where lies your dependency?

Lord, what are human beings that you care for them,
mere mortals that you think of them?
They are like a breath;
their days are like a fleeting shadow.

Psalm 144:3-4


(Atlanta’s interstate fire and collapse courtesy CBS46 Atlanta)

There were so many titles for today’s post….
“Atlanta is burning…again”
“The domino effect”
“Catastrophe under, or is it of, the road”
“S’mores anyone
as the camera would then pan to a sea of stopped cars stranded for hours as
they waited to be literally turned around and rerouted from one of the nation’s busiest
interstates.

If you haven’t yet heard, Atlanta was on fire, again, Thursday.

I say again because if your history lessons have failed you,
you may recall that a certain General T. Sherman burnt Atlanta to the ground
as a Christmas gift for President Lincoln during the Civil War.
And that is now the reason as to why the mythical creature the Phoenix is Georgia’s
sacred state bird…that is, besides the brown thrasher.
For the Phoenix is a symbol of how a smoldering Southern city rose up from the ashes
to become a major US metropolitan megatropolis…
along with the world’s busiest airport,
and a horrific gridlock of interstates….
but I digress….

Our son called late yesterday afternoon asking if we knew Atlanta was on fire.
He had seen this during his commute home from work.
We flipped on the television, and sure enough, Atlanta was on fire…
or more exactly a large swarth of area underneath a section of I-85 near Piedmont Rd,
what is known to locals as the Mid town area….
If you’ve ever driven north or south through Atlanta, you’ve driven over this stretch
of road.

This was a Thursday evening, at rush hour.
The interstate in both the south and north bound lanes were shut down as the fire
raged.
The heat so intense, a large section of the interstate buckled under the strain and collapsed–
which may have been a good thing as it helped to snuff out much of the inferno.

And miraculously, no one was hurt.

Still not certain as to the actual cause….
But what is certain, a major US artery is now shut down for travel for who knows how long.

Listening to the various news stations and the reporters who,
as everyone watched in real time, first the fire then the collapse,
gasped in obvious overwhelmed amazement.

What would happen with all those cars now stuck?
What would happen in the days to come?
Where would all the traffic be rerouted?
What about Atlanta’s notorious Rush hours?
How much longer would it now take to get to and from work?
What about all the soon to be Spring Break travelers headed south to Florida?

On and on the mounting panic became palpable as a million questions flooded
the thoughts of everyone….

I had to drive over to Dad’s today to meet with the funeral home in order to gather up
some needed papers and documents.
It was not a pretty picture as traffic was rerouted over to my usual route….
bypassing around the city.

There had also been an early morning crash just this side of the Georgia / Alabama state lines
shutting down all of I-20 east bound. That swarth of interstate closed until late afternoon.
Meaning more rerouting, with all that traffic, with an endless line of tractor trailer trucks,
being rerouted again, to my particular route of travel….
and I have to go back today….
sigh….

And with all this burning, collapsing and rerouting nightmare…it’s all gotten me thinking.
Thinking of our dependance upon our own limited abilities and vision…

Our world, the world in which we, man, has created is so tenuous and superficial.
Yet we assume and even take for granted that it is invincible.
Our massive buildings, our sprawling shopping meccas, our spaghetti maze of roadways,
our expanding bridges, even our modes of travel…
all seemingly built to last…
That is…until there is a bizarre or freakish event of catastrophic proportions…
which in turn sends us, much like ants, scurrying in an endless state of pandemonium.

There are no guarantees.

I can vividly recall watching the aftermath of the 1989 earthquake out in San Francisco…
the quake which collapsed and sandwiched the 880 interstate,
crushing and trapping both cars and people.

It was a horrific reminder of our fragility.
Just as each catastrophic earthquake has been in recent months in central Italy.
Centuries old buildings reduced to instant rubble in the blink of an eye.

It matters not the disaster…
It matters not if the victim be historic, modern, structurally sound or state of the art..
Nothing that we put our hands to, which we arrogantly assume is built to stand the test time,
will in turn do just that…last to kingdom come…
All will eventually give way to ruin…

For all of our ingenuity, our hutzpah, our try, try again mentality and and our plain
ol good intentions..
none of it will last….
for it will all pass away, just as we shall pass away to the very dust
from which we were formed in the hands of the Creator…

Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils
the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

Genesis 2:7

a time of signs

The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him
to show them a sign from heaven.

Matthew 16:1

“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death,
and you will be hated by all nations because of me.
At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other,
and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.
Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold,
but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations,
and then the end will come.

Matthew 24:9-14

signposts

Today I found myself once again on the interstate, a place that I am more times then not…
As the sun was headed toward the west, I was finally heading home form Dad’s…
who by the way is hanging on and still in the game….but just barely….
Merging onto the interstate, it suddenly dawns on me that the ratio of big rigs to cars
was not in the favor of the cars.

Some days are like that as I suppose as there are certain days that are considered
more or less “travel days” for those transporters of all things commerce.

Those “travel days” tend to make me a bit more nervous as I don’t especially enjoy
barreling down the interstate sandwiched in-between 5 lanes of tractor trailer
trucks and little ol me….

Focusing on keeping up with the flow while my mind drifts back and forth over to Dad
and to the things I need to be taking care of for them, my eyes and mind begin to focus
on the truck in front of me…
“The World’s most award winning Tequila”

Hummmm…I think I’ve had it in a margarita once….

Changing lanes, as I was working my way over to merge onto the next interstate, I
found myself behind another truck boasting the “2013 Award Winning Whiskey Bourbon, Roses”

Hummmm…I’d never heard of it before…yet found myself wondering if it hails
from Kentucky or Tennessee as only Kentucky whiskeys may be labeled bourbon…

As I exit onto the entrance ramp to the next interstate, I’m precariously passed by
a massive Little Debbie’s truck….

Hummmmm…Now I begin wondering if someone isn’t trying to tell me something…
as in…am I suppose to be heading to the nearest bar or to grab some
not so healthy snack cakes….???

Signs were all over the place it seems…
vying for me to remember, to consider, to seek, to find…????

So as I was finally on the home stretch of highway, eventually taking me home,
the whole notion of signs and their meaning flooded my mind,
shadowed by the significant and current visit taking place in Washington of Israel’s
Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu….

I ruminated over the importance of the renewed support offered by our
new administration to Israel…
and to what that now may means for a nation who returns her support to the chosen
of God….

As some would flippantly quip that it means nothing,
while others would bemoan it just means more trouble,
while still others see great significance being found in this renewed support.

I have always believed in the importance of the United State and her relationship with
the Jewish state…

Yesterday we heard in his greeting to President Trump,
along with those gathered in the East Room,
Prime Minister Netanyahu offering an explanation as to why Jews are called Jews.

“Well, the Chinese are called Chinese because they come from China.
The Japanese are called Japanese because they come from Japan.
Well, Jews are called Jews because they come from Judea.
This is our ancestral homeland.
Jews are not foreign colonialists in Judea.”

The age long quest for the acknowledgement of existence.

Yet that acknowledgement continues being met with resistance…

The Middle East is a vast and formidable land..
It has always been shrouded in mystery, hostility, and suspicion.
With the seeming epicenter to be found in the obscure city of Jerusalem…

A city that is the knot in the bow tying and binding the three
greatest monotheistic religions together…
whether they like it or not…bound they are.
Yet it is a city that has been fractured and divided since its very formation…

The hostilities between Jews and Muslims is age old, dating back most notably to
the time of Abraham.
The Christians are really the upstarts in the mix, having entered the fray 2000
years ago.

So say what you will…
be it coincidence, myth, lore, legend, history, the Divine…or a combination of
each component…
The land of Judea is for the chosen of God…and peace will come…but…..

The prophet Zechariah reminds us with his words:
“Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of drunkenness to all the surrounding peoples,
when they lay siege against Judah and Jerusalem.
And it shall happen in that day that I will make Jerusalem a very heavy stone for all
peoples; all who would heave it away will surely be cut in pieces,
though all nations of the earth are gathered against it” (Zechariah 12:2-3)

It seems that conflict will always be found in this epicenter…
only until such time comes that there is a final
collision between both Light and Darkness….

In Psalm 37 we hear David proclaiming that “the meek shall inherit the earth,
and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace”
(Psalm 37:11).
And in Leviticus we are told, “I will give peace in the land, and you shall
lie down, and none will make you afraid”
(Leviticus 26:6)

We are reminded, told, and shown that there will indeed be a day of peace in
this land that has only known dispute, war, hatred and suspicion.

So until that day of peace and reconciliation is upon us…
It may behoove each of us to consider the signs we are offered as we
look, wonder and wait…..

With Christ—“the Prince of Peace”—ruling the earth,
“there will be no end” to the peace that will envelop our planet (Isaiah 9:6-7).
As Isaiah hopefully noted,
“LORD, You will establish peace for us” (Isaiah 26:12).
And as each individual obeys God, he or she will enjoy peace.
“You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You,
because he trusts in You” (verse 3).

(Life Hope & Truth)

snowflakes

“The paradoxes of today are the prejudices of tomorrow,
since the most benighted and the most deplorable prejudices
have had their moment of novelty when fashion lent them its fragile grace.”

Marcel Proust

black-amp-white-flakes-photography-snow-snowflake-favim-com-286496
(image courtesy Favim.com)

There’s a lot of talk currently in my neck of the woods about snow.
In fact the “talk” is more like a warning of an impending National disaster.

Yesterday while driving into Atlanta to Dad’s…those matrix boards above the interstates
alerting drivers to accidents, etc. were all running the same ominous and foreboding message…
Winter Storm Warning

For much of this hearty country of ours, such approaching weather systems
are no big deal…
it’s just more of the same ol typical winter weather…
but in this tender southern state, those signs might as well have read:
THE END IS NEAR AND WE ARE ALL DOOMED!!!

So this morning, with all the local news forecasting the Apocolypse,
I figured that maybe I should run out to the store to grab another half gallon of milk…
Lord knows I’d hate to be iced in, snowed in or both,
without ample milk for my coffee or any sort
cake or recipe that I may want to whip up while being stranded and cut off
from all civilization…

The shopping center looked like it did a couple of weeks ago during the
Christmas shopping frenzy.
I had passed school buses running basically backwards…
as in they had just taken the kids to school
and now they were bringing them all back home due to the early dismals
in observance of the impending disaster.

While I was making my way through the maze of shopping carts frantically filling up
with survival foods such as chips and sodas…
I debated about picking up something different for supper.

The chicken section was almost empty with only a few errant packs of thigh / leg combos.
When did chicken make the list of the typical disaster foods besides bread and milk?
Of which I am happy to report that the milk section was fully stocked…
or should I make that restocked…

Next stop, the bank.

Fridays are never a good day to go to the bank as everyone is getting paid and
in turn, heading to the nearest bank.
Add impending doom…
and shades of 1929 come racing to mind.

While standing at my teller’s counter there was a couple in their mid 20’s at the teller next to me.
They were loudly lamenting to the gal behind the counter,
and everyone else in line, that they were “tired of being adults.”

Really? ( thought in a monotone of sarcasam)

I chuckled and turned to look at this forlorn lamenting duo.

They continued on about how they were ready to trade in their “adult cards” wanting,
I suppose, to return to the Land of Nod and innocence.
“How,” had they known, “that if life would be like this,”
whatever “this” may have been,
“would have squandered more of their money while trying to “enjoy life” …

I kid you not.

I offered, rather bemusedly, that it doesn’t get any easier…
which certainly didn’t offer any comfort to their sense of gloom and doom…
but then again I am a realist and one who is a believer in the phrase
“aging is not for sissies”

Later back home,
I stumbled upon the reference of snowflake being used with regard to this
same mid 20’s aged group, twice!

Once on a news program discussing the impending inauguration being akin to another
type of apocalypse to many, and that colleges are providing their tender charges
places of calm and comfort, in hopes of soothing their mounting fears.

Another reference came while I was reading the blog of a Scottish pastor waxing on
about today’s colleges which are providing warnings (trigger statements)
to students that biblical studies will have graphic imagery regarding the crucifixion and
veterinary studies will have to discuss such topics as dead animals,
while the forensic students will be seeing, wait for it, dead bodies.
Obviously things all too gory and disturbing for these tender “snowflake’s” sensitive likings.

They are a most fragile lot are they not?
And will certainly melt at the drop of a hat…

Or so it seems as many adults, especially those in higher institutions of learning,
fear as they race to coddle their youthful charges.
And so it is as I am now hearing it first hand with my own ears, while at the bank…
That many of these snowflakes are actually already tired of the real world and
simply want to go back to being “irresponsible kids”….

Hummmmm….

This coming on the heels of the news of that now infamous and most heinous viral Facebook
story coming out of Chicago…
the story about those 4 young people who were arrested for kidnapping, beating and torturing
a mentally handicapped young man.
Ranting on and on at him about F’ing Trump and F’ing white people while cursing him,
cutting him, taunting him as he was tied up and had his mouth duct taped shut….
They filmed their antics while boasting that they wanted this recording to go viral…
they wanted the world to see what they were doing while laughing all the while doing it.

Chicago’s police chief said that these sorts of horrendous incidents from young thugs would,
in the future, only escalate.

Here we have not so much snowflakes, but rather icicles…
cold and dangerous youth living without
regard for the sanctity of human life.

So maybe those interstate signs should read:
“Warning and Shame”
“We’ve let our youth run amuck and now we are left trying to pick up the pieces”

As our same Scottish pastor laments that the Church herself is as much to blame as anyone for
the wailing of these youthful generations as she has dumbed down Christianity into
a Disneyesque sort of happy fun thought…
where things like sin and death…that whole ransoming of our sins with payment coming
in the form of death on a cross,
being just all too much for this up and coming youthful generation
who are either too sensitive or too callous for the reality of life, death and faith.

Shame indeed.

Here’s to the impending snow storm…
may we have enough milk, bread and now chicken, to survive….

Snowflake Theologians Given Trigger Warning about the Crucifixion

never saw it coming

“We cannot change our past.
We can not change the fact that people act in a certain way.
We can not change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have,
and that is our attitude.”

Charles R. Swindol

dscn4310
(the twins / Julie Cook / 2016

Traversing back and forth from Dad’s every other day takes me along a variety of roadways…
with the longest of stretches being two major interstates.
I merge onto one interstate that actually runs from South Carolina all the way to Texas.
My jumping-on point is considered more of a rural area in my lovely southern state,
just before the state line of Alabama.

It is an area that sees its fare share of “wild” animals crossing and being killed.
Coyotes,
possums,
armidillos
beavers
groundhogs
the poor errant dog or cat…

Many of the casualties are deer, whitetail deer which are native to Georgia.

Most animals who live near such roadways are pretty savvy when it comes to crossing and vehicles…
particularly vehicles that are zipping up and down the roadways at the speed of sound.
Yet sadly there are some poor animals that just aren’t so smart
as their naiveté sadly gets them, as well as any people involved, killed.

And of course there are those times that a deer is being chased by a predator…
Chased to a one way date with disaster…

In our area that predator is most likely a coyote.

Coyotes, when hungry enough, will run a deer to exhaustion before the final and deadly attack.

When being chased, as with the unfortunate deer living near the busy interstates,
there is not much choice but to take that precarious chance,
darting out into the line of speeding vehicles…

It’s a do or die situation….

With the results most always being sadly…death.

As the frantic deer, racing for its life, never saw it coming…
that being the car or truck that was to hit it…
just as that same car or truck never saw the deer darting our in front of them…
not until it was too late….

Just never a good thing…

We’re a lot like those deer you and I…

We’re being chased by a fierce and hungry predator…

We are being chased by a most cunning foe…
An ancient adversary who knows that we can be easily exhausted.

He works at wearing us down as his hot breath licks at our heels
All the while, we are none the wiser…
For we don’t even realize there is a chase taking place…
We’re simply running, busying ourselves with our own interests and desires.

And that’s the thing…

We never realize that our lives, nay, our very souls
hang in a precarious balance…
of life and death…
That is…not until it’s all too late…
as we never saw it coming….

Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand
against the devil’s schemes.

Ephesians 6:11

Beware the gators

“Because we focused on the snake, we missed the scorpion”
Egyptian Proverb

Z-nmg4ohtaPTJzNtpVn_ABo5G7GItu8y
(image borrowed from web of a gator crossing an interstate near Naples, FL)

Maybe you’ve heard about them…
or
maybe you haven’t…

Interstate alligators…

And no, I’m not talking about actual alligators crossing the road as in the image above…
Rather I’m talking about something that is equally as dangerous and equally as deadly…
The only caveat is that it’s just not a living creature.

So now that your interest is piqued and you understand that we are not discussing reptiles…
I will explain what exactly an interstate alligator is all about.

An interstate alligator is the dubious moniker for the remnants of the shredded tires from tractor trailer trucks.

shredded_tire_roadside

More times than not, those big rigs, which are driving on very worn tires, will lose the most worn tires off their rigs to the rigors of constant wear and tear…all while driving on car infested roadways.
As they race up and down the highways, freeways and interstates across this grand country of ours, these worn steel belted tires will basically begin to disintegrate and shred while the truck is clocking 70 to 80 mph.

semi-tire-blowout
(image courtesy Real Truck Driver Blog)

Add to that the heat of summer, as the pavement reaches deadly hot temperatures…
With worn tires riding along an inferno of cement and asphalt, we’ve all got troubles!

Imagine huge chunks of tire being slung off a spinning rim, most often unbeknownst to the driver, as the driver isn’t about to be slowing down or moving over to the far right lane in order to exit or move to the emergency lane in order to stop…

Next imagine being the cars behind and beside these big truck as the tire is shredding.

Needless to say there have been many a damaged vehicle as there have been many a fatality as a result of these shredding tires.

The alligator part comes into play when the remnants of these tires are left where they fly then fall—that being the middle of lanes, along the shoulder of the road…just anywhere they finally lose the momentum of flight—as they now lay in wait, lurking and waiting for those poor unsuspecting drivers who are on top of them before being able to slow down or swerve safely out of the way while attempting not to ram into a fellow driver…

Today’s journey to Atlanta, on its infamous perimeter, was like navigating a backwater bayou at full speed while trying to dodge and miss a plethora of both big and small gators all before it being too late before an impending collision.

Cars were slamming on their brakes, erratically changing lanes, hoping the cars beside and behind could get stopped in time.

Holding on for dear life as I made my way through the cement minefield,
I smelled it before I saw it as the air was rife with the acrid smell of burning rubber.
Dodging debris big and small, I soon road past the culprit. A big rig’s second to the back tire was disintegrating faster than he could move over and slow down.
Tire was slinging left and right as cars did their darnedest to dodge the deadly shrapnel.

As I miraculously made my way past the truck and the sea of tire parts without being hit, without running over anything and without being hit by my fellow dodging drivers, I was struck (not literally thank God) by the sheer magnitude of how things can change in one’s life from good to disastrous in literally the blink of an eye.
A ‘now you don’t see it, yet now you suddenly do’ sort of life’s scenario..

Yet we don’t much like thinking of life in that regard.

We don’t like to dwell on the possible and potential negatives of life…
those ‘could be’s’ or those ‘what if’s’ in life…
but what of the sudden and sheer catastrophic…??

We don’t want to live life constantly fretting and worrying.

Yet we do need to always be ready…
Ready for those very instantaneous what if’s.

As in…what if I’m taken out by this interstate monster right here, right now—am I ready for that?
Am I ready if my life is snuffed out just like that?

There’s no time to think,
No time to suddenly and quickly introduce yourself to a God you’ve just kind of always kept in the back of your head…
Kind of like a Santa Claus—
calling on Him in a pinch or when you really need or want something….

This isn’t like the “oh please God don’t let me get caught by that red light again” sort of thing…
Rather this is…there’s a big black chunk of rubber and steal, that’s just come up out of nowhere, hurdling through both time and space with lightning speed right for your windshield and face sort of thing, leaving you nowhere to turn, nowhere to run, leaving you nowhere to duck and cover….

Your relationship with God cannot wait.
It’s that dire, that urgent.

Not because you need to be saved from flying projectiles or hungry debris alligators who are lurking and waiting for when you lest expect it…but because time will not always afford you the luxury of waiting, pondering and deciding, if you want your soul to be lost or to be found…

There is true comfort in knowing that no matter what happens in this life…no matter the dangerous and deadly perils that await us…the catastrophes, the accidents, the random horrible things …
that in and through it all…God is yours and you are His…forever and ever…Amen!!

May you travel in safety my friends…

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
1 Peter 1:8-9

Adversity; Hooray for the human spirit

“Never to suffer would never to have been blessed.”
― Edgar Allan Poe

DSCN3374

DSCN3376

DSCN3377
(images of a very hungry and grateful blue jay / Julie Cook / 2014)

Everyone, ehm, every living creature, needs a helping hand at some time or other.
Just as in the case of this blue jay enjoying a welcomed piece of cornbread as his world, in the now icy white, is offering little in the way of sustenance.

And so it is, on this, the day after the winter storm debacle in Georgia—more specifically, Atlanta, which is the witness to the offerings of kindness from one to another. . .
such is today’s tale.

Poor Georgia.
Poor Atlanta.
Oh I am certain we could add to the dirge of woesomeness, that of Alabama and most likely Mississippi, but my news world has been exceedingly limited during the past 36 hours due entirely to the misery of my state—and in particular the capital of this gracious state, Atlanta.
Has anything else been taking place outside of the state in the last 36 hours other than a winter storm? Seriously, we haven’t heard.

Oh the anger.
Oh the blame.
People stuck in the snow and ice impacted gridlock for hours–12 hours, 16 hours, 20 hours, 24 hours only to abandon their gas deprived, ice immobile vehicles to walk the treacherous interstates in search of home, a safe haven, help. . .

Both Mayor and Governor now battling the media.
The Department of Transportation battling the media and now the public.
The National Weather Service battling the media and now the Governor and Mayor.
School Systems defending the decision of holding school despite the news of potential, repeat potential, winter weather to the parents who are now beyond irate as children were stuck on school buses for 12 to 16 hours, or had to remain at school over night.

Sadly on this now sunny, potentially thawing day, the blame game begins.
The finger pointing.
The deflections.
The denial.
Is the rest of the country thinking us to be idiots?
I hope not, we do the best we can.

Yet in the midst of all the negatives, all the seemingly poor choices, the failures, the lack ofs— emerges the best of human beings.
The stories which will no less continue for weeks to come— but it is those stories which are first appearing, the stories needed to act as the soothing balm for our negative weary souls.

The stories of:
The firefighters who welcomed in the cold, lost night wanders who arrived unannounced, all on foot, having long abandoned cars in search of a safe haven. They gave up beds and food for the strangers–offering warmth, protection, assurance.

The truckers who aided the young pregnant woman stuck in her car for 12 hours without food or water, let along a bathroom break. Aiding her in climbing over a 7 foot tall highway wall to an awaiting rescue vehicle. They took tool boxes from their big rigs, stacking them up to create a makeshift stairway up, over and down the wall.

The tales of the babies born in the gridlocked cold cars all through the icy night–delivered by total strangers.

The two strangers united with the one intent of service. They meet along the side of the highway, one pulling a sled and cooler full of food– the other caring a cooler full of sandwiches–distributing food, water, and kindness to frightened weary travels.

The news reporter, who was prepped to report on the gridlock, finds a family–mom, dad, and their 2 year old and 6 month old daughters, all who had been in the family van overnight without any food or drink. The reporter, an avid backpacker, had foods suitable for both children.

To the teachers and bus drivers who put their own families, lives, safety, comfort aside in order to care for their students, not only during the school day, but all through the night, as kids were either stuck in a bus in the midst of the slick icy nightmare or hunkered down for a long night at school.

Would you like to entertain 600 teenagers who can’t go home, who are tired and of ill disposition all night long? Would you want to comfort the elementary kids who just want their moms and dads, their beds, their warmth—all night long? Would you want to sit, huddled with a bus load of kids on a dark icy road hour after hour. . .all night long?

Perhaps it is the adversity, that which is life’s counter balance, which serves as a reminder to us all of our humanity, our capacity to care—to care for complete strangers. Echoes of “when, when did we see you naked and cloth you, when did we see you hungry and feed you. . .?”

All along a cold icy interstate–all through the rages of a winter’s storm—-that’s when.

Is it the calamity of life, those times of trial which test our fortitude, our sanity, our souls? Are these the types of situations which reach down to our very core–those which speak to our true humaneness and our ability to connect with other living beings? Is it during such times when we are the better, not the worst? When we shine and are not shattered?

In the coming days as Atlanta, and really the entire State, attempts to defend the choices of actions taken or not. . .as a State tries to explain to a Nation why 3 inches of snow, coupled by a sheet of ice, can put an entire region on hold, as officials hem and haw, as visitors vow never to return. . . may we all be reminded of the good which, just as the soon to be blooming bulbs breaking forth out of the cold barren ground signals to us all that wonder and joy can come from a long bleak cold winter, that it is in the depths of adversity and calamity where our realness and our goodness—our true identities, resides.

As those of you who have no doubt seen and heard the stories of “Snow Jam 2014”– of what seems to be the ineptitude of another Southern State which can’t seem to get its act together in winter weather, you must know that there was and is much more happening than mere gridlock and state and city officials scrambling for explanations—human beings were / are shining, goodness was / is taking place, kindness was / is the real issue at hand.

Perhaps we may not be able to handle ice and snow, but we will be there for you in a pinch, in a crisis, in a disaster as our Southern hospitality and tenacity, which are forged in the depths of the southern heat and red clay, is not only intact but it rises to the occasion in order to rescue, to comfort, to reassure, to defend, to care for–we will give you our beds, our food, our graciousness. . .but most importantly—we will give you ourselves.

I lift my eyes to the hills

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I lift up my eyes to the hills– where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip– he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD watches over you–the LORD is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all harm– he will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.
Psalm 121: 1-8

When I was in college, I worked for a girls camp up in the mountains of North Carolina (see Post Why teaching, or how God dropped my life on my head). I loved being in the mountains. I had grown up in Atlanta and even though this was about 35 years ago, Atlanta was much as it is today–crowded, noisy, terrible traffic, exhaust from a sea of cars and buses, a huge mass of urban sprawl. In the mountains there was peace, quiet, no confusion, no (obvious) pollution. Life was lived much slower as the “rat race” seemed to be “down in the valley” back in the big cities.

I felt so much closer to God. The very distractions, the things that vied for my attention, were not here. I can remember hiking to the top of a mountain outside of Black Mountain, the location of the camp, sitting down and surveying the beautiful view. There was nothing but hills/ mountains, green, trees, blue skies, a massive silence only broken by an occasional call of an unseen bird, as white popcorn clouds lazily floated overhead. I hated the very thought of ever leaving. I can remember specifically “talking” with God, or rather pleading and lamenting as to why I would ever have to go back “down there”—back to where I knew I would not be able to hear Him as well. I could be a “better” follower and listener up here. It just made sense that I should stay here. This would be my cloister, my convent. I would live a contemplative life here.

The dichotomy of my life, playing out once again. The frustration of the part of me that so desperately sought nature, a simpler, slower life, a call to serve God by sitting at His feet each day and simply listening, verses the part of me that was the “city girl”, the “get up and go” girl. I couldn’t see then what it was that God saw and knew was to be my life.

Back home, as I was student teaching and having to traverse the Atlanta expressways,— the deadly 285, better known as the Perimeter–the interstate lassoing this massive city– each day, making my way from my home to the school, I often found myself sitting in a traffic nightmare, sitting behind a Marta bus (Atlanta’s transit system) breathing in the heavy noxious fumes of a diesel engine…wondering why it was that I was sitting here and not in the mountains somewhere.

I wrote of my remorse to a friend who did live in the mountains, as he lived at the camp year round as a caretaker. One day a package arrived at my house from Black Mountain. Inside was a jar of water. Placed inside the jar of water were various stones, shells, and other “natural” objects. There was a note..the note read that whereas he, my friend, could not give me the mountains or the life I seemed to be yearning for, he could send me a part of that world–captured in this small jar. The clear water represented the mountain streams and the clear blue skies. The stones and shells represented just that, all things found in nature. Each time I felt lost, sad, or simply found myself yearning to be elsewhere, I was to look at the jar and remember that it was/is all still there, waiting for me to come back for a visit.

I have carried that jar with me all these many years since. It sat in my classroom for 31 years. Each new year would bring a group of new students, always asking as to why I had a glass jar of water, with rocks in it, sitting on my desk. And each time I would proceed telling them my story, again and again. The kids would be somewhat reflective upon hearing the story as I think they too understood yearning for something more, or something else–most often as a young person, naturally, does yearn for more to life. But my yearnings were deeper and of a most spiritual nature.

I still find myself yearning for more of God and maybe that equates to my yearning for more from God. Yearning to serve Him better, yearning to hear Him better. Wondering where my journey, this life of mine, will take me. And just as it was then, it is now, today, the same–He can see all of that well before I can even sense it. And so I must trust and continue trusting and I must listen and continue listening. As I serve others I sense I am always closer to Him, no matter where I may be–and I suppose that is the point of it all—serving others brings me closer to Him.

I will continue lifting my eyes to the hills, from whence comes my help—my help, my solace, my encouragement, my peace. May you too find your help, your solace and your peace–wherever God may lead you. Amen

(photograph: Cades Cove, TN /Julie Cook 2011)