we’ve got our work cut out for us…

“In the name of God, stop a moment,
cease your work, look around you.”

Leo Tolstoy


(this little pile of “work” has only multiplied since two weeks ago with a new highend
formula due to the reflux and more meds / Julie Cook / 2018)

When we think of work, we think of, well…work.
That whole 9 to 5, 8 to 4, 7 to 11, 11 to 7 or the on 12 off 12 gig…
As in work.
The daily grind…
A profession…
A career…
A calling…
The thing we do to pay the bills, afford some stuff, have a life…
The proverbial climbing of the ladder…
The thing we do until we either retire or die…or whichever comes first…

The end to our end really…

However, according to Thomas á Kempis,
from his best selling 1418 book The Imitation of Christ
a book that according to Christian History, Sir Thomas More,
England’s famous lord chancellor under Henry VIII
(and subject of the film A Man for All Seasons)
said it was one of the three books everybody ought to own.
Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits,
read a chapter a day from it and regularly gave away copies as gifts.
Methodist founder John Wesley said it was the best summary of the Christian life
he had ever read…

Thomas á Kempis tells us that:
“No one who follows Me will ever walk in darkness (Jn 8:12).
These words of our Lord counsel all to walk in His footsteps.
If you want to see clearly and avoid blindness of heart,
it is His virtues you must imitate. Make it your aim to meditate on the life of Jesus Christ.
Christ’s teachings surpasses that of all the Saints.
But to find this spiritual nourishment you must seek to have the Spirit of Christ.
It is because we lack this Spirit that so often we listen to the Gospel without really hearing it.
Those who fully understand Christ’s words must labor to make their lives conform to His.”

Thomas á Kempis, p.15
An Excerpt From
The Imitation of Christ

And so we are reminded, schooled, scolded, informed…
that in order to have the Spirit of Christ within us, there is much work on our parts to be done.
A sort of work that should be our primary life’s focus rather than that of time clocks,
paychecks, ladders, and promotions…

And whereas that’s all great and grand… as it does help pay the bills…
in the end, when it is all said and done, “those who fully understand Christ’s words
labor to make their lives conform to his…”

“We must imitate Christ’s life and his ways if we are to be truly enlightened
and set free from the darkness of our own hearts.
Let it be the most important thing we do, then, to reflect on the life of Jesus Christ.”

Thomas á Kempis

luck of the draw

You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run
You never count your money
When you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for counting
When the dealin’s done

The Gambler
Kenny Rogers

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(my husband trying the make the most of Tropical Storm Colin’s arrival when all others ran for cover/ Watercolor Resort, Santa Rosa, FL / Julie Cook / 2016)

There are many days that I am pretty certain that I’m married to Job.
You know, the Typhoid Mary of the Bible…
That lone figure everyone avoids like the plague as it seems God’s got it out for this poor lug.
He’s the Bible’s idea of a bullseyes,
while Satan enjoys a fun little game of darts…
As God’s watches silently in the distance…

Yet, one must wonder, is He all that distant…..?

And you know that expression…
if it wasn’t for bad luck, there’d be no luck at all….?
Well that sums up my husband’s life in a nutshell.

And not only did I marry a very unlucky man,
I bore him a child who has followed suit to a T.
As my husband resignedly notes that our son’s luck is just as bad, just as unfortunate and just as typical as his—that being abysmal.

If it can go wrong, it will.
If it can get worse, it will.
In a 50 50 shot on calling it, theirs will always be the wrong call.
What are the odds?
What is the luck?

And yet…
I for one do not hold on to such a notion…
despite often feeling the sting of a mother’s and wife’s frustration…
I am constantly reminding any and all gloomy Gus’s in my path that in Christianity,
there is no such thing as luck!
Nothing, absolutely nothing, has been left to chance in God’s book concerning His children.

When I was young I never liked reading or hearing about the Book of Job or even Revelation.
I found in both of those books everything and anything other than that
“peace which passes all understanding.”
Rather I found heartache, trials, turmoil, death, loss and
even the final separation of those fateful sheep and goats.

Both Books, both stories, scared me.
I didn’t want to know that side of God.
For in my young immature understanding, God was simply love and merciful,
end of sentence—
None of this wrathful, cold, distant business.
He was not this exacting God who could, in my opinion, turn His back and allow pain,
suffering and calamity.
God was love, right?
And love doesn’t let bad things happen….right?

Lord knows, I have seen my share of heartache and calamity these near 57 years.
Any one who has ever lost a loved one to a ravenous and non discriminating illness,
which seems to gleefully and eagerly snatch away prematurely those we love,
understands all too often the anger that can follow suit against this so called “merciful” God…

I shamefully admit to having had one too many defiantly angry fists raised,
more times than I care to mention, to God when I, as mother, wife, daughter, friend…
witnessed the catastrophic unfairness, when indiscriminate illness and or death,
or any other of life’s unfairnesses, had come calling.

Yet the key piece to this unsettling and often unfair and ironic puzzle is actually to be found in that very odd tale of our poor friend Job…
That single key piece being human understanding.

It is easy and quite human to rile in anger when we witness unfairness, pain, suffering, heartache…
Especially when we know that there is a God, as Father, who loves His children…as we are even told that if we who are “evil” parents know how to give good things to our children, then how much more can the God of heaven who is pure goodness and love give…..
yet here is this loving Father demonstrating anything but love…
But what we don’t get, don’t understand…He’s not the doing these things…

As we live life in that role of helpless witness, time and time again, to the sadistic unfairness of this thing we call life….as our anger, resentment, frustration and even defiance continues to mount against an unseen God who we so wrongly blame for all of life’s tragedies, as the dust settles, we begin to see that our friend Job slowly, mysteriously and miraculously understood…
He understood that which we are currently blind to see…
for Job once stood where we stand now—in that place of helpless victim to the tragic luck of life.

We sit in our towers of self-righteous human knowledge presuming to see all and know all…
that is until something catastrophic throws us the guaranteed monkey wrench.
Tragedy strikes and more often then not, we wrestle with its presence and devastating aftermath.

But what we must know, must claim, is that it is God who sees and knows, not us.
He sees endlessly out before us, long into our futures.
Just as He has seen our past and our present.
He sees into the lives of all involved and into the lives of those who are to each be affected despite our having no knowledge of their involvement…yet.

His is the grander picture.
The greater and far reaching picture.
The vision that eclipses both time and space—of which we are permanent prisoners.

So no…there is no such thing such as luck….not with God.
Rather just Life lived in a fallen and broken world.
Just as there is also our hope, our grace and thankfully….
our salvation….

“I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. I had heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You, therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”
Job 42:2, 5-6

You will be secure, because there is hope;
you will look about you and take your rest in safety.

Job 11:18

A necessary evil, of loss–or–my broken heart

“Herein lies the supreme wisdom, human and divine; and the task of philosophy consists in teaching men to submit joyously to Necessity which hears nothing and is indifferent to all.”
Lev Shestov

“Doctoring her seemed to her as absurd as putting together the pieces of a broken vase. Her heart was broken. Why would they try to cure her with pills and powders?”

Leo Tolstoy

It has been said that trees are imperfect men, and seem to bemoan their imprisonment rooted in the ground. But they never seem so to me. I never saw a discontented tree. They grip the ground as though they liked it, and though fast rooted they travel about as far as we do. They go wandering forth in all directions with every wind, going and coming like ourselves, traveling with us around the sun two million miles a day, and through space heaven knows how fast and far!
John Muir, July 1890

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(our son in 1999 standing beside the posted construction permit allowing us to begin construction on our home, with one of the oaks situated behind him)

In the grand scheme of life, on Life’s Richter scale, this crisis of mine is not up there with the usual calamities which are catastrophic to life and limb.
Yet to my heart, well, it feels as if someone has reached into my chest and just pulled it on out.

I’ve made mention in the past about the two oak trees out in front of our house. The two trees which were actually situated in a perfect setting for the construction of the house as we would be able to showcase the trees just as the trees showcased our house. Our house was nestled perfectly in-between and under their growing arms. These two trees are what offset our house and made it what it is in the vast realm of my concept of landscaping.

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Maybe it’s because I grew up in a city during the height of post war urban sprawl.
Maybe it’s because all we had were a couple of tall toothpick like pines dotting our yard.
Maybe it’s because I always wanted a tree house but as I just stated— all we had were tall toothpick pines— not suitable for the building of a fort or treehouse.
Maybe it’s because somehow God anointed my heart to have a deep seeded love of and for trees, woods, forests. . .

As we’ve now been in our house going on 14 years, that little oak in the first picture with our son has since grown into a mighty majestic oak. This tree sported 4 bird feeders and 4 wooden bird houses–until today. Planted at its base were azaleas and day lilies. I had several adirondack chairs sitting beneath the tree’s gracious canopy of shade as this was a favorite place for me to sit seeking relief from a relentless summer’s sun when I was out doing yard work or merely seeking solitude enjoying a lazy Sunday afternoon reading.
Perhaps it was my grownup version of a perfect location for a “tree” house / fort.

A few years ago a tornado tore through our county, coming very close to our home. The winds were frightening as we sought shelter in our basement. Once the storm passed, we gave thanks to see that our home and yard had been spared. The only thing askew was one of the two oaks–the one at the far end of the house. It was obvious that the tree was “pushed” but not toppled by the destructive winds.

Also a few years ago, we began noticing an odd phenomenon with both oaks. Just as soon as April arrived each Spring, and the trees began sporting their new Springtime wardrobe of tender brightly colored green leaves, the leaves would begin falling. The leaves would turn a brownish yellowish greenish with brown spots. The leaves would proceed to drop falling off until Winter, leaving our yard looking as if we were stuck in some sort of perpetual Autumn-time mode. Which in turn keeps my husband nonplused by the constant barrage of dead leaves all over the lawn, the front walk, the shrubbery, etc, of which keeps our yard carpeted with dead leaves from April until the following April. . . when it begins all over again.

As our county does not currently have an Aborist, one to call upon when there are tree issues, I did my best to figure out what was afflicting our trees. Then on top of disease, both trees had now grown exponentially in size threatening both corners of the house should we be dealt a bad hand by Mother Nature.

I deduced both trees were suffering from Oak Blight or also known as Oak Wilt. Trees can live for several years until the disease run its course, killing the tree.
There is no cure.
In addition to the blight, the one tree that had taken the lick in the Tornado, over the past two years, has developed shelf fungus—which indicates that the heart of the tree is dying if not already dead.

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Here is an image of the house a couple of Summers ago when the trees were still healthy and full.

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There is a tremendous difference in the fullness and health of the tree as noted in this photo from last month.

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(the leaves have all fallen off the lower half of the tree well before Fall)

My heart was / is also dying alongside my trees.

I know some of you reading this do not understand my sorrow over the loss of two trees that sound as if it was just a matter of time before they would go anyway. I know those of you who have had trees to cause devastation in your lives and to your homes are telling me “good riddance”—-
yet something in my heart is now so very sad and empty.

Maybe the trees offered me a false sense of protection and safety as I ( and my home) was situated behind their massive bodies diverting and separating the barrage of the endless traffic up on the road from my little world.
Maybe I now feel exposed–no longer hidden and embraced.
Maybe I thought that they were like those majestic oaks of old, offsetting my piece of the deep South in grand splendor.
Maybe it’s because the trees offer(ed) me such an intimate view, allowing me to quietly and secretly observe the birds and squirrels who call my yard home.
Maybe it’s because I could mark the milestones and developments of our little family’s lives by these trees. . .like the time they were the back drop to a Prom dinner hosted here for our son’s junior year.. .or as in the very first picture to this post, it marked the new beginnings to a new home. . .

Maybe it’s because in some weird way I feel these trees, any trees, are inextricably connected to God and to all of His creation–in turn offering me a tangible link to Him as my Creator.

Sadly when Jose (of Rodriquez Tree Service) called last night, letting me know that he was coming this morning with his crew, I felt a sudden sickening sense of loss that I immediately realized was happening whether I liked it or not and that there was not one damn thing I could do to stop it. Helpless and sad all rolled into one.
Yes, all over a tree–well, actually two.

I confess I was (am) mad at my husband.
This due to his infinite wisdom of putting his foot down with his “enough is enough”—that the time to cut the trees is now. . .fussing that it must be done before they dislodge the front walk with their ever spreading roots, before they turn the entire house black and green from the mildew along with their continued damaging of gutters and roof— all from living in the dampness of their shade and sloughing off of their debris. . . “And remember Julie, the trees are sick, how much longer will they be able to stand before they die and fall on the house?!”

And yes, he is right.
. . . but that doesn’t mean I have to like it or even agree with him as living in the denial of the inevitable has seemed a much better option. But as my husband, I know he wouldn’t do something to hurt my heart, as much as this current crisis seems to be, unless he saw no other alternative or option. . . and as my husband, I know I must trust him. I live in that very old fashioned world (as so deemed by society) that as a married couple in the sight of God—God has set the standard that my husband is indeed head of this household and I, in turn, trust that my husband does what he believes to be just and right as he tries to listen to God—-whether or not he hears God as clearly as I think he should is an entirely different matter for an entirely different post, but as usual, I digress.

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I did however have one small thought. . .
I asked Jose to cut me some rounds from the trees that I would dry, eventually turning them into cutting boards, chargers and even a small little table or two. That is if they don’t crack all to pieces while drying out, which is more than likely to happen with my luck.
I even contacted Michael, our very own blogging wood craftsman over on http://michaelswoodcraft.wordpress.com
seeking his advice as how best to preserve a small memento from my trees.

Despite this latest crisis of mine, in my small corner of this world–the one thing I’ve always clung to in life, especially when things look most dire, dismal and gloomy, is. . . Hope. . .

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You will be secure, because there is hope; you will look about you and take your rest in safety. You will lie down, with no one to make you afraid, and many will court your favor.
Job 11:18-19

Legacy, and the difference between a calling and a job

“For each one of us, there is only one thing necessary: to fulfill our own destiny, according to God’s will, to be what God wants us to be.”
Thomas Merton

“Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess. Vocation does not come from a voice out there calling me to be something I am not. It comes from a voice in here calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God.”
― Thomas Merton

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Vocation: a strong feeling of suitability for a particular career or occupation. From the latin vocare ‘to call.

Job: A task or piece of work, esp. one that is paid. Mid 16th century: of unknown origin

Legacy: Something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past.
Middle English legacie office of a legate, bequest, from Anglo-French or Medieval Latin; Anglo-French, office of a legate, from Medieval Latin legatia, from Latin legatus
First Known Use: 15th century

I usually like listening to music while I spend my required time of morning servitude chained to my feeble attempts of exercise. This morning was no exception as I huffed and puffed my 5 mile pace on the elliptical. Today’s choice was the album Woven and Spun by Nichole Nordeman. Nichole is one of my favorite contemporary female Christian artists. Her words have always spoken deeply to my own heart and my often inadequate grasp or putting words to my feelings.

As the song Legacy began to play, with me more focused on how many more minutes I had to endure of the continued exertion of the up and down motion of lifting leg upon leg, I was suddenly aware of the words to the song which came flooding to my ears. . .
. . .How will they remember me?
Did I choose to love?
Did I point to You enough
To make a mark on things?
I want to leave an offering
A child of mercy and grace who
blessed your name unapologetically
And leave that kind of legacy

Naturally my mind drifted to that key word legacy with my thoughts then shifting to my very long career in the classroom. 31 years of high highs and equally low lows. How will they choose to remember me? Or in my case, how do they remember me? Did I choose to do and say the type of things that left the lasting positive marks of love, pointing to those things that I would hope others would help point my own child toward?

During such a lengthy career there will always be those who will answer yes, you did what was right and required. . .just as there will be those who will say no, you did not do those things. Such is the case with such a long time doing the same thing as so it is when working closely with people—as the old adage is certainly true, one simply cannot please all of the people all of the time.

If, however, the over-all feeling from those I served—from Superintendents to Principals–to my colleagues to the parents with the most important commodity being the students. . .if the majority was pleased then that’s pretty good I suppose. But as any teacher worth their salts would worry, it is to those who would answer no that I would feel as if I had not done my job adequately or sufficiently.

But today’s thoughts are not so much for my having done my job well or not, which captures my attention, but it is rather to those current as well as future educators which draws my concerns.

To teach is not merely a job in which one gets paid. It consists not of the typical 9 to 5 day but rather, in my case it was 6:45AM to 5 or 6PM or even later—which often spanned more than Monday through Friday.

Teaching is not a job.
Teaching, rather, is a vocation.
It is a calling.
— just as the priesthood is a calling.
It is a calling to serve.
It is a deep component within, which for most seems, hard wired since birth.
Not only is it a call to educate but it is a call to nurture, to care for, to tend to, to protect, to foster, to mould, to form, to shape, to respect. . .and it is a call to sacrifice.

The Bible is laced with claims that those who teach will be held to higher and stricter standards as the responsibility is just that great.

Kids spend more time at school, with their teachers, than they do with their parents. Many children seek a safe, warm, nourishing shelter in a school—taking many of them off the dangerous, bullet ridden, drug infested streets, as well as the frightening home scenarios which play out each day in the news. There is food for those who have little to none outside of the walls of the school. It is as place to feel a connection to a positive “community”–a place to hope and dream. A place to turn dreams into realities.

Society yearns to know why there is so much violence, death and destruction within our kids, yet they also tell the teachers, the caring adults in the lives of these children, not to care too much, not to offer too much wisdom or counsel, not to share that foundation of beliefs which have been the grounded basis for many of these particular adults.. .as it will conflict with the separation of Church and Sate, it will open one up for law suits, it counters the teaching of Evolution, it runs counter to the will of Society, it sends the wrong message, etc, etc, etc.

Those who currently desire to teach must know that with a vocation comes the sacrifice of self. That of time, personal desire, riches, fame, glamour. It is not intended for those who live two apparently different lives of one being that in the classroom and then that being of the one outside of the classroom. How many a FaceBook posting has ruined a teacher? It is not wise for a teacher to hang out in public places which may paint a poor light upon the teacher come Monday morning back at school. That is just the nature of this career choice. You must be who you are in the classroom as well as out of the classroom.

Teaching, akin to marriage, is not to be entered into lightly. It is a vocation of sacrifice. The sacrifice of time, the sacrifice of personal freedoms, the sacrifice often of one’s own personal safety.

This as I am mindful of the teachers during the past decade who have sheltered their children during the crisis of intruders or the crisis of catastrophic weather events- – – leading the students to shelter and safety and to those teachers who made the ultimate sacrifice for their “kids”—as that is simply what teachers do—they give all they have to their “kids”—for good or bad.

Suddenly my mind is riveted back to the pain now racing through my legs and lungs, as I am still in the midst of the grueling 30 minute regime, I am mindful however to end these thoughts today by leaving us all with two questions. . .
The first question is to be that of choice—the choice of seeking a vocation verses seeking a job–does the call to vocation lie in your heart?
The second question will be what type of Legacy will you leave behind.
All thoughts to ponder while enduring the grueling continuum of lifting leg upon leg. . .

Legacy
I don’t mind if you’ve got something nice to say about me
And I enjoy an accolade like the rest
You could take my picture and hang it in a gallery
Of all who’s who and so-n-so’s that used to be the best
At such’n’such … it wouldn’t matter much

I won’t lie, it feels alright to see your name in lights
We all need an ‘Atta boy’ or ‘Atta girl’
But in the end I’d like to hang my hat on more besides
The temporary trappings of this world

I want to leave a legacy
How will they remember me?
Did I choose to love? Did I point to You enough
To make a mark on things?
I want to leave an offering
A child of mercy and grace who
blessed your name unapologetically
And leave that kind of legacy

I don’t have to look too far or too long awhile
To make a lengthly list of all that I enjoy
It’s an accumulating trinket and a treasure pile
Where moth and rust, thieves and such will soon enough destroy

Not well traveled, not well read, not well-to-do or well bred
Just want to hear instead, “Well Done” good and faithful one…

What defines you?

To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.
e. e. cummings

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Pacific Rim Trail / Ucluelet, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada / Julie Cook / 2011

I imagine if you ask people what it is that defines who they are, most people would respond with something associated with their work or job. It is as if they are a product of the job. I had written an entire little preamble to today’s topic about work, jobs and identity..of how we tend to let work or the job suck up our identity but I really didn’t like where that seemed to be leading…feeling as if I began veering off base.

My intention and my thoughts here are to go much deeper than the mere obvious.

When asked what it is that defines me, defines who I am…my response a year ago would have been that I was a teacher–I’d follow that with my being a wife and mother. I think that’s pretty much how most of us would answer when asked. We define ourselves by telling others what it is we do for a living–our job, our work. We tell others that we are a student, a soldier, nurse, a contractor, a policeman, a doctor, a wife, a husband, a mother, a father…. But do any of us, who are Christians, respond first with “I am a Christian”…then to follow that with what it is we do?

Have you ever been at a function and met someone for the first time with the first question usually being, “so, what do you do?” They want to be able to define who we are, measure our place, figure out how we fit in…what is our production level–are we being successful, are we a contributor, are we a rising star, a game changer, will we be impressive or someone who is to be quickly dismissed.

There was a time, in the early days of our Christian faith, when it was dangerous, even life threatening, to be defined by ones belief and faith… and yet the early followers of this new religion did not skirt the issue–it was the foremost defining factor in their lives…the foremost defining factor. It was that big of a deal to them.

Somewhere, sadly, along the line of Time, the definition of being a Believer no longer seemed appropriate to throw out there when “defining” ourselves to others. Our faith no longer relevant when telling others of who we are. I’m Scotch/ Irish, I’m adopted, I’m a wife, a mother, I’m a retired educator…all of that sounding normal, typical—but if I were to met you on the street greeting you with “hi, my name is Julie. I’m a Christian” You’d probably look at me uttering something awkward like “oh, ok, uh good… uh good to know” all the while thinking you needed to move along quickly as you’d just run into some sort of fanatic.

Awkward, not relevant, not socially acceptable….

But it shouldn’t be that way–it should be standard.

If we are believers, if we are members of a Christian church, if we claim to be of a denomination, then why wouldn’t we first announce the definition of who we are by stating that we are a Christian, a follower of Christ? How many people have happily, defiantly, proudly, strongly, bravely proclaimed to be such knowing that they would face imprisonment, torture and death? How many people have sacrificed everything to be able to say that they are defined by their Christian Faith?

Sadly we consider it awkward and out of place proclaiming our faith when meeting others. Would Jesus not proclaim us to others joyously and gladly without a second thought? We will not be twisting arms or pushing others into corners with our proclamation but rather we will simply state who we are foremost, as everything else simply follows suit.

On this new day to this new week, how will you be defined?