the gifts of the unknowing

“What you are is God’s gift to you, what you become is your gift to God.”
Hans Urs von Balthasar


(Senator Bob Doyle, now 95, salutes the casket of his friend, colleague,
opponent and fellow WWII vertern, George, H.W. Bush)

If there is one image that has touched my heart the most over the past couple of days,
other than the image of former President George H.W. Bush’s service dog Sully resting
at the foot of his casket, it is this image…
this one picture…

The poignant and heart touching image of Senator and fellow WWII Vet
Bob Dole of Kansas being helped to his feet, in order to salute his longtime friend.

Senator Dole, of Kansas, is 95 years young yet is frail and is in failing health
but he was determined to be brought to the US Capitol building in order to pay his
respects to his fellow veteran and friend.

To most men of ‘that generation’ respect has always meant standing, and in this
case saluting, as both men fought, and were each wounded,
during what they simply refer to as “The War.”

Bob Dole was in the infantry fighting in Italy when he was hit by German machine gun fire
in the back and arm.

According to Wikipedia:
Dole was badly wounded by German machine gun fire, being hit in his upper back and right arm.
As Lee Sandlin describes, when fellow soldiers saw the extent of his injuries,
all they thought they could do was to “give him the largest dose of morphine they dared
and write an ‘M’ for ‘morphine’ on his forehead in his own blood,
so that nobody else who found him would give him a second, fatal dose.”

Dole was transported to the United States, where his recovery was slow,
interrupted by blood clots and a life-threatening infection.
After large doses of penicillin had not succeeded, he overcame the infection with the
administration of streptomycin, which at the time was still an experimental drug.
He remained despondent, “not ready to accept the fact that my life would be changed forever.”
He was encouraged to see Hampar Kelikian,
an orthopedist in Chicago who had been working with veterans returning from war.
Although during their first meeting Kelikian told Dole that he would never be able to recover fully,
the encounter changed Dole’s outlook on life, who years later wrote of Kelikian,
a survivor of the Armenian Genocide,
“Kelikian inspired me to focus on what I had left and what I could do with it,
rather than complaining what had been lost.”
Dr. K, as Dole later came to affectionately call him, operated on him seven times,
free of charge, and had, in Dole’s words, “an impact on my life second only to my family.”

I am always gratified when I read of or hear of the stories about the impacts
that one human being can have upon another…
impacts, that more often than not, are unbeknownst to the one who is doing the impacting.

I call it the gift of the unknowing.

These unknown gifts actually consist of simple things such as time,
assistance or a listening ear or even what might be perceived as an
insignificant opportunity…
These gifts, which more often than not are unbeknownst to the giver…
become paramount and even life-changing to the recipient.

Bob Dole had his gift giver.
And we Americans are better for it.

And if the truth was told, I think most all of us have had a gift giver, if not several,
during the course of our lives

And so I wish to share the following story that was offered by Dana Perino, a current
Fox News analyst and host and former press secretary for President George W. Bush…
one more story about a gift giver of the unknowing…

As our nation continues the process of mourning President George H.W. Bush, I wanted to share a story with you that was shared with me this past weekend. It was told to me by a friend who spent his career at the CIA. I can’t reveal his name for obvious reasons but his story is one I wanted to share with you. I think it’s a particularly good lesson for those who lead a team – whether they’re in political, private or military life.

Here’s what my friend told me:
My first encounter with 41 was many, many years ago; he was the Director of Central Intelligence. I was a young officer, still not sure what I wanted to be when I grew up. I had spent very little time in the headquarters building – and I actually worked hard not to go there.

My supervisor finally cornered me and forced me to go to a mandatory two-week course at headquarters. I had managed to squirm out of it three times but this time I was trapped. I hated the course, didn’t care for the instructor and didn’t warm up to my classmates. They all appeared to know each other, I didn’t know any of them and made little attempt to get to know them.

At lunch, I would slip down to the cafeteria, get a cheeseburger, chips, and a coke, take my newspaper and go sit in the corner, eat and catch up with the world. (There was no internet!)
On about the fourth day, I was sitting in the corner, minding my own business and I felt a presence… someone was standing over me, with a tray. “Mind if I join you?” The stranger asked. I looked up, ready to say I was almost done… To my surprise, it was George Bush, then the Director of Central Intelligence. He was all by himself.

I stood up and said, “Please, have a seat.” I introduced myself and told him where I worked. He started to introduce himself and I said, I know who you are.

He laughed… that laugh of his. He said we had minutes before his people (handlers) would realize he was missing and come find him.

We talked about duty and service. I told him about my job and how I was there for a class… I left out the part about me being a jerk and not mixing in.
He opined that those classes were a good way to bond with people from different parts of the organization. I believe he sensed I wasn’t doing that because I was eating alone. I was embarrassed.

True to his thought, soon after some folks “found” him – although he insisted he wasn’t lost. I invited him to come visit the building I worked in to see what great work my colleagues were doing. He said he would.

I went back to the class. Late. I told them why and was bombarded with questions about him. I had an epiphany and became a full participant.

He left me with a message I hadn’t understood – not only was I learning from my classmates, but they were also learning from me.

A few weeks later a handwritten note found its way to me at my office. He thanked me for our conversation at lunch; it said he had learned a lot!

Little did he know the lesson I learned from him. He turned my life and career around.

This was the first encounter I had with him… and my favorite George H.W. Bush story.
When I responded to my friend’s note, saying how remarkable this story is, he said this:

“Remember, the Agency was under seize by the Church and Pike committees. People were angry (I was angry). Morale was low and it wasn’t enjoyable coming into work. He made me feel (probably for the first time) a senior [leader] cared about me and what I thought.

“His gift of asking the right questions and listening was amazing. He made me feel what we were doing WAS important and everything was going to be alright.

“I had been looking to leave. Of course, I didn’t… but his lessons weren’t lost on me.

“I learned how to be a good, compassionate leader and understood that everyone was always looking at you for direction and assurance that you care about them and what they do.”

It is and was most important to lead when things were not going well.”

Dana Perino currently hosts FOX News Channel’s (FNC) The Daily Briefing with Dana Perino (weekdays 2-3PM/ET) and also serves as co-host of The Five (weekdays 5-6PM/ET). She joined the network in 2009 as a contributor

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them,
for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 7:12

work done while sleeping….

“I think we dream so we don’t have to be apart for so long.
If we’re in each other’s dreams, we can be together all the time.”

― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh


(tiny prayer box / Julie Cook / 2018)

The above image is that of a tiny, badly tarnished silver, prayer box.
This particular little box, along with others like it, was very popular in the late
80’s early 90’s.
This is the one that I had at the time.

Just inside the tiny box, you can see a bit of blue paper.
And might I add, that is a very tiny piece of blue paper with an equally tiny
written prayer.
But we might note that the prayer was anything but tiny.

Below is an image of another prayer box.
This particular box was discovered buried along a street in the old City of David sandwiched between some tile during construction taking place in a car lot.
This tiny box, made of some sort of animal bone, dates from either the 5th or
6th century AD and is considered to be a Byzantine prayer box.

Rather than a tiny piece of paper with a tiny scrawled prayer resting inside the tiny box, there is actually a small and very worn Icon, or painted image, of what is thought to be Mary.
Such a prayer box was intended to be carried in a pocket or pouch and acted as a
tiny traveling church, as one could open the box and pray before a holy image…
taking one’s prayers directly to the source.

The Byzantine time period from which this little box dates was a very tumultuous time
for the Middle East along with the whole Mediterranean region.

The Roman Empire had fallen to the Visigoths and Carthage had fallen to the Vandals…
add in the push from Attila’s Huns and it was a very dangerous time to be either
Jewish or Christain.

I can only imagine the prayers offered before this ancient little box…
as I am left to wonder whose box it was and how did it come to rest buried
in a parking lot in Jerusalem.

Right before Christmas a longtime blogging friend emailed me that she wanted me to
look into something she had just purchased.
This friend has since moved on from the blogging world, as she is a working mom
with young children whose time has not been her own.
She is an extremely devout Christian with a deep Jewish heritage.

She is very familiar with the idea of prayer, particularly those that are written and
placed before God.

It is a tradition that at the Wailing wall in Jesurelum, prayers are written down and placed in the crevices of the wall, as the wall is considered Holy by Jews as well as many Christians.

Often seen rocking slightly back and forth as their heads gently touch the wall, Jews will stand for long periods of time before the Wall, hands resting outward with palms facing upward or either with hands reverently folded…they will be immersed in deep meditative prayer.
Others, be they tourists or locals, merely push tiny bits of paper into the cracks as they lay their written prayers before what it thought the Divine Presence of
God Himself.

The Wall is considered Divine because it is a remnant of the actual Temple.

Human beings seem to have a very deep need for the tangible when it comes to their relationship with the Divine Presence of God…to be able to touch, to write to physically connect is of the utmost importance to many of the faithful.

Be it prayer beads, a knotted prayer rope, icons or even a prayer box–the
tangible and physical connection between penitent and God is a deeply profound
yearning as well as a mystery.

What my friend wanted me to look into was what is known as a sleeping Joseph.

Now that might sound odd and even appear odd but the story behind the small figurine is anything but strange and is actually rather full of gentleness and a gracious sense of comfort.

We know very little about Jesus’ earthly father Joseph.
He is only mentioned early on in the Gospels of both Matthew and Luke and later in the books of Mark and John
It is in Matthew (1:1-18) that we read of his lineage harkening back to
David.

It is also when we read of the importance of dreams regarding Joseph as God came to Joseph at the most key moments in his life as a husband and father during his sleep. First Joseph is reassured that Mary is indeed telling the truth regarding her pregnancy and that he is to follow through with marrying her.
Secondly, Joseph is warned to take his young family to Egypt in order to flee Herod’s wrath and the killing of the Innocents.

I can remember my Godpoppa, the Episcopal priest, giving a sermon one Father’s day
about Joseph.

And he noted what we already know, that historically, we know very little regarding Joseph as he seems to simply “disappear” from scripture once Jesus begins
his earthly ministry.
He is not mentioned throughout the three years of ministry as being present and is not by Mary’s side at the crucifixion.

And so we simply and sadly assume he died at some point during Jesus’ growing up.

As we are left to wonder about this earthly father of Jesus.

Thinking about Jesus’ earthly father actually brought tears to my Godpoppa’s eyes as he had lost his own father when he was only 16. His was a heartfelt observation about what a life Joseph must have lived.

He most likely taught Jesus the skills of carpentry.
How to be a craftsman using both his mind and his hands.
He taught Jesus what it meant to be reverent and prayerful
He taught Jesus the demonstrative nature of what Jesus intuitively knew,
how to worship His actual Father…no doubt a precarious balance and a heavy burden
for the earthly father.
He also taught the young boy respect.

There was a humble yet focused obedience that Jesus learned from Joseph.

And he learned about the importance of prayer…

The small figurine my friend shared with me is a prayer box of sorts.
The idea being that as you ready for sleep you place your concerns, worries, prayers
written down while placing them under the sleeping Joseph.

How often is your sleep disrupted by the heaviness of concern and worry?
Your thoughts, including your subconscious, consumed by the weight of whatever it is
that is eating at you. Your family, your friends, your work, your health, the health of those you love…there is a quickening of need that plays out even while you attempt to sleep—you pray as you drift off only to toss and turn…

The Joseph “prayer box” asks that you write down these concerns and or petitions,
laying them beneath Joseph—a man who was accustomed to Godly encounters during his sleep through his dreams, as you literally give your concerns over to God.

Trusting that He will, as He does, see, hear and know…

This is not a discussion on the topic of Saints nor of the notion of their interventions or of denominational differences, infighting, and angst…
it is rather a reminder of the human need and desire for a tangible and or physical connection as we literally acknowledge the weight of our concerns, worries and thoughts along with the very real need to literally give them over to God.

For God does speak—now one way, now another—
though no one perceives it.
In a dream, in a vision of the night,
when deep sleep falls on people
as they slumber in their beds,

Job 33:14-15

Cookie Niçoise

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It’s dawned on me that we’ve not talked about anything tasty in quite sometime. Not since we tried to decide if I was a vanilla connoisseur or, hummmm, a lush. And by the way, those “vanilla to be” bottles are “fermenting” nicely thank you very much (see post Vanilla Extract or is cookie a lush)—You know you’ll want some when I make that decadent chocolate torte with my rum vanilla. But until the time that the fermentation period is complete, we must fill the void.

The other day I was privileged having a dear dear friend over for lunch. I am blessed with a wonderful close circle of good and dear friends. This particular friend means a great deal to me. She is probably the best example I know of what it means to truly “live one’s Faith.” Her’s is an honest Faith—a “suck it up and go on ’til you can go no more Faith.” She has exemplified what unconditional Love is all about and she has believed in me when I had lost all belief in myself—never allowing me to slip out of not only her grasp, but that of our Heavenly Father’s grasp. Loving me when I was loathing me.

We have known one another for many many years. And even as our paths have diverged over the years, weaving us in and out of constant contact, she is still there…always. I count it a blessing for moments, when our schedules and lives are such, that we can actually spend some real time together as I am constantly learning from her. Her Christian Faith is raw and I am fortunate to have her as a source of strength and knowledge in my life.

So on such an occasion, I always want to have something wonderful as the meal. I believe that taste and appearance are equally most important when it comes to food. I also believe strongly in the “feast and fellowship” school of thought. Communing together over good food and drink can be so cathartic to one’s very being.

This day should be no different. The weather has certainly warmed up so something light yet fulfilling–tasty and satisfying, without being overtly filling as my friend had to return to work following our little lunch. It dawned on me—one of my all time favorite meals—a salad niçoise. That most delightful amalgamation of Mediterranean taste sensations—from Provence to the Isle of Capri—everyone seems to have their own special take on this salad.

Anchovies or no anchovies, egg or no egg, tuna or shrimp, to or not to add crumbled cheese….it is a canvas just waiting for an artist to throw what he or she will at it with the end results always the same—a bite of sun and sea in one’s mouth…..

Here is how I made mine this particular day—it is up to you to mix it up for your own tastes—or for what happens to be available in the ol cupboard at the time:

One fresh Tuna steak–grilled or pan sautéed med rare (sorry but that is how fresh tuna should be prepared) When there was not tuna I opted for shrimp.

a bunch of mixed lettuce—I used a baby spring mix from my yard and some baby romaine

beets—I actually roasted my own golden beets and marinated them with white balsamic vinegar or you can choose jarred pickled beets.

sliced tomatoes or whole baby grape tomatoes

corn, cut fresh from the cob

blanched french green beans (chill after blanching)

boiled and sliced baby new potatoes tossed lightly, while still warm, with part of the vinaigrette

Kalamata olives pitted

crumbled hard boiled egg is you wish (I did not)

crumbled fresh feta or goat cheese

you may add marinated hearts of palm or artichokes if you have any on hand.

First make the vinaigrette dressing:

Mince one clove of garlic on a cutting board and sprinkle heavily with salt; using a knife, scrape garlic and salt together to form a smooth paste. Transfer paste to a bowl and whisk in 1/3 cup olive oil, a teaspoon of lemon juice and 2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar or champagne vinegar, 1 teaspoon of coarse grind dijon mustard, a minced shallot if you have one, and salt and pepper; set aside. I also chop up fresh herbs and add these to the dressing—whatever you have…basil, thyme, savory, parsley, chives……

On a pretty platter place your torn up lettuce then decoratively, or not, add the potatoes, sliced beets, chilled green beans, sliced tomatoes, olives, sprinkle with corn kernels (adds a nice sweet crunch), add slice tuna or shrimp, sprinkle with crumbled cheese, pour dressing over the entire salad and voila—–

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Here’s a previous salad made for another special lunch gathering–same salad, just different additions and presentation:

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Here are my beets ready for roasting (wash, cut off the tops, place in heavy aluminum foil, drizzle with olive oil, lemon zest, cracked pepper and salt. Roast at 400 for an hour–cool and peel–slice, dice or leave whole–toss with balsamic vinegar and refrigerate):

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This makes for an easy but elegant entree for any luncheon. I served it with a fresh fruit salad, and a toasted rustic rosemary loaf of bread.

Fresh pound cake with a warm blueberry compote for desert.

Finish off with refreshing lemonade—or if possible a light and refreshing prosecco.

Happy and wonderful times to be shared deserve equally wonderful foods—Bon Appetite