Mother’s Day–happy and nostalgic

The two most important days in your life are the day you are born
and the day you find out why.

Mark Twain


(me and mom circa 1980 )

The fact of life is that we all have two parents.
A mother and a father.

If life is as we would wish it to be, we will know both of these parents.
They will love us and we will love them.

We will all grow together through both ups and downs.

Yet if life opts for a different path, we may or may not know our parents…
or we may not love them and they may not love us.

However, the fact of the matter remains— we all have had two parents.

And we all had a mother who carried us for, give or take, nine months.

If you’ve ever been pregnant, you know that those 9 months can be joyous, fretful, painful,
jolting, frightening and certainly changing.

Most of us have one mother…
I, on the other hand, had three.

My first mother, my original mother, my birth mother, is unknown to me.

In early 1959 a 23-year-old woman became pregnant.
Plans did not go as perhaps they should have and this young woman up and moved away
from her home…moving to a large city where she could blend in and become,
for the most part, anonymous.

She never traveled home for those many months as her pregnancy was her secret to keep.

She gave birth to a premature baby girl and left the hospital shortly thereafter.

Leaving behind…me.

I eventually went into foster care until I was adopted by the woman who would become my
second mother, or what is commonly known as an adoptive mom.


(me and mom on my wedding day, 1983)

When I was a teenager I was sent another mother…a God-mother.
I say ‘sent’ because I honestly believe God sent in a pinch hitter because He knew
the turns my life would take and that I would need someone to catch me when I’d fall.

And I fell many times.

This third mother was the wife of the Dean of the Cathedral of St Philip.
Both she and her husband designated themselves as my God-parents.
They were keenly aware of the fact that I was in desperate need for Godly parental guidance…
and it was at such a pivotal age.

They offered stability, encouragement and a clear Spiritual direction.
This Godmother taught me the importance of what it was to be a Godly woman, wife and mother…
despite all evil attempts to disrupt such.

She also taught me about Spiritual healing…healing that was crucial to my very survival.


(a grainy photo of Ginny Collins from 1978 / Julie ‘Nichols’ Cook)

Tragically, due to my brother’s mental illness, my adopted family was a caustic and dysfunctional mess.
It was an illness that took a grave toll on all of us,
but perhaps none greater than upon our adopted mom.

My brother and I were both adopted, five years apart, and we each had different biological parents.

Mother died very unhappy and prematurely at the age of 53.

My Godmother then stepped deeper into the fray of acting as a surrogate guide.
Her support and guidance remained a key part of my life until up until the time she died.

She died two years ago at the age of 94.

On the polar opposite end of the spectrum of life and of the two women, I eventually lost,
is my biological mother.
She is now 83 and is still living–but where I truly cannot say nor of what path her life
eventually took.

Maybe one day we will meet and I can tell her something very important.

Maybe I will be able to say to her “thank you.”
Thanking her for the selfless gift she gave me…that being the gift life.

Had she been selfish, putting her life and plans first, you and I wouldn’t be currently sharing
this moment together.

And I wouldn’t have my son or his wife or their two children in my life.

The choices we make in this thing we call life all have far-reaching and lasting effects…
be they negative or positive.

Life is positive.
Abortion is not.
My biological mother chose life rather than my death.

So today I want to thank all three of these women…
these three mothers who were, unbeknownst to one another,
intertwined in a single life..that life being mine.
Be it either briefly or for far much longer, they each gave me various gifts of love.

A love that now lives on in two precious little grandchildren…

And so on this Mother’s Day 2019, I want to say thank you to three women.

Firstly, thank you to my biological mother for the choice of giving me life.
I miss not having known you.

Secondly, to Mary Ann my adoptive mother, thank you for taking me into your heart and raising me–
a role that was no easy task—I have missed you terribly.

And finally to Ginny, my adopted Godmother, thank you for instilling in me the
importance of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit…thank you for teaching me
what it means to live, to love, to confess, to repent, to forgive and to be forgiven…
I miss your wisdom.

And lastly, I want to thank a fourth woman.

Thank you, Abby, my dear daughter-n-law…

Thank you for loving our son.

Thank you for opening your heart to us and our family…
and thank you for the gift of two precious babies…The Mayor and her new Sheriff…

Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things
your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live.
Teach them to your children and to their children after them.

Deuteronomy 4:9

God consciousness

Paul believed that in the whole field of Christian experience the first
step is with, and remains with God.
Thought, feeling and endeavor must find their basis and inspiration in,
the sovereign mercy of God.

Duncan Campbell


(image of Rodel Chruch, Lewis and Harris courtesy the web)

A couple of weeks back, my friend David, over on Ebbs and Flow, offered a couple of posts
regarding a bit of obscure history in his recounting of the tale of the
‘Revival in the Hebrides.’

This “revival” actually took place on the island of Lewis-and-Harris
during a time period running from 1940-1953.

I was not familiar with this “revival” but my curiosity was piqued–so I ordered the two books
David had recommended regarding this spiritual phenomenon.

The impetus…two elderly octogenarians, one blind, literally laid on the floor prostrate
before God immersed in a state of deep and earnest prayer…seeking a promise.
They did this for three nights each week until their prayers were fulfilled.

David offers a bit of background…
These ladies carried a burden so great that they prayed on their faces in front of the
peat fire in their crofter’s cottage three nights a week.
Three nights a week for months on end these two ladies persistently cried out to God in Gaelic
claiming a promise from Scripture:
I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon dry ground (Isaiah 44:3).
Their burden was for the folk of their parish, especially the young.
They had no idea of when God might answer their prayer,
or of how God might answer their prayer.

https://nwelford.wordpress.com/2018/02/15/clean-hands/
https://nwelford.wordpress.com/2018/03/08/a-distant-generation/

With my small corner of the world being currently consumed by all things new baby, I’ve
not had the time nor opportunity to delve further into the story of the Revival nor of the
Scottish minister, Duncan Campbell, who played a key instrumental part in the Revival.
Not until last evening when I finally managed to crack open the small blue book,
The Price and Power of Revival by Duncan Campbell, taking in a couple of pages before
closing my eyes from the weight of a month plus of pure exhaustion.

When I first read David’s initial post regarding this revival and of these two
elderly women who came before God entreating Him to fulfill a promise…
the promise of pouring water and floods upon a dry thirsty ground,
I was actually moved to tears.

Whereas their prayers were for their entire community, their focus was primarily
on the youth of their community.

These two humble elderly women believed God…without doubt…
and they believed in His promises…
so it was only natural that they went about imploring God to fulfill His promises.

The faith of a mustard seed…
a tiny smallness in which greatness is found.

Oh so simple and yet oh so profound.

They believed.
They prayed.
Their earnestness and honest heartfelt prayers, in turn, answered in miraculous fashion.

Duncan Campbell offers the following…

The Divine in the human:
In God’s creative plan, man holds a unique place,
distinct in this respect that he alone of God’s creation is capable of God-consciousness.
“This consciousness, or feeling,
is as much a verity as any other fact of human consciousness:

The notion of ‘God-consciousness’ is something that I think lies buried within the heart each
and every human being…be it dormant or not.

And it is the moving of the Spirit which awakens this sleeping giant.

I’ve recounted this little story before but it came flooding back when I
had read David’s post…

Years ago when I was a teenager, still in high school, I was running errands with
my “godmother” who was the wife of the dean of our Chruch. Ours was an Episcopal
Cathedral so the lead priest of an Episcopal Chruch is known as a dean.

They were a deeply spiritual couple who were actually actively involved in the current
spiritual revival taking place within the Catholic and Episcopal denominations known
as the Charismatic Movement.

This was during the mid 70’s…it was a time of cultural settling yet spiritual growth
following the contentious 60’s.

I don’t recall how our conversation got on the subject but my godmother commented
on the obvious curiosity behind my apparent draw to a deeper spirituality…
this given the fact that I was an angst-filled teenager whose family was not exactly
the most religious–
So how in the world I had stumbled upon my current path of a Spiritual journey,
all of which seemed more than a bit odd, was beyond her soul…

But she had a clue…

From first glance, I was not exactly one who others would imagine to be a deeply seeking person…
seeking deeply what Catherine Marshal called “Something More” —
which was the title of one of her numerous books and one that I just happened to be reading.

Knowing my history…that I had been adopted, my godmother turned to look me in the
face and proceeded to tell me that she believed someone who had known of me and of
my existence had prayed…
that someone had prayed for me for all these years…
as those prayers had been directing my path all these years…

And so yes, we pray earnestly because we have been told to pray without ceasing…
God has made us a promise and He will not turn a deaf ear to that promise…

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

Jeremiah 29:11

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

Sticks and stones

“Keep in mind the person that came up with the old adage, ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me’ was obviously deaf.”
Annonymous

“Detraction is a kind of murder. . .the detractor, by a single stroke of his tongue, ordinarily commits three murders: he kills his own soul and that of him who listens to him by a spiritual murder, and he takes away the social life of him who he defames”
St Francis de Sales

DSC00755
(the emerging blooms from the apple “sticks” we planted last week / Julie Cook / 2015)

DSC00751
(an emerging rock wall in a soon to be yard / Julie Cook / 2015)

Throw rocks at me,
beat me with a stick. . .
I may or may not recover from the physical wounds–
depending on how hard I get hit. . .
but I can take a liken and eventually get kickin.
An assault by words, however, well that’s a different matter entirely.
Wounds inflicted by words have a tendency to fester and linger.

During the course of a lifetime,
hands that are used daily, over and over, build callouses.
Hard layers of skin that are tough and
no longer prone to blistering or tearing.

Our feelings, which are more like smooth skin, particularly when we are young, are often most tender.
Any preteen kid can testify to the hurtfulness of words,
As children are often most cruel and unabashedly honest.
It usually takes a lifetime of living in order to build a thick skin,
The calluses of the psyche. . .the ability to repel verbal malice
without the penetrating harmful blistering or tearing.

Years ago, when I was heading off to college, my godmother gave me a tiny little book,
which addressed a rather bigger subject. . .
The Taming of the Tongue by Elaine Murray Stone– first published in 1954.

During my youth I was, for good or bad, prone to the “exuberance of the mouth”. . .
I had a quick temper, often opinionated and possessed an unfiltered mouth,
often speaking what came to mind without first pondering “to speak or not to speak”
plus I’ve always been blatantly honest
coupled with being very passionate. . .
Not always the best of combinations.
I’ve also always had a strong need to communicate what was on my heart
hummmmm. . .

At the time, I had expressed a nagging frustration with having a bit of a sailors mouth, especially when I’d get mad. So my godmother, who was the wife of the Episcopal dean of the church we attended, no doubt had her own worries about my venturing off to the slippery slope of college and lovingly gave me the tiny book—a bit of food for the soul as a part of my send off.

There are days that we are all tested and tried.
Our buttons are pushed and we feel the immediate reflex to push back.
Yet the older we become, however, our skin does indeed thicken, providing a bit of human kevlar,
providing protection from errant hurtful words.
The counter to that thickness however is that with thicker skin, comes a tongue and wit that is often
fine tuned, shaper and smarter than it was in our youth.
We tend to be able to jab and parle much faster,
making the jabs more venomous and painful.

And so it is, as I am finding myself navigating some rather rough waters theses days,
traversing a minefield of malice, animosity, control and misplaced anger. . .
I find myself asking God to temper my reactions and emotions.
That He may grant me wisdom in choosing my words, knowing when and how to use them while adding additional coatings to my kevlar skin. . .
such that the misdirected hurtful angry words hurled in my direction will simply bounce off as I counter with His words of Grace. . .

Keep your tongue from evil,
And your lips from speaking deceit.
Depart from evil and do good;
Seek peace and pursue it.

Psalm 34:13-15

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. . .