“and when my life is over….”

“Where there is love there is life.”
Mahatma Gandhi


(coconut palms at The Breakers, Palm Beach / Julie Cook / 2017)

There are days when suddenly, for no apparent reason…
a song, a thought, a memory
pops into the forefront of consciousness.

While we are often left wondering why…from whence, from where and for what?

Sometimes… the whys are not to be understood.

My life is currently a herky jerky roller coaster full of emotions…
The days are punctuated by smiles and accented by endless tears.
Wandering about mostly lost.

And then a song from the recesses of time percolates to the current..
bridging a time that was to the time which is now…
That a random tune from a different season
triggers a memory, a feeling, a thought…
existing now to help assuage the current moment….

“A Song For You”

I’ve been so many places in my life and time
I’ve sung a lot of songs, I’ve made some bad rhymes
I’ve acted out my love on stages
With 10,000 people watching
But we’re alone now and I’m singing this song to you

I know your image of me is what I hope to be
I treated you unkindly, but darling can’t you see
There’s no one more important to me
Darling can’t you please see through me
‘Cause we’re alone now and I’m singing this song to you

You taught me precious secrets
Of the truth, withholding nothing
You came out in front and I was hiding
But now, I’m so much better
And if my words don’t come together
Listen to the melody, ’cause my love’s in there hiding

I love you in a place where there’s no space and time
I love you for my life, you are a friend of mine
And when my life is over
Remember when we were together
We were alone and I was singing this song to you

But I love you in a place where there’s no space and time
I love you for my life, you are a friend of mine
And when my life is over
Remember when we were together
We were alone and I was singing this song for you
We were alone and I was singing this song for you
We were alone and I was singing my song
Singing this song for you

the sippy spoons

“I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in
and loved and where all your yesteryears are buried deep,
leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can.
Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better
hour because it is dead.
Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones,
while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance.”

Beryl Markham


(my grandmother’s silver sippy spoons / Julie Cook /2017)

Our trip to West Palm Beach was long, short, sad and wrenching.
653 miles spent driving down on a Friday…
only to then turn around and drive it all back again on a Monday.

It took about 10 hours, with only one quick stop for gas.
Coupled by a constant flow of bumper to bumper traffic hurling itself,
as if lemmings on some odd unknown mission, to an unforeseen southward destination.

We drove and we drove to what seemed to be the ends of the earth…
but that would have been Key West and that would have required more time with
more stops than our backsides would allow.

The color of the sky changes when one is traveling so far south—
It goes from the more familiar north Georgia’s typical hazy blue sky,
to a faint veiled gauzy cloudy azure blue…
Maybe it’s because the land lays so flat, punctuated only by pencil thin palms
as the soil is more white sand than dirt…
and with the sun so intense, light easily reflects back upon itself.

The heat of day does not dissipate with the waning of a day as it does at home.
It doesn’t back off when the sun finally sets, providing that long awaited
respite of comfort.
There is actually a tremendous heaviness that engulfs one’s whole being…
this being due to the overtly high humidity which makes breathing nearly
impossible.
And I thought our humidity was bad.

Moving from air conditioned buildings, which is essential to survival,
out to the oppressive heat and unrelenting sun leaves glasses fogged over
and skin and clothing feeling sticky and oddly wet even before one has had
proper chance to sufficiently break a true sweat.

This is the place Martha called home for the past 30 years.
A far cry from the years spent in Alexandria, Virginia during the early years of
her marriage.

I now understood why…for despite the apparently tropical beauty,
Martha would always protest…
“no no, let me just come up there”…
And because of that one fact, of her always wanting to come to us as she
would always prefer to venture north,
this was our first visit to West Palm Beach.

Martha would drive or fly up several times during the
year, staying for a couple of weeks at a time,
back to state she still considered home…
or more specifically near the city of her birth and raising….
Atlanta.

I can’t really say all that I should or would like to at this point
about all of this…not yet.
Having lost three of the most important people in my life in the past six months
has simply taken its toll…
As processing the emotions, memories and feelings of such emptiness
will take some time.

One by one… the supports and shorings are now gone…
Those that helped to hold up the life I had always known…
This is part of the transition where I become the shoring to others…
a transition that denotes change, loss, growth and new…
all rolled uncomfortably into one.

My cousin, Martha’s adopted daughter,
had asked that I come to the house the day following the funeral
to see what if anything I would like to carry back home with me.

Martha was an avid antique collector…
and her collections were eclectic at best…
old antique Papier-mâché halloween decorations with a proclivity for pumpkins.
North Carolina’s famous family of folk art pottery, the Meader’s ugly jugs,
along with the primitive pottery of Georgia’s Marie Rogers.
The Ohio Longaberger baskets numbering in the hundreds…
to early vintage RCA radio dogs..
all the way down to antique turkeys of every size and shape.

I was really overwhelmed when we walked into the house and actually saw
the level to which some of the “collecting” had spiraled.
Her house not equipped for the excessive spillover.

My cousin immediately asked if I would like Martha’s sterling silver
flatware set.

Once was a time, long long ago, when every young bride
looked to building her proper entertaining set of silverware.
Receiving the coveted wedding gifts of silver pieces was as common
as the throwing of rice…
That being a particular pattern of sterling silver complete with
utensils and serving pieces.
Everything from teaspoons to seafood forks to butter knives….
As that now all seems to be for a time that was more civilized than
our own today.

But already having my mother’s and great aunt’s sets…and truth be told,
as my world shrinks, entertaining and cooking is now not nearly what it once was,
I tried to instill the importance of her keeping the monogramed set for both her
and her own daughter.

But when she opened the dusty old silver chest, my eyes locked immediately on the
well tarnished bundle of silver drink spoons / straws…
or what we had always referred to as sippy straws or spoons, depending on who
was using them.

While growing up, whenever we visited my grandmother,
we were always served a tall glass of icy cold
Coca Cola complete with a silver sippy straw.

Coke never tasted so good as when sipped through an elegant silver straw.
It provided a seemingly civilized air of savoring verses gulping and quaffing.
Probably Mimi’s way of getting us to slow down, enjoying and not wasting…
as she was a woman who lived during a time when waste was indeed considered sinful.

The straws were always kept in a certain drawer in my grandmother’s kitchen…
inside the 1920s small Atlanta Buckhead home.
A pale wooden light green kitchen cabinet, I can still see clearly in my mind’s eye,
was where the straws, always shiny and polished to perfection, were stored.

In 1989, when my grandmother passed away, Martha and I were the only two left to
the task of sorting and emptying the house for market.
She got the straws.
I had always wanted just one…
just one to remember.

Over the years I’d see other straws at various antique markets and silver stores,
always thinking I’d buy myself just one,
but in the end deciding it just wouldn’t be the same…

It wouldn’t be one of the straws I’d gleefully
retrieve out of the pale green drawer, delightfully anticipating plunging
it into my frosty glass of brown fizzy liquid…
as I’d gently clench the straw between my front teeth,
feeling the cold drawn liquid being pulled up into a parched waiting mouth…
So refreshing because Mimi’s house, back in those days, was not air conditioned…
an icy cold Coke, on a hot Georgia summer’s afternoon,
seemed like the greatest treat a child could have been given…

I asked my cousin if I could have the straws.

She was 10 years younger than I was and did not have the same fond memories
from time spent with our grandmother.
Being so much younger and living so far away, never afforded her much time to
bond with the long widowed woman with the poodles there in Atlanta as I had.

I had been the only grandchild for many years and we only lived 10 minutes away.
Plus Mimi was not a warm and fuzzy grandmother like others and what warmness
there was, faded with her mind as the dementia grew more and more.

My grandmother had lived a hard life.
A life that she had forged alone for herself and her two daughters during
a depression and a World War as a widowed woman…
long before it was common for women to own a business and work outside of
the home.
Both of which she did very successfully for most of her adult life.

My cousin was more than happy to give me the straws and seemed almost
sad that I really didn’t want to take much more as her task is now daunting
as she figures out what to do with years of accumulated treasured stuff.

This as I still have my own years of stuff to sort through at Dad’s.
As both cousins are now left to the task of picking through,
as well as picking up, the pieces—
all of what stays and all of what goes.

My cousin tells me that she wants to sell the house, eventually moving northward
where there are actually seasons, hills and trees…
verses living where the sky meets the ocean coupled by the
oppressive heat, humidity, and an azure blue sky….

I think I’ll polish my straws and then do something I haven’t done in years…
I’ll pour myself a Coke, a real Coke…bottle only mind you,
over a tall glass of ice…and I’ll plunge a straw deep down into the glass of
cold fizzy liquid as I draw up the memories of lives once known but always loved.

Moving on, to the next

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times.
But that is not for them to decide.
All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
J.R.R. Tolkien


(the mounded rocks to help break the storm waves at The Breakers Hotel /
Palm Beach, FL / Julie Cook / 2017)

“It was too perfect to last,’
so I am tempted to say of our marriage.
But it can be meant in two ways.
It may be grimly pessimistic—
as if God no sooner saw two of His creatures happy than He stopped it
(‘None of that here!’).
As if He were like the Hostess at the sherry-party who separates two guests
the moment they show signs of having got into a real conversation.

But it could also mean ‘This had reached its proper perfection.
This had become what it had in it to be.
Therefore of course it would not be prolonged.
‘As if God said,
‘Good; you have mastered that exercise.
I am very pleased with it.
And now you are ready to go on to the next.”

― C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

In that place of sheer isolation and utter vulnerability,
deep within the quagmire of mourning and sorrow of which we find ourselves
sinking helplessly into the quicksand of our losses and suffering…
we humans are fast and keen to denounce the omnipotent God..
we proclaim Him to be most cruel, sadistic and menacingly cold hearted.

For we are hurting for heaven’s sake….
can He, does He, not see…
does He not know…
or worse….
does He simply not care…??

As C.S Lewis reflects on the loss of his wife—
he, in such typical Lewis fashion, expresses the thoughts and feelings that
are our own…
that of our angst and misery culminating from the overwhelming painful experience
we all eventually experience from our living, death and loss…

As he sums it up nicely in one wonderful notion…

“Good; you have mastered that exercise.
I am very pleased with it.
And now you are ready to go on to the next.”

And so we are…ready to go on
on to the next….
to the next whatever…
the next whatever God has in store…
all the while nursing our wounded hearts,
we move on, by His Grace, to that which comes next…

(for a wonderful movie about Lewis, his marriage, the death of his wife due to cancer and how Lewis wrestles with God…see the 1993 movie Shadowlands staring Anthony Hopkins and Deborah Winger—a marvelous and timeless movie)

He will swallow up death forever

“There are no ‘if’s’ in God’s world.
And no places that are safer than other places.
The center of His will is our only safety–
let us pray that we may always know it!”

Corrie ten Boom


(ceiling portion of The Breakers Hotel, Palm Beach, FL / Julie Cook / 2017)

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,
of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.
And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.
Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.
It will be said on that day,
Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

Isaiah 25:6-9

God’s work

The spirit and the soul are two totally different organs:
one belongs to God, while the other belongs to man.
By whatever names one may call them,
they are completely distinct in substance.
The peril of the believer is to confuse the spirit for the soul and the soul
for the spirit,
and so be deceived into accepting the counterfeit of evil spirits
to the unsettling of God’s work.

Watchman Nee
March 8, 1933


(Gulf fritillary butterfly / Julie Cook / 2017)

God’s work…
that is what this is all about is it not?
That being this thing we call life….

Watchman Nee (1903-1972) was an ardent Chinese Christian Church leader.
He was also a profuse author.
I was first introduced to Watchman Nee and his books when I was in college
by a friend who was a bit older and had lived and weathered more of life than
I had up to that point.

Nee is not easy to read, for me at least,
In part because of the sheer depth of his faith.
as well as because much of his work spans the course of a century
that was full of great change.
It is as if one is reading the words of a mystic.
Deeply spiritual, deeply profound.

I have ebbed and flowed over the years with Nee.

Nee’s words have resurfaced recently in my life…
at a time when such words have not only been needed but most certainly
welcomed.

My road as of late has been difficult as I’ve watched my already small family
shrink even smaller. Losing the shoring piers to a heart that is being
battered and tested.

I remain consumed by what all it is taking to get dad’s life, post dad,
to a place of management.
The legal and financial aspect is simply daunting.

Add to the loss of dad, coupled by this organization and bureaucratic nightmare,
the untimely death of my aunt…a death seemingly so sudden.
Granted we knew she had been gravely ill,
despite the doctors saying “not to worry” give the meds time…”
As her body could simply no longer hang on.

My husband and I will be driving the 10 hour journey southward at the
end of the week in order to attend the memorial service.
We will remain for a few days sorting through what made Martha’s life her own.

On top of all the sorrow and frustration we are dealing with the early news of
becoming grandparents…as we worry over our son and daughter-n-law as they are
in the midst of job changes, long commutes and a bit of uncertainty.

So there is certainly a great deal of emotional overload…both up and down…
both good and bad.

That is why the words of those such a Nee are ever so important.

A wise friend of mine…
as I am fortunate in that I have many friends who are indeed wise,
recently shared with me his thoughts on my latest stand of sorrow and worry.
He told me that…
“Only when we realise that we can not do it all [alone]
(whatever the it might be in our lives)
we then cry out…
I believe God is so close to you at this time because you are crying out to him…”

I too believe that when we cry out, God draws ever closer despite our feelings
of isolation…
for it is in the isolation of loneliness…
when we are stripped bare of all distraction and false protection.

In 1949 when China became a Communist Nation, Nee was imprisoned—
He had refused to stop preaching, speaking, writing and sharing the Word of God.
A practice counter to all things communist.
An underlying theme in Communism is that it is important, if not essential,
to create false accusations in order to arrest, impression or even execute
those who speak Truth against the atheistic beliefs of the Communist state.

This was not an exception in the case of Nee.
He was falsely accused of crimes he never committed, arrested and sentenced to
spend what would be the last 20 years of his life in a forced hard labor camp.

His final words where found scribbled on a sheet of paper that had been tucked
beneath his prison cell pillow…

“Christ is the Son of God who died for the redemption of sinners and
resurrected after three days. This is the greatest truth in the universe.
I die because of my belief in Christ.”

Watchman Nee

So what we must come to understand, as hard as it often is, that this life
that we claim as our own, is not for our benefit and glory but rather for
that of God’s…it is for His work, and His alone…
as we learn that we both live and die because of Christ Jesus….

“The greatest advantage in knowing the difference between spirit and soul is in
perceiving the latent power of the soul and in understanding its falsification
of the power of the Holy Spirit.

Just last night I was reading what F. B. Meyer once said in a meeting shortly before
his earthly departure. Here is a section of it:
‘This is an amazing fact that never has there been so much spiritualism outside
the church of Christ as is found today…
Is it not factual that in the lower part of our human nature the stimulation of
the soul is quite prevailing?
Nowadays the atmosphere is so charged with the commotion of all kinds of counterfeit that the Lord seems to be calling the church to come to a higher ground.’
Today’s situation is perilous.
May we ‘prove all things; hold fast that which is good’ (1 Thess. 5:.21)
Amen”

Watchman Nee
March 8, 1933
(forward from The Latent Power of the Soul)

is enough ever enough?

Food for the body is not enough.
There must be food for the soul.

Dorothy Day

At first you think you are merely looking into a flower.
A bloom from a rose of sharon plant.
But upon further inspection, there happens to be a bumble bee deep inside, covered in sticky pollen.

And not only was there one pollen covered bumble bee, there were several…

It was as if the bees simply couldn’t get enough.
They were gorging on nectar while becoming completely covered in sticky pollen.
So much so that many of the bees had become lethargic.
So overtly satiated, that they were almost catatonic…
and yet they kept on with their quest of consumption…

Happily miserable with themselves.

And who among us has not gone after something equally tantalizing with a
similar gusto and vigor?
Gobbling up our fill until we can barely move, able to go no further…
as we are full, engorged and yet unable to push back, calling it quits…
Pressing on until we actually make ourselves sick…

Yet what if we sought God with a similar desire?
With an unabashed hunger…
seeking to fill the bottomless void of our hearts?
As we eventually bask, being happily full and
deeply satiated, in all that is of Him….

But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.
Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and
into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into
ruin and destruction.
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.
Some people, eager for money,
have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

But you, man of God,
flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love,
endurance and gentleness.
Fight the good fight of the faith.
Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made
your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus,
who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession,
I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame until the
appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ,
which God will bring about in his own time—God,
the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords,
who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light,
whom no one has seen or can see.
To him be honor and might forever. Amen.

1 Timothy 6:8-16

(al pollen ladend bumble bees in various Rose of Sharon blooms /
Julie Cook /2017)

abundance

Many a man curses the rain that falls upon his head,
and knows not that it brings abundance to drive away the hunger.

Saint Basil


(my tiny black Russian cherry tomatoes along with the gifts from a friend/ Julie Cook / 2017)

The Lord has been gracious.
He has given, without hesitation…to us,
His abundance…

Abundance which equates to infinite love..
yet have we been gracious in our thankfulness….

Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness
of heart, because of the abundance of all things,
therefore you shall serve
your enemies whom the Lord will send against you,
in hunger and thirst,
in nakedness, and lacking everything.
And he will put a yoke of iron on your neck until he has destroyed you.

Deuteronomy 28:47-48