lessons from a difficult sister

Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young,
for myself, I have chosen your altars,
my King and my God.

Psalm 84:3


(Léonie Martin, known as Sister Françoise-Thérèse)

Since I was adopted as a baby I’ve never known whether I had a sister or not.
I did not have a sister in my adoptive family.
However, I do know what it means to have been a bit of a difficult child.

I was rather headstrong growing up.

I wouldn’t say I was difficult, but that label might need to be addressed by my mom and dad,
and since neither of them is here to add to or refute such a claim, we’ll just keep it as headstrong.

I was often willful, somewhat defiant and had a mind of my own.

I knew what I liked and what I wanted despite those wants and ideas not always being the
wisest of thoughts.

After reading the following story about a rather obscure woman and nun,
I found that I could actually relate to her story.

She is what I call a shadow dweller—a person who lives in the shadows of a more prominent sibling.
A girl who wrestled with her own standing in life and what hand she had been dealt.

That’s the thing…isn’t life just merely a matter of what we make of it…
or on the other hand, it’s what Life makes of us?

Either of which makes us, in turn, who we will become

Will we choose to rise above or will we simply succumb?

Will we allow all of the negative to swallow us whole or will we learn to stand up and out
of the negative, rising up to our true potential?

We can either give in and up or we can purposely and willfully fight our demons in order
to be who we are truly called to be.

And who we are called to be might just be a person who is content living in the shadow
of a more famous sibling…

“Léonie Martin is arguably the least known and admired member of her entire family,
but I doubt she minds.
She’s used to being in that position.”

I’ve written often about one of her sisters.
A now well know sister, who despite having lived a very short life, dying from TB at the age of 24,
made a tremendous impact on the world.

Her parents were just recently recognized by the Pope as exceptional.

All of her sisters sought the vocation of serving Christ.

One sister, however, had a more difficult path to walk than that of her siblings.

And the thing is that once she found her way…Grace prevailed over a lifetime of trial,
willfulness, and difficulty.

Here is the link to Léonie Martin’s story…the sister of The Little Flower.

What We Can Learn From the Forgotten Sister of St. Thérèse of Lisieux

we’ve got our work cut out for us…

“In the name of God, stop a moment,
cease your work, look around you.”

Leo Tolstoy


(this little pile of “work” has only multiplied since two weeks ago with a new highend
formula due to the reflux and more meds / Julie Cook / 2018)

When we think of work, we think of, well…work.
That whole 9 to 5, 8 to 4, 7 to 11, 11 to 7 or the on 12 off 12 gig…
As in work.
The daily grind…
A profession…
A career…
A calling…
The thing we do to pay the bills, afford some stuff, have a life…
The proverbial climbing of the ladder…
The thing we do until we either retire or die…or whichever comes first…

The end to our end really…

However, according to Thomas á Kempis,
from his best selling 1418 book The Imitation of Christ
a book that according to Christian History, Sir Thomas More,
England’s famous lord chancellor under Henry VIII
(and subject of the film A Man for All Seasons)
said it was one of the three books everybody ought to own.
Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits,
read a chapter a day from it and regularly gave away copies as gifts.
Methodist founder John Wesley said it was the best summary of the Christian life
he had ever read…

Thomas á Kempis tells us that:
“No one who follows Me will ever walk in darkness (Jn 8:12).
These words of our Lord counsel all to walk in His footsteps.
If you want to see clearly and avoid blindness of heart,
it is His virtues you must imitate. Make it your aim to meditate on the life of Jesus Christ.
Christ’s teachings surpasses that of all the Saints.
But to find this spiritual nourishment you must seek to have the Spirit of Christ.
It is because we lack this Spirit that so often we listen to the Gospel without really hearing it.
Those who fully understand Christ’s words must labor to make their lives conform to His.”

Thomas á Kempis, p.15
An Excerpt From
The Imitation of Christ

And so we are reminded, schooled, scolded, informed…
that in order to have the Spirit of Christ within us, there is much work on our parts to be done.
A sort of work that should be our primary life’s focus rather than that of time clocks,
paychecks, ladders, and promotions…

And whereas that’s all great and grand… as it does help pay the bills…
in the end, when it is all said and done, “those who fully understand Christ’s words
labor to make their lives conform to his…”

“We must imitate Christ’s life and his ways if we are to be truly enlightened
and set free from the darkness of our own hearts.
Let it be the most important thing we do, then, to reflect on the life of Jesus Christ.”

Thomas á Kempis

What separates Christians from the rest of the pack…

“Life [had] replaced logic.”
Fyodor Dostoyevsky


(a soon to bloom peony / Julie Cook /2018)

The image of the bloom used in today’s post is that of a peony.
I call this peony my resurrection plant because I bought it two summers ago, in July.
It was a very expensive plant.
Yet anyone living in the deep South knows you don’t sink a lot of money into a
plant, dig a hole in the hot dry ground, plop in said expensive plant and expect it to live…
especially in July and especially in a summer experiencing a full-blown drought.

I wrote about this plant last spring and the reason as to why I call it a resurrection plant—
of which you can read from the following link…
but that is not the true gist of today’s post

https://cookiecrumbstoliveby.wordpress.com/2017/04/11/resurrections/

Today’s post is a reminder of what the Resurrection is all about…
and if you are a Chrisitan, it’s a reminder of what that exactly means to you.

The reminder rests in the fact that we’ve just celebrated Easter…

Easter being holiest celebration, besides the birth of Christ, within the Christian Chruch…
Some would argue that it is the sole holiest celebration…but I suppose we can’t have a
resurrection of our Savior without his immaculate conception and birth…
all of which supersedes the ability of man’s small mind to grasp and process…
hence so much of the consternation in mankind since that very first miraculous morning.

After watching the latest edition of Anglican Unscripted featuring our favorite
rouge Anglican Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Gavin Ashenden, I’ve come to realize that
there are many in our fold who really don’t know what they think about
the Ressurection…
And what is even more startling, many members of the clergy don’t quite
know what to make of it either…

In a nutshell, it is the what which separates Christianity from every other religion.

How in the world can you offer anyone, let alone speak of such things as
Hope, Salvation, Grace, if you can’t find the words to say that you believe, without
a doubt, in the Ressurection of Jesus?

You can’t.

Because the Resurrection is the defining key to our faith.
It is the impetus to faith…the belief in that which is a mystery, undefinable,
and greater than oneself.

Without the Resurrection,
Christianity is nothing… nor is it any different from a myriad of other belief systems.

C.S. Lewis explained this very point in 1950

I heard a man say,
“The importance of the Resurrection is that it gives evidence of survival,
evidence that the human personality survives death.”
On that view what happened to Christ would be what had always happened to all men,
the difference being that in Christ’s ease we were privileged to see it happening.
This is certainly not what the earliest Christian writers thought.
Something perfectly new in the history of the Universe had happened.
Christ had defeated death.
The door which had always been locked had for the very first time been forced open.
This is something quite distinct from mere ghost-survival.
I don’t mean that they disbelieved in ghost-survival.
On the contrary, they believed in it so firmly that, on more than one occasion,
Christ had had to assure them that He was not a ghost.
The point is that while believing in survival they yet regarded the Resurrection
as something totally different and new.
The Resurrection narratives are not a picture of survival after death;
they record how a totally new mode of being has arisen in the universe.
Something new had appeared in the universe:
as new as the first coming of organic life.
This Man, after death, does not get divided into “ghost” and “corpse”.
A new mode of being has arisen.
That is the story.
What are we going to make of it?
The question is, I suppose,
whether any hypothesis covers the facts so well as the Christian hypothesis.
That hypothesis is that God has come down into the created universe,
down to manhood—and come up again, pulling it up with Him.
The alternative hypothesis is not legend, nor exaggeration, nor the apparitions of a ghost.
It is either lunacy or lies.
Unless one can take the second alternative (and I can’t) one turns to the Christian theory.

C.S. Lewis,
“What Are We to Make of Jesus Christ?” (1950)

So if you claim to be a Chrisitan and yet find yourself unable to acknowledge the mystery
and the might behind the resurrection of Jesus Christ, you need to rethink your allegiance.
And if you are a member of the clergy and find the words and concept uncomfortable,
you need a new profession because the calling, was not for you….

Just when you thought you had it all figured out…

Understanding is the reward of faith. Therefore, seek not to understand that you may believe, but believe that you may understand.”
Augustine of Hippo

“Life is like arriving late for a movie, having to figure out what was going on without bothering everybody with a lot of questions, and then being unexpectedly called away before you find out how it ends”
Joseph Campbell

DSCN1383
(Tyreaware minions, Kilcolgan, County Galway, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

Just when you thought you had your life all figured out…
Knowing who you were, where you were going and what you wanted out of life…
WHHHHAAAAMMMAM
Upside the head it hits you.
It’s like out of no where…the inevitable curve ball comes flying your way, skewing all that nice neat order you had worked so hard setting up.

You were cruising along, having jumped through all the necessary good life hoops…
You’d gotten everything, those proverbial stars of yours, aligned and you were set…
Good to go.
Life was good…
You were happy…
Your little corner of the world was rocking along quite nicely.
You weren’t really worried about anything…
You had The education, The job, The car, The clothes, The spouse, The kids, The friends, The house, The pets, The vacations …

You even had your “religious” time all neatly organized and in a pretty little box set up on the self–you’d take it down, dusting it off, those days you weren’t playing golf, or having to watch the kids, or when you had to take the family to church because of Easter…

Yep…
Yessiree, life seemed golden.

But one day, a day like any other day, there was a tilt in the axis.
Neatness and perfection shifted.
Trouble was brewing and you…well you were like a deer in headlights.
Standing there with that kind of dumb “what just happened here” look all over your face.

It caught you by surprise.
It rocked your whole world…
Everything you thought you knew and believed…
Well it was now standing upside down.
All because of what you thought you knew and believed wasn’t really the real deal.

Either you had read the words, listened to the words, were told the words, witnessed the words…oh it doesn’t really matter how, because the words, the thought, the idea, the notion…it all hit you…like a ton of bricks…and now that is all that matters.

“We pursue God because, and only because, He has first put the urge within us that spurs us to the pursuit.”
(A.W.Tozer)

The words now reverberate in your entire being.

…He first put the urge within us…”

It’s like an alarm clock just went off inside your head.
The urge, the gnawing yearning, put there at your very conception, finally pushed its way forward and you finally took notice.

It’s about time…

And today, everything is now different.
Neat no longer cuts it.
Conviction has come calling my friend,
And you, thankfully, will never be the same.

That thin veil that once hung over your tidy little world, gently covering the real work at hand, has been lifted and for the first time in your lifetime…you can actually see…clearly, thankfully, beautifully see…
and finally you truly know what exactly it is that you are to be about…

For God has come calling my friend…and joyfully, life, your life, and the lives of those you touch, will never be the same…

“Out of the heavens He let you hear His voice to discipline you; and on earth He let you see His great fire, and you heard His words from the midst of the fire.
Deuteronomy 4:36

Show me your Glory

“I caught a glimpse of Your splendor
In the corner of my eye
The most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen
And it was like a flash of lightning
Reflected off the sky
And I know I’ll never be the same”

Lyrics by Third Day
Show Me Your Glory

“The problem of reconciling human suffering with the existence of a God who loves, is only insoluble so long as we attach a trivial meaning to the word “love”, and look on things as if man were the centre of them. Man is not the centre. God does not exist for the sake of man. Man does not exist for his own sake. “Thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” We were made not primarily that we may love God (though we were made for that too) but that God may love us, that we may become objects in which the divine love may rest “well pleased”.”
― C.S. Lewis

DSC00323
(rain droplets dangle from a blue spruce / Julie Cook / 2015)

Isn’t that what we all want. . .
We want to see and then we want to see more.
We want God to show Himself, to prove Himself, to, in turn, prove ourselves—
our existence. . .
To prove that’s it’s all been worth it—that we were right to believe all along.
We want Him to make things right, stop the badness, set the world right. . .
We want to see.
We want to know.

One day, we catch a glimpse, a momentary shining light.
We feel something.
We hear something.
We actually see something as if a dream had come to life.
A wave washes over us.
We are filled with something we can’t explain.
A peace, such as we’ve never known, engulfs us.
Time stands still.
Certainly, everything, no matter what is within this single moment of time, okay.
Instantly we suddenly know, we are certain, it is all real.
He is real.

And just as suddenly, with the mere blink of the eye, the moment passes.
We desperately try to conjure back the moment, holding on to the rapidly fading wonderment.
However our senses are back.
Sound has returned.
The noises are blaring.
The lighting is now back to normal.
Movement, all around us, is passing rapidly by.
There are people.
There is pain.
We feel reality again.

And then we wonder.
Was it really real?
Did what just happen really happen?
We doubt ourselves.
We doubt Him.
We want it back.
We long to have the moment back.

And just like that, it is gone.
We are left wondering what to do.

Mother Teresa had such a moment.
It was the time she experienced what she later referred to as the “call within a call” experience.
It was when she was still a young nun and teacher, it was 1946. . .

In 1928, 18 year old Gonxha Agnes Bojaxhiu had left her native Albania for Ireland, to join the order of the Sisters of Loreto.
It was there that she would eventually make her solemn vows, taking the name of Teresa after the gentle saint known as the Little Flower, Thérèse of Lisieux.
Eventually her journey would take her to India, where she worked as a teacher and later principal at the order’s Calcutta run school for the local children.

One bright morning, 20 years into her life in India, while sitting on a train as she was embarking on a brief annual retreat, she had a profound encounter with Jesus. Time stood still and she was aware of only one being, that of Jesus himself.
He called out to her to help feed His poor. He revealed the pain of His heart over those who were hungry and dying. “Feed my lambs” He implored —yet He also implored the little nun to satiate His thirst. His thirst for the world filled with the hungry and hurting souls so in need of the literal and spiritual feeding of which He yearned for her to take upon herself.

It wasn’t until several years following her death, that through her letters and conversations with her confessor, when the world actually learned of this tiny obedient nun having never experienced that vision and feeling of nearness again. Despite her longing to hear and to see Jesus again, she was filled with only silence and emptiness.
There was nothing.
The only thing that remained was the daily task, each and every day, of doing what she was told to do that fateful day in 1946. . . “Satiate my thirst”. . .
Alone within herself, Mother Teresa felt empty, frustrated, and sad.
Yet no one was the wiser. No one knew of her pain, her emptiness, her “dark night”. . .she spent the next 51 years doing as He had instructed—working to satiate His thirst and to feed and care for “His lambs.”

Some may say that it must be a sadistic God who would play hide and seek, as it were, with someone as good and as holy as a Mother Teresa. Yet we must understand that it goes well beyond such simplistic observations. To us God may seem vexing and fickled, yet that is the human mind attempting to explain the behavior of the Divine and the Omnipotent—it simply cannot be done.

As C.S. Lewis so eloquently reminds us, “God does not exist for man’s sake.” Nor do we exist for our own sake.
God does not “need” us– it is us who needs God.
The crux of the matter is simply that God wants us.
Made, created, out of Love.

The difference between our need and His want.

Oh I suppose there are those who proudly exclaim that they do not need some invisible God, some deity to serve and to worship.
Self puffs up as we become our own deity—full of failures, let downs, pride, selfishness, vain glory. . .One would think time would be our teacher, yet we continue ignoring the past as we march forward, waving our own flag and thumping our own puffed up chest. . .

It is to these few and far between glimpses, of those miraculous moments, the overwhelming senses, and unexplained experiences, time and time again, that push us forward. . .still looking, wondering, hoping. . .forward to an encounter with the Divine—yet we simply cannot “will” it to happen. It is for God, and for God alone, to reveal Himself in such intimate ways—we cannot force His hand. We cannot trick Him or persuade Him. He is the Creator and we are but the created.
Yet we were created in and for Love. . .

We know that from such moments and chance experiences that we are forever changed and forever different, no matter if we never experience such a moment ever again in our lifetime. . .just knowing it happened, we know it can happen again and we know we won’t rest until we see Him again. . .

“When I climb down the mountain
And get back to my life
I won’t settle for ordinary things
I’m gonna follow You forever
And for all of my days
I won’t rest ’til I see You again
Show me Your glory
Show me Your glory
I can’t live without You”

lyrics by Third Day

Saints, sinners and popes

DSC00276

The image above is a copy of the San Damiano cross. The original 12th century cross in now located in the Basilica di Santa Chiara in Assisi, Italy (The Basilica of Saint Clare). It is the very cross, in approximately 1206, that a young Francesco Bernardone, prayed earnestly before as his very life was at a monumental crossroads. The image of the Chrsitos or Christ is said to have so captivated the young Italian, as he knelt before the cross, the eyes of Christ penetrating into the very core of Francesco, that he actually heard the voice of God speak.

The young Francesco had come to a secluded poor hermitage that was off the beaten path. A poor simple priest maintained the dilapidated “sanctuary” that was literally falling in on itself. It was here, in this humble structure before this simple cross, that a young man sought the word of God. And it is here that the world would never be the same.

It is amazing imagining how the prayer of desperation from one young man could and would influence an entire world!

Francesco came from a very well to do family. He lived a lavish wanton life as did many young men of the time. Wine, women and song was the theme of the day—the great Troubadours of the day. Parties, lots of drinking, lots of mischief. Sounds as if I am describing the youth of today rather than the youth of the early 13th century.

There was, however, a troubling spirit within young Francesco. There was no “peace” in his life. The partying and “living large” was but empty–leaving a deep place in his very being that needed to be filled by much more than alcohol, parties, empty relationships, and money thrown at fun for the sake of fun.

Unbeknownst to young Francesco, his very core had been touched by God, and once that is so, there will be no denying God’s desire or plan—Francesco tried to ignore the inner urgings by placating this emptiness with more carousing, more mischief, more parties. He eventually found himself, alone, having walked away from his friends and his fast passed lifestyle, to a lonely, broken down structure that housed a peculiar little cross.

God told Francesco that “His house had fallen down and was in need of repair”. Overwhelmed with the words he heard he took the voice at the literal and began rebuilding the small church in which he had prayed. But as is the way with God, His words most often speak of a larger situation in need of repair. Francesco Bernardone renounced the life he had known and became simply, to us, “Francesco” or Francis to the english speakers—

I will not go into a in-depth biography of the life of St. Francis as there are so many wonderful books written about this simple, humble and oh so human of Saints. However I cannot let the day pass without noting the wonderful choice of Cardinal Bergogilo’s choice of names. Some my wonder why a Jesuit would choose the name of a Franciscan, but I think it speaks to the character of Jorge Bergoglio.

He is obviously publicly recognizing the state of God’s current house in the Catholic Church, as well as in Christendom as a whole. We caregivers have let things fall into a bit of disrepair…clergy as well as the faithful…the house needs rebuilding. From the ground up. We must look to care for all of our brothers and sisters–those who are hungry, hurting, lonely, imprisoned, in need….we must start there first…with our fellow man. Repairing house per house….I think Cardinal Bergoglio may have the right idea. Where as he could have chosen to be a Benedict XVII or a John Paul III, he opted to use a new name. A name never chosen in 265 previous popes…a name that denotes humility and simplicity as well as action and work.

There is much work to be done–may those of us in the Christian family (note I do not say merely the Catholic family but for all Christianity) take up our cross, along with Pope Francis, and go forward to the task of re-building our/ God’s house.