouldn’t have seen but
maybe once or twice a year,
but folks who your parents would read you the riot act over….
Strongly reminding you as to what it means to being kind, patient, polite
and not to grouse when having to share your toys, your room, your time,
your space–or to, in turn, tolerate having to be the recipient of perhaps
the not so most hospitable relative.

Older great aunts who would pinch your cheeks, kissed your face with bright red lipstick
as their extra strong perfume lingered cloyingly in your nostrils….
Or of that very loud and very obnoxious uncle who just made for awkward conversation…
yet would always slip you a dollar when no one was watching.

You could see your dad biting his tongue, your mom “playing nice” and you’d figure
if they could handle it, you could handle the little cousin who constantly
followed you around the house while your older cousin hid your favorite stuffed animal while having to sit by that aunt who insisted on your trying her best pickled ham casserole.

Family…friends…visiting—it’s what the holidays bring.

And therein lies the hidden gift of the holidays…

I thought about all of this today when I finally sat down,
exhausted from the days of lead up cooking and the few hours of cleaning
for what amounts to about a 20 minute meal…
when looking at our son and daughter-n-law’s dog, Alice the grand-dog, who had jumped
up on one the end of the couch, making herself at home,
home on the end that one of our cats, Peaches, stakes out as her own.

Disgusted, she left the room.

Percy however was not to be displaced.
He loves his mother and doesn’t want to share her with his usurper cousin….
so he jumped up and settled in right by my side—

17 pounds of cat verses 85 pounds of black lab….both wanting, needing, to be
by the one they look to for food, comfort and security.
Yet not particularly caring for one another.

And so they tolerate one another…they share their space, albeit it precariously.
They “play nice” to coexist in close proximity because they are “family”—
like it or not.

Alice is here until Monday.
Percy is here for the duration.
Yet they will make the best of this not so favorable situation of time
because this time of year, these holidays just bring out the better, the kinder,
the more generous in us all.

But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting
to get anything back.
Then your reward will be great,
and you will be children of the Most High,
because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.
Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Luke 6:35-36