life and death never cease to amaze me…

“You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood
becomes a matter of life and death to you.”

C.S. Lewis

“I’ve reached the point where I hardly care whether I live or die.
The world will keep on turning without me, I can’t do anything to change events anyway.”

Anne Frank


(dried hydranga blooms / Julie Cook / 2018)

I had a couple of posts that I had been working on that were waiting in the wings.
Posts I was all geared up to finish writing and excited about sharing today.

I had just watched the latest offering by Bishop Ashenden–of which makes for excellent sharing…
And of course, there’s our friend the Wee Flea…and his latest observations…
of which it seems, often needs to be our own observations…as he is always spot on.

Then there’s the story of the animal folks out there and stories of the types of animals that
they’re trying to pass off as “service animals” as they try their darndest to get these
service creatures on planes.
It actually makes for a humorous, ridiculous and rather captivating tale that is now sadly
an indication as to the nuttiness of our society…

And of course, there is the on again off again notion of the Russians coming, going
and not coming or going…

I mean just open any newspaper or click on any news feed or watch ‘the news’—
and the supply of material for the offering of reflection is endless…

Or maybe it is simply a sign that we need to be more earnest with our prayers…as in
never ceasing….of which I believe is actually the case…never ceasing.

But as luck would have it today,
both life and death decided they each needed to intervene in my life.

If I haven’t mentioned it lately, we are officially in baby watch mode.
This first granddaughter of ours is due any day now.
There are however a few glitches that have popped up…but the doctors are assuring us that
we are not to be worrying…for what we see as a glitch, they see as nothing new.

And so as we now hold our breath as we prepare for a new life…today,
which is yesterday if you’re reading this on Saturday, is/was Aunt Maaaatthhhaaaa’s birthday.
She would have been 79.
Remember we lost Martha suddenly and unexpectedly in July.

And so whereas she and I had already had an adventure planned which we should have
lived out this past fall,
as I should have been sharing the tales of our latest exploits…
rather than exploits, I am offering the bittersweet remembrance of her passing.

And to add insult to injury…this morning, which is yesterday morning to you,
just as I was thinking about how much I was missing my aunt,
this accomplice in all things of adventure…
her daughter–that being my cousin….well her fiancee called me, totally out of the blue,
to inform me that she, my cousin, had actually died suddenly while out walking the dog.
On her mom’s birthday.
She was just 48.

She had had a nagging cough and had been tested for the flu but they were treating it as
chronic asthma. I think they are suspecting blood clots in the lungs but I also suspect
that as was very much overweight, I think her heart simply gave out.
She leaves behind a 26-year-old daughter who struggles with autism and a totally shocked
and bereft fiancee who had just proposed on New Year’s Eve.

Both my mother and her sister, Aunt Martha, clung to the old-school
wive’s tales and adamantly held to the notion that bad things always happened in threes…

I say this family has had its three.

And so now no one remains on my mother’s side of the family but for the daughter of
this cousin and me.

And so I am poignantly reminded that we human beings are a people who mark our
days by the significance of the calendar…the passing of time marked by events.
As there will always be ironies found in both our births and in our passings.

I was all ready to be heading off in one direction today when life saw that I should
head in a totally different sort of direction…one that is much more deeply reflective.
And just when I thought we couldn’t get any more reflective then perusing the thoughts of
Bishop Ashenden or the Wee Flea, David Roberston…life teaches us otherwise.

It seems that there will always be joy and sorrow constantly rolled into one another…
Some would call that a ying and yang of living or simply karma—the coming and going around
of the good and bad in the universe…

I simply call it life.

The ebb and flow of this gift we have been given.
Nothing on earth is a guarantee…all but for the love, God has for His children.

And whereas none of us know or are guaranteed another day, let alone another hour…
Knowing that our lives, as precarious and fragile as they are,
are at all times found safely in the hand of the Father, is comfort enough for me…
May it be comfort enough for you…

For despite the markings of the calendar, none of us know the day nor time
our earthly life will come to a close…I pray to be in the hands of the Father
when that day should come for me…

Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring.
What is your life?
For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.

James 4:14

the tale of a tetovierer

Who has inflicted this upon us?
Who has made us Jews different from all other people?
Who has allowed us to suffer so terribly up till now?
It is God that has made us as we are,
but it will be God, too, who will raise us up again.
If we bear all this suffering and if there are still Jews left,
when it is over, then Jews, instead of being doomed,
will be held up as an example.

Anne Frank


(image of some of the children in Auschwitz holding up their arms to a cameraman,
showing the tattooed number on their arms / BBC)

I am not a fan of tattoos.

I’m just not nor have I ever been.

And this coming from a retired art teacher who had many an aspiring tattoo artist
in class.

I truly believe that what one finds grand, fascinating, bold as well as defining
at say age 18, will not hold the same sense of fascination, boldness nor still
be defining at say age 58…

Plus I can’t help but see a good bit of an underlying psychology underneath a
need to permanently “ink” ones’ body…..

But hey, that’s just me.

It’s obviously not the rest of our culture’s or society’s mindset….
I’m just a one hole pierced earring sort of girl….

I like things understated and simple really…elegant, ageless and timeless.
I blame my grandmother…thankfully.

I grew up with many Jewish friends.
I attended Synagogue with them as they came to church with me.
I feel a deep connection to our Jewish brethren as I happen to
claim one of their own as my Savior.

Yet in all my years, I never knew nor had met anyone who had been a survivor
of the Death Camps.

I knew many a WWII veteran but never an individual who lived to tell the
horrific nightmare of having lived when one was expected to die…

I knew Vietnam Veterans and even POWs of that war, but none from
those infamous Death Camps of a previous war.

So I have never seen an aged wrinkled arm that bears the fading yet distinct
numbers of one’s time spent surviving death.

I did a pencil drawing once of a portion of a forearm and hand…
It was a man’s arm and hand.
There was a number scrawled on the inner wrist running about an inch and a half
lengthwise up the forearm–along with an inch wide hole piercing all the way through
the palm of the hand…
the backdrop was what one would assume to be a rough hewn piece of wood….

His death, the death of the man whose arm I had drawn, had not been in vain and
had not been for but a select few…it had been for all…
as He had been there, in their midst, with all those who had those numbers
inked onto their arms, despite many Jews to this day truly believing that God
had abandoned them during the Shoah …

The biblical word Shoah (which has been used to mean “destruction” since
the Middle Ages) became the standard Hebrew term for the murder of European Jewry
as early as the early 1940s. The word Holocaust,
which came into use in the 1950s as the corresponding term,
originally meant a sacrifice burnt entirely on the altar.
The selection of these two words with religious origins reflects recognition
of the unprecedented nature and magnitude of the events.
Many understand Holocaust as a general term for the crimes and horrors
perpetrated by the Nazis;
others go even farther and use it to encompass other acts of mass murder as well. Consequently, we consider it important to use the Hebrew word Shoah with
regard to the murder of and persecution of
European Jewry in other languages as well.

Yad Vashem

And so I never gave much thought as to those tattooed numbers on those forearms.
I never thought about who was charged with having to “write” them…
I never thought about when exactly it was, during the ordeal,
that they had received them…
And how odd that I had never known anyone who had endured what it meant to have one.

The other day I caught a story with a rather interesting title….
The Tattooist of Auschwitz–and his secret love

Visions of today’s tattoo artists in my mind is of an individual who
themselves is covered in various images and colors, electric pen in hand…
a master of a cultural craft.

Throw in the notion of a secret love and all manner of clandestine activities
suface in one’s imagination.

Clicking on the story, I am met with the tale of a man and of the life
he lived and of an age-long sense of heaviness for having betrayed the
millions who did not survive.
I believe that is called survivors guilt.

And yet in this tale there is found love, loss, rediscovering, life, hope….
and finally a sense of understanding that there was no culpability for
simply having survived.

The story is set in Melbourne, Australia…
a far cry from a Death Camp in 1940’s Poland.
And the hero of this tale actually died in 2006.
It took him until he was well into his 80’s to even be able to share his story…
much of which his now grown son had not known. Not many who survived liked to
talk about their stay.

The story is of Ludwig “Lale” Eisenberg who later changed his name to
Lale Sakolov.

Lale’s story was coaxed out of his memory by Heather Morris
who has since written a book The Tattooist of Auschwitz

Lale was a Slovak Jew who, like the other Jews in Czechoslovakia, was sent
to Auschwitz.
He was 26 years old.
He did manual labor at the camp until he contracted typhoid.
He was cared for by a Frenchman who had actually been the one who had
tattooed Lale’s number on his arm 32407.
The man was known as in the camp as a tetovierer, or tattooist.
He was charged with “writing” the numbers onto the arms of those coming into
the camp who would be staying—those being sent immediately to the gas chambers.
did not receive numbers.

Eventually Lale became the tetovierer to the camp.

Yet in the middle of madness and death, love was actually kindled.

An 18 year old girl found herself standing before Lale…one in a myriad of women
waiting in the long line…
waiting their turn to exchange a life and a name for a number.

Lale did not like tattooing the women—there was always a sickening feeling in
the pit of his stomach, but he did as he was ordered.

Gazing up at this girl who stood before him, his heart was immediately taken
by this girl’s bright eyes.
Her name was Gita.

Gita and Lale’s life together actually began that fateful day in Auschwitz–
and the twists and turns are amazing…

There is a lovely video clip on Heather’s kickstarter page that she put together—
which I assume was created to help raise the necessary funds to write and publish
Lale and Gita’s story.
The book is now available on Amazon…I ordered mine today.

Below are two links—
the first is Heather’s story along with a brief video overview about her finding
and forging a relationship with Lale, who would eventually share his story with her.

The second link is about the story as written by the BBC.

For even in the midst of misery and death, remains hope…there is always Hope.

http://www.bbc.com/news/stories-42568390

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

always optimistic

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment
before starting to improve the world.”

Anne Frank


(my new tomatoes in my “containers” / Julie Cook / 2017)

All my life, I’ve tried to be optimistic.
Yet at the same time….
I am fully aware that there is a difference between being optimistic
verses being a perpetual optimist.

I am optimistic but I also know, as I expect, that the positive will be met by the negative—
as in…for every action, there is an opposite and equal reaction…
kind of like a tug of war…..

I have always been fully aware of the notion that if it can go wrong, it most likely will…
It’s like Newton’s Law but more like Murphy’s…

Yet at the same time, I honestly believe that the final outcome can and will be good.
It’s just that it most likely won’t be a bed of roses getting there.

I call that being a realist.

For I can see the trials and tribulations,
the “what if” scenarios,
the “if it can go wrong, it will” sort of life’s moments….
Because I firmly believe in a great battle that is constantly raging all around us…
as in a deeply troubling spiritual battle….

Yet in the end I believe, as I know, that “all things work together for good to
them that love God,
to them who are the called according to his purpose.
(Romans 8:28)…
As in the Good guy not only doesn’t finish last but in reality He wins,
And not only does He win, He actually triumphs…
In turn, making those of us who have believed,
the real winners…

So on the one hand, I try very hard to be optimistic and always ever hopeful….
yet as a realist, I know that the end result will not come readily nor easily…
but I know, without a doubt, it will come….

I think we call that perseverance…

So therefore during these day’s of doubt and despair,
in this uncertain time of anger and hate,
in these days of trepidation, mistrust and missteps…
may we each remain ever hopeful…for in the end…
there will always be the winning Love and Grace of God…

“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

the question

“The question is very understandable,
but no one has found a satisfactory answer to it so far.
Yes, why do they make still more gigantic planes, still heavier bombs and,
at the same time, prefabricated houses for reconstruction?
Why should millions be spent daily on the war and yet there’s
not a penny available for medical services, artists, or for poor people?

Why do some people have to starve,
while there are surpluses rotting in other parts of the world?
Oh, why are people so crazy?”

Anne Frank

dscn4633
(white oak across / Julie Cook / 2016)

“The question is not what you think of Christianity but what you think of Christ
and what are you going to do about Him…”

A.W. Tozer
The Crucified Life

Flown the coop

“Those who have courage and faith shall never perish in misery”
Anne Frank

Amazement awaits us at every corner.
James Broughton

DSCN3120
(the house wren’s empty nest on the tractor, under the tarp / Julie Cook / 2016)

Amazing…
on so many different levels…
simply amazing…

Let’s take a small diversion from the current reign of havoc, or is that rain of havoc, or merely both….anywhooo….

Away from the havoc which has been beset upon us in these most recent of days..diverting ourselves away in which to wander…

Wandering away ever so slightly from that which is directly in front of our eyes…to that which is somewhat removed…
Blessedly and amazingly removed.

Yet, we must take note, it is to be no less, simply amazing.

And maybe since it is somewhat removed, tucked away and elusive in nature…
it is all of that, and so much more, which adds to the sheer amazingness of it all…

Let us now wander away to the world of the amazing…

On Sunday, 3 days ago, this empty jumble of leaves, with the giant hollowed out hole in the middle, was a dizzying beehive of activity.

RSCN3121

The stakes were high.
For there were five hungry mouthes which had to be fed.
We were all made keenly aware of this one important fact.
Life was suddenly all a flutter, literally.

Squawking and screeching two very busy parents hunted, pecked, chirped, sung, guarded, protected and fiercely chased away any friend or foe from the home of their 5 tiny offspring.

Not only had they labored to construct, dare we say craft, this amazing conglomeration of sticks,
leaves, feathers and fuzz…
they had selected a most safe, protected and hidden site in which to set up house.

Birds are amazing that way.

They worked tirelessly almost undetected…all but for the presence of a busy bee bird who could be seen darting, scurrying ad flitting here and there.
Eggs were silently laid and kept warm…unbeknownst to the unsuspecting nearby humans.

Yet all of that changed at hatching time.

Nonstop, two parents labored in order to gather enough food to raise up their alienesque brood.
Five oversized beaks flapped open, as 10 bulbous closed orbs protruding from wobbly heads,
continued to develop.

There would be silence…then as soon as a parent neared,
the inharmonic din of chatter began.
It was as if the sound translated into a clamoring repetitiveness of
“feed me, feed me, feed me…feed us… NOW”)

Then this past Sunday the nervous frenzy reached a crescendo.
As the tiny aliens mysteriously sprouted feathers as heads began to match bodies as wings took shape.
The parents were now worked into a fevered pitch as babies, turned fledglings, were soon to spread their wings. Mom and Dad were keen to create a safe zone, free of humans, cats and others
as their children would need some room to roam…safe yet free.

And just like that, it is…..now over.

“Did they fly away??” you pensively ask.

Well… I truthfully can’t say.

It’s as if one day they were there and the next day they just weren’t…

We’re they ready?

I’d like to think so.

As birds and their Divine Creator are each amazing that way….

The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
he will renew you in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing

Zephaniah 3:17

Therapy amongst the mint

“All of earth is crammed with heaven
And every bush aflame with God
But only those who see take off their shoes.”

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. As long as this exists, and it certainly always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances may be. And I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.”
Anne Frank

DSC02644
(a clump of freshly pulled mint mixed in a pile of roots / Julie Cook / 2015)

The air was punctuated with the pungent aroma of mint and basil mingled with a heavy dose of loamy moist dirt.
I had taken pruning shears with me, but put them aside in favor of my two gloved hands.
My intent was to simply cut it all back but instead I opted to hopefully rid my yard and life of the invasive mayhem.

The growing green mass had covered the whole front corner of the bed by the garage and was set to cover up Mimi’s ancient cement bench if something wasn’t done and done soon to stop this almost giddy encroachment.

My heart has felt much the same in recent days, overrun and over burdened with and by the onslaught of the grim global headlines.

The now burgeoning sickly yellowish green patch is usually the first thing in the yard to show its tender new verdant foliage during those sleepy hopeful wee days between winter and spring. It’s what gives me hope that life, rebirth, regrowth and Spring will indeed vanquish Old Man Winter while ushering in welcoming warmer days.

As I wondered about how best to tackle the latest infestation of overgrowth in the shrub bed, my thoughts wandered a world away to what or whom would or could now vanquish the sweeping global sorrows that were entangling both my heart and soul.

Come late Summer. . .when life is dried out and burned out, just as the seasons prepare to knock on the door of Autumn, the leggy gangly masses have become a truly unsightly tangled mess of tired and spent. As in I’m just ready to cut it all away, rid my life of the jumbled mess and happily welcome in some cool crisp colorful order.

I wish I could easily do the same for our hurting planet.

I’ve always found solace in working with my hands.
The more manual the labor the more productive and alive I feel.
There is a cleansing honesty in working with one’s hands.
Never mind that my back has been giving me fits, never mind the heat index is still in the triple digits, I will gladly get down and dirty, as the sun continues to bake the world, for working hard in the yard is good for the soul, the mind and often literally the heart.

Oh that it could be so easy with this greatly burdened world of ours.

As a true Southerner I’ve grown up with mint sprouting from every yard I’ve ever called home. What better accompaniment to one’s tea or julep, depending on your preference, than a sprig of fresh mint? Anyone will tell you mint is easy, as in it grows itself. In fact it’s just a little too easy, as in too eager and way too invasive. It’s more like a weed gone wild then a treasured herb. Plus everyone who does any work in a garden will tell you, any novice can grow mint— it offers instant gratification to the more hesitant would-be gardeners among us.

But my mint patch has been on the run and I had to stop it before things got anymore out of hand. Rather than cut it back, just for it to sprout right back to this same spreading madness within a few days, I took to pulling it up, by the long lanky root full. Even poor ol St Francis had to be laid on his side just so I could get to what was running under my favorite saint’s feet. I don’t think he was much bothered by the intrusion.

As I yanked and pulled, buried just under the top layer of straw and soil, was a criss crossing network of an eerily bone white root system stretching for what seemed to be miles. With each tugged, pulled and unearthed jumble of lanky roots and dirt, earwigs and beetles alike scurried helter skelter, madly seeking a dark cloak of safety in the damp compost soil.

The more my thoughts drifted over the latest mounding national and global turmoils, I pulled harder and deeper. Sweat trickled down my face, pooling at the tip of my nose before dripping and disappearing into the blackened soil. The sweat seemed to reach across the globe mingling with the tears of those thousands of people now walking hundreds of miles in search of asylum and safety.

As the morning turned to afternoon, I had finally pulled up the last of the mint. The piles were now all raked up, the walkway swept and the pine straw smoothed as the shrub bed now had a delightfully clean and fresh look.

I still had no grand revelations as to how to help the ever growing global crises sweeping across our lives nor how to ease the lingering tensions within our own Nation. I was hot, tired and weary of body, but there was oddly a refreshing clarity of thought.
No longer did I feel totally overwhelmed or at a loss.
Still not knowing where to even begin to help, I gratefully no longer felt as defeated as I had.
There’s just something about physical labor, with it’s overwhelming beginning and productive ending, that gives hope to the overwhelming obstacles of life. . . hope that we can indeed tackle and eventually overcome the litany of misery facing our current global family.

I trust we will be able to do so. . .
for only in God, comes hope to the hopeless, and strength to the weak. . .

Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.
Galatians 6:10

“Let me arise and open the gate, to breathe
the wild warm air of the heath,
And to let in Love, and to let out Hate,
And anger at living and scorn of Fate,
To let in Life, and to let out Death.”

Violet Fane