choosing the the gift wisely…..

“A wise lover values not so much the gift of the lover
as the love of the giver.”

Thomas à Kempis


(the tiniest treasure found amongst the debris / Julie Cook / 2017)

Then Daniel answered and said before the king, “Keep your gifts for yourself or give your rewards to someone else.” Daniel 5:17
Daniels friends let it be known that the God of heaven was their King.
Daniel himself kept his windows open and prayed in defiance of a king’s decree.
Later in his life, Daniel refused the king’s gifts because his faithfulness
to God didn’t have a price.
He refused to be bought.
By gifts we mean the goodies of the world that stand in the way of the
greatness of God’s kingdom.
They come in any form of fame, fortune,
or promotion promised by getting along with the world.
Daniels life didn’t have a price tag.
His services weren’t for sale.
No amount of worldly gifts for kingly accolades could deter him from his mission.
He was a man of deep conviction, dedicated commitment, and undeniable courage;
the grace of heaven was far more important to him than gifts of men.”

Living Among Lions; How To Thrive Like Daniel In Today’s Babylon.
David and Jason Benham

I really do have a great deal of disdain for this time of year.
I’ve written about it before.
Not because it is Christmas mind you, but rather because it is Christmas.

Huh??

Yes, I know, you probably don’t understand that last bit of redundancy.
Yet I would lay money that many of you actually do.

Yesterday a title to a post from a wonderful blog I follow,
jumped out at me from within a computer screen

“Keep your gifts”

Keep Your Gifts

There was a sense of defiance in the title that I found to be almost
exhilarating….
“Exactly!!” I practically shouted as I recalled just how much
I’ve been fretting the ticking of the impending season’s gift giving time clock.

I’m having a really hard time getting “into the spirit of the season….”

Be it this balmy weather, the heaviness of loss, the overwhelming worrisomeness
over this world of ours or the madness that is currently besetting our nation…

Ho hum is apparently beating out Ho, Ho, Ho….

Our family has drastically declined this past year,
leaving more names than I care to actually acknowledge as MIA from our
Christmas list.
Yet there are those who remain who do deserve a little something
under the tree…this as we look forward to a family addition come February.

But within all of that…those who are missing, the list of names, the cards,
the baking, the cleaning, the shopping, the wrapping, the working, the tree….
which by the way I have no idea when it’ll go up as it seems like it was just
June when my husband and son finally manhandled the thing
down to the basement.
And whereas it takes two to haul the blasted heavy thing
anywhere it must go, I in turn must wait upon strong abled bodies to
happen by my door in order to assist….yet I digress….

So in a nutshell this is a season of tremendous expectation.

And not in the notion of expectant as in the anticipation of waiting but rather
in a societal demand of what is expected.

There are those who fret how they will afford a gift for those they love.
There are those unable to physically seek out a gift for those they love.
There are those who will be away from those they love.
There are those who are simply alone with no one to love,
as they find this time of year so very difficult.
And there are those who go overboard while there are those who take
the path of Scrooge.

It’s just really gotten to be so much more than it was ever meant to be.
And I wonder when it will all finally explode, taking most of society with it.

So it is good, perhaps even life saving, to be reminded that Christmas
is not what the world keeps telling us it is…

As this world and her culture gods and the gods of commercialism and materialism
call out to us like a haunting and enticing siren…
singing a luring and hypnotic call coming from within a television,
or from the myriad of computer popups, from the endless shiny billboards
bedecking the roadways, to the festive sounds from the radio or the
the endless sea of periodicals and catalogs…
all singing the song of falsehood, greed and emptiness.

The quote from the book Living Among Lions, which I must confess I did just order,
sums all of this up so wonderfully—-Daniel offered us the best example—
“keep your gifts or give them to someone else….”
because Daniel neither needed nor wanted these earthly gifts offered by man.

Simply put, Daniel’s gift was God and God alone.

So as you peruse those catalogs and fight the endless throngs at the mall,
or sit glassy eyed and glazed over while staring at the computer as you endlessly
surf and search for that which is to be deemed special and perfect….
all the while as those credit card totals rise and those debit card totals shrink….
be mindful that nothing bought will ever fill the need of both the heart and soul.

For all things bought will eventually break, be outgrown, fade, get lost, or become
quickly outdated.

For the only true “gift” that really matters to any of us is the priceless
gift of Salvation…
Found in a lonely little corner of the world in a forgotten time and place…

In all of my years of service to my Lord,
I have discovered a truth that has never failed and has never been compromised.
That truth is that it is beyond the realm of possibilities that one has the ability
to out give God.
Even if I give the whole of my worth to Him,
He will find a way to give back to me much more than I gave.

Charles H. Spurgeon

the underdog who wants its Sunday’s back

But I will go down with this ship
And I won’t put my hands up and surrender
There will be no white flag above my door
I’m in love and always will be..
.

White Flag lyrics by Dido

The great danger for family life,
in the midst of any society whose idols are pleasure, comfort and independence,
lies in the fact that people close their hearts and become selfish.

Pope John Paul II


(Alice, our grand-dog, is not an underdog necessarily, rather a very much loved dog
/ Julie Cook / 2017)

I have always been a person who likes to pull for the underdog…
that team, group or individual who has the odds stacked against them, him or her.

Maybe that’s because, as a wife and mother, I have often felt my brood has
at times fallen into the category of the underdog.

Those who stare from the bottom of the barrel upward at those perceived to be bigger,
better, brighter, smarter, richer, luckier, more successful, more this and more that.
As the bottom is pitted against the upper—
with the odds never being good or favorable.

Maybe it’s that little college team that has no chance playing against that top
ranked huge opponent but who must play anyway…all in order to bring much needed
revenue in to their less advantaged school.

They are out coached, out weighed, out numbered and out financed..
To play is a risk both physically as well as mentally…but nonetheless,
play they do.

They go forward despite the odds.
The roll up their sleeves despite the inevitable.
They hold their heads up knowing they will soon be knocked down.

Yet there is never shame in trying and holding ones ground.

And so when I read the latest post, of which I have provided the link…
a post from a delightful blog I follow—
a blog that doesn’t post often, but when there is a post, it is usually very profound
and or powerful….
I was reminded again of why I like an underdog….

The blogger and family wouldn’t dare consider themselves profound or powerful—
for theirs is a simple sort of life but one that possesses a deep
rooted spiritual faith.
They are a Catholic family living in the shadows of Notre Dame…
who are just one more link in the chain of defenders of this collective
Christian faith of ours….

Thoughts from the side of the House…..

America Implodes on “Black Friday”…. Meanwhile, POLAND Leads the Way Towards Sanity

This post captured my feelings exactly of how I feel not only about Black Friday
but how I feel as to how America, along with most of Western Civilization, has turned
Christmas into something totally unrecognizable.

And maybe that has been the goal all along.
No longer is it Christmas as we thought we knew Christmas…
but rather it is a “winter” moment, or if in the Southern Hemisphere,
it is a “summer” moment…a moment that just so happens to have copious gift
giving attached.

And just when we thought the world had gone mad with all things materialistic
and secular… in steps the often mocked, maligned and overlooked nation of Poland.

I have written about Poland before, for various reasons.

I don’t think many of us living in this Western Civilization of ours actually
realizes the debt of gratitude we truly owe to Poland.

Poland for well over 1000 years has stood on the defining line between
Western Civilization and all sorts of barbarism, communism, socialism, Nazism, totalitarianism and now secularism.
For every ‘ism’ out there—Poland has stood against it as the defining line
of right verses wrong.

Poland was the line between the Mongols, the Saracens, the Nazis and the Communists…
just to name but a few of the invading hordes whose sites were always set on
freedom and democracy.

But Poland has said “NO!” time and time again,
even at the greatest cost to herself and her people.

She sacrificed herself more times than not…and yet was the butt of
every American’s jokes in the late 60’s and 70’s…
“how many Pollocks does it take to unscrew a light bulb?”
You remember the jokes.
Even Archie Bunker of All in the Family fame helped fuel the ridiculing fires.

Yet it is to Poland and her people who those of us enjoying life in the Western World
owe a great deal of gratitude to…
gratitude for the very freedoms we each enjoy today as it was Poland who stood on the
defending line of “us verses them” for over 1000 years.

Selflessness verses the often sought self preservation

She has even disappeared off the map more than once when she was gobbled up by
usurpers who ate the nation and her people only to later spit them back out.
A sacrifice made and given as that has been her lot and her role.

When we think of mighty nations, Poland does not come to mind.

Yet it was in Poland that Hitler had the majority of his Death Camps.
And it was Poland who was sacrificed to Stalin by Roosevelt.
And it was Poland who stood up to the mighty USSR.

And it is now Poland who wants her Sundays back.

Sundays back you ask…???

Sundays yes…because out of all the nations, Poland is still considered to
be a decisively Christian nation.

No other nation is considered such—not even
France, Ireland or Italy…as most of the the West, along with most of North America,
has fallen to the god of all things secular.

Here in the West, we have gotten quite accustomed to living life 24 /7
Meaning we can go, do, buy, see whatever it is we want on any given
single day of the week.

It use to not be that way.

Sunday was the sabbath….
It still is but most folks have forgotten that little fact.

Most everything was closed in observance of the Sabbath.
People were off from work, they would attend church, they would spend time
visiting, eating together, being a family together….

In the West we had what was known as blue laws—laws that restricted certain
activities on Sundays as Sunday was to be a day of Christian religious observation.
Malls were closed, banks and the Post offices were closed, many stores were closed,
bars were closed, most restaurants were closed, the sale of beer, wine and liquor was prohibited…on and on it went.

Then that all changed.
For a myriad of reasons— profits, selfish wants, greed…
The notion of wanting and having when and how one wanted things took precedence.
Laws were changed.

But Poland wants to see all of that changed…reversed back to Sunday being a day of
reverence, a Sabbath, a day for family….
“Just this week the lower house of the Polish parliament passed a bill to phase out unnecessary consumer spending on Sundays.
The law would curtail most shopping in order to allow the Polish people
to spend time with their families.”

Once again, Poland, that underdog of nations, demonstrates that despite being small
and considered by others as less than….no one will ever say that Poland is afraid
to stand up against what she perceives to be wrong,
standing even that means she stands alone for what is right…..

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all
kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven,
for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew 5:10-12

It’s time to think

“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking.
It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”

― Albert Einstein


(the sun hides behind the weed stalk / Julie Cook / 2017)

Notice how Einstein said “the world as we have created it…”
He meant man….
He did not say, nor did he intend to say, that it was God who had been doing the creating….not God, but man.

For it is a world very much which man has indeed created…ever since that
fateful day in a now sealed garden…
Very much a pandora’s box sort of world—as all manner of things, both good and bad,
have been unleashed…..

And it is with that notion that several thoughts have been coming to light over
the last week or so…as time has allowed for such thoughts and tidbits, if you will,
to percolate, fester or ferment in this mind of mine….

Firstly the other day, I read a comment by a young gal on the site of a fellow blogger,
who happened to be a young lady of color.
I couldn’t tell but guessed that her feelings about Christians and or Christianity
was a bit ambivalent to actually being somewhat hostile as the tone in which
she wrote / spoke rung of mixed signals, mixed messages and outright
hypocrisy regarding Christians / Christianity and the current witnessing of the
whole Black Friday consumerism mayhem she had been seeing, as it sounded as if
it had seen as a bit up and personal—
All of which, if the truth be told, has sadly become the notable marker
to the this whole holiday season—
never mind that it use to the the lighting of an Advent candle.

Somehow the lighting of a candle verses being the first in line for a door buster
goodie just doesn’t seem to ring of the same sense of importance.

This young woman sees it as if ‘they speak of all things love and acceptance
but act like hungry crazy sharks who’d punch a fellow human being in the face
over the last door buster flat screen TV…

ahh humanity……

She went on about sharing the Thanksgiving holiday with a Middle Eastern friend who
was Muslim, along with the friend’s entire family. And that she found them
(the friend and friend’s family) to be warm, gracious and hospitable which was a
stark contrast to what she presumed to be the Christian hate of all things Muslim….

Would it help any if I defended “us” by saying we’re not suppose to be calling it
Christmas in the first place….but rather ‘winter holiday’… or some other similar generic winter mumbo jumbo…
a time that just so happens to be earmarked as a time of over the top giving????

How are we to help the fact that the savvy marketeers of all things materialistic
have turned Christmas gift giving into some sort of high end art of a feeding frenzy….

And therein lies much of our trouble—
we have allowed this to grow out of control by playing right into the middle
of it all.

And secondly, I don’t recall it being a Christian mantra that “we hate Muslims”…

But either way, this young lady obviously had been given some sort of bad vibes in
order for her to “feel” this level of resentment for Christians and Christianity….
because I don’t think she just pulled all of this out of thin air…

As in what kind of Christians / Christianity has she been witnessing???

The other thing that has been resonating with me as of late is the fact that
there is evil in the world.
I’m talking real serious evil.

I bring this up because evil is something that has always been
at the forefront of my relationship with God as Father and Christ as Savior….
As in I’ve always known that the devil is real and there is a raging spiritual
war all around us…and it was Christ who went to hell to do battle
over our very salvation.

I just think we the faithful often prefer to down play the real ugliness of evil….
except only when it’s convenient or practical—as in ‘that violent act was so evil’…
never mind the guy punching the other guy in the face on Black Friday at the mall
as also being an evil act…it just wasn’t “as” evil as we like to define our evils.

We tend to gloss over it, him, whatever…
I think in part because it’s a topic we don’t much like to think about nor do we
consider it a tasteful topic…preferring to think of Flip Wilson and Geraldine
“the devil made me do it” sort of nonsense…saving the sinister one and his
minions for Halloween.

So in the comfort and safety of our homes how much are we willing to
recognize such as really being real?
We tend to ignore or just push aside that which we don’t like to talk about because
gloom and doom and the Devil are not things we really think we need to talk about or address.

Those of us “Christian” bloggers, as much as we talk about what it is we
talk about…that being of faith and or witness, is all well and good but
I wonder if we are really reaching our target and or are we truly presenting our
case, testimony, witness or whatever it is we’re presenting as well as we should??

Oh we have our “friends” who read our words, offering their supportive “amens”,
and we even have our atheist “friends,” whom we’ve gotten to know over the years,
who we truly do like as we both simply seem to enjoy our daily or weekly tussle and arguments…

But what of our real message and target…the one with words and the one with actions?
The ones this young lady missed, or maybe didn’t miss and those things we’re afraid
to talk about??

Satan is slick.
Just ask Eve as she was engaged in conversation with a smooth talking serpent.

When Rio was about to host the Summer Olympics, I think it was 60 Minutes who had gone
to Rio to do a story about its darker side.

Rio is rife with poverty, crime and drugs.
That is a fact but a far cry from what the Olympic Committee or the Government
wanted anyone to see or realize as images of the Girl from Ipanema was to be the
focus and not what was going on in the slums just up the hill.

The reporter was granted an interview up in those slums with a drug lord.
Jabba the Hut came immediately to mind.
This large slimy looking man was surrounded by geeked out followers just waiting
for the next offered hit—he was more than creepy… he was downright evil.
His vantage point was one of looking directly down on those beautiful Brazilian beaches.

That man, I had no doubt, would put a bullet in your head so fast, if he felt one
inkling of betrayal…it would literally make your head spin before you fell over dead
as he was / is the type of person who does indeed scare me.

Those very cold unfeeling people who have no regard for human life.
Think Mafia and organized crime…think psychopaths like Charles Manson.

I’m currently reading the book A Very Expensive Poison,
The Assassination of Alexander Litvinenko and Putin’s War with the West

by Luke Harding.

If you don’t think there is real evil out and about—then you are living much too sheltered under your rock or much like my aunt, preferring the covering of sand
over your head. And if you think it is far removed from your safe little
corner of life, again you are sadly mistaken.

There is so much going on that the average human being really has no clue.

And much of it will simply manifest itself in the ugliness of greed, materialism and
entertainment that is so far removed from a Christian’s mindset but is consumed
mindlessly as we rationalize away any thought that it could actually be harmful
or dare we say it, evil.

And I don’t say this as some paranoid Henny Penny the sky is falling chicken running
about with hands to head wailing ‘oh woe is me.’

I think it is time that Christians really need to start thinking about what it is
that makes them, us, you, me…believers.
We need to figure out our faith and how that faith is to manifest itself to a world
rife with evil.
And anyone promising a happy life of pie in the sky is simply delusional and lying—
because being a Christian is so very much more.
It is to truly be at battle….as very real battle indeed.
And it is not a pretty battle.

Yet maybe the route you’ve taken is because you were raised as such and
that’s just how it is? A quiet simple go the Church on Sunday sort
of deal with that being that.
Maybe it is because you go to church on Sunday, maybe even on Wednesday night, and that makes it all good—as in you’re checked off for the week?

Maybe it’s because you are the typical and dying breed of WASP and that’s
just the history of how your life has always been…?

Maybe you throw money in the red kettle this time or year, give a little extra something
to those who cut your yard, your hair, carry your groceries, etc…and that’s
your humanitarian effort for the year?

Are you just living your life, doing your thing, while all the bad guys are out there,
over there and far removed as you rationalize you and yours are good to go
as those “others” out there are busy in the world of all things destructive
and evil?

I’m afraid itsjust not so simple.

And until we as Believers can figure that out—that we keep allowing the bad,
the Evil one, to get and keep that upper hand while we politely turn our backs….well
it certainly is more comfortable to be cozy in this kitchen of mine as I chat about such
and as I oddly find myself humming the Girl, or in my case the boy, from Ipanema….
all the while folks are still putting cold compresses on those black Friday beatings…

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous.
Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed,
for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Joshua 1:9

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

moral control

“The recovery of moral control and the return of spiritual order have
now become the indispensable conditions of human survival.
Christianity is the soul of Western civilization…
When the soul is gone, the body putrefies”

Christopher Dawson
1947 Gifford Lectures at Edinburgh University

IMG_2220
(coneflowers / Julie Cook / 2016)

Moral
and
control
two words that appear to send shivers up and down the spines of most 21st century individuals.

Moral seems to be a word that is out of step and out of time…
It is a word most modern day individuals don’t like to talk about or be reminded of…
as our culture embraces anything and everything other than moral.

Moral is equated with old school, back in the day, a puritanical society, buzz kills,
oh so passé, so not 21st century, limiting, no longer applicable, and simply put…
absolutely no fun.

Control is also a word our society seems to have a difficult time wrapping its mind and action around.
As control is just so…well, controlling.
And who in this modern world of our wants to be controlled??
No one, that’s who…
As to be controlled has all sorts of negative connotations…
And Lord knows, every sort of special interest group out there has spent its lifetime breaking out of anything to do with control or being controlled.

In 2012, Os Guinness identified a present-day mind-set that springs from what he called “a soft though decadent nihilism that devours tradition, destroys social cohesion, cheapens cultural standards, hollows moral convictions and in the years to come will produce its own dark harvest of social consequences.”
(except from God and Churchill / Jonathan Sandys & Wallace Henley /
Os Guinness, A Free People’s Suicide )

Turn on any television, watch any recent movie, listen to any current music, read any of the latest magazines, share in the caustic tweets of the latest rants and rages…
and it is becomes crystal clear that our society has allowed, and is currently allowing…
dare we say, encourages the decline if not the death, of any and all moral control.

For it seems as if our society is suffering from a terrible case of a strange ailment …

And it should be noted that we have actually been quite sickly with this curious malady for quite sometime…
and if the truth be truly told, this illness of ours may actually be near fatal…

Materialism,
hedonism,
absolutism,
egoism,
fatalism,
feminism,
individualism,
a cultural isolationism,
liberalism…

to name but a few of our more obvious ills of isms…

We have embraced these ism illnesses of ours with a frightening zeal,
relishing and basking in each and every last ailment…all before eagerly setting
our sights on new and more alluring decadently and oddly satiating ills…

In order to reverse this current obsession of the illnesses that plague us…
In order to reign in the current wild ride on the guaranteed collision course
with our own demise…
It would behoove all of us to reconsider two small words…

Moral…

Control…

The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber,
because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.
The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.
So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.
Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness,
not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.
Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ,
and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.

Romans 8:11-14

the simple difference

Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.
Winston Churchill

“Perhaps it takes a purer faith to praise God for unrealized blessings than for those we once enjoyed or those we enjoy now.”
― A.W. Tozer

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( a leaf dances along the wind, Cades Cove, TN /The Great Smokey Mountains National Park / Julie Cook / 2015)

Today was busy…
It was a day of cooking, preparing and sharing.
It was a day for an early Thanksgiving celebration… for one part of my husband’s family.
It was a day of reconciliations of sorts.
A day for some healing…between an elderly in-firmed father and two of his three grown children…of whom he had estranged himself from years ago.

Lives have been lived…as grandchildren have grown, as now great-grandchildren have grown as well…as time has, all too casually, been allowed to pass…
when it never should have been allowed pass,
for such a very long time in the first place…

The two now grown children had suffered grievously as children under the destructive blanket of abusive alcoholism–only to have suffered again years later as adults..
Odd how that cycle of hurt and pain seems to simply ebb and flow over the odd passage of time…

A small bridge was crossed today…and that was good.
One can never give back nor take back the words, the abuse, the pain, the embarrassment, the resentment and the grievous loss of place, time and years…and yet one can’t help but see the positive effort now taken in the writing of one small wrong in a sea of many wrongs—as it is the uplifting conscious admission of this one said wrong which is what now really seems to matter most.

And as I feel that a small bridge was indeed crossed today, it obviously will never erase or take away that which was…yet it does however bring a bit of peace to two sorrowfully long grieved hearts…

And as I silently stood back watching these tiny hopeful events unfolding during the course of this very cold yet sunny Sunday, resting gratefully in the idea and concept of thankfulness…my mind has not been far removed from the heavy thoughts of Paris and now of the black cloud which hangs heavy and low over Belgium…

I found myself pondering over the “us verses them” divide…that great crevasse which separates the sane and insane within the whole craziness of ISIS Islamic extremism and that of the rest of us…

…As I have labored racking my brain as to what it is that makes a person, or in this case an army of people, to be filled with such seething disregard for the gift of life and living…I have merely been left mystified and stymied–scratching my head in a totally overwhelming disbelief.

The recent pictures of that young woman flashing a familiar hiphop / rap hand sign, garbed in the hijab, who would later don a suicide vest, detonating herself in hopes of taking out as many law enforcement and civilians as possible, goes beyond the average human being’s comprehension.

What sets us apart from these mostly youthful members of an army of hate and destruction…?

Oh we hear the familiar bleeding excuses of disenfranchisement, of socioeconomic disadvantagement, the lack of schooling, the barriers of culture, language, religion, the inability to assimilate to a new country….etc, etc, etc…
…none of that holds water nor is a true paving stone filling the gulf between right and wrong, hate and love, murder and life….

And then it dawned on me—
As simple and perhaps even childlike that it may sound, the divide rests not in the amble abundance of vehement hate, as there is certainly plenty of that found in both words and deed, but rather the difference, the separation, is found in the lack of the simple ability to find and produce a true sense of heartfelt thankfulness.

It all boils down to the simple matter of hating verses gratitude and thankfulness.
–or rather the ability to offer genuine gratitude and thankfulness.

True genuine thankfulness…not the insane thankfulness to Allah that they all died, or all were blown up…but rather the genuine ability to feel real thankfulness which is found in the simplest of places and gestures.

Thankfulness and gratitude not for the materialism of life…not for the gathering of things, the loftiness of status of position, the greedy accumulation of wealth and prestige…but rather thankfulness for the simple and genuine gratitude of the heart…for the most simplest of pleasures—the pleasure of a smile, the thankfulness found in reunions, the gratitude for the bridging of gaps, the thankfulness for waking each day, the marveling in watching a leaf dance across the wind, the delight felt in a single touch, the joy felt in being alive on a cold but sunny November day…

And whereas all of the experts and the powers that be who continue sifting through and within the dust of the whys and hows…it really comes down to something as small and as tiny and as simple and seemingly insignificant as thankfulness and the ability to offer a true heartfelt “thank you” — which is the actual barrier, the true great divide between the us and the them…

Gratitude and thankfulness to, for and in something greater than ourselves…
to Something that revels in life not death, love not hate, freedom not imprisonment…
The gratitude in knowing that there is indeed a Creator who gives and a Savior who waits for us all in the midst of this ever growing turmoil…..

The LORD is my strength and my shield; My heart trusts in Him, and I am helped; Therefore my heart exults, And with my song I shall thank Him.
Psalm 28:7

Turning point

What most of all hinders heavenly consolation is that you are too slow in turning yourself to prayer.
Thomas a Kempis

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(detail of a pinecone / Julie Cook / 2014)

As a tale-end Baby Boomer and child of the Cold War, the Soviet Union, the USSR, The Federation of the Russian Republic or simply Mother Russia, has always been an uncomfortable shadow over my shoulder, just as it has for most everyone my age and older. The enigma known as Russia, who most graciously hosted the world last February for the Winter Olympics only to turn around and shock us all a few months following with the “invasion” of Ukraine, has remained a conundrum for the free world since the Russian Revolution of 1917 which gave way to birth of Communism.

When I was in high school, which seems to be many lifetimes ago, I had the good fortune of taking a Russian History course—with the most memorable experience being of my introduction to the writings of Alexander Solzhenitsyn. I had the good fortune of reading several of his books. . . One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, The Gulag Archipelago and Cancer Ward.

Now all these many years later I find myself drawn back to the writings and words of Solzhenitsyn, of which I find more prophetic than I had ever imagined.

For those of you unfamiliar with Solzhenitsyn, in a nutshell, he was a Russian soldier (WWII), Gulag prisoner (for nearly 10 years), writer and novelist, historian, Soviet dissident, Nobel Prize recipient and finally, again, Russian citizen.

As a life long member of the Russian Orthodox Church, Solzhenitsyn was guided by a deeply spiritual moral compass. He was a very loud and vocal opponent of Totalitarianism, of which expedited his forced exile from the Soviet Union, yet he could also be equally critical of the West and its obsession with Capitalism, Consumerism and Materialism. All of which reminds me of the chastisement the West often received from Pope John Paul II, as well as Mother Teresa—as perhaps those who have suffered more grievously under the Socialist and ultra Nationalistic Regime of the Nazis and then that of the Communist Soviets, have perhaps a clearer perspective of our often blind view of what we consider to be “the good life”

I am poignantly reminded of Solzhenitsyn, his words and wisdom as well wise counsel and rebukes of those who have witnessed first hand the sinister wiles and atrocities of Evil, particularly during this time of year as it seems the world always appears to crescendo to a heightened sense of madness–just as the holidays come into focus. I don’t know why that is except that as the world seems to not only witness an abundance of joy and goodwill, there seems to be an equal measure of evil and chaos. Perhaps it is because Christians are drawn to the birth of the Savior and Jews begin the celebration of the miracle of light and the rededication to the Second Temple– a time of a tremendous pull of people toward God—as it seems Evil must have its share of the pie by unleashing its part of unimaginable pain and suffering in order to create some sort of sadistic counter balance.

Perhaps our senses are on hyper drive this time of year as we keenly feel the highs of Joy and Wonder along with the bottomless pit of despair and suffering as they each roll in to one. These thoughts reverberate in my mind just as Sydney, Australia was held hostage Monday by a radical Islamist madman leaving 3 individuals, including the gunman, dead. Then on Tuesday, Pakistan witnessed an unimaginable attack on a school leaving 132 children and 9 adult staff members dead all at the hands of the Taliban.

We currently have a menacing cyber attack taking place at Sony as North Korea is suspected to be retaliating to the release of a tongue and cheek movie which sadly mocks an attempted assassination of an, albeit, unhinged world leader. Sometimes I think we, those of us in the West with our often sophomoric entertainment industry, have lost our sense of what is considered off limits or morally wrong when it comes to the exploitation of movie making and entertainment—but I suppose a moral compass would be needed in the first place in order to be reminded of such. . .

We have just marked the tragic anniversary of the Sandy Hook massacre as we continue reading headline after headline of local, national and global tragedies. Just as the world tries to come together in some sort of unity marking two very sacred holy times of the year as well as the secular merry making of Santa, Papa Noel and Kris Kringle’s arrival.

In reading Solzhenitsyn’s book Warning to the West, which is actually a brief composite and compendium of the texts to three separate addresses made in the US in the late 1970’s, it is startlingly frightening noting the parallels of then verses now. I am keenly reminded of the relevance of Solzhenitsyn’s words which were uttered almost 40 years ago as they could very well be spoken on the world stage today regarding today’s global state. I will leave you with a few pieces of his excerpted texts in order to ponder and ruminate the relevance and warnings which echo across our prosaic landscape as we wrestle to make sense of the tragic events which continue to unfold before our very eyes this holiday season. . .

“Is it possible or impossible to transmit the experience of those who have suffered to those who have yet to suffer? Can one part of humanity learn from the bitter experience of another or can it not? Is it possible or impossible to warn someone of danger?
How many witnesses have been sent to the West in the last sixty years? How may waves of immigrants? How many millions of persons? They are all here. You meet them every day. You know who they are: if not by their spiritual disorientation, their grief, their melancholy, then you can distinguish them by their accents or their external appearance. Coming from different countries, without consulting with one another, they have brought out exactly the same experience; They tell you exactly the same thing: they warn you of what is now taking place and of what has taken place in the past. But the proud skyscrapers stand on, jut into the sky, and say: It will never happen here. This will never come to us. It is not possible here.”

“In addition to the grave political situation in the world today, we are also witnessing the emergence of a crisis of unknown nature, one completely new, and entirely non-political. We are approaching a major turning point in world history, the the history of civilization. It has already been noted by specialists in various areas. I could compare it only with the turning from the Middle Ages to the modern era, a shift in our civilization. It is a juncture at which settled concepts suddenly become hazy, lose their precise contours, at which our familiar and commonly used words lose their meaning, become empty shells, and methods which have been reliable for many centuries no longer work. It’s the sort of turning point where the hierarchy of values which we have generated, and which we use to determine what is important to us and what causes our hearts to beat is starting to rock and may collapse.
These two crises, the political crisis of today’s world and the oncoming spiritual crisis, are occurring at the same time. It is our generation that will have to confront them. The leadership of your country, which is entering the third century of existence as a nation will perhaps have to bear a burden greater than ever before in American history. Your leaders will need profound intuition, spiritual foresight, high qualities of mind and soul. May God granted that in those times you will have at the helm personalities as great as those who rested your country . . .”

(excepts taken from a speech delivered in New York July 9, 1975, at a luncheon given by the AFL-CIO)