No getting around it

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times.
But that is not for them to decide.
All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

― J.R.R. Tolkien

“I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born,
and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”

― Mark Twain

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the
intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body,
but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke,
thoroughly used up, totally worn out,
and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”

― Hunter S. Thompson

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(image of Christ crucified, Rapperswill Polish Museum, Rapperswill, Switzerland / Julie Cook / 2012)

Death…
There is no getting around it.
No bailing out.
No avoidance.
No free pass.

It is the proverbial truism…
Death…
and of course those blasted taxes.

It comes to all of us, at some point in our lives…
Be it tragically, prematurely or thankfully…
One thing is certain, it will come.

Driving home from the store this afternoon I drove past a cemetery with a freshly dug grave
close to my line of sight.
Having recently buried my father-n-law, then having rushed a feeble dad this week in for IVs as he’s gotten himself in a dangerous predicament, death has been a frequent thought.

Death is certainly disrupting.
It disrupts obviously the one who it just whisked away…
and it disrupts those who are now without the one Death so rudely, or thankfully, took away.

Picking up the pieces is, more times than not, an emotional nightmare.
I’ve done my share of picking up and I’ve not much cared for it.
But haven’t we all….

There is such a finality to it all.
No reruns, no redos, no getting back.
It’s a done and done sort of deal.

It’s the ultimate in being robbed or stolen from…
And I don’t like that.

Yet if given the option of living forever, I would politely decline.

For life is hard.

Oh don’t get me wrong, Life is grand as well,
but overall, it can be hard.

Yet I feel an odd sense when pondering death…
something I really don’t like pondering…
as in, I’d rather not think about it.

I don’t like thinking about being separated from those I love…
Me from them and them from me.
Of things moving merrily along without me.
I would be so sad.
Yet is that not our ego…thinking we just need to be here, in the thick of it all…
Or fretting over what we might just miss…

And then there is the wondering of exactly where might I be headed.
Up, down, all around….

I like to think I’m headed in the right direction…
Being a follower of the Resurrected Christ.
Having confessed, and confessed some more, those egregious actions and sins of mine…
and then trusting in God’s promise and Holy word…

Yet what human, no matter how much they profess, claim, proclaim and believe…
isn’t plagued by questions?
If you’re not, nor haven’t been, your’e a far better person than I…

Yet I do know that the Prince of Darkness loves to whisper in the ear of the faithful
all sorts of gobbledygook, lies, half truths and falsehoods…
Inserting and sowing doubts, worry and fretting wherever the ground seems fertile.

Then I worry about being alone…
as in left alone
Not in the book series but rather here by myself all alone…
I don’t like that.

Yes there is indeed lots to ponder when Death happens upon our door…

Do you remember when you first learned to swim?
I almost drowned at the age of 5 during that process
but that is not my point here….the point is remembering the process.

Chances are you stood on the edge of the pool or on the boat dock
or at the edge of the lake or up on the sand at the beach…
A parent, or older trusted individual, was below (or standing in the surf)
treading almost effortlessly in the water, arms out stretched, waiting for you
while they coaxed, encouraged, implored or even pleaded with you to jump…
waiting patiently for you to come to them….to their strong open arms…

It was an overwhelming feeling.

Big and deep, murky or clear, cold or warm, the vast body of water waited along with a loved one.
There was a bit of excitement, of wonderment, a sense of mounting adventure.
Yet there were also the nerves, the worry, the anxiety, the predisposed need for survival percolating upward from some deep recess of your hypothalamus (that part of the brain responsible for fight or flight).
The internal struggle of should I or shouldn’t I was raging in the span of just a few minutes.

Some of us may have needed to run through this routine a couple of times before working up our nerve or building our trust.
We may have had to run to mom, or someone perched on dry land who could reassure us that it was going to be ok.
We’d work that nerve up again, and again…facing that great challenge,
all the while knowing that we weren’t really going this alone because there was that person who wanted to love us and protect us, who was waiting for us in that water…

Learning to swim is not just something done for fun…
it is a true life survival skill.
A skill our parents and loved ones want to instill in us.
There is the benefit of swimming for fun and pleasure, but don’t let that fool you, it is a survival skill plain and simple.

I kind of like to think Death will be a lot like learning to swim.
There are the nerves and the trepidation.
The fear of the unknown.
But then we see Jesus, with His arms outstretched.
I see the wounds in His hands as He stretches out His arms towards me…
There is peace in His eyes…
He voice is calm as He beckons…

It’s going to be ok,” he reassures…
I’ve already done this, so don’t you worry…..”

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.”
John 14:1-4

forty days and forty nights

“No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great.”
― John Chrysostom

“Lent comes providentially to reawaken us, to shake us from our lethargy.”
Pope Francis

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(lone sheep along the cliffs near Teileannn, County Donegal, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

Forty days and forty nights
Thou wast fasting in the wild;
Forty days and forty nights
Tempted, and yet undefiled.

Sunbeams scorching all the day;
Chilly dew-drops nightly shed;
Prowling beasts about Thy way;
Stones Thy pillow; earth Thy bed.

Should not we Thy sorrow share
And from worldly joys abstain,
Fasting with unceasing prayer,
Strong with Thee to suffer pain?

Then if Satan on us press,
Jesus, Savior, hear our call!
Victor in the wilderness,
Grant we may not faint nor fall!

So shall we have peace divine:
Holier gladness ours shall be;
Round us, too, shall angels shine,
Such as ministered to Thee.

Keep, O keep us, Savior dear,
Ever constant by Thy side;
That with Thee we may appear
At the eternal Eastertide.

Lyrics: George Hunt Smyttan (1856) (later revisions by Francis Potts)

the tontine

If patience is worth anything, it must endure to the end of time.
And a living faith will last in the midst of the blackest storm.

Mahatma Gandhi

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(The Rock of Cashel cemetery, County Tipperary, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

A tontine…
A french word used during the 17th century to denote an investment created by several individuals…With the premise being that each member of the group agrees to initially pay a set sum…
The money is never touched, rather it is allowed to grow over time.
As the years pass and the members of the group eventually, one by one, die off, the remaining shares grow…with the last surviving member of the group amassing the lump of the sum plus all accrued interest.

The idea of a tontine played out on one of the episodes of the hit show M.A.S.H.

In this particular episode Colonel Potter, the patriarch of the cast, received a secretive and oddly strange package of which suddenly cast a grave pall over his entire demeanor. Naturally those closest to the beloved leader, Hawkeye, BJ, Margaret and Charles each grew terribly concerned seeing that the Colonel had grown almost inconsolably depressed after having received this most odd package.

The entire episode evolved around what was in the package, what was wrong with Colonel Potter and what could this rag tag group of friends do to help.

Finally Colonel explained…
The package was a bottle of fine French Brandy.

The story behind the bottle was that during World War I, when Colonel Potter was a young soldier, his regiment had found themselves dangerously deep behind enemy lines in German occupied France. His small group of comrades had come upon the bottle of brandy as they hunkered down in an abandoned shell of what was once an elegant home. Right then and there this little group of beleaguered soldiers made a pact, or more appropriately a tontine. Should they survive the war, they would save the bottle of brandy by placing it in a safety deposit box. The bottle would then remain under lock and key until there was but one lone survivor of the group–upon which time the bottle was to be delivered to the “last man standing” who would in turn drink a toast to what had been.

Colonel Potter, who now bitterly found himself still fighting, what seemed to be a lifetime of wars all these many years later, was the last living soul remaining from his once youthful regiment, as his own mortality now mockingly taunted him as it stared him in the face… all the while a lonely bottle of brandy begged to be consumed.

Life is indeed bittersweet.

If we are fortunate, we live a long life supported and surrounded by family and friends.
We journey together through both joy and sorrow, trepidation and gallantry.
We ride the waves of triumph both high and mighty then hold fast and tight during the calamity of storms.
We experience shared moments, good and bad, which become the mortar between the building blocks of our lives.

Then one strange day we suddenly realize, that while we weren’t paying attention or taking much notice, ever so slowly and one by one…our numbers mysteriously have decreased…

We find ourselves on the opposite side of happily ever after, looking back wondering where the time has gone. One by one we are left more and more isolated and alone, until finally we are the last man / woman standing out of a once large troupe of beloved comrades, family and life long companions.

Gone are those who were in our lives to protect, to cheer on, to share with, and to relish with….those who were the life-lines, the wise ones, the sages of our lives…
Leaving us in the unfamiliar position of now being those very things for a much younger lot than ourselves…
A lonely feeling.
A bittersweet feeling.
A very sad feeling.

And that was the very overwhelming realization for dear ol Colonel Potter…

The friends that had transitioned with him from boyhood to manhood, under cloak of war, we’re all now gone. Those who had lived through and understood a lifetime now long past had all but vanished, leaving him as the only remaining one who could recall and understand a time that was as he found himself now surrounded by a much younger group who had not been there nor done that…he was now the odd man out.

Yet through the heavy sense of loss with the weight of age suddenly bearing down and crushing his shoulders, our dear Colonel Potter understood that as he may be the last of his particular group to survive, he was still surrounded by companions, loved ones and friends… albeit of a different generation.
Life was still to be lived, relished and enjoyed.
Occasionally he could look back and recall all that was, but life was indeed for the living and it was time to say good-bye to the past while looking toward the future.

And so as he opened the bottle of bandy that had delightfully mellowed with time, offering a toast to those who once were and to a life that was well lived…he also offered a toast to those standing by his side and to the life that was yet to be…
toasting the memories of friends now gone and toasting the lives of those friends now standing by his side.

May those of us who now find ourselves standing closer to the end of our own life’s tontine remember, that as our numbers maybe decreasing, our importance in the lives of those who come behind us is greatly increasing.
Our experiences, our history, our life’s knowledge is all necessary in order to help light the path for those generations behind us as we continue moving toward an unknown future of the possibilities of what will be.
We stand as the mile markers and guideposts for future generations…may we, with God’s grace, direct them well…

And the world and its desires are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever.
1John 2:17

Hidden support along one’s way…

“If then we have angels, let us be sober, as though we were in the presence of tutors; for there is a demon present also.”
― John Chrysostom

Human beings, when confronted with the strange and inexplicable, have an immediate instinct to get back to the accustomed and the normal. We do not hug our miracles close; we put them hastily away, preferring the commonplace to live with it. It is as if some compulsive hand wipes clean the wall on which the handwriting appeared.” Fulton Oursler

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(Cherub relief found within St Colmcille Church, Dumcliff / County Sligo, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

The journey has been long as you now find yourself winded,
growing more and more weary with the setting of each day’s sun…
Thoughts of tomorrow and one more day are almost more than you can bear.
The energy and the strength, which were once easily called upon at will…
simply no longer available.

Maligned
Belittled
Mocked
Forgotten
Tired
Weary
Empty

Yet pressing on is really the only option…
Business as usual as you wade through the motions of the routine
Can you bear to manage one more season?

The joy has faded into the common
The noise of the worldly drowns out the sublime
Too much, too little, too late, too soon

The secular now shines the brightest
With your frustration overshadowed by the Darkness.
Hopefulness waits at the window staring out onto the confusion

An unseen hand is offered when most needed
A smile appears to fend off the cold
The chill is thwarted by the inviting fire
Encouragement offers a welcoming blanket

This journey has long been previously traveled,
As comfort resides in the familiar.
There are no surprises to the unseen…
No hurdles that haven’t been previously crossed.
There are those who have gone before you…
and those who will continue to come from behind.
The journey is never really lonely

As we never travel truly alone…

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 4:12-19

Need a change in direction?

“Fortunately Jesus didn’t leave [the disciples]-or any of us-without hope or direction. Where we fail, Jesus succeeded. The only One who as able to recognize and follow His purpose from the beginning was Jesus. He alone was able to obey consistently and please God completely. And His divine mission was to make a way for each of us to do the same.”
Charles R. Swindoll

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( a female mallard slides across the mirror-like pond / Adare Manor, Adare, County Limerick, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

Feeling out of sorts, irritable, unsatisfied and unfulfilled, we wander about, head down, hands shoved deep into the murky abyss of pockets, as the permanent scowl begins to feel more like a widow’s netting hanging down over our once bright eyes.

Musing and muttering, self within self, we shrug as if to a companion…yet the only companion is an unhappy self.

We don’t much care for the big picture…
All that worldly mess…the global mess that seems so out of control and so beyond our grasp…it has left us drained, depleted and depressed.
We don’t really care for much of anything we see…that of the world, our country, our city, our town, or dare we voice it?.. even our own home and family…

Ours is but a single small voice…no change there coming from the insignificant…this as we grouse, once again, as if to a companion.
What’s so bad about a life lived by the status quo, no boat rocking that’s for sure
thoughts trailing off as eyes begin to burn from invisible mounting tears.

This solitary conversation of self with self has taken on the volley of table tennis–back and forth with the whys and the why nots…the hows and the how comes…the whens and the not whens…

Feeling crushed under the ever growing blackening clouds of despair and empty acceptance
a few ducks, gliding effortlessly across the pond, draw our attention…creating a thankful diversion, just enough to pull us away from the woeful self within self discourse.

The small flock of ducks are all drifting peacefully along in the same direction, across the mirror-like water, except for one lone duck. This single mallard duck has taken his course in the opposite direction.

Humm, what does this duck know that the others don’t…?…you muse silently to yourself.

And that’s when it hits you…

It’s about time you changed directions….

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(a mallard serenely swims by / Adare Manor, Adare, County Limerick, Irleand / Julie Cook / 2015)

“We insist upon trying to modify Him and to bring Him nearer to our own image. The flesh whimpers against the rigor of God’s inexorable sentence and begs like Agag for a little mercy, a little indulgence of its carnal ways. It is no use. We can get a right start only by accepting God as He is and learning to love Him for what He is…

…The moment we make up our minds that we are going on with this determination to exalt God over all we step out of the world’s parade.”

(excerpt by A. W. Tozer from The Pursuit of God)

(***and speaking of directional change…I’m on to a slight diversion—I’ll be back here hopefully Tuesday—until then…God’s grace to you…)

Battered yet undeterred

“Out of defeat can come the best in human nature. As Christians face storms of adversity, they may rise with more beauty. They are like trees that grow on mountain ridges — battered by winds, yet trees in which we find the strongest wood.”
Billy Graham

How nice to meet someone so undeterred by things like. . .reality.
The Lorax

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(the first post freezing quince bloom–looking worse from winter’s wear / Julie Cook / 2015)

The Psalmist cries. . .
“Hear me oh Lord. . .”

Cries of anguish, pain, sorrow, emptiness, suffering. . .

The Psalmist also speaks of joy. . .
Joy is longed for and joy is infectious. . .
Praise and alleluias are easily multiplied. . .
Everyone wants in on happy, joy, uplifting, good, glad. . .

It is, however, to the other. . .
to those deep groanings of the suffering soul and spirit. . .
the laminations, the cries, the wailing, the tears, the sorrow. . .
of which, alone we will all eventually find ourselves.

It is a dry place of solitude, oneness, singleness and loneliness
It is a place that is gritty, dirty, uncomfortable
It is the furnace ready to refine. . .

Yet this place of isolation,
this place of misery,
this deeply troubling place of peril
and of anguished sorrow. . .
is also the place in which character is forged.
It is the place where the knowledge of self is realized–
for good or for bad. . .

Crisis crashes down upon crisis
Weary roads traversed
stop and go, stop and go
wills are battered
hearts are bruised
bodies fail
sewage spills forth in a torrent of rage
as money flees through the broken glass

Personalities clash,
while the like minded work in tandem
Step by step, one foot forward
Sinister lurks in the shadow, composing its agenda
Controlling, one way, the only way
Demanding will not yield its way
Selfish will not have the last word

Having been hit broadside. . .
Blindsided by mayhem, confusion and hatefulness
Caught in a place of no control and no return
Nearly broken, battered, hurting. . .
yet decidedly undeterred. . .

A little while, and the wicked will be no more;
though you look for them, they will not be found.
But the meek will inherit the land
and enjoy peace and prosperity.
The wicked plot against the righteous
and gnash their teeth at them;
but the Lord laughs at the wicked,
for he knows their day is coming.
The wicked draw the sword
and bend the bow
to bring down the poor and needy,
to slay those whose ways are upright.
But their swords will pierce their own hearts,
and their bows will be broken.

Psalm 37:10-15

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