let me tell you…

It is the characteristic excellence of the strong man that he can bring
momentous issues to the fore and make a decision about them.
The weak are always forced to decide between alternatives they have not chosen themselves.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer


(our son and his daughter, the Mayor / Julie Cook / 2019)

Let me tell you a little bit about our son…

He turns 31 later this year and would absolutely die if he knew his mother was
sharing anything about him on her blog.

Oh well.

I’ve written about him before, several times…it’s just that I don’t tell him that I do.

I’ve written about him not because he’s simply my son nor because he’s famous, infamous
or terminally ill…thank the Lord he’s none of those things but just our son.

I write rather because his growing up was not an easy journey…

It was a journey that seems oh so long ago and yet the memories of the difficulties
remain.

Despite that long and often difficult journey, we, his parents, are so exceedingly
proud of the man, husband, and father he’s grown into.

And that is what I want to write about.

But I also want to write, not so much about our son,
but rather about the very surreal time in history in which we are now
finding ourselves living in.

We are living in a dystopian culture that is playing fast and loose with
something so straightforward and simple as the obvious fact of biology and gender…
that being the exacting fact of male and female.

It is a culture that is trying its best to demasculate any and all males.
A culture that is shaming boys, young men, and adult men…for being just that, male.
A culture that allows children to “choose” a gender, with gender being
a fluid notion.

I, for one, believe in and very much want strong men.

I want strong men in my life.
I want strong male role models who know what it means to be a man…
I want men who know what it means to be a Godly man.
Mature men.
Men who understand God’s intention for them as husbands, leaders,
role models, fathers…

And these desires of mine do not equate me with being weak, dominated,
overrun, demure, belittled or abused.

Just shy of 40 years ago, my late godfather, an Episcopal priest,
sat me down right before I got married in order to share a few important
thoughts with me.
As my priest, but more importantly, as my Godpoppa, he felt compelled to tell me that
marriage was not going to be easy.

I think we all know that an engaged bride-to-be lives in a bit of an unrealistic fairytale
of fantasy.
There is a whirlwind of activities, details, and parties to attend to;
reality is not often found in the fanfare.

My Godpoppa told me that I was marrying a good man but a man who had been abused
both physically and emotionally as a child by a hardcore alcoholic father.
He told me that my husband-to-be had not had a positive role model of
what it meant to be a loving husband and father.

He wanted me to keep this all in mind as we prepared to embark on
a life together.
He knew all too well that there would be difficult times.

He already knew, up close and personal, of my own issues with adoption and
dysfunction within my adopted family— but in his wisdom, he knew that
two broken people were about to be joined as one…
as in two becoming one big broken person.

Not only did I have to learn how to be a loving, supportive, forgiving wife and later
a mother–of whom was also working and tending to the house…
but my husband had to learn how to be a good husband, provider,
and an eventual positive father—
the type of father he desperately wanted to be for our son.


(our son and my husband many moons ago / Julie Cook / 1995ish)

And my Godfather was right—marriage was and is hard—add work, bills,
life and parenthood to that and things can become dangerously complicated fast!

I read the following quote this morning from the author Tom Hoops:
People think of “the family that prays together stays together” as a quaint old saying.
But it was a favorite saying of Saint John Paul II and Saint Teresa of Calcutta,
and the daily practice of Pope Benedict XVI’s family, according to his brother’s biographer.

I had to learn the hard way the importance of seeking God first and foremost when
it comes to one’s most intimate relationships.
It is imperative that He be in the middle of all we do because if He is not and
we substitute ourselves in the center, then we have a toxic equation for
stress and disaster.

It is Satan’s desire that the family fails.
If the family fails, Satan gains a greater foothold in our world…as all binding institutions
begin to crumble.

But I suppose I’ve deviated a tad from my original intention with this post…

Yet we need to understand that parenthood, like marriage, is often a learn
as you go experience.

And so it was with us—especially when our 5-year-old son was diagnosed
with a rather severe learning disability and a year later with ADD.

Life suddenly took a difficult turn.

He didn’t learn to read until he was entering the 3rd grade.
We spent the previous summer driving back and forth every day to a
specialized private school in Atlanta that focused on teaching kids with
dyslexia how to read.

We spent our afternoons fighting over homework and driving from tutor to tutor.

It all sounds so matter of fact now…but at the time it was anything but.

There was a father who was gone working 16 hour days, 6 days a week, a wife who
was teaching and commuting 30 minutes to and from work to home while shuttling a
child from school to tutoring to home, to homework, to Scouts, then back home again…

Throw in making supper, tending to the house, washing, cleaning, preparing
lessons for the next day…and life just seemed to get more and more difficult.

There was enough exhaustion, frustration, resentment, tears, fears and worry
circulating in our young lives to last a lifetime.
And there were many times I angrily raised a fist and questioned God.

Yet our son wanted nothing more than to be “normal” and of course we
wanted that for him.

But what was normal?

For him to be “normal” meant that there was going to have to be a great deal of
commitment, time invested, assistance, sacrifice and lots and lots of work.

But of course, you can read about all of that in the following linked posts written years back…
because today is not a day to dwell on what was but rather today is a day to look at what is:

https://cookiecrumbstoliveby.wordpress.com/2014/09/28/the-journey/
https://cookiecrumbstoliveby.wordpress.com/2016/08/01/a-large-collective-sigh/

I actually had colleagues who openly voiced their skepticism over our son ever
going to college let alone being successful.

It wasn’t easy.
There were hurdles.
There were setbacks.
There were mistakes.
There were injustices.
And there was simply dumb rotten luck.

Then there came a girl.
And then came love.
And then came marriage.
And eventually, there came a degree.

Some very tough jobs followed—they came complete with low pay, poor hours,
dangerous conditions, a lack of appreciation, pounded pavement,
all the way to a shuttered company, a lost job, and then news of a baby.

When things were looking their lowest, a ray of light shone through.

Out of the blue came a new job.
New promises from a prominent company.
A new start.
Along with that new baby.

Yet hours remained frustratingly poor, pay remained minimal and frustration remained high
as the promises kept being pushed aside.

However in all of that remained something more important, something more instrumental,
something more exacting…that being…perseverance.

It was a desire and a will ‘to do’, not only for himself but more importantly the
desire to do, to be and to provide for his young family.

He wanted to be that man he saw in his father.

A man who made years of sacrifices of self for the betterment of his wife and child.
A man who was just that, a man who possessed both determination and a respect
for responsibility.

There was work, there was a growing family as baby number two appeared…
added to all of that was more college work for an additional degree add-on.
A balance of living life while looking ahead.

And just when life was looking overwhelming and growth was looking stymied and stagnant…
along came an opportunity for something different, something new and something that
seemed improbable, unattainable and most unlikely…and yet it came none the less.

After gaining a toehold in the door and with nearly two months of
interviews and scrutiny, the new job offer came last week.

I know I’ll be writing more about all of this change in the coming weeks…
but first, there are the necessary two weeks of finishing up one job before
starting another.

There will be the training, learning the adjusting…for not only our son
but for his entire small family.

Change is good, but it is also hard.

Yet the one thing in all of this that I know to be true is that our son did this on his own.
He earned the opportunity and sold himself as the best asset he could be…

There is God’s hand and timing in all of this.
And I can say this as I’m now looking back.

On the front end, things can look overwhelming and impossible…

Yet my husband toiled to become that man, that father, he so yearned to be…
and now his son is following suit…

Living the life as the man God intended for him to be.

A strong focused man who loves his family.
A man who works to lead his family and honor his wife.
A strong role model for both his young son and daughter.
A man who continues to make us, his mom and dad, so very proud.

Correct your son, and he will give you comfort;
He will also delight your soul.

Proverbs 29:17

How do I contact you in Heaven?

If you tell God no because He won’t explain the reason He wants you to do
something, you are actually hindering His blessing.
But when you say yes to Him, all of heaven opens to pour out His
goodness and reward your obedience.
What matters more than material blessings are the things
He is teaching us in our spirit.

Charles Stanley


(my godpoppa and me on the day of my wedding–with Mother looking on,
he was the priest who presided over my wedding in 1983)

I use to write letters.

Real letters with a real pen and real paper.

Real words.

Real scratched out mistakes.

Numerous misspellings.
Typos.
Grammatical errors.

There was no spell check—only a dictionary.

Sometimes your letters were typed, sometimes written by hand.

Mine were always by hand.

I use to write you so many letters.

You use to write to me as well.

I still have a box with so many of those letters and cards.

If the truth be told, we really meet through a letter, you and me.
In 1975.

I still have the card you sent.

When I went away to college, I use to sit at the bus stop writing feverishly before the bus arrived,
whisking me off to yet another class miles across campus.

I’d sit in the park, back propped against an ancient oak tree, writing.

I sat up late on the night before my wedding, writing.

We wrote one another long before there were computers…
ages before there was texting.

We wrote on paper and cards.
We put stamps on envelopes and we put letters in a post box.

We would each excitedly spot that telltale script…written and addressed
with our name—
it would arrive in the day’s mail.

I checked my box at least twice a day.

Wonderment and even excitement filled our thoughts.

We’d each steal away…to a quiet private place as we’d tear open the postmarked envelope.
Savoring the “Dearest Jules” or the ‘Dearest Godpoppa”

Apprehensive and anticipatory wonder mixed with anxiousness…
coupled with a deep sense of joy…
accompanied the arrival of each letter and every card.

What was the word?
What was the news?
What was the need?
What was the advice?

We wrote for nearly 40 years…back and forth…just you and me.

The subject matter growing often hard and difficult with time.

Those letters…the writing and the receiving.
The intimate words shared between a surrogate father and his adopted goddaughter.

The pouring out of the most sacred and secretive thoughts from the novice to the wizened
sage.

Confessions.
Encouragement.
Idle chatter.
Hope.
Love.
Compassion.
Warnings.
Advice.

You were born in 1922
You were adopted in 1923.
I was born in 1959
I was adopted in 1960

Lessons taught and lessons learned.

And yet now, now when I need to hear from you the most, how do I write to Heaven?
How do I address such a letter?
What would you tell me now…how do I proceed?
What should I do?
What would you say?

I’ll be waiting…and I’ll be listening.
Somehow I know you know.

“Out of the heavens He let you hear His voice to discipline you;
and on earth He let you see His great fire, and you heard His words from the midst of the fire.

Deuteronomy 4:36

the written word

“What is more frightening a totalitarian regime’s destruction of
knowledge or its hankering for it?”

Anders Rydell


(sunset over the Gulf, Rosemary Beach, Fl / Julie Cook / 2017)

I’ve come across a most intriguing story.
It is a tale of war, ideologies, plundering, destroying, recovering…
with an eventual attempt to reunite as it were.
And very much a true story.

It is a tale as told in Andres Rydell’s book The Book Thieves
The Nazi Looting of Europe’s Libraries And the Race to Return A literary Inheritance

Rydell offers in the forward the idea that “In our time, the book has remained
a symbolic value that is almost spiritual.
Discarding books is still considered sacrilegious.
The burning of books is one of the strongest symbolic actions there is,
correlating with cultural destruction.
While mainly identified with the Nazi book pyres of 1933,
the symbolic destruction of literature is as old as the book itself.

The strong relationship between humans and books relates to the role of the written word in the dissemination of knowledge, feeling, and experience over
thousands of years.
Gradually the written word replaced the oral tradition. We could preserve more
and look further back in time.
We could satisfy our never quite satisfied hunger for more.
…Our simultaneously emotional and spiritual relationship to the book is
about how the book “speaks to us.”
It is a medium connection us to other people both living and dead.

A year before my godfather died, he had me come over in order to help him sort through
his belongings.
He and his wife were soon to move to a much smaller place as the issue of
each ones health, both physical and cognitive, was rapidly failing,
and he was under the clock to purge a lifetime of work and living.

To me this aging man was more than a symbolic godfather.
He had been a priest for over 50 years so he was actually more spiritual father than anything else.

While I was sitting sprawled out on the floor of his study, sorting through files,
DVDs and a mountain of papers, he offered me any of the books that I could carry
from his myriad of covered shelves.

Here was once a widely renowned man in his profession.
A long sought after lecturer and author.
His collection of books was both wide and diverse.
Yet it was to a small copy of Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol that drew my eye.
“Jules, if you want it, take it” he nonchalantly told me.
I opened the book and inside the cover was written in fine fountain pen lettering
the follwing inscription:
“To David B. Collins
From Aunt Emma
Dec 25th 1930”

“But,” I stammered…. only for him to reassure me, “take it.”

The book is an illustrated version of the Dickens classic with this particular
edition being published in 1927.
And it had obviously been a Christmas gift to a nephew of 8 from a loving aunt.

Once home, I thumbed through the book.
There was a card, what I first thought was a yellowed notecard, placed between pages
222 and 223, the point in the story when the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come had taken Scrooge to the churchyard in order to see his own grave marker.

The card was however an altar card from the chapel of The University of the South,
Sewanee, TN—the school that Dean Collins had attended for seminary as well as where he
served as rector.

I imagine the card marked material once used in a sermon.

I share this little story with you because it is just one small fragmented
tale illustrating the importance of not just a story in a book but rather of the book itself… and of the line of people the little book has traversed—
It is really the story a continuum…the continuum from once a loving aunt to
her 8 year old little nephew…and later from aging old man to his equally aging
spiritual God daughter….

But the giving will not have stopped with me…that’s how it is with books.
It’s merely resting for a while before, at some point in the future,
it travels once again,
For we come to understand that books often have a life of their own…

And so what the world witnessed with the Nazis and their fervor to rid themselves
of a certain group of people, with their ultimate hope being to actually rid
the entire world of these people—it was not enough to merely take their belongings, especially their books, and to destroy them or hide them away.

Nor was it enough that they take these very people and burn them, hiding them away…
But the key rather for the Nazis was to take the very essence of these
‘loathsome people’—with that essence being these people’s actual written word.

And if the Nazis could erase their words, then these people would in turn,
cease to exist— or better yet in the minds of the Nazis, cease to have ever
existed at all…..as in a total wiping clean of the slate of the very existence.

Because as Rydell points out “whoever owns the word has the power to not only
interpret it, but also to write history.”

Rydell’s story is rich in history as he gives an in-depth look into how Germany, a highly educated and culturally rich people, came to find themselves being lead blindly by
a madman.

Rydell’s story is a convoluted tale of madness, death, destruction leading to one of
hope and reuniting…linking a past with a future.

For there is a great lesson in his story for us today–especially now.
A lesson it would behoove our society to heed.

And a lesson I will be sharing in the next day or so….

For the word of God is alive and active.
Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit,
joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

Hebrews 4:12

a piece of my heart….

“When you are sorrowful look again in your heart,
and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for
that which has been your delight.”

Kahlil Gibran

“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord,
and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”

Augustine of Hippo

DSCN0611
(my wedding day, 1983)

My priest
My confessor
My Godfather
My “god poppa”
My surrogate father
My confidant
My best friend

The Very Reverend David Browning Collins,
December 18,1922—-December 29, 2016

dscn4761
(My god poppa and Pope John Paul II /
Dean Collins was the American Anglican representative
to the Catholic–Anglican conference held at the Vatican 1980 )

DSCN0609
(my godfather, a WWII Naval Officer, loved the sea and moved
to the Georgia coast once he retired from the priesthood / Julie Cook / 1988)

Just as the storm surge batters the tender sands of the shore….
The season of the long good-bye is currently battering my heart…
As such is the season of this time in my life…

DSCN5321
(my son’s rehearsal dinner, Savannah, Ga / Julie Cook / 2014)

dscn4755

Have a good life

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
Allen Saunders

“The ultimate lesson all of us have to learn is unconditional love, which includes not only others but ourselves as well.”
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

DSCN0524
(cross found in the Rock of Cashel cemetery, County Tipperary, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

Just when you thought you had things situated, straightened out, figured out
and felt you were rolling merrily along feeling in charge, doing a good job of keeping your world in the middle of the road… Life’s little wicked twists and turns come calling, sending you careening out of control.

And so it was when the phone rang late this evening.
It was my godmother calling.
I’ve written about both my “godparents” before.
He is a life long Episcopal priest, Dean Emeritus of the Cathedral in Atlanta where I had grown up.
She, his wife, for the past near 70 years.
He’s soon to turn 93 and she 90.
Their bodies and minds failing in tandem.

I first wrote about my godfather shortly after I started this little blog of mine
as he was the one person in my life who had made the greatest impact–
as he basically saved me from myself when he came into my life…
when I was all of 15 years old.
I won’t retell that long convoluted tale as you can read it elsewhere if you so desire,
(https://cookiecrumbstoliveby.wordpress.com/2013/03/11/forgiveness-one-step-at-a-time/ ) but suffice it to say, he’s meant the world to me.

Whereas he and I have shared the common thread of each being adopted, as I was a teen when we first found one another, we each had, throughout the years, a sea of ups and downs with our perspective internal baggage. We had our hard fraught moments as much healing took place over the years within both of our hearts as we walked the journey together. He taught me about unconditional love and what it truly meant–as I continued testing the depths of that love.

She was often in the shadows.
As the wife of a very busy and well known national cleric, picking up pieces, tending to children, as well as the home front, would have been the assumed standard lot for such a spouse.
Yet she was never one to shrink or hide.
This was a woman who had had a career on Broadway in the 40’s staring in Carousel along with other well known musicals.
She was outspoken and very very sound in her faith, never mincing her words.

She had more than her fair share of input into the shaping of my life.
So much so that my own mother was often intimidated.
She was the type of woman who saw what needed to be done and simply went about doing it, no matter who or what would or could be in the way or problematic.
“No” was not a word that was within her thought process.

So today when the phone rang, I figured it was a call of checking in and touching base.
Perhaps a thank you for the latest goodies I’d sent through the mail…
But no, this was not that type of conversation.

Before we even finished with the opening pleasantries of the “hey, how are yous”– she begins with “the Lord told me that He wants me to call and tell the people in my life what they have meant to me…so…I want you to know how grateful I am for…how precious you are to me…how much I thank you…how I want you to know…”

“WHOA—what are you saying???!!!” I fumble over the words.
“Well, I’ll be 90 soon, I don’t have much time left….
“WHOA—let’s not rush things shall we….” I hear myself stammering.
“Now let’s not put the cart before the horse shall we…” I continue trying to stop where this conversation is going…for all sorts of reasons–

She continues on with her “speech” when suddenly her mind takes the conversation elsewhere, in a totally different direction and tone… which is what’s more telling to me than her kind and endearing words–
Time is truly of the essence is it not…in this world that is…

Whereas my Godmother is sound in her faith and has no doubts, no regrets, as she continues pushing forward despite failing body and mind, living to hear His word and obeying those words to the very end—I fear there are not many of us who are as determined to do His very bidding up to that last breath we each have on this earth—or perhaps it’s more about having the courage to do so.

And maybe that’s it–
Courage, freedom, determination…

What is it that gives us, offers us, the courage to do and say the words God urges us to speak…. as well as giving us the “why”… as to why we are to speak certain words in the first place… and then there is the “when”… when are we to speak them and to whom.

When do we give ourselves the freedom to speak such words?
And what is it that sets our determination to do all of the above—
is it our health, our time, our circumstance?

As the conversation finally came to an end, with me most thankful as the difficulty and awkwardness of her words were crushing in on my heart, she put my godfather on the phone who proceeds to tell me he loves me and to “have a good life”

Oooooo, this is NOT the conversation I wanted to hear this evening.
Often within adopted folks there is a tiny voice buried deep within that likes to perpetuate a lie that “you’re not really ever wanted,” so hearing, as well as accepting, such deep and meaningful words, that you matter or are dearly loved, or are precious to someone can be very hard to digest… as you simply feel most unworthy…
Plus this whole signing off as if I’ll never see them or hear from them again is most unnerving–as it reminds me that none of us are guaranteed a thing in this world, especially not time…that precious commodity we so often take for granted…

So when this once prolific writer, speaker, preacher, religious leader who just so happens to be my “godpoppa” utters his parting words in an almost singsong sort of fashion
“Have a good life”
I’m like a deer in headlights…frozen in the moment.

Have a good life….
Who says that???!!
An almost 93 year old man who has spent the last couple of years fighting with his mind as it tries to shut down, and he’s hellbent to hold on…

This as I head to Dad’s today which is a whooooole ‘nuther ballgame–

So here’s to life…
Here’s to the end of life…
Here’s to how we choose to live that life, up to the very end…
and here’s to love….

May we all “have a great life…”

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
John 14:15

Editors and signposts

“Let the reader find that he cannot afford to omit any line of your writing because you have omitted every word that he can spare.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

The safest road to hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.
C. S. Lewis

DSC00070
(tools of a trade / Julie Cook / 2015)

Many years ago when I was early on in my college career, I can vividly remember telling
my mother that I thought something was wrong with me–with the way I learned, or better yet,
the way I didn’t / couldn’t learn–that which today is referred to as a learning disability.

Often frustrated that learning, which seemed to come so easily to others,
did not come easy for me.
By all outward appearances I was quite bright and articulate, excelling in some areas,
struggling to merely get by in others.

Nevertheless, I mustered on often battling extreme frustration and disappointment.
Constantly studying, seeking out tutors, practicing, staying after class for help…
only to come up frustratingly short–
failing or nearly failing tests I just was certain I could pass.

We now know that not all learners process information the same as others.
It often takes a keen educator, who constantly observes and accesses their students,
to be able to present material, using a variety of delivery methods,
while hoping to tap into each students strengths.

I can still remember Mother simply shrugging, telling me that I was fine.
Yet today as I have watched my now grown son struggle throughout his entire life with an
early diagnosed Learning Disability and Dyslexia…
as I’m pretty certain I know from whence his troubles originated…

Math was my nemesis, as it remains so much to this day–
I made certain that I would pursue a career path which did not require Algebra or Geometry,
let alone something as obscure as Calculus.
Science, although I was intrigued by Science,
did not fair much better in my brain.
The Biology side of the Science world was more readily digested then that of Physics or Chemistry.
There were formulas, numbers, symbols and equations–
all things my brain just wouldn’t or couldn’t seem to unwrap.

Thriving however in the study of History and the study of the social sciences,
otherwise known as social studies,
I found myself enthralled by the endless stories which make history History.
Not necessarily with each and every aspect of history,
nor of the history of each and every culture,
yet for the majority of study,
history was the area in which I became a sponge.
I was equally intrigued with the political aspect of human history.
Throw in Theology and the history of the ancient faith of Judaism,
as well as that of the later emergence of Christianity,
and I was all ears.

English was ok but there were problems there as well.
Spelling was an issue, as those of you who read this blog well know.
Between spellcheck, autocorrect and my brain,
not all words in the blog posts are correct—
of which I greatly apologize.
And to my defense I never received a good foundation in sentence structure or grammar.
For whatever reason,
I never had a class or teacher who really taught grammar usage and writing as it
should have been taught.
It seemed that I usually ended up in a class where it was a given that all learners
had already been steeped in the basic foundations.
Sadly, I was the one learner in the lot who was not so versed.
Yet I did enjoy the literature aspect of English—with myself,
yearning one day, to be able to express my thoughts and ideas through writing as well.

Being able to express myself was always important. I found that writing,
first in a journal / diary form as a young girl, then as I grew older,
through the writing of letters.
It was in the writing of letters where I was finally allowed to fully express my thoughts.
It was a place my often frustrated brain could and would freely soar.

In the days before computers, word documents, pdf files, jpg images…
I alone helped to sustain the United States Postal Service by keeping them busily in business.
I loved buying and sending cards.
I would spend hours writing letters–especially letters that I would write,
more like epistles, to my godfather–
who is now 92 and a long retired Episcopal priest.
I have often referenced him and his influence in my life in previous posts.

The letters were often written with a myriad of misspelled words despite the large
dictionary by my side.
There were gaping gaps in the written thought as I thought much faster than I wrote.
The letters were laced with outrageous sentence structure,
which in turn would make any english teacher cringe,…
yet they were letters written with passion, honesty and humility.
And despite the holes, the poor sentence structure or the youthful angst,
my godfather would receive each letter expectantly, happily, and lovingly…
all without judgement of content or the editing of grammatical structure–
this from a man who made a living writing and speaking.

Our correspondence began when I was around the age of 15.
My early letters were laced with the pangs of innocence and adolescence.
Yet as I aged and matured those letters became more complex,
even troubling, as I fought my way, often with fraught emotion,
through the often tangled jungle of life.
I wrestled with my faith and beliefs.
Life was not always easy nor kind.
There were obstacles, illnesses, deaths, disappointments, poor choices, grave mistakes,
coupled with a few triumphs, glimpses of joy and moments of contentment.

Always with love and often, no doubt, with great frustration,
he would offer words of either encouragement, warning, or mere advice…
yet his words were always laced with love.
It was here, within the correspondence of a young girl, now grown woman, where I learned about unconditional love.

I never filtered my words or emotions yet perhaps today, looking back,
I see that it would have behooved me to have used a bit more restraint—
yet he never faltered or expressed disappointment.
My Godpoppa, the busy world at large Anglican leader,
would never specifically tell me what to do,
despite my often desperate queries.
He never would say yes or no but rather he’d offer wisdom woven with advice all of
which he hoped would allow me to eventually find my own way.
He was a signpost of guidance, of the miles thus traveled and of miles yet to be traveled.

So on this new day of this new week, in the early days of a brand new year—
do you need an editor or do you need a signpost?
Are you in need of direction or correction on this journey of yours known simply as life?
Or are you like most of us, simply indeed of both—
sometimes needing to be pointed in the right direction while receiving a bit of
much needed revision to your plots and plans…
May you make the most of the guidance, advice, love,
direction and assistance you receive along the way and may you be blessed,
as I have been,
with more signposts than editors.

Who has whom? A tale of the Spirit

“The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one discharge from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre-
To be redeemed from fire by fire.

Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.”

― T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

CIMG0563
(The window of the Holy Spirit designed by Lorenzo Bernini , 1660 / St Peter’s Basilica, The Vatican, Rome, Italy / Julie Cook / 2007)

My 91 year old godmother called me yesterday.
She is actually my godmother by adoption as she and her husband, my godfather, were not my “official” godparents when I was baptized (Christened as we like to say in the Anglican realm of my world) at the ripe old age of 6 months. I was “adopted” by them when I was about 15 years old—which was a key moment in my life of which I will one day share. And it only seems fitting that as an adopted child, I should have adopted godparents, as even my godfather was adopted. . .but as I say, adoption is for another day.

For 91 years of age, my godmother may appear physically broken of body, but never of spirit.
She is a formidable warrior in the battle of all things Spiritual despite her now stooping and markedly bent frame.

As with anybody who lives on this earth, she too has known her fair share of frustration, hardships, agonies of the heart– as only a mother can, having felt both discouragement as well as despair. Just because one is considered a mighty spiritual warrior or committed to ones faith never exempts that individual from pain, sorrow or suffering. I often believe the exact opposite to be true. That those who are more inclined to the Spiritual find a greater assault of the hard, the negative and the difficult.

Her stories usually follow a convoluted journey with the point sometimes being remembered, sometimes not. Either way, I learn something new every time. Yesterday was certainly no exception as she held true to form throughout our conversation, weaving and wobbling on one trail of thought to another.
I’m not certain how we got on the subject, as is often the case with her.
I merely ask a simple question such as “how are you?” An hour or so later, as we weave our way from present to past and back again, I am often taken to task, reminded of what really matters, humbled or feel as if I’ve been, as Paul on his road to Damascus, knocked from my place only to be put in my place.

Somehow she got on the subject of a man that she and her husband, my godfather, had once known and worked with.
I had often heard my godfather reference this man in his later sermons, sermons near the end of his tenure as the dean of the Cathedral.
The man’s name is David du Plessis. Or maybe I should say was as he died in 1987.
David du Plessis was a South African Pentecostal minister who was eventually made a naturalized citizen of the United States. His story is steeped in a great and abiding trust in a God which would certainly lead him on a very long yet marvelous journey.
I encourage you to read about Rev. du Plessis, as I have now begun to do so. However it would be too lengthy for me to jump on that tangent today.

At some point, I think in the late 1970’s, an ecumenical group in Atlanta consisting of Catholics, Episcopalians and other various protestant members, had asked Rev. du Plessis to come address an important conference. The conference happened to be held at the Cathedral of St Philip, the church where my godfather was the dean.

Not attending the meeting himself but feeling obliged as the head rector of the hosting church, my godfather made his way to find Rev du Plessis before the meeting began, to personally welcome him to the church as well as to introduce himself as the hosting rector.
My godfather was already aware that Rev du Plessis was very active in the Renewal movement that was currently taking place in both the Catholic and Episcopal churches as he was proving to be a key component. Rev du Plessis had actually been invited by the Vatican in 1975 to address an ecumenical council held at St Peter’s in Rome of both Catholic and Anglican renewal groups.

As my godfather introduced himself, he wanted to make certain that Rev du Plessis realized that he, my godfather, was very familiar with the work of the Holy Spirit–going to great lengths to explain that he had been prayed to receive the Spirit as a baby when he was baptized, later when he was confirmed in the church, and still again later when he was ordained as a priest. As most ministers want fellow ministers to understand that they too “get it,” my godfather certainly wanted Rev du Plessis to understand that he too knew all about the Holy Spirit.

Rev du Plessis listened politely then warmly smiled telling my godfather that he had no doubts that my godfather had indeed been prayed over to receive the Holy Spirit into his heart and life but the question was not whether my godfather had the Spirit, but rather did the Spirit have my godfather.
This was the “ah ha” moment for my godfather and a pivotal changing point in not only his role as a priest but most importantly in his life.
A moment that left him speechless, troubled and found him quickly changing the subject.

His assumption had always been that as one who had been prayed for to receive the Spirit of God, the Spirit therefore had entered. . .had He not?

And so I was left yesterday, at the end of the story also wondering–not so much about my godfather as I knew he had eventually gone on to be a leading figure in the Renewal movement in both the Anglican and Catholic communities, not only in Atlanta but worldwide as he too traveled to Rome in 1980 to address a conference under the direction of Pope John Paul II.

But I wondered. . .what about my own dealings with the Spirit?
Did I have the Spirit or did the Spirit have me?
As that is now the nagging question. . .