joy….to give or to receive…

“I don’t think of all the misery,
but of the beauty that still remains.”

Anne Frank


(the work of a day / Julie Cook / 2017)

Thanksgiving afternoon, I was complaining to my daughter-n-law, dreading the notion
of having to begin the yearly arduous ritual, of “putting up” Christmas.
Some people will go into a feeding frenzy of all things consumerism and
I will go into light mode….

“Why do we do this?” I lamented.
“Why do we work our butts off, schlepping stuff up and down from basements
and attics every year….

Why do we move all this stuff in while moving all the other stuff out…
making way for holiday paraphernalia…
just to turn around to then put it all away again in just a couple of weeks???”

I lament so because I am the one who pretty much does it all….
all the lights,
all the decorating,
all the tree,
all the buying,
all the wrapping,
all the cooking,
all the cleaning etc…
because bless my husband’s heart,
he runs a retail business.

Suffice it to know that our lives are not our own right now…
nor will they be…not until about the middle of January.

Neither my husband or I truly “get” this Black Friday absurdity that consumes
this nation of ours.
He does nothing out of the ordinary for it and I don’t even acknowledge it.
Something about the wantoness of all the materialism consuming this country of ours
just oozes of emptiness.

Why do people stand in line for hours on end when they should actually be
home just enjoying Thanksgiving, family, time off, being outside, being inside, being someplace other than a strip mall, a big mall, etc…
oddly preferring to scoop up “stuff”????
Stuff no one really “needs” to survive.

Places like Syria just keep coming to mind when I see cars parked 4 deep,
wrapped around parking lots, just so folks can buy a flat screen TV or clothes,
a mixer or whatever it is they think they JUST have to have in order to survive Christmas…
along with all the other trivial things no one really needs in order to survive.
Like I say, I just don’t get it…..

So my daughter-n-law reminds me, “well you know he really does appreciate it”
He being my only child and son who was born a week before Christmas.
Christmas is his official holiday….but certainly not his dad’s.

The night our son was born, oh so many moons ago, in the wee hours of a December Monday morning…my poor husband had to leave us shortly after the birth so he could go
open the store and work all day…after having been up all night.
Missing his only child, his new son’s first day of living…
He is remorseful all these many years later, but it was how he fed us,
and for that we give thanks.
Yet how does one ever get back time?
They don’t.

In this family of ours, there is definitely some resentment concerning the consuming madness of holiday shopping…. on all sorts of levels…
and yet our son just adores Christmas…what are those odds?!

Sigh…..

So as I was lamenting, my daughter-n-law tells me about a movie they recently went
to see —-a movie I would never ever consider watching.

They are only in their late 20’s—they watch things on television and at the movies
that I pretty much consider toxic—
of which I hope they too will soon realize as toxic…but until then,
I just pray….

My daughter-n-law relayed a line from the movie which actually resonated with me….

She said that in the movie the main character was grousing, much like I was, about
this whole Christmas business.
In walks the mother who deadpan responds….
“don’t you know, mothers don’t receive
joy, theirs is but to give joy”
(a paraphrase)

It hit me like a ton of bricks.

An understanding as to what exactly a lot of this is really all about.
It hit in certainly not a martyresque sort of understanding…but a deeper sense of understanding.

It is an understanding that none of this is about me….never has been.

It’s not about what “I” can get,
not about what I can buy,
not about what I can have….
nor is it about what I want….
but rather it’s about what I can give.

It’s about the ability to give verses the ability to get and receive….
And that giving has nothing to do with stuff—not of things gathered
from a store, or from on-line or from any place else for that matter.
Nothing tangible….

It has nothing to with with savvy shopping, marketing strategy, deals, door busters
or the madness that has become what we know as Christmas in the modern world.
A time that won’t even allow most schools to utter the word “Christmas”
but rather “winter break.”

What this season is about…isn’t about all this decorating,
or about all this consuming, or about all this buying and wrapping of “stuff”….

It’s not about the amassing or consuming….or materialism.
It’s not about the biggest gift, the best deals, the nicest trip to some
exotic wonderland.
Rather it’s about what we can offer and what we can give…

Because the original notion of this holiday Christmas business wasn’t about
Black Fridays and sale margins…it wasn’t about cyber Monday’s or on-line surfing…

It was about a gift…. but not a gift in the modern mindset of what constitutes
as a gift…

It was a single tiny gift that was actually given in order to save…
to save both you and I, as well as all of mankind, actually from ourselves….

He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything
we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.
This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time..

2 Timothy 1:9

time to get busy

“Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God,
at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depth of our hearts.”

Mother Teresa


(the ‘I couldn’t wait’ poundcake / Julie Cook / 2017)

I suppose I could be living in Alaska and I would still feel this
impending sense of dread.

For you see, this is just how deeply I care and feel for this land I call home…
Whenever there is some sort of calamity approaching this great country, I fret.
Much like a mother hen over her chicks.

It doesn’t matter if its raging fires in the west, drought in the southwest,
blizzards in the north and northeast, earthquakes in the heartland, or floods,
tornadoes and hurricanes in the South…
I feel an almost overwhelming sense of foreboding that is hard to shake.

I think it has a lot to do with me being a doer and or a fixer…
as in I need to be in action doing and fixing.
For it is in such cases, cases where I am relegated to simply sitting, watching
and waiting, that I feel most helpless.
How can I help, fix or alleviate that which I can only watch?
I can’t.

And such is the nature of natural disasters and disease…
we most often have to sit, watch and wait.

So with today, as I write, being Saturday,
the sun is brightly shining in a near cloudless blue sky,
as the wind gusts pick up in both frequency and gusto….
I know Irma is drawing ever closer.

I sit and watch the reports of a massive storm inching its way closer and closer
to my sister southern state.
And I know there will be catastrophic damage.
Storms are just that way.

So as I feel a wealth of nervous energy, I’ve done what I always do when there’s
nothing to do but wait and watch.
I cook.

Today it’s what I’m calling a hurricane pound cake.
As we are being told that we will most likely have flooding, high winds and will
lose power along with the millions to our south….
there’s nothing like a fresh pound cake to munch on in the stormy dark.

So as I try to busy my hands, my thoughts and my body…I also must busy my soul.
For all we truly have in such precarious times is prayer.
To have conversation with God.
And in that conversation, we must be prepared to wait as we listen.
Much like we do in a storm…as in we wait and listen…
Yet the difference with God is that we know there is
no one greater in which to turn.

We can certainly prepare for life’s storms all we want as we tick off those items
on a checklist of what to buy, what to have ready, what to do…all just in case.
Knowing that once the dust settles, the time to really get busy will truly be underway.
Such as helping and cleaning and comforting.

Yet with all this talk of waiting and watching and praying,
I was poignantly reminded today of the very notion of depending on prayer.

This afternoon I watched the most recent postings of one of my favorite
Christian apologists.

Nabeel Qureshi.

I’ve mentioned Nabeel here before.

Nabeel is a young roaring Christian lion.
He is an ardent and outspoken Christian convert from Islam who minces no words.
He is a lecturer and author who is rooted deeply in the Word of the One True God
as He has been washed in the Blood of the Lamb.

Nabeel is also a husband and a father who is in the latter stages of aggressive
stomach cancer.

I have watched periodically Nabeel’s youtube videos chronicling his journey
with cancer.
His fight, his treatments, his testimony…
Inspirational is putting it mildly as I have marveled over his unyielding faith
in the face of so much physical suffering and emotional uncertainty.

Somehow seeing Nabeel and hearing the frustration and depression fighting their way
into his being, I continue being blessed by his ardent faith in God’s will.
And as a dear friend noted as we both lamented together over this most recent
turn of events in Nabeel’s battle…
Nabeel WILL be healed, no matter what!!

So as we gather our thoughts and prayers, readying for yet another storm to take a
swipe at this country, it’s time to get busy…
Busy in prayer…
that we may remember not only those standing in the crosshairs of a hurricane,
but that we recall those who are in the midsts of their own personal storms..
such as Nabeel and his battle with cancer.

Remembering that in the end, God’s will wins,
and in turn, guarantees that we win as well.

https://christcenteredteaching.wordpress.com/2017/09/09/let-nabeel-know-on-facebook-and-twitter-that-you-love-him-and-you-are-praying-for-himvlog-42-palliative-care-on-youtube/

The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them;
he delivers them from all their troubles.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

Psalm 34:17-18

find praise

DSCN1711
(a tired weary sheep slowly gets up / Slieve League, County Donegal, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

Worn and weary
Run ragged and haggared…
Feeling forgotten and alone in all you do…
Overwhelmed and underwhelmed by all that must be done…
Add in the busiest time of year…
You’re stretched too thin yet can you please offer up some more?
They want the proverbial blood from a turnip…

There is a heightened sense of urgency.
The overbooked schedules…the events, the pageants, the parties, the shopping, the cooking, the cleaning, the traveling, the wrapping, the singing, the sledding, the shoveling, the chopping, the washing, the exams, the grading, the deadlines, the reports, the dinners, the meetings…..it’s all simply never ending.
Or is is too quiet…
Too lonely, too empty, too little, too late…
Just shake it all up and pour it up neat…either way it’s all too much.

It’s either too cold or its either too hot.
You’re either too late, too soon, just in the nick of time…or simply put… you’re simply out of time as the deadline is all but passed.

The lines are endless and the tempers are shorter.
Good cheer is hard to find in the overcrowded parking lots, roadways, and snarling traffic jams.
Rush here, hurry there, get this and pick up that as you have yourself
a Merry Little Christmas now…

Or is it all just too quiet…
Too empty and too painful as you struggle though the day?
Remember, lock your doors and look over your shoulder, bad things lurk in the shadows. And don’t forget to unplug the lights….

Is it any wonder you’re tired, overwhelmed, ill tempered…
Fussing and cussing, complaining and lamenting…
The lists grow longer as the cash flow falls shorter.
As the airports cancel the flights…
Sneezing, coughing, aching…getting sick with no extra time in sight…
It’s hard to find a smile when hurting, silent and sad…
Bah humbug you shout, let’s be done with it already.

“Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani”

Forsaken and forgotten…alone and at wits end.
Vulnerable and exposed or simply empty and spent?
Who has time for joy, merry and bright…
When the mall is packed with people…
When you feel only sad and lonely…
When you’re so busy you’ve forgotten what it’s all about…

Emotions are heightened, raw and frayed this magical yet manic time of year.
Be it good or be it bad.
Isolation verses exposure as you fight to find the happy middle.
For there is no middle road to your life this season of the festive.
Only emptiness as everyone seems unable to understand why.

You cry out day and night but no one acknowledges your need as they’re too busy walking away…as the lady rings the bell…

Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.

The party goes on with or without you, as everyone jumps to grab the ring.
The glasses are raised with each and every cheer, yet your glass is empty and your plate is oddly bear.
Everyone gloats as they bask by the fire, yet who’s really happy now?

But you, Lord, do not be far from me.
You are my strength; come quickly to help me.

A second wind is found, a helping hand is offered, a needed embrace takes you in while comfort is found in a smile.
And deep within you manage to find the words…

“From you comes the theme of my praise…”

I will declare your name to my people;
in the assembly I will praise you.
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
For he has not despised or scorned
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.


(excepts from Psalm 22)

Stormy Weather

“I like to hear a storm at night. It is so cosy to snuggle down among the blankets and feel that it can’t get at you.”
― L.M. Montgomery

Old age is like a plane flying through a storm. Once you’re aboard, there’s nothing you can do.
Golda Meir

DSC01044
(ominous clouds as tornado sirens howl on a stormy Sunday Georgia morning / Julie Cook / 2015)

“. . .Life is bare
gloom and misery every where
Stormy weather
Just can’t get my poor self together
I’m weary all the time
The time
So weary all the time”

2nd stanza / Stormy Weather

DSC01039

There’s nothing like listening to that beautifully melodic and mesmerizing voice of the one and only Lena Horne.
I loved / love Lena. . .
Ms Horne was born to a generation of singers who sadly have come and gone.
Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James. . .
Soulful storytellers whose beauty and life’s trials, as well as their gift of song, could stir the deepest of emotions in even the most casual of listeners.

Lena Horne defined both class and grace.
Although being born in Brooklyn and spending most of her life in New York and Pennsylvania, Ms Horne spent a good bit of her childhood living in Fort Valley, Georgia—of which I suppose lead her to acquire that markedly distinct sultry southernesque drawl she’d call upon for wooing audiences and movie producers alike.

Today’s weather is a fitting tribute to the woeful lament Ms. Horne made famous, Stormy Weather.
First performed at the famous New York Cotton Club in 1933 yet a song made immortal when performed by Ms Horne in 1943 in the movie of the same name. . .

“. . .don’t know why, there’s no sun up in the sky. . .
Stormy Weather. . .”

I didn’t need Ms Horne however, to remind me of the current weather condition as the early morning wail of the tornado sirens was sign enough.
The sirens wailed, the phones buzzed with alerts and the television was rife with the warnings of impending doom. . .as in “SEEK SHELTER NOW!!!”

Luckily the “rotation” the doppler radar was indicating was remanning up in the clouds and thankfully had not descended to the ground.

It was to be on this tumultuous Sunday morning, as it is on many Sunday mornings, my husband was to treat me to breakfast out. As in I wasn’t going to have to cook it. It’s the only morning he’s not at work. As in he’s actually home. And of all the little treats in life. . . it’s breakfast out that I enjoy most. There’s just something special about heading out on a lazy stress free morning to some inviting little restaurant or tiny cafe, as the heady scent of bacon mingling with fresh coffee greets all at the door.

And so it was on this stormy, springtime morning I was to be treated to a nice breakfast out. The only problem was that an impending tornado was in the middle of my path to bacon and pancakes.
UGH!

The weatherman on the news was zooming in on a fierce looking storm hovering about 5 miles south down the road from our house. It’s amazing how they can pinpoint storms with such vivid accuracy. A Tornado Warning had been issued, the sirens were wailing and my stomach was growling.
We waited.
I peered out the windows.
The rain beat down.
No lightning thank goodness.
I hate lightning.
No winds.
Just black skies with torrential rains.

All of which got me thinking. . .
How often in life are we excited, full of anticipation, looking forward to something special, when suddenly, out of the blue, we get blindsided, we’re thrown a curve ball, we hit the proverbial bump in the road, we hit the wall? There’s a glitch that rears its ugly head in our best laid plans. Our assumptions for a complete follow-through are not what we had expected or anticipated.

Rather than savoring the smooth sailing toward a treat, a reward, a trip, a special event, a magnanimous moment we’re faced with an impending storm, a train wreck, a disaster, a detour. Our attentions shift, our guard gets up, plan B must be implemented, and we hunker down.
We wait.

And as it so happens with the worst of storms–the rains fall, the clouds lighten, the winds shift, the energies exhaust and the dangers pass.
With or without repercussions.
At which time we emerge bleary eyed, nerves shaken, but resolve in tact.
We’re ready to proceed, to continue, forward.
Maybe we have to pick up a few pieces along the way, maybe our plans are delayed. . .
yet nevertheless our eyes remain fixed. . .fixed on our hopes and dreams which remain down the road where we had yearned to travel in the first place.

So on this new morning to this new week, may you keep your eyes on the prize. . .
whatever that prize may be for you. . .
May you remain prepared for what life may throw in the middle of your travels
And may you remember that we all have stormy weather at some point in our lives
but that the storms will always, eventually, pass. . .