Moving on, to the next

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


(the mounded rocks to help break the storm waves at The Breakers Hotel /
Palm Beach, FL / Julie Cook / 2017)

“It was too perfect to last,’
so I am tempted to say of our marriage.
But it can be meant in two ways.
It may be grimly pessimistic—
as if God no sooner saw two of His creatures happy than He stopped it
(‘None of that here!’).
As if He were like the Hostess at the sherry-party who separates two guests
the moment they show signs of having got into a real conversation.

But it could also mean ‘This had reached its proper perfection.
This had become what it had in it to be.
Therefore of course it would not be prolonged.
‘As if God said,
‘Good; you have mastered that exercise.
I am very pleased with it.
And now you are ready to go on to the next.”

― C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

In that place of sheer isolation and utter vulnerability,
deep within the quagmire of mourning and sorrow of which we find ourselves
sinking helplessly into the quicksand of our losses and suffering…
we humans are fast and keen to denounce the omnipotent God..
we proclaim Him to be most cruel, sadistic and menacingly cold hearted.

For we are hurting for heaven’s sake….
can He, does He, not see…
does He not know…
or worse….
does He simply not care…??

As C.S Lewis reflects on the loss of his wife—
he, in such typical Lewis fashion, expresses the thoughts and feelings that
are our own…
that of our angst and misery culminating from the overwhelming painful experience
we all eventually experience from our living, death and loss…

As he sums it up nicely in one wonderful notion…

“Good; you have mastered that exercise.
I am very pleased with it.
And now you are ready to go on to the next.”

And so we are…ready to go on
on to the next….
to the next whatever…
the next whatever God has in store…
all the while nursing our wounded hearts,
we move on, by His Grace, to that which comes next…

(for a wonderful movie about Lewis, his marriage, the death of his wife due to cancer and how Lewis wrestles with God…see the 1993 movie Shadowlands staring Anthony Hopkins and Deborah Winger—a marvelous and timeless movie)

comfort

“For myself, I find I become less cynical rather than more–
remembering my own sins and follies;
and realize that men’s hearts are not often as bad as their acts,
and very seldom as bad as their words.”

J.R.R. Tolkien


(the beach is calling at The Pearl Hotel / Rosemary Beach / Julie Cook / 2017)

Anyone who has ever been to the beach and mixed…
wet bathing suits + sticky salty ocean water + greasy lotions + red burning skin +
lots and lots of sand…
all know first hand that the idea of comfort is a relative concept.

Add into the mix sitting in a wet sagging canvas “lounge” chair and the thought
of running naked through the surf becomes somewhat appealing….

Now don’t get me wrong—I love the whole notion of all of the above, as it is
part and parcel of a true “beach” experience…
as we throw in the sound of shrieking children bouncing in the surf,
alcohol induced howling conversations,
beach volleyball, football, bocce ball aficionados showing off the not so sculpted bodies,
music that is not a part of your personal iTunes…
and the whole concept of peaceful and soothing also becomes relative.

And yet there is comfort in the moment.

Comfort found in being elsewhere and other than.

As we are all creatures who truly love their comfort…
Both physical comfort as well as emotional…
We don’t much care for the idea of being deprived of anything in our neat little
comfortable worlds.

I suppose it would be well observed and easily noted that we humans may be known as
creatures who live for our comfort…
as well as for those things which make us such….

But the thing is….we were never promised comfort…
God made no promises in the area of all things comfortable.
And if truth be told, He had actually provided for such in the very beginning,
but there was that little issue over that apple and just as quickly,
any continuing promise of comfort vanished….

So it seems as if we, as in we human beings, have been in pursuit of all things
of comfort ever since that fateful day.

But now we see a little rub within said pursuit…

Enter one named Yeshua…

I prefer using the Aramaic translation of the latin name, Jesus,
as in it is more inline with what Jesus himself was familiar in hearing—
as in his name is what it is…and that is Yeshua ben Yosef…but I digress….

So Yeshua was asked where it was he stayed,
as those asking wanted to follow him.

But his response was not one of comfort.

For there was not a warm welcoming abode in which he resided.
There was no rest for the weary where He was concerned.
No creature comforts were to be offered, waiting nor ever to be found…
“Foxes have dens and birds have nests,
but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

And again He offers anything but comfort in His admonition to his followers…

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
For whoever wants to save their life will lose it,
but whoever loses their life for me will find it.
What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world,
yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?
For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels,
and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.
Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before
they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

And even later it was Paul who reminded those wishing to follow that
“In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted”

So as Christians, a word which actually means little Christ…
the notion of comfort and a life that is comfortable,
is at the opposite end of the spectrum.

Maybe it’s high time we venture from the safety of our comfort zones…

For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.
2 Timothy 1:7

a shot of fortitude, knowing I can do anything for two weeks…

“True Christian fortitude consists in strength of mind, through grace,
exerted in two things; in ruling and suppressing
the evil and unruly passions and affections of the mind;
and in steadfastly and freely exerting and following
good affections and dispositions,
without being hindered by sinful fear or the opposition of enemies…
Though Christian fortitude appears in withstanding and
counteracting the enemies that are without us;
yet it much more appears in resisting and suppressing
the enemies that are within us;
because they are our worst and strongest enemies and
have greatest advantage against us.
The strength of the good soldier of Jesus Christ appears in nothing more
than in steadfastly maintaining the holy calm, meekness, sweetness,
and benevolence of his mind, amidst all the storms, injuries,
strange behaviour, and surprising acts and events of this
evil and unreasonable world.”

Jonathan Edwards

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(a jumbled mess of fishing line, fishing hooks and seaweed washes ashore / Santa Rosa Beach, FL / Julie Cook / 2016)

The other night, my husband and I found ourselves at our favorite restaurant celebrating
a month late anniversary. This particular restaurant is a place we love to visit whenever we are fortunate enough to find ourselves at the beach.
The restaurant is very nice and the clientele can be equally as nice…with the exception
of some not so nice diners, but that’s for another story for another day.

As we arrived a bit early for our 7PM reservations, the host kindly asked if we
wouldn’t mind waiting as they prepared our requested table.
“Not a problem” I replied as it is often nice to sit for a minute and observe
those who have also opted to come dine…
Folks at the beach are always most colorful in a variety of ways….

As we waited, we watched as two couples entered together through the front door.
Very attractive couples…say, mid 60’s.
The women were puffed and coiffed to the Nines.
Giving the air of overtly well to do.

They waited a bit and were shown to their table as one of the men excused
himself from the group asking for the men’s room.
About two minutes later the other gentleman wandered back out for
what we assumed was to direct his friend to their table.
But rather than wait on his friend, he headed straight to the bar.
He appeared very impatient wanting the bar tender to hurry to his aid.

He ordered what appeared to be a triple shot of scotch.
I know these things as my dad use to be drawn to the same sort of amount and
libation back in his younger years….

The man took glass in hand bringing it quickly to his lips as he threw his head back,
draining the brown liquid from the glass in one quick swallow…
As he just as quickly plopped the glass on the bar.
No savoring, no sipping nor enjoying…
more like a “wham, bam, thank you mam, sort of moment.

At this point his friend emerged from the men’s room and
off they went to join their wives.

My husband and I kind of laughed to one another as we wondered aloud
if spending time over dinner with his wife was such that he
needed a heavy shot before continuing…

Fast forward to today…
I was back at the Orthopedic’s office following last week’s MRI.
I sat in the exam room almost 45 minutes before the PA came in.
How are you feeling she asked.

“Well…
imagine that the top of your thigh is numb yet at the same time it feels
as if your inner thigh and groin have been flayed wide open
while someone is constantly scrubbing said area with a brillo pad…
All the while someone else has a drill and is drilling right
into your hip bone and lower back, just a tad over from you lower spine…”

“Hummmm, that good eh?”

I flatly looked at her and stated more then questioned…
“I suppose the MRI didn’t show a thing did it?”

“Oh no, it showed something alright…
that’s what took me so long, the doctor had to keep looking over the MRI”
The scan wasn’t as high as we wanted it to go nor as deep…
but there is definitely a distribution of disc material outside of the
column on the left side…and it’s squeezing the emerging nerve.”

In other words, a bulging disc with severe nerve inflammation.

I asked if they wanted to repeat the MRI…
with her response being “only if we have to do surgery.”

Surgery?

“We have two options…we can be conservative and do therapy and traction….”

The thought of traction conjured an image of me flat on my back in a dingy cell
tied to a dark wooden plank as my hands and feet are chained to a roller
all the while as the masked torture master cranks the medieval rack…
stretching me till I snap.
Which mind you might feel better than flayed skin and brillo pads….

“Or, and this is my recommendation, we schedule a spinal nerve block.”

Ahhhh another torturous device where a large long horse needle is wiggled deep into the spin,
injecting steroids and anti-inflamation meds directly into the source….

“Ok, I’m in” I said probably a bit too eagerly…
but I think she grasped the fact that the pain has got to go…as in now.

“We’ll need to schedule it with one of the other doctor’s who normally does this sort
of procedure…and I’m afraid it could be a couple of weeks…”

“WHAT?”

Sure enough, the first available time is in two weeks.

“I can do anything for two weeks,” I hear myself chanting in my head.
That use to be my mantra when I was a much younger mother and teacher.

I would always have to take some sort of continuing ed training or coursework,
usually during the short summer, and it always seemed to be for two weeks.

I despised having to give up my precious home-time–
Whenever I was home, that’s when I savored being like a full time wife and mom…
Having to give up any of the sacred home-time was…in a word, torturous…

But….

I would always reassure myself that both my young son and me could manage anything for two weeks…

Just as I reminded myself today, “I can do anything for two weeks…”
even if it means living with constant pain, no energy and no moments of rest…
while now dealing with poor dad’s conundrum….

All this while as thoughts of just running around naked seemed to make perfect sense as nothing
would then be rubbing on the skin where angry nerves recoiled at the slightest touch.

Which brings us back to the previous observation of the gentleman at the bar…

Whereas I feebly attempted to soothingly reassure myself that I could do anything for two weeks,
perhaps this particular gentleman, who found that he needed a shot of fortitude just to endure
dinner with his wife, had it more aptly figured out…

As I quipped to the nurse, “two weeks is fine, but please call me if anything comes available
sooner… as you may just find me at a bar drinking heavily….”

Here’s to doing anything for two weeks…along with a shot of fortitude!

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.
I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation,
whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.
I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Philippians 4:12-13

luck of the draw

You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run
You never count your money
When you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for counting
When the dealin’s done

The Gambler
Kenny Rogers

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(my husband trying the make the most of Tropical Storm Colin’s arrival when all others ran for cover/ Watercolor Resort, Santa Rosa, FL / Julie Cook / 2016)

There are many days that I am pretty certain that I’m married to Job.
You know, the Typhoid Mary of the Bible…
That lone figure everyone avoids like the plague as it seems God’s got it out for this poor lug.
He’s the Bible’s idea of a bullseyes,
while Satan enjoys a fun little game of darts…
As God’s watches silently in the distance…

Yet, one must wonder, is He all that distant…..?

And you know that expression…
if it wasn’t for bad luck, there’d be no luck at all….?
Well that sums up my husband’s life in a nutshell.

And not only did I marry a very unlucky man,
I bore him a child who has followed suit to a T.
As my husband resignedly notes that our son’s luck is just as bad, just as unfortunate and just as typical as his—that being abysmal.

If it can go wrong, it will.
If it can get worse, it will.
In a 50 50 shot on calling it, theirs will always be the wrong call.
What are the odds?
What is the luck?

And yet…
I for one do not hold on to such a notion…
despite often feeling the sting of a mother’s and wife’s frustration…
I am constantly reminding any and all gloomy Gus’s in my path that in Christianity,
there is no such thing as luck!
Nothing, absolutely nothing, has been left to chance in God’s book concerning His children.

When I was young I never liked reading or hearing about the Book of Job or even Revelation.
I found in both of those books everything and anything other than that
“peace which passes all understanding.”
Rather I found heartache, trials, turmoil, death, loss and
even the final separation of those fateful sheep and goats.

Both Books, both stories, scared me.
I didn’t want to know that side of God.
For in my young immature understanding, God was simply love and merciful,
end of sentence—
None of this wrathful, cold, distant business.
He was not this exacting God who could, in my opinion, turn His back and allow pain,
suffering and calamity.
God was love, right?
And love doesn’t let bad things happen….right?

Lord knows, I have seen my share of heartache and calamity these near 57 years.
Any one who has ever lost a loved one to a ravenous and non discriminating illness,
which seems to gleefully and eagerly snatch away prematurely those we love,
understands all too often the anger that can follow suit against this so called “merciful” God…

I shamefully admit to having had one too many defiantly angry fists raised,
more times than I care to mention, to God when I, as mother, wife, daughter, friend…
witnessed the catastrophic unfairness, when indiscriminate illness and or death,
or any other of life’s unfairnesses, had come calling.

Yet the key piece to this unsettling and often unfair and ironic puzzle is actually to be found in that very odd tale of our poor friend Job…
That single key piece being human understanding.

It is easy and quite human to rile in anger when we witness unfairness, pain, suffering, heartache…
Especially when we know that there is a God, as Father, who loves His children…as we are even told that if we who are “evil” parents know how to give good things to our children, then how much more can the God of heaven who is pure goodness and love give…..
yet here is this loving Father demonstrating anything but love…
But what we don’t get, don’t understand…He’s not the doing these things…

As we live life in that role of helpless witness, time and time again, to the sadistic unfairness of this thing we call life….as our anger, resentment, frustration and even defiance continues to mount against an unseen God who we so wrongly blame for all of life’s tragedies, as the dust settles, we begin to see that our friend Job slowly, mysteriously and miraculously understood…
He understood that which we are currently blind to see…
for Job once stood where we stand now—in that place of helpless victim to the tragic luck of life.

We sit in our towers of self-righteous human knowledge presuming to see all and know all…
that is until something catastrophic throws us the guaranteed monkey wrench.
Tragedy strikes and more often then not, we wrestle with its presence and devastating aftermath.

But what we must know, must claim, is that it is God who sees and knows, not us.
He sees endlessly out before us, long into our futures.
Just as He has seen our past and our present.
He sees into the lives of all involved and into the lives of those who are to each be affected despite our having no knowledge of their involvement…yet.

His is the grander picture.
The greater and far reaching picture.
The vision that eclipses both time and space—of which we are permanent prisoners.

So no…there is no such thing such as luck….not with God.
Rather just Life lived in a fallen and broken world.
Just as there is also our hope, our grace and thankfully….
our salvation….

“I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. I had heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You, therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”
Job 42:2, 5-6

You will be secure, because there is hope;
you will look about you and take your rest in safety.

Job 11:18

just another day in paradise…

“I know paradise has many gates, just as hell does.
One has to learn to distinguish between them, or one is lost.”

Henning Mankell

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(Watercolor 30A, Santa Rosa, Fl / Julie Cook / 2016)

Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him;
Revelation 22:1-3

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DSCN3349

Ironies and anniversaries

“Don’t underestimate the value of irony—it is extremely valuable.”
Henry James

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(a lone gull on the shore of Henderson St Park, Florida / Julie Cook / 2015)

32 years ago yesterday I got married.
Blessedly, I’m still married. . .to the same fella—loving him more today than I knew how to love back then. . .funny how that works—but Praise God it does!!
Fine wine and hearts do indeed seem to get better with time—or in my case they have, thankfully.
And yes, I know, it was a “dad day” yesterday but sometimes going over to take Dad to the doctors trumps a circled date on a calendar.

Traffic was a nightmare, which in turn put me in panic mode thinking that I wouldn’t / couldn’t get to him in time and we’d miss the appointment for sure.
But as luck would have it, or as I like to think Divine Intervention, we made it at 10:15 on the dot. Never mind we waited about 40 minutes until we saw a doctor. . .he, we, by George, were on time!

The follow-up was good, staying the course with the meds. His weight is still way down but he is back on his chocolates so maybe things will improve. Frail, pale and craving anything chocolate–could be worse.

My stepmother was in bed on a self imposed day of being in the bed—there have been a good many of those as of late. . .so I got them both lunch and went back to my old bed room the office to sort through the latest stack of mail and bills.

Sitting at the desk, the desk that was actually his as a little boy, a desk I never particularly liked when I was little as it was made out of wormwood—a hot commodity in the antique world these days but I thought it terrible to have furniture in the house worms had eaten. . .of which now sits in the room where I “grew up,” a room I found as both refuge as well as grossly claustrophobic. . .

I was suddenly struck by the irony of the moment. . .

August 13, 1983 was a summer’s day with a brilliant blue sky. There were no clouds as the humidity was surprisingly low yet it was still hot as hell as it was August and it was Atlanta for Heaven’s sake, so there were no surprises there.

Early that morning, I was in my room gathering the last of my things in order to schlep them over to the church so I could finish getting dressed. The room had been pretty much stripped of every and any remaining vestige of my having spent the last 23 years in that room as everything had been dismantled and boxed, with a good bit being moved to the house that I would soon be calling my own—a good 75 mile drive away–at the time, 750 miles would have suited me.

I was getting married at noon, to a man I had not dated very long—much to my mother’s and godmother’s chagrin—each had their reasons but the chief number one bother was that neither of them knew this young man, not to mention that he was 10 years older than his bride to be. . .

I’ve written about all of that before so I won’t bother with retelling that story. . .rest assured however, it’s had a happy ending.

My family had been the epitome of dysfunctional and I was quite happy about the prospect of getting the heck out of Dodge, so to speak. All I ever wanted to do was to find “Mr Right,” get married, and have a family of my own—- getting my very own chance at making that whole marriage and family thing right as my family had been the poster child of everything a family probably shouldn’t be.

There was no remorse in walking out of the room, no sense of nostalgia that had me linger while wistfully thinking back over life.
I was ready to go.
To move on to the next chapter of my life.
No looking back longingly with that familiar tinge of melancholy. . .
It was onward and upward with no regrets. . .
I was happy and resolute—time to get this show on the road, as in literally!

And anyway, it wasn’t like I was still living at home. I had taken a teaching position in a small town about an hour away, so I had already tasted independence. . .
Yet. . .
there was a very deep need within me to shake the dust from my feet. . .free from that room and from that house.

So here I was, finding myself 32 years later to the day and time, back in that same room and in that same house.
This time I had my 26 year old son in tow to help me with getting dad to the doctor’s office.

The dysfunction is still there, it’s just that now it’s different.
My mom has been gone almost 30 years next month. That in itself is hard to grasp.
I’ve also written about that tale before. . .about having to go to the house that fateful evening—of how I had to spend the night back in my room, while I began helping Dad in the very long, decades long, chore of putting the pieces back together. . .

Dad has since remarried.
Sadly their lives are now currently topsy turvy. . .

And oddly there I was. . .right back in that same room I had tried to shake from my feet, sitting at a desk I once never liked, paying bills and attempting to manage the lives of those other than my own–

Thomas Wolfe once wrote that we can’t ever go back home. And to some degree he’s right.
We can’t go back to what was and who we were. . . for good or for bad. . .
Life and time changes all of that—
Yet the thing is– we can go back sort of. . .We can go back different than who we were before. . .
we can go back changed, older, wiser, better.
That’s the thing about time—it dims the mind, the pain, the memories—and that whole Life thing helps in procuring focus—focus on what really matters, what’s really important. . .
all of which is all sprinkled with a hearty dose of maturity. . .

However there is one pivotal factor which allows us to return back to where we often began, it is the most changing of factors–the one that provides both healing and forgiveness, courage and hope. . .
that being Grace. . .

The Grace I received from the Holy Spirit.
The Grace that has allowed me to go back, to the beginning, to the place that wasn’t always good or happy to a place that continues to have trouble, and do what I need to do—demonstrate that same Grace in like turn. . .

So as my thoughts turned toward time and even fine wine on the day of milestones. . .as in there’s just nothing like that fine bottle of wine. . .I thought of life, my life and how both need to be equally well aged. . .

Cheers to 32 years and going. . .

it’s just one of those days to wonder

There are good days and there are bad days,
and this is one of them.

Lawrence Welk

“Promise me you’ll always remember:
You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem,
and smarter than you think.”

Christopher Robin to Pooh, A.A. Milne

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(a lone gull looks out to sea / Henderson St Park, FL / Julie Cook / 2015)

Ever wonder what the gulls wonder?
What are their thoughts as they stare forlornly out to sea?
Do they watch the waves rolling in, one on top of another,
wondering where they have been and to where it is they now come?

Are they lost in wonderment and awe, mesmerized by the rhythmic breathing of the sea?
Do they feel loneliness, separation, isolation?
Wondering, as they stare outward, as to what once was and to what could have been?
Do they have hopes and dreams that tomorrow will be different, better, happier?

Perhaps they are merely watching, as they scan ever outward,
wondering where the next elusive small tasty fish may be?
Perhaps they merely watch, looking for what may come their way. . .
As in an opportunity, a new start, a fresh beginning. . .

Does their wondering lead to questions, those without answers?
Do they wonder about that which is definitive verses that which is uncertain?
Do they wonder if they will ever have the right answers?
Are they listening for the cries of the other gulls, only to be lost in the sound of the crashing waves?

Are they lost in their wondering, as their thoughts wander across time?
Do regrets lie in the heart of a gull?
Do their hearts break?
Do they yearn for that which seems impossible?
Do they stand at the ocean’s edge longing to hear the voice of the Creator?
Wondering if they will ever feel His embrace. . .

Many, Lord my God,
are the wonders you have done,
the things you planned for us.
None can compare with you;
were I to speak and tell of your deeds,
they would be too many to declare.

Psalm 40:5