Dark night triggers

“In the evening of life, we will be judged on love alone.”
St. John of the Cross

“The endurance of darkness is the preparation for great light.”
St. John of the Cross

So a few weeks ago, I decided that I wanted–or maybe that should read,
I needed to revisit a dear old friend…St. John of the Cross.

I felt St. John’s own ‘dark night of the soul’ calling my own lonely
darkened soul.

For a quick bit of background on my ancient friend…according to Wikipedia
John of the Cross (born Juan de Yepes y Álvarez;
Spanish: Juan de la Cruz; 24 June 1542 – 14 December 1591),
venerated as Saint John of the Cross, was a Spanish Catholic priest,
mystic, and a Carmelite friar of converso origin.
He is a major figure of the Counter-Reformation in Spain,
and he is one of the thirty-six Doctors of the Church.

John of the Cross is known especially for his writings.
He was mentored by and corresponded with the older Carmelite, Teresa of Ávila.
Both his poetry and his studies on the development of the soul
are considered the summit of mystical Spanish literature and among
the greatest works of all Spanish literature.
He was canonized by Pope Benedict XIII in 1726.
In 1926 he was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius XI,
and is commonly known as the “Mystical Doctor”.

And thus I went searching for my own copy of St. John’s book
as I find that sometimes…I simply desperately
need a Christian mystic in the worst of ways!

So I began to search…
Where was it???
Where was my book?

Was it on a bookshelf?
Was it in a box that might have been overlooked in the move?
Was it in this stack or that stack??

I scoured every book I owned.
I scanned every shelf in the house.
I tore every drawer in the house apart.
I rummaged through every box and tub that remains squirreled away in a
new basement.

Had it ended up in the yard sale by accident?
Had it errantly gone to the Goodwill?
Or worse—had it been borrowed???

St. John and his dark night were no where to be found.
All of which seemed to be adding to my own oppressively growing darkness.

However, I actually think that oppressive darkness of mine was probably due
to too much digested news…but I digress.

And thus, I knew my only recourse…order another book!
Of which I did.

When the package arrived in the mail, I was so excited to greet my
dear old friend.

And for those of you who know me, you know that I treasure my books!

I was so excited opening the package and pulling out the small new treasure
tucked neatly within.

Excitedly, I opened the book…
savoring the newness and crispness of each fresh page.

I looked excitedly and expectantly at those first few pages…
all with great anticipation.
And that is when I first saw it…
It was the moment I felt the collision of both then and now.
An odd yet sickening juxtaposition of time and space.

This was when I first saw something I found almost repugnant given who it was that
I was reading—reading the deep personal struggle of one who had the courage
and the gift to write about what we all have each struggled over…
that very depth of wondering…”God are you there? Do you hear me?”

Immediately I stopped dead in my tracks…
did I just catch an odd out of place “warning” of all things????

A trigger warning for St. John of the Cross.
I felt a bit of heat rising up into my cheeks.

This book is a product of its time and does not reflect the same values as
it would if it were written today. Parents night wish to discuss with
their children how views on race have changed before
allowing them to read this classic work.”

“Oh really–does not reflect the same values??”–
I found myself speaking aloud for anyone present to hear.

Despite what one might think, I will opt not to jump on my soapbox today…
for I have done so often here in this little corner of mine in
this blogosphere of ours.

I just fret that when I see what we are allowing in our schools as now,
we feel threatened by a 16th century mystic monk.

It amazes me what we are allowing our children to exposed to and yet
we opt to censor a Christian mystic.

I just don’t seem to know us anymore and that is what i think troubles me most.

“If a man wishes to be sure of the road he treads on,
he must close his eyes and walk in the dark.”

St. John of the Cross

inviting yet locked

“By confronting us with irreducible mysteries that stretch our daily vision
to include infinity, nature opens an inviting and guiding path
toward a spiritual life.”

Thomas More

As polarized as we have been,
we Americans are locked in a cultural war for the soul of our country.

Pat Buchanan


(an inviting, yet closed and obviously shuttered, secluded entrance way /
Rosemary Beach, Fl / Julie Cook / 2017)

(since we were speaking of journeys yesterday, I thought this other archived
post from 2017 would be another nice addition—please enjoy
)

There is a lovely Orthodox Christian blog that I follow…
Where I often find the most beautiful wisdom presented in the simplest of fashions.
This morning was no exception.

https://thoughtsintrusive.wordpress.com/2017/09/17/what-does-charismatic-despair-mean/

When I first read this morning’s posting’s title, with words such as Charismatic and despair…words that at first glance appear to be polar opposites of one another,
I wasn’t prepared to find both a sweet reminder as well as an embracing
comfort all rolled into one.

I am reminded that as we each journey through this thing we call life,
we will each inevitably encounter times of great frustration, difficulty…
even overwhelming sorrow.

We will come to those places along on our walk where we find our pathway blocked
with various doorways—
those apparent entrances beckoning us to continue forward,
yet each shuttered and locked tight.
There will be no obvious alternate path allowing for us
to continue onward, proceeding freely and unhindered.
Only locked doors.

It is at such a juncture on this path, where we are met by
both doubt and despair.

Choice suddenly appears limited or even nonexistent.
Knowing we can’t progress forward and that we certainly
can’t turn around,
going back from whence we came…for too much time has passed for turn arounds,
we are stymied. A rushing fear washes over us as we realize that we have
no other options, no choices.

And this is where we must look not obviously outward from ourselves
seeking our answers,
but rather we must look inward…traveling deeply within ourselves.

For it is in this very moment of inward verses outward, of how we will decide
to interact with the obstacles and locked doors,
which will eventually decide how we continue forward on our journey.

And so it is here, tucked gently away in this morning’s reading of simple words,
words offered by a simple monk, where we are gently yet profoundly reminded that
in our apparent despair, we are driven not by the seemingly overwhelmingness
of that very despair and its accompanying frustration,
but rather we are driven by the divine interventions of the Spirit..
.
He who urges us, without our even being aware, to seek the only One who has
the key to unlocking those shattered doors, allowing for us to continue forward
on this odd little journey of ours.

It begins with a frustration or a pain or a sorrow and it ends with
an imploring prayer…


(the wisdom of Archimandrite Zacharias of Essex from the book
Remember Thy First Love)

Just around the bend—a pilgrimage

“And he began, “What chance or destiny
has brought you here before your final day?
And who is he who leads your pilgrimage?”
“Up there in life beneath the quiet stars
I lost my way,” I answered, “in a valley,
before I’d reached the fullness of my age.
I turned my shoulders on it yesterday:
this soul appeared as I was falling back,
and by the road through Hell he leads me home.”
“Follow your star and you will never fail
to find your glorious port,” he said to me”

Dante Alighieri

Of Course God does not consider you hopeless.
If He did, He would not be moving you to seek Him (and He obviously is)…
Continue seeking Him with seriousness.
Unless He wanted you, you would not be wanting Him.”

C.S. Lewis

“If I cease searching, then, woe is me, I am lost. That is how I look at it – keep going, keep going come what may.”
Vincent van Gogh


(Tremont, TN , The Great Smokey Mountains National Park / Julie Cook / 2015)

(I thought this was a good post to pull out of the archives from 2015
please enjoy)

Along many a journey taken throughout our lives,
there often comes a point when every journeyman realizes that oddly there are
no clear-cut signs, no helpful mile markers,
no familiar landmarks pointing him or her in the proper direction.

The only thing for certain is that there is a path with the choice
of either continuing forward or the option of simply turning around—
heading back to whence one originally came.

How often does the journeyman continue onward?
Continuing onward yet all the while feeling as if he or she
is blinded by the loss of direction?

It is as if this journeyman, nay pilgrim, is feeling his or her way
along in the dark— thinking that after every curve,
after every bend along the path…
surely clarity shall be glimpsed as finally there has to be
something familiar or something offered as some sort of
informational directional compass…
that the chosen path is indeed the right and correct path for this
particular journey.

Such are the times in which we find ourselves living.

The journey is often arduous, steep and seemingly treacherous.
And yet there are days when the journey seems endlessly boring and benign.
We often tire, growing weary and overwhelmed physically, mentally
and emotionally.

It is as if we are wandering lost within some massive forest with no end in sight.
There is no welcoming safe haven…there is no one who is to act as guide…
only those who wait hidden in the shadows hoping to inflict some sort of harm
as we journey onward.

Yet as all who journey, those who opt to take such journeys in life,
realize and accept that there have never been any guarantees to any journey
ever taken.
Every journey and every path is left to the chance and the whims
of those forces which prevail against us.

How is one ever to prepare for such an odyssey?

How does one prepare when even the very path, the journey,
the pilgrimage, the sojourn is not clearly marked,
definitively set or offers any sort of guidance or clear directional choice
to the one setting out on the trek?

What of the perils, the dangers, the evil which lies-in wait..
those unseen snares and traps, each vying to catch the innocent
trekker who is perhaps ill prepared and off guard?

Is there hope?
Is there help?
Is there assistance?

Ah… but there is indeed One…
One alone who is fully prepared and ready.
One alone who knows the way.
And it is to Him we all must turn as He is the One who will offer comfort,
direction, defense and solace for the often long, lonely
and frightening journey…

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing,
so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

Romans 15:13

the journey of deconstruction

“Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart.
Who looks outside, dreams;
who looks inside, awakes.”

C.G. Jung

“There is a spiritual loneliness, an inner loneliness,
an inner place where God brings the seeker,
where he is as lonely as if there were not another member of the Church
anywhere in the world.
Ah, when you come there, there is a darkness of mind,
and emptiness of heart, a loneliness of soul,
but it is preliminary to the daybreak.
O God, Bring us, somehow to the daybreak!”

A.W. Tozer excerpts from various sermons…How to be Filled with the Holy Spirit

So it has been brought to my attention, over the last week or so,
that perhaps some of my recent posts…
posts that I’ve offered as reposts, along with those penned as recently as this week,
seem to be skirting around a central theme…
a theme of the forlorn or even that of the melancholy.
Some have even asked “are you ok?”

Well…I think I’m ok.
And I think the posts have been timely…as perhaps it is
the times in which we are finding ourselves which is rendering
that underlying sense of the forlorn and melancholy.

But I suppose I should confess that I have been spending a great deal
of time recently thinking about loving and being loved.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about breaking and being broken.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the implications of giving while receiving.

And I’ve fiercely been wrestling with the whole notion of Grace.

Do you know that giving Grace is one thing…while
feeling worthy of receiving such is something else entirely?
Or so I’m learning.

And so I’m faced with the nagging question of how can we freely offer others
such if we find our own selves feeling less-than when needing to
receive the same in like turn?

It is indeed a conundrum.
A conundrum of self.

And thus I have actually been finding myself looking backwards.

Not so much because I’m afraid of going forward, or that I wish to be morose…
rather I’m looking back in an attempt to better understand the now.
Or maybe I should say “my” now.

And no, I’m not talking about looking back through the lens of some sort of
historical context, a political context or a cultural context.
Heck, I’ve purposefully been distancing myself from my obsession
with all things news…avoiding the latest barrage of current events
all of which leaves me more depressed than hopeful.

I am finding that I need to declutter from the world for just a bit
in order to make some sense of the bare bones of this thing we call life…

I’m finding that an interior life issue is far greater than the Border Crisis,
a Pandemic, Dr.Fauci, President Biden, a broken chain of supply and demand,
inflation, vaccines…the list is endless….
and the list is a massive distraction and not the real issue at hand.

For the real issue is that which lies within.

And maybe that’s part of the point.
Avoid the real issue by being distracted by the world’s issues and madness.
And what good am I to myself or others if I am consumed by a world’s madness?

Introspection is a fine line when walking through one’s memories.
We must tiptoe through the effects that those memories have had on our lives
as well as the lives of those we’ve carried along the way.

We must balance such with both clarity and wisdom.
Depression, regret and sorrow are never far behind…dark specters who
nip at our heels while we embark on such a journey.

Such a journey that often becomes an endless void, much like a black hole
that pulls all energy and light into its darkness.

So we must be careful that we are not consumed.

One thing I know about God is that He is often a deconstructionist.
Meaning, He is one to break apart before rebuilding what was into
what needs to be.

I think I’m in the middle of some much needed deconstructing.
Deconstruction, like breaking, is an often hard fraught process.
It can be painful yet oh so necessary if one ever hopes to be whole.

Yet we must remember there is a difference between being broken
as in left in pieces vs being taken apart, dissembled, in order
to be rebuilt anew.

For what God opts to take apart, in order to piece back together
as only He sees best, is indeed to be made more perfect.

It is a journey…and not an easy journey…
but if you ever want to find peace and truth, it is
a journey that must be taken.

So here’s to the journey!
For the bad and then the good!

An excerpt from a post written March 4, 2016

When excavating the locked chambers of the soul…
that quest for the missing piece to wholeness…
The path is narrow, fraught with both emptiness and loneliness
And the darkness will be exacting.

It is a journey few care to traverse…
Isolation is a key requirement…
The striping away of all exterior noise and distractions…
leaves exposed the innermost secrets of one’s very being.

God is exacting.
He is a selfish God, who wants all and will not settle for any less.
He wants not that which is freely offered, willingly given…
He wants, nay demands, that which is desperately held back.

The re-union of created and Creator is inevitable.
There are those who eagerly seek the synthesis, the rejoining…
While others vehemently fear it…
The fragility will shatter…into a million fractured shards…

Out of the mire, the sucking and suffocating quicksand of death…
The spirit longs to reach upward, yearning for home…
Yet it is in the depth of death’s vast darkness that the fractured soul searches…
While the Creator waits…

Bring us home oh Lord
Strip us of that which prevents us from being with you..
Deliver us out of…
the brokenness,
the loneliness,
the emptiness,
the isolation…
of self
Bringing us to the daybreak of You…

transcendence

Suffering seems to belong to man’s transcendence:
it is one of those points in which man is in a certain sense
“destined” to go beyond himself,
and he is called to this in a mysterious way.

APOSTOLIC LETTER
SALVIFICI DOLORIS
OF THE SUPREME PONTIFF
JOHN PAUL II 1984


(Cades Cove / TN/ Julie Cook / 2015)

Maybe it’s the grey skies.
Maybe it’s the deluge of rain.
Maybe it’s age.
Maybe it’s not feeling 100%
Maybe it’s life’s circumstances.
Maybe it’s just our current times..

It seems as if I’ve had a weighted heaviness sitting on my spirit
for quite sometime now…and this “heaviness” seems
much like a festering splinter that is attempting
to work its way to the surface…

What I know about such a type of splinter is that it is
being worked to the surface by a body wanting to rid itself
of an infecting foreign entity.

So maybe this heaviness will be worked up and out as well.
Maybe, just maybe, the heaviness is only a symptom.
But a symptom of what is not exactly clear.

Recently I’ve found myself ruminating on idea of the
transcendence of time.

Vocabulary.com tells us that
transcendence comes from the Latin prefix trans-,
meaning “beyond,” and the word scandare, meaning “to climb.”
When you achieve transcendence, you have gone beyond ordinary limitations.
The word is often used to describe a spiritual or religious state,
or a condition of moving beyond physical needs and realities.
One way to achieve transcendence spiritually might be to fast
for a long time.
If you have trouble letting go of material needs,
then you will have a difficult time achieving transcendence.

As a Christian, I believe, that on this earth, we live in a
constant state of transcendence or perhaps that is transcending…
meaning we are constantly trying to climb beyond.

Gravity and time each keeps us bound to this earth, yet our spirits long
to go to a place beyond and unknown.
There is a longing in our beings for that which we cannot see
but yet we feel is calling us.

Over the years I’ve often written about my “godpoppa”–
He was an Episcopal priest.
Adopted like me.
And he bore the bulk of my teenage angst and
later my often tumultuous choices of life, both good and bad.

He died in December of 2016 only a few months prior to my dad’s death
and even that of my aunt’s.
Loss, let alone back to back losses, is/ are never easy.

And yet this one man’s influence on my life remains just as it
always has–both strong and robust.

It matters not that he is not here physically, because in my reality
he continues on in my soul–day in and day out.
His influence and teachings continue to positively impact all
that I do.

I was fortunate to have had such a person come into my life
when he did, but I do not believe it was by fate, chance or some
random encounter.
I know without a doubt God places folks within our life’s journeys
at just the right time and place.

I do think, however, we’d all agree that it is the physical that
we miss the most when we lose someone we love.
Not so much their words, not at first anyway.

We want to be able to see them, hear them, feel them.
Just as a child who has fallen and skinned a knee, we want to be held
and comforted in our sorrow.
And despite our knowledge of what the separation means when speaking
of death, we still want this now ‘lost’ person to hold us.

And yet their love, the love we shared, transcends both space and time.

What I gratefully remember is the man whose eyes smiled at me…
and yet those same smiling eyes could and would always penetrate past all
my thick protective walls.

He taught me that walls must be broken if true healing is to take place.
He taught me that I had to risk all things earthly in order to find my true
peace and well being.
He taught me that I had to be broken before I could be built back up.

And so I suppose that journey of brokenness to transcendence continues
as I write.
Hence the oft felt heaviness.

God continues to push, or maybe that should be pulls, us along…
as we put one hand over the other, rung after rung…climbing
ever upward and ever forward to that which we cannot see yet knows
waits for us just beyond…

And do you know what makes this journey all that more mystical and
otherworldly??

It is the single fact that along this journey, we might be fortunate
enough to find someone who we thought we’d previously lost forever.

And that’s when it suddenly dawns on us…this most beloved person had
never been lost at all…they were simply waiting for us…
despite neither of us realizing it at the time…
and it is in that single moment of reconnection that we
find our greatest blessing…

So here’s to transcendence, time, space and to the one constant that
always binds—that being love.
(thank you Patti)

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast;
it is not arrogant 5 or rude.
It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;
it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things,
endures all things.

Love never ends.
As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues,
they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8

The journey…RUN!

My entire conversion was less of a journey to a foreign place,
and more of a discovery of my long-lost home.

Jennifer Fulwiler
from her book Something other than God


(ode to a white picket fence’s blooms /Julie Cook / 2021)

“But you, ‘a chosen generation’,
weak things of the world, who have forsaken all things,
so that you may follow the Lord, go after him, and confound the strong;
go after him, you beautiful feet,
and shine in the firmament so that the heavens may declare his glory…
Shine over the whole earth, and let the day,
brightened by the sun, utter unto day speech of wisdom,
and let the night, shining with the moon,
declare to the night the word of knowledge…
Run into every place,
O you holy fires, you beautiful fires!
You are the light of the world, and you are not put under a measure.
He to whom you have held fast has been exalted, and he has exalted you.
Run forth, and make it known to all nations.”

Saint Augustine, p.318-19
An Excerpt From
The Confessions of Saint Augustine

our journey

“Who except God can give you peace?
Has the world ever been able to satisfy the heart?”

St. Gerard Majella


(two little cousins on their own little journey / Savannah, Ga, 2020)

“This is the difference between a journey on earth, and that which leads to Heaven.
For in the former, not only may we stop without fear of going backward,
but rest is necessary that we may sustain our strength to the journey’s end;
however, in the latter journey which leads to perfection,
our growth in strength is proportionate to our advance,
inasmuch as the inferior appetites which throw all possible obstacles in our path to Heaven,
grow gradually weaker while our good inclinations acquire new strength.
Thus as we advance in piety, our early difficulties fade into the background,
and a certain delight, with which God sweetens the bitterness of this life,
increases in our souls.
Going cheerfully on from virtue to virtue,
we finally reach the summit of the mountain.”

Dom Lorenzo Scupoli, pp. 117-18
An Excerpt From
The Spiritual Combat

piece of cake

“Help me to journey beyond the familiar and into the unknown.
Give me the faith to leave old ways and break fresh ground with You.”

St. Brendan


(the wildflowers are now blooming / Julie Cook / 2020)

Oh, how the words of St. Brendan have touched my heart today–
(today, for me, being Monday and yesterday for you).

Walking into the unknown.
Journeying beyond the familiar.
Needing faith, as well as hope, while we leave the old ways, the old life, far behind.

Now left feeling helpless while trying to navigate uncharted waters…
Murky waters leading into something vastly different and to
something surreally new.

This is not to be a temporary change—not a momentary glitch to a set pattern or routine.
Such hiccups in life are not always pleasant but are made manageable in that we know they are
not meant to last…as in, not forever.

But this is not that.
This is not a slight bump or pothole in the road.

I think in all of this that what it boils down to is my simply yearning for what was…

And if the truth is really told, I think it is the feeling of freedom that I long for,
as well as pine over, the most.

To come and go as I once did…without worry or fear.

To hug an old friend who I’ve run into in a store.

To take a spontaneous road trip.

To save for, to plot and then plan a special vacation.

To actually linger in a garden shop…feasting on the colors and breathing in
the heavenly scents of beauty…free of masks or strips of tape that
keep me at a certain distance.

To simply being able to finally go back to the dentist for the new crown for my broken tooth.

Yet all those things are deemed “non-essential”, unnecessary to the basic day to day living.

So instead, I am left to precariously gather weekly supplies while spraying myself
with the sole sacred can of Lysol.
I tend to wee grandchildren as their parents now work and teach from home.
We cook, we eat, we clean, we wash, we huddle together and we wonder what tomorrow
will bring.

And so yes, I pray that God will give me the faith to leave what was known and trusted
behind as we all now embark on a journey into the new…of that which is
untrodden fresh ground.

If I walk hand in hand with my Father…that which is unknown, will be a piece of cake.

You shall walk in all the way that the Lord your God has commanded you,
that you may live, and that it may go well with you,
and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess.

Deuteronomy 5:33

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

in pursuit

“Among the strange things of this world,
nothing seems more strange than that men pursuing happiness should knowingly quit the right
and take a wrong road, and frequently do what their judgments neither approve nor prefer.”

John Jay


(some of norht Georgia’s finest…Arkansas Blacks and Winesaps / Julie Cook / 2019)

The rains had departed, the clouds were racing off, chasing the latest weather front,
and now the air was actually, delightfully, a bit chilled.

This was to be a short-lived moment as the weather folks were telling us that the
temperatures would be rising this week while the rains would be returning by Tuesday with a vengeance.
Bad weather in the South, no matter what the time of year, is something to be wary of…

So if we wanted to seek out a single colored leaf, now was our moment.

And thus we got into our vehicle Sunday morning and decided to point the truck following
the compass arrow pointing north…or so said the dashboard readings…north.

It’s just about a 2-hour drive from the house to reach North Georgia’s apple capital–
Elijay and her fellow communities of Blue Ridge, Cherry Log, etc…

We almost thought we’d move up this way about a year ago…
but that’s another story for another day.

As the truck’s compass continued pointing north, north-east, we drove on, passing
various polestars pointing towards various destinations…

I must confess, I’ve never been to, let alone seen, Rock City.
Have you?

It was always my understanding, since I was a little girl back in the day,
that farmers were paid to paint the famous “See Rock City” on the sides or roofs
of their barns but I can’t say for certain…
However I always did want a Rock City birdhouse…but I digress

Finally, just before noon, we found the ‘apple barns’ selling the fruits of their labors and harvest.

There were fried apple pies, preserves of every shape and description along with pumpkins for sale.
However, we had come for apples and apples it would be.

There were Grannysmiths, Jonagolds, Pink ladies, Honey crips, Winesaps, Arkansas Blacks, Ozark Gold, Romes,
Fujis…any variety you’d like to purchase is most likely found by the bag or bushel.

I opted for the tried and true Winesaps and a bag of Arkansas Blacks—
an apple variety that I’m told does best if it is stored chilled in a root cellar for a few months—
Since I don’t have a root cellar, I’ll opt for the fridge in the basement.

After gathering our apples, we continued northward toward a stop in the quaint mountain
town of Blue Ridge…the home of the North Georgia Railway offering train rides up through
the north Georgia mountains.

Blue Ridge is such a dog-friendly little town.
Some of the public parking lot’s proceeds go toward the local animal shelters.
We saw every kind of dog on holiday with “their people.”

We stopped for lunch at a lovely spot on the crowded downtown strip, Harvest on Main,
a place we’ve enjoyed on previous visits.
I had the tastiest drink sporting some local bee pollen…go figure!


(The Harvest / Julie Cook / 2019)

As the afternoon was beginning to wane, we opted to head back toward the more flatlands of home
rather than continuing eastward over the northern part of the state towards Blairsville, Helen
and Georgia’s gold capital of Dalonagha…

Sadly, however, we were more than aware that we had yet to really see any colorful foliage,
as our Fall is struggling from our having had one more extreme record hot and dry Summer.

We retraced our steps back towards Elijay, opting to take Hwy 52 / 2, a road that would carry us over
Fort Mountain back towards Chatsworth, Ga. and Hwy 411 South.

I’ve lived in Georgia all of my life, less than two hours away from Fort Mountian,
and yet I had never heard of this “mountain” nor of the state park of the same name.

“Mystery shrouds the ancient stone wall of Fort Mountain State Park,
located near the Cohutta Wilderness, offering you a look back in time to the previous inhabitants,
as you discover 60 miles of recreational trails and majestic overlooks.”
A scenic drive on Highway 52 near the Cohutta Wilderness leads visitors
to this mountain getaway.
Hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders will find some of the most beautiful trails in Georgia,
winding through hardwood forest and blueberry thickets,
crossing streams and circling a pretty lake.
Hikers can also explore a stone fire tower built by the Civilian Conservation Corps
and an ancient rock wall that stands on the highest point of the mountain.
The mysterious 855-foot-long wall is thought to have been built by early Indians
as fortification against more hostile Indians or for ancient ceremonies.

During summer, visitors can cool off on a lakeside beach.
Park guests may stay overnight in fully equipped cottages, a campground or backpacking campsites.

Fort Mountain State Park History

Fort Mountain State Park sits at the southwestern end of the Cohutta Mountains
near the Cohutta Wilderness. Sitting at 2,850 ft above sea level, Fort Mountain
is a great destination for hiking and history lessons alike.
The area in and around the park was home to the Cherokee Indians for hundreds of years,
and their legacy is still felt throughout North Georgia today.

We stopped at an overlook, just before reaching the state park, that was actually the pinnacle of this
“mountain”— hoping to catch a touch of color.
The vistas pointed toward both Tennessee and North Carolina.

There was a couple with their dog who had also climbed up to the outlook.
They asked where we were from… we told them and they told us that they were from
Jacksonville, Fl. They had driven up last year and had opted to come back this year.
They were just so impressed to know that Georgia had such splendor.
I inwardly smiled with a touch of pride as we all like hearing folks from other states
saying nice things about your own state.

But as you can see, there was little if any color for viewing.
A few yellows, a few reds but green is still reigning supreme.

Maybe in a few more weeks things will be turning more colorful…

Despite the lack of fall color—the deviation of a pursuit that was other than
the typical was most welcomed and most refreshing…plus I learned a thing or two
about my state that I didn’t know before…

How’s that little verse, or is it a poem, go??
‘The world is wide and wonderful, wherever we may roam…
but our thoughts return to precious things such as friends and love and home…

It’s not always the pursuit now, is it???…
It is, more or less, the journey itself that is what matters most…

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
Psalm 119:105
(as seen on a small country chruch’s sign during our drive northward)