choosing the the gift wisely…..

“A wise lover values not so much the gift of the lover
as the love of the giver.”

Thomas à Kempis


(the tiniest treasure found amongst the debris / Julie Cook / 2017)

Then Daniel answered and said before the king, “Keep your gifts for yourself or give your rewards to someone else.” Daniel 5:17
Daniels friends let it be known that the God of heaven was their King.
Daniel himself kept his windows open and prayed in defiance of a king’s decree.
Later in his life, Daniel refused the king’s gifts because his faithfulness
to God didn’t have a price.
He refused to be bought.
By gifts we mean the goodies of the world that stand in the way of the
greatness of God’s kingdom.
They come in any form of fame, fortune,
or promotion promised by getting along with the world.
Daniels life didn’t have a price tag.
His services weren’t for sale.
No amount of worldly gifts for kingly accolades could deter him from his mission.
He was a man of deep conviction, dedicated commitment, and undeniable courage;
the grace of heaven was far more important to him than gifts of men.”

Living Among Lions; How To Thrive Like Daniel In Today’s Babylon.
David and Jason Benham

I really do have a great deal of disdain for this time of year.
I’ve written about it before.
Not because it is Christmas mind you, but rather because it is Christmas.

Huh??

Yes, I know, you probably don’t understand that last bit of redundancy.
Yet I would lay money that many of you actually do.

Yesterday a title to a post from a wonderful blog I follow,
jumped out at me from within a computer screen

“Keep your gifts”

Keep Your Gifts

There was a sense of defiance in the title that I found to be almost
exhilarating….
“Exactly!!” I practically shouted as I recalled just how much
I’ve been fretting the ticking of the impending season’s gift giving time clock.

I’m having a really hard time getting “into the spirit of the season….”

Be it this balmy weather, the heaviness of loss, the overwhelming worrisomeness
over this world of ours or the madness that is currently besetting our nation…

Ho hum is apparently beating out Ho, Ho, Ho….

Our family has drastically declined this past year,
leaving more names than I care to actually acknowledge as MIA from our
Christmas list.
Yet there are those who remain who do deserve a little something
under the tree…this as we look forward to a family addition come February.

But within all of that…those who are missing, the list of names, the cards,
the baking, the cleaning, the shopping, the wrapping, the working, the tree….
which by the way I have no idea when it’ll go up as it seems like it was just
June when my husband and son finally manhandled the thing
down to the basement.
And whereas it takes two to haul the blasted heavy thing
anywhere it must go, I in turn must wait upon strong abled bodies to
happen by my door in order to assist….yet I digress….

So in a nutshell this is a season of tremendous expectation.

And not in the notion of expectant as in the anticipation of waiting but rather
in a societal demand of what is expected.

There are those who fret how they will afford a gift for those they love.
There are those unable to physically seek out a gift for those they love.
There are those who will be away from those they love.
There are those who are simply alone with no one to love,
as they find this time of year so very difficult.
And there are those who go overboard while there are those who take
the path of Scrooge.

It’s just really gotten to be so much more than it was ever meant to be.
And I wonder when it will all finally explode, taking most of society with it.

So it is good, perhaps even life saving, to be reminded that Christmas
is not what the world keeps telling us it is…

As this world and her culture gods and the gods of commercialism and materialism
call out to us like a haunting and enticing siren…
singing a luring and hypnotic call coming from within a television,
or from the myriad of computer popups, from the endless shiny billboards
bedecking the roadways, to the festive sounds from the radio or the
the endless sea of periodicals and catalogs…
all singing the song of falsehood, greed and emptiness.

The quote from the book Living Among Lions, which I must confess I did just order,
sums all of this up so wonderfully—-Daniel offered us the best example—
“keep your gifts or give them to someone else….”
because Daniel neither needed nor wanted these earthly gifts offered by man.

Simply put, Daniel’s gift was God and God alone.

So as you peruse those catalogs and fight the endless throngs at the mall,
or sit glassy eyed and glazed over while staring at the computer as you endlessly
surf and search for that which is to be deemed special and perfect….
all the while as those credit card totals rise and those debit card totals shrink….
be mindful that nothing bought will ever fill the need of both the heart and soul.

For all things bought will eventually break, be outgrown, fade, get lost, or become
quickly outdated.

For the only true “gift” that really matters to any of us is the priceless
gift of Salvation…
Found in a lonely little corner of the world in a forgotten time and place…

In all of my years of service to my Lord,
I have discovered a truth that has never failed and has never been compromised.
That truth is that it is beyond the realm of possibilities that one has the ability
to out give God.
Even if I give the whole of my worth to Him,
He will find a way to give back to me much more than I gave.

Charles H. Spurgeon

the old shell of self

God’s means of delivering us from sin is not by making us stronger and stronger,
but by making us weaker and weaker.
That is surely rather a peculiar way of victory, you say;
but it is the divine way. God sets us free from the dominion of sin,
not by strengthening our old man but by crucifying him;
not by helping him to do anything, but by removing him from the scene of action.

Watchman Nee

We must die if we are to live.
There is no spiritual life for you, for me, for any man, except by dying into it.
Have you a fine-spun righteousness of your own?
It must die.
Have you any faith in yourself?
It must die.
The sentence of death must be in yourself, and then you shall enter into life.
The withering power of the Spirit of God must be experienced before his
quickening influence can be known:
“The grass withereth, the flower fadeth:
because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it.”
You must be slain by the sword of the Spirit before you can be made
alive by the breath of the Spirit.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon


(the shells of cicadas discarded on a pine tree / Julie Cook /2017)

Summer, to a young child growing up in the South, meant evenings spent
catching lighting bugs in an old mayonnaise jar or scouring the sides of pine trees
for the crunchy fragile brown leftover shells of cicadas.

These leftover exoskeletons often found on the sides of pine trees or fence posts
are simply the shedding of the old skin of an ever growing and ever changing cicada.
Cicadas being the creatures responsible for the loud raucous screeching heard
throughout the landscape of the waning days of a southern summer.

Finding a shell was akin to finding a small treasure…
of which was then joyfully and ceremoniously carried to the start of school,
nestled safely in a small cotton ball lined box,
all for the start of the new school year’s show and tell.

But the shell was always quickly beaten out for the coveted oohs and ahhs
when the shark tooth, that someone else brought in from their summer trip
to the beach,was triumphantly presented…

Science teaches us that there is a wealth of amazing creatures scattered
across this globe…all of which constantly shed their old shells or skins only to
emerge as something new, clean and fresh…

And the fact is… that we, that being you and I, are really no different.

Whereas we may not break out of our skin, leaving the old sloughed off
empty layer littered along the floor, we do however…and we must…
do away with our old selves.

For if we insist on keeping that which is old and bound to this world, refusing to
relinquish worldly flesh, then we are bound to death….
for all that is of the world’s will perish.
There will be no new birth, nothing fresh, nothing clean.

Yet if we are willing to die unto self, surrendering that which is earth bound,
yielding to the desire of the spirit to be reunited from whence it came,
then we will have life eternal…which is the treasure indeed.

So then…
Two choices…
life or death….
that should be an easy choice….
and yet oddly, it is not.

“Many, indeed, cry “Lord, Lord,” and make mention of him,
but honour him not at all.
How so?
They take his work out of his hands,
and ascribe it unto other things;
their repentance, their duties,
shall bear their iniquities.
They do not say so; but they do so.

The computation they make, if they make any, it is with themselves.
All their bartering about sin is in and with their own souls.
The work that Christ came to do in the world, was to “bear our iniquities,”
and lay down his life a ransom for our sins.

The cup he had to drink of was filled with our sins,
as to the punishment due to them.
What greater dishonour then, can be done to the Lord Jesus,
and to ascribe this work to anything else, –
to think to get rid of our sins by any other way or means?”

John Owen

in all of our tears… there rests the Divine

“A sense of the divine presence and indwelling bears the soul towards heaven
as upon the wings of eagles.”

Charles Haddon Spurgeon

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(ornamental cabbage / Julie Cook / 2017)

Obviously I am tired.
Not in a working-out sort of tired.
Not in the end of a really long day or week sort of tired.
Not in the sleep deprivation sort of tired.

I’m just weary.
And I am very tired.
And I am overwhelmed.

For such is the season of my life

And such is the life of a person who is caring for aging parents…
where one of the two is in the process of dying from cancer.

The daily commuting to and fro is hard.
The coordinating of the care, the medical issues, the groceries, the house…
that is all hard.
The lack of time for one’s own world and home is hard…

Life?
Who has one?

Friends?
What are those?

Clean house?
hahahahahaha……

Yet it is to the waiting and watching for the inevitable…
that is the hardest.
It is also the saddest.

For ever since mother died 30 years ago, it’s been pretty much, for good or bad,
just me and dad.
I took over the roll of parenting him when both mother and my grandmother died just
months apart.
I had just turned 26 at the time.
And despite his remarrying when he was almost 70, it’s really just been me and him.

Watching the body slowly failing and falling apart…
The moans and groans of pain…
The halting morphine induced thoughts and speech…
The sounds, sights, smells…
nothing good.
Especially when I’ve already done the same thing 30 years prior.

Add to that the now spouse…the one who suffers with the ever increasing dementia…
the one who has nary a clue as to who any of us are…
it makes things either really really comical or really really sad…
…and my money is on the comical.

Oh but I don’t want to waste our time here today bemoaning my life.
You really don’t want to hear about it anyway.
No one really likes a complainer…

Yet maybe we ought to try telling that to all those nutters out there who are currently
spending their time shouting, marching, demonstrating and protesting…
I bet they’re tired…
tired of fussing…
just as much as the rest of us are tired of hearing
and seeing it all…
but I digress….

I can’t even find respite in my sleep…
for in my sleep are the dreams of a mind that is over burdened.

In last night’s dream there was this scene of my mother’s funeral where my husband
decided to wear a Hawaiian shirt rather than a suit, rendering me mortified.

The reality is that my mom’s funeral was over 30 years ago and my husband doesn’t own
nor would he ever wear a Hawaiian shirt.

Or how about the other night when my husband had to shake me awake in order to get me to stop
“screaming” in my sleep…
all because I was dreaming that I had walked into the house that use to be our house years ago
and there were strange people, squatters, trying to take over the house…
I was screaming at them to get out.
A disconcerting moment at 3 AM when one’s spouse is sound asleep.

The reality was that I had flipped through the television and caught a bit of that alligator
Swamp People show…there had been a devastating flood in southern Louisiana last
year and one of the regulars on the show had to leave his home because it had flooded.
The episode showed him coming back to the house after the flood waters had receded…
leaving behind a house full of huge bullfrogs and a giant snapping turtle.

Or how about the other night when I was dreaming that I was trying to take my son,
who in the dream was a toddler but in real life is almost 30,
in order to seek safety because the planet was under attack by evil aliens…
space aliens, not the illegal variety…
and we were racing in a car, desperately trying to find safety as we were having to hit,
running over, the evil invaders in order to get away….

The reality was that I had flipped through, once again, the channels catching a brief
snippet of the movie Fury on the History Channel—
it was right when the Sherman tank, commandeered by Brad Pitt’s character,
went rolling over the heads and bodies of Germans in their fox holes, naturally crushing them…
I think that’s when I flipped it as I wasn’t up to the horrors of war that evening…
only to have them come flooding back oddly in a dream…sigh….

So not even in sleep is there a safe haven these days.

Yet…however…
no matter how bad things may be right now…
No matter how sad,
how heavy,
how hard…

I know I do not go this alone…
Despite often feeling very much alone.

I can’t make dad better, I can’t even make him feel better right now.
As this is now all pretty much out of my hands…

Yet I know that neither Dad nor I are alone in this.
Despite the naysayers cries, those non-believers who scoff
at the purported “fairytale” which is to be found at the center of all of this…
There is a Hand moving much deeper in all of this…

For this particular moment in time is but fleeting…
despite the seemingly never ending and endless melancholy
merry go round we now ride…
For there are blessings, there is Grace…
and there is the Divine…
the very hand of God…

“Rejoice in the Lord,’ said St Paul (Phil. 3 : 1).
And he was right to say, ‘in the Lord’.
For if our joy is not in the Lord, not only do we not rejoice,
but in all probability we never shall. Job, as he described the life of men,
found it full of every kind of affliction (cf. Job 7 : 1-21),
and so also did St Basil the Great.
St Gregory of Nyssa said that birds and other animals rejoice because
of their lack of awareness, while man, being endowed with intelligence,
is never happy because of his grief.
For, he says, we have not been found worthy even to have knowledge of the blessings
we have lost. For this reason nature teaches us rather to grieve,
since life is full of pain and effort, like a state of exile dominated by sin.
But if a person is constantly mindful of God, he will rejoice: as the psalmist says,
‘I remembered God, and I rejoiced’ (Ps. 77 : 3. LXX).
For when the intellect is gladdened by the remembrance of God,
then it forgets the afflictions of this world, places its hope in Him,
and is no longer troubled or anxious.
Freedom from anxiety makes it rejoice and give thanks;
and the grateful offering of thanks augments the gift of grace it has received.
And as the blessings increase, so does the thankfulness,
and so does the pure prayer offered with tears of joy.”

St. Peter of Damascus

fertile ground

“A sense of the divine presence and indwelling bears the soul towards heaven
as upon the wings of eagles.”

Charles Haddon Spurgeon

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(a lone viola emerges out of nowhere, nestled between the rocks/ Julie Cook / 2017)

Spring is wanting to come early this year…
But Winter refuses to relinquish his time…
It’s an age old battle for the right to reign.

The surrounding landscape is still bathed in shades of grey, brown and
all things bare…
While the deer have nipped and eaten any and all remaining winterized vegetation…
As the armadillos have rooted out any hiding grub or tender waiting bulbs.

This is the time for transition.
It is a time waited upon anxiously…
As it is a time that has been manically hoped for and painfully longed for.

A time of turning the page from nothingness into a hint of newness.

All the while a cold wind blows and
Freeze warnings remain.
And pale white dry skin yearns for the flush of warm and radiant supple pink…

Yet hidden amongst the nooks of crags…
found in the hollowed-out crannies, wedged between the cold barren rocks..
a small and easily missed prophesy of growth takes a stand…

As we are left asking—
is fertile ground to be found anywhere within our hearts…

dscn4800

‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says:
I myself will take a shoot from the very top of a cedar and plant it;
I will break off a tender sprig from its topmost shoots and plant it on a high and
lofty mountain.
On the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it;
it will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar.
Birds of every kind will nest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches.
All the trees of the forest will know that I the Lord bring down the tall tree
and make the low tree grow tall.
I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish.

Ezekiel 17:22-24

altars

“Nothing teaches us about the preciousness of the Creator
as much as when we learn the emptiness of everything else.”

Charles Haddon Spurgeon

“You never go away from us, yet we have difficulty in returning to You.
Come, Lord, stir us up and call us back. Kindle and seize us.
Be our fire and our sweetness. Let us love. Let us run.”

Augustine of Hippo

dscn0509
(altar tomb in the Rock of Cashel, the Cathedral of St Patrick / Co Tipperary, Ireland/
Julie Cook / 2015)

A thick blanket of smoke hangs heavy in the air.
It’s not the result of burning effigies or burning communities
but rather from the woods of North Carolina and northern Georgia which are on fire…
and the winds have shifted…

The sinking grey smoke is a somber reminder that there is a dangerously severe drought…
and the parched land is now beyond thirsty…

Yet there is more to this current drought than simply a lack of rain…
for there is more that is dry than mere vegetation and brush…
And there is more to this endless thirst than a need for water….

Vehemence and anger are filling the air, accented by vile and profane sentiment.
As the mobs march toward the altars of self indulgence and guile.
Immaturity laced with ignorance stokes the fires of rage as the hate filled
smoke fills the nostrils of a nation.

Self absorption and egocentric worshipers have taken to the streets.
They have taken to their computers and to their phones…their current altars of choice.
All the while they shout vile rhetoric as they stomp their spoiled bored feet.

If you must…
Protest against atrocities,
demonstrate against hunger,
fight against killing…
but not because you’ve simply forgotten, or have never known, how to lose.

Young dismayed parents now publicly lament how are they to console their
confused children who cry in fear from the big bad what ifs of hysteria…
simply because democracy has been at work–once again…

Nay, answer with truth…
the truth that one person lost while another person won…
For that is how this game is played…one person wins while one person loses…

Yet ours is a culture currently obsessed with the win win…
because we’ve grown moralistically soft while deciding everyone should be a winner…
We cannot live with the sad notion of losing…
Never mind old adages of always trying again…

There are those who are falling at the altar of womanly feminism…
which is currently shored up by gender neutrality, resentment and anger.
Marching not for policy or real equality but rather for the notion that
the wrong sex was the victor…as the votes which were cast are ignored….

Tears are being shed not because freedom has been lost
or because lives have been lost,
nor because a nation has lost all hope…
No…
rather tears are flowing because an election was lost…

And now we no longer want to play…
Because reality is simply no longer considered fun.
While we have found ourselves kneeling before all the wrong altars…

Ours are the empty altars of hero worship and of self…
the altars of gadgetry, boredom, appeasement and ignorance.
Altars of fear, anger, hostility, emptiness and divisiveness…

For what or whom has become our idol, our god?
Who or what are those hungry deities which have left us empty, sad,
frustrated, angry and resentful…
as we turn upon one another in the feeding frenzy of resentment?

We have gathered before all the wrong altars for far too long…
These altars have left us shallow and empty while also full of loathing and contempt…
We continue to march without leadership and direction…
lost and wandering…all the while lashing out at those we assume to be our enemy…
never realizing that we are all actually one.
One people…one nation…

And all the while hidden deep within the suffocating smoke of our thirst
lies the only One true proven path in which we need march…

Yet we have decided it’s far easier to wander angrily in the parched darkness
while hiding behind the vitriol sputum which oozes forth from our mouths…
spewing out upon our fellow human beings…

As it seems we’d rather choose…
paranoia to Grace
greed to Offering
ignorane to Enlightenment
darkness to Light
death to Salvation
egregiousness to Gentleness
hate to Love…

May we all fall at the foot of the one true altar,
the cross of Resurrection, Salvation, Hope and Life.

The Father willed that his blessed and glorious Son,
whom he gave to us and who was born for us,
should through his own blood offer himself as a sacrificial victim on the altar of the cross.
This was to be done not for himself through whom all things were made,
but for our sins.

Francis of Assisi

when it’s raining, you can bet it’ll be pouring

“Never forget that there are only two philosophies to rule your life:
the one of the cross, which starts with the fast and ends with the feast.
The other of Satan, which starts with the feast and ends with the headache.”

― Fulton J. Sheen

Be sober-minded; be watchful.
Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.

1 Peter 5:8-9

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(drying umbrellas, Killarney Park Hotel / Julie Cook / 2015

“When you cannot use your sword you may take to the weapon of all-prayer.
Your powder may be damp, your bow-string may be relaxed,
but the weapon of all-prayer need never be out of order.”

― Charles Haddon Spurgeon

There will days when it is best to have an umbrella at the ready…
And I’m not talking about being ready for the ever looming showers of Spring….

Our ancient adversary, the Prince of Darkness,
relishes raining assaults upon the heads of all Believers.
He does so to nonbelievers as well,
it’s just that they don’t realize what it is…but I digress.
Yet it is to the faithful who are the prime recipients…as Satan loathes all believers.

I am obviously living through a downpour at the current moment….
but I take courage.

I have always known that when God’s hand is clearly active, those times in our lives when His work is most evident and we are drawing ever closer, Satan will be relentless to severe any and all ties that bind—as He is most irritated by our drawing close and ever closer to our Lord.

It is at such times when we find ourselves victims of such never ending attacks,
that we must not be dismayed…
We mustn’t allow ourselves to be overcome by the relentless struggles and assaults…

Although that is so much easier said than done…

It is at such trying times that we must remain vigilant as well as tethered
to our faith…

To be vigilant in prayer.

Calling upon the name of the Savior…

Jesus Christ, Son of God…have mercy…

HELP…

Assist us mercifully, O Lord, in these our supplications and
prayers, and dispose the way of thy servants towards the
attainment of everlasting salvation; that, among all the
changes and chances of this mortal life, they may ever be
defended by thy gracious and ready help; through Jesus
Christ our Lord.

Amen

(prayer, Book of Common Prayer)

le dernier quart d’ heure

“Nothing but the infinite can ever satisfy me; I am such a great sinner that I must have infinite merit to wash my sin away;” but we have had our sin removed, and found that there was merit to spare; we have had our hunger relieved at the feast of sacred love”
― Charles Haddon Spurgeon

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(the bloom of the humble chive / Julie Cook / 2016)

There always comes, I think, a sort of peak in suffering at which either you win over your pain or your pain wins over you, according as to whether you can, or cannot, call up that extra ounce of endurance that helps you to break through the circle of yourself and do the hitherto impossible. That extra ounce carries you through ‘le dernier quart d’heure.’ Psychologists have a name for it, I believe. Christians call it the Grace of God.”
― Elizabeth Goudge

That last lap,
that last breath,
that last push,
that last….

That last bit of strength, of hope, of muster…
That last bit of whatever it is that sees you through…

Through the…
race
job
exam
test
journey
illness…
…the day…
Your life…

What is your le dernier quart d’heure?
What carries you though, and even past, those last,
final and most difficult trying moments of your task at hand?

Sheer will?
Sheer strength?
Sheer power?
Sheer luck?

or is it…
sheer Grace….?

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you,
for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses,
so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

2 Corinthians 12:9