joy….to give or to receive…

“I don’t think of all the misery,
but of the beauty that still remains.”

Anne Frank


(the work of a day / Julie Cook / 2017)

Thanksgiving afternoon, I was complaining to my daughter-n-law, dreading the notion
of having to begin the yearly arduous ritual, of “putting up” Christmas.
Some people will go into a feeding frenzy of all things consumerism and
I will go into light mode….

“Why do we do this?” I lamented.
“Why do we work our butts off, schlepping stuff up and down from basements
and attics every year….

Why do we move all this stuff in while moving all the other stuff out…
making way for holiday paraphernalia…
just to turn around to then put it all away again in just a couple of weeks???”

I lament so because I am the one who pretty much does it all….
all the lights,
all the decorating,
all the tree,
all the buying,
all the wrapping,
all the cooking,
all the cleaning etc…
because bless my husband’s heart,
he runs a retail business.

Suffice it to know that our lives are not our own right now…
nor will they be…not until about the middle of January.

Neither my husband or I truly “get” this Black Friday absurdity that consumes
this nation of ours.
He does nothing out of the ordinary for it and I don’t even acknowledge it.
Something about the wantoness of all the materialism consuming this country of ours
just oozes of emptiness.

Why do people stand in line for hours on end when they should actually be
home just enjoying Thanksgiving, family, time off, being outside, being inside, being someplace other than a strip mall, a big mall, etc…
oddly preferring to scoop up “stuff”????
Stuff no one really “needs” to survive.

Places like Syria just keep coming to mind when I see cars parked 4 deep,
wrapped around parking lots, just so folks can buy a flat screen TV or clothes,
a mixer or whatever it is they think they JUST have to have in order to survive Christmas…
along with all the other trivial things no one really needs in order to survive.
Like I say, I just don’t get it…..

So my daughter-n-law reminds me, “well you know he really does appreciate it”
He being my only child and son who was born a week before Christmas.
Christmas is his official holiday….but certainly not his dad’s.

The night our son was born, oh so many moons ago, in the wee hours of a December Monday morning…my poor husband had to leave us shortly after the birth so he could go
open the store and work all day…after having been up all night.
Missing his only child, his new son’s first day of living…
He is remorseful all these many years later, but it was how he fed us,
and for that we give thanks.
Yet how does one ever get back time?
They don’t.

In this family of ours, there is definitely some resentment concerning the consuming madness of holiday shopping…. on all sorts of levels…
and yet our son just adores Christmas…what are those odds?!

Sigh…..

So as I was lamenting, my daughter-n-law tells me about a movie they recently went
to see —-a movie I would never ever consider watching.

They are only in their late 20’s—they watch things on television and at the movies
that I pretty much consider toxic—
of which I hope they too will soon realize as toxic…but until then,
I just pray….

My daughter-n-law relayed a line from the movie which actually resonated with me….

She said that in the movie the main character was grousing, much like I was, about
this whole Christmas business.
In walks the mother who deadpan responds….
“don’t you know, mothers don’t receive
joy, theirs is but to give joy”
(a paraphrase)

It hit me like a ton of bricks.

An understanding as to what exactly a lot of this is really all about.
It hit in certainly not a martyresque sort of understanding…but a deeper sense of understanding.

It is an understanding that none of this is about me….never has been.

It’s not about what “I” can get,
not about what I can buy,
not about what I can have….
nor is it about what I want….
but rather it’s about what I can give.

It’s about the ability to give verses the ability to get and receive….
And that giving has nothing to do with stuff—not of things gathered
from a store, or from on-line or from any place else for that matter.
Nothing tangible….

It has nothing to with with savvy shopping, marketing strategy, deals, door busters
or the madness that has become what we know as Christmas in the modern world.
A time that won’t even allow most schools to utter the word “Christmas”
but rather “winter break.”

What this season is about…isn’t about all this decorating,
or about all this consuming, or about all this buying and wrapping of “stuff”….

It’s not about the amassing or consuming….or materialism.
It’s not about the biggest gift, the best deals, the nicest trip to some
exotic wonderland.
Rather it’s about what we can offer and what we can give…

Because the original notion of this holiday Christmas business wasn’t about
Black Fridays and sale margins…it wasn’t about cyber Monday’s or on-line surfing…

It was about a gift…. but not a gift in the modern mindset of what constitutes
as a gift…

It was a single tiny gift that was actually given in order to save…
to save both you and I, as well as all of mankind, actually from ourselves….

He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything
we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.
This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time..

2 Timothy 1:9

the freedom to enjoy the simpler things…

Guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism.
George Washington

They are dead; but they live in each Patriot’s breast,
And their names are engraven on honor’s bright crest.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


(buckeye butterfly / Julie Cook / 2017)

Today while we enjoy the marking of a season’s change,
May we remain ever mindful of the many lives that offered the ultimate sacrifice
in order that the rest of us have the freedom to enjoy the simpler things in life…

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
John 15:13

purpose

“The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive,
but in finding something to live for.”

Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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( a jar of Pickles from Pickles with a Purpose)

I suppose a jar of pickles and Christmas seem to have nothing much in common…
But as you may know, those of us predisposed to all things Southern, love a good pickle.
As we love the sheer notion of pickling.

We pickle everything from cucumbers to okra to quail eggs, to pigs feet.
And mind you whereas I prefer all things of the cucumber variety, I have been known to
venture out on a limb by trying a pickled green bean as well as an okra,
I simply draw the line however with the eggs and pig’s feet.

I live in a small Georgia town, a growing town, but considered small
none-the-less by the larger city dwellers…
And I should know having grown up in the big city…
we are indeed small, despite having a super Kroger and a Super Wal-Mart.

I don’t like super…super is too big, too generic, too impersonal.

I do like my small town as opposed to the big city.

Whereas the big city has more to offer such as great places to eat,
unique places to shop, and abundant things to do….
the small town is more homey.
And I like the feel of homey.

I was at the pharmacist’s the other day getting a prescription filled.
I like my pharmacy.
It is owned and operated by a local gal whose husband I once worked with at the high school.
I remember when they got married.
They now have boys in junior high.
Time flies in small towns.

Her dad works the counter, while she works at filling the bottles.
It’s nice as in it’s homey, as they know me by name.
They know my husband and they know my son and daughter-n-law.
They order things I need.

So the other day as I was waiting for my perscribtion to be filled, I wandered about
looking at the items she has in for Christmas.

Sitting amongst the ornaments and specialty soaps sat a jar of pickles.
Curious I picked up the jar.
The label simply read Pickles with a Purpose.
The side label gave a listing of ingredients and the fact that they came
from Marietta, Georgia…once a small town of its own,
but Marietta is now a part of the mega growing Cobb County, the
soon to be new home of the Atlanta Braves.
How an Atlanta baseball team can still be known as just that, Atlanta’s baseball team,
when moving out from Atlanta to a neighboring county still has me confused…
but that is not my worry, not today.

There was also a website listed on the back label of the pickles.
A website where one could learn more about the story behind the pickles.

I did however notice a small card propped up by the pickle jars…
so I pulled it out hoping to read a little further into the story.

It seems the idea of the pickles came from a 9 year old boy named Luke
from Marietta, Georgia who felt God wants him to help raise money for an older man
he knows who happens to be homeless.

The young man’s grandmother graciously offered her secret pickle recipe as a means
of having a product to sell in hopes of raising enough money to buy Luke’s
homeless friend a home.
The homeless friend, named Tim, is a middle aged black man whom Luke
had met while helping his mom at a business she manages…

At that point, with tears in my eye and my prescription being ready,
I grabbed up 4 jars… all I could carry, as made my way to the counter to pay.
I was told that the pickles were really great so I went back and grabbed the last jar.

It wasn’t the fact that the pickles were supposedly really good…
It wasn’t because I like pickles…
but rather it was the story behind the pickles that actually inspired me…
as I normally wouldn’t buy jars of pickles to give as Christmas gifts.

Later at home I got on the computer and looked up Pickles with a Purpose and found the
following You Tube video of the young man Luke sharing his plan of raising the money
to buy his friend Tim a home…

I hope Luke’s story will inspire as well bless you as much as it blessed me…
As Luke’s pickle story is really just another reminder of what Christmas is really all about…

I’ll be going back to pick up some more jars of pickles…
Small towns are nice that way….

The advent of Advent

The Christian story is precisely the story of one grand miracle, the Christian assertion being that what is beyond all space and time, what is uncreated, eternal, come into nature, into human nature, descended into His own universe, and rose again, bringing nature up with Him. It is precisely one great miracle. If you take that away there is nothing specifically Christian left.
~ C.S. Lewis

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(a golden red carpet / Cades Cove, TN / The Great Smokey Mountains National Park / Julie Cook / 2015)

Advent—the season of waiting, watching and expectancy…

As in waiting and watching with expectant anticipation.

With the anticipation being so wonderful, so indescribable, so over the top…you can barely contain yourself.

This is not the worrisome dreading sort of waiting.
Not the “oh no we’ll never make it” gloom and doom of the negative waiting.
Not the looking constantly over your shoulder with fear rising up from the pit of your stomach while you fret waiting for the other shoe to drop sort of the anxious dreading type of waiting, watching, looking, fretting and worrying…

This is rather the so great and so grand magnificent, I can’t wait, I’m so excited, as this is going to be really really good and really really big…full of sheer giddiness that I’m about to explode sort of joyful waiting and watching…

As in I can’t wait because there is going to be such wonder, relief and good things that all thoughts of bad, negative, dread and woe are simply nonexistent…

Yet is this the season that you’re all excited and giddy over because of the getting and receiving of more stuff? The I can’t wait to go to the mall and bask in the holiday specialness and magic of mega retail savviness sort of excited…??
Is it because this is the season you’ve long waited for because of the gathering and the getting of those gifts and presents and all manner of things that you’ve decided you just can’t live without sort of season…??

Is it the season that you’ve been long waiting and watching for as your calendar will now be filling up with all manner of parties, gatherings, galas and events offering the excuse of buying shiny and sparkly outfits with the expectancy of seeing and being seen while you imagine all the goodies to be sampled and savored…??

Is your watchfulness, your waiting, your expectancy over those things of this planet, this world, this generation’s idea of a good time?

Or is your watchfulness, your waiting, your expectancy over something else?
Something that is much bigger, more awesome, more unimaginable and more over the top than any of things of this life…those things and events which pale in comparison as they are simply fleeting and merely passing by…

For there is something really big and really monumental that is soon to be taking place
and those of us who wait, who watch, who look, who anticipate, who are full of expectancy, wonder and awe…. are not to be disappointed…

“God travels wonderful ways with human beings, but he does not comply with the views and opinions of people. God does not go the way that people want to prescribe for him; rather, his way is beyond all comprehension, free and self-determined beyond all proof. Where reason is indignant, where our nature rebels, where our piety anxiously keeps us away: that is precisely where God loves to be. There he confounds the reason of the reasonable; there he aggravates our nature, our piety—that is where he wants to be, and no one can keep him from it. Only the humble believe him and rejoice that God is so free and so marvelous that he does wonders where people despair, that he takes what is little and lowly and makes it marvelous. And that is the wonder of all wonders, that God loves the lowly…. God is not ashamed of the lowliness of human beings. God marches right in. He chooses people as his instruments and performs his wonders where one would least expect them. God is near to lowliness; he loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak and broken.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas

Just do. . .

We ought to do good to others as simply as a horse runs, or a bee
makes honey, or a vine bears grapes season after season
without thinking of the grapes it has borne.

Marcus Aurelius

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(a muscadine growing in the wild / Troup Co. Ga / Julie Cook / 2015)

Just do. . .it. . .
As in “just do it”
That most famous marketing phrase for NIKE,
you know the one. . .
Where the folks at NIKE extoll the virtue of athleticism by “just doing it”

But I rather like the concept of “just do. . .”
As in simply doing because it’s the thing to do. . .
Not because you have to think about it, not because it focuses on yourself,
not because you were told to do it. . .
but rather doing, because it’s what’s as natural and as simple as a vine bearing a grape. . .
because it’s just what the vine does and it’s just what you do. . .
kind of like breathing but better. . .

As in just doing for others as you would have them do unto you. . .
As in just loving, because it is better than hating
As in just caring because it is better than indifference
As in just helping because it is better than turning one’s back
As in just being because sometimes those who hurt just need you there
As in just smiling because it may be the only smile the other person receives all day
As in just offering a hand because it is better than pulling away
As in just giving of yourself rather than holding on
As in just crying when others hurt because you feel empathy
As in just offering your time because it is often stronger than your money
As in just speaking kindness instead offering deserved hurtfulness because you know kindness
heals where hurtfulness only begets more hurtfulness
As in just listening because it is better than ignoring
As in just giving because it’s better than receiving. . .

So for today, and every day, remember. . .just do. . . .


“Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.”

Proverbs 19:17

I’m just asking for this one thing. . .

Praying, we usually ask too much. I know I do. Sometimes we even demand. I think I am learning to ask enough for the moment–not for the whole year, utterly veiled in mystery; not even for the week, the month ahead; but just for today.

Jesus said it all when He told us to pray: ‘Give us this day our daily bread.’

That bread is not only material, it is spiritual; in asking for it, we ask for a sufficiency of strength, courage, hope and light. Enough courage for the step ahead–not for the further miles. Enough strength for the immediate task or ordeal. Enough material gain to enable us to meet our daily obligations. Enough light to see the path–right before our feet.”
― Faith Baldwin

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(tiger swallowtail feasting on the butterfly bush / Julie Cook / 2015)

Both of my grandmothers always had a good response when any of the grandkids began rambling off a list of wants—to what must have seemed like a never ending and ever growing list of wants.
And as the children, as in me, my brother and cousins grew, the “wants” exponentially became grander and more expensive–

The response from my mother’s mother was her dry “your wants never hurt you” with the response from my dad’s mother being her famous and very flippant singsongy “too bad, too bad”.

Now it’s not as if these two ladies were not doting grandmothers—they certainly were as they lavished their grandkids with a great deal–it’s just that some of those lavished items were indeed wanted and giddily accepted while some things were certainly not wanted nor had they even been a thought on the list.

New clothes and affording an education to a private school, if and when the need arose, was gracious and welcomed no doubt in the eyes of parents, but in the mind of a growing grandchild, the more pressing issues were for more fadish items or candy, ice-cream, the circus, concert tickets, bikes, horses, etc. . .these were the real items to the list of wants just waiting to be filled.

Both of these ladies were born at the onset of a new century–one in rural middle Georgia the other in rural Texas. They each lived through two world wars, a great depression and a myriad of other wars, police actions and the ebbing and flowing of the security of the world. They each knew difficulties and suffered loss while growing up. They each worked hard for what they had albeit in very different fashions.

To this day, I can hear my grandmother’s “too bad, too bad” ringing in my head every time I hear myself lamenting “I wish I had a [new] _________________________.
Filling in the blank with anything that is not necessarily essential to survival.

So it is on this once again hot and overtly humid day, which is just another day in a long and never ending string of hot and humid days, that I am heard to lament. . .
“I wish it was cooler.
I wish it was Fall.
I wish the weather would change.
I wish it wasn’t so hot.
I wish it wasn’t so humid. . .”
on and on ad infinitum

And somewhere in the back of my brain, I can now hear one of those two ladies amusingly replying, “be careful what you wish for missy, you might just get it. . .”

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Missed opportunity

“During their lifetimes, every man and woman will stumble across a great opportunity. Sadly, most of them will simply pick themselves up, dust themselves down and carry on as if nothing ever happened.”
― Winston Churchill

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(a very wet cardinal, seeking shelter from a spring downpour amongst the leaves of an ailing oak tree / Julie Cook / 2014)

Each day, as we wander about this thing we call life, we are offered a myriad of opportunities. Opportunities “to bless and to be blessed.”
Some may say it is an opportunity to be kind and to receive a kindness in return, while others may simply put it in a nutshell as “one good deed deserves another”. . .
How ever you choose to view the chances and opportunities offered to all of us on a daily basis, those chances to be nice, to be kind, to be giving. . .tragically are sometimes totally missed.

Missed opportunities.

I am ashamed to say, I totally missed one today.
In a big way.

Long story short, as I was cruising down the frozen food aisle, during my weekly grocery pilgrimage, while looking for frozen peaches for the blasted daily smoothie regime, a young woman pushing a shopping cart, with a cute little boy sitting in her buggy, comes up behind me. We’re the only two buggies on the aisle.
I hear a question being posed somewhere from behind me but it was such that I couldn’t tell if it was being directed to me or perhaps it was a phone conversation.

I turn slightly, looking over my left shoulder, acknowledging that someone is coming up right beside me. Sure enough, the young woman was talking to me.
“hey, can I ask you a question?”
I stop pushing my cart, smiling.
“I remember you, you’re a teacher at the high school. Do you have any money, maybe some change, some pennies?”

Whoa. . .What?
I’m knocked totally off guard—and I didn’t recognize this person telling me she recognized me.
Who asks for money on the frozen food aisle??

She had a lean cuisine sitting in her buggy. The little boy, who I assumed was her son, was cute and smartly dressed. Upon observation I could see that her teeth were not in the best of shape and she looked a bit ragged but was bubbly and quite personable. I was so taken aback that I stammered, telling her I just had a debit card.

She continued chatting. “You still teaching?”
“No” I replied, “I retired almost 2 years ago.”
“Retired?” she retorts incredulously, “you old enough?”
“Do you miss it?”
“I miss my kids but I don’t miss the hassles” I offer.
“Oh I miss it. I miss school a lot.”
This said as she scoots on down the aisle chatting and laughing.

I follow along behind her, working my way to a check out lane. Attempting to see in which direction she headed, as I now had had enough time to process what had just happened, I looked down in my bag for my change purse–wanting to offer her what I could find—but I couldn’t figure out where she went.

The checkout lanes aren’t that massive, but she wasn’t standing in one.
Hummmm.
I actually knew the lady in front of me at the check out lane who was in the process of putting her groceries on the checkout counter. Telling her quickly what had just happened, she helps me to scan the area as well, but couldn’t spot the young lady.

Missed opportunity.

I’m not a super quick thinker. Nor terribly fast on my feet when it comes to “confrontations”–always coming up with the perfect response after having had time to think about it all. . .
I actually had a little cash in my wallet, but was wanting to use it for the next stop of the day at the dry cleaners.

I felt terrible. I should have given her the cash. Why did I have to think about it first? Why couldn’t my response of giving have been immediate, one without thought or reservation? Why didn’t I offer to buy the lean cuisine?

No, I had to rummage in my brain as to why she’d be asking for change or pennies for a lean cuisine.
I had to ponder the potential for scams as the nightly news pounds that into our brains.
I had to be reserved, pulling inward, rather than letting go of self and flowing outward.

I dropped the proverbial ball.

What had I learned form Lent, from Easter and from all that I hold to profess as my faith–
Sadly, obviously, very little.

What I do know, is that we are to give, unabashedly.
We are to offer all we have.
The Pharisees gave greatly because they had greatly to give. . .but the poor widow had but pennies and gave all that she had. . .she didn’t think about it. . .she didn’t ponder whether she’d have enough for the dry cleaners, she didn’t worry about being scammed, she didn’t have to know the person. She didn’t have to have proof that the money was going to what was professed.
She simply gave.
No thoughts.
No waffling.
No holding back.

Missed opportunity.

Now I’m not advocating throwing caution to the wind.
I whole heartily recommend that one should take in the surroundings and circumstance before digging into wallets and pockets, all before handing over any money to strangers.
I certainly suggest using some common sense.
But I am hoping that for the next opportunity presented my way, that I may step up to the plate a bit more readily, without wrangling in my head and weighing the pros and cons, the shoulds and the shouldn’ts—being more giving than reserved.

Here’s to learning from a missed opportunity.