Blessings in the busyness

“One of the most convicting things I have recently come to realize about
Jesus is that He was never, not once, in a hurry.”

Mark Buchanan,
Your God Is Too Safe: Rediscovering the Wonder of a God You Can’t Control


(blooming lilly / Julie Cook / 2018)

It was Sunday evening after a long busy day—
7:30 PM, and I was sitting in my car in the Publix shopping center
in Atlanta near dad’s house, aka my son’s, waiting for my daughter-n-law who
had run in the store.

She had run in to pick up a few items for my son who would be staying behind
while the rest of us hit the road back home to Carrollton.

Ode to the logistics of our lives right now.

We’d spent the day visiting my dad’s side of the family…they all had wanted my
94-year-old aunt to be able to “get to know” her new great, great niece.

My aunt is in a word, a hoot.
She’s never met a stranger.
She is elegant and high class yet one of the funniest people you’d have the
pleasure of spending time with.

She still drives, solo travels, drinks… and yes…smokes regularly.

And has been a widow now for nearly 10 years.

She’s old school Atlanta and old school southern.
But not pretentious whatsoever.

She was my dad’s sister-n-law who had married, what I always said, was the better
of the two brothers.
She married the older and more “normal” of the two—and so we’ll leave it at that.

Growing up, I did feel a bit intimidated by her and their whole side of the family
as my parents were quieter, more subdued and not social whatsoever.
We were a more casual family, more simple and yet more splintered and dysfunctional.

Yet she always went out of her way to make me feel welcomed and a part of their clan
when I’d be sent off for weekends to spend time with my older cousins.

There are only two of my dad’s “people” who remain—his sister-n-law and his first cousin,
both now in their mid 90’s.

Today, it was my cousins and me who are now the grandparents…
Complete with greying hair, extra pounds, wrinkles, pains, and wobbles.

These are the days, these sorts of gatherings, of which are now both few and far between,
which only make me long for day’s long gone…

Yet as I sat in the parking lot of the grocery store, I grabbed my phone and pulled up
the latest homily offering by my favorite rouge Anglican Bishop.

It was a homily offered for the third Sunday after Easter and focused on the
Resurrected body of Christ and the Renewed Mind…

A comfort as I sat in my car, on a chilly, wet Sunday evening,
ruminating over the whats that once were, as I sat pondering those yet unanswerable whats will be…

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

Beware the gators

“Because we focused on the snake, we missed the scorpion”
Egyptian Proverb

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(image borrowed from web of a gator crossing an interstate near Naples, FL)

Maybe you’ve heard about them…
or
maybe you haven’t…

Interstate alligators…

And no, I’m not talking about actual alligators crossing the road as in the image above…
Rather I’m talking about something that is equally as dangerous and equally as deadly…
The only caveat is that it’s just not a living creature.

So now that your interest is piqued and you understand that we are not discussing reptiles…
I will explain what exactly an interstate alligator is all about.

An interstate alligator is the dubious moniker for the remnants of the shredded tires from tractor trailer trucks.

shredded_tire_roadside

More times than not, those big rigs, which are driving on very worn tires, will lose the most worn tires off their rigs to the rigors of constant wear and tear…all while driving on car infested roadways.
As they race up and down the highways, freeways and interstates across this grand country of ours, these worn steel belted tires will basically begin to disintegrate and shred while the truck is clocking 70 to 80 mph.

semi-tire-blowout
(image courtesy Real Truck Driver Blog)

Add to that the heat of summer, as the pavement reaches deadly hot temperatures…
With worn tires riding along an inferno of cement and asphalt, we’ve all got troubles!

Imagine huge chunks of tire being slung off a spinning rim, most often unbeknownst to the driver, as the driver isn’t about to be slowing down or moving over to the far right lane in order to exit or move to the emergency lane in order to stop…

Next imagine being the cars behind and beside these big truck as the tire is shredding.

Needless to say there have been many a damaged vehicle as there have been many a fatality as a result of these shredding tires.

The alligator part comes into play when the remnants of these tires are left where they fly then fall—that being the middle of lanes, along the shoulder of the road…just anywhere they finally lose the momentum of flight—as they now lay in wait, lurking and waiting for those poor unsuspecting drivers who are on top of them before being able to slow down or swerve safely out of the way while attempting not to ram into a fellow driver…

Today’s journey to Atlanta, on its infamous perimeter, was like navigating a backwater bayou at full speed while trying to dodge and miss a plethora of both big and small gators all before it being too late before an impending collision.

Cars were slamming on their brakes, erratically changing lanes, hoping the cars beside and behind could get stopped in time.

Holding on for dear life as I made my way through the cement minefield,
I smelled it before I saw it as the air was rife with the acrid smell of burning rubber.
Dodging debris big and small, I soon road past the culprit. A big rig’s second to the back tire was disintegrating faster than he could move over and slow down.
Tire was slinging left and right as cars did their darnedest to dodge the deadly shrapnel.

As I miraculously made my way past the truck and the sea of tire parts without being hit, without running over anything and without being hit by my fellow dodging drivers, I was struck (not literally thank God) by the sheer magnitude of how things can change in one’s life from good to disastrous in literally the blink of an eye.
A ‘now you don’t see it, yet now you suddenly do’ sort of life’s scenario..

Yet we don’t much like thinking of life in that regard.

We don’t like to dwell on the possible and potential negatives of life…
those ‘could be’s’ or those ‘what if’s’ in life…
but what of the sudden and sheer catastrophic…??

We don’t want to live life constantly fretting and worrying.

Yet we do need to always be ready…
Ready for those very instantaneous what if’s.

As in…what if I’m taken out by this interstate monster right here, right now—am I ready for that?
Am I ready if my life is snuffed out just like that?

There’s no time to think,
No time to suddenly and quickly introduce yourself to a God you’ve just kind of always kept in the back of your head…
Kind of like a Santa Claus—
calling on Him in a pinch or when you really need or want something….

This isn’t like the “oh please God don’t let me get caught by that red light again” sort of thing…
Rather this is…there’s a big black chunk of rubber and steal, that’s just come up out of nowhere, hurdling through both time and space with lightning speed right for your windshield and face sort of thing, leaving you nowhere to turn, nowhere to run, leaving you nowhere to duck and cover….

Your relationship with God cannot wait.
It’s that dire, that urgent.

Not because you need to be saved from flying projectiles or hungry debris alligators who are lurking and waiting for when you lest expect it…but because time will not always afford you the luxury of waiting, pondering and deciding, if you want your soul to be lost or to be found…

There is true comfort in knowing that no matter what happens in this life…no matter the dangerous and deadly perils that await us…the catastrophes, the accidents, the random horrible things …
that in and through it all…God is yours and you are His…forever and ever…Amen!!

May you travel in safety my friends…

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
1 Peter 1:8-9

Hurdles

The boy who is going to make a great man must not make up his mind merely to overcome a thousand obstacles, but to win in spite of a thousand repulses and defeats.
Theodore Roosevelt

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(St Kevin’s Tower / St Kevin’s Monastery, Gleandalough, Co Wicklow, Ireland/ Julie Cook / 2015)

At some point or other during the course of living,
difficulties and trying times will engulf each one of us.

No one is exempt from the various hurdles Life places in our paths.
We will be faced with two options…

Either we just keep running and jumping
or
we stop.

We can stop before each hurdle, pondering the height and possibility of clearing each safely,
opting to drop out of the race all together…
or
we can decide to simply keep going.

Some days the prospect of continuing the race, with all of the hurdles needing to be cleared, seems more than we can bear.
We may actually even trip over the hurdles, temporally losing our balance…stumbling wildly while trying to recover…
Or
We may actually fall, crashing down onto the track scraping up knees, elbows and even damaging muscles and bones.

Then the choice will be…

Do we just lay there bleeding while grimacing in pain, bemoaning that the hurdles are simply too high and have just beaten us
or
Do we pick ourselves up, bruised and bleeding, and continue on with the race?

As I ccurretnly find myself laying on the track grimacing in the pain and bleeding, having stumbled over Life’s most recent hurdle… I received some very wise counsel…

“God always hears [sees] you.
You are just seeing things from the perspective of this moment,
while He is looking from the perspective of resolution of all these issues.
He is busy getting you to that point, too.”

So as my perspective,
while having tripped over life’s latest hurdle with me now being down for the count on a track that has just torn me to pieces, is limited.
I’m holding on to bruised, bleeding and broken limbs while staring upward at something that seems nearly impossible to clear…
through clenched teeth I pray…albeit it frustratingly.
Yet what I can’t see from my perspective on the ground,
is that God is already seeing the finish line…
He knows the outcome…
I just need to get back up to finish the race….

With your help I can advance against a troop;
with my God I can scale a wall.

Psalm 18:29

Thinking

DSC01508
(a beautiful spotted cottontail who lives in our yard / Julie Cook / 2015)

What are you pondering my sweetly spotted friend
As you sit softly gazing upon the meadow’s tender green?
Are your thoughts of wonder grand or are they thoughts of woe?
Do you fret for a future of which we simply do not know?

Do you bask in the gracious gift of an everlasting peace?
As you sit so still and quiet wrapped serenely in freedom’s release.

As the brightly radiant sun warms your soft and speckled fur. . .
What tiny marvelous wonders do your keen senses now incur?

What wisdom do you wish to impart that I may take with me this day?
Only this oh fretful child is all I have to say. . .

That despite your heavy sadness, despite your doubts and fears
It is God who sits in glory who wipes away your tears. . .

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