What is Grace—I just keep having to ask

I have had to experience so much stupidity,
so many vices, so much error, so much nausea, disillusionment and sorrow,
just in order to become a child again and begin anew.
I had to experience despair, I had to sink to the greatest mental depths,
to thoughts of suicide, in order to experience grace.”

Hermann Hesse

“Extraordinary afflictions are not always the punishment of
extraordinary sins, but sometimes the trial of extraordinary graces.”

Matthew Henry


(a tiny bloom of a strawberry to be / Julie Cook /2015)

****Even though this is actually a post that I wrote 6 years ago,
the notion of Grace has never been far from my thoughts.
For you see, I am very much a product of Grace.

Over and over, or so it seems.

Merriam Webster defines grace as:
a:unmerited divine assistance given to humans for their regeneration or sanctification
b: a virtue coming from God
c: a state of sanctification enjoyed through divine assistance

And so here’s the thing about this “unmerited Divine assistance”-
it is a gift that is freely given.

It is neither earned nor bought.
And it pricks the most tender part of one’s soul.

It pricks the hard steely, yet false, façade and bravado we call self.

It breaks down the walls and the hardened heart while it fills
a sea of endless wounds.

A flood washes over us and we find ourselves terrified of letting
go and letting Grace transform us.

So why is it so hard to receive something so welcoming and healing?
The answer is beyond my soul—it is not something I can logically comprehend…
and maybe that’s the thing.

Grace is not logical.

Grace brings us to our knees…because we know we have not earned this
gift called Grace.
Quite the contrary.
We have done everything in our power to shun it and even repel it.
We bristle at such tender warmth while being too cold,
too hard, too lost to see the simple Truth.

For me it’s seems to have come in phases–
throughout this thing I call life.

Maybe it’s just a matter of me needing to be reminded…
reminded that maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t as accepting
of the initial gift as I needed to be….
For I still have kept a deep part of my wounds hidden.

Too ashamed, too hardened, too wounded to think
Grace would or could ever make me truly whole.

I’ve recently been reminded of this most tenderest of gifts.
It’s broken my heart…broken my façade..
and that’s just what Grace does…
it breaks us and then it heals us and then it makes us whole.

And thus we are each the better for Grace…

And so I want to thank my dearest of friends who recently offered me Grace…
Grace coupled by her own graciousness.
A gracious heart…reaching to a wounded heart.
It is a gift she has freely given me—
a freely given gift that was not nor ever has been deserved nor earned,
yet one that was freely and lovingly given…no strings, no penalties.
And it is within this most generous gift that I have been poignantly reminded me
that God is not yet finished with me and that He continues to want
me make me whole.
Love can and does heal a multiple of sin…

and now the post from 2015–

Do you know Grace?
Have you seen it out and about?
During your comings and your goings?
Have you ever been properly or formerly introduced?

I truly much doubt so…
As Grace is often quiet and demure.
It prefers to go rather unnoticed until it is called upon…
More shy than bold.
It is neither garish or loud.
Nor is it boisterous or showy.

What exactly is Grace you ask…

Grace is the second chance when all other chances have been used up.
Grace is the peace in the midst of the fierce raging storm.
Grace is acceptance when the world screams rejection.
Grace is forgiveness when the act has been intolerable.
Grace is hope when none had been previously offered.
Grace is mercy when judgement should be called for…
Grace is life when one actually deserves death…

It should be noted that Grace is not cheap.
For it cannot be bought nor sold.
It can not be bartered over or traded.
It cannot be taken or stolen…
For it is actually free—free to both you and me.

Yet this free Grace was once actually rather costly.
For that which is free today to both you and me, once cost God a great deal.

Think of this question…
Would you ever hand over your child…
Your only child, to be brutally tortured and murdered before your very eyes…
Just to be able to offer someone else their freedom?
I would think not.
Yet that is exactly what happened.

A price paid for the healing power of Grace.
A tremendous price that cost God so very much–
Yet it was a price He willingly paid out of a tremendous love for both you and me. . .
and it is because of that very Grace that I am here, writing you today…

“Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks’ wares.
The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin,
and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices.
Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury,
from which she showers blessings with generous hands,
without asking questions or fixing limits.
Grace without price; grace without cost!
The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid
in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing.
Since the cost was infinite, the possibilities of using and spending
it are infinite.
What would grace be if it were not cheap?…

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance,
baptism without church discipline,
Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession.
Cheap grace is grace without discipleship,
grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ,
living and incarnate.

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field;
for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has.
It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods.
It is the kingly rule of Christ,
for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble;
it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves
his nets and follows him.

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again,
the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow,
and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ.
It is costly because it costs a man his life,
and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.
It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner.
Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son:
“ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us.
Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear
a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us.
Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

simple and vulnerable… tiny and small

“He who carries God in his heart bears heaven with him
wherever he goes.”

St. Ignatius of Loyola


(julie cook / 2013)

While it is the loudest, the brightest and the biggest that currently vies desperately
for attention…

A culture dares to scream out to all who give ear…that bigger is better…
and that even bigger is better still…

It is a time when more equates to satisfaction and it is only in fullness where true
happiness will be found…

Yet it is also oddly a time when more is never truly enough…and the full
are never contently satiated…

It is a time of glaring sensory overload…
when even in sleep a brain is unable to find rest…

Yet Omnipotence continues to seek out the lowly,
capturing the attention of a world gone mad.

A reminder is currently proclaimed…
that it was but a baby who entered the world, humble and meek, who would
in turn, be King.

It was the simple and the vulnerable, the tiny and small, who stopped the world from
spinning…but for the briefest of moments.

Where have all those prophets of old now gone?
Those voices who foretold the glories of Salvation?

Where are those who defied the world while proclaiming both Hope and Peace?

Rest assured, we are told, they have not gone far from view.

They are still very much amongst us.
Walking tiny and small between the giants of this land

They are quieter than the oh so loud and prideful self-consumed…

They are the ones who stop, lingering long enough to listen…those who
will hear the baby’s cry while standing ever so still…

“Write:
I am Thrice Holy, and I detest the smallest sin.
I cannot love a soul which is stained with sin; but when it repents,
there is no limit to My generosity toward it.
My mercy embraces and justifies it.
With My mercy, I pursue sinners along all their paths,
and My Heart rejoices when they return to Me.
I forget the bitterness with which they fed My Heart and rejoice at their return.
Tell sinners that no one shall escape My Hand; if they run away from My Merciful Heart,
they will fall into My Just Hands.
Tell sinners that I am always waiting for them,
that I listen intently to the beating of their heart . . .
when will it beat for Me?”
St. Maria Faustina
excerpt from The Diary of St Maria Faustina

“Shortly before the outbreak of World War II, a simple, uneducated, young Polish nun receives
a special call.
Jesus tells her, “I am sending you with My mercy to the people of the whole world.
I do not want to punish mankind, but I desire to heal it,
pressing it to My merciful Heart.”

Jesus also tells her to record His message of mercy in a diary:
“You are the secretary of My Mercy. I have chosen you for that office in this and the next life.”
These words of Jesus are found in the Diary of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska,
which chronicles Sr. Faustina’s great experience of Divine Mercy in her soul and her mission
to share that mercy with the world.

In the Diary, this woman mystic’s childlike trust, simplicity,
and intimacy with Jesus will stir your heart and soul Her spiritual insights will
surprise and reward you.
“Only love has meaning,” she writes.
“It raises up our smallest actions into infinity.”
(The Catholic Company)

Sister Faustina was a young, uneducated nun in a convent of the Congregation of
Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Poland during the 1930s.
She came from a poor family that struggled during the years of World War I.
She had only three years of simple education,
so hers were the humblest tasks in the convent, usually in the kitchen or garden.
However, she received extraordinary revelations — or messages — from our Lord Jesus.
Jesus asked Sr. Faustina to record these experiences, which she compiled into notebooks.
These notebooks are known today as the Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska,
and the words contained within are God’s loving message of Divine Mercy.

“Though the Divine Mercy message is not new to the teachings of the Church,
Sr. Faustina’s Diary sparked a great movement,
and a strong and significant focus on the mercy of Christ.
Saint John Paul II canonized Sr. Faustina in 2000 making her the
“first saint of the new millennium.”
Speaking of Sr. Faustina and the importance of the message contained in her Diary,
the Pope calls her “the great apostle of Divine Mercy in our time.”
thedivinemercy.org

out of sync

This search for happiness can knock us out of sync with God. As the life of Jesus makes clear, keeping in sync with God is about obedience. Any other pursuit will get in the way.
Franklin Graham

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(the grackles are back / Julie Cook / 2015)

A common visitor to the yard, in the quiet dull grey winter months, is the common grackle.
A lanky gregarious bird who reminds one of that over the top boisterous relative who comes periodically to visit, wreaking havoc on one’s usually quiet, calm and orderly world.
The grackles swoop in by the hundreds, like a giant black undulating cloud, shape shifting against th bleak cold backdrop of sky.
Loud,
noisy,
obnoxious. . .

So imagine my confusion today when that oh so familiar black squawky loud cloud of winter descended on the yard in the middle of a hot, sweltering August morning.
Hummmm. . .

They swooped in by the hundreds—darting through the early morning sprinklers spraying a desperately thirsty lawn. They chased the regular birds from the feeders. They pecked and groused at the mourning doves. They filled the trees like a million black frigidity leaves. They devoured the stale bread I’d thrown out for the crows. Even the rabbits ran for cover when the shifting black cloud landed, blanketing the lawn like a heavy black curtain.
The silent genteel Southern morning calm now punctuated with the herky jerky jabbering din of chaos.

As to why this unseasonal visitation, I can’t exactly say—but I will say that it has brought a bit of lively vigor to this otherwise oppressively hot, dog day, sensory dulling, summer’s end. . .
I can’t help but feel a bit out of sync with this topsy turvy season business and wonder what, or more precisely who, just might show up next. . . .

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Gentle, soft and sweet

“Oh! that gentleness! how far more potent is it than force!”
― Charlotte Brontë

Just as in earthly life lovers long for the moment when they are able to breathe forth their love for each other, to let their souls blend in a soft whisper, so the mystic longs for the moment when in prayer he can, as it were, creep into God.
Soren Kierkegaard

“You might say, ‘Can’t we have a more human Christianity, without the cross, without Jesus, without stripping ourselves?’ In this way we’d become pastry-shop Christians, like a pretty cake and nice sweet things. Pretty, but not true Christians.”
Pope Francis

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(the tender sweet flowers emerging from what was overtly pruned brown barren sticks / Julie Cook / 2014)

In this often brash, over the top, garish and loud life of ours, it is ever important to still seek the gentle, the soft and the sweet of life. Sometimes it as if we forget that there is anything other than the glaring din of heaviness which wraps itself around us like a thick woolen blanket–itchy and scratchy and nearly suffocating.

That which is tender and gentle often seems bound to be crushed by life’s heavy boot.
That which is soft fearfully may soon grow coarse and worn by life’s rough ride.
That which is sweet is in jeopardy of being drowned out by life’s harsh constant whir.
Transforming our bright eyes and light step to a lifeless glaze and mindless trudge through a joyless journey.

Yet. . .
Take courage you who grow weary of life’s heaviness.
That which speaks to your soul must be sought.
Serenity is not found in bravado.
Peace is not found in chaos.
Ode to the tender and gentle souls who move mountains

Be mindful that in the sweet soft gentleness lies the depth of strength and tenacity.
For it was a mere boy who slew a giant and grew to be a king.
For it was a 5 foot little nun who tended to the sick and dying only to become a saint.
For it was a pacifist hindu who turned an entire world upside down.
For it was a newborn infant who made kings quake with fear.

Gentle, soft and sweet reach inward, lifting upward.
Soothing and comforting sweeps toward the hardened heart.
Bending the will until it succumbs to Grace.

Meet the neighbors….

They are loud, mean, obnoxious, big, dirty. . . plus they smell really really bad. . . and worst of all— they live right across the street. . .

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When we first bought this property almost 15 years ago, this entire area had once been part of a large farm. Our property had actually once been pasture land, as was the property next door, as our neighbor still actually maintains it as a farm and pasture for her horses. The land across the street was still a fenced off, rather large, pasture full of cows. The owners did not live on the the property but would drive out, checking on the cows at least twice a day, bringing in hay or water as needed.

The cows really never bothered us except for the occasional loud mooing. The truly big annoyance was the influx of flies we’d notice during the summer months or if the wind was out of the Northwest, an unpleasant aroma would waft our way with the worst being when the owners would decide to fertilize the field with chicken manure—let’s just say outdoor garden parties would not be advisable.

All in all however, life with cows as neighbors was ok. Then one day, about two years ago, the owner of the property, an older man, sadly passed away. All that remained was his grown special needs son. The land then passed on to the next of kin. This is when things took a big turn in direction.

One day a big cattle truck showed up and moved all the cows away. “Hummm” we wondered. “Were the new owners going to build on the property or perhaps, Heaven’s forbid, attempt selling it to some big wig real-estate developer?!” we mused to ourselves feeling all a bit hopeless. It wasn’t long until we discovered who, or actually what, was to be our new neighbors. . .

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Bulls.
And not just any bulls, these were the “wood” bulls. Wood bulls you ask? Yes, a most unique species indeed.

It seems that living out of the city limits as we do, there is indeed a hodge podge of what goes on with the county property. There are subdivisions, a retirement facility, farms, individual homes such as ours, plus a multi million dollar golf club and neighborhood all within 3 miles of where we live.

There is also some property nestled in between some beautiful homes and the golf course that is a fenced off wooded piece of property. On this property of woods lived a bunch of bulls and steers. I would drive by these animals always on my way to and from work, feeling so sorry for these bulls as they were not living on a nice pasture, but rather in the midsts of overgrown woods. Who can graze in the woods for heavens sake?! Even this city girl knows a cow needs open space and grass!

Imagine my surprise when the “wood” bulls were unloaded across the street. They now had their pasture I had so wished for them–it just happened to now be directly across from my house! Imagine 30 to 40 giant, all male, very male, bulls living together in one pasture. There is a great deal of vying for being king bull. Are you familiar with rocky mountain oysters? Lets just say that I understand the comparison now to huge mountains.

Loud groaning and moaning goes on at all times of the day and night. Dirt is kicked up into a frenzy. Horns clash and rattle together as domination is sought in the pecking order of life between these wood bulls.

The owners are not the best keepers of these animals. The fence is piece meal and old, patched together here and there with wire. Many a time has a bull knocked through the fence. Do you know what it is like to be driving along a road, minding your own business, when suddenly you are front bumper to head with a massive angry bull? Do you know what it is like to suddenly look out your window only to see 5 gigantic 500 pound animals in your yard pawing at what use to be grass?

How many times have people up and down this road called 911.
operator: “Hello 911, what’s your emergency?”
caller: “Uh there is a bull in the road”
operator: “excuse me?”
caller: “yeah a bull and someone is going to get killed it it’s not moved out of the road”
Enter the local sheriff.
How many local sheriffs does it take to move 1 bull?
One in a car behind the bull and two out walking, waving their arms in front of the bull praying the owners show up soon.

We had to take quick action by putting up a fence along the front of our property. So far it has kept out the unwelcomed guests. I can’t tell you how many people would stop at our door at all hours of the night and day to report that “our” bulls were out in the road—again. It got to a point that I taped a sign by our front door stating that we did not own the bulls nor did we know their owners name.

But I confess–I do feel sorry for these animals. I have discovered that they are rodeo bulls. They are used in the small circuit rodeos that are held in this, as well as, neighboring counties. Their pasture is not fertilized and is full of weeds, the fence is a piece of crap, and there is no naturally occurring water on the property so the owners must bring in massive quantities of water that I don’t think is nearly often enough in the summer months.

So for now, I am learning to tolerate my neighbors while maintaing a healthy respect–all as my empathy towards these creatures continues to grow. . . however my biggest and latest concern is no longer the wood bulls but rather who in the heck has gone and gotten a rooster?! You only think those things crow just in the morning. . . there’s just something to be said for ordinances!

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