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

the freedom to enjoy the simpler things…

Guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism.
George Washington

They are dead; but they live in each Patriot’s breast,
And their names are engraven on honor’s bright crest.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


(buckeye butterfly / Julie Cook / 2017)

Today while we enjoy the marking of a season’s change,
May we remain ever mindful of the many lives that offered the ultimate sacrifice
in order that the rest of us have the freedom to enjoy the simpler things in life…

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
John 15:13

won’t let nobody hurt you….

“Of course I’ll hurt you. Of course you’ll hurt me.
Of course we will hurt each other.
But this is the very condition of existence.
To become spring, means accepting the risk of winter.
To become presence, means accepting the risk of absence.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry


(two plovers wandering for a meal / Rosemary Beach / Julie Cook / 2017)

Songs always seem to just pop into our heads do they not?
Current songs, past songs, songs from childhood…
Songs for singing, humming, shouting…
As it seems that songs, as well as music in general,
is a very real emotional part of what makes us…us.

Walk into any grocery store and there is music being piped in throughout the store.
Elevators, restaurants, stores all serenade us with background music and song.
As there is some really powerful psychological magic taking place with those
songs and music choices…what they say about us as consumers and what they say
about us simply as people..is perhaps that they showcase how we are actually wired.

So for whatever reason, the Pretenders song, “I’ll Stand By You” popped
into my head as I was just getting my first cup of morning coffee.
I was having to travel over to Atlanta to met with the nice gal at the cemetery
as it seems that in my overwhelming and chaotic time since Dad’s death—
I forgot one little detail.

I forgot to pick out, and of course pay for, a grave marker.
Or actually I thought I had just told her that I’d take something matching
the other family members already there waiting on dad….
but it seems it does’t work that way.

So there I was grabbing a quick cup of coffee before jumping in the shower,
I was focused on Atlanta…
why suddenly the song?
I was dreading the mind numbing morning commute to a city paralyzed by a closed interstate
when this song just suddenly rings out in my head.
“I’ll stand by you…won’t let no body hurt you…I’ll stand by you”

Sometimes, for whatever reason, it is very clear that God directs what I’m to
write about for a post.
He can be very specific that way.
And no, I don’t buy into the notion of coincidence or happenstance.
I believe things are connected and there are reasons beyond my understanding
and I believe in the nudging of the Holy Spirit…

So back to the song.

The sentiment is wonderful and heartfelt.
Something we as parents, grandparents, guardians, friends all adopt
for the people and animals we care about and love.
We want to love, honor, protect and defend those in our care and those whom we cherish.

Any parent will tell you that they try their darnedest to protect and defend
their children….sometimes that means going way over the top…
But any parent who has been around the block once or twice will tell you—
accidents will happen, sickness will happen, bad things will happen
and no matter how much you, as defender, may protest…hurt will happen.

We cannot protect those we love from being hurt in life, no matter how hard we try.

Skinned knees, broken bones, broken hearts…all rites of passage.

The worst being the unforeseeable accidents, illnesses, tragedies that just happen.
The automobile accident, the freak accident, the cancer, the random act of violence.
They all sadly happen.

Does it mean we failed to do our jobs?
…that we could have somehow done something superhuman in order to prevent
the unthinkable?

99.9% of that answer is a resounding NO!
Nothing could have prevented the unavoidable hurt.

And so now, in that unpreventable hurt, we in turn now hurt.
As some of us will never get over that hurt.

Which in turn leads me to think about God—as Father.

That we have a God, who we are taught, loves us as His children.
And yet there has been many a soul who has raised a clinched angry fist heavenward
cursing and blaming this “loving Father” for the hurt…

Our hurt is indeed His hurt.

And to assuage our hurt, He offered the ultimate hurt…

so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many;
and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin,
but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

Hebrews 9:28

“I’ll Stand By You”

Oh, why you look so sad?
Tears are in your eyes
Come on and come to me now
Don’t be ashamed to cry
Let me see you through
’cause I’ve seen the dark side too
When the night falls on you
You don’t know what to do
Nothing you confess
Could make me love you less

I’ll stand by you
I’ll stand by you
Won’t let nobody hurt you
I’ll stand by you

So if you’re mad, get mad
Don’t hold it all inside
Come on and talk to me now
Hey, what you got to hide?
I get angry too
Well I’m a lot like you
When you’re standing at the crossroads
And don’t know which path to choose
Let me come along
’cause even if you’re wrong

I’ll stand by you
I’ll stand by you
Won’t let nobody hurt you
I’ll stand by you
Take me in, into your darkest hour
And I’ll never desert you
I’ll stand by you

And when…
When the night falls on you, baby
You’re feeling all alone
You won’t be on your own

I’ll stand by you
I’ll stand by you
Won’t let nobody hurt you

I’ll stand by you
Take me in, into your darkest hour
And I’ll never desert you
I’ll stand by you
I’ll stand by you
Won’t let nobody hurt you
I’ll stand by you
Won’t let nobody hurt you
I’ll stand by you

bitterness

“The fiercest anger of all, the most incurable,
Is that which rages in the place of dearest love.”

Euripides

“Up from behind a sand dune close beside her rose the form of her enemy Bitterness.
He did not come any nearer, having learned a little more prudence,
and was not going to make her call for the Shepherd if he could avoid it,
but simply stood and looked at her and laughed and laughed again,
the bitterest sound that Much-Afraid had heard in all her life.”

Hannah Hurnard, Hinds’ Feet on High Places


(image of wormwood)

Anyone who spends any amount of time in a car alone… commuting or traveling…
knows that such time is spent basically as a virtual prisoner of one’s car…
yet it is time spent providing one with ample time for thought and reflection.
That is if the radio isn’t blaring or you’re not jabbering on the phone.

Finding myself commuting to and from Dad’s these days….
Just one way I am alone in the car from anywhere from a little over an hour to upwards
to 4 hours and beyond given the happenstance of life on Atlanta’s interstates….
One little wreck or stall or the never ending construction projects…
and I can find myself with plenty of “alone” time in which to ponder, reflect or fret…

The other evening I found myself quickly playing catch up with some of
my favorite blogs.
One of my brother’s in Christ and his wife are currently in Israel.

This blogging friend has been dutifully posting pictures of his trip along with a bit
of historical commentary as time has allowed.
I’ve enjoyed playing virtual tourist as have others who read his blog.

Yet sadly there have been a few commentators who have been very negative and even critical
of my fiend’s trip….likening such a trip to Israel, Jerusalem in particular,
as a type of Disneyland experience.

Now I understand that any sort of historic tourist draw is going to have its fair share
of those hawking to make a fast buck made on the backs of unsuspecting tourists.
Think posing with Roman clad gladiators outside of Rome’s Colosseum…paying
upwards of 20 to 40 euros for a shot and you get the idea of money being made
at historical sites.

I experienced a very similar sordid encounter at another overtly tourist site
on a trip once to Pompeii.
Pompeii being the ancient Italian city, just outside of Naples, that was destroyed in the year
79 AD by a catastrophic eruption from the volcano Mt Vesuvius.
The city is frozen in time and is a sad and eerie testament to what it means living in the
shadow of a volcano…

Pompeii is an ongoing archaeological site as well as a protected and perseved historical site.
Buildings have been identified as various homes, governmental offices, stores….
as well as the identification of even a local brothel.
Pompeii was a port town and well, one has always heard about sailors on leave…

The brothel was readily identified because of the stone carved man’s genitalia placed above
the threshold of this particular building.
It seems that the locals now capitalizing on the universal interest in sex and so
replicas of this particular “carving” are for sale all over the area outside the city gates.
Think Disney and Mickey’s ear and Pompeii has, well, male body parts for sale.

So I get the whole Disney mentality of tourism…
But there was more to this viewer’s comments than that of causal observation…
as his comments actually turned bitterly hateful.

For you see, this particular blog visitor is an avowed nonbeliever.
He is not a stranger to my friend’s blog, my blog, nor others who profess to
be believing Christians.
It would probably be more accurate to note that this fellow is a former believer now
turned ardent atheist.

I don’t know much about him but that he enjoys taunting Christians.

His taunts on my friend’s site, concerning this trip to the Holy Land, actually
began to border on almost sick…even as he alluded off color to my friend’s wife.

So naturally when I found myself in my car, alone, I began to recall those vicious words,
as well as the words of those who did not care for this
“raining on the trip parade” as it were.
The volley of insults began bouncing back and forth…

What I do know is this man lost his father several years ago—
to cancer is my understanding.
That he was a believer and also what I understand was actually a minister.

I realize that by watching those we love who suffer,
grievously suffering in anguishing pain,
can certainly test and try the faith of the most ardent among us.
And I must confess that I’ve been known to raise my fist to God during the various trails
throughout the course of my own life… so I do not begrudge anyone those emotions
of sorrow and frustration associated with heartbreak and agony.

Yet as I ruminated over those rather wicked words…reflecting even on the tone
to which they were delivered…
only one word kept coming to mind…
bitterness.

Pure unadulterated bitterness.

Bitterness, according Merriam Webster, is a deep-seated ill will caused by anger,
distress or sorrow.
Chances are we have all experienced bitterness or its fist cousin resentment, at some
point during life.

Yet bitterness which is not eventually banished, takes root within one’s being…
Allowed to fester and ferment it is easily recognized.
It is highly unattractive and the outward seeping and spewing of bitterness,
which easily bubbles up to the surface,
is readily and regrettably tasted by any observer.

Bitterness creates an isolating barrier…
Repelling anyone who dares to offer an open hand.

Bitterness is not a welcomed human trait nor is it tolerated for long by others…
It becomes a never ending cycle of brokeness….
as bitterness simply begets more bitterness…

It seems to me that more often then not, non-belivers and bitterness
often walk hand in hand…
whereas the followers of Christ are grounded in what many note as
an unexplainable settled peace…

So as I continue my journey of commuting and ruminating,
I know my friend is throughly enjoying his trip, just we are…
those of us who are enjoying reading of his travels as we
enjoy being virtual tourists…

As one thing I have gleaned…there is certainly no time for bitterness when one is selflessly
sharing with ones friends…
Happy travels Wally….

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander,
along with every form of malice.
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other,
just as in Christ God forgave you.

Ephesians 4:31-32

altars

“Nothing teaches us about the preciousness of the Creator
as much as when we learn the emptiness of everything else.”

Charles Haddon Spurgeon

“You never go away from us, yet we have difficulty in returning to You.
Come, Lord, stir us up and call us back. Kindle and seize us.
Be our fire and our sweetness. Let us love. Let us run.”

Augustine of Hippo

dscn0509
(altar tomb in the Rock of Cashel, the Cathedral of St Patrick / Co Tipperary, Ireland/
Julie Cook / 2015)

A thick blanket of smoke hangs heavy in the air.
It’s not the result of burning effigies or burning communities
but rather from the woods of North Carolina and northern Georgia which are on fire…
and the winds have shifted…

The sinking grey smoke is a somber reminder that there is a dangerously severe drought…
and the parched land is now beyond thirsty…

Yet there is more to this current drought than simply a lack of rain…
for there is more that is dry than mere vegetation and brush…
And there is more to this endless thirst than a need for water….

Vehemence and anger are filling the air, accented by vile and profane sentiment.
As the mobs march toward the altars of self indulgence and guile.
Immaturity laced with ignorance stokes the fires of rage as the hate filled
smoke fills the nostrils of a nation.

Self absorption and egocentric worshipers have taken to the streets.
They have taken to their computers and to their phones…their current altars of choice.
All the while they shout vile rhetoric as they stomp their spoiled bored feet.

If you must…
Protest against atrocities,
demonstrate against hunger,
fight against killing…
but not because you’ve simply forgotten, or have never known, how to lose.

Young dismayed parents now publicly lament how are they to console their
confused children who cry in fear from the big bad what ifs of hysteria…
simply because democracy has been at work–once again…

Nay, answer with truth…
the truth that one person lost while another person won…
For that is how this game is played…one person wins while one person loses…

Yet ours is a culture currently obsessed with the win win…
because we’ve grown moralistically soft while deciding everyone should be a winner…
We cannot live with the sad notion of losing…
Never mind old adages of always trying again…

There are those who are falling at the altar of womanly feminism…
which is currently shored up by gender neutrality, resentment and anger.
Marching not for policy or real equality but rather for the notion that
the wrong sex was the victor…as the votes which were cast are ignored….

Tears are being shed not because freedom has been lost
or because lives have been lost,
nor because a nation has lost all hope…
No…
rather tears are flowing because an election was lost…

And now we no longer want to play…
Because reality is simply no longer considered fun.
While we have found ourselves kneeling before all the wrong altars…

Ours are the empty altars of hero worship and of self…
the altars of gadgetry, boredom, appeasement and ignorance.
Altars of fear, anger, hostility, emptiness and divisiveness…

For what or whom has become our idol, our god?
Who or what are those hungry deities which have left us empty, sad,
frustrated, angry and resentful…
as we turn upon one another in the feeding frenzy of resentment?

We have gathered before all the wrong altars for far too long…
These altars have left us shallow and empty while also full of loathing and contempt…
We continue to march without leadership and direction…
lost and wandering…all the while lashing out at those we assume to be our enemy…
never realizing that we are all actually one.
One people…one nation…

And all the while hidden deep within the suffocating smoke of our thirst
lies the only One true proven path in which we need march…

Yet we have decided it’s far easier to wander angrily in the parched darkness
while hiding behind the vitriol sputum which oozes forth from our mouths…
spewing out upon our fellow human beings…

As it seems we’d rather choose…
paranoia to Grace
greed to Offering
ignorane to Enlightenment
darkness to Light
death to Salvation
egregiousness to Gentleness
hate to Love…

May we all fall at the foot of the one true altar,
the cross of Resurrection, Salvation, Hope and Life.

The Father willed that his blessed and glorious Son,
whom he gave to us and who was born for us,
should through his own blood offer himself as a sacrificial victim on the altar of the cross.
This was to be done not for himself through whom all things were made,
but for our sins.

Francis of Assisi

Thanksgiving prayer

DSCN2197
(a pair of wild turkeys alert and hiding out in a mountain field / Cades Cove, TN / The Great Smokey Mountains National Park / Julie Cook / 2015)

Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you have
done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole
creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life,
and for the mystery of love.

We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for
the loving care which surrounds us on every side.

We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best
efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy
and delight us.

We thank you also for those disappointments and failures
that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.

Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ; for the
truth of his Word and the example of his life; for his steadfast
obedience, by which he overcame temptation; for his dying,
through which he overcame death; and for his rising to life
again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom.

Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know him and
make him known; and through him, at all times and in all
places, may give thanks to you in all things. Amen.

(prayer of Thanksgiving /
The Book of Common Prayer / The Episcopal Church)

Elusiveness

Truth is mysterious, elusive, always to be conquered. Liberty is dangerous, as hard to live with as it is elating. We must march toward these two goals, painfully but resolutely, certain in advance of our failings on so long a road.
Albert Camus

DSC01094
(my elusive blue jay / Julie Cook / 2015)

Out of all the birds who frequent my yard, my blue jays are the most standoffish, persnickety, skittish—it’s as if they know I’m trying to snap their picture. The minute they see me, hear me, sense me. . .off they soar.

The jays seem to prefer hunting and pecking as compared to all my birds who relish in the abundance of seed and suet offered in the plethora of feeders I make available for both local and transient bird alike. Perhaps jays are a more independent lot. They are larger birds who are louder and more garish then their more demure counterparts. Maybe they prefer their independence to dependence on my offerings.

Spying a jay lighting on the ground in the backyard from out the kitchen window–I dash to grab my camera, making my way out to the deck–as quietly as possible, gently positioning myself, focusing the camera. . .when poof, they’re gone.

They are beautiful birds—very few creatures in the animal world are blue. How special is that?!
And maybe they have a sense of that “specialness” with no need for the likes of me and my birdseed–preferring to keep their distance doing what they do without human interference or intervention.

I often wonder if God must not think I’m a lot like that jay.
I may not be blue. . .however I am still one of a kind despite being just one in the massive sea known as humanity.
I am more often than not, fiercely independent— stubbornly preferring to always do things my way despite the gifts of abundance God has bestowed at my feet. I often go about my everyday mundane tasks without ever acknowledging His presence.

I remain standoffish, often eluding His best attempts to be near me.
Yet, very much like my own attempts to seek out the jay, despite all the other birds who make themselves happily and easily available to me for close encounters, God remains steadfast and determined to seek me out despite my often elusive behavior. He continues tirelessly working His way to me, trying to get closer to me every day, despite the fact that there are so many others who have made themselves freely available to Him.
He waits for me and me alone.
Patiently, He continues waiting, watching, hoping, offering. . .

DSC01091

DSC01092

DSC01093