the unbreakable appointment

Death is not an accident –
it is an appointment which only God can change or cancel.

It is because of death that life is so precious.
It is because life is so precious that death is such an evil

David Robertson


(cemetary at St Kevin’s Monastary / Glendalough National Park / Co Wicklow, Ireland /
Julie Cook/ 2015)

Maybe it’s because I’ve read and written a good bit recently concerning the life and death
of the young child Alfie.
Maybe it’s because the shadowed dark veil still occasionally longs to blow across my heart,
or maybe…
it’s just because I’m tired…

I saw a really sad story yesterday about an elderly Chinese man who is afraid of dying
alone…so he’s put himself up for adoption.

http://www.foxnews.com/world/2018/05/04/lonely-chinese-old-man-puts-himself-up-for-adoption.html

Being adopted myself, this story caught my attention for all sorts of reasons.

Our Asian brothers and sisters have always done such a fine job with their elderly.
They don’t neglect them.
They don’t ship them off to homes as we do here in the West.
They don’t turn their backs on them when they become infirmed, sick or simply
too old.
And they don’t decide to simply kill them because they’ve apparently run their course of
contribution and no longer serve a viable purpose.
Nor have they ever been viewed as a burden to society.

Our Asian kin have always taken their elderly into their homes,
caring for them as these now old ones once cared for the
younger others.

Yet sadly, that might be changing.

It seems that this particular man was a widower and was estranged from his sons.
The story noted that there is a growing shift in Asian culture these days
that the idea of a family caring for the elderly is not the given as it once was.

So this gentleman, who posted he is a retired scientist and is still in good
physical condition, just wants a family to spend his final years with.
He wants to contribute to the family by helping to shop, cook, pay bills…
but when the time comes, he wants to be cared for then properly buried by those who
in turn care for him.

He is doing this as he is gravely opposed to having to go to “a home.”

So all this talk of death and dying, life and living…the juxtaposition of
the whole bloody lot just keeps falling flat and heavy in front of my feet.

There’s just no getting around either one.
Because you can’t have one without the other.
There must be life if there is to be death…
That’s just the way it is.

I am not a morse person.
Not obsessive.
Not negative.
Not a fatalist.
I do however believe I am very much realist mixed in with a hardy dose of pragmatism.

When reading David Robertson’s latest post, which was actually an article written
for Christian Today, there I was again meeting death, or actually the notion of death
was meeting me at my door….or actually in my kitchen on my computer screen.

David was writing about death and life and destiny all based on the writings of King Solomon in Ecclesiastes.

But it was really the one line that jumped off the page, or shall we say screen, that
hit me squarely between the eyes…

Death is not an accident –
it is an appointment which only God can change or cancel.

Like most folks, I don’t much care for the whole death and dying business.
I don’t like much to talk about it.
I don’t like to acknowledge it…because that way, maybe it will just go away and leave
me alone.
And I certainly don’t like to think about it.
Not many of us living do.
Because the whole death thing really just tears me out of the frame.

Yes I will say it…despite being a Christian and despite knowing my Redeemer lives and
despite the knowledge that there is life after death…death still bothers me.

Life is for the living is it not?
Not for the dying…

Yet I think it is really a fear of the unknown that is what troubles us most.
Or at least it is for me.

As a planner, a teacher…I kind of like things all neatly mapped out.
Whereas spontaneity sounds glamourous…I’m not one for throwing caution to the wind.
I’m pretty set on point A to point B with no deviations in between.

However, I think it is that big black hole in our lives..the hole of separation
that’s the real kicker.
We are not a separating lot.

It’s the being cut off from and away from those we love that makes death so hard.
Going on living… without…
That is the burden…the burden of the living without.

So maybe that’s why our society is so fixated on trying to control both…
We want to be the masters of our own destinies…our entrances and our exits.
We want to call the shots.
And so we wrap it up in a fancy word and call it euthanasia.
A fancy way for us to call the shots…not God.
Nothing random there..no loss of control.
We, in essence, become our own god.

But it was that line of David’s that’s kept nagging at me…
“it’s not an accident–it’s an appointment which only God can change or cancel.”

David notes in his reflection from King Solomon’s words that
“He is saying that death comes to all, indiscriminately, good or bad:
‘Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment…
‘(Hebrews 9:27). Death is not an accident –
it is an appointment which only God can change or cancel.
He is not saying that we are to live passively or that we are not to prepare.
But he is saying that it is only God who knows the future.

So there is both power and assurance in that statement.
An appointment that only God and change or cancel.

Not me, not you, no man…only God.

A burden becomes lifted.
It’s not my call.
Not my responsibility to say yay or nay…it’s there when God says its there.
It’s no longer my worry, our worry…my call, our call or truly my schedule or our schedule.
It’s God’s schedule.

And I need to be reminded, I was with that one line that I am small and He is not…

God’s power over death…so much greater than anything man could ever attempt to counter.

Ecclesiastes 9:1-9 – Death, Life and Destiny

“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God!
He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:55-57

Righteous Indignation

“Anyone can get angry, but to do this to the right person,
to the right extent, at the right time, with the right motive,
and in the right way, that is not for everyone, nor is it easy.”

Aristotle


(a favorite image I’ve used before—Glendalough National Park, Co Wicklow, Ireland / 2015)

“Let anger be guarded against.
But if it cannot be averted, let it be kept within bounds.
For indignation is a terrible incentive to sin.
It disorders the mind to such an extent as to leave no room for reason.
The first thing, therefore, to aim at, if possible,
is to make tranquility of character our natural disposition by constant practice,
by desire for better things, by fixed determination.”

St. Ambrose

Righteous indignation—according to Wikipedia “is typically a reactive emotion of anger over mistreatment, insult, or malice of another. It is akin to what is called the sense of injustice.
In some Christian doctrines, righteous anger is considered the only form of anger which
is not sinful, e.g.,
when Jesus drove the money lenders out of the temple (Gospel of Matthew 21).”

As we find ourselves living in an age of growing and ever-increasing anger and angst…
anger over everything from road rage to cultural collisions,

It would, therefore, behoove all of us to stop and consider from whence comes our
wrath and rage… and to the reasons as to why it is and to where we send it…

Reactionary or purposeful??…
Or even actually necessary…

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger, brawling and slander,
along with every form of malice.

Ephesians 4:31

truth and lies

When the truth is found to be lies
And all the joy within you dies
Don’t you want somebody to love, don’t you
Need somebody to love, wouldn’t you
Love somebody to love, you better
Find somebody to love

Lyrics Somebody to Love
Jefferson Airplane

dscn0357
(St Kevin’s Monastery / Glendalough National Park, Co Wicklow, Ireland /Julie Cook / 2015)

“He who dares not offend cannot be honest.”
Thomas Paine

Finding ourselves living in the balance between Truth and Lies
With fiction far outweighing reality,
The faithful stand caught in the middle…
bewildered, battered and weary.

When did this vacuum, now plaguing the land, become so fierce…
As so many are now left reeling in total shock and confusion.
No longer able to discern between this or that
as all lines have finally merged and blurred beyond recognition.

Hawking on the sidewalks, like a street vendor peddling hotdogs,
the falsehoods and fake tales are pushed as the gospel to each hungry passerby.

“Read all about it,” they shout with verbiage in hand,
while passing out dribble like candy to an unsuspecting child.
As the affluent youth tear and burn a once proud flag.

With reality and truth now being pawned off as phobia,
the righteous are stripped and thrown to the wolves.
While the insatiable appetite of the beast is impossible to quell.

The time to take courage has arrived right on cue…
As a handful of the faithful now remain ready to defend…

Yet in the end, when all is finally left in tatters and ruin…
there will be only one thing left standing in the smoldering debris,
which is the only hope that will set those who remain free…
and that being, simply…
the Truth…

But I will leave within you
the meek and humble.
The remnant of Israel
will trust in the name of the Lord.
13 They will do no wrong;
they will tell no lies.
A deceitful tongue
will not be found in their mouths.
They will eat and lie down
and no one will make them afraid.”

Zephaniah 3:12-13

directions

“Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem.
We all have twenty-four hour days.”

Zig Ziglar

DSCN0412
(path up the mountain side, Glendalough National Park / Julie Cook / 2015)

I’m not the best with directions.
I tend to get turned around and a bit confused as to
the lefts and rights, the norths and souths….

Now I do actually love a good map…
yet sadly maps are going the way of the 8 track tape cassette…
And anyway…the truth is that I’m not really that great at using maps.
I get turned around as to whether I’m heading east or west, up or down, or side to side…

However I have always found old antique maps to be beautiful pieces of art—
Especially really old ones that were once done by hand,
with cartographers doubling as artists.

It’s as if maps are the tangible pictures of our city’s, country’s, world’s inner workings…
almost like a scan image of a skeletal system is for the human body,
a map is the picture for our collective spacial lives.

And whereas I am thankful for the modern convenience of GPS…
What with the plugging in of an address, place or coordinates only to then be directed
to wherever it is that we wish to be headed…
turn by turn, step by step…

However I can be as equally ungrateful when said turn by turn step by step is incorrect,
outdated or simply wrong.

Ever thought you were headed to where it was you wanted to go,
with the nice GPS lady finally and triumphantly stating that you have “reached your destination”
as you find yourself in the middle of some desolate road in the middle of nowhere?!

So with all this map talk, I read a most marvelous little story today on the BBC about
a letter being mailed from Reykjavik, Iceland.

It seems that the sender was mailing a letter to a farm
where she had visited but was uncertain of the address—
so she did the only intelligent thing she knew to do…
that when all else fails sort of approach…

she drew a picture, actually a mini map, as to where the letter should be headed…
all the while adding a few little written directions on the envelope to accompany the tiny map…
Just a few small helpful cues to the postal person who would be delivering the letter.

The small remote town’s name was listed,
the fact that the letter was going to a couple with three children…
The fact that the intended recipient worked at a supermarket there in the small town
plus the fact that they lived on a horse farm with lots and lots of sheep…
it was all nicely included with a wonderful plotted picture of a route…

( you can read the story here by clicking on the link:
http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-37233913 )

The letter was actually delivered to the correct place.

Such a story does my heart good.

So…
Whereas the postal system here in the US is, in a nutshell, not often stellar.
Mail seems to get lost, delivered to the wrong address, or damaged so badly in the system
that it is “returned to sender” …
that is, if the return address is still legible.
Or there have even been times when things mailed may have taken weeks,
months or even years before randomly appearing…

Now that’s not to say that it’s all bad or always a lost cause in this
maddening bureaucratic system of US Postal Service…
but sadly it seems there are more horror stories than good these days…

So the fact that a map was drawn out by hand, then someone actually took the time to “study” it,
then correctly followed it…
in this ever technological world of ours…
is indeed a joyous event.

Add to that maddening bureaucracy that we are now all finding ourselves living in this
ever uber modern world of all things technological of ours…
what with our smart devices, our GPS, our self braking, self parking,
and soon to be, self driving cars…
so it seems as if we won’t have much use for our ol noggins
when we’re trying to make our way in this life…as it will actually be already done for us…
Yet the concern should be…will it be in the right direction that we are lead…?

And that’s the thing…
We all need to make our way in this life…
with that way being…
the right way,
the spiritual way,
the way of Life and not the way of death…
to which so many signs sadly point to these days…
We still so desperately need a play by play list of directions.

Yet, I think if I remember correctly, we already have a directional manual…
One that is thousands of years old….having stood the test of time…
One that has recorded the verbal commands of the only One who truly knew
and still knows…
the way…
the truth
and the life…

We just need to remember to always reach for that directional map,
actually taking the time to read it and actually follow it…
for it will never mislead or misdirect us…

Happy travels….

Jesus answered,
“I am the way and the truth and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me.

John 14:6

Bad, Sad and bittersweet

DSCN0420
(Glendalough National Park, Co Wicklow, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

Another long hard day.

Today promises to be much the same as there are to be more tests and scans
in the early hours of the day.

We sat side by side in an exam room at the Oncologist’s office.
The pleasantries all neatly said and done,
the facts were placed before us in not so easily digested wording.

Dad sat slummed in the wheelchair as he wrung his hands nervously round and round.
Frail and feeble I thought I was looking at my grandmother 30 years prior.
I wonder when his skin became so thin and translucent…

The doctor excuses himself to go check on the latest scan reports…
The air now thick and heavy in the exam room as we wait,
with the unspoken words of what will be…

Dad turns to me and asks…

“Reckon where we go when we die”

Sirens go off in my head as this question of skepticism is
percolating up from somewhere deep inside a Baptist turned Episcopalian…
as a lump forms heavy in my throat…

“We go to heaven Dad”

“How do you know?”

“Because He said so Dad.

“Who”

“God…Jesus…”

“Where do you think we go Dad?”

“Maybe it’s like you were never born…
you just aren’t any more…”

“No Dad, we go to Heaven,
Cause He said so”

“Well….I guess I can see Ed…”
(my brother who committed suicide almost 25 years ago…

“And I guess I can see MaryAnn
(my mom who died from cancer 30 years ago, today would have been her 83rd birthday)”

“Yes Dad, you can…
(and here’s where I know we need to lighten this train of thought)
but I think Mother may ask you what’s up with this Gloria business…”

“Yeah, I probably shouldn’t have done that should I?”

“No Dad, probably not but it’s a little late to think about that now…”

And so went the course of the day…
Heavy thoughts hanging over our heads…

We went from one doctor today to another…
Then I cried the whole way…
driving back home as I sat in and out of a sea of cars…

And I have to be back at 8:30 taking him for more testing.

It’s all bad and yet it’s all good.
It could be worse, yet it could certainly be better…
It’s hard and will not be easy…

Yet as hard as it is,
I know…
without a doubt
He knows
and He hears,
and He sees…
And He is in our midsts….
and that a better place and time awaits….

For it is by grace you have been saved,
through faith—
and this is not from yourselves,
it is the gift of God…

Ephesians 2:8

Hurdles

The boy who is going to make a great man must not make up his mind merely to overcome a thousand obstacles, but to win in spite of a thousand repulses and defeats.
Theodore Roosevelt

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(St Kevin’s Tower / St Kevin’s Monastery, Gleandalough, Co Wicklow, Ireland/ Julie Cook / 2015)

At some point or other during the course of living,
difficulties and trying times will engulf each one of us.

No one is exempt from the various hurdles Life places in our paths.
We will be faced with two options…

Either we just keep running and jumping
or
we stop.

We can stop before each hurdle, pondering the height and possibility of clearing each safely,
opting to drop out of the race all together…
or
we can decide to simply keep going.

Some days the prospect of continuing the race, with all of the hurdles needing to be cleared, seems more than we can bear.
We may actually even trip over the hurdles, temporally losing our balance…stumbling wildly while trying to recover…
Or
We may actually fall, crashing down onto the track scraping up knees, elbows and even damaging muscles and bones.

Then the choice will be…

Do we just lay there bleeding while grimacing in pain, bemoaning that the hurdles are simply too high and have just beaten us
or
Do we pick ourselves up, bruised and bleeding, and continue on with the race?

As I ccurretnly find myself laying on the track grimacing in the pain and bleeding, having stumbled over Life’s most recent hurdle… I received some very wise counsel…

“God always hears [sees] you.
You are just seeing things from the perspective of this moment,
while He is looking from the perspective of resolution of all these issues.
He is busy getting you to that point, too.”

So as my perspective,
while having tripped over life’s latest hurdle with me now being down for the count on a track that has just torn me to pieces, is limited.
I’m holding on to bruised, bleeding and broken limbs while staring upward at something that seems nearly impossible to clear…
through clenched teeth I pray…albeit it frustratingly.
Yet what I can’t see from my perspective on the ground,
is that God is already seeing the finish line…
He knows the outcome…
I just need to get back up to finish the race….

With your help I can advance against a troop;
with my God I can scale a wall.

Psalm 18:29

Hidden in God… with You…

“God creates out of nothing.
Wonderful you say.
Yes, to be sure, but He does what is still more wonderful:
He makes saints out of sinners.”

Soren Kierkegaard

DSCN0408
(a small spring trickles through the brush / Glendalough National Park, Co Wicklow, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

The world does not know him,
does not wish to know him.

All the earth is covered with his enemies and those who blaspheme him.
Heresies go up in the very bosom of his Church to disfigure his mysteries and doctrine.
Error prevails in the world, and even among his disciples there are some who do not know him,
for no on knows him, he told us, except those who keep his commandments.

And who keeps them?

The impious have multiplied beyond all number; they can no longer be counted.
But your true disciples, O my Savior, how rare are they, how scattered throughout the earth,
and even in your Church!

Scandal mounts, and charity cools.
We seem to be living in the times you predicted:
“When the Son of man comes, will h find faith on earth”
(Luke 18:8)

But you do not thunder; you do not make us feel your might.
Mankind blasphemes with impunity.
Were we to judge according to human standards, we would think nothing more equivocal or dubious than your glory.
It is found only in God, where you are hidden.

And I too wish to be hidden in God with you.

Meditations for Lent
Jaques-Benigne Boussuet
Sophia Institute Press