What is Grace—I just keep having to ask

I have had to experience so much stupidity,
so many vices, so much error, so much nausea, disillusionment and sorrow,
just in order to become a child again and begin anew.
I had to experience despair, I had to sink to the greatest mental depths,
to thoughts of suicide, in order to experience grace.”

Hermann Hesse

“Extraordinary afflictions are not always the punishment of
extraordinary sins, but sometimes the trial of extraordinary graces.”

Matthew Henry


(a tiny bloom of a strawberry to be / Julie Cook /2015)

****Even though this is actually a post that I wrote 6 years ago,
the notion of Grace has never been far from my thoughts.
For you see, I am very much a product of Grace.

Over and over, or so it seems.

Merriam Webster defines grace as:
a:unmerited divine assistance given to humans for their regeneration or sanctification
b: a virtue coming from God
c: a state of sanctification enjoyed through divine assistance

And so here’s the thing about this “unmerited Divine assistance”-
it is a gift that is freely given.

It is neither earned nor bought.
And it pricks the most tender part of one’s soul.

It pricks the hard steely, yet false, façade and bravado we call self.

It breaks down the walls and the hardened heart while it fills
a sea of endless wounds.

A flood washes over us and we find ourselves terrified of letting
go and letting Grace transform us.

So why is it so hard to receive something so welcoming and healing?
The answer is beyond my soul—it is not something I can logically comprehend…
and maybe that’s the thing.

Grace is not logical.

Grace brings us to our knees…because we know we have not earned this
gift called Grace.
Quite the contrary.
We have done everything in our power to shun it and even repel it.
We bristle at such tender warmth while being too cold,
too hard, too lost to see the simple Truth.

For me it’s seems to have come in phases–
throughout this thing I call life.

Maybe it’s just a matter of me needing to be reminded…
reminded that maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t as accepting
of the initial gift as I needed to be….
For I still have kept a deep part of my wounds hidden.

Too ashamed, too hardened, too wounded to think
Grace would or could ever make me truly whole.

I’ve recently been reminded of this most tenderest of gifts.
It’s broken my heart…broken my façade..
and that’s just what Grace does…
it breaks us and then it heals us and then it makes us whole.

And thus we are each the better for Grace…

And so I want to thank my dearest of friends who recently offered me Grace…
Grace coupled by her own graciousness.
A gracious heart…reaching to a wounded heart.
It is a gift she has freely given me—
a freely given gift that was not nor ever has been deserved nor earned,
yet one that was freely and lovingly given…no strings, no penalties.
And it is within this most generous gift that I have been poignantly reminded me
that God is not yet finished with me and that He continues to want
me make me whole.
Love can and does heal a multiple of sin…

and now the post from 2015–

Do you know Grace?
Have you seen it out and about?
During your comings and your goings?
Have you ever been properly or formerly introduced?

I truly much doubt so…
As Grace is often quiet and demure.
It prefers to go rather unnoticed until it is called upon…
More shy than bold.
It is neither garish or loud.
Nor is it boisterous or showy.

What exactly is Grace you ask…

Grace is the second chance when all other chances have been used up.
Grace is the peace in the midst of the fierce raging storm.
Grace is acceptance when the world screams rejection.
Grace is forgiveness when the act has been intolerable.
Grace is hope when none had been previously offered.
Grace is mercy when judgement should be called for…
Grace is life when one actually deserves death…

It should be noted that Grace is not cheap.
For it cannot be bought nor sold.
It can not be bartered over or traded.
It cannot be taken or stolen…
For it is actually free—free to both you and me.

Yet this free Grace was once actually rather costly.
For that which is free today to both you and me, once cost God a great deal.

Think of this question…
Would you ever hand over your child…
Your only child, to be brutally tortured and murdered before your very eyes…
Just to be able to offer someone else their freedom?
I would think not.
Yet that is exactly what happened.

A price paid for the healing power of Grace.
A tremendous price that cost God so very much–
Yet it was a price He willingly paid out of a tremendous love for both you and me. . .
and it is because of that very Grace that I am here, writing you today…

“Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks’ wares.
The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin,
and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices.
Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury,
from which she showers blessings with generous hands,
without asking questions or fixing limits.
Grace without price; grace without cost!
The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid
in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing.
Since the cost was infinite, the possibilities of using and spending
it are infinite.
What would grace be if it were not cheap?…

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance,
baptism without church discipline,
Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession.
Cheap grace is grace without discipleship,
grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ,
living and incarnate.

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field;
for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has.
It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods.
It is the kingly rule of Christ,
for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble;
it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves
his nets and follows him.

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again,
the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow,
and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ.
It is costly because it costs a man his life,
and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.
It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner.
Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son:
“ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us.
Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear
a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us.
Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

transcendence

Suffering seems to belong to man’s transcendence:
it is one of those points in which man is in a certain sense
“destined” to go beyond himself,
and he is called to this in a mysterious way.

APOSTOLIC LETTER
SALVIFICI DOLORIS
OF THE SUPREME PONTIFF
JOHN PAUL II 1984


(Cades Cove / TN/ Julie Cook / 2015)

Maybe it’s the grey skies.
Maybe it’s the deluge of rain.
Maybe it’s age.
Maybe it’s not feeling 100%
Maybe it’s life’s circumstances.
Maybe it’s just our current times..

It seems as if I’ve had a weighted heaviness sitting on my spirit
for quite sometime now…and this “heaviness” seems
much like a festering splinter that is attempting
to work its way to the surface…

What I know about such a type of splinter is that it is
being worked to the surface by a body wanting to rid itself
of an infecting foreign entity.

So maybe this heaviness will be worked up and out as well.
Maybe, just maybe, the heaviness is only a symptom.
But a symptom of what is not exactly clear.

Recently I’ve found myself ruminating on idea of the
transcendence of time.

Vocabulary.com tells us that
transcendence comes from the Latin prefix trans-,
meaning “beyond,” and the word scandare, meaning “to climb.”
When you achieve transcendence, you have gone beyond ordinary limitations.
The word is often used to describe a spiritual or religious state,
or a condition of moving beyond physical needs and realities.
One way to achieve transcendence spiritually might be to fast
for a long time.
If you have trouble letting go of material needs,
then you will have a difficult time achieving transcendence.

As a Christian, I believe, that on this earth, we live in a
constant state of transcendence or perhaps that is transcending…
meaning we are constantly trying to climb beyond.

Gravity and time each keeps us bound to this earth, yet our spirits long
to go to a place beyond and unknown.
There is a longing in our beings for that which we cannot see
but yet we feel is calling us.

Over the years I’ve often written about my “godpoppa”–
He was an Episcopal priest.
Adopted like me.
And he bore the bulk of my teenage angst and
later my often tumultuous choices of life, both good and bad.

He died in December of 2016 only a few months prior to my dad’s death
and even that of my aunt’s.
Loss, let alone back to back losses, is/ are never easy.

And yet this one man’s influence on my life remains just as it
always has–both strong and robust.

It matters not that he is not here physically, because in my reality
he continues on in my soul–day in and day out.
His influence and teachings continue to positively impact all
that I do.

I was fortunate to have had such a person come into my life
when he did, but I do not believe it was by fate, chance or some
random encounter.
I know without a doubt God places folks within our life’s journeys
at just the right time and place.

I do think, however, we’d all agree that it is the physical that
we miss the most when we lose someone we love.
Not so much their words, not at first anyway.

We want to be able to see them, hear them, feel them.
Just as a child who has fallen and skinned a knee, we want to be held
and comforted in our sorrow.
And despite our knowledge of what the separation means when speaking
of death, we still want this now ‘lost’ person to hold us.

And yet their love, the love we shared, transcends both space and time.

What I gratefully remember is the man whose eyes smiled at me…
and yet those same smiling eyes could and would always penetrate past all
my thick protective walls.

He taught me that walls must be broken if true healing is to take place.
He taught me that I had to risk all things earthly in order to find my true
peace and well being.
He taught me that I had to be broken before I could be built back up.

And so I suppose that journey of brokenness to transcendence continues
as I write.
Hence the oft felt heaviness.

God continues to push, or maybe that should be pulls, us along…
as we put one hand over the other, rung after rung…climbing
ever upward and ever forward to that which we cannot see yet knows
waits for us just beyond…

And do you know what makes this journey all that more mystical and
otherworldly??

It is the single fact that along this journey, we might be fortunate
enough to find someone who we thought we’d previously lost forever.

And that’s when it suddenly dawns on us…this most beloved person had
never been lost at all…they were simply waiting for us…
despite neither of us realizing it at the time…
and it is in that single moment of reconnection that we
find our greatest blessing…

So here’s to transcendence, time, space and to the one constant that
always binds—that being love.
(thank you Patti)

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast;
it is not arrogant 5 or rude.
It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;
it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things,
endures all things.

Love never ends.
As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues,
they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8

beat down but not broken

“Never give up prayer, and should you find dryness and difficulty,
persevere in it for this very reason.
God often desires to see what love your soul has,
and love is not tried by ease and satisfaction.”

St. John of the Cross


(The pampas grass beat down following the deluge of TS Fred / Julie Cook /2021)


(The pampas grass beat down following the deluge of TS Fred / Julie Cook /2021)

Like many of my fellow Americans, I think it would only be fair of me
to acknowledge that I too am frustrated.

Frustrated, mad, sad, depressed, angry…and any other words that
describe this feeling of betrayal and disappointment.

I think many of us are feeling that we should just throw in the towel.
Throwing up our hands….up in the air proclaiming “WE QUIT!”

Yep. We. Quit.

As in we are mad as hell and do not care to take this nonsense any more!

Like many of you, I am so angry over the apparent loss of direction and
leadership that is supposed to be keeping a steady hand on this ship’s wheel…
With that ship being the good ol USA.

The latest frustration, coming on the heels of consecutive years of frustration,
is currently happening half a globe away.
Despite being so far away, it is something that is supposed to be under
the watchful eye of the leadership in our Nation’s capitol.

I read today that a former soldier stated that the Afghanistan debacle
is nothing but an out of control dumpster fire….
meaning that it is an out of control mess that has erupted into
uncontrollable flames.
A raging fire with no one there to work at putting out the flames.
Think instant combustion produced when multiple toxins collide.

It all could have been prevented if the right set of eyes were
keeping watch.

And like many of you, I am tired of the more elite folks among us…
those sions of business, technology, entertainment…
oligarchs and technocrats who hold control over so many of us…
controlling with the power wielded by their mega bucks…
Those movers and shakers who vie for the throne of rule.
I am tired of their attempts at controlling me and you and what we
can and cannot do all because they vie to play God.
They who think they know what is best for both you and I.

I am tired of elitist politicians who, long ago, lost their way.

I am tired of woke athletes who prefer lecturing fans rather
then playing ball.
Athletes who put politics above what they are being paid to do–play ball.
Athletes who belittle the fans who actually pay for their elitist lives
via tickets and merchandise support, fans who just want folks to play ball.

I am tired of being belittled and disparaged because I claim to
be a moralist, a conservative, a Christian…a person who loves this country.
I am tired of the ridicule simply because I chose not vote for Bill,
Barak, Hillary or Joe.
I am tired of being equated with ignorance, backwardness and
living out of step with the times only because I choose to have
a differing opinion.

And I dare say, I am not alone.

Yet this is all most likely due to our own ‘bad’.
Our sitting back a bit too long.
Our settling into complacency.
Our allowing ourselves to be swayed and swept up into the zeal
of the pigs wearing lipstick.
The distracting shimmering sparkles of false riches they’ve tried
offering us.

When the tropical storm Fred made its way northward, it brought with
it a torrent of rain.

I looked out from the back porch as a racing river of rain tore
its way downward through our yard.
A grassy yard that was now a churning angry lake.

Later in the day, once the rains had passed, I looked outside again.
That was when I saw how badly the pampas grass bushes
had been beaten down by the downpours.

Suddenly I felt very much like that pampas grass.
There was a time when I felt content…seemingly tall while
being able to sway to and fro with the wind.

Now I feel as if I’ve been reduced to the look of being trampled.

And just when I felt a sea of despair washing over me,
I stumbled on these two quotes of the day…
one by St. John of the Cross, the author of The
Dark Night of the Soul…and the other by
St. Augustine of Hippo—an early founding leader of
this thing I call my Christian Faith.

A faith that was honed, forged and tested by countless men and women
who bore much but have long gone before now…
Men and women who knew the trials of frustration, lies, wars,
torment, persecution…but men and women who, like the pampas grass,
may have been beaten down…yet what we know about them,
they were never ever broken…

Their bodies may have broken but their spirit and faith remained…
and it is why we are still here these 2000 some odd years later.

These may feel like beaten down days…
but what we as Believers must remember, we will never be broken.

“There are two loves, the love of God and the love of the world.
If the love of the world takes possession of you,
there is no way for the love of God to enter into you.
Let the love of the world take the second place,
and let the love of God dwell in you.
Let the better love take over.”

St. Augustine, p. 34
An Excerpt From
Augustine Day by Day

My heart shall become your heart (a re-post)

****I read a marvelous post yesterday over on Mel Wild’s site, In My Father’s House.
Here’s a link to the post:
https://melwild.wordpress.com/2021/06/29/compassion-more-than-all-our-doing/

Mel spoke about compassion—the compassion of Christ…
In his post, Mel examined the latest episode of The Chosen…the same episode
I had also discussed earlier in the week regarding Mary’s falling backwards…

As the storyline played out, we saw how Mary felt that Jesus would
never give her a second chance, not after she turned away from Him and that initial healing.
How could He?
He’d healed her once and here she’d turned away from that healing
and fell back into her old familiar and damaging ways.

But in that encounter between Savior and sinner, we see a deep
and unending compassion.

That touched a deep chord with me.

Falling and failing, over and over…
and yet we are only met, time and time again, with three simple words.
“I forgive you”

Here is a post I offered back in 2014.
7 years have passed…much has happened in my life
and in the life of our country in those past 7 years.

Yet the same need and desire remains….

“Give me all of you!!! I don’t want so much of your time,
so much of your talents and money, and so much of your work.
I want YOU!!! ALL OF YOU!!
I have not come to torment or frustrate the natural man or woman,
but to KILL IT! No half measures will do.
I don’t want to only prune a branch here and a branch there;
rather I want the whole tree out! Hand it over to me,
the whole outfit, all of your desires, all of your wants and wishes and dreams.
Turn them ALL over to me,
give yourself to me and I will make of you a new self—in my image.
Give me yourself and in exchange I will give you Myself.
My will, shall become your will.
My heart, shall become your heart.”

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity


(Orchid / Julie Cook / 2014)

Oh that this strong request of yours could only be answered with a swift response of “yes.”
That I could and would whole heartedly shout at the top of my lungs
YES!!
YES!
I will give you myself.
All of myself.
I shall hold nothing back.
I am yours.
Yes, take all of me.

Yet, this demand of yours, this most intimate demand from the purest essence of Love,
is meet by my hesitation, my doubts, my frozen in time inability to immediately scream “yes.”
I hesitate.
Why?
I stumble over the words.
I hold back.

You reassure me.
You make me a promise
You have proven the promise.
And yet, I balk.
The “I” must be broken
Why can’t I let go?
Why won’t the “I” let go?
Am I afraid of being broken?
Being broken by you would be so much better than remaining whole as the captive of “I”
Still I find the words unable to slip from my mouth.

You sense my hesitation.
You see my reluctance.
You take my hand.
Suddenly, within that single touch, there is a cosmic explosion which shakes the very foundation of my world.
At the very moment you touch me, there is something so overpowering, something so beautiful which takes places.
I have never felt this before.
A connection
A oneness
It’s as if the brokeness, which I never fully comprehended, is immediately made whole.

And just as quickly as our hands meet, I pull away.
I look away.
It’s all too much.
I can’t.
If you honestly knew, knew everything, you’d walk away
You should walk away.
Others are better than I.
Others have not done the things I have done.
The things I am ashamed for you to discover.
You really don’t want me.
You really don’t know me
You really don’t know. . .

But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not,
for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you.
Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you,
I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life.
Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east,
and from the west I will gather you.

(Isaiah 43:1-28)

The love song plays out,
You reveal everything I’ve hidden.
I am ashamed and want to turn away.
Yet you continue watching.
There is only acceptance in your eyes.
Pieces of a broken heart lay scattered on the floor.
You pick up the pieces, putting them back together,
handing me the final piece.

Again, You extend your hand.
You whisper my name.
“My heart shall become your heart” you whisper ever so gently–
“You will be mine and I will be yours” for all of eternity
Love lies bare and open between us.
“Behold, you are beautiful, my love, behold, you are beautiful!
(Song of Solomon 4:1)
I hear those words flowing from your heart.
A heart that has broken for me.
“Yes”
“Yes”
The word now slowly falling from my mouth.
Take me as I am and make me yours.
All that was is suddenly no more.
I will give you my heart…
I want nothing more than for my heart to now become your heart…
as the last piece of the puzzle is finally put back in place.

the year of the bull….crap

“What’s broken is broken—and I’d rather remember it as it was at its best
than mend it and see the broken places as long as I live…
I’m too old to believe in such sentimentalities as clean slates and starting all over.”

Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind


(the running of the bulls in Spain)

I have just about reached my breaking point with this year.
For all sorts of reasons…
And my heart is heavy and is now slightly broken if not totally broken.

But a story has come to my heart…
and I know it is from God…

Long ago there was a young boy who lived in a small Spanish village.
This young boy had come to live with his grandparents when he was but an infant.
This was due to the fact that his parents had both been killed during the civil war.
He’s known no other family but his grandparents.

His grandfather, who was a man larger than life—was a man who this young boy adored.
Each year this grandfather would participate in the local running of the bulls.
It was a long-standing tradition in his village.
It was a rite of passage and a rite of position within the hierarchy of the village.
The grandfather was legendary for his exploits.

Tourists have since begun flocking to participate, but it has been to the local men
who this tradition has truly mattered.

The young boy looked to his grandfather, the only man he’d known in his life
as a father, was the closest thing to a superhero.

Each year in the spring, the grandfather would join the other men of the village
in the annual running of the bulls.
The young boy’s grandmother would simply roll her eyes and dismiss her husband’s foolishness.
She would fuss and cuss her husband’s folly.
But to the man, it spoke of his position in his village.
And yet to the boy, it was not foolishness, it was pure exhilaration and wonderment.
He longed for the day that he could join his grandfather.

The grandfather would tell his grandson of the single strategy for staying one
step ahead of the massive wild animal…
“The bull, the toro,” he would tell his grandson, “runs with fear…
you, you must run with confidence and vision.”

After many more years, the day joyously arrived, the boy would finally be allowed to
join his grandfather and the elders of the village.
He was joining the man he loved, the man who had known many years of wear and tear.
The years of both life and living had taken their toll on the old man…
however, as with every year, he was undeterred, he would run.
And the boy, now a young man, would finally run with his grandfather.

The old man coached his grandson…
“if you hear the pounding hooves, listen for the vibrating sound…
listen with your heart…listen with your ears.
If you hear and feel the sound upon either your left or your right.
If you hear or feel the pounding in your left ear, lean right…if you hear or feel it
from the right, lean toward the left.
If you feel the hot breath on your back, you must run faster, then jump either left or right
because by this time, it matters not, it could be too late.”

When the day finally arrived and the old men and young men were all assembled,
the nervous bulls were brought toward the crowd.
The bulls were always local bulls–well known by the local villagers.
Many were tended by the local farmers.

This year, however, there was a new and different bull brought into the fold of the local animals.
He was unfamiliar and even the local bulls were cautious.
He had a different look in his eye.
There was no familiarity.
He was massive for his size.
His muscles involuntarily reflexed across his back.
He was pure black, almost blue in the light of day but the magic
within this bull was not pure…he was very nervous.

There was an empty coldness found in his eyes.
He had not been nurtured by this village.
He had not been tended to by the local farmers…

He was what was known as a rouge bull.

The city’s bell tower sounded, the signal for the participants to start running
as the animals were released.

In the teeming melee of hundreds of participants, the boy lost track of his grandfather.
The throng of runners moved in a unified mass until the bulls began to penetrate the
mass one by one.
The mass began to diverge.

Bodies peeled to the left while other bodies peeled to the right…
many bodies simply fell upon one another…falling into a heap upon the ancient cobblestone pavers
as tons of massive sinew, muscle and hooves rumbled mercifulness over the mass of lost humanity.

Yet the boy ran.
He was listening, hard.
He sensed.
Bodies would suddenly fall by his side with a sickening thud.
Yet he couldn’t stop to assess the damage, his grandfather had taught him to run.

Suddenly, the boy heard the hooves but he couldn’t determine…
were they left or were they right?

He was running as the sweat poured from his brow.
The salt stung his eyes.
He blinked and inadvertently wiped his face.
He dared not turn his head lest he trip.

Suddenly, there was the sensation of a strange hot steam wafting into his nostrils.
It was both suffocating as well as acridly putrid.

And that is when he felt the jolt.

A searing sharp pain pierced his left flank.
In what seemed to be a moment of slow motion, his chest seemed to simply deflate
as his body was lifted almost magically into the sky.

He was floating, effortlessly.
It seemed like a lifetime…floating, flying, no effort.

And yet the crash was heavy.
There was a shattering thump.
Searing pain flooded his consciousness.
A broken torso.
Disrespected by hundreds of thousands of pounds of hooves…
hooves disregarding what lay underfoot.

The boy lay upon the dirty but cool ancient pavers.
His body now a twisted and contorted mass–unnatural in position.
A dark black liquid pooled against his cheek.

At some point, he remembers not when, he was lifted upon a litter and carried
to the local hospital.

His grandfather, what of his grandfather, he implores with barely an
audible breath.

“Your grandfather is gone.” the medic replied stoicaly.
The toro pierced his heart, in one fell blow…
but it was not before the locals shot the bull to stop his rampage.
It is why you are still here, your grandfather diverted the bull at the
the very moment he attempted to gore you.

The moral of the tale…

Remember, the enemy runs with fear.
We, on the other hand, must run with confidence and vision.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,
let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.
And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,
fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.
For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame,
and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners,
so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12:1-3

Broken and in need

“If God can accomplish His purposes in this world through a broken heart,
then why not thank Him for breaking yours?”

Oswald Chambers


(The Spectatror)

So yesterday I wrote a bit of a confession.

I confessed that whereas I had proclaimed, just a few days prior, that there would
be absolutely no tree this year—suddenly on Sunday, there was a tree.

And thus Tricia, over on Freedom Through Empowerment, in her vast wisdom,
made a most profound observation…one that I just had to share.

The backstory as to why I had I opted on no tree was that
no one was coming home this year.
It would just be me and my husband and that would be a tremendous amount of work for
just the two of us.

Another reason as to why I was not going to put up a Christmas tree was
the fact that one of the tubs that housed my porcelain angels
and age-old nutcrackers fell off of a shelf back in June when I was moving
the older Christmas ornaments out of the deathly hot Georgia attic
to a spare closet.

In the midst of moving, I heard the crash and the ensuing breaking of both
angel and nutcracker alike…
and in turn, the breaking of a piece of my own personal keeping of Christmas.

I immediately told myself that I’d deal with it all in October as it was just more
then I could bear.
At the time—October was far enough away and just seemed like a good time to
think about putting the pieces back together.

Yet October came and went…came and went without any sort of attempted repair.
It was a burden I just wanted to ignore.

I was getting too old for the meticulously gluing back together of the pieces
of so many Christmases past—it was simply more then I what I felt up to doing.
It seems that everything I own or hold precious, in this little corner of life,
has been pieced back together and glued at some point or other.

Knowing that so many of the treasures of my past were now in a thousand shards
and pieces was frankly overwhelming…does everything have to break?!

I knew the work that it was going to take to laboriously sort then attempt to
glue all those broken angels and nutcrackers back together.
Tiny little arms, noses, bases, wings, ornamentation…
Many I had long before I married….going all the way back to high school.

Not expensive really, but just threads of what it is that has helped to make me.

They are the tangible pieces of those who I have loved and who are no longer here.
Those now broken bits being the physical links…the memories of gifts given,
of tiny “treasures”, gathered together.
Each one having a face and a specific memory behind it.

And so I finally dug in on Sunday.
I sorted and started gluing.
Following which, I put up and trimmed the tree…piecemeal angels and all.

Yet my friend Tricia made a very keen observation:

Beautiful tree Julie!
And really, the broken pieces glued together make it all the more glorious.
Kind of like our savior piecing our broken selves together to a more magnificent product.
Merry Christmas Julie!

And what a revelation!

Here I had what I thought to be a total disaster but in actuality, it was
a telling reminder.

It was a reminder, as well as a lesson, of my very own being.

More than me having come from the memories of trinkets given, past down over the years…
It was actually me being something and someone who was and is so much more.

It is the story of a Savior, who has come to put back together my very own brokenness.
Piecing me back together in order that I might be made whole once again.

Isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

A Son, a Savior, who is given as a gift for all mankind?
The bridge that spans the chasm of divide, uniting once again both God Creator
and man created.

He had to come in order to put together that which was broken…broken
that day in a garden so very long ago.
As the breaking has continued down through the ages of time with no hope of repair…
not until the gift of a baby found laying in a manager on a lonely night
in the outreaches of a desert town…it was the Savior who born man that was
the hope of repair.

And so I thanked Tricia for reminding me that now, each year when I go to
decorate a tree, not only will I think of the stories behind each ornament…
of those I have loved and lost…of those whos and wheres of how each ornament
came to my tree…but from now on I will look at a handful of glued together bisque angels
and I will see their glue marks, their faults, and fractures and I will be reminded
of the absolute reason as to why I have a tree in the first place…

I will stop and remember that God sent His only son into the world to repair
the brokenness of someone like me.
And what profound joy is found in that revelation.

So thank you Tricia…thank you for reminding me of what this tree and these ornaments are
really all about…and a very Merry Christmas to you as well my friend!!

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes,
lying in a manger.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising
God, and saying,
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Luke 2:11-14

Okay, you can’t see the glue right??

“Chronic remorse, as all the moralists are agreed, is a most
undesirable sentiment.
If you have behaved badly, repent, make what amends you can and
address yourself to the task of behaving better next time.
On no account brood over your wrongdoing.
Rolling in the muck is not the best way of getting clean.”

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World


(you can’t even tell, I don’t think / Julie Cook / 2019)

Well, guilt is a powerful tool.

At last, my moment of weakness arrived…so I must confess…
I have relented.

I didn’t lie to you.

My intention was certainly a BIG no to this year’s tree…
but…
there were those faces, those words, those insistent voices.

It was one of those things, as I started the day, that I had not even contemplated.
It never crossed my mind that I’d be doing “this” for the remainder of the day,
well past dark.

Yet I had gotten plenty of proddings from those both near and far…
And I suppose it was indeed a sense of something missing, as I’d peer over to an empty
spot that was the ghost space of Christmas trees past, that pushed me this morning.

I marched up to that dreaded closest and pulled out that dreaded tub of
broken angels and tiny little nutcrackers.
Old ornaments of all the Christmases past.

I pulled out my various glues and got comfortable at the kitchen table.

I sorted through survivors and the debris.

I next text my husband’s friend, unbeknownst to my husband, and asked if he could
come by sometime today in order to help my husband haul up ‘that tree’ from the
confines of the basement.

He giddily text back a triumphant “YES!”

Now I know I told you that I did manage to put up the outside lights.
That was an all-day affair on the coldest day of the year thus far.
All by myself.

The neighbors have always guilted me with that as well as they would go into
my husband’s business asking when were the lights going up.

What is it with people and the lights????

I had rationalized that if the outside of my world could appear as if Christmas
was alive and well,
no one would be the wiser to what was missing on the inside.

But yet, there were a few who were the wiser.
And yes…even I was wiser.

Be they here at home or now in their own home, I think it’s the comfort of knowing
“it’s” still there.
That home is still home.
And that all is right in the world of “home” is what truly matters.

“It” is always blessedly there whether we are, or they are, here or not…
It’s that sense that life is as it should be…carrying on as if everything is
forever a constant.

The constant of the happy warm memories of what was.
Forget the bad and painful.
Forget the negative or even the current.

It is to the warmth of fond memories that the heart of a child,
now locked deep inside an adult, runs to.

There is a sense of permanence, of rooting and of anchoring found in those types
of memories.
The true essence of how we came to be who we are…for good or for bad.
For it is of the kinder memories we cling to of how we came to be.
We seem to need them in order to be reminded of them.

And so today became the day that I gave up or rather gave in.

Today, the warmth of Christmas came home…
whether anyone is here to see it or not.

Christmas comes and they will always know.

But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,
Galatians 4:4

I’ll wait until October….


(Scrooge played by Alistair Sim and the Ghost of Christmas past play by Michael Dolan / 1951)

For all intense purposes…the calendar date reads December 6th—well past October.
But this was my lament and statement back in say, June…

“I’ll wait until October”

Let’s back up a tad…

At the end of spring and the start of summer, we had finally decided to “makeover” two
of the three bedrooms upstairs that were long in need of redoing.

The third room that was already up to speed, is our guest bedroom.
A room that we had lovingly dubbed “Martha’s room”
as it was where my aunt would stay when she’d come to visit.

Of the other two rooms–one had been out son’s room.
A room he vacated, for all intent purposes, in say…2007…upon high school
graduation.

He occasionally returned throughout college for a few extended stints
before heading off to a fraternity house and later various apartments…and blessedly
basically forever upon graduation.

He is now married for almost 6 years, with two kids…
I think we were safe and in the clear for changing out the room.

However, that’s not to say that the door doesn’t always remain open should a need ever arise…
but it’s just that the content is now drastically and delightfully altered
as the room has been brought up to speed.

The other room had been pretty much a catch-all for things such as a
weight machine (something our son never seemed to think much of in order
to take it with him when he finally moved out–sigh),
along with boxes and boxes of files that had been dad’s world, of which I inherited
when he was no longer able to care for himself.

So my husband and I discarded, sorted, thrashed, regrouped all the stuff that was to
stay and all the stuff that was to go, turning that last room into a lovely home office of sorts.

However, it now irks my husband to no end that I went to a great deal of trouble,
not to mention expense, decorating and arranging with some wonderful old pieces
I’d found, just to simply continue using the kitchen table for my “workspace.”

He, on the other hand, uses the office religiously.

When he retired, he was accustomed to having had an office.
A place where he kept his files, bills, notices and where he sat down
to pay bills and do paperwork.

On the other hand, as a teacher, I was used to simply grabbing space at a clean table.
Hence, my affinity for the kitchen table.
I also like the wall of windows in the kitchen which provides ample light.
Much like my classroom use to provide.

I did have an “office” but “the office” consisted of a computer table with the bulk of the
room being, more or less, storage space and where we housed the kiln.
I, therefore, preferred the open space of the classroom.

For a while, following dad’s slow demise, my home “workspace” was moved to the dining room
table as the papers and boxes were growing exponentially and the kitchen was simply not the place.
Following dad’s death and the gutting of the two rooms, I moved dad and my
“stuff” to the new office.

Since the closets in those two made-over rooms were now basically gutted,
I thought I would store a few of my more cherished and ancient family Christmas ornament
boxes in the two vacated closets.

“Get them out of the attic,” I told myself.
The summer heat, in a house’s attic in Georgia, is deathly.
The winter is equally as harsh.
Not the place to store things of “treasure” but sometimes
that’s all one has.

The boxes contained much loved and long passed down ornaments.
With each ornament telling a story.

One box contained the porcelain Christmas angels and tiny nutcrackers I’d been
collecting since I was in high school.
Gifts along with those offered by long-gone family members.
Boxes that always quickened my heart each Christmas when I brought
them out to the tree.

I thought the move out of the attic would help their survival.

HA!

Do we call that the best-laid plans…????

Almost as soon as I moved the boxes to the closet, I placed one on a shelf
in order to come back when I’d next move in a few more, allowing for me to
rearrange my sorting.

Suddenly, there was a loud crash.

UGGGGHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!

Before even looking, I knew.

Sure enough, the porcelain angel box was on its side as pieces of angels were
strewn across a closet floor.

I opted to play Scarlett–for tomorrow would be another day…


(Scarlett following Rhett’s departure / Gone With The Wind / 1939)

I uprighted the box, scooped up all the pieces, dumping them back in the box,
all willy nilly, and closed the top…
I stopped long enough to announce aloud to no one but myself,
I’ll worry about this little disaster in October.

The small disaster was more than I could deal with or bear that day.
Or seemingly any day thereafter.
I dreaded what I would find and I dreaded the meticulous gluing that would ensue.

Well as time past, I kept reminding myself about October.

July came and went.
August came and went.
September came and went.
October…came and went.
November came and went.
December is here.

I have decided there will be no tree this year.
The first treeless Christmas in 60 years of my life.

Nor is the manger scene box unpacked or moved from the closet.

It’s not so much over the broken bits and pieces of my Christmases past but
really because the kids won’t be able to come home before
Christmas comes and goes as both work and other demands of time will keep them away.

The plan is that we will go up on Christmas Eve to spend the night.
And I’ll go up in about a week to get the kids and help out at home.

The tree is a pain to haul up from the basement–it’s large and cumbersome.
The decorating requires various ladders.
Not to mention the hauling of the ornament boxes down from upstairs.

The fluffing of the tree, the sorting, and unpacking of the ornaments—
only to turn around and pack it all right back up.

A friend of my husband’s had offered to help him haul up the tree but I told him
not to worry.

“I don’t think we’ll put up the tree this year.”
“But why?” he implored.
“Because no one will be coming home, it’ll be just us.”
“Well, the two of you can enjoy it”
“Well, it’s an awful lot of work for just two people to stare at.”

Maybe it’s the melancholy of the season.
Maybe it’s the fact that the house will be quiet.
Maybe it’s the fact that we’re both a little older.
Maybe it’s the lunacy griping our Nation.
The country is being railroaded and no one seems able to stop the madness.
Maybe I’m simply tired.

The jury is still out, but I’m pretty certain there will be no tree…

One day, some cold rainy day, I’ll pull out that box of
debris and start gluing things back together…

But for now…I did at least manage to get the lights and decorations up outside…
so no one passing by the house is any the wiser that on the inside,
only the stockings are hung by the chimney with care.

Oh and by the way, my son stole the stockings I had made for his little crew…
they’ve been spirited off to Atlanta only to hang on the same mantle
my stocking once hung…
So the stockings I’ve hung are quite the hodgepodge.

Hummmmm…
maybe Ebenezer was right, “wouldn’t it be better if I just
went home to bed?”


(Alistair Sim

Ebenezer : [to the Spirit of Christmas Yet To Come]
I am standing in the presence of the Spirit of Christmas Yet To Come?
And you’re going to show me the shadows of things that have not yet happened but will happen?
Spirit of the Future, I fear you more than any spectre I have met tonight! But even in my fear,
I must say that I am too old! I cannot change! I cannot! It’s not that I’m inpenitent,
it’s just… Wouldn’t it be better if I just went home to bed?

“Our freedom always has this marvelous power to make what is taken from us—by life,
events, or other people—into something offered. Externally there is no visible difference,
but internally everything is transfigured: fate into free choice, constraint into love,
loss into fruitfulness. Human freedom is of absolutely unheard-of greatness.
It does not confer the power to change everything,
but it does empower us to give a meaning to everything, even meaningless things;
and that is much better. We are not always masters of the unfolding of our lives,
but we can always be masters of the meaning we give them.
Our freedom can transform any event in our lives into an expression of love,
abandonment, trust, hope, and offering.”

Fr. Jacques Philippe, p. 58
An Excerpt From
Interior Freedom

saints and sinners

Lives of the saints are valuable not only for the virtue they reveal but also
for the less admirable qualities that also appear.
Holiness is a gift of God to us as human beings.
Life is a process.
We respond to God’s gift, but sometimes with a lot of zigzagging.
If Cyril had been more patient and diplomatic,
the Nestorian church might not have risen and maintained power so long.
But even saints must grow out of immaturity, narrowness, and selfishness.
It is because they—and we—do grow, that we are truly saints,
persons who live the life of God.

(Franciscan Media)


(icon of St Cyril of Alexandria)

I will readily admit that there are many folks out there who ardently dismiss the notion
of saints, sainthood and what all that sort of thinking entails…
With the dismissal of thought coming from both sides of the aisle…the aisle of
Believers and non-believers alike.

Non-believers just love hitting up Believers with arguments around the whole concept of
saints and sainthood…

As in who merits being let into the special club of sainthood and who doesn’t?
Who sets the determining standards and factors?
Who gets the right to say yay or nay?
Can you de-saint someone if you determine they were more screwup than up and up?
With the kicker remark being…” and so, these saints of yours, are they suppose to have
some sort of superpowers which makes them saint worthy?”

And if anyone really studies much history then the actions of many of these so-called
“saints” comes flying into question.
As in…was this person more rouge or saint or both?

We go through life hearing phrases about living a saintly or Godly life.
We hear stories of those selfless good deeds matched often with some sort of
other-worldly gifts.

There are even various denominations which are more prone to recognize the lives of saints…
those being mainly both the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox faiths…along with
Episcopalians, Lutherans, and Anglicans…
Denominations that have long been looked at sideways for this saint fascination of theirs.

Yet there are many a Protestant who will refer to Peter and Paul,
as well as a handful of others, as “Saints”

And remember… many a denomination recognizes All Saints Day on the Christian calendar.

But this isn’t a post about whether or not Saints are real or not.
Meaning the person may have been real, but should they be classified in a particular
category of Godliness?

It’s not a post about miracles or the lack thereof.
It’s not a post about virtue or perfection.
And it’s not a post about what is or what isn’t the proper Chrisitan doctrine regarding
this whole to be or not to be saint business.

Far from it.

I’ll be the first to admit that there are well known “saints” and not so well known saints.
There are saints who are recognized by both the Latin West (think Catholic) and Eastern Orthodox
faiths… while some saints are not recognized hardly at all.

There are even saints which all denominations will claim while others are claimed by
a mere handful.

All of which can make this saint business even more confusing for a Believer…and let’s
not even go over to the nonbelieving side as there is simply not enough time nor energy…

Suffice it in knowing that things can be fuzzy at best when trying to figure out
who is whom and what is what.

Yesterday I caught a posting on “the saint of the day” by the Felician Sisters CSSF blog
that gave me considerable pause to ponder…
https://cssfinternational.wordpress.com

Being a lover of history and always fascinated by those who blazed the various trails of
long ago…
those scoundrels, scallywags, and glorified who each fought the good fight while
affording all of us more or less today the freedom to worship, or not, as we please…
I was most interested in learning about this early 4th century Patriarch of Alexandria
who was later known as “Saint and Doctor of the Chruch.”

However, we should note that it wasn’t until many centuries later that Cyril actually
made the cut in both the Latin West and Eastern branches of faith…
becoming recognized by the Chruch as a saint and Doctor of the faith in 1882.

I will confess that St Cyril of Alexandria, despite his deep roots in the early Church,
was not top on my radar.

And so it wasn’t so much his teachings, his biography, his fight against heresy or even his
rush to those knee-jerk responses to that said heresy of which has left some of his actions
somewhat questionable–actions and teachings best sorted out by historians…
rather it was what the Franciscan media noted in regard to Cyril and that of his slightly
off-putting and less than saintly ways, that made the greatest impression on my reading
of the day.

The idea that both Holiness is a gift from God and that life is a process.
And that it is our response to the gift, of which comes with a great deal of “zig-zagging,”
is what this is all really about.

Hindsight, time and clarity so often provides those of us more modern-day folks
with a better vision as to what once was…
But with that hindsight, time and clarity comes a certain level of smugness and arrogance.
A smugness and arrogance that falsely allows us to think we are better than,
smarter than and wiser than those who trod before us…and in that lies a danger.

A danger in thinking that we need no longer grow.
A false sense that we are above our own immaturity and flaws.
And in turn, we become narrow in our thinking.

May Cryil, along with the host of sinners now saints,
those who have all gone before us having seen the glory of both mercy and grace,
continue to teach us that God can take that which seems hopeless, broken and
lost and turn it all around…
as in a sinner to a saint…

And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders
fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense,
which are the prayers of the saints.

Revelation 5:8

https://www.franciscanmedia.org/saint-cyril-of-alexandria/

my whole world could shatter


(Autumn / Julie Cook / 2018)

I had another post written for today but there was a nagging urge to put it on hold.
I kept trying to push through the writing, trying hard to ignore the unseen force
moving me in a different direction, but I couldn’t push it down,
keeping it from consuming my thoughts.
So somewhat reluctantly, I put the post on hold and started writing what seemed to be
pouring from my heart and thoughts.

Groovy Kind Of Love
It was a song that I first remembered hearing back in 1988…
although it had first been a hit in 1965.

The lyrics were written by Toni Wine and Carole Bayer Sager, both teens at the time.
It was first recorded by Diane and Annita then later by The Mindbenders.
Eventually, it was covered by The Turtles and finally Phil Collins

And it was Phil Collins’ rendition that left the most lasting impression on my heart.

My mom had died in 1986 at the ripe ol age of 53.
It was lung cancer…
and whether it was just odd or rather just an odd blessing, the entire ordeal only lasted
from July 25th until September 6th.
However, I suspect Mother had been sick much longer than any of us had realized.

In hindsight, I was very much crushed and even broken.
I was 26.
I had been teaching for 3 years plus I had been married for 3 years.
And if the truth be told, it was not the smoothest sailing marriage.
And now I suddenly found myself having to care for my distraught and very inept father
who lived in another city over an hour away.

My plate was now overtly full while my heart was undeniably broken.
And I was very much alone.

When I first heard Phil Collins sing the song in 1988–with that near hypnotic rhythmic
tempatic resonance, I would always catch myself singing softly along.
And every time I got to the line, “my whole world could shatter…”
the words would catch in my throat like a choking rock…
for despite it now having been two years since my mom had died,
my world was still shattered…yet no one knew it but me…
and even I didn’t actually realize how broken I truly was.

The song reminded me of my loss.

My world was shattered…

But…
I knew that I still loved my mom and she, despite being gone, still loved me.
Although it was now in a different dimension with a love that transcended time.
A thing I suppose I now felt was, as the song said, a groovy kind of love.

And so all these many years later…that song has come flooding once again to mind.
Not because I’ve recently heard it playing but rather because the Spirit brings
it to my mind.

So now as I look down upon this tiny granddaughter… I am reminded that
yes, a world could shatter, just as a rock still catches in my throat…
but there will always be that groovy kind of love that transcends time…

When I’m feeling blue, all I have to do
Is take a look at you, then I’m not so blue
When you’re close to me, I can feel your heart beat
I can hear you breathing near my ear
Wouldn’t you agree, baby you and me got a groovy kind of love

Anytime you want to you can turn me onto
Anything you want to, anytime at all
When I kiss your lips, ooh I start to shiver
Can’t control the quivering inside
Wouldn’t you agree, baby you and me got a groovy kind of love, oh

When I’m feeling blue, all I have to do
Is take a look at you, then I’m not so blue
When I’m in your arms, nothing seems to matter
My whole world could shatter, I don’t care
Wouldn’t you agree, baby you and me got a groovy kind of love
We got a groovy kind of love
We got a groovy kind of love, oh
We got a groovy kind of love