burdens and berries

“Just as Christian came up to the Cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders,
fell from off his back, and began to tumble down the hill,
and so it continued to do till it came to the mouth of the sepulchre.
There it fell in, and I saw it no more!”

John Bunyan

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(ripe blueberries / Julie Cook / 2016)

There’s something otherworldly about losing oneself in the task of picking blueberries.
I suspect it may be found elsewhere…
probably while picking other such things…
or for some, found while engaging in those other, mostly mindless, rhythmic sorts of activities like ironing, digging, mowing grass…
however….
for me, it is found in reaching and bending under burgeoning spindly branches, dangerously drooping, under their heavy load…
as I labor to lighten their said load.

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I stood out in the sweltering afternoon heat today, thankful for the ever slight periodic breeze as I labored breathing under the oppressive humid blanket of stagnant air.
Words uttered earlier during this seemingly endless day, in what now seems to be a surreal glitch in time, came racing back to the forefront of thought as I strained to reach for the most ripened berries.

‘May we not allow our mere mortal thoughts and words to diminish the sheer magnitude of Heaven’
I ruminated over that sentence as it was uttered….
just as I do now, much later, while rummaging through the heavy ladened branches.

‘…And as we are in shock over the suddenness of this premature loss, God was and is fully aware, ready and very much waiting as nothing is sudden nor premature to Him.’
Again, another nugget of thought pushes its way to the surface of consciousness.

Such burdensome thoughts churned through my brain as I worked my way up and under a particularly heavy bush.

Filling my bowl with the black and blue jewel like orbs, my thoughts were full of the mysteries of both life and death and of the fact that there is both a burden to living as well as a burden in its guaranteed passage precipitated by death.

All of which plays out on a tiny stage within the seasons of these very bushes I now pick.
For there is a time of expectation and longing coupled with fruitfulness and waning…

Not only are we mere mortals weighted down by the burdens of life’s ebbs and flows…
those found within our immediate realm and arm’s reach…
but we must also bear up under the burdens found in the wider and greater world around us.

This as the thoughts of mass shootings,
the far reaching ramifications of tomorrow’s voting in Great Britain…
and of our own impending fall elections…
all of which now weighs heavily on each of us,
whether we care to admit it or not…

As believers we know all about this life and death paradox…yet such knowledge never makes any of it easier nor less difficult to bear.
As that is the pivotal key part of it all—
as in…
we bear it.
We bear our own burdens found in the living of life…the ups and downs, the highs and lows…
Just as we do, subsequently so, in the bearing of the reality of death.

Death is something that is impartial to both the religious and the non religious schools of thought.
It discriminates not.
Besides birth, it is the only other certainty for each living being.
It comes.
Ready or not, it comes.

Whereas there may be the exception in the expediting of death, there is, on the other hand, absolutely no avoidance…as it will come like it or not.

And whereas some deaths are seen as melancholy, while weighted by a bittersweet relief for those who have suffered…
it is, in turn, a burden to be bourn by those who remain behind—those left to carry on in life’s burden of picking up pieces and moving forward…
Albeit now with an unquenching loneliness coupled with a gaping wound within the heart.

Carrying on and moving forward is much more burdensome, much more of a hinderance and much more difficult than that of death itself.

The living are left with the burden, the heaviness, the weight, the strain, the aching and an endless sea of tears…

And today, amongst the blueberries, I am struck by the irony of this all as I realize in which lies the rub of life…that being the burden of carrying death.

Yet we are told and told again that “in a little while, we shall hurt, suffer and cry…no more…”
Death has indeed been beaten and overcome—and it is through the cross that that overcoming and victory is to be found.

Yet in our earthly bound and gravity ladened thoughts and limitations, weighted by the heaviness of our aching and longing hearts, we simply must carry on while shouldering those burdens…
the burden found in both living and the burden found in death…
that of our own and that of those we love…

All of this burden and weightiness as we are reminded that there are no surprises to the God Omnipotent…
For there is no burden, no sorrow, no pain too big, too great nor too much…
for it is in Him, and Him alone, that our burdens of both living and dying are truly lifted …

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Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will no longer ask me anything.
John 16:20-23

Idioms and isms

The biggest human temptation is to settle for too little.
Thomas Merton

What is success? I think it is a mixture of having a flair for the thing that you are doing; knowing that it is not enough, that you have got to have hard work and a certain sense of purpose.

Margaret Thatcher

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(freshly fallen persimmons / Pine Mt, Georgia / Julie Cook / 2014)

The last principal I had the privilege of working under before my retirement was known for his use of idioms and metaphors. Those little innuendoes and expressions which seem to mean one thing on the surface while meaning something else entirely on the flip side.
Subtle and telling all rolled into one.
We called them his “isims”

These little expressions were not original to him by any means as they were more of the tried and true varieties, but the way he’d slide them into a conversation or presentation was certainly unique and not always understood nor duly appreciated as we were often left scratching our heads. He would often catch all off guard with his “isims” and expressions. I recall late one afternoon, during a particularly long and arduous meeting with his leadership team, he caught all in attendance off guard as all heads literally turned in unison in the direction of the window in search of some mysterious bluebird he had randomly referenced during a heated brow beating–as not all isims were clearly understood.

A particularly favorite expression, however, he often called upon when discussing the budget and of the ensuing cuts we’d be experiencing during the upcoming fiscal year, was the reference to the low hanging fruit which had already been thoroughly picked. Being a visual learner and calling forth the imagery of words, I would vividly picture the lower branches of a beautiful and heavy laden fruit tree, being all but empty and bare. The remaining tempting fruits (in this case money) would be perched way up high, in the very tip top branches of the crown of the tree just out of the reach of any and all clamoring for the fruit / monies.

Beautiful and beckoning fruit yet simply beyond the reach of stretching arms—this was his way of colorfully reminding us that we would have to resort to a bit of ingenuity and craftiness in order to not only pick but to actually reach those remaining choice fruits (funding). We’d need to get really creative when it came to the monies necessary to keep our programs primed for success as the obvious sources had already been spent and used up.

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And so it is— on this new morning to this new day, to this new week of this new month that we must be mindful that the low hanging fruit is most likely long gone, as it was easy to pick and took little to no effort—If we wish to go above and beyond, if we wish to really shine, if we desire to shoot past mediocre and actually reach for the stars, then we’re going to have to figure out how to reach up into the top of that tree and get that remaining choice fruit.

Those who succeed, especially in the midst of trying times, are those individuals who are willing to take risks, who are willing to get up out of their comfort zones getting creative and who, when it seems as if it’s totally impossible to reach any further, continue trying until they’ve finally put a hand around that last ripe succulent shiny piece of fruit.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.
1 Corinthians 9:24

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To prune and to be pruned

“All gardens, even the most native and naturalistic, benefit from the hand of an artful pruner. In this season where the garden is poised for the green flood of springtime, remember that our gardens are co-creations, shared with mother earth. And like any good mother, she expects you to tidy up your room. Now get clipping!”
Tom Spencer, Soul of the Garden

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(the sweet demure bloom of the Quince / Julie Cook / 2014)

To prune a garden, shrubbery or a life takes careful thought and consideration.
It is a task not for the faint at heart nor is it a task for the weary.
It is a task for those possessing patience and for those with an eye for what may be.
It is not a task for the quick minded, the “hurry up and be done” mind.
Rather, pruning, is a task which requires time and thought.

Oh it’s easy to whack and hack here and there— cutting away willy nilly for the pure sake of cutting.
Chop off this and cut away that—be gone overgrown and growth!
Take it all off, to the ground I say–be gone eyesore and out of control!
Take this and take that, you, the unsightly nuisance of my world

And the litany of no more goes on and on. . .
No, pruning is not a chore for those whose vision is simply of the here and now. . .
. . .For pruning is a deliberate act of the future.
It is accomplished with care, concern and hope.

Even the tools of choice must be considered carefully and artfully.
Does one choose the more controlled and deliberate instruments of cutting which offer the ability to chip away slowly with precision and direction?

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Or does one, whose main objective is merely to obliterate what is perceived to be the immediate problem—that of the surface only, choose something lethally quick yet destructive? A device which says to its victim “be gone and be done”—a device which takes away everything– leaving only the bare and barren behind with the fleeting backhanded thought that things will surely come back just as before?

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A loving Creator, who looks out upon the broken landscape of our lives, surveys much which needs pruning and weeding.
No small task.
Not a task for the faint hearted or weary indeed.
For He is neither.

The pruning and weeding of our lives is skillfully accomplished by the hand of One who loves tenderly and deeply, yet also fiercely. It is a task mastered by One who is not afraid to inflict the initial pain which is a result of the initial pruning because it is He who has the eye for what will be.
He is the One who sees the possibilities for perfect growth. That which was once overgrown and out of control can be and will be tamed, trained, thinned and trimmed all by the loving hands of this Master Gardener.

There is pain in the pruning by the hand of the Creator. Whereas the pain may be physical, it is also mystical. One which burns yet is tender and sweet. . .one which seems long lasting yet is gone in the blink of an eye. For no temporal pain caused by the pruning of affliction and suffering lasts an eternity.

It is the eye of the Master who sees that which He loves, drawing it ever closer to His hands.
He tenderly trims and cuts—He staves the oozing and bleeding, gently binding the wounds.
His vision reaches beyond time, for He sees to the moments of regrowth and reemergence, as the tender new shoots, slowly at first and ever so gently, begin to curve upward.

And as He looks upon His handiwork, this Master Gardener smiles, as that which was out of control and overgrown, is now neat and tidy. The weeds which choked out the tender shoots are now dug up and gone. The tangled mess of branches and sticks are now neatly cut back. Miraculously the once hidden tiny buds, receiving the full warmth of the sun, now joyously begin to reopen in all their splendor and gratitude.

All is well, all is well. . .all is now, finally well, with my soul.