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. . .

she had nothing to give…yet she gave the very best

“May it be a light to you in dark places,
when all other lights go out.”

J.R.R. Tolkien


(image courtesy Rachel Uretsky-Pratt, an elementary teacher in Washington State)

I have a small confession…
When it comes to cereal, of which I rarely eat, I love Lucky Charms.

I’ve loved it ever since I was little…
or rather ever since the cereal’s inception in 1964.

And if the truth be told, I’ve been known to secretly buy a box every now and then,
when I should have been buying something like Multigrain Cheerios or some other healthy
cardboard nuggets.

It’s okay, let’s all admit it…who doesn’t love those colorful little
crunchy marshmallows?

And another confession…

Have you ever eaten a bowl of Lucky charms, as the milk
turns an odd swirling muddied color from all those magically melting delicious marshmallows…
in turn, turning up the bowl while finishing off that last bit of sweetened milk?
Mmmmmmmmmm

My mother, for reasons beyond my soul, would never buy the cereal I wanted, that being
Lucky Charms or Raisin Bran.
She claimed the Raisin Bran upset our stomachs…something about too much bran
but back then the thought of fiber was not a thing and as far as the Lucky Charms
was concerned, to this day, I don’t know…
she just always tried appeasing my brother with that awful Captain Crunch.

So when I saw the following image of a tiny bag of Lucky Charms marshmallows being
offered as a humble Christmas gift, my attention was piqued.

And by the time I finished reading the story, my eyes were so full of tears that I could
barely see from crying almost uncontrollably.

The newsfeed popped up after a young elementary teacher’s FaceBook post went viral.

It seems that Rachel Uretsky-Pratt, who is an elementary teacher in Washington state,
received a rather unusual gift from one of her students.
But rather than just being an unusual gift, the small present was about the most genuine,
selfless and sincere form of giving that I’ve seen in a very long time, if ever.

Uretsky-Pratt posted on her FaceBook:

“You see, 100% of my school is on free/reduced lunch.
They also get free breakfast at school every day of the school week.
This kiddo wanted to get my something so badly, but had nothing to give,” she continued.
“So rather than give me nothing, this student opened up her free breakfast cereal this morning,
took the packaging of her spork, straw, and napkin, and finally took the time to take
every marshmallow out of her cereal to put in a bag – for me.”

Here is the full FaceBook post followed by the link to the news story:

To help put your life into perspective:
Today was the last day before our winter break.
We will have two weeks off to rest with our families and loved ones over the holidays
then head back to school in 2019.

With it being the day before break and Christmas right around the corner,
most teachers bring their kiddos something such as books or little treats and occasionally
in return receive something from their students.
Today I received some chocolates, sweet handmade notes, some jewelry,
but these Lucky Charm marshmallows stood out to me the most.

You see, 100% of my school is on free/reduced lunch.
They also get free breakfast at school every day of the school week.
This kiddo wanted to get my something so badly, but had nothing to give.
So rather than give me nothing,
this student opened up her free breakfast cereal this morning,
took the packaging of her spork, straw,
and napkin, and finally took the time to take every marshmallow out of her cereal
to put in a bag—for me.
Be grateful for what you have, and what others give you.
It all truly comes from the deepest parts of their hearts.
Happy Holidays.
💕

https://www.foxnews.com/food-drink/washington-student-teacher-marshmallows-christmas-gift

And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting
money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums.
And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny.
And he called his disciples to him and said to them,
“Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are
contributing to the offering box.
For they all contributed out of their abundance,
but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

Mark 12:41-44

May love and joy come to you…

Here we come a-wassailing among the leaves so green;
Here we come a-wandering, so fair to be seen.
Love and joy come to you, and to you our wassail, too.
And God bless you and send you a Happy New Year
And God bless you and send you a Happy New Year

1st stanza to a traditional English carol

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity,
faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
Even though the Disciples suffered persecution, they were filled with joy.
One would have expected them to be depressed or angry or resentful.
The very fact that they responded to persecution with joy is a sign that
the Spirit was guiding their actions.
We can use that same test with our own words and actions.”

Rev. Jude Winkler, O.F.M., p. 11
An Excerpt From
Daily Meditations Holy Spirit

Love and joy…
two sentiments found in an old English carol which are, if the truth be told,
actually so much more than mere holiday fodder sung during just a particular time of year
but rather they are two paramount fruits of the Spirit.

We sing about them.
We think about them.
We might even find ourselves with wistful thoughts yearning over
along with hoping over…
Yet sadly I fear that we have become so jaded as a culture that we have
allowed the caustic wave that is blanketing our society to corrode our yearnings
leaving us more than simply longing but rather coming up woefully short.

Love and Joy, for and with our fellow man, woman, and child, are not only difficult
to find but are more and more difficult for us to actually feel.

It’s certainly easy enough to say all of this after turning on a television and
catching any news program, talk show, or late night comedy show…
as they are rife with everything that has nothing to do
with Love or Joy or any gift having anything to do with the Spirit…
but I say this more from a little incident Sunday morning that left me
scratching my head while questioning the notion of both Love and Joy.

Yesterday was the third Sunday of Advent.
It is known as Gaudete Sunday or Gaudete Domino Semper” (“Rejoice in the Lord always”).

The word ‘rejoice’ is found in the Latin lyrics of the traditional and ancient Advent Hymn–
Veni Veni Emmanuel

Veni, veni Emmanuel!
Captivum solve Israel!
Qui gemit in exilio,
Privatus Dei Filio,
Gaude, gaude, Emmanuel
nascetur pro te, Israel.

O COME, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! O Israel,
to thee shall come Emmanuel!

We are to rejoice with a spirit of Love and Joy…
over the Spirit of Love and Joy

My little tale began this weekend.

We had spent the night Saturday evening babysitting the Mayor as her dad had taken her mom
to see the Nutcracker—both of them will be celebrating their 30th birthdays this week
so our son surprised our daughter-n-law with tickets to the play at the historic
Atlanta Fox Theater.

And because we wouldn’t be able to celebrate with them during the week due to
work schedules, we thought we could go enjoy a late Sunday morning brunch
for a little low key family celebration before we were to head back home.

We opted to go to a lovely little French restaurant that we have loved and enjoyed
throughout the years which happens to be located in what was once a quaint
old neighborhood home.

These particular neighborhood homes, in this particular area of town,
came into existence beginning in the early 1920s and were lived in
until about late 1960’s—right when the city was hitting a stride of a boom,
turning the entire area into the trendy shopping and dining mecca it’s known for today
that being Buckhead.

In fact, the high school my parents attended is just around the corner…which is now
some sort of new learning center.
Many of the homes in this neighborhood were once the homes of their friends yet have
since been turned into haute couture boutiques or trendy restaurants.

The street where this restaurant is located is as it was decades ago…
shaded by old oaks with cars parked on either side of
the street making it a tight squeeze when two cars meet that are driving either
up and down the street simultaneously, narrowly missing one another let alone those
parked along the curb.

Our reservations were for 11:30.

We arrived about 10 minutes early and the valet fellow
was setting out his sign but there was a large truck delivering fresh fruit currently
blocking the driveway.
I had my blinker on to turn as we were waiting for the delivery guy to move his truck.

At this point, my daughter-n-law hopped out of the front seat to help me maneuver my car
into the driveway between the truck and a parked car as the valet told us to try and
squeeze in if we could.
She was going to check the distance between the car parked on the curb right by the
driveway and the truck.

Thankfully the delivery guy came out at this crucial moment to get in his truck and move.
Leaving us without having to hold our breath squeezing in between unmovable objects.

However, it was also at the same moment that suddenly a jeep drove up right up behind me
and proceeded to blow their horn.

My daughter-n-law motioned to the jeep to please wait for just a minute.
Because obvioulsy they could see that we were waiting on a delivery truck
to pull out of the driveway we were waiting to turn into.

However, the horn blowing proceeded.

My husband and son, sitting in the back seat with the baby, both reached for the door
so fast, practically falling out of the car over one another, to see what was up with
the jeep.

At this point, my daughter-n-law tells the lady in the jeep that we’re just about
to pull in if she could just hold on a minute, we’d be out of her way,
since obviously, we were having to wait on the delivery truck to move.

The lady in the jeep tells my daughter-n-law that we are being rude sitting in the
road and that she needed to hurry to take her daughter to her riding lessons.

Late for a horse riding lesson in the middle of the urban city??…hummm

She obviously wanted me out of her way come hell or high water or both.

We had only been waiting maybe 3 minutes max when she had pulled up
and we were just about to turn in.

And so with the continued honking horn and the selfish escalating words from the
lady in the jeep fussing about me not moving out of her way,
my oh so pregnant and out of patience daughter-n-law had had her fill…
she proceeded to tell this woman that she could kindly wait just one minute or take those
riding lessons and shove them into a dark, tight and painful place.

At this point the truck moved, the valet motioned me in while the jeep zoomed
past me, narrowly missing my car’s back end.

The valet guy, who had felt helpless, was beside himself telling us that that lady in
the jeep was “a rude looser” and that “this is the season for love and joy”,
as well as a time for little bit of patience. Where was her giving spirit??!!

Did I mention it was a chilly, grey, misty, foggy yucky kind of day…
of which cast a somber veil over the day?
Did I mention that this is a section of town known for being a bit upper crust?
Something my aunt use to laugh over whenever she came back to Atlanta
to visit as she remembered this neighborhood when…

All of us adults in the car, with the Mayor oblivious, were now frazzled with raw nerves.
The Mayor was just ready to be set free from the restraints of a car seat…
restraint is not something the Mayor is fond of as of late.

Grousing as we made our way inside, I had to remind everyone, myself included,
not to let this ruin our day or our time together.

But those sorts of occurrences tend to linger in one’s craw.

Especially when considering yourself to be a mild-mannered, patient
law-abiding citizen of the world whose thought process is live and let live.

I was glad my husband and son could not maneuver seatbelts and a car door both fast
enough to get out of the car, having to leave the dirty work to a pregnant lady who
teaches jr high school right here before a major holiday and was well past putting
up with anyone’s selfish nonsense.

And so now I am pulled back to the notion of Love and Joy.

As in where is the Love and Joy?
Where is the patience, the kindness, the peace?
The fruits?

Finally seated at the table, with the Mayor now opting to go wild,
my husband reminded us that 99% of folks are nice and kind and of whom want to
do the right thing…but it’s always that one person out there who can simply ruin
it all in one fell swoop and think nothing of it.
Leaving us to forget all the good while the bad glaringly taunts our thoughts
and emotions.

And so I was quickly reminded of the one who rejoices in the negative, the bad and
the wrong all found in the tiny percentage versus the good found in the
large percent. Much the opposite of the One who leaves the whole in order to seek
out the one who is lost.

From all of this, the one thing I do know is that Satan, who much like Santa
(note, Satan is real…Santa is, well, in the North Pole)
goes into to overdrive, particularly this time of year, working very hard to rob us all
of any sentiment of a Holy season while he joyously strives
to rob us of those life-giving fruits of the Spirit.

Because if we lose those Fruits we lose ourselves and in turn, a wedge is driven between us
and the very Spirit of God and in turn, Satan claims a tiny victory.

And so yes–whereas we, those of us in my car, needed to be mindful of that very
thought when confronted with a sudden difficult situation, we, as in humankind,
all need to be mindful of how we treat one another—
as holidays seem to bring out both the very best and the very worst in humanity.

So as this is the season of gift giving…
We must remember that we have each been given Spirit-filled gifts.
Life-giving gifts.
We have also been given the gift of Salvation.

Life-giving gifts which are meant to be lived and shared.

The remembrance of this particular holiday season blessedly remains as not merely a reminder
but rather as a wake-up call…
A call not so much of nostalgia or of the fact that we struggle with consumerism…
but rather the call that we are to strive to be gracious gift givers…
gracious in giving gifts that are neither bought nor wrapped…
but rather gifts that we as Believers have each been endowed with…giving
way to the best gift given to all mankind.

May we then be quick to share our Fruitful gifts while at the same time rejoicing
in the most precious gift of all…our very Salvation.

May love and joy come to you…

But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.
Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High,
because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.

Luke 6:35

To all those who won’t be making it home this Christmas

Christmas is a time when you get homesick —
even when you’re home.

Carol Nelson

I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round, as a good time;
a kind, forgiving, charitable time; the only time I know of,
in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open
their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were
fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.

Charles Dickens


(an odd site here at home / Julie Cook / 2018

Driving home yesterday after visiting the dentist, I was cutting through an area of town
full of some of our communities older homes, when I found myself driving behind a
vintage WWII Army ambulance.

An odd sight but suddenly I felt strangely transported to a different time and era.

The vehicle, the homes, the time of year.

If you didn’t happen to notice the small security company sign out front of this house,
you might just think it was 1943.

My thoughts drifted across time and space to places that were far away from
my own current little corner here in Georgia.

Despite there being such a heightened sense of urgency wafting through the air
this time of year…
What with the odd increase in mid-day traffic and the massive number of folks hustling
here and there…along with that unseen force that was moving the masses of folks
to go out and buy, buy, buy with a frantic frenzy…

And despite the current pull I was personally feeling to race from the dentist to some
local den of commercialism, seeking out those last minute items to fill in the blanks…
I felt a tinge of warming nostalgia instead.

I heard Bing Crosby’s crooning…his rich melodious voice echoing deep in my head.

A small smile spread across my face for no one in particular to see.

A simpler time, yet a precarious time.
A warmer time of humanity, yet a violent time for our world.

No matter that it was an ominous time,
we knew what our collective civilization was fighting for.
We were a united civilization standing against a giant monster of tyranny and an invasive evil.

There was a decisive and determined collective willingness to sacrifice.
Rations, victory gardens, sharing and giving when there wasn’t ever much to give nor share.

There was a joint desire for unity.
A shared experience of apprehension blanketed by a blessed sense of thankfulness.

I found myself gently humming a familiar yet comforting tune.

My gift to you today…

“In 1943, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” joined “White Christmas” to become one of
America’s most popular homegrown holiday songs.
Recorded in a rich baritone by Bing Crosby,
“I’ll Be Home for Christmas” shot to the top ten of the record charts
(as “White Christmas” had for Crosby the previous year)
and became a holiday musical tradition in the United States.”
Library of Congress

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

spam

“Suffering, gracefully accepted, refines the human heart,
and the experience of darkness sharpens the vision of the spirit.”

Paul Glynn, A Song for Nagasaki:
The Story of Takashi Nagai:
Scientist, Convert, and Survivor of the Atomic Bomb

According to Wikipedia Spam is (stylized SPAM) is a brand of canned cooked meat made
by Hormel Foods Corporation.
It was first introduced in 1937 and gained popularity worldwide after its use during World War II.
By 2003, Spam was sold in 41 countries on six continents and trademarked in over 100 countries
(not including the Middle East and North Africa).

According to its label, Spam’s basic ingredients are pork, with ham meat added, salt,
water, modified potato starch as a binder, sugar, and sodium nitrite as a preservative.
Natural gelatin is formed during cooking in its tins on the production line.
Many have raised concerns over Spam’s nutritional attributes,
in large part due to its high content of fat, sodium, and preservatives.

I also understand it’s the “national” food of Hawaii as “Hawaiians sometimes call it
“Portagee Steak” oddly my money was always on the pineapple.

And also according to Wikipedia Spam or rather Spamming is:
Electronic spamming is the use of electronic messaging systems to send an
unsolicited message (spam), especially advertising, as well as sending messages repeatedly
on the same site. While the most widely recognized form of spam is email spam,
the term is applied to similar abuses in other media:
instant messaging spam, Usenet newsgroup spam,
Web search engine spam, spam in blogs, wiki spam, online classified ads spam,
mobile phone messaging spam, Internet forum spam, junk fax transmissions,
social spam, spam mobile apps, television advertising and file sharing spam.
It is named after Spam, a luncheon meat, by way of a Monty Python sketch about a
restaurant that has Spam in every dish and where patrons annoyingly chant “Spam!”
over and over again.

I must confess that I have never tried Spam.

I never cared for bologna so I kind of figured I wouldn’t care for Spam.
I’ll just stick to ham.

However that other kind of Spam…
well let’s just say I’ve had my fair share of that unappetizing mess.

We all get the e-mails, the phising (not fishing), the viruses (electronic and not physical),
the phone scams etc…
and yet we must admit it happens here in blogland as well.

Ever so often I’ll go into the comment section on my admin page in order to see if anyone
has been earmarked as spam.

I know that some of my blogland friends will make comments on posts and I will receive
an email notification along with the regular WP notification.
Yet every once in a while a friend’s comment is deemed spam by good ol AT&T.

WP is also prone to throwing friends into the black abyss of either ‘awaiting moderation’
or simply delightfully chunking them to spam. I too have been the victim of being chunked.

So yesterday I went into my site in order to check the spam allotment while
trashing what was indeed a bunch of junk as I sought to rescue anyone who had been
sorely misplaced.

Yet I stopped long enough to skim over one offering in particular that was about as vulgar
as it gets…and to think they were targeting poor ol Taylor Swift.
Not being one who stays up with the music scene…I don’t know why Ms. Swift should be so
grossly vilified, but gross it was.

My knee-jerk reaction, before pushing delete, was to simply bemoan the level of sickness
and vileness that runs rampant across our senses.

But then my thoughts shifted to the evil that is actually at work…
Evil found in something such as mind-numbing as the prevalent swarth of spam
on a simple little blog…

And so I was struck by the contrast of such thoughts of spam..thoughts for its reasons,
its uselessness and its dark and evil agendas countered by the thoughts of one who
lived to survive chaos and evil and came to know both peace and worth…
hope and salvation…

All of us will have to render an account of our lives when we die.
God will not be interested in who or what we were.
No, only in this: how did we live?
That will be the sole matter for judgment.
A company director won’t be able to pull rank on a waiter,
and a fisherman’s wife will be on a par with a millionaire’s wife.
Ships’ officers will receive no preference over ships’ cooks.
All will be judged by exactly the same measure:
did we use our talents well and for his glory?

Takashi Nagi
from A Song for Nagasaki
(Takashi Nagai, a survivor of the atomic bomb and convert to the Catholic faith
who lived a life of heroic virtue in the face of great tragedy)

The words of Takashi Nagai pointedly reminds us that we must consciously choose how it is we
wish to use our ‘talents’…those abilities bestowed upon us long before our birth…
gifts, abilities, and talents endowed upon, and found within, each of us—
given to us all by grace form the Father and the Creator to His created and children.

Will we opt to use them for the betterment of others and to God’s glory or will we use them
for the detriment of others and of self?…
Detriments much like the annoying spam folks are wasting their precious time over by creating and
sending to tiny little blogs like mine?

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another,
as good stewards of God’s varied grace:

1 Peter 4:10

berries, cherries and bears, oh my

“Haven’t you ever thought of living
unconsciously like bears, sniffing the earth,
close to pears and the mossy dark,
far from human voices and fire?

Nâzım Hikmet Ran


(a mama bear and her cub perch high in the wild cherry trees / Julie Cook / Cades Cove, TN / 2018)

Some folks would say it’s the sign of an impending cold winter…
What with the numbers of bears we’ve seen in just a two-day span, gorging themselves
on berries and apparently the prolific wild cherries that grow plentiful in the
Smokey Mountains.

Twelve bears and counting.

An amazing feat really given that we’ve been coming to this area on and off now for 35
years and have seen maybe a total of 5 bears over the course of that time—
and those were just at a glance here or there.

Today we ran into 5 more bears with one almost literally running into me.
We were actually walking through a field along the woodline, walking away from one of
the few remaining original cabins in Cades Cove when my husband turned to say something to me
yet he could only muster that single word again, BEAR!!

I turned just in time to see a small black bear right behind me before he kindly bolted
into the woods.

Next, as we were exiting out of the cove we saw a mom and cub perched high in the wild
cherry trees enjoying a late brunch.

Then later in the evening, on one final drive through the cove,
we came upon another young bear eating fast and furiously…


(all bears seen in Cades Cove / Julie Cook / 2018)

Not knowing when I’ll make it back this way, as it’s been about 5 years since our last trip,
I savor these moments.
Breathing in deeply, holding it as long as possible before slowly exhaling.

These snippets, these glimpses of things that are truly greater than our hurly-burly
hectic ant-like lives…
lives spent hurrying here and there as we always seem oh so preoccupied and
tremendously busy…I consider these moments, these gifts of time, one of the
greatest privileges offered.

Being able to see animals in their natural habitat, in a place that is stopped in time,
doing what they do best…simply living and being the wild animals that they are…
is a gift…a gift offered by the Creator to one of the created…

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible,
whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him
and for him.

Colossians 1:16