Beautiful hope is found in the weeds

“You are like a chestnut burr, prickly outside,
but silky-soft within, and a sweet kernel,
if one can only get at it. Love will make you show your heart some day,
and then the rough burr will fall off.”

Louisa May Alcott


(a thistle prepares to bloom / Julie Cook / 2020)

Thistles, to me, are most alluring.

To Eeyore, they are a tasty ‘smakeral’ or so Pooh would observe.

They begin, in the early spring, as a spikey mass or clump, of uninviting serrated leaves
emerging oddly from the ground.

Trust me, don’t use bare hands in an attempt to pull them up in order to rid your space
of this most unwanted visitor.

They will eventually send forth one, or even several, shoots sporting a purplish fringed bulb.
As this odd bulb unfurls its full glory, the bloom is almost regal in a crown-like
explosion of texture.


(a thistle crown / Julie Cook / 2020)

And like all earthly glories, these odd blooming weeds eventually fade, turning themselves
back to seed.


(a field of thistles gone to seed /Julie Cook / 2020)

And yet the fact that these plants are considered useless and invasive and even noxious
weeds, there is a beauty found in their blooming and a bit of
respect found in their tenacity.

Saturday I was reading Kathy’s post over on atimetoshare.me —
Kathy was offering some waxing thoughts regarding our world’s current pandemic situation.

I found one passage most enlightening…

Our current younger generation are those who will not experience the pageantry of
a real graduation – those who will not go to their Senior prom –
those who have been through the good, the bad and now the ugly –
those who will be running our country in the next few years.

These unique young people will become a generation of problem solvers,
creative thinkers, money managers, inventive and innovative thinkers all because
their world was turned upside down by a little germ.
They will be the second greatest generation, because they have experienced plenty or at least enough.
They have been on the cutting edge of technology.
They have seen their nation at its worst and at its best.

SATURDAY SOUND OFF

Kathy noted that this current class of seniors, be it high school or college, are presently
experiencing a great many firsts in the way of loss.

Losses of certain rights of passage.

No Spring sports.
No state championships.
No Spring breaks.
No year-end award ceremonies.
No trophies.
No classes
No proms.
No senior days.
No graduations.
No graduation trips.

Only a seemingly unending sense of loss, isolation with more questions than answers.

And yet Kathy notes that this will be the group to become our next class of problem solvers.
They will be our newest innovators and creative thinkers…in part because
such a role and responsibility has been thrust upon them.

They have been handed a mantle of burden and responsibility despite not necessarily seeing
such coming their way.
And it is perhaps not truly a burden they have wanted…but they have been handed such nonetheless.

And so in this time of surreal losses and misses, there is a generation
that will have to rise to the occasion of problem-solving.

They have the tools at their fingertips as a pandemic has now spurred them on–
be it out of frustration, resentment, or simple curiosity…
hope now rests in the beauty of a blooming generation…

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord,
plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

Jeremiah 29:11

Overwhlelmed

“Let nothing disturb you, let nothing frighten you.
All things pass. God does not change. Patience achieves everything.
Whoever has God lacks nothing; God alone suffices.”

St. Teresa of Avila


(the Sheriff giving in to his being overwhelmed by the day / Julie Cook / 2020)

Trying times overwhelm us.
There are no ifs, ands, or buts to it…

So during such times, we must be ever mindful that it is precisely how we respond
to such overwhelming trying times that will, in the end, define us—

Will we be the better for it or the worse for it?

Will the difference be life or will it be death?

And will it be either life eternal or death damnation?

Because you see, if we cry out for God’s intervention, will we be prepared for what
such an intervention will entail?

Some of us will and some of us will not.

C.S. Lewis reminds what such a cry entails…

“God will invade.
But I wonder whether people who ask God to interfere openly and directly in our
world quite realise what it will be like when He does.
When that happens, it is the end of the world.
When the author walks on to the stage the play is over.
God is going to invade, all right: but what is the good of saying you are on His side then,
when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else –
something it never entered your head to conceive –
comes crashing in; something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others
that none of us will have any choice left?
For this time it will God without disguise;
something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror
into every creature.
It will be too late then to choose your side.
There is no use saying you choose to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up.
That will not be the time for choosing; it will be the time when we discover which side
we really have chosen, whether we realised it before or not.
Now, today, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side.
God is holding back to give us that chance.
It will not last for ever.
We must take it or leave it.”

C.S. Lewis

The world is flat…is that really a good thing?

“This sort of thing reduces my mind to a pulp.
I can faintly resist when a man says that if the earth were a globe, cats would not have four legs;
but when he says that if the earth were a globe, cats would not have five legs I am crushed.”

G.K. Chesterton


(Live Science / Image: © Shutterstock)

Not sure where Chesterton was going with the 4 legged vs 5 legged cat thing but
no, this isn’t a post about flat earthers vs round sphere folks.

As far as I’m concerned, the earth is a lovely white and blue-green orb diligently orbiting
around its sun.
Orbiting happily along with it’s fellow 7 or 8 planets,
depending on where you are regarding camp Pluto.
Throw in several moons along with the occasional asteroid…
and it’s a pretty merry little solar system.

So 4 and 5 legged cats aside, what I’m talking about today is something
rather odd..it’s from a conversation I once endured…
and yes, it is odder than the notion 4 vs 5 legged cats.

It was a comment that came from a man who considered himself some sort
of a global authority.
He was a doctor at Emory University and was a most arrogant individual who
I had the distinct displeasure of dining with.

There I sat in a small restaurant, in a small north Georgia town,
back in 2007 for more than over an hour munching on a poor excuse for pasta.
I was listening to a loud pompous man extolling the virtues of how our children
(our two sons who were supposed to be college roommates at the time) who were, in his mind
at the time, a part of the generation who were to be living in this brave new flat world.

If he said flat earth once, he said it a thousand times.

At the time, I had to jiggle my head in order to get my eyes from sticking
to the top of my head.

It was that same sense of brain irritation experienced when our school system jumped
on the paradigm shift thinking bandwagon…the word paradigm was the “it” word
for about two years…I felt as if we shifted so much that we actually tied ourselves in knots.
New thinking knots, but knots none the less.

So during this ‘get to know one another’ dinner, this doctor expert went on and on
as he extolled how exciting it was that our sons were to now be a part of this great exciting
global flatness.

It was, however, the underlining of what his grandiose grandstanding actually meant…
it meant that the world was now a place of quick and readily available communication and travel.
Instant communication, instant availability, instant information…
all readily available at the touch of a button or from the hoping on a plane.

Skyping, video conferencing, texting, red-eye flights whisking us from one side of the
world to the next.
In the blink of an eye, we could all be readily and rapidly connected.
We could live in one city while working in another while connecting with a partner
on a global scale all within a matter of moments.

We were now moving about our very round world as easily as we could within our own home.
How grand.
How exciting.
How empowering.

And that revelation, which was issued 13 years ago, came racing back to my thoughts today
as I pondered this latest illness that is making the global rounds.

Coronavirus.

I am currently nursing my “jamesitis” —my current 31 flavors of illnesses named for my grandson…
all because I kept him last week while he was sick and in turn, I am now sick with what he had.

A small microcosm of the matter of how what one person has is readily passed to another person.

Our flat world makes it all so quick and easy to pass and to share…
sharing a great deal more than simple information.

We readily share our germs just as we readily share our thoughts, words, hopes, and dreams.

So why do we act so surprised?
Why do we seem so aghast over the fact that this virus is jumping from nation to nation,
all within the blink of an eye, when we readily hopscotch from nation to nation.

Germs spread just as quickly as our fastest speedily mode of transportation.

Our foods, our products, our wants, our desires all crisscross our globe
in the blink of an eye.
FedEx, UPS, the Postal service, DHL…we click, we ship and in turn we receive
within hours.

So why do we act as if this latest illness is a plague sent by Moses to shake
Pharaoh’s resolve?

We have allowed a cousin of the common cold to take our economy to its knees.
Our news media has cast the death knell.
We must don masks, bath in hand sanitizer and put bells around the necks of the infected.

It is certainly not my intention to make light of the seriousness of an illness…
When one is sick, there is nothing worse and it as if nothing exists outside of
that illness.

However, I do worry about the hype, the misconceptions and the malicious use of an illness
by those who do not have the best interest of the ill at heart.

It would not be the first time that an illness or misfortune was used by some
of the more insidious among us in order to produce some sort of twisted gain
or step up.

A flat world means a more traversed world.
And with a greater means to traverse…we must, therefore, take both the good
and the bad with such desired traversing.

There should be no surprise.
No mystery.

The germs come along, hand in hand with the business deals, the travel dreams
and the long-sought goods of commerce.

Now it’s up to us to cull the panic and equip our moving world with the
means to keep moving.

We must be smart.
We must execute educated caution but we must not give in to the
news lead mania of demise.

Could demise be political gain or ruin?
Could demise be economic gain or ruin?
Could demise be humankind’s gain or ruin?

Despite our desire for flatness, we are still round.
We have our vulnerabilities…for we are just human you know, not gods as we so
wish within our excitement for flatness.

This is not the plague…
But yet is it not exposing an Achilles heel?
Does it not expose our weaknesses or perhaps our strengths?
Does it not reinforce our wants versus our needs?

We are round yet our desire is for flatness…

We must always understand the costs that come with our wants.
We never worry about such until it is nearly too late.
How many more chances will be afforded before we either get it right…or not?

The Spirit and the Bride say,
“Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.”
And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.
I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them,
God will add to him the plagues described in this book,
and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy,
God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city,
which are described in this book. He who testifies to these things says,
“Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

Revelation 22:17-20

The stories as told by a tree

“These fragments I have shored against my ruins”
T.S. Eliot


(ariel view looking down on the tree and boxes of ornaments / Julie Cook / 2013)

This is a post I wrote the first year I had started blogging.
It was actually written the day after Christmas but I think the sentiment
is still very much worth sharing and most timely…as I think such thoughts might
be best remembered now instead of in a few days when things are being packed
up and put away…remembered as we stand on the cusp of a most joyous
and sacred time.

I am amazed at how much our lives have changed in these few short years since
this post…
changed for both sad and joyous…
There have been deaths, loss, gains, marriage, babies…
the very visible continuum of just one family.

It is my wish for all of us that we may each remember how precious our
lives are and of how important it is to spend the allotted time given to each
of us wisely and lovingly…
Please enjoy….
And I wish for each of you a very Merry Christmas!

I hope everyone had a very nice Christmas–despite the wicked weather and UPS delays. . .

It seems that life here was so hectic leading up to Christmas Day that my memory of
it all is now but a mere blur.
People came, they ate, they slept, they ate, they exchanged gifts, they ate some more—-
then they departed.
Now more people are coming today. . .
where there will be, no doubt, more eating, sleeping, eating, gift giving,
eating, shopping, football, eating, celebrating, eating, then departing some time next week.
Whew!

In between the shifts of company coming and going,
I have worked feverishly to purge my house of Christmas.
My mother always said you couldn’t carry anything from the old year into the new year
so all Christmas decorations–the tree, the lights, etc, must be down and packed away
all before New Year’s Eve.

I worked like a crazy person on “Boxing Day”–-boxing up, packing away, hauling up and
down steps, carrying out to the trash…yet another Christmas.

As “my people” never seem to be home when it’s time to decorate or time to take down,
I become a one-woman demolition team.
It also doesn’t help that I really don’t like my world being turned upside down
with the rearranging, moving, adding and taking away which results from decorating
for a holiday.
I like my world just so.

As it came time for me to dismantle the tree (and yes, our’s is a live tree),
I couldn’t help feeling a bit wistful as well as somewhat nostalgic–-
even as I lugged all of the ornament boxes, once again, out of the attic–
spreading them out all over the floor. No wonder they call it boxing day…not really
but it works for me.

I’m not one of those people who creates a “themed” tree.
Our tree is a hodgepodge tree full of ornaments dating back to a Sunday school class
in 1963 when I was a little girl—-
the ornaments create a bit of a timeline, moving forward through college,
on to the ornaments of the newly married followed by the ornaments of our son as a baby
then as a little boy coming to now, with an engaged couple ornament.
There are the ornaments from various travels and those of various countries.
There are the ornaments from my students throughout the years and the
cherished ornaments from friends…

It seems each ornament has a story.

There is the nutcracker ornament my dad gave me shortly after mother died.
I had collected nutcrackers when I was a young girl as Santa would bring me a
beautifully painted German nutcracker each Christmas–-
Dad carried on the tradition when I was older by giving me a nutcracker ornament.

I found myself a little sad yesterday as I reached for my nutcracker ornament,
gently lifting him from the tree then tenderly placing him in his designated place
in the ornament box—-
thinking about Dad when he actually “thought”—
unlike Christmas Day this year when he was just a shell of his former self as my
stepmother recounted through tears the ordeal of dad having lost the car keys
this past week—-thankfully no, he’s no longer driving–-
but hence the debacle of his having lost the keys that he doesn’t even use…

There are the ornaments that were a part of the trees from throughout my childhood.
They are, to me, mother’s ornaments which now tie a piece of her to my own trees
and of my life today.
There are her little porcelain British regiment soldiers whose heads
I have to glue back on year after year.
There are even the little glass Santa snowmen with the googly eyes that were actually
my grandmothers–then there are the painted Easter eggs that belonged to my
other grandmother.

There are the ornaments that various students have given me over the years.
As I remove each ornament, I can remember each student as if I’m suddenly being
transported to the very spot in the classroom or office when I first opened the
gaily wrapped package each student proudly presented.
It’s not as common for high schoolers to give their teachers gifts which in turn
makes each received present truly special and one of a kind.
I can recall each face as I gently lift the various balls and figures from the tree.

There are the nativity scene ornaments which my godparents gave me when I was in
high school.
I cherished those ornaments all those many years ago, so proud that they had thought of me.
He was the dean of a massive Episcopal Cathedral so for me to have received such a
remembrance was always extra special.

There is the collection of the porcelain angels, with one being what a friend gave me
following the death of my brother.
There are the beautifully fragile glass Santas, the hand-carved birds from Vermont…
And there are the two tongue depressors turned snowmen that at first glance look quite
cheap and homemade and yet they tell quite a story.

I actually first came about my life here in Carrollton by way of another teacher who,
at the time, I did not know.
She had decided to call it quits mid-year in 1982.
She was the art teacher of the local high school here and was married to one of the
history teachers.
She had decided to leave mid-year in order to go back to school at the
University of Georgia to further her degree.
I was the young, freshly graduated, college kid from Atlanta who was hired as
the replacement.
Eventually, I would make the school and the community my home and my life for 31 years.

When her two sons were little boys she was the type of mom who believed that the boys
should make their own spending money even at the ripe old age of 7.
One Christmas the youngest boy wanted some Lego kits.
In order to make some spending money, she had him make Christmas ornaments.
After school, one afternoon, she escorted him from classroom to classroom selling his
tongue depressor snowmen.
I felt rather sorry for him as he was so quiet and shy,
whereas she was rather flamboyant and quite “artsy”—
I bought 2 at a $1.00 a piece.

Several years following the sale of snowmen, she was diagnosed with cancer.
She raged a valiant fight, but the battle proved too much.
She departed this life leaving behind her then-teenaged sons and their dad,
a very distraught husband and father.
A couple of years ago, just prior to my retiring, I finally told my colleague,
her widowed husband, the story of the tongue depressors and how, to now honor
his wife, each year I place the snowmen in a prominent position on our tree.
With tears flowing down his face, he simply hugged me.
That seems like such a long time ago.

Each year as I put up the tree, only to be followed by the taking down of the tree,
I am constantly reminded of what was—-for happy or sad.
I am glad to have a tree that tells a story—and delightfully it is a continuous story.
There is indeed a beginning, but thankfully, there is no end as it is a
constant continuum–-with each year building upon the previous year.

Throughout the long year, from Christmas to Christmas,
there are adventures that usually witness the procuring of some new trinket intended
for a future tree.
These mementos are squirreled away until the designated time when they are pulled out of
drawers and cabinets gently unpacked and placed alongside their fellow trinkets,
doodads, figures, and balls—–all adding to the continued story of a single family who
travels along together on the continuum of a life, for good or bad,
inextricably linked forever by a life forged by those who went before us and only to
be continued by those who follow suit.
The story of a family, as told by a tree. . .

circling the wagons

“Yup.
The end of a way of life.
Too bad.
It’s a good way.
Wagons forward!
Yo!”

John Wayne

A faithful friend is a strong defense;
And he that hath found him hath found a treasure.

Louisa May Alcott

18POzvZ

I’ve spent the better part of the past two years circling my wagons…
As I’ve been riding on a merry-go-round of all things focused on caring for a dad…
one who has been more child than father…
as it should be noted that that has been pretty much him for the majority of my adult life.

As a life long high school teacher, I can multitask with the best of them…
except when it comes to a crisis…
then my mind and actions narrow.

I become steely eyed…
as I grow laser focused,
blocking out most everything that sits on the periphery of life,
as I turn every available resource to the problem.

Trouble is, there have been a myriad of troubles during the course of
the last couple of years…
all of which have kept me and my sights narrowed and hyper-focused
for much longer than is most likely healthy….
hence my back, or whatever it is back there that has me unknowingly holding my hand
to my lower back as I go about my day in a gingerly fashion….
So unlike my ADDness of darting here and there all before blinking…

As an only child caring for two elderly individuals who have varying degrees of dementia,
as well as a wealth of physical ailments…
and who live miles away in a different city from my own…
it has all left me more and more isolated and emotionally spent

It seems my closest friend these days is the main caregiver who spends her days
making certain no one falls or forgets their medications…
let alone forgetting to eat…
which for one of them is a constant battle.

I live on the road, traversing back and forth.
The days I spend not traversing,
are spent on the phone with various doctors and healthcare facilities,
or paying a sea of endless bills,
or simply organizing a home and household other than my own…
A house that is nearly 65 years old and needs much in the way of care….

My phone rings constantly with the calls from an ever growing confused 88 year old man
who has decided he will die in the hospital come Friday during his surgery…
as his wife, my stepmother,
just can’t understand and is irritated as to why he keeps having to run to the loo.

The concept of a large tumor and bladder cancer has simply flown totally
over her head as she has decided she hates the new dishwasher.
I had to buy it,
have it installed
and now she hates it
for the one single reason…
that I bought it…
Go figure…

She now demands that the caregivers hand wash every dish and glass.
Just as she refuses to eat the groceries brought into the house
because she is convinced they have all gone bad and are rotten upon
arriving fresh from the store.

And if it’s not dad calling, it’s the caregivers calling with the latest craziness
as I work my magic to put out the fires of bodies and minds fighting themselves….

The journey getting here was slow and almost unnoticeable at first.
There were, however, signs and warnings…

Signs and warnings, that perhaps in my naiveté,
I thought would all turn out differently
or never materialize in the first place…

Just like the pictures I had in my mind of my future with my mother…

That when she would one day grow old and grey…as dad is now,
I warmly entertained the thoughts of how we’d have fun together…
We’d go to lunch and to the antique shops we each enjoyed when she and I were younger..
Just as we would then travel and see the world…together…

But those thoughts were smashed 30 years ago when she suddenly died from cancer….
So I don’t know why I try to imagine things as a certain way,
as that is not how they will be…

For the snowball has picked up momentum and is barreling at breakneck speed toward me…

And so, yes, I have circled my wagons…
drawing my camp ever near.
As my circle in life has tightened..
excluding many from what once was…

My eyes have narrowed
As I hold my cards tight to my chest,
lest they reveal too much…hopefulness…

Yet this story of woe is not as tragic as it might seem…
Nor is this heart bitter as it might sound…

For despite the fact that my world has shrunk from what it was…
from my friends
from my freedom
from my choices
from my comings and goings…

there has been much…
inward growing
inward learning
inward bending
inward moulding
inward shaping

For the winds of this life are shifting…
And attentions must be turning…

So I ready myself and my camp
for that which comes our way…

‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’
declares the LORD,
‘plans for welfare and not for calamity
to give you a future and a hope.’

Jeremiah 29:11

The Serenity Prayer
God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is,
not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
If I surrender to His Will;
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with Him
Forever and ever in the next.

Amen.
A prayer attributed to Reinhold Neibuhr (1892-1971)