the bittersweet

“I began to understand that suffering and disappointments and melancholy
are there not to vex us or cheapen us or deprive us of our dignity but
to mature and transfigure us.”

― Hermann Hesse

“Our sweetest songs are those of saddest thought.”
Percy Bysshe Shelley


(image of the bittersweet herb Rue as seen on an herbal supplement site)

“Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint,
rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God.
You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.

Luke 14:42

Throughout both the Old and New Testaments, there are numerous references to
both plants and herbs.
With each, along with salt, having been seen as taxable commodities.

Since these were items that were sold, traded and bartered,
and whereas people were making money from the sales of such items,
officials naturally wanted to impose a tax.

And with such an early example of something so simple being taxed,
is it any wonder that something like tea, which would lead to a
rebellious bunch of colonists tossing crates of such leaves into a harbor, be of
any surprise…

And since both plants and herbs were playing such a pivotal role in early commerce
we began to divide them into categories…
with both sweet and bitter being the frontrunners in the categories of taste, use,
perception and enjoyment.

Enter the Passover seder with it’s mix of bitter herbs
And they shall eat flesh in that night, roast with fire,
and unleavened bread; and with bitter herbs they shall eat it.

Exodus 12:8

Or the admonishment of self restraint and to approach things with moderation….
A sated man loathes honey,
But to a famished man any bitter thing is sweet.

Proverbs 27:7

So all of this talk of herbs and bitter and sweet came flooding in yesterday…
not because of Seders, or cooking, or bartering, or taxes or planting or even quiet reflective Biblical readings..
It actually came about as I busied myself getting ready for of all things…
to take a baby shower on the road.

For you see this is the first big family event that is taking place
without well, family.

We’re having a big baby shower in Atlanta for my son and daughter-n-law this weekend
and I’m the one putting this little shindig together.
There will be about 60 friends and family, old and young, near and far who will
come help them, as well as the grandparents to be, celebrate…

It will be there at what was Dad’s house…with what was once my childhood room now becoming a nursery.

Usually when I do these sorts of events, my trusted helper is and always has been,
right by my side—that being Aunt Maaaatha (aka Martha).

She would have flown up earlier this week, coming with her sleeves rolled up,
ready to jump in with both feet as we’d cook, prepare, buy, shlep,
and haul things here, there and yon.

And whereas I’ve been busy making plans, making orders, purchasing,
cooking and packing everything up… getting ready to transport
things to the big city, I can’t help but feel that tinge of bittersweetness.

What has always been a team effort is now a solo event…
Each time I stop long enough to take a breath, I am a bit haunted by what’s missing.

My dad’s only remaining cousin, who at 92 is the oldest and last living member
of that clan, will be making the trip.
My aunt, my dad’s sister-n-law, who is also 92, will join us as well.
As the top tier of the family now prepare to welcome the newest forthcoming member.

Yet knowing who won’t be with us physically at this party has left me a bit wistful.
But whereas I know there will be those who will not be with us physically,
I do know they will there in spirit.

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial,
for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life,
which God has promised to those who love him.

James 1:12

There is but one Gospel

After finishing every piece of his glorious music, Bach would sign it SDG.
To the glory of God alone. If we recovered more of that zeal,
humility and love – what a transformation would be seen in our self-obsessed,
faction ridden, hypocritical churches.

David Robertson


(a lone Lilly / Rosemary Beach, FL / Julie Cook / 2017)

I am no theologian nor biblical scholar.
I am no mystic who has a special connection to God via the Holy Spirit.
I am just a simple believer, follower of Christ, member of the Christian fold.

I am also a person who greatly enjoys history…

So I am well aware that this is the 500th year marking the Reformation.
Otherwise known as the day a disenchanted German Catholic monk nailed 95 points of contention to the doors of his hometown church, the Wittenberg Cathedral.

And life, as the faithful had known it, has never been the same since….
for good and bad.

For some of us, that was a grand and glorious day…
for others, it was the opening of Pandora’s box in a Christian nutshell.

Meaning all hell had broken loose.
And of course we know who really enjoys that notion….

I happen to know that there are some Catholics out there who, to this day, will
not even allow themselves to say the name Martin Luther as it is
linked to heresy, schism and blasphemy.
Just as I know that there are some Protestants out there who relish calling all
Catholics “the Devil’s own children.”

Gotta love the squabbling of family
As in one big happy Christian family don’t you know….

And of course those squabbling family members don’t think either’s side is
actually truly Christian… but that is a tale for another day….

Personally I hate that it ever had to come down to such.
Because I’m just not a fan of schism or divide…
or of the ensuing wars and disputes and inquisitions that followed suit.

But what exactly does one have to do to get the ‘powers that be’
to step up to the plate and fly right!!!?

As obviously that very notion seems to have plagued our friend
Martin the monk.

I for one just see a now long sad line of spiraling ever outward.

First the West and East spilt.

Then the reformers spilt from the west.

Then the English followed a king and his kin who got mad at the West.

As the spiraling and spiraling and spawning and spawning has given birth to
denominations begetting more denominations.

Even today local churches are getting in on the act when one group in the church gets
mad at another group and breaks away starting their own new little church….

On and on ad nauseum it goes…

So I was quite interested when I read that our friend the Scottish Reformed
Presbyterian Pastor David Robertson added his 2 cents on this momentous
marking of these 500 years on out…

“I was once asked to take part in a joint mission in a Scottish town that included
one of the local Church of Scotland’s.
I did not see that as a problem because there were (and still are)
a good number of C of S congregations and ministers that remained faithful
to the Gospel and whom we could work with.
During a preliminary meeting I began to be concerned about the basis on which
we were going to do this mission.
“Are you a Gospel Church?” was the subtle question.
“Oh, yes” came the certain reply.
‘What do you mean by the Gospel?’
“Telling people that they are saved!”.

That was the end of the mission.

These were two different gospels –-
telling people that they are saved is vastly different from telling people they
are lost but they can be saved!

More recently I have come across this strange phenomena.
Mainstream churches that use all the Gospel language but mean something
very different.
They would deny the atonement, the virgin birth, heaven and hell,
and the necessity of the New Birth,
but they still get mortally offended and ‘hurt’;
if you dare to say they are not a Gospel church.
“Of course we are a Gospel church–look at all the work we do.
We are faithful people seeking to bring the Good news of Jesus into our communities”.
The combination of the hurt card and nice sounding language often means that
those who are genuine evangelicals back off and buy into what is in fact nonsense–
indeed, worse than that.
It is poison.

Those who are genuine bible believing Christians need to stand together, even if they differ on secondary issues, for the basic and most fundamental truths of the Gospel.

Instead of showing denominational loyalty to dead churches and false,
lazy or ignorant shepherds (the real wolves in sheeps clothing),
we need to get back to the basics of the Reformation and make sure these glorious
truths are heralded clearly throughout our land.”

And so as a “reformed” Presbyterian, I see that the good Pastor is right on point…
but he is also on point as a member of the greater Christian fold….
in that, despite these secondary issues that we divided and often divisive Christian
family members tend to bicker over and make greater than they actually are,
it is to the fundamental Biblical principles in which we truly must attend…
That being the Gospel of Jesus Christ—
And not our own proclamations and decimating of the twists and spins we feel
necessary to offer according to the times…

God’s word is God’s word.
It has stood the test of man’s time on this planet…just as it will remain long
after we are all gone and this planet is no more…

His sacred and holy Word is not in need of being reinvented for each new generation.
It does not need to be amended to fit this ridiculous new mindset of
all things inclusive.
It is not simply a signpost for peace and love…

It and He are each much much more…

Man was given tenants and rules in which God decreed.
He also decreed that should said rules, laws, tenants be broken, there will be consequence…
Simply rewriting them or ignoring them does not make them go away.

Then Jesus, who was immaculately conceived, was born of a Virgin.
He was the bridge to reunite fallen man with God…
who is not of sin, space nor time.

Jesus freely offered himself as payment for our sins.

He was crucified, died and buried.

He descended into Hell.

After 3 days, He rose from the dead.

It sounds all so unbelievable and yet so simple all at the same time.

As C.S Lewis reminds us…
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that
people often say about Him:
I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher,
but I don’t accept his claim to be God.
That is the one thing we must not say.
A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a
great moral teacher.
He would either be a lunatic—-on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—-
or else he would be the Devil of Hell.
You must make your choice.
Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.
You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you
can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God,
but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher.
He has not left that open to us.
He did not intend to. . . .
Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend:
and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem,
I have to accept the view that He was and is God.”

(Mere Christianity, 55-56)

And yet it was even far earlier that a man proposed this very notion of
lord or lunatic…

In the mid-nineteenth century the Scottish Christian preacher “Rabbi” John Duncan
(1796-1870) formulated what he called a “trilemma.”
In Colloquia Peripatetica (p. 109) we see Duncan’s argument from 1859-1860,
with my numbering added:

Christ either [1] deceived mankind by conscious fraud,
or [2] He was Himself deluded and self-deceived,
or [3] He was Divine.
There is no getting out of this trilemma.
It is inexorable.

Justin Taylor

And so…Reformation or not—be it good or be it bad…it is.

No ignoring it or being mad at it or simply embracing it…
the bottom line is that we must be a people of the Gospel…
not dogma, not demigod, not ourselves and our culture but of the Gospel–
because when it’s all said and done and and nothing else is
left standing…the Word of God remains…

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,
2 Timothy 3:16

I can’t see St Franics!!!

“The deeds you do may be the only sermon some persons will hear today”
― Francis of Assisi


(the unruly bushes covering poor St Francis / Julie Cook / 2017)

I am the keeper of the shrubbery.

Add to that, I’m really too old for shrubbery.

Meaning I plant it…I prune it, I sheer it, I chop it…
and somedays, I’d just like to burn it to the ground.
Think 5 acres that need tending to….as I’m knocking on the door of 60.

Usually I do a complete maintenance overhaul of the yard each spring…
But this past spring saw me serving vigil with Dad…
Then following his death it was a matter of sorrow and picking up the pieces.
There wasn’t much energy for bushes.

I’m still picking up the pieces, still dealing with his dealings…and some days,
I just can’t do much but still just be sad…
Throw in losing Aunt Maaaathaa in July and well…the yard…
well it went to the wayside….to the way way way side….
kind of like my get up and go.

Too much sadness has a way of stealing that get up and go.

I usually trim the shrubbery twice a year…first in the spring—
then I like to tidy up things come fall, readying everything for the winter.
Think Martha Stewart sans all the helpers….

In order to put out some fresh pinestraw, the bushes need to be trimmed.
Did I mention those two pesky blown out discs from last year…
well, they’re still blown and they make getting up and going none too easy.

And oh, and did I mention another hurricane is coming?

The fresh pinestraw is to be delivered mid week, the hurricane is coming Sunday and Monday… a two day event of winds and rain, rain and rain…of which the rain
is most needed this time of year.

All of which meant today was the day in which the trimming and cutting
had to get done…
otherwise the bushes would take over the house and no amount of fresh pinestraw
could hide that little fact.

You know it’s bad when St Francis has been consumed by the bushes.

Throw in one electric hedger….

and St Francis is now free…..

Which reminds me, the feast day of St Francis was Wednesday, Oct 4th.

Most folks, those of the faith as well as those not, think kindly of Francis.
He loved the animals don’t you know.
And who doesn’t like someone who loves the animals?

Yet there was much more to Francis than a love of animals.

I’ve written about Francis before.

And since I’m now past exhausted and very sore from my pruning and freeing Francis
from the bushes, I’ll keep this short and sweet….

Francis wasn’t always about loving animals.

No, Francis wasn’t always the peaceful loving monk with the funky haircut
(tonsure) that we know and love today…

Rather Francis was all about loving the world.

He was a spoiled rich kid who loved to party.
He was what we might call a bit of a ’rounder’…
meaning a wild young man given to a wanton life of drinking too much,
chasing women too much and working way too little.

Sounds very familiar…much like a modern day millennial….

Yet Francis found this sort of life of his…lacking.
As in empty.

Despite being very popular, a hearty partier and a well dressed dandy,
Francis felt less than.

There was a heaviness to his being…one he just couldn’t understand.
An emptiness that no amount of parties, or money or friends could fill.

And then God literally called his name….

Isn’t that great…???!!!

That God can see into the wantoness of the worldly something actually redeeming…???!!
Something more than and something He wants!!!

Meaning…there is truly hope for us all!!!

“I have been all things unholy.
If God can work through me,
He can work through anyone.”

Francis of Assisi

I have swept away your offenses like a cloud,
your sins like the morning mist.
Return to me,
for I have redeemed you.”

Isaiah 44:22

everything will fade but the Truth

Beauty is a fading flower,
Truth is but a wizard’s tower,
Where a solemn death-bell tolls,
And a forest round it rolls.

Alfred Noyes


(the spent flowers of a fading season / Julie Cook / 2017)

Truth is not a thought, not a word, not a relationship between things, not a law.
Truth is a Person.
It is a Being which exceeds all beings and gives life to all.
If you seek truth with love and for the sake of love,
she will reveal the light of His face to you inasmuch as you are able
to bear it without being burned.

St. Nicholas of Serbia

“Lead me in your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all the day long.”

Psalm 25:5

a tisket a tasket, pears in a basket…or the tale of misplaced desire

“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not;
remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”

Epicurus


(a basket of wild “wood” pears / Julie Cook / 2017)

Late September, here in Georgia, is no more reminiscent of what Fall should be
than that of a palm tree currently living and thriving in Alaska.

It just isn’t happening.

Granted the weather gods are telling us that “it’s going to feel like Fall
come tomorrow, yet they preface that with,
but we are still well above the typical highs and lows this time of year….

Sigh….

Throw in the recent sightings of rabid foxes in our county,
the continued proliferation of the fire ants,
this being the most active time of year for yellow jackets, along with the increased chances of running into a copperhead or rattlesnake while working in the yard and most
sane folks would continue hunkering down indoors hoping that
October may be more of a welcoming month for outdoor adventure.

My husband, I know, would have told me “no, don’t do it.”
He would have said stay out of those woods, especially wearing those sandals,
not unless you want to be covered in ticks and bit by a snake.

But he wasn’t home to say those things so it was an out of sight out of mind sort
of moment.

I had to get outside and start the process of digging up and removing the dead,
dried up remnants of summer.
I had to cut back, dead head, and just rid my visible world of the reminders
of what was once vibrancy and color…all of which is now just hot dried up death.

Living on what was once mostly pasture land surrounded by woods, I usually haul my
“debris,” aka cut back dead things, to the woods….to a “compost” pile that never
composts like it should. My husband calls it a brush pile. I like to be cutting edge…
hence, a compost pile…

I also happen to know that there is a lone pear tree deep in those woods
that, this time of year, usually bears pears…albeit every other year—
but I was pretty certain this was the year.

Leaving the safety of my yellow wheelbarrow perched along the edge of the woods,
I gingerly picked my way into the woods….very conscious of the recent tale of
rabid foxes, active snakes and hungry ticks.
As my shorts, tank top and chaco sandals would be no match for the briars let alone
rabies, deadly venom or Lyme disease.
Did I mention the giant spiders?

Spiders who seem to think fall is the season to built profuse webs spanning the entire
expanse of woods so you can walk right into a web and have a full web and spider
stuck on your face.

The sun was cutting down through the trees, light glaring down upon the wood’s
floor, as I turned my head upward searching the overhead branches.
Squinting with my hand held over my eyes, I scanned the heavens
for the objects of my desire.

And there they were.

Giant heavy brown orbs hanging low amongst the leaves.
The tree was ladened with “wood” pears.

I’ve written about wood pears before.
They are wild pears that grow obviously, in the woods….
hence why I call them wood pears.
That is not a scientific name mind you, just an observational name.
They are as hard as rocks, never ripening like a normal pear would
and even the deer and squirrels won’t eat the wood pears.

I did read once that some folks will stew them down in an attempt to make jam,
but my husband has minced no words when quickly telling me not to bother
because he’s not about to eat something that even the wild animals find
disdain over.

Yet the pears beckoned.

I looked around on the wood’s thick debris covered floor, careful as I pushed aside accumulated leaves with my mostly exposed feet as I searched for any early
fallen pears.
The remnants of an old barbed wire fence sinisterly peeked out here and there as
I was careful to avoid adding tetanus to my list of wood worries.
A few pears had indeed fallen as the ants had also found those pears.

Finding a stick I attempted hitting at some of the lower branches,
knocking a few pears to the ground—being very careful that they didn’t hit me
on the head as they would probably have knocked me out as they are that hard.

I gathered about 10.
But the tree was loaded.

I knew I was going to have to find something else that was both long and tall in which
to knock down those low hanging pears on the branches closest to my reach, yet frustratingly out of reach for my stick.

Obviously not satisfied with a bucket of 10 or so pears,
I trapsed back to the house to gather a long rake.
I kept hearing the admonishment of my husband ringing in my head,
as I was wondering what I would do if a copperhead bit my foot while my cell phone
was back at the house.

But the tree was loaded, beckoning for me to get more.
Decorative purposes only, yet I wanted more pears.

And that’s the thing…

These pears serve absolutely no purpose other than being decorative.
And here I was willing to risk life and limb in order to gather them up.

Yet what of a quest of faith?

What lengths would we go to seek God?

Would we risk life or limb to seek Him who has called us by name?
Would we strategize and scrutinize what was needed in order to procure
Him as our own?

Perhaps it’s time we all rethink our desires….

“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord GOD,
“When I will send a famine on the land, Not a famine for bread or a thirst for water,
But rather for hearing the words of the LORD.

Amos 8:11

“ya gotta know it folks”

“We are our choices.”
Jean-Paul Sartre


(buckeye enjoying the sedum / Julie Cook / 2017)

I had the privilege of spending a large part of my career working alongside
quite a remarkable woman.
I won’t spend time reiterating that relationship or that of her tremendous impact
on not only me, our fellow colleagues or of the hundreds of students who came and
went from the desks of her classroom better upon leaving than when entering…
for I did that three years ago with a post dedicated to her life and legacy…

Please click the link for that original tribute:
https://cookiecrumbstoliveby.wordpress.com/2013/08/07/to-rome-and-jackie-with-love/

Yet during the past several months there has been one phrase my friend would
utter almost daily that continues to resonate within in my head…

“ya gotta know it folks,
“you just gotta know it”

This was a phrase my friend constantly reiterated to her students.
Over and over.
It was a mandate.

She taught geometry and would drill and drill the importance of simply having to
know the basics because without them, there was no going forward.
For there was no moving forward if you didn’t commit to memory
the various properties, postulates and theorems.

So with so much of the world now precariously perched atop an explosive powder keg…
I can’t help but hear those same words proclaimed by my friend as they are now
ringing within my head…
“ya gotta know it folks”
You’ve got to know that so much of what is happening to us and to those around us
is based on choices….
yours, mine, ours.

It is imperative to remember, nay we need to just know, that our choices,
be they good or be they poor,
effect more than ourselves at any particular given moment or time.

Our very lives today are the direct by-products of the result of choices
made by those who have gone before us…
as their,
those souls who forged through this life before us,
their choices continue effecting us to this day.

For we are living in a continuum of choice.

So the question posed to us this day…

Why do we wail and lament over the current circumstances of our times?

Why do we stand as if a deer in headlights over the repercussions from our
choices of violence that have only begotten further violence…

from the repercussions of our anger which has begotten further anger…

from our egos which have only begotten further arrogance…

from our selfish and self centered decisions which have only begotten
harm and pain for innocent bystanders…

from the thoughtless and rash proclamations which have only begotten
loss of life and mayhem for those we don’t even know…

Why do we blame everyone and everything other than ourselves for
we are all living in the throws of poor choices on a massive scale…

Choices…. ya gotta know it,
You’ve got to know that the choices you are making
are affecting not only you, but everyone else around you…
Ya just gotta know it….


Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you
to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.
But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ,
so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.
If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed,
for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.
If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind
of criminal, or even as a meddler.
However, if you suffer as a Christian,
do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.
For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household;
and if it begins with us,
what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And,

“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”

So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves
to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

1 Peter 4:12-19

fallen world

“If I looked into a mirror, and did not see my face,
I should have the sort of feeling which actually comes upon me,
when I look into this living busy world,
and see no reflexion of its Creator.”

John Henry Newman


(a ragged and worn Spicebush swallowtail butterfly / Julie Cook / 2017)

“The primary effects of original sin,
which are the deprivation of grace and the loss of eternal life,
are taken away by baptism or baptism of desire, but the other effects
are not.
These are the darkening of the intelligence,
the weakening of the will,
the casting of the emotions, into chaos,
and the corruption of human relationships”

Fr Benedict from the 2004 interview with John Bishop

In August, the waning days of summer are relentlessly hot and equally humid.
Here in the deep south there is no glimpse of that hopefulness known as Fall,
a change of season that just so happens to be on the very next page of
the calendar.

The butterflies, who may or may not be aware that changes are in store,
are at a near fevered pitch as they make their precarious mad dash
all around the yard in search of the those few brave flowers which
are still blooming despite most others having long dried and withered away.

The butterflies go about their task of nectar drinking right up to the moment
they simply fall to the ground and perish.
Their wings are now terribly frayed as the delicate colored powder
has all but worn away leaving their wings almost transparent…
yet the quest remains relentless.
They are driven by an innate need.

They are haggard and ragged and many are actually quite near death,
yet they continue on…
Much like the global Christian family during these waning days of
earth’s final glory.

Bruised and battered the ardent followers of Christ Jesus continue on,
ever forward, towards a final day…
sharing, preaching, seeking, offering…embracing the last word of Hope….

The times grow ever increasingly difficult to live and function in a fallen world
as the Faithful find themselves under constant attack.

Is it coincidental that in these dark days there should be a rise in the
attacks against professing Christians?

In the US the attacks are not the physical attacks seen taking place
elsewhere in the world, rather they are more legalistic and intellectual with a
heavy dose of shaming, smearing and shunning.

Yet oddly this global family, who profess to be Believers,
remains eerily silent.
Reminiscent of a day when those who shouted…
“you are one of them, you were with Him…”
With the panicked response being…
“you’re wrong, I don’t know what you’re talking
about, I don’t know them or Him…”

“Could you not remain, not stay awake, not even this one time when
I asked you, when I needed you…?”

The world is careening out of control…
While this season of change continues to descend.

A once great nation now loses her mind over a nearly once forgotten past,
refusing to turn around to recognize what the precarious future might be,
rather preferring to languish in what was.
As the world sits silently confused…waiting and watching…

Does the enemy care that a people now argue over changing the names of streets
while destroying the remnants of their their past?
No.
The enemy is glad and relishes in the stupid distractions.

Tearing one another apart, hating one another, cursing and defiling one’s
fellow man…
all the while the Enemy is cheering it on.

For our’s is a fallen world, now spinning wildly out of control.
Her leaders and politicians vainly try to bring order to the chaos.
Her people race to undo their years of forward motion…
While no one seems to comprehend that there is but only One who
can and who will bring an end to the madness— as He is the only one who
can usher in the much needed order…

Near is the great day of the LORD, Near and coming very quickly; Listen,
the day of the LORD! In it the warrior cries out bitterly.
A day of wrath is that day, A day of trouble and distress,
A day of destruction and desolation, A day of darkness and gloom,
A day of clouds and thick darkness,

Zephaniah 1:14-15