peaks and valleys

Life is supposed to be a series of peaks and valleys. The secret is to keep the valleys from becoming Grand Canyons.
Bernard Williams

“As the valley gives height to the mountain, so can sorrow give meaning to pleasure; as the well is the source of the fountain, deep adversity can be a treasure.”
William Arthur Ward

In the mountains, the shortest way is from peak to peak: but for that you must have long legs”
Friedrich Nietzsche

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(somewhere on the road in Gleann Cholm Cille in County Dongeal, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

I’m sorry.
You should know.
For what good it is, I’m not sure.
Yelling and screaming with the full force of fury– into the nothingness of air…
At you…
You who remain so silent and painfully elusive.

You who are up there, out there, somewhere high above the clouds.

Do you see through those gossamer layers way down here…to me…?
To me who was knocked to my knees in overwhelming frustration?
The me who continues to claim, to speak and hold on to all that is…
all that is of you…
While you continue to remain so oddly distant and so painfully silent.

Persevere,
Forge the path forward
Fight the good fight
Have faith
Be bold
I hear you
I see you
I know you
I will answer you….

Words that trail off into the frustration, the sorrow, the pain, the heartache of all the ages combined…

We have always lived our lives in hopes of being bourn upward and aloft…
To be able to take wing, as the birds, soaring heavenward…
high amongst the peaks, riding the wind while looking down…
Always with the knowledge that ‘up there’ is so much better than down here.
For high up along the tips of those peaks there are no worries nor concerns.
The air is cool, crisp, thin, yet dangerously exhilarating.
The perspective is massive as all the woes and trials of below seem tiny and insignificant.
And it is up among those peaks where you reside…seemingly without me.

Those of us in the valleys far below are constantly looking upward, wondering, wandering, wishing and hoping to be high and up above. The weight of the world does not seem to weigh heavy on the backs of those high above…not as it does on us here below.
Those of us here below who feel the full heaviness of the crushing gravity of every iniquity, every misdeed ever committed…for we are nearly crushed under the weight of all we bear…

Yet it is here, down in the valleys, where the scars are forged and the skin is thickened.
For it is down here in these valleys low, where the trials by fire reside. Where mere mortals are tried and tested true…annealed in the furnace of an ever fallen, broken world.
Hard fought, arduous and painfully endured.
Products of all the damnation that ever was, is or will be…which is found within an imperfect fallen world.

And yet…
It is you and you alone who knows of our yearning and desire to be among the peaks…
You who knows of our desire, dare it be said desperate need, to reside with and where you are. Our hopes and dreams to be bourn aloft and carried far far away from the sufferings, the agony, the mere frustrations endured down here… down within these valleys of our lives.
And it is You….the One who sees, the One who knows and the One who longs to have us up, among the clouds with You…where the weight of all that is…is simply no more…

And so He comes…

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn…

Isaiah 61: 1-2

In the blink of an eye. . .it can all suddenly disappear

“I find hope in the darkest of days, and focus in the brightest.
I do not judge the universe.”

Dalai Lama

“I have always believed, and I still believe, that whatever good or bad fortune may come our way we can always give it meaning and transform it into something of value.”
Hermann Hesse

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(honey bee visits a purple cone flower in Nashville, TN / Julie Cook / 2015)

We live our lives rhythmically, lulled into the complacency of the ebbs and flows of our routines-
Yet. . .in the blink of an eye, our lives can be altered forever. . .

I ask for your prayers. . .

My dear daughter-n-law’s childhood home, the home of her grandparents, was destroyed in an early morning fire yesterday.
The cause is still under investigation.
There was currently some renovations taking place and that construction is being eyed as a possible cause.

We do give thanks however that her grandparents and mother all escaped harm—yet they have lost everything.

It is to those cherished family heirlooms and photographs—those momentous and images from the birth of children and grandchildren, to the wedding albums, wedding dress, cherished children’s toys, to the tokens remaining from a parent taken far too soon. . .those sacred items of the past which help to shape a family. . .those things which are now suddenly lost, seem to be the hardest loss to bear during any sort of tragedy of this nature.

A home which seemingly offered strength and stability. . .the representation of ones family’s structure and unity, having now vanished in the blink of an eye, leaves a bewildering sense of the surreal gnawing deep within ones psyche.

My daughter-n-law began her nervous first day in her new school yesterday only have to suddenly leave in order to travel across the state back home, to see with her own eyes that her family is indeed thankfully intact—alive and well of body yet shaken of spirit.
She and my son will now join them to mourn the loss of what was. . .as my daughter-n-law now offers her piece of fabric to the quilt which has made them, and will continue to make them, a family. . .

As we now join in the prayer. . .Oh Lord, that all things shall be made new. . .

You make all things new
You make all things new
Yesterday and forever
Your love never changing
This hope never fading
Hallelujah

Hillsong Worship
All Things New Lyrics

“And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new. . .”
Revelation 21:5

Consuming flame

“There may be a great fire in our soul, yet no one ever comes to warm himself at it, and the passers-by see only a wisp of smoke.”
― Vincent van Gogh

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

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(December sunset / Julie Cook / 2014)

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(moon rising behind the trees / Julie Cook / 2014 )

A fire rages within my soul, burning sweetly Love’s tender reeds.
What of this earth can quench the inferno I long to quell?
A deep gnawing burns and aches in the center of my heart causing me to thrash about as if in grave pain.
I cry out to you yet my longing only grows more intense.

Where can I go to find relief?
If I climb to the highest peak or cross the widest desert, there is no end to the painful longing.
As a child who cries out in the dark to a parent to come offer comfort, I cry out unto you.
The never-ending emptiness in my heart grows daily as my tears and desire mingle as one.

I am consumed by the endless thirst and need I have for you, which is for you and you alone.
I long for your embrace,
your touch,
your voice calling out my name.
Do you hear me?
Do you see me?
I long to know.

I am consumed by the burning flame of your heart which thankfully yet painfully burns deeply into my own.
What is it that separates us?
What is it that keeps me from you?
I need to be joined to you.
Break down the barriers oh Lord and knit me to you as I long to tie myself to you and quench
this burning desire of my soul.

Sense of scent

“At no other time (than autumn) does the earth let itself be inhaled in one smell, the ripe earth; in a smell that is in no way inferior to the smell of the sea, bitter where it borders on taste, and more honeysweet where you feel it touching the first sounds. Containing depth within itself, darkness, something of the grave almost.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke

“Odors have a power of persuasion stronger than that of words, appearances, emotions, or will. The persuasive power of an odor cannot be fended off, it enters into us like breath into our lungs, it fills us up, imbues us totally. There is no remedy for it.”

― Patrick Süskind

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(perfume bottles on a silver tray / Julie Cook / 2014)

Opening the door I immediately smelled March.
But this is November, how does one smell March in November?
It was the humid damp warmth mixed with the grey sky.
More mild than cool, more heavy then light.
Not sweetness but rather warm dampness–but not so warm that it was enveloping.

Not long ago, I randomly bought a jar of facial night cream by Lancome. When I first opened the jar, in order to use it, I immediately smelled my grandmother, Nany. Not in that sickeningly sweet grandmother smell that borders on cheap perfume, hair permanents, and medicine, but the smell of sudden nearness. A palpable longing for someone who has been gone for what seems forever.

I am five, standing in her bathroom. I’m at the vanity on the right standing by my cousin as we are readying for bed during a tiny special spend the night party– a grandmother and both of her granddaughters. It was as if I was actually standing in that bathroom as the memory was so strong. Not only did I smell the smells, I even saw the captured moment frozen in time in my mind. The white cabinets, the double sinks. . .

Opening my eyes, it’s just me, standing in my own bathroom, alone.

On a recent trip to Target, I wandered down the candle aisle. Picking up a candle, I give it a good sniff, I close my eyes as I draw in the warm scent. Immediatley I am transported, as if by magic, to a candle store at the mall near where I grew up. It’s the early 70’s. I’m a young teen who is wandering around the mall as I walk into a new store that sells candles. On a round brown table in the center of the store, I notice a small candle in the shape of a little red convertible VW bug with a blue top, my dad at time had a blue bug. I loved the smell, sweet and light, being drawn to the fact that it was a cute little VW bug– I made the purchase, proudly adding the little candle to the growing eclectic treasures of teenager’s room.

Opening my eyes, it’s just me, standing on the candle aisle in a Target, alone.

I recently bought a bag of mothballs, not even knowing if they still made those things. I had brought home a box of old papers and what nots form Dad’s. I wanted to preserve what was in the box but there was no telling of the minisucule critters that were already doing damage to the yellowing papers and books.
I thought that when I repacked the “archives” in a new plastic bin, a few moth balls thrown in might ward off any unsuspecting and unseen nibblers.

When I opened the sack of moth balls I was no longer standing in my son’s old room but rather I was crouched in Mimi’s closet, my mom’s mom. Her house, in Atlanta, was built in the early 20’s. It was old and she had a cavernous closet in her bedroom. I was playing hide and seek. Disappearing deep into her closet, pushing past clothes, shoes and boxes, all the way to a back corner, I’m consumed with a smell that to this day reminds me of my grandmother. Dotting the floor, the flat old light brown carpeting, are a myriad of tiny white balls. Moth balls.
Moth balls will always smell like Mimi’s. To most people the smell might repel, to me, it’s Mimi.

When I open my eyes, I’m no longer hiding in a closet at my grandmother’s, but standing in my son’s old room, alone.

It is said that scent is most often considered the greatest of our senses because of it’s exceedingly strong association with memory. The olfactory bulb in the brain, the part of the brain which processes scents, smells, odors, is linked to both the amygdala and the hippocampus, the parts of the brain responsible of both the processing of emotions as well learning.

The smells that we draw into our brain though the nose, which are caught by the olfactory receptors, allow our brain to process and then link the individual smell with those initials smells from childhood, the time we begin in earnest the association of events with smells. Yet researchers have even determined that we are actually exposed to scent while in utero, which is actually when the imprinting, processing and associating of smell with memory begins.

It is often noted, particularly in Catholic teaching, that there exists a “scent of sanctity”
It is a very real and very strong smell or odor of perfume, specifically floral in nature, that emanates from “the saintly” just prior to the time of death or immediately following. It is said that those who have seen or sensed the presence of various saints were first overcome by a powerful scent of “perfume.”

We know that the making of perfume dates back to early Egypt, followed by both Greek and Roman cultures.
The use of perfumes and scented oils was essential to ancient Jewish customs and rituals, in particular the burying of the dead. There is biblical reference of the woman who came to the tomb to anoint the dead body of Jesus. There is the story of the woman, thought to be Mary Magdalene, who had brought a very expensive perfumed oil in which to anoint Jesus. It is a story symbolizing the future anointing of his crucified body yet some believe it symbolizes his bringing the grace of forgiveness into an unforgiving world. This is also one of the few stories which is included in all four gospels.

And so it is, on this March smelling November day, there is indeed a change in the air. Rain is on the way, and with it the cold and the comforting fragrant balm of crackling fires. . . I can smell its presence in the air. As the scent of change swirls about, dancing lightly in the wind, those thoughts and memories of days gone by, gently drift, sweetly woven to the very air which sustains my life, waiting to be brought to the forethought of recall by the simple act of breathing . . .

But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task.
2 Corinthians 2: 14-16

Snippets of Life through a couple of Psalms

I am like a pelican of the wilderness:

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(pelican in flight, Destin, Florida / Julie Cook / 2014)

I am like an owl of the wilderness,
like a little owl of the waste places.

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(Vienna Zoo / Schönbrunn Palace / Vienna, Austria / Julie Cook / 2012

I lie awake;
I am like a lonely bird on the housetop.

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(pigeon atop roof of the Old State House / Boston Massachusetts / Julie Cook / 2014

When the wicked advance against me
to devour me,
it is my enemies and my foes
who will stumble and fall.

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(praying mantis / Julie Cook / 2014)

For I eat ashes as my food
and mingle my drink with tears

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(embers in the BBQ / Julie Cook / 2014)


Praise the Lord from the earth,
you great sea creatures and all ocean depths,

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(seal swimming / Ucluelet, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada / Julie Cook / 2012)

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(basking sea lion, Ucluelet, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada / Julie Cook / 2012

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(the tip top of an orca, Ucluelet, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada / Julie Cook / 2012)

lightning and hail, snow and clouds,
stormy winds that do his bidding,

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(Georgia clouds / Julie Cook / 2013)


you mountains and all hills,
fruit trees and all cedars,

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(Watten, Austria / Julie Cook / 2012)

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(espaliered apple tree, Mondsee, Austria / Julie Cook / 2012)

wild animals and all cattle,
small creatures and flying birds,

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(neighboring Georgia bull / Julie Cook / 2014)

kings of the earth and all nations,
you princes and all rulers on earth,

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(Web image of painting of Henry VIII)

young men and women,
old men and children.

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(homeless man, courtyard of The Alamo, San Antonio, Texas / Julie Cook / 2014)

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(young boy posing for mom’s picture atop the duckings in Boston’s Public Gardens / Julie Cook / 2014)


Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for his name alone is exalted;
his splendor is above the earth and the heavens.

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(full moon over Georgia / Julie Cook / 2014)

And he has raised up for his people a horn,
the praise of all his faithful servants,
of Israel, the people close to his heart.

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(web image of a rally in support of Israel)

Praise the Lord.

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(happy flowers covering Boston, Massachusetts / Julie Cook / 2014 )

Forged, annealed and refined

“Life’s a forge! Yes, and hammer and anvil, too! You’ll be roasted, smelted, and pounded, and you’ll scarce know what’s happening to you. But stand boldly to it! Metal’s worthless till it’s shaped and tempered!”
― Lloyd Alexander

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“I will bring the one–third through the fire,
Will refine them as silver is refined,
And test them as gold is tested.
They will call on My name,
And I will answer them.
I will say, ‘This is My people’;
And each one will say, ‘The Lord is my God.”

Isaiah 48:10

Temperatures escalate unbearably as salty sweat drips from a weary brow.
A strained arm crashes forcibly downward as metal strikes metal.
Deafening sounds reverberate off surrounding walls.

The hammer hits again, over and over
as the bellows work furiously pumping life into smoldering embers
The hotter the heat the more impurities are expunged.

What makes a metal precious?
Is it easily forged?
Does it corrode?
Is it strong?
Does it conduct a current?
Does it possess a monetary value?
Does it hold a luster?

Is it not the heat?
The fire?
The hammering?
The beating?
The cooling?
The polishing?
Is it not the work,
the forging,
the tempering
which exposes the value?

The focused hand raises the hammer.
The soul lays bare on the anvil.
The continued strikes disperse the molecules.
As it is thrust, without regret, back into the fire.
Heated throughout until glowing red,
The hammer strikes again.
Suddenly without warning is the emersion
The cold water drawing back the stretched fibers

Over and over, again and again
in and out, heated and cooled. . .
Until what was once weak, dirty and unrecognizable,
is finally made strong.
The sheen now reflecting the image of the
satisfaction of the blacksmith.

(*****Thank you all for prayers yesterday for my son. We don’t know much more than we did before the procedure but that there is no surgery for now, just more meds. The thought is that there may be nerve damage, of which Prayer, most assuredly, will be what is imperative to the healing process—I am grateful for the continued prayer of healing)

Resiliency

“The rain to the wind said,
‘You push and I’ll pelt.’
They so smote the garden bed.
That the flowers actually knelt,
And lay lodged — though not dead.
I know how the flowers felt.”
― Robert Frost

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(tiny little blooms emerging from beneath the leaves and debris of a forest floor / Julie Cook / 2014)

I think that I too know how the flowers felt—or better yet, how the flowers feel.
Who doesn’t seem to know that feeling after this never ending winter?
The winter of our true discontent?!
As I enjoy a sudden greening of the yard and trees, Spring’s warmth however is proving to be deceptively coy.

Today we received flooding rains, again, with temperatures in the mid 50’s. More indicative of a typical February day, not April 7th. The sweaters and coats have not gone very far.

The brave early blooms which were thwarted by our devastating snow and ice storms were the first casualties. Things have been brown, sickly brown, ever since. Fear and sorrow both griped my heart as I surveyed what remained of the yard. What would and would not show forth, once the weather finally cooperated, hung heavy in the back of my mind. We Southerners love our Spring. But then again, who doesn’t love Spring. . .besides those, such as my son, who suffer grievously from allergies, but I digress.

Thankfully the plants and shrubs, which I feared had given up the ghost, are now showing tiny glimpses of life. Ahh, hope does spring eternal—such a nice correlation.

Amazing.

The brown sticks, with dead crunchy blooms, which just a few short weeks ago were giving every indication of being dead and gone, are now showing signs of tiny hopeful little green shoots.

Resiliency.

Despite deep freezes, late ice, never-ending cold winds, life is, joyously, once again emerging from a frozen tomb.

I can remember, several years ago, being deeply distraught over the raging fires that decimated parts of Yellowstone National Park. Lightening being the devastating culprit. We had just visited the park weeks prior to the fires. I watched the news reports with tears in my eyes. The glorious forests and plains, which make Yellowstone the very special place that it is, were being consumed by an unquenchable fire and no man nor all of his technology and power could do anything to stop it . Even the wildlife, which calls the Park home, were often caught with no where to run. Fire’s devastating selfishness, proving so terribly unfair, once again.

And yet, almost miraculously, shortly after the fires were finally quenched, tiny green sprouts could be seen rising up from the burnt forest floor like a thousand tiny Phoenixes rising from the ashes. There is actually a certain tree, which needs the heat of a fire, to jump start its seedlings to the growing process. Nature making certain that she can rebound what had appeared to be total devastation—making certain of the continuation of life.

Again, amazing.

Nature has her healing ways. . .as does the human spirit.

We, as a people, also have a tenacity buried deep within our core which always seems to rise to the occasion. History teaches us this.
A quick lesson regarding the history of Poland, and that of her people, is a wonderful micro lesson to understanding the human spirit’s ability to rebound, reclaim and regrow—and in the case of Poland, a country that has been wiped off the map time and time again, that would be a lesson learned over and over and over again.

When we find ourselves, as we all will at some point during the course of our lives, in the places of loss. . .those places of the loss of hope, loss of life, loss of love, loss of possessions, loss of faith. . .may we be mindful of the lessons on resiliency found in Nature’s ability to rebound and regrow from what appears to be a nothingness—

Yet more importantly may we be mindful that it is from our own devastation that hope is born.
May we be mindful of the sheer determination and tenacity which is buried deep within each one of us.

As we prepare to enter the solemnity of the dark week of the Passion of Jesus, a man who carried all of our losses in his heart, may we deeply contemplate His example of loss and death both of which gave way to hope, resurrection and Life.

“Great hearts can only be made by great troubles. The spade of trouble digs the reservoir of comfort deeper, and makes more room for consolation.”
― Charles H. Spurgeon