can’t go back…lessons from the road

If you’re down and confused
And you don’t remember who you’re talkin’ to
Concentration slips away
Cause your baby is so far away.
Well, there’s a rose in a fisted glove
And the eagle flies with the dove
And if you can’t be with the one you love
Love the one you’re with
Love the one you’re with
Don’t be angry, don’t be sad,
Don’t sit cryin’ over good things you’ve had
,
Lyrics, The Isley Brothers


(the main stairwell in the Biltmore House / Ashville, NC / Julie Cook / 2020)

About a week or so ago,
I wrote a post bemoaning the fact that I had cared for sick grandkids who in turn,
unintentionally, gave me their sickness.

It seems that germs just love to travel and share themselves.
Just like the song by the Isley Brothers, you gotta love the ones you’re with…
germs will love any and all… whoever they are with or even near.

But this is NOT another post chattering on about coronavirus or the flu or any other bug.

This post is rather about adventure…
Or better yet…this is a post about lessons.

In that previous post, I had made mention that we had had a little impromptu adventure
while trying to escape all this unrelenting rain…

About two weeks ago, we were sitting in the house… sick and tired of sitting in the house.
It had rained for almost the entire month of February.
It was our wettest February on record.

Let’s get away” I proclaimed
My husband agreed.

We threw some things in a bag and headed north.
About a 4-hour drive north.

It had been years since we’d visited the Biltmore House
and thus that would be our destination.

We opted to stay at the Inn on the property,
spending the following day visiting the house,
then we would drive around the mountains before heading home.
Short and sweet.

And most importantly, it was minus the rain.

But then there was the snow.

However, let’s back up 40 years.

Back in 1980, I was a college student who had no real feel for what I wanted to do with my life.
I thought I knew.
I thought I had known.
I wanted to work with kids.
I wanted to write.
I wanted to work in advertising.
I wanted to meet a nice boy.
I wanted to get married and I wanted to be a mom.

I bounced back and forth between each different course and college major that were
more or less, a flavor of the day regime.

I have written about this journey when I first started blogging.
It was about how I finally made my way into teaching.

It was the summer of 1980 when my angst and turmoil finally came into focus in the
middle of the mountains of North Carolina.
Specifically, Black Mt., NC.

I had taken a job at a Christian summer camp for girls as a camp counselor—
Riflery Director oddly enough.

I spent my summers working at the camp until I graduated and made my
way to my first teaching post.
It was a position that would last 31 years.

So before we set out on this little adventure,
I asked my husband if we could drive over to Black Mt,
find a little inn for a night and spend an afternoon
wandering the little town before going to see the camp.

Knowing how important this place once was to me,
he knew he was now simply along for the ride.

When we started out from home on this northward drive,
we took an off-the-beaten-path route.
Many two and four-lane roads avoiding much of the interstate.
Crossing over into NC from Georgia, just before entering the Nantahala forest,
I caught sight of a homemade sign perched along the side of the road…
sitting boldly in plain sight.

It was a conversation bubble sign.
One conversation bubble read: “God, why won’t you send us someone who will help us?
The response bubble read: “I did, but you aborted them”

A powerful thought to chew on and get lost in while driving.

Our visit to the Biltmore was brief but enjoyable.
It had been meant to be our diversion,
a brief respite from our temperate rainy winter.

But then…it snowed.

The snow was pretty as it gently covered the mountains.
It was a gift from the relentless rain we had left back home.
Soft and silent.
White and muting.
A fitting and tender offering.

The small town of Black Mt. is about a 15-minute drive east from Ashville on I-40 or about
20 minutes via Hwy 70.

It was my home for several summers…a place that had left
and indelible mark upon my heart, soul and on the person who I would grow to be.

My former boss and dear friend, the camp’s director, had passed away several years away,
leaving the camp to now be run by two of his sons.

I had been very close to the older of the two boys.

At the time, he was instrumental in the growth of my Christian faith.

He was one of those individuals who you knew had a relationship with
Christ that transcended both time and space.
There was a depth not normally seen in “normal” Christians.
There was a mysticism.
There was a sense that He was privy to something that was not experienced by many others.
It was so much greater than…

There was a diligence to his faith.
A detachment from the world, yet done so graciously and most willingly.
It was a relationship that had been tried in a furnace…
a furnace so hot that it had burned away all the dross.

It was a relationship that I marveled over from afar.
A relationship that I wanted yet always felt as if it was just beyond my reach.

During that time, I had also become close friends with another counselor.
She and I both were attending the same college,
however, we had not met until our summers working at camp.

She was a hungry and joyous Christian..strong and uncompromising in her faith.

The three of us became quite the trio.
I earned the name slugly…the questioning one who always seemed to be
lagging a step behind.
The one who still had the one foot in the world.

Despite my now almost manic positive spin on life,
I carried a heavy black cloud.

Most often my friend and I both felt like students sitting at
the feet of a master teacher as we learned so very much from our older and wiser friend.

His had once been a hard and rough life.
We were fortunate to have met him long after the darkness.
We were the grateful recipients of the light now shining through him.

Yet as life would have it, we remained as close as we could,
as our lives simply took us each on different journeys.
I married first, followed by our friend then finally my fellow counselor friend,
found her true love.

Three different states, jobs, children, and life, made the years race past with less and less contact.

What might I find after 40 years?

I felt a sense of heaviness and nervousness…a journey of trepidation.
The excitement of what might be was shadowed by both what was and what
had passed.

I knew that the camp had grown and even changed.
A boys camp and also a climbing adventure camp has become spin-offs of the
original girls camp. Things were much larger and not as intimate.

Billy Graham was the camp’s neighbor, living on the neighboring mountain top
and Montreat College was less than a mile up the road.

Graham was now gone but the college was still there having, like everything else,
grown and expanded.

We drove up from the what was once a sleepy mountain town that has since boomed
into a buzzing home to artists, breweries and eclectic eateries–
a top NC mountain must-see travel destination crowned by all things southern
and travel, Southern Living…crowned as one of America’s most charming small towns.

I pulled into the familiar hemlock lined gravel drive leading up to the main house…
and that’s when I stopped the car for the briefest of moments before quickly deciding to turn around…
simply driving back to town.

Just like that.

With all that growing anticipation and wonderment I felt during our drive from home…
in the end, I knew that the girl who had spent her summers in this small part of the world
had, in the end, moved on.

I decided to drive back leaving what was.. simply to be.

Later that evening, once back in town,
we started walking the couple of blocks from our Inn to the trendy new restaurant
that had been recommended to us.

While walking rather briskly, shielding ourselves against the bitter cold,
a group of college-age young folks fell in line behind us on the sidewalk.

All we could hear was ‘F’ this and ‘F’ that as they weren’t but
a few steps behind.
There were no filters, no restraints, no consideration for our obvious older ears,
that was for sure

They were loud and raucous, cursing as if uttering simple words in conversation.
I turned and smiled while giving that knowing look of
“hey, consider the other folks in your surroundings
as your language just might not be suitable let alone appreciated
by those in such close earshot.”

The loudest gal in the group just looked at me, not missing a beat
with her profanity-laced chatter.

Thankfully they veered off to head into one of the local watering holes
while we kept walking.

Aggravated by the thought that the one place I had always held somewhat sacred
and somewhat protected,
as it had been just that for me all these years ago, was now just like any other place invaded by
a youthful, progressive left-leaning, mindset as I saw many a Bernie, pro-choice, coexist, and all
things feminist stickers stuck on the cars parked along the sidewalks.

With the crisp mountain air now laced with cigarette smoke, the sweet scent of weed and stale beer,
I could feel my shoulders slump just a tad.

There was now a heavy dose of melancholy and irony found in being just the other side of
Ashville…the home to the great writer, Thomas Wolfe…

Wolfe was right you know…we can’t go home again.
Home is never the same.
The then is no longer as it is simply the now.

I was clearly reminded that our home is truly not of this earth.
Our peace will not ever be found here despite our constant searching.

For we are indeed strangers in a strange land…
We seek a home where we know our hearts will finally be at rest…
it is our life’s innate quest really.
Seeking a home that is beyond that which we have known…a home
that is eternal and somewhere just beyond those mountains I once
considered my haven of peace.

I think that’s what my friend had known all those years ago…it just took
me forty years to figure it out.

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh,
which wage war against your soul.
Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable,
so that when they speak against you as evildoers,
they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

1 Peter 2:11-12

sacrifices and selfishness

There is nothing that I shudder at more than the idea of a separation of the Union.
Should such an event ever happen, which I fervently pray God to avert,
from that date I view our liberty gone.”

Andrew Jackson


(The Victory statue in Nashville’s War Memeorial / Julie Cook / 2018)

When one hears the word Nashville, I’m certain that trashy TV shows, country music,
as well as rowdiness is what most likely first comes to mind.

Add to that honky tonks, day drinking, The Grand Ol Opry, party destinations, country stars,
football, hot chicken, Bluebird cafes…yadda yadda…

I’ve visited this city once before, for a business convention, and we stayed close to the
country music hub. It was a short and sweet visit, yet such a visit that I told myself
I’d like to one day come back.
This city seemed to have so much more to offer other than that of her more rowdy reputation.

Plus being a big fan of our 7th president, I wanted to come back to visit his
homeplace just outside of the city.

Fast forward a couple of years…
we made the 4.5-hour trek northward earlier in the week.

On this particular trip, we opted to stay more northerly…
blocks above the crazy honky tonks and debauchery.
In a quieter area just opposite the State Capital.

Because who knew that Nashville was touted as holding the honor of having the Nations’
largest 4th of July Fireworks display?

Who knew that the city would swell with an additional 250,000 folks over the 4th?

Add in those coming for bridal parties…both gals and guys…
along with all those summer vacationers… so what we had anticipated as a fun yet
laid back trip was anything but laid back.

Oh did I mention the heatwave?

108 on July 4th in downtown?

Hotter in Nashville than the 4.5 hours south at our house.
Hotter than Nashville hot chicken.

Who knew?!

Hot, sticky, rowdy, scantily clad bodies adding in their own heat and it’s a wonder
everyone didn’t fall out with heat stroke.

Nashville has done a very nice job of providing a walking friendly and inviting feel to
the particular area of its burgeoning and growing city that we called “home” for 4 days.

We were told, on this last trip, that 95 to 100 new folks move into the city on a daily basis.
That’s why there are 7 massive building projects taking place downtown—
expansive condos, apartments, hotels and massive skyscrapers all with that live,
eat and shop sort of vibe.

But what drew me in on to this trip was not the glitz and rowdiness down on Broadway
but actually, the area leading up to the state’s capital building.

A marble lined promenade leading toward the capital building—a stately building perched
on a dominant promontory allowing for a sense of guardianship over the city she has been
tasked with governing since 1796.

This expansive marble lined avenue that leads up to the capital is known as the city’s
War Memorial…

It is an area that offers a very stately tribute to those Tennesseans who served
and willing gave the ultimate sacrifice for not only their fellow Tennesseans but to their
fellow Americans.

There are memorials to all who those who have served and yet never came home…

I was unable to capture each memorial before the rains began.
But I did get a shot at the Korean memorial

A memorial to those lives lost in submarines that were sunk while defending the North Atlantic and Mediterranian as well as the Pacific waters during WWII

There was a memorial to those having been awarded purple hearts as well as those
law enforcement members and first responders who have also sacrificed the ultimate
offering to their fellow statesmen.

But the most prominent memorial was the statue of Victory offered in memory of those who lost their
lives during the Great War…the Great War that was to end all wars…
World War I.

The statue was the product of a husband and wife duo—
Tennesse native Belle Kinney along with her Austrian born husband,
Leopold F. Scholz.

The massive statue sits within the open-air atrium of the War Memorial building and
was constructed in the late 1920’s shortly following the war.

Yet sadly the memorial has been defaced.

The marble base with words reading
“In memory of the sons of Tennessee who gave their lives in the Great War
1914-1918”
had been defaced with a black sharpie.
Anarchy symbols and derogatory words were scribbled all over the marble.

Graffiti say some, as they simply shrug their shoulders.
Vandalism say others.

Selfishness is what I say.

I thought this while on the same day I visited this War memorial, the Nation watched a woman being
arrested in New Youk for her stunt of attempting to scale the Statue of Liberty.

A protest they say.
Protesting ICE and the issue of immigration.

And is not protest a “right” of Americans argue the masses.?

Yet it was a dangerous protest.
And it was a selfish protest.
And so if there is an endangerment to others, is that then, in turn, more than a protest but
merely selfish attention seeking?

This woman put not only herself at risk but those first responders tasked with
getting her off the fragile copper veneered statue.

Let’s not forget the hundreds of tourists and vacationers who had planned a visit the statue
on the 4th during their trip to New York. A visit they would not be able to make due to the actions
of one selfish woman.

The area had to be shut down and secured for hours as authorities worked to get this woman down.

As I stand staring at a tribute erected to those lives lost 100 years ago in a world war fought in
hopes of ending all such wars, my thoughts turn to our selfish overpaid athletes who think their
kneeling protests to the National Anthem is some sort of brave act.
And I think of the countless supporters who think such protests are perfectly great.

Selfishness is not brave.

It’s easy to act a fool.
It’s easy to be disrespectful.

Bravery comes when one willingly lays down his or her life in hopes of protecting
his / her fellow man.

Those who have served and continue to serve this Nation and her citizens with not only
their time, their expertise, their skills but most importantly their lives,
are the true heroes who deserve our respect.

Be it 200 years ago, 100 years ago or simply last month in which a serviceman or woman
gave their all in order for us to be selfish…is…well…gravely lopsided in terms of worth.

And it is something we each should remember.

And so I am thankful that on this past July 4th,
I had the opportunity to be reminded of just that…that of sacrifices and selfishness.

I’m just saddened seeing that so many of our younger generations just don’t get it.

“I weep for the liberty of my country when I see at this early day of its successful experiment
that corruption has been imputed to many members of the House of Representatives,
and the rights of the people have been bartered for promises of office.”

Andrew Jackson

riding a seasonal wave or just waiting for us to die…

“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant:
if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.”

[Meditations Divine and Moral]”
Anne Bradstreet


(a neighbor’s wanning blooming tulip tree / Julie Cook / 2018)

Still in Atlanta, still playing nurse and grandmother…as our daughter-n-law,
the new mother, is still quite ill…
and as we are all still very very sleep deprived.

This new grandbaby has her nights and days confused…
she is, however, her father’s daughter as I seem to recall having the same problems
with him…

Slowly I’m making my way back to redirecting a little bit of outward focus.

Yesterday in my post I wrote about the disparaging remarks being made about the
now late Christian evangelist Billy Graham.

In that post, I referenced our lovable renegade Anglican bishop Gavin Ashenden’s post
regarding that now very troubling trend of Graham bashing…
of which leads us all back full circle to that of Christian bashing.

I followed that up with a similar observation being made by our friend the Wee Flea
who had also written several posts regarding the recent and ever-growing secular melee
taking place regarding the passing of this ardent Herculean Christian crusader.

I don’t know—but maybe this business about being a new grandmother has resurrected the
sleeping mama bear in me…
Whereas I have been rather glum over the direction I’ve watched our society skirting
these past many months…
I think I am now gravitating back to just being flat out mad.

What type of world are we….we meaning you and me…those of us who are members
of the Faith, what type of world are we allowing to mould and shape our children?

Do we not care that each and every day more and more famous, infamous and
just plain ol folk are taking aim at the practice of our personal Faith and beliefs?
Even that of the very underpinnings of Western Civilization’s foundation—
a Judaeo /Christian base?!

As the attacks grow, we find growing ridicule against our beliefs in God’s mandates—
Mandates such as marriage being between one man and one woman.
Mandates that children are born either male or female—
Mandates that Jesus Christ is the Way and the only Way to Salvation.

Do we not care that those who are considered to be conservative, a traditionalist or
an orthodox member of the faith, those who adhere to the moral fiber of the
Christian faith, do we not care that they are now being considered expendable
and a pariah?

Perhaps we’ve simply decided that it is best not to upset the apple cart…
perhaps being a non-committal, disengaged ostrich, sticking our heads in the sand,
is the best approach to life.
Maybe if we just keep our heads down, ‘they’ won’t notice us.

Does it not bother us that because we seek to adhere to God’s word that we are in turn
ridiculed, attacked, threatened and told that we may no longer believe or
act upon that Word of faith?

Does it not bother us that our rights as Christian believers are no longer the
same as others who are non-believers.

Well…

It bothers me.

It bothers me that boys and girls as young as 6 are considered “mature” enough to
decide if they want to remain said boy or girl.
What does a non-sexually active individual, one who has yet to develop or mature
sexually, understand about sexual orientation?

Boys are boys
Girls are girls…

When did we decide that man was a better guide than God in our lives?

You may answer to the contrary…
You may counter that none of that is who we, the Faithful are…
Answering with a resounding no…that no, we haven’t allowed those things to happen…
And yet haven’t we helped to create this current caustic life…??

Our indifference, our appeasement, our fear, our choosing blindness to the chipping
away at our very foundation…that is indeed the fault of us all.

However, it should be noted that Christians, as in you and I are currently being told that we
may no longer hold our prayers publically…
that we may no longer demonstrate our faith outwardly…
all the while other religions are encouraged by our current culture to bask in their rituals.
Are we not being dubbed as homophobic while being branded ignorant…
all because we believe in the mandates of our God.

And as our Wee Flea friend succinctly points out…
we are now being told that we exist on the “wrong side of history.”
That even Jesus Christ existed on the wrong side of history…
as the demigods of today have hailed themselves the all-knowing wise sages
who are currently attempting to alter and rewrite our history.

Our Wee Scottish friend continues in his latest post with a stinging observation
regarding the current negative coverage of Billy Graham’s death:

“And as there have been many fine tributes to the life and testimony of
Billy Graham, what struck me were the number of people and organisations who couldn’t
even wait until his body was cold before they stuck the boot in.
These reactions tell us a great deal about our culture and churches.”

Billy Graham preached Christ, and he preached the cross of Christ.
He may have been on ‘the wrong side of history’ from the perspective of those who think
they know what that is, but he is now on the right side of eternity where I’m sure he has
already heard the words that all believers long to hear:
‘well done, good and faithful servant…enter into the joy of your Lord.
(Matthew 25:21).

So perhaps the question which we must ask ourselves…
are we merely riding a seasonal wave of a series of modern-day Christin persecution or
are we experiencing something much more sinister…

Was Billy Graham a homophobic, Christ denying, antisemitic and bigoted failed evangelist on the wrong side of history?

Hope is Springing

“Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never Is, but always To be blest.
The soul, uneasy, and confin’d from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.”

Alexander Pope


(cue the Lenten Rose / Julie Cook / 2018)

We still have so much to talk about…
So many pressing issues of the soul and the salvation of man.

That being our salvation.

There is so much history that we need to recall, lest we be doomed to repeat it all.

Discussing those things of true importance while discarding those unimportant things
vying for control.

There has been such a wearisome heaviness pressing down on us…
The cold.
The snow.
The political circus of both country and globe.
The helter-skelter stock market.
The flu.
The sheer burdens of our individual lives…
The uncertainty of the uncertainness.

The list seems endless.

I have felt as if I have not been outside, really outside, taking stock
of a winter barren waste-laid landscape in a string of seemingly nonending months of time.

Its just been too cold, too wet, too grey…
just too, too…

Until Tuesday.

I actually went outside and filled up the birdfeeders.
The sun was shining and it wasn’t freezing.
In fact, I could feel the sun’s warmth.
An unfamiliar yet most welcomed sensation.

I cleaned out the bird boxes, ridding them of the old nests…
making ready for new residents who will soon be out house hunting.

I trimmed away a few dead and broken branches from plants, bushes, and trees—
all who had suffered under the weight of the snow and ice—
trimming wich I had simply not felt called yet to tackle.

To be honest, I think I’ve just not felt like doing much of any of it, period.
I’ve not felt motivated or excited to do so…
both of which are not me.

I chalk such lack of motivation, lack of get-up-and-go, to life’s wicked blows,
to the winter blues and to just the never-ending chill which
has delighted in reaching down to my very bones.

The good news is that I do not have the full blown hemochromatosis I spoke of
about a week or so ago.
I am however a carrier…only half mutant.
Yet it’s off for the nuclear stress test come Monday…
all to figure out the reason for a sedentary blood pressure for a non-sedentary individual…
of which probably points to another mutant gene…

My son made me watch the X-Men cartoons with him when he was a little boy—
I always did have a soft spot in my heart for Beast—
I mean, who doesn’t love a soft-spoken, Shakespearian reading
manly man who happens to be blue?

Yet I suspect some might simply call my winter languidness, age.

However my little outdoor excursion Tuesday offered up a marvelous surprise.

Tucked away in what is usually a dark tiny tree ladened little nook,
an unsuspecting patch of pine straw nestled between two small boxwoods…
rests 4 nearly hidden reminders that there is indeed life lurking, waiting and
really ready to get busy.

And as if right on cue, just in time for the beginning of this week’s coming Lenten season…
a time which happens to be bringing both Valentine’s day and a certain grandbaby’s
due date…
a reflective time of death, Ressurection, and life…
the Lenten Roses are in full blooming regalia.

Hope does Spring eternal does it not?

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord,
“plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
Then you will call on me and come and pray to me,
and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
I will be found by you,” declares the Lord,

Jeremiah 29:11-14

when the going gets cold and dreary….

“A lot of people like snow. I find it to be an unnecessary freezing of water.”
Carl Reiner


(these birds have not flown south, I’m trying / Julie Cook / 2018)

When the going gets cold and dreary…
The Cold and Dreary get going…as in they head south…

So for the weekend, I’m heading south…as far south as I can reasonably drive for the
extent of a weekend.

And if the truth be told, the only thing I asked for for Christmas was for a weekend away.
Remember, our’s is a life of one of retail—getting away for a weekend, at some point following the
dreaded black Friday unto Christmas shopping mayhem is the hoping for a weekend of peace and sanity.
And as we have a grandbaby due in two weeks…this was the weekend…snow, ice, tornados…
you name it, come hell or high water, away it was to be…

So during my very recent traveling southward, I passed a small country church that had a wonderful
sign posted out front:

“If your job depended on your prayers, would you still be employed?

That little obscure sign, in the middle of a lonely stretch of road in the middle of the
northern panhandle of Florida, gave me a wealth of wonderment to ponder as I drove onward…

Prayer…

We think we’re doing good, our prayerful due diligence, when we squeeze in our quick little
arrow prayers, those prayers which shoot upward throughout the day, yet leave out any real focused
and purposeful time spent in the presence of the One Omnipotent Creator…

Or… we squeeze in our designated 15 minutes each morning or evening…

Is it uninterrupted?
Is it hindered by falling asleep or by a ringing phone or a dinging text?

Communion.

“An act or instance of sharing.”

Do we spend time the time of communion with our Lord as we would want Him to spend with us…

I drove onward…wondering, hoping…and determining that time must be turned around…

Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought,
but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

Romans 8:26

don’t talk to me about Global Warming

The snow doesn’t give a soft white damn whom it touches.
E.E. Cummings

No, the above image is not of me, but it is how I’m feeling right about now.

From the caption, you can read that this was a selfie taken by a young lady who lives
in what is considered to be one of the coldest cities in the world and just so happens
to be located in Siberia, Russia…

Instead, this is my picture…

We foolishly put up things like this in the South thinking the Weather or Mother Nature
will never take us seriously.
Well….. it/she has…
and it/she did
and crazily it has once again snowed and iced…

Twice in one Winter here in the deep South is unheard of!!!
And technically the first snow was at the tail end of Fall with this latest mess being the first “official” Winter snow.
A foot of snow in the late Fall is so unnatural and so unheard of way down here in
the land of all things cotton and peaches, only to have another snow event taking place just
a month later, well, we’ve actually begun to make certain that the animals aren’t pairing off
in numbers of two!

School, Businesses, and Governmental agencies all being, or will be, shut down yesterday,  today and some even tomorrow.

Adding insult to injury we woke to 11 degrees Farenheight, with a well into to the
negatives, windchill— making venturing forth into the snow and ice an even more
dangerous and now most unpleasant experience.

So my little sign, when I feel up to dashing outside, is coming down as I think I’ll put up
a “Welcome Spring” sign and we’ll just see if Miss Mother Nature is actually paying attention
or just delightfully messing with us instead!
My money is on she’s messing with us!!

“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

Isaiah 55: 9-11

increasing and decreasing

I have an increasing sense that the most important crisis of our time is
spiritual and that we need places where people can grow stronger in
the spirit and be able to integrate the emotional struggles
in their spiritual journeys.

Fr Henri Nouwen

“Christian spirituality, the contemplative life, is not about us.
It is about God.
The great weakness of American spirituality is that it is all about us:
fulfilling our potential, getting the blessings of God, expanding our influence,
finding our gifts, getting a handle on principles by which we can
get an edge over the competition.
The more there is of us, the less there is of God.

Eugene Peterson


(snow encrusted camel / Julie Cook / 2017)

Have you ever found yourself holding a cup or glass of liquid that comes all the
way to to very top…
Someone has either over poured or just wasn’t thinking…
and so now obviously, you can’t add nary an ice cube to the glass without
sending the contents cascading outward and downward…

To add the ice, you’d need to first sip out a good bit or pour out a little
of the liquid, making room for the ice.

And on top of that, you have to be oh so very careful while just trying to get
the glass up to your mouth without sloshing everything everywhere.

If then our lives are just as full, filled to the very brim…
full of external entities, as well as full from within from our very
egotistical selves, how can there any space or room…for anything?

And yet we somehow think we can continue squeezing in just one more thing
or taking on one more little extra…shoving and pushing much like an
overstuffed suitcase.
Obviously we can’t sit on our lives trying to get things sufficiently and
tightly closed…
so clearly something is going to have to go.

Much like the time I was once returning from a trip abroad and my suitcase
weighed over the allotted allowance by 7 pounds….
I had a choice…either I was going to have to pay a hefty fee for being overtly full,
or as we did, I had to scramble right then and there at the check-in counter,
yanking things out while my aunt was stuffing my residual into her lighter bag.

These are the moments when we begrudgingly realize that there is simply no more
room to take on anything or anyone else for that matter—
as there is neither room nor space to truly do justice to whatever or whomever
we are trying to squeeze in…

Squeezing for the sake of squeezing just doesn’t make much sense…
as it’s truly just a waste of energy and time.

So its time to let go and lighten the load.

And what better time is there than a new year—
the perfect time to sort and purge.

Yet it’s one thing to purge ones world of excessive stuff, emptying closets,
drawers, shelves…hauling this and that to the Goodwill or even the dump….

But the real question, the looming question, the question that is really about life and death, is how does one purge one’s self of the excessive stuff of self?
How does one make room internally, opening up space for a God who wants to be
invited in?

Since this is the time of year when we are reminded of the need to be about change…
as well as the importance, or lack thereof, of both our internal space and of our
place in this world of ours,
perhaps we are now more open to the notion of a truly crucial need.

We must decrease, as He must increase…..

This is to be an action, not a reaction, that is to become a conscious action
in that it shall be a lasting process….
A process which requires both thought and time—as it will not be accomplished
in the blink of an eye or within a day, a week, a month or even over the course
of a year…but rather over the remainder of one’s lifetime.

This isn’t about losing weight, exercising, getting organized, being thrifty…
it’s about change…a change for the sake of a relationship…
and for a life… not fleeting and overwhelmed, but focused and everlasting…

For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and
has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.
He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances,
that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two,
thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body
through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.
So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace
to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit
to the Father.

Ephesians 2:14-18

“God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways”

“In every outthrust headland, in every curving beach,
in every grain of sand there is the story of the earth.”

Rachel Carson


(the snowy adirondacks / Julie Cook / 2017)

God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways;
he does great things beyond our understanding.
He says to the snow, ‘Fall on the earth,’
and to the rain shower, ‘Be a mighty downpour.’
So that everyone he has made may know his work,
he stops all people from their labor.
The animals take cover;
they remain in their dens.
The tempest comes out from its chamber,
the cold from the driving winds.
The breath of God produces ice,
and the broad waters become frozen.

Job 37:5-10

Meat and potatoes

One gets to the heart of the matter by a series of experiences in
the same pattern, but in different colors.

Robert Graves


(the red snapper at Bud and Alley’s Seaside Beach, Fl / Julie Cook)

Ok, I admit….this is a picture of a fish with potatoes and not a steak.
as in “meat and potatoes”

I did have a lovely picture of a prime rib roast which I had cooked a while back,
but the fish seemed a bit less red and well, meaty…as I know there are those
out there who just really are opposed to “red” meat….despite my knowing there are
those who will grouse over the whole well, whole fish…meaning head and eyes….
but we digress….

I’ve stated before, I’ve always been a meat and potatoes sort of girl.
Be that meat…fowl, pig, lamb, fish or cow…..

Yet today’s post is not about food…meat or starch…
but is a post that we might just call more of a hearty dose of the
Word of God….being sustenance for the soul verses the food for the stomach.
As in getting down to the heart of the matter….

And now that the dust has somewhat settled…as the snows are now melting…
life is settling back into its normal madness of Christmas….
sans any of the distracting, as well as debilitating, white stuff.

Power is now restored.
Limbs are now cut up and stacked.
Cars have been moved to where they belong….
As schools resume to normal schedules today.

So in the madness since late last week, when the snows did begin to fall,
I was literally pulled away from much of my reading and study as my duties
were needed immediately elsewhere—
And I was particularly pulled away from my reading and focusing on the teachings
of those 3 favorite clerics of mine…

And what a delightful hodge podge of spirituality they are—

A renegade Anglican priest, a reformed Presbyterian minister and a Catholic monk…

And may it be known that whereas each one of these men may seem,
from all outward appearances to be vastly different,
when all the pretense of what the world perceives of them is
peeled away, they along with their messages, are but one in the same.

And I for one delight in that.

In my distraction with the snow and writing about such…there has been so much
that has actually taken place that needs not only my attention but yours as well….

Jerusalem is being recognized by the US, at long last, as the capital of Israel…
much to the chagrin of most of the world as well as by many actually in the US
itself.

The Pope, much like our US President, has boldly and perhaps blindly, ventured
to where he may not should have trod, by declaring that the Lords’ Prayer
needs an overhaul….see the perspiration beads forming at my brow….

Sexual harassment continues to prevail in our headlines as it appears to have crept
into the fold….

And my friend who I made mention of the other day…
the one whose family business my family had frequented for the past 25 years or so,
lost her earthly battle early Friday morning.
During the last time we had a chance to chat, which was just a couple of weeks ago,
I noticed that my friend was rather sad and weepy.
I asked what was troubling her….and this 78 year old friend looks me in the eye
and tells me “I miss my momma”—- as I look back at her,
telling her how I understand because I miss mine as well—of which she knew….
So I am uplifted in knowing that both her son and daughter were by her side
when she gave up the earthly ghost and headed on home to be with her mom…

All of this, along with all the other tit for tat that has been happening in what seems
to be my snow encrusted writing absence, will each be addressed in due time…..

But first I wanted to return our focus to Advent.

Because isn’t that what our focus should currently be about?
Advent.
As in The Coming….

I spent some time this morning listening to the 2nd Sunday in Advent’s homily
offered by Bishop Gavin Ashenden…I was a day late and a dollar short,
but none the less, blessed.
12 delightful minutes of good meat and potatoes for the soul.

The good bishop reminds us that Advent is a time for making space in our hearts,
more space for Jesus.

He tells us that this is the time that we are to be about repentance…
in order to make sacred space available.

Bishop Ashenden focused on the reading of the day which was taken from the Gospel of
St Mark (Mark 1:1-8) in which there is a good description of John the Baptizer…
a man wearing simple garments and who is sustained by eating wild honey and locust.

The good Bishop admits to having always been a bit perplexed as the why
the locust eating would be so important as to be included in the text….
but a Greek friend noted that the true translation in Greek, as only Greeks would understand it to be, was not that of an insect but rather actually a type of flower—
of which seemed to make much more sense.

So we get the complete picture of John…that he was a simple man,
living off and being sustained by the land.
Not the crazy loner off in the desert howling by the moon at night as he
has often been portrayed—perhaps more mad than wise.

And so as we note–John was very simple—
in turn bound by no worldly trappings what so ever ….

John both proclaimed as well as accused those of his day of having
lives way too full—
and that the time had come to make the choice…

The choice being between holding on to that which gets in the way of God or
to choose to move out and get rid of that which gets in the way…
getting rid of that which is separating ourselves from God and God alone.

Very much what we see society and our culture forcing upon us today—
Especially and particularly this time of year!

Our lives, particularly during Christmas, are so chocked full that we are
practically to our breaking point.

We are so full and overwhelmed with all that must be done to
make the “holidays” just so special, magical and wonderful…
on top of already busy lives with school and work….
that we are actually crowding out Jesus.

Crowding Him out from the very time He is to actually be at the center of
our focus.

Bishop Ashenden notes that John’s message of Metanoia, or that of our total change
and or transformation, is so important because it calls us to a new way of examining
things….

Yet at the same time the good Bishop admonishes us that…dare we say,
there is a spirit of evil actually at work, at this very moment, particularly now…
during this time of year that we are being called…called by God.
It is all so totally opposite of the call of the Holy Spirit.

For there is a force working to counter that call…
countering with the distractions and demands we actually throw upon ourselves
particularly at this time of year.

Shopping, church pageants, visits to Santa, picture taking, card writing and sending,
choir practice, school plays, sporting events, making costumes, wrapping gifts,
sorting, cooking, parties, cleaning, traveling…
all of this on top of the already endless demands of both work and school—
All of this becomes the priority while the true essence of Christ is pushed further
aside.

We fight to pretend and convince ourselves otherwise—
we rationalize that we are doing what we are doing because IT IS Christmas…
yet none of it has one single thing to do truly with Christmas—
or Christ Mass…

None of this is to be about lifestyle and clutter but about having the presence
of God at our forefront…as Bishop Ashenden pointedly asks…
“how much time then do you allot for prayer, the reading of scripture,
and loving the Lord?”…especially now during this chaotic time?

I found that I had to really look at what he was saying…
I had to look closely at what gets pushed aside…looking at what is then
actually pushing its way into being the priority….a false priortiy.
The priorities that society makes of us during this season…

Our culture clamors that we are to be all inclusive…and non discriminatory—
but should we not be exclusive and discriminatory over that which is demanding
to be the forefront of our focus—-all of which is not the true essence of Christ
nor of Christ Himself….

a tenacious lot

“Real courage is when you know you’re licked before you begin,
but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”

Harper Lee


(ice and snow encrusted Camilla / Julie Cook / 2017)

Remember the picture of the yard sign I shared on Friday??
That ‘Southern State of Mind’ Georgia Bulldog yard sign??
A yard sign that was quickly accumulating snow?
Well this is what it looked like once the snows ended Saturday…..

We Southerners do like our “weather.”
And we love to both fuss and cuss it….
Be it good or bad.

All kinds of weather.

We will complain about the heat.
We will lament about the humidity.
We will run and hide, with good reason, at the first sign of a tornado.
We will grumble about the lack or rain…
Just as we will grouse over its abundance.

But throw a little sleet, ice or snow our way and it’s all but
Katy bar the door..

We will get practically giddy at the first mention of anticipated snow…

As visions of serene images of Currier and Ives dance like magical
sugarplums round our anticipating heads.
Horse drawn carriages gliding effortlessly through the snow, as bells merrily jingle
while both adults and kids alike race joyously to build snowmen.

Children and teachers alike sit glued to weather reports, praying the Weatherman
will grant that ever so hoped for wish…the announcement of No School..
as everyone races for a homemade sled…mother’s favorite cookie pan….

However all of this wonderment quickly dissipates the minute the roads ice over,
the pine trees bend to the ground and snap under the heavy weight of all
the frozen precipitation…as the temperatures dip in to the teens, transformers blow
like popcorn, and the lights all go out…

as in out for days….

For suddenly there are no more fun and games as all things have
jumped to drastically frightfully serious in the twinkling of an eye…

Yet under all that frightfully messy winter…
Just like our much maligned yet prevalent Kudzu….
we remain…ever tenacious…

It’s what we do…
We might wilt a bit, panic a tad, slip slid into every ditch imaginable…
but we will always come back strong….
Just wait until April to see just who’s looking good!!!!

For the LORD your God is the one who goes with you to fight for
you against your enemies to give you victory.

Deuteronomy 20:4