refuge found in a memory

“The Lord manifests Himself to those who stop for some time in peace and humility of heart.
If you look in murky and turbulent waters, you cannot see the reflection of your face.
If you want to see the face of Christ, stop and collect your thoughts in silence,
and close the door of your soul to the noise of external things.”

St. Anthony of Padua


(a statue to Saint Anthony in the small chapel of St. Blasiuskirche, Salzburg, Austria / Julie Cook / 2012)

When I first read the quote that I’ve opted to use today,
I was immediately transported to a different time and place…
and to a previous post.

It was 2012 and I had recently retired from 31 years of teaching—I was also preparing
to embark on an arduous journey with my elderly father…how arduous, I had no idea,
but I knew life was changing and I knew it was not going to be for the better.

My aunt, another friend, and I had all embarked on a bit of an adventure
during that fall of 2012.
It was a wonderful trip which holds some very precious and treasured memories…
especially since my aunt is no longer with us.

Yet during that trip, there were a couple of very special moments that have stayed
near to my heart…and one thing I’ve learned over the years,
adventures offer lessons.

And so I looked back at that original post and found that the serenity that I had experienced
during that adventure, and later in the writing of the post,
I realized that I greatly needed to relive, as well as share, again, that
peaceful gratitude I found one quiet fall afternoon.

And so here is that post from October 2013 about a warm fall afternoon in 2012
in Salzburg, Austria:

The deep groaning and creaking sound of the huge ancient wooden door being pulled open
echoes loudly throughout the small yet cavernous chapel.
It must be the vaulted ceiling helping to carry the sound deep into the hallowed room.
The burning votives cast an otherworldly glow.
There is a lingering scent of incense mixed with the musty dampness.

There is a lone figure, an older woman, kneeling at one of the front pews…
her rosary woven through her fingers, moving ever so slightly,
bead per bead as she silently makes her petitions before the small statue.

I once heard it put that religion was just something for old women and children.
Pity that…as that must mean that older women and children are the only ones
who “get it”…everyone else must be too vain, too prideful, and too arrogant
to truly understand.

My eyes begin to adjust to the lack of lighting as the cool air is a welcomed feeling
against the late afternoon Autumn warmth outside.
I walk slowly, quietly, reverently down the small aisle,
my hand resting on the smooth wooden end cap of each pew, as I make my way to my seat of choice.
I kneel slightly, the genuflection of reverence, before slipping into the pew.

I’m not Catholic but raised Anglican–yet I oddly welcome and greatly appreciate the nuances
of ancient worship–-more than would be expected from my raising.
There is a deep mystery that I believe many in our mainstream churches miss.
This Christianity of ours is an ancient faith but that is too sadly forgotten in this age
of the technologically savvy megachurch.
The ancient components of worship seem lost on those now sitting in stadium type seating waiting,
as if ready for the latest blockbuster to begin,
to be wowed not by participation but by passive viewing.

Despite my pained attempts to muffle my movements,
each step, each rustle of my jacket, causes deep reverberations through this ancient room,
I feel very conspicuous even though just one other person is present.
She never wavers from her intense focus to her prayerful conversation.
She is oblivious to my presence.

I take in my surroundings before dropping to my knees.
The chapel is hundreds of years old as worship here dates back to the 1200s.
Dark wood paneling with cream-colored walls.
Arched vaults line the ceiling with stone columns systematically placed,
acting as supports, creating the aisles throughout the room.
This is not one of the beautifully bright and light Rococoesque churches of Austria
that the tourists clammer to enter in order to view famous paintings,
statues and frescos with ornate altars boasting a multitude of plaster cherubs
heralding glad tidings.
This chapel is small, dark, ancient, and humble.
Perhaps that is why I was drawn inside.

I slip down to my knees as I make the sign of the cross.
I begin my “conversation”—-it is one of thanksgiving and gratitude as a tremendous sense
of warmth and contentment engulfs me.
I then begin my petitions—-not for myself,
but for those I love who are not with me on this particular journey.
After some time, I open my eyes.
How long had I been praying?
I rest in the moment as a tremendous sense of safety and peace washes over me–-it is almost palpable.

Am I a tourist or a pilgrim? I like to think that when I travel, I am a pilgrim.
I want to not merely observe, but rather, I want to partake…
I want to be a part of each moment in time.
I am not here to watch an old Austrian woman in prayer,
watching from the shadows of an ancient chapel as some sort of voyeuristic individual
or as someone viewing animals in an enclosure,
but rather I want to pray beside her to the same God who hears each of our prayers.
I am in communion with her even though she never glances my way.
I want to appreciate this chapel that is a part of her daily life,
wishing I too had such a special and reverent place of retreat.

The history here is so old as countless individuals previously have gathered
here to worship, to seek, to lament, to rejoice.
I slowly rise from my knees slipping out of the pew.
I make my way to the small alter to pick up a fresh votive.
I gently touch the fresh wick to one of the existing burning flames–my hand slightly shakes.
I feel the warm heat against my cheeks rising from the candles.
I place my lit votive in an empty slot silently thanking Saint Anthony
and God for this time of communion with not only them but with this woman
who never seems to notice my presence.

I am grateful.
I slip a few coins into the small metal locked box by the door.
I make my way back outside, into the light.
It almost hurts my eyes as it is now so sunny and bright.
The sounds of the throngs of people on the streets are almost painful to my ears.
This is Oktoberfest, the streets and alleyways are teeming with a sea of people.

For a brief moment, I had a glimpse of the Divine.
I feel different for the encounter.
Changed.
Better.
Not in an arrogant sort of way but more in the way that I have been fortunate
to be privy to something so rich and so special.
I look out at all of the throngs of people reveling in this historic and exciting
city during this raucous time. I slightly smile inward thinking that I hold a special
secret that no one else knows…no one other than that older woman back in the chapel
and myself.

is it really a good idea…is it in the best interest of humanity??

“I love mankind, he said, “but I find to my amazement that the more I love mankind as a whole,
the less I love man in particular.”

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

2020 is proving to be the year that we must never mention again.

You know…as in the name that must not be spoken…
This year needs to hurry up and get put in the books— as in done!

Wishing our lives away?
Probably.

So here’s a little scenario, followed with a question.

Have you or anyone you’ve ever loved or known ever passed through that tumultuous
phase of life known as menopause?

You know…that little time in a woman’s life when her body shifts gears, things shrivel up,
fertility goes out the window and hell comes rushing in.

I can readily recall the one day that my happy-go-lucky aunt suddenly broke
down in a massive fit of tears while standing in the middle of my den wailing over
her young granddaughter and our young son having gotten into
a minor fuss over the notion of sharing–as most little kids do.

I thought she’d lost her mind until it dawned on me…
her bizarre wealth of emotion came from one place and one place only…
the dreaded “change.”

So back about 26 years ago when I was 35, I had to have a complete hysterectomy…
due to some serious health issues.

At the time, our son was in the second grade.
I was a little bummed that he would be relegated to being an only child but I
also knew the surgery was imperative.

Following surgery, when I was still in recovery, the first hot flash hit.
That’s how fast things happen minus working parts.

So enters HRT—hormone replacement therapy.
HRT was implemented because the prewired, naturally produced, hormones
were removed and taken away…hence the need for a little extra help.

So at age 35, I began taking Premarin.
We played with the doses for a while, until the correct balance was achieved.

And thus began a near 26-year love-hate relationship.

There was, however, that one year when I decided enough was enough and I needed
to purge myself from all that which was non-natural—
and that year became known, by not only myself but by those around me,
as the year from hell…
but I digress.

So last week, given my most recent blood work, my doctor said NO MORE ESTROGEN, ASAP…
as in aka, no more hormones…period, end of sentence.

So is this really the wisest thing to do given the current state of affairs
in our world?

Pandemics.
National civil unrest
The demise of Democracy
A contentious year of an election.
and now…no hormones????

It seems that blood clots have become a factor…thus, it is time.

“Cut the current pills in half for two weeks, then go every other day…
then stop”…so she says.

So… after one day…
the hot flashes revved up, the sleepless nights are now rampant
and the ill mood…well…I think if I go to Portland, the President
will not need to send in the National Gaurd…
cause I’ve got this.

A near 61-year-old woman now without her hormones is truly a force to be reckoned with.

Watch out Antifa, I’m coming for you…

in the year 2525…or is that 2020??

“I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought,
but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”

Albert Einstein

“Life can only be understood backwards;
but it must be lived forwards.”

Søren Kierkegaard


(popular science)

Are you old enough to remember the 1968 number 1 billboard hit song
“In the year 2525”?

I am…
I hated it then and I think I hate it even more now.

It was a futuristic sort of song…dismal and depressing.
A song that told the tale of the world as we know it growing more and more separate
from that of mankind…to the point that mankind is basically eliminated.
As in no longer necessary.

It was a song that became a number one hit on both sides of the pond but it was
a one-hit-wonder for its artists.

It was a song written by a pop-rock duo of Denny Zager and Rick Evans.

According to Wikipedia the basic gist of the song is:
“In the Year 2525” opens with an introductory verse explaining that if mankind
has survived to that point, he would witness the subsequent events in the song.

Subsequent verses pick up the story at 1,010-year intervals from 3535 to 6565.
In each succeeding millennium, life becomes increasingly sedentary and automated:
thoughts are pre-programmed into pills for people to consume,
machines take over all work, resulting in eyes, teeth, and limbs losing their purposes,
and marriage becomes obsolete since children are conceived in test tubes.
Then the pattern as well as the music changes, going up a half step in the key of the song
(chromatic modulation), after two stanzas, first from A-flat minor, to A minor.

For the final three millennia, now in B flat minor, the tone of the song turns apocalyptic:
the year 7510 marks the date by which the Second Coming will have happened,
and the Last Judgment occurs one millennium later.
By 9595, with the song now in B minor, the Earth becomes completely depleted of resources,
potentially resulting in the death of all life.

The song ends in the year 10,000.
By that time, man has become extinct.
But the song notes that in another solar system (or universe),
the scenarios told in the song may still be playing out,
as the beginning of the song repeats and the recording fades out.

The overriding theme, of a world doomed by its passive acquiescence to and overdependence
on its own overdone technologies, struck a resonant chord in millions of people around
the world in the late 1960s.
The song was #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart during the Apollo 11 moon landing.

As a near 10-year-old in 1968, the song, although playing on all the radios,
had an ominous and monotone feel that actually frightened me.

How such a depressing song could rise to the top of the music charts was beyond my
comprehension…but then again, it was 1968 and 1969 and life in the US, as well as
most of the world, was quite precarious.

We had the Vietnam War, a civil rights movement, a summer of love, hippies,
an angry women’s lib movement, free love, free sex, the pill, burning bras,
a moon landing along with all sorts of protests left and right.

So wouldn’t you know it…out of the blue, those stupid lyrics popped into my head
this afternoon.

I suppose it’s because I’m feeling some hidden residual 1968 angst stemming from
a futuristic song titled ‘in the year 2525’ all coming into focus in the year 2020.

Maybe it’s some odd form of PTSD percolating to the surface from being a preteen
during the tumultuous late ’60s.

2020 seems to be pulling upon those hidden memories
and thus far, it certainly isn’t proving to be the greatest of years.

I have made a mental note of how many conversations I’ve had over the past month–
be it with friends, folks at the grocery store, the post office, the dry cleaners,
family members, the doctor’s office, blog friends, etc—conversations that have each
concluded with folks lamenting aloud that we are living in our final days.
As in…this must be the end of time and are we currently in the thick of it…

Yet I know what Scripture tells us…we will not know the day nor time..
like a thief in the night…He will come…unannounced.

In 2015, I went to Ireland–it was to be the last adventure with my aunt—a sad
truth that at the time, neither of us could have seen or known.

The trip which was just another in a list of adventures actually became more
of a pilgrimage.

God spoke very clearly to me during that tirp.
I’ve written about that before.

It just so happened that during that trip,
I became aware of an obscure 12th-century Irish archbishop and later saint,
Saint Malachy.

I love a good historical mystery—don’t you?

It seems that St. Malachy was a bit of a prophet regarding the seat of Peter.

According to Irish Central, In 1139, then Archbishop Malachy went to Rome from Ireland
to give an account of his affairs.
While there he received a strange vision about the future that included the name of every pope,
112 in all from his time, who would rule until the end of time.
We are now at the last prophecy.

The prediction in full is: “In the final persecution of the Holy Roman Church there
will reign Peter the Roman, who will feed his flock amid many tribulations,
after which the seven-hilled city will be destroyed and the dreadful Judge will
judge the people.
The End.”

The father of the current pope [Pope Francis] was Peter, or Pietro,
and was from Italy even though the family moved to Argentina.

https://www.irishcentral.com/roots/history/st-malachy-prophecy-pope-francis

During the trip, while in County Donegal, the original home to my aunt’s grandparents,
I had wandered into a small shop where an obscure little book caught my attention.
Prophecies of St Malachy & Columbkille

I already knew a great deal about St Columba (Columbkille) who hailed from
County Donegal and spent his life evangelizing the pagan Celtic lands of both
Ireland and Scotland, but Malachy was new to me.

Intrigued, I bought the book.

And so I ask you…
Is the global Church not under dire persecution?
Has the seat of Peter not been hated through the ages by
both Believer and nonbeliever?

Are Malachy’s words mere coincidence?
I don’t know.
Maybe.

Only time will tell.

So recently, at a low moment following the fresh riots in Atlanta and months of pandemic lockdown,
I sent an almost desperate email to a dear friend in Ireland.

This friend is a fierce Believer who I know hears very clearly the spoken word of God–
something I myself often struggle to hear.

I asked him what might God be telling us during these such trying times.

He waited quite some time before sending a response as he wanted
to hear clearly a true answer to my question.

His response was a balm to my soul…
I don’t think he’ll mind me sharing a portion of his reply…

“God is in control.
We are down to the bare bones.
Your faith is being tested.
God says I AM THAT I AM—this has been known since before time–
since before you were born.
While God did not create the situation, He is control of it.
I know that’s hard to believe when you are in the thick of it but you need to think back
on all the times you personally have known [that] God has moved in your life.
This is it Julie it is your maker and He wants you to tune out of this world
and focus on Him.
Not an easy thing to do but He is there amid all the chaos and lies and anger
and pain.
God sent his only son for you and me and all who would believe.
His love knows no bounds.
He is in control for you and your family– for me and my family– He will not let you down.
I know He has not failed me, even though I fail constantly.’
Keep the faith.
Know that God, Jesus the Holy Spirit are always with you and your family…”

So yes, these are depressing and frightening times…much like that stupid song.
And yes, the Chruch is in turmoil…as well as conveniently shuttered when
her flock needs her most…
Are we truly in the end times…?
I can’t say.
It feels like it but then again, previous generations have felt much the same
as we feel now.

But in the end, one truth remains…God is still God and I am not.

be not anxious

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and position,
with thanksgiving, present your requests before God.

Philippians 4:6


(male and female urinary tract medical chart)

This is the chart that was staring at me today from the back of the door inside
the procedure room where I sat waiting.

I felt it was a waste of my time, not to mention money,
to be sitting and waiting on this final of three procedures.
The race down this particular rabbit hole was not, is not, a part of my current issues…
or so was my non-medical opinion.

Ever since July, I have been slowly riding a bit of a medical merry-go-round.

Bloodwork results resulted in more bloodwork.
More bloodwork results resulted in more specialized doctors.
Waiting on specialized results resulted in waiting to be seen by more specialists.
All kinds of specialists.

It seems this Sjögren’s business leads to soft tissue disease,
eye troubles, mouth troubles, kidney troubles, joint troubles,
even upping lymphoma possibilities.

Over the years, I’ve had the eyes, mouth and joint issues that I just thought
were odd individuals annoyances and not linked together.

Turns out they were linked.

Now throw in the soft tissue disease…gees.

The bloodwork results were all somewhat unsettling.
Elevated levels here, diminished levels there.
Ups and downs all over the place.

Add to that a suspected pancreatitis attack this past weekend…of which
could be gallbladder related…or not…
And thus the mystery deepens.

Now the doctors seem to keep multiplying and the merry-go-round keeps spinning.

Occult blood means that blood is detected via the labs and not seen by the naked eye.
It raises flags and eyebrows by the medical world.

It seems they found occult blood—hence my sitting and staring at a urinary tract chart.

Before her death three years ago, when my aunt was diagnosed with kidney cancer,
she had had no symptoms, no clues… but she did have occult blood.

I will admit, that despite my feelings that my third visit to this particular specialist’s
office was just a waste of time and money, a slight worry did gnaw at the back of my mind.

Thankfully, my non-medical expertise was correct…
All was indeed well…
all but a small kidney stone that has been in the same kidney in the same
spot for the past 4 years.

It is, however, the looming MRI in two weeks, the doctor’s appt on Thursday, what tests
will be added, and the other doctor appointments following the MRI—
all of which will hopefully be more telling.

Casting a bit of light into the darkness so to speak.

It’s not that I’m worried.
I just want to know, finally, what is what.
And then, how to go about dealing with the what.

That’s what doers like to do—they want to know what is what and then what to
do with that what.

However, I am a bit aggravated riding this merry-go-round of the medical world.
It is slow and it is time-consuming.
Yet I suppose many of us will all ride the merry-go-round at some point sooner or later
in our lives.

I couldn’t help but marvel in the day’s verse that came my way…
“Do not be anxious about anything…”

Those words echoed in my mind as I sat on that exam table.

Amen..be not anxious.
Prayer and thanksgiving…

Fast forward to the day’s end.
The day’s news is unfolding as I type, while missiles now fly across the skies in Iraq.
Breaking alerts keep interrupting the evening’s quiet…

My thoughts race back to that verse—
I took it as a fine-tuned spoken word for me today as I sat staring at that medical chart,
waiting for an unknown scope.

So now I cling to those same spoken words as this Nation sits wondering and waiting.

Do not be anxious—petition, pray and give thanks.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with
thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

hope in the face of death and evil

As a result of Christ’s salvific work, man exists on earth with the hope of
eternal life and holiness.
And even though the victory over sin and death achieved by Christ in His cross
and resurrection does not abolish temporal suffering from human life,
nor free from suffering the whole historical dimension of human existence,
it nevertheless throws a new light upon this dimension and upon every suffering;
the light of salvation.
Pope John Paul II (Salvifici Doloris)


(the grave of an infant, Hazel Ivaleen Garland born and died Dec 27, 1914, Cades Cove Methodist Chruch)

Today, I had tagged along with my husband as he went down to check on his deer property about
an hour south of home.
And you must note that this is deer property and not dear property…
but perhaps the deer are dear to him…

As I was perched on the back of a 30-year-old Honda four-wheeler, sitting on the “luggage bars”
hanging on for dear life, I felt each rock and downed limb while riding along
the rutted and washed out pig trails…

Bouncing up and down while holding on with one hand while swatting down the spider webs
with the other, webs we kept managing to run smack dab in to…webs strung across the paths
each filled with a giant brown spider sitting in the center hoping for passing insects and
not swatting humans…all the while dodging the saw-briars and
bramble vines readily tearing into any exposed skin…my mind started to wander.

My husband has had this land throughout most of our 35-year marriage…
So to say that I’m pretty familiar with its nuances…its creeks, streams,
woods, and fields would be an understatement.

I thoroughly enjoy traversing such areas…be they close to home or much further away.

Today I thought back to when I rode my aunt on these pig trails in my husband’s Polaris…
think glorified golf cart for hunters but with an engine.

Living in south Florida as she did, being afforded the adventure of riding the trails
on some woodsy and quite hilly property was a real treat.
She’d hold on, like a kid, as we scooted up and down in the middle of nowhere,
enjoying every minute.

I felt warm tears forming while I was still holding on for dear life thinking back over
the adventure I’d shared with her…here.

Obviously, I miss my aunt.
The only member I had left to mother’s branch of my life’s tree.

As there is just so much of what I mindlessly do day to day that my aunt had most often
been along doing with me…going through my mindless motions most often right by my side.

So when suddenly that person who just seemed to always be there is no longer there, well
every little reminder is like those briars…just ready to prick the flesh of the heart.

These thoughts circled through my head as I had just earlier seen a breaking news story
that authorities in Iowa believed they found the body of the young college girl Molly Tibbets
who has been missing now for a month.

And immediately following that breaking news came the news of a more local story
about a missing young college grad who’d gone kayaking on a family camping trip last week
at West Point Lake and whose body was recovered today from what authorities are now saying
was a suicide.

Families, friends, and entire communities now must deal with the haunting questions…
the what ifs, the would haves, should haves, could haves all of the unknown.

And so it seems that today I am reminded, be it for good or bad, of death and evil…
as they just so often seem to walk hand in hand.

Death, loss and the looming presence of evil, that is so often connected to such,
are often the game breakers of people’s faith.

Even the great Christian apologist C.S. Lewis wrestled with the same quandary and seeming
madness over the death of his wife as he riled at God for the loss while famously
lamenting…
“Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms…
But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is in vain,
and what do you find?
A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside.”

Yet over time, Lewis came to realize that God’s love remains a constant whereas life
is what remains in a constant state of flux.

On our recent trip to the mountains and that of Cades Cove, I mentioned that we visited
the old Methodist Chruch that has existed in the cove since the early 1800’s.
The old cemetery still stands and I’ve learned that living relatives of those original
founding families may still be buried in the Chruch’s cemetery if they so wish.

Surveying the tiny little cemetery, whose markers date back to the turn of the century,
I was struck by the smallest of markers…markers I know that denote the graves of children.

For one family alone there were three little headstones all lined up in a row,
each with a little carved lamb sitting on top.


(two of the Sparks family’s infant markers)

This particular collective family lost three infants over an 18 year period.
Many of the infant’s dates denote the birth and death as being the same day.

Life was difficult, precarious and often short back in this lonesome and far removed cove.

I know the pain of loss…but not the same pain and loss of those whose loss has come from
violence and that of pure evil.
Yet what I do know is that all death, and that of the ensuing losses, are all associated
with evil…
because death, the permanent loss of life, is simply the absence of …
with evil being the void.

Robert Velarde from Focus on the Family puts it this way:

Solving the seeming contradiction between a loving God and the reality of evil
is usually referred to as a theodicy.
A theodicy attempts to solve the apparent tensions in what is often termed the problem of evil.
But the problem of evil is really a series of problems.
Like many large problems, sometimes it is helpful to break them down into their components.
Evil, you see, actually extends not only to the moral world, but also to the natural world.
When human beings do bad things to one another, this is moral evil.
But so-called natural disasters are often considered evil as well because of all the
suffering they cause.
Earthquakes, tidal waves, floods, and so forth,
are all examples of what might be termed natural evil.

One helpful approach to solving the problem of evil has to do with defining evil.
Christian thinker Augustine defined evil not as a thing in and of itself,
but as a parasite on good.
Something that is lacking is not a thing in itself.
For instance, if you have a hole in your jacket,
the hole is not something, but rather is something that is lacking.
Similarly, Augustine considered evil something that is missing.
Indeed, it requires good to exist because it is a parasite.
In this sense, Augustine defined evil as a privation–
a lack of something–rather than a thing or substance.

This solves some important criticisms.
If evil is not an actual thing,
then God cannot be the author of evil.
God is the author of good, but we make moral choices that result in evil.

At some point in all of our lives,
we will be faced with walking through the lonely dark valley of death.
We will hurt and we will raise an angry fist to our unseen God…
some of us will walk away in bitterness and anger while some of us will hold onto the
One who persists in offering saving Grace…despite the pain, the sorrow, the tragedy
of loss, the violence, the accidents, and eventually death…

With the Fall of man…the consequence was not simply pain during childbirth or slithering
snakes or nakedness, nor knowledge…it was and is death.
And in death resides a void of separation…that void is the true consequence.

And in this void of separation precipitated by death, there resides evil…
because a void must be filled…and thus this void was filled by evil.

There was never supposed to be death because death was never God’s intent…
but by offering freewill to the created, the result, as He knew, was inevitable.
And therefore evil filled the void…
the void, created by isolation and separation,
separated the created from the Creator by means of a void.

Enter the necessity of a Savior to bridge the void.

Death and evil will remain on this earth as they fill the void created by a Fall…
yet through God’s Grace found in the sacrifice of Christ…we know death and evil
are not only conquered but actually vanquished…for all eternity.

In her book The Catholic Table–
Finding Joy Where Food and faith Meet
Emily Stimpson Champman sums it up best:

“God revealed to the Israelites why, for all his goodness and the goodness of creation,
things didn’t always seem good. Sickness, death, war, destruction–they didn’t belong to the
original plan. God created man to live in harmony with both him and creation.
But, because God wanted man to love him freely, he gave man free will, the capacity to choose
between God and self. Man chose self, and in doing so, he chose death”

And so we live earthly with our selves and our consequence while knowing there is,
in the end, a beautiful solution.

Special Grace (or a better term Salvific Grace) is the super grace by which God redeems,
sanctifies, and glorifies his people. Unlike ordinary grace, which is universally given,
special salvific grace is bestowed only on those whom God elects to eternal life through
faith in Jesus Christ. (Act 13:48)

excerpt from God’s Ordinary and Salvific Graces

gifts, speaking, demonstrations

“You must speak to Jesus, not only with your lips,
but also with your heart; actually, on certain occasions,
you should speak with only your heart.”

— St. Padre Pio


(Jules, black sheep and skellybegs…a collection of sheep / Julie Cook / 2018)

I collect sheep.

No, not real live sheep…but I kind of wish I did.

Think rather more like sheep/lamb figurines, prints, paintings…
And no, it’s not excessive or of the kitschy or silly…think more unique and even antique.

However, the latest acquiring is a bit silly but since we shared the same name, I really
had no choice.

I’ve got several of these sheep sitting on my kitchen counter above my sink.
They sit or stand, depending on the sheep, perched amongst various Icons that also
occupy this now apparently sacred space…the space above the kitchen sink.

And so it just seems natural that this particular space should be scared as it is
a space where I spend a good bit of my time…
in the kitchen and at the sink.

In some regards, I have these things here to help keep my mind on that which is greater than
as well as beyond.
Helping me to redirect my thoughts…
And it was especially important when I was still teaching and was in definite
need of redirecting.

My love of sheep goes back to the line in the confessional prayer from the Book of Common Prayer:

ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep.
We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts.
We have offended against thy holy laws.
We have left undone those things which we ought to have done;
And we have done those things which we ought not to have done;
And there is no health in us.
But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders.
Spare thou those, O God, who confess their faults.
Restore thou those who are penitent;
According to thy promises declared unto mankind In Christ Jesus our Lord.
And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake;
That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life,
To the glory of thy holy Name.
Amen.

(BCP 1928)

For you see, I am that straying and erring sheep in need of a Shepherd.

And so, sheep have spoken to my heart ever since I first learned of our similarities.

And I keep an eye out for the unique and special during my jaunts.

So when visiting the gift shop at Andrew Jackson’s home The Hermitage, I recently added to the
collection when I picked up a ceramic sheep made by artisans at the Colonial Folk Art guild
in Virginia.
The sheep was named “Jules”…a name that many have called me throughout my
entire life.
So it was a no-brainer.

Jules the sheep now sits by another ceramic sheep.
A black sheep that is more reminiscent of soot than wool.
He is quite round with nails acting as his legs.

A sheep that I suspect is from a raku firing where the pieces are fired to a certain temp then
removed from the kiln and placed into a metal can (metal trash can) that is usually filled with straw.
The ultra hot ceramic piece causes the straw to burn and naturally darkens the clay piece.
This black sheep is stained much like a raku piece.

My aunt picked him up from an artist in North Carolina and it was actually the last gift she
ever gave me.
It was a Christmas gift a year ago this past Christmas.

My thoughts are gravitating to this little black sheep because it was a year ago this month,
on the 12th actually, that my aunt died—dying suddenly while undergoing treatment
for cancer.

Now granted my aunt has “gifted” me with a few other things since her death…”gifts”
that her daughter had given me following my aunt’s death.
Gifts such as a few antique wooden duck decoys, a few of my aunt’s beloved turkey collection
(think me and sheep…well she was that way with turkeys…go figure)
as well as an ancient armless rocking chair that was my grandmothers.
My aunt’s daughter, this cousin of mine, actually passed away 6 months following my aunt’s
death…so we have closed a door on that small bit of family.

All of these thoughts of sheep and gifts came to mind when I read the words offered today
by Padre Pio…

The good friar admonishes us to remember to speak not always with only words but at times,
more importantly, we are to speak with our hearts…of which I suspect is more ‘actionary’…
demonstrative in the actions of a living embodiment of the Spirit within.

A thought which actually makes me think of the importance of what it is that we leave behind…
that which we leave behind to those who follow us…

Do we leave behind merely things..things that sit around collecting dust or simply conjuring
up forlorn memories…
or do we leave behind an example of that which is so much greater than ourselves…
a polestar that points others to the One who is so much greater and everlasting…

Sometimes the heart speaks louder than the mouth…

My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Psalm 73:26

woe to the nation that turns it back on God

But to dance in the streets because you had just given mothers the right to kill their
own unborn child is not civilized.
It is barbaric.
Rather than progressing into being a more tolerant,
open and respectful society,
Ireland has regressed over 1500 years into his pre-Christian pagan past,
where the weakest members of society are not tolerated and not respected.
They are destroyed.

David Robertson


(Lady’s view, Killarney National Park, Killarney, Co Kerry, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

It’s been almost four years since I went on my first and only trip to Ireland.

As it was my first trip to the Emerald Isle, I went with a deep sense of anticipation.
At the time, however, I wasn’t exactly certain as to what that anticipation actually was
or why I even felt it.

I am of Irish / Scotch descent and so trodding where my kith and kin once trod was of
course exciting.
My great-grandparents had long since departed this island nation and thus in turn set
in motion my own eventual homecoming…
a continuum of time linking generations of people who never had known one another,
and yet, who were forever bound one to another by a common piece of land.

And little did I know it at the time, but this would be the last trip that my aunt and I would ever take together.

So in hindsight, with both of us wandering about where other members of our family
had long since wandered, we had each received a special gift that was yet
to be fully appreciated.

At the time of the trip, my life was fractious at best.
I was in the midst of caring for both my dad and stepmother, each of whom was suffering
from varying stages of dementia. The trip was just a few months before Dad was to be
diagnosed with cancer…a diagnosis that would eventually take me to a very dark place…

And so I went on this trip before I was at my total breaking point but I was certainly
living in the rising crescendo of such a moment.
And so now I know that this was why God was calling me to this particular place
at this particular time.

It was because of all of this, as well as what I could not yet see that was waiting for me…
that this particular trip, along with three powerful words that I was to hear at the end
of the trip that would, in turn, be a turning point in my own life’s journey…

I had planned the trip a full year in advance before I ever knew how bad things
would be with Dad.
I had no way of knowing that when the long-awaited day finally arrived for our departure
that I would be more than a bit reluctant to go due to my caregiving duties.

I was worried sick about leaving yet grateful at the same time to be getting away.

I was running away and I was glad.

In my lifetime, I had traveled a good bit but for whatever reason, never to Ireland…
Yet unbeknownst to me at the time, it was to Ireland where I was destined to be.

Some would say it was just the perfect aligning of the stars, I would say God
was leading me right where He wanted me to be…leading me to a place in which I could
actually, hear Him speak.

As a history nut, I was excited to visit Ireland because I knew of her rich historic past
and Christian heritage.
That ancient intertwining of a rich Celtic tradition woven into the fabric of the
Chrisitan faith.
I also knew of the wealth of gifts Ireland had given Western Civilization through
her music, written word, song, and dance…

This once pagan windswept land, full of the last vestiges of both Viking and druid alike,
remains a mysterious land steeped in both legend and lore.
It is also a land that is home to more sheep than there are people.

And so it was in this land of my heritage of both myth and mystery that God spoke to me in
such a powerful and palpable way that I knew without any doubt, that it was Him
who had brought me here.

The words were bold and audible and I knew that even though the words were uttered by
another (thank you Paul), they were being spoken by God…to me.

So naturally, once I was back home,
I wrote about a post about hearing those three simple words…
“Be at peace”

https://cookiecrumbstoliveby.wordpress.com/2015/10/04/stop-theres-another-sheep/

And maybe it’s because I saw that glimpse of God around each bend of lonely road and had
actually heard His words riding on the winds, winds that come sweeping in from off
the ocean…that the recently passed vote in Ireland to legalize abortion is
breaking my heart.

Yet it’s just not the vote itself that is breaking my heart but its the way in which the
Irish themselves are celebrating the vote which is so heartbreaking.

Our Scottish friend the Wee Flea, Pastor David Robertson shares my dismay.

” Celebrating the right to kill children in the womb as though it were a football match…
we are the champions…’we are a better country’ and yelling at the pro-life people
‘choice, choice, choice’ (what choice does the baby have?).
This is the new regressive Ireland.

David offers a rich in-depth yet extreemly melancholy observational post regarding the
passing of the vote as well as to the reaction of the voters…
a reaction that seems almost far worse than the vote itself.

This once predominately Chrisitan and very Catholic Nation was rocked to her core by a
heinous betrayal from the very Chruch to which she, this nation, was so grounded and anchored…
And so I just can’t help but think that such a vote and ensuing celebration is in some sick way
how the people have sought out their own twisted sense of revenge.

Yet I know that God still breathes His life’s breath upon this land, her people and her unborn.
But I am also reminded that God will turn His favor from the nation that turns herself from Him…

And so all I can do is pray for Ireland.

In order to prevent this slide into barbarity Ireland needs a new St Columba.
Ireland needs a Christian revival.
Pray for those who are engaged in church renewal and church planting in that once great country.
Pray that the anti-abortion campaign will continue and that the Church of Jesus Christ
will continue to reach out and show compassion to those who are considering abortion
and those who have had abortions.
May Ireland flourish by the preaching of the Word.
How long, O Lord, how long?

Ireland Regresses; Sunday, Bloody Sunday

Blessings in the busyness

“One of the most convicting things I have recently come to realize about
Jesus is that He was never, not once, in a hurry.”

Mark Buchanan,
Your God Is Too Safe: Rediscovering the Wonder of a God You Can’t Control


(blooming lilly / Julie Cook / 2018)

It was Sunday evening after a long busy day—
7:30 PM, and I was sitting in my car in the Publix shopping center
in Atlanta near dad’s house, aka my son’s, waiting for my daughter-n-law who
had run in the store.

She had run in to pick up a few items for my son who would be staying behind
while the rest of us hit the road back home to Carrollton.

Ode to the logistics of our lives right now.

We’d spent the day visiting my dad’s side of the family…they all had wanted my
94-year-old aunt to be able to “get to know” her new great, great niece.

My aunt is in a word, a hoot.
She’s never met a stranger.
She is elegant and high class yet one of the funniest people you’d have the
pleasure of spending time with.

She still drives, solo travels, drinks… and yes…smokes regularly.

And has been a widow now for nearly 10 years.

She’s old school Atlanta and old school southern.
But not pretentious whatsoever.

She was my dad’s sister-n-law who had married, what I always said, was the better
of the two brothers.
She married the older and more “normal” of the two—and so we’ll leave it at that.

Growing up, I did feel a bit intimidated by her and their whole side of the family
as my parents were quieter, more subdued and not social whatsoever.
We were a more casual family, more simple and yet more splintered and dysfunctional.

Yet she always went out of her way to make me feel welcomed and a part of their clan
when I’d be sent off for weekends to spend time with my older cousins.

There are only two of my dad’s “people” who remain—his sister-n-law and his first cousin,
both now in their mid 90’s.

Today, it was my cousins and me who are now the grandparents…
Complete with greying hair, extra pounds, wrinkles, pains, and wobbles.

These are the days, these sorts of gatherings, of which are now both few and far between,
which only make me long for day’s long gone…

Yet as I sat in the parking lot of the grocery store, I grabbed my phone and pulled up
the latest homily offering by my favorite rouge Anglican Bishop.

It was a homily offered for the third Sunday after Easter and focused on the
Resurrected body of Christ and the Renewed Mind…

A comfort as I sat in my car, on a chilly, wet Sunday evening,
ruminating over the whats that once were, as I sat pondering those yet unanswerable whats will be…

A stranger in a strange land

“We are Christians, and strangers on earth.
Let none of us be frightened;
our native land is not in this world.”

St. Augustine


(a surprise flock of deer in the middle of surburn Atlanta / Julie Cook / 2018
talk about strangers in a strange place)

Many years ago my aunt and I were taking an overnight flight from Atlanta to Milan.
This was not our first trip to Italy and I proudly figured that I knew just enough
conversational Italian to get us through any real language barrier.
All would be well I confidently told myself.

Yet in the back of my mind, I knew my aunt.
A panicker if ever there was one.

She knew the word equivalents to hello, yes, no, good-bye and stop.
She depended on me just as a blind person would depend upon a service animal.
I was to be her eyes and ears and mouth while navigating all over Itlay for the
next 3 weeks.
She was simply happy and content being along for the ride.
No thinking, no working, no figuring…just eating, drinking, shopping and seeing.
That was the extent of her comfort level when travelling.
No real thinking—just enjoying…while leaving the details to one more savvy
and experienced.
And in this case, that simply left me…

So what could possibly go wrong?

Arriving early morning in Milan, which was middle of the night Atlanta time,
and having flown for nearly 9 hours in a tin can in the sky with absolutely zero sleep
and limited nutrition…
We deplaned, made our way through the terminal, found our luggage,
then when trying to figure out where the train was located that was to take us into town…
well, I might as well have been hit on the head, suffering from complete amnesia.

Exhaustion was hanging like a thickly spun cobweb in my brain.
Panic was creeping up through my now rapidly and tightly closing throat.
I stood in the middle of the terminal looking around, trying to make sense, trying to translate
signs directing us where we needed to go.
It was as if my brain had gone blank and all that practice of asking in Italian where
the train station was located…as was now gone the time spent memorizing the map of
the airport…it had all instantly, completely and totally left me.

Yet I had to get a hold of myself as I didn’t need my 70-year-old aunt turning into
a wailing Henny Penny.
“GET A HOLD OF YOURSELF” I mentally screamed at myself.

And just as quickly as that sense of panic of a blank brain had engulfed me,
I clamped down on that boiling panic and calmed down… as I casually sauntered over
to the information desk asking the nonplused airport employee if they
“parli inglese”
and DOV’È LA STAZIONE CENTRALE?

And no that was not the end of our adventures during that particular trip…
but those are stories for another day…

It does, however, remind me of today’s quote by St Augustine.

A bold reminder that we Christians are strangers on this rather strange planet.

For we are indeed a strange people in a strange land.

Just like my aunt and I when we first arrived in Milan.
Strangers, much out of place, most uncomfortable and seemingly lost in what
was a new strange land.

I am currently grossly far behind reading and listening to both my two favorite
‘across the pond’ clerics, that it isn’t even funny.

This new role of grandmother, dashing around on the fly, with little to no sleep while
being out of pocket from my usual routine and home…
has me terribly out of sync here in blogland.

Yet I did manage to look over Bishop Gavin Ashenden’s latest musings which
actually starts off with a tale about Meghan Markle of all people—
that soon to be bride of Prince Harry.

It seems that Ms Markle has “agreed” to be baptized and subsequently confirmed
into the Anglican Chruch of England…as a gesture of graciousness for her soon to be
Grandmother-n-law who, as Queen, is known as the “Defender of the Faith” and “head”
of the Chruch of England.

The good bishop smells something a bit odious.

Not so much because of Ms Markle herself, who is obviously trying her best to now “fit in” into
her fiancee’s most British world as well as into his family…
but rather odious because of the Chruch of England itself.

As a Christian, I find it a bit odd, awkward and simply wrong that one would want to be
“baptized” as a child of God and in turn confirmed into a church body simply for the sake
of “fitting in”…
Not to mention the notion of a church body that sees such a life-altering decision as a mere
technicality.

I wonder if Ms Markle actually understands the implications behind what it means to
be Baptized–or as to the requirement of what is required of one who “joins” the church?

I wonder if the Church of England actually understands the life-changing and deeply
mystical experience that resides within the act of Baptism.

When we have a church body baptizing individuals as a means of helping one to fit in
or as a technicality…then I know we as Christians are indeed treading in a strange land.

And here is the dilemma for the Church of England.
A state Church wedded to a state that hates Christian virtue and Christian ethics;
a state that has begun to criminalise Christian witness as hate speech,
where police arrest street preachers and have them thrown in prison at the push of
a SJW’s phone button;
a state that has begun preparations to remove children from their Christian homes
if social workers detect what they improperly label ‘homophobia’ in the parents;
a state where Christian teachers are expelled and sacked if they do not endorse
the secular brainwashing on the fluidity of gender.

Meghan Markle, Justin Welby & The Use And Abuse Of Baptism.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men,
who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
For what can be known about God is plain to them,
because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes,
namely, his eternal power and divine nature,
have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world,
in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

Romans 1:18-20

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