gifts

“What you are is God’s gift to you,
what you become is your gift to God.”

Hans Urs von Balthasar, Prayer


(Michael Davenport, a handicapped Athens street artist)

It was almost a year ago…
We were still living on the western side of Georgia when I caught a news story that was
taking place on the eastern side of our state, in the city of my alma mater.

There was a street artist in the Classic City of Athens, Ga. named Michael Davenport.

Street artists in Athens are nothing new.
I was an Art Ed. major in Athens 40 years ago…artists in any college town tend to
prevail upon the streets.

This story however is not a typical artsy story.

Rather this is the story about a handicapped middle aged man who had lost
both of his arms as a teen.
There was some sort of electrical accident.
Michael lost both of his arms at the age of 13.

Eventually Michael taught himself to write and draw by using his mouth.

I learned about this talented young man about a year ago when there was a news story about
Michael being attacked and robbed.

It seems that some low life thug cold-cocked Michael while he was in a Athens
parking lot doing his art.
Michael was knocked unconscious and robbed of both his earnings and art supplies.

I made a mental note– I wanted to support this young man–I wanted to eventually buy
one of his UGA bulldogs drawings.

Fast forward to yesterday.

My husband and I make almost daily runs to the Lowes and Home Depot in Athens as we continue working
on our new “home” project.
This new home of ours is about 10 minutes outside of Athens.

And as life would have it, it just so happens that Michael stands in front of
the Athens Lowes where he is set up out in the parking, drawing his UGA art.

As I pulled into the parking lot, my husband noted that “‘my artist’ was over there
making his pictures.”

WHAT??

I practically leapt out of the car racing across the parking lot toward Michael.

“Michael, Michael, my name is Julie, I saw you on the news…”

Michael began to tell me his story.

He explained how he was still healing from the brutal attack almost 11 months ago.
Still going to doctors.

He was just finishing up a bulldog that he drew using various Sharpies on a white canvas.

“Michael”, I began, “I don’t have much cash on me, but I would be honored if I could
buy one of your drawings…could I come back tomorrow or would
you be willing to take a check?”

Michael thought for a minute and eventually told me that he would indeed accept my check.

All the while various shoppers were stopping and patting Michael on the shoulder.
Cars would pull up, arms stretched out of windows, each offering cash in hand.

Michael told me to undo the the canvas from the easel and take the pictures he had just finished.

People like Michael remind us all what it means to persevere.
He shares a gift.
A gift that emerged from tragedy.
A gift that has been tested and tried but a gift none the less.

How blessed I was today.

Thank you Michael.
Thank you God.

https://www.fox5atlanta.com/news/athens-artist-without-hands-inspires-national-audience

https://www.fox5atlanta.com/video/858408

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others,
as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.

1 Peter 4:10

amen

There [in your kingdom] we hope to enjoy forever the fullness of your glory,
when you will wipe away every tear from our eyes. For seeing you, our God,
as you are, we shall be like you for all the ages and praise you without end.

Eucharistic Prayer III

While up to my armpits in bubble wrap, I managed to catch a glimpse of a newsy sort
of headline.

Seems there was a story yesterday about a US Representatives wrapping up the opening
of the new year’s session of Congress with a prayer that he ended by using both
the words “amen” and “a woman”

What the heck???

Then it suddenly dawned on me…tis a new gender-neutral year.

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Democrat from Missouri, made a very poor attempt at a
gender-neutral wording that really had nothing to do with gender.

I actually had to laugh.

Here I am, a mere mortal, wrapping up my home in bubble wrap for a soon to be move
while a holier than thou democratic US Representative thinks he’s using a gender-neutral
ending for a prayer for Congress.

The word Amen has nothing to do with biology…nothing to do with gender.
Nothing to do with a men or a women…

https://www.foxnews.com/politics/rep-cleaver-ends-opening-prayer-for-new-congress-amen-and-awoman

The use of the word Amen, a word that we of the Judeo /Christian tradition are familiar with,
the typical ending of a prayer, is derived from etymology rooted in Hebrew…

“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, From everlasting to everlasting. Amen and Amen.”
Psalm 41:13

You have often heard the word “Amen” but what does it mean,
and where does it come from? It actually appears a lot more in the Bible than you think –
it’s just that is translated in most cases.
All of these Hebrew words actually derive from the same root as “Amen”:

Emunah – Faith, faithfulness, steadfastness
Amanah – Indeed, correct, for sure, contract
Oman – Artist
Omen – Foster parent
Ne’eman – Faithful
As we can see, the word “Amen” carries within it not only faith, but certainty and steadfastness.
It is often used in psalms, prayers, and blessings as a “yes this is true” or “yes I agree.”
In some cases, the Torah even commands people to say “Amen”
in legal procedures when committing to fulfill something.
We see that especially in Deuteronomy 27,
but also in Numbers 5:22.

In the New Testament, the word “Amen” transcribed from Hebrew into Greek,
is used the same way as in Psalms to end blessings and prayers.
But there is one more use – but only by Jesus himself.
Whenever Jesus says “truly I say to you,” the original Greek actually uses the Hebrew word Amen –
“Amen, I tell you.”
Why in the beginning of the sentence?
And why is it doubled to “Amen, amen I tell you” in the gospel of John?

As Santala points out, “Amen” was used in the times of Jesus in a binding legal way –
and he used that formula to convey spiritual truths about who he is.
He is binding himself under an oath that what he says is true –
also when he says “Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”
John 8:58

The origin and the meaning of – ‘Amen’

So oddly it seems that AMEN has nothing about gender.
Who knew…???
Eyes now rolling.

So it’s like a lifelong friend recently told me regarding this coming year…
“grab the popcorn, and enjoy the show..who knows what will happen…only God knows.”

2021 is going to quite the ride…
God help us all…AMEN!!!!!

And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the
four living creatures; and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God,
saying,
“Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might,
be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”

Revelation 7:11-12

Signature marks

But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.

Isaiah 64:8

Russian photographer Alexey Kljatov has devised a clever way to bring the wonder
of macro photography to the minuscule world of snowflakes. Using a homemade rig comprised
of a working camera lens, a wooden board, some screws and old camera parts, Kljatov captures the breathtaking intricacies of snow, six-sided symmetry and all.
(Huffpost)

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/03/alexey-kljatov_n_4373888.html

Some days an idea for a post just kind of pops into my head.

It’s more or less like a random thought that just appears out of nowhere.

The proverbial wee small voice that speaks out of the darkness bringing
a notion into clarity.

I call it the Holy Spirit…others call it a coincidence, the subconscious or a dream
that woke up…

For me, it’s not some sort of audible voice booming down from the mountain top,
rather it’s just a thought that enters into the consciousness and makes its presence known.

So I tend to turn these pop-ups over, mulling and pondering while trying to figure a sharable angle.

I mentally formulate words and a sort of sequence and flow to this ‘out of the blue’ thought.

And so one day last week, it was the notion of our creation of uniqueness and individuality,
by the hands of God, which spoke rather loud and clear…
but more importantly, it was that of His signature marks.

Psalm 139 came into focus as I was ruminating over this idea…
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.

(Psalm 139:3-6)

We are each individual and unique in His eyes.
We are each capable of having a very unique and personal relationship with Him.
Not so much the collective mass of humanity, but He is very interested in each one of
us individually.

So I thought of the opening verse to this post…
about how we have been compared to as the clay as God is the potter.
He works us and molds us uniquely with His hands.

If you’ve ever worked with clay…say making something by hand or throwing a pot on the wheel,
you will notice that your fingerprints (or those of the potter) will actually dry in the clay.
Fire the piece in a kiln and those individual fingerprints become apart of the pottery.

Signature marks.

I can remember a particular episode of M.A.S.H. when Hawkeye took off rather foolheartedly
to the front line in order to work the triage unit…all unbeknownst to Colonel Potter.
The triage units (for the Korean War which was what M.A.S.H. was based on) were mostly
comprised of exhausted and overworked medics who would frantically work to patch up
the wounded as best they could before transporting the wounded to a MASH unit for more
advanced surgeries, stabilizing and a bit of recovery before sending them to,
in this case, Tokyo before heading stateside or… in some cases patching them
up only to send them back to the battle lines.

During this particular episode, the shelling was so fierce and the 4077 had lost
all radio contact with the front lines.
B.J. and Colonel Potter were both worried sick about Hawkeye and his survival
not to mention that they were now short a surgeon.

As the transports began to arrive at the 4077th, B.J. and company began the hours of surgery
on the wounded who were pouring in…
B.J. was up to his elbows inside some kids guts, working on putting this kid back together,
when he joyously exclaimed that Hawkeye was indeed alive and well because this particular
kid, who had been first quickly stitched up on the front, was stiched up by Hawkeye.
B.J. knew this because he knew Hawkeye’s signature stitchery.
As it seems surgeons can have their own unique way of sewing and splicing us back together.

Their own signature marks.

My husband who is a watchmaker by trade can most often work on a clock and
actually be able to tell how many times and when the last time the clock
had been worked on.

A watch/clock repairman will leave a small unique mark scratched on the inside back metal
plate covering of the clock.
It’s a way of letting future watchmakers know when, where and how a clock was worked on.

Signature marks.

And so the idea of signature marks became apparent that this was the “thought”
I was to work out and later share…here.

We’ve got God’s fingerprints all over us.
We are known, by Him, inside and out.
Intimately.

But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.
Matthew 10:30

And so as I contemplated what sort of image I needed to share which somehow reflected
this notion of God’s unique signature which in turn makes each of us unique…
the thought of snowflakes came to mind.

We all know that snowflakes are all different…meaning no individual snowflake is the same.
They are not cookie cut from some sort of mold or limited to a handful of shapes or patterns.

I found this story on HuffPost about a Russian photographer who has figured out a way of
capturing with hyperfocus macro images of snowflakes.

I looked at these images and was amazed by the intricate artistic details of each of these tiny
ice crystals.
They each look like tiny glass sculptures of a variety of shapes, complete with designs
that appear to be comprised of tiny perfect hearts, flowers, arrows, feathers…
each one being symmetrical, equal, balanced…all the components and elements of what
makes art, art…

So if you think it’s a random fluke of nature that snowflakes can look like these tiny pieces
of amazing design and yet have no connection to something Divine or of that which
is greater than man himself…then I think you need to consider the idea of signature marks.

“Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand,
measured heaven with a span and calculated the dust of the earth in a measure?
Weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance?”

Isaiah 40:12

directions

“Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem.
We all have twenty-four hour days.”

Zig Ziglar

DSCN0412
(path up the mountain side, Glendalough National Park / Julie Cook / 2015)

I’m not the best with directions.
I tend to get turned around and a bit confused as to
the lefts and rights, the norths and souths….

Now I do actually love a good map…
yet sadly maps are going the way of the 8 track tape cassette…
And anyway…the truth is that I’m not really that great at using maps.
I get turned around as to whether I’m heading east or west, up or down, or side to side…

However I have always found old antique maps to be beautiful pieces of art—
Especially really old ones that were once done by hand,
with cartographers doubling as artists.

It’s as if maps are the tangible pictures of our city’s, country’s, world’s inner workings…
almost like a scan image of a skeletal system is for the human body,
a map is the picture for our collective spacial lives.

And whereas I am thankful for the modern convenience of GPS…
What with the plugging in of an address, place or coordinates only to then be directed
to wherever it is that we wish to be headed…
turn by turn, step by step…

However I can be as equally ungrateful when said turn by turn step by step is incorrect,
outdated or simply wrong.

Ever thought you were headed to where it was you wanted to go,
with the nice GPS lady finally and triumphantly stating that you have “reached your destination”
as you find yourself in the middle of some desolate road in the middle of nowhere?!

So with all this map talk, I read a most marvelous little story today on the BBC about
a letter being mailed from Reykjavik, Iceland.

It seems that the sender was mailing a letter to a farm
where she had visited but was uncertain of the address—
so she did the only intelligent thing she knew to do…
that when all else fails sort of approach…

she drew a picture, actually a mini map, as to where the letter should be headed…
all the while adding a few little written directions on the envelope to accompany the tiny map…
Just a few small helpful cues to the postal person who would be delivering the letter.

The small remote town’s name was listed,
the fact that the letter was going to a couple with three children…
The fact that the intended recipient worked at a supermarket there in the small town
plus the fact that they lived on a horse farm with lots and lots of sheep…
it was all nicely included with a wonderful plotted picture of a route…

( you can read the story here by clicking on the link:
http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-37233913 )

The letter was actually delivered to the correct place.

Such a story does my heart good.

So…
Whereas the postal system here in the US is, in a nutshell, not often stellar.
Mail seems to get lost, delivered to the wrong address, or damaged so badly in the system
that it is “returned to sender” …
that is, if the return address is still legible.
Or there have even been times when things mailed may have taken weeks,
months or even years before randomly appearing…

Now that’s not to say that it’s all bad or always a lost cause in this
maddening bureaucratic system of US Postal Service…
but sadly it seems there are more horror stories than good these days…

So the fact that a map was drawn out by hand, then someone actually took the time to “study” it,
then correctly followed it…
in this ever technological world of ours…
is indeed a joyous event.

Add to that maddening bureaucracy that we are now all finding ourselves living in this
ever uber modern world of all things technological of ours…
what with our smart devices, our GPS, our self braking, self parking,
and soon to be, self driving cars…
so it seems as if we won’t have much use for our ol noggins
when we’re trying to make our way in this life…as it will actually be already done for us…
Yet the concern should be…will it be in the right direction that we are lead…?

And that’s the thing…
We all need to make our way in this life…
with that way being…
the right way,
the spiritual way,
the way of Life and not the way of death…
to which so many signs sadly point to these days…
We still so desperately need a play by play list of directions.

Yet, I think if I remember correctly, we already have a directional manual…
One that is thousands of years old….having stood the test of time…
One that has recorded the verbal commands of the only One who truly knew
and still knows…
the way…
the truth
and the life…

We just need to remember to always reach for that directional map,
actually taking the time to read it and actually follow it…
for it will never mislead or misdirect us…

Happy travels….

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

John 14:6

You see a dead tree, I see something beautiful

Nature is the art of God.
Dante Alghieri

DSCN1949

We were out and about over the weekend wandering through some woods when a decaying tree, which had obviously fallen quite some time ago, caught my eye. There was something about this single tree mass that drew my attention. I think it was the “alienesque” feathery white appearance…”what is that” I mused. Daring to leave the relative safety of the worn and rocky path, I ventured into the overgrowth with its wealth of ticks, spiders and poisonous snakes. Taking my chances… I tiptoed oh so carefully over to the tree.

DSCN1947

The creamy white fungus, known as a shelf fungus, covered the tree like a sheath. It was a visual wonder of texture, shape and pattern. It made me want to reach out to run my hand over it, but I restrained myself as I was not so inclined to be bitten or stung by anything around, in or on the tree. This fungus looked almost like crashing waves washing over the body of the tree.

DSCN1946

I realize that this “living” fungus (aka of the mushroom clan) is now enjoying its home on this dead tree, as the dead tree has provided a temporary respite for another “living”… and I use the term loosely… thing. It was all rather otherworldly, creating a light airy feel for something that once was heavily grounded. So odd how nature works and yet how perfect.

DSCN1948

On this new day to a new week, remember to be on the look out for the wonders of nature. Make time this week to wander out of doors if at all possible. Do not be afraid to venture off that trusty worn path going boldly, but carefully, into the overgrowth seeking the beautiful nuances of God’s most talented hand. Who knows what blessing abound that are most often passed by without any notice. Dante is right you know…nature is indeed the work of a Masterful Artist.