the gift of the miraculous

“There are many going afar to marvel at the heights of mountains,
the mighty waves of the sea, the long courses of great rivers,
the vastness of the ocean, the movements of the stars, yet they leave themselves unnoticed!”

Saint Augustine


(The Mayor has discovered she can drive her limousine up under the kitchen table in order
to investigate what makes the table tick / Julie Cook / 2018)

I’ve been marveling recently.

Marveling at the development of a wee small person.
No surprise there I would imagine.

Yet this marveling of mine, however, goes beyond the mere grandmotherly marveling over the
leaps and strides made by a baby who appears to miraculously change and grow,
if not day by day, but more like minute by millisecond…

As each new moment brings a brand new advancement.

To roll,
to sit,
to pull,
to stand,
to eat,
to chew,
to taste,
to utter sounds,
to express likes and dislikes…
to demonstrate joy and anguish,
to recognize pain and self-satisfaction.

The discoveries made of both self and surroundings are each incredible to behold.

Quite amazing really.

I think back to the time when I was once a new parent myself.

I was so caught up in what that responsibility entailed…
coupled with my working outside of the home while just trying to get us all from one day
to the next, in one safe piece…
so much so that all of that overrode my ability to actually marvel.

Of course, there were glimpses and revelations that would leave me without words but life
would demand its way…leaving me running at such a frenetic pace that basking in the
minute by minute miracles was only afforded in increments of breaths.
Life called for a family to step up to the plate and I had to answer…
no luxury found for stopping to marvel…albeit fleetingly.

It is only now in my older age…an age that gives way to both collected knowledge and wisdom,
that I can thankfully step back from the moment while blessedly stopping to take it all in.

And I am left speechless.

What we take for granted, or rather what we merely assume as we are just too busy to
acknowledge anything else, is truly nothing less than spectacular.

And so no, I am not the first nor will I be the last grandparent to marvel over a grandchild…

And yes, there have been countless numbers of psychologists, anthropologists, sociologists,
doctors, and psychiatrists over the past millennium who have all closely
studied child development…

So this marveling of mine, as it were, is really nothing new nor even very special…

But…

This marveling, this wonderment, of which I speak is not found in the science of
human development…
It is not found in the measurements of statistics or in averages…
It is not found in numbers or sequential advancements…
But rather it is found in that which makes no sense…
found in that which is beyond comprehension.

Because what I am currently witnessing taking place, day by day, breath by breath,
within one small person, over the course of these past nine months, is nothing less than
miraculous.

So I suppose we could say that her first nine months were hidden from view…
yet were no less amazing.

The fact is that I have been given the opportunity of actually viewing the past nine months
a bit more up close and personal as those first nine months were watched not only by doctors
but moment by moment by the One who breathes life into all that is…

I suppose we could say she has actually lived both seen and unseen now for 18 months…
all of which have been cemented in my heart.

And so as the calendar prepares to give way to a new season, we find ourselves standing
before the door of the impending season of Advent.

A season that brings humankind together–
offering the heightened sense of anticipation as we prepare to both watch and wait…

Is it, therefore, a coincidence that as I watch and marvel over one growing baby,
God so chose the same miraculous gift of a baby?
A gift that has been freely given to anyone who is willing to receive it?

A baby who grew both seen and unseen…
A baby who was formed in the miraculous…
A baby whose family marveled, just as I marvel, over his milestones.

Explanations will always fall away when given the gift of the miraculous…

And Mary said,
“Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.”
And the angel departed from her.

Luke 1:38

measuring time

“In tribulation immediately draw near to God with confidence,
and you will receive strength, enlightenment, and instruction.”

St. John of the Cross


(she’s already cheering on her DAWGS despite her great-grandfather’s love for Tech / Julie Cook
/ 2018)

We are a measuring sort of people.
We measure heights, weights, sizes, shapes, lengths, distances, amounts, numbers,
comings and goings…
You name it, we’ll measure it.
And we particularly like to measure time…

We enjoy measuring time so much that each year we mark time with a New Year’s celebration.
Just as we mark days of birth.

Any kid will tell you just how important the marking of a birthday really is…

And so it is that I am bittersweetly reminded that this time last year, on March the 10th,
we marked Dad’s 89th birthday.

You may remember he was gravely ill but was so excited to have “lived” long enough
just to have one last piece of cake.
Dad loved his sweets—chocolate especially.

He was born on his mother’s birthday in 1928 and died just hours before what would
have been his brother’s 97th birthday–
a brother who had preceded him in death by 8 years.

Dad died just 9 days after we celebrated his birthday.

The passing of a year’s time has brought with it a great deal of change.
All from one March to the next.
Seasons have come and gone… just like they usually do…
but within those seasons there has been a great deal of measuring…
both pluses and minuses.

This time last year, here in this house of my youth, we held a vigil for a life slipping away.
This year, 365 days later to the very day, we joyously mark a 3 week birthday of a new
life full of expectant hopes and dreams.

I find myself sitting in the same room that I once called my own, rocking a
young new life blessedly to sleep.
One who now claims my old room as her own.

I sit in the dimly lit room, illuminated only by a single bulb closet light
that cuts softly through the slats of the closet door. A small projected patch of stars
dance across the ceiling emanating from a novel little owl nightlight.
The sound of crickets and tree frogs gently pierce the silence, also coming from the
little owl nightlight.

The walls are the same.
The windows are the same.
The closet is the same…
Gone is the carpeting, long since stiped away, now exposing the original hardwoods of
this 1950’s house.
Gone are the gossamer sheer drapes, replaced by white wooden shutters.
The colors of paint have evolved with the changing times.

My thoughts drift back and forth over the near 60 years that I’ve known this house.
With memories and feelings being mixed—some pleasant, some not.
There is an unsettling mixed with a calming sense of hope.

My prayer is that for this new precious child, this house, this home, will be one of
peace.
I am reminded of the prayers and anointing of both house and crib.
The imploring of God’s grace to be poured down abundantly upon this family’s
new generation.

So happy birthday Dad and happy birthday to your new great-granddaughter…
a great-granddaughter who now calls the house you were so proud to purchase so long ago,
home…
A house you and mother were so proud to have for your own young family.
As a new generation calls it their own…

By wisdom, a house is built, and by understanding, it is established;
by knowledge, the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches.

Proverbs 24:3-4

measuring

The measure of a life,
after all,
is not its duration,
but its donation.

Corrie Ten Boom

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(everything is so early this year—blooming cherry trees and the visiting honey bees/
Julie Cook / 2017)

We are a measuring people…
we just seem to love to measure…
It’s as if we’ve been measuring ever since the dawn of Creation.

We measure everything….
space,
time,
distance,
amounts,
gains,
averages,
percentages,
odds,
growth…

Just as we measure…
decline,
decrease,
failure,
depletion,
shrinkage,
loss,
and demise…

We measure both life and death…as well as the distance separating the two.

This whole concept of numbers, benchmarks, averages and time seems to be of the
utmost importance to us.
Measuring allows us the satisfaction of knowing if we’ve actually been successful,
having accomplished a certain task, goal or desire.
It also gives us some sense, some idea, as to how far we still need to go in order to
reach a set goal, desire or postion.

Measuring and its results makes us feel in control.

And it is certainly paramount when considering such endeavors such as construction,
tailoring, manufacturing, producing, building, mending…
It is in such that both precision and measurement walk hand in hand.
Meaning… we can’t have one without the other.
Anything other then precise leads to skewed, crooked, awkward, flawed
as well as imperfection…
as we’ve learned to equate measurement with both precision and perfection…
as well as with safety.

Yet no matter how precise we try to be, no matter how perfect, how accurate…
we continue making mistakes.
And our mistakes can have catastrophic results…
leaving us not in the place we prefer…
that of being knowledgable and in control…
but rather…
we find ourselves as helpless victims of our own failures and errors.
Wishing to hide, lest anyone know it was upon our mistake of flawed measuring
which resulted in disaster….

Yet we simply, and often flippantly, chalk that up to human nature…
for we are indeed an imperfect lot…
despite our best attempts to measure…along with precision, perfection,
accuracy and control…
we misread, mismeasure and miscalculate…

Yet in our busyness of measuring, we have become accustomed to measuring
not only the abstract…
but we are very comfortable measuring ourselves…
We measure our self worth and our sense of well being…
With our benchmark being anything and everyone other than ourselves…

We constantly gauge our level of satisfaction by how others measure up to us and
how we measure up to others…

Are we happier than…
Are we more successful than…
Are we better off than…
Are we more financially secure than…
Are we healthier than…
Are we prettier than…
Are we thinner than…
Are we younger looking than…
Are we more comfortable than…
Are we further along than…
Are we more popular than…

Our question must therefore remain…what is it that we measure?
And what shall we be measured by…

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you:
Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought,
but rather think of yourself with sober judgment,
in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.

Romans 12:3

‘You shall do no wrong in judgment, in measurement of weight, or capacity.
‘You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin;
I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from the land of Egypt.

Leviticus 19:35-36
(ephah: a Hebrew dry measurement / hin: a Hebrew liquid measurement)

measure well

Consider carefully what you hear,” he continued.
“With the measure you use,
it will be measured to you…and even more.

Mark 4:24

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(a hungry cardinal / Carrollton, Ga / Julie Cook / 2015)

“You get as good as you give”…
or so the saying goes.
You offer kindness, thoughtfulness, generosity…
Only to be swindled, taken advantage of and then run amuck with bad luck, bad health, bad times.
Loss, suffering, pain, struggles, sadness and woe.
You fuss and curse a God, you may or may not know…
You curse Him for not preventing, thwarting or stopping all the bad which befalls you.
“Where is the returned measure of favor which SHOULD be shown?” you grouse.
You hear the voices from within and without shouting
“it’s not fair, it’s not right…”
nor is it just…

And you’re right, it’s not….it’s not fair nor just.
But God never said to do good or be good in order to get good..
He said do good, be kind, give much, forgive…all without ceasing.
If they take…give
If they take again, give more
If they strike…turn and afford them to strike again
If they curse…bless
If they scorn…love
All to be measured outward… without ceasing

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Luke 6:27-36

So use your measure well…making certain that your measured output is greater than your measured intake…

The magnolia tree

“For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone.
Hermann Hesse

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(magnolia bloom / Julie Cook / 2015)

Growing up, we all have a measuring stick.
A benchmark of growth.
A point of reference for progress.
A door frame, a yard stick, a section of wall ripe with the marks of hoped for and greatly anticipated advancement.

Even when I was still in the classroom, my kids marked their various heights along the doorframe of the classroom’s door.
Who was taller this year verses the heights from year’s past.
Ever onward and upward. . .

Today was not easy.
Another trying day.
Sweet Dad.
Yet Gloria is struggling.
Transition and growth, that was once exciting, is now painfully dreaded.

Funny how we are always in such a hurry to “grow up”
yet suddenly one day we wake up,
wanting nothing more to do with it, preferring simply to stop it all–
Racing frantically backwards to the blissful days of youthful abandon.
When nothing hurt, nothing mattered and everything worked as life was nothing but good.
Where did the time go. . .

Looking out the window from the sunporch, I noticed a lone bloom on the massive magnolia out back.
I know this massively tall tree.
I remember when 50 feet was just a tiny sapling.

I excuse myself to go out back to take a picture.

When do those things which once seemed so expansive and endless
become small and constrained?
Standing in the backyard, my presence fills the space that once seemed so vast.
Vegetation has moved closer to the house.
The monkey grass use to be further back. . .
I don’t remember that carpet of ivy. . .
Where did the pine straw islands disappear to?
And the magnolia tree. . .

For whatever reason, my grandmother who I had spent the weekend with, decided to bring
me back to mom with a magnolia sapling in tow.
The sapling was tiny and leggy.
At 7, I towered over the plant.
“And this was to become a tree,” I mused,
Not impressed I “humphed” away rather uninterested.

The tree now towers over the landscape.
It’s out of place.
Not harmonious with everything else in the yard or surrounding yards.
It dwarfs everything around it.
It’s far out lived both my grandmother and mother.
At this rate it might just outlive me.

I marked my life by this tree.
We played backyard football around this once tender plant,
Making certain we didn’t hit it with the ball.
It was a reference point or boundary during many a childhood game.
“Don’t go past the magnolia tree”. . .
“The base is the magnolia tree”. . .

It was mother’s tree.
A gift from one mother to another mother
As oddly I now seem to be a distant guardian.

So on this most difficult of days
Finding the lone bloom beckoning me out,
Out to the yard, to a place I’d not simply wandered through in years,
As it’s really no longer my space to wander. . .
I felt a deep sense of comfort.
As perhaps both Mimi and Mom were somehow still standing there,
Wondering where in the heck to plant a tiny little sapling in a vast backyard. . .
Which in turn would greet me these 50 years later in a now seemingly small backyard
With the gift of welcomed comfort from a single lone bloom.

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