Fertile Ground

“A sense of the divine presence and indwelling bears the soul towards heaven
as upon the wings of eagles.”

Charles Haddon Spurgeon

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(a lone viola emerges out of nowhere, nestled between the rocks/ Julie Cook / 2017)

Spring is wanting to come early this year…
But Winter refuses to relinquish his time…
It’s an age old battle for the right to reign.

The surrounding landscape is still bathed in shades of grey, brown and
all things bare…
While the deer have nipped and eaten any and all remaining winterized vegetation…
As the armadillos have rooted out any hiding grub or tender waiting bulbs.

This is the time for transition.
It is a time waited upon anxiously…
As it is a time that has been manically hoped for and painfully longed for.

A time of turning the page from nothingness into a hint of newness.

All the while a cold wind blows and
Freeze warnings remain.
And pale white dry skin yearns for the flush of warm and radiant supple pink…

Yet hidden amongst the nooks of crags…
found in the hollowed-out crannies, wedged between the cold barren rocks..
a small and easily missed prophesy of growth takes a stand…

As we are left asking—
is fertile ground to be found anywhere within our hearts…

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‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says:
I myself will take a shoot from the very top of a cedar and plant it;
I will break off a tender sprig from its topmost shoots and plant it on a high and
lofty mountain.
On the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it;
it will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar.
Birds of every kind will nest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches.
All the trees of the forest will know that I the Lord bring down the tall tree
and make the low tree grow tall.
I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish.

Ezekiel 17:22-24

erosion

Today’s average American is more apt to rebel against a tennis shoe
not coming in the right color than against the slow erosion
of our democratic freedom.

Marianne Williamson

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(a major project at home/ red Georgia clay / Julie Cook / 2016)

It’s not the moon.
It’s not some foreign land
It’s not a desert….

Yet it feels very much like a desert.
Dry
Rocky
Dusty
With deadly heat radiating up and off.

This forbidding alien landscape, however, is merely an excavated and grated bank in our yard.
Remember our yard is a former pasture.
This is a large, long, dry, hot, rocky bank.
A daunting side project…a resulting spill off project, stemming from a larger project.
A side project, now a major project, demanding immediate attention.

There has been no rain…
Zero…
Nothing of consequence in over a month.
The word drought comes to mind….
And with a large mountain and wall of dirt needing covering….
I am concerned…

If it’s not planted or covered soon, any thunderstorm could spell disaster.

High winds could wickedly whip up the dirt with destructive results.
A downpour would turn a dirt bank into a raging red river of mud.

The only solution is to plant some sort of erosion barrier.
Planting bushy shrubs, adding low growing spreading plants, a few small tress…
and lots and lots of pine straw.
Then the watering upon watering as no real rain is in sight…

A lot of work, but necessary to stop destructive erosion.

After having had a little chat with my fellow southern blogging buddy Wally,
over on Truth in Palmyra ( https://truthinpalmyra.wordpress.com ),
regarding my dilemma of having to get this bank planted,
Wally jokingly told me “whatever you do, don’t plant kudzu!”

Any true southerner knows kudzu.

That noxious weed-like vine that covers the south like….well…
journalists covering this current election business…
Fast,
zealous,
and suffocating….

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(Image courtesy of the Lexington Herald Leader)

It was just a matter of time I suppose…
Time before a Southerner, such as myself, should bring up our dirty little secret…

Kudzu.

According to Wikipedia…
Kudzu (Pueraria lobata) is an invasive plant in the United States. It has been spreading in the southern U.S. at the rate of 150,000 acres (610 km2) annually, “easily outpacing the use of herbicide spraying and mowing, as well increasing the costs of these controls by $6 million annually”. This claim, however, has recently been disputed, the United States Forest Service estimating an increase of only 2,500 acres per year. Its introduction has produced devastating environmental consequences. This has earned it the nickname, “The vine that ate the South”.

The kudzu plant was introduced to the United States in 1876 at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Kudzu was introduced to the Southeast in 1883 at the New Orleans Exposition. The vine was widely marketed in the Southeast as an ornamental plant to be used to shade porches, and in the first half of the 20th century, kudzu was distributed as a high-protein content cattle fodder and as a cover plant to prevent soil erosion. The Soil Erosion Service recommended the use of kudzu to help control erosion of slopes which led to the government-aided distribution of 85 million seedlings and government-funded plantings of kudzu which paid $19.75 per hectare. By 1946, it was estimated that 1,200,000 hectares (3,000,000 acres) of kudzu had been planted. When boll weevil infestations and the failure of cotton crops drove farmers to move from rural to urban districts, kudzu plantings were left unattended. The climate and environment of the Southeastern United States allowed the kudzu to grow virtually unchecked. In 1953 the United States Department of Agriculture removed kudzu from a list of suggested cover plants and listed it as a weed in 1970. By 1997, the vine was placed on the “Federal Noxious Weed List”.Today, kudzu is estimated to cover 3,000,000 hectares (7,400,000 acres) of land in the southeastern United States, mostly in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, and Mississippi.

Back in the day, kudzu seemed like a good idea…
It was going to help,
Yet it was left unchecked,
It got out of control…
and now it’s a disaster…

Oddly, or rather with impeccable timing… the morning I was to focus on my sea of red dirt, the morning’s reading was Luke 8:4-15
the parable about the Sower…

While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.”

When he said this, he called out, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

His disciples asked him what this parable meant. He said, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that,

‘though seeing, they may not see;
though hearing, they may not understand.’

“This is the meaning of the parable:
The seed is the word of God.
Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

A morning’s parable, a Heavenly word,
coupled with a giant massive dry area of red dirt needing attention….
was not lost on my thoughts.

I wondered what it is that I was currently doing to stop any erosion of my heart, of my faith, of my spirit and soul…especially in light of the current raging tempests in this world…

The daily assault of violence and hatred…the insidious seducing of our weary psyches by our ancient adversary…the twists and turns of what seemed to be truth now offered up as the placating lies of self.

What of those painfully dry periods of life…those times of isolation, loneliness, emptiness…

Was I allowing the storms of terrorism, violence, and hatred to batter an unprotected, unprepared,
dried-up and dusty spirit?
Had I allowed God’s words to spill forth, only to fall upon a hardened dried-up heart?
Had I prepared, shoring up my faith?
Had I nurtured the faith…
protecting it,
watering it,
fertilizing it…
Had I cared for it in the quiet and calm times, readying it and myself, so that there would be a reservoir of strength and plenty in now this time of grave uncertainty?

And lastly I wondered if I had nurtured that spiritual relationship, that inextricable bond between Creator and created… had I spent, do I spend, the same sort of time and energy on that relationship, because that’s what it is—a relationship, as I was now spending and investing in and on this red bank rising before me….

So much now needing attention, as I grabbed a shovel under a relentless baking sun…

So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!
1 Corinthians 10:13

finding a faith stone through the dark times

“…in our willful desire to live independently of God, we have severed the lifeline that flows from the source of all life”
Billy Graham

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(Wicklow Mountains, Glendalough National Park, County Wicklow, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

There are no exemptions in this life when it comes to difficulties, struggles, trials and conflicts.
Some are self imposed, some are random and some, for the believer, can be most vexing…
for it can often feel as if God has…
walked away,
deserted us,
or…
is proving to be more stubborn than ourselves.

Some periods will be more severe than others and there is certainly no clear window as to how long or how short such episodes will each last.

There will be times of great dryness…a rough patch of road that leaves one feeling empty…
or better yet, feeling nothing at all, as in void of feeling or emotion…
A sense of isolation, depression and emptiness…

Other times there will be the feeling as if the rug has been pulled out from under foot …
As one is left wondering if facing one more moment, let alone one more day, is even possible…preferring simply to throw in the proverbial towel while gladly giving it all up.

Maybe it’s seasonal…
What with these long cold winters of shortened days, limited light, constant gray, heavy clouds, cold rains, blanketing snow and a never ending feeling as if one can never get warm.

Maybe its the long hot summers of endless days, excessive heat, dry barren ground that becomes brittle to the touch..leaving one and all the only option of slowing down to a crawl in order to preserve energy while hoping to sweat a little less while praying for a cooling breeze to quench the fire .

Maybe life has simply dealt a wicked hand.
Tragedy has struck,
illness prevails,
and loss is paramount.

Or maybe it’s as if one has been left to simply bam ones head against a wall…as in the wall isn’t budging and neither are we. Frustration has taken hold and we are stuck in our dead-end tract of never-ending madness.

Whatever the reason, life is…
hard and difficult,
frustrating and tiresome,
sad and often unbearable…

I was offered some wise counsel yesterday from a dear friend—which I hope he won’t mind that I now share…
In our conversation my friend offered up an interesting perspective as to when we find ourselves in the midst of struggle and suffering…

“sometimes its better to go back to the last place you encountered God in a mighty way
in your life and use it as a marker….
When Moses parted the red sea and the children of Israel crossed over, the first thing they did was build a stone altar there and gave thanks to God for their deliverance…
So it is with us….
When God does something in our lives and we know it was Him, it is a marker…
A faith stone that repairs our hope in troubled times.
It is good to remember that place and a good starting point to carry on….”

For me that moment, that mile marker , when I knew that I had encountered the Omnipotent I AM, was during my fall trip to Ireland…I think we all have a myriad of moments throughout our lives, but for whatever reason we may simply miss the significance, write it off as mere happenstance, or we may have felt so dreadfully barren for so very long that perhaps it feels as if it were the only real true encounter we have ever experienced….

So my marker, my road of Damascus moment, was one September evening in Ireland.

Yet to literally re-vist that very moment in order to restudy, review, re-live that exact moment in time is impossible, impractical and far from feasible…

It is impossible for me to fly back over, gather those 3 particular friends together again on that lone September evening, at that exact restaurant table up in County Donegal…it is impossible for me to have that exact same conversation which lead to the words being spoken that shot into my mind and heart like a hot arrow piercing my very soul…unleashing the overwhelming sensation that time was standing still and I was suddenly alone with God.

It was all of a second, maybe two, for those words to be uttered and in turn to be heard…
however it seemed much longer as each word reverberated throughout my entire being…

Whereas I may not be able to actually re-live that amazing turning point, it’s not impossible to recall those three life changing words….
“Be at peace…”
“Be at peace with your God”….

Yet it was the first three words of that simple sentence that knocked me and my current world upside down.
Yet…the words were not for that night…not then…

Those simple words which were offered over dinner were not intended for that moment…not for a moment that was indeed peaceful as four friends enjoyed a good meal and drink, with good conversation in an ideal setting.
For that particular moment was of peace itself…

It was to be later when I would need to revisit those words.

As I have needed to do so this very week.
As well as last week and mostly likely next week and the many weeks which lie ahead.
Life is that way.
Life has a way of sucking out the very life of one’s being.
It can be hard.
It can also be joyous as well…
yet frustratingly those joyous times are often forgotten as one is wading through the hard with the muck of madness clinging to one’s boots.

So yes… it behooves me to remember my marker.

Three words….

Be at peace….

Thank you my friend for reminding me to find my marker, my faith stone and to return to that place where God had made His presence known….

Very soon

The happiness of life is made up of minute fractions – the little, soon forgotten charities of a kiss or a smile, a kind look or heartfelt compliment.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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(faded, frozen and spent crepe myrtle and loropetalum buds and blooms / Julie Cook / 2015

Somewhere ’round a corner, in the secret garden of my mind
I thought I caught of glimpse of things that now are hard to find.

What stands before me now is simply lifeless browns and greys
Yet soon this empty landscape will bask in sunny rays.

Lifelessness and emptiness will soon be long departed
As hopefulness and happiness are finally getting started. . .

Here’s to the secret garden within all our winter weary hearts and minds. . .

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(hyacinth and tiny garden buds / Julie Cook / 2015)

Just beneath the surface

“Look beneath the surface;
let not the several quality of a thing nor its worth escape thee.”

― Marcus Aurelius

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(new growth hiding beneath the brush / Troup Co, Georgia /Julie Cook / 2015)

Frozen
Wet
Lifeless
Barren

Muddling through colorless days
Bundled up, wrapped tight, hunkered down. . .
Sinking within self
Eyes fixed on nothing, as feet shuffle forward
Fighting wind, snow, rain. . .
Ode to Winter at its dulling best

Suddenly something tiny,
something small,
something possessing. . .
What?
What is this, dry forlorn minds query.

Shiny
Red
Tender
Green
Color
Life
Hope

Be ready
Be waiting
Be expectant
Be hopeful
Be watchful
Be willing

Because big new things lie just beneath the surface. . .

In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary – we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!
Romans 5:5
The Message

To bloom, to live

“If you feel lost, disappointed, hesitant, or weak, return to yourself, to who you are, here and now and when you get there, you will discover yourself, like a lotus flower in full bloom, even in a muddy pond, beautiful and strong.”
― Masaru Emoto

My longings, my hopes, my dreams, and my every effort has been to live for Him who rescued me, to study for Him who gave me this mind, to serve Him who fashioned my will, and to speak for Him who gave me a voice.”
― Ravi Zacharias

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(the premature blooms of the quince / Julie Cook / 2015

What is our life but to live?
To laugh
To love
To saveur
To relish
To thrive

What of the mistimed bloom?

Perhaps it is merely a single day, maybe even two or three–an amalgamation of unseasonable sun and warmth prompting certain unseen urges. . .nudging the sleeping Giant to stir from its required time of slumber.
It does not matter that the calendar tells us it is not yet time.
It does not matter that the weather predictions are for dire cold. . .
All it takes is a touch of warmth here, a brilliant day of sun there, the tiny gained increments of daylight, above freezing nights, which each in turn sends the GO signal to all that is dormant to “come out, come out, where ever you are. . .”
Buds begin to form, pregnant with new growth and anxious to deliver.

Yet suddenly and cruelly, just as Life dreamily stirs, wiping the sleep from her eyes, the harshness of a bitter northern wind delivers the wicked punch of reality.
Winter is just getting started.

Withering
Fading
Freezing

Tender buds and tiny green leaves turn a sickly black, oozing forth life juices which merely turn into dirty ice.
Yet this dismal picture is not as bad as it may appear, all is not lost as we mustn’t succumb to our frigid despair.
It is true, the newly stunned and stunted growth, now frozen in time, will quickly die away, but Life will indeed make certain that she has her way. . .as well as the last word.

Just as soon as a wee scuosh of warmth battles for an ounce of stronghold, Life will, once again, work her magic of emergence. Her rallying cry will be heard across the land banishing the monotone shades of Winter’s white, greys and browns back to the southern hemisphere from whence it came.

Yet be all of that as it may, for the time being however, it is simply time for the Giant, which was so rudely routed from her much needed beauty rest, to return to her scared place of stillness. . .hidden well away from prying eyes. . .resting, sleeping, waiting. . .all in order to eventually breathe life back into the now barren landscape of expectation.

Brown, dried up and barren

“It was cold and barren. It was no longer the view that I remembered. The sunshine of her presence was far from me. The charm of her voice no longer murmured in my ear.”
Wilkie Collins

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Yep, that pretty much sums up my world this time of year—brown, dried up and barren–no longer the view I remember, much less like or care for. I don’t think I’ve realized how bad things really looked until today. There were a few things hanging on, a few herbs, even the mint—that was until the ominous Polar Vortex. A deep freeze is a sure way to go from green to brown in the blink of an eye.

Today however the sun actually decided to offer a brilliant display of bright light and the temperature, dare I say it, almost Spring like. Sadly snow flurries are predicted for in the morning–however be that as it may, today the warm sun actually drew me outside and I was not to be denied.

I hung the bird feeders back up, the ones that are up each day only to be oddly knocked down each night by the bear I keep telling my husband is lurking out in the woods. Never mind that no one has ever spotted a bear in our area— I, on the other hand, believe in the mystical bear of the feeders. At least I’m not like that nutty lady who swears a big foot lives in this area, but I digress.

As I ventured out into the warming light of day, the thought of running errands seemed to be a good choice of time. I opted to head to our local Lowes in order to buy some light bulbs.
Real light bulbs–while there are still a few normal ones remaining on the shelves. All this before the Government says we can’t have any more normal light bulbs—like they know what’s good for me regarding my light bulbs. . . hummmm
Those stupid squiggly bulbs, the ones we are suppose to now purchase verses the formerly real bulbs, are currently making my life miserable. Does anyone look good in fluorescent light?

NO!

And let’s not talk about the lack of brightness these squiggly things offer or how in the heck one is to dispose of the blasted things once their time is up ruining my life.
What was wrong with the regular light bulbs?
They were bright and complete with a little glass, a few little filaments, a little conducive base—
They didn’t make me look as if I had a skin disease, jaundice or as a sick vampire. I could read with them. I was happy.
Now the Government is telling me I can’t have my light bulbs anymore. Digress, digress, digress.

Despite this latest conspiracy, I did not come here today to talk about light bulbs. We’re suppose to be talking about brown, dried up, barren stuff. . .as in the pots and containers that are now empty and void of any and all forms of lush green life. . .as in my sad looking blueberry bushes that are now simply a jumble of twiggy brown sticks. . .

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During my little jaunt to Lowes, in order buy my new stupid squiggly light bulbs, something wonderfully exciting caught my eye. Something that made me stop in the middle of the aisle as if it was screaming at me.
WARM WEATHER OUT IN THE GARDEN screaming.
There in the middle of the aisle leading to the outdoor plants, I spy a brightly colored, brimming over the top, seed packet display. Rows upon rows of little seed packets for every kind of vegetable known to man—even a few I’ve not eaten before, all ready for Spring planting.
Joy residing in a packet!
Seeds— the beginnings of my “vegetative” life outside. Tiny miracles in a bag.
Oh the wonderful joy!!

May I just say that I went for light bulbs but I left with seed packets and fun looking miniature little growing greenhouses, some nice bags of potting mixture, as well as a renewed spring in my cold, light deprived, brown, dried up, barren step. Tis the season to get planting, and I can’t wait. Now what was that about snow in the morning??!!

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