A stranger in a strange land

“We are Christians, and strangers on earth.
Let none of us be frightened;
our native land is not in this world.”

St. Augustine


(a surprise flock of deer in the middle of surburn Atlanta / Julie Cook / 2018
talk about strangers in a strange place)

Many years ago my aunt and I were taking an overnight flight from Atlanta to Milan.
This was not our first trip to Italy and I proudly figured that I knew just enough
conversational Italian to get us through any real language barrier.
All would be well I confidently told myself.

Yet in the back of my mind, I knew my aunt.
A panicker if ever there was one.

She knew the word equivalents to hello, yes, no, good-bye and stop.
She depended on me just as a blind person would depend upon a service animal.
I was to be her eyes and ears and mouth while navigating all over Itlay for the
next 3 weeks.
She was simply happy and content being along for the ride.
No thinking, no working, no figuring…just eating, drinking, shopping and seeing.
That was the extent of her comfort level when travelling.
No real thinking—just enjoying…while leaving the details to one more savvy
and experienced.
And in this case, that simply left me…

So what could possibly go wrong?

Arriving early morning in Milan, which was middle of the night Atlanta time,
and having flown for nearly 9 hours in a tin can in the sky with absolutely zero sleep
and limited nutrition…
We deplaned, made our way through the terminal, found our luggage,
then when trying to figure out where the train was located that was to take us into town…
well, I might as well have been hit on the head, suffering from complete amnesia.

Exhaustion was hanging like a thickly spun cobweb in my brain.
Panic was creeping up through my now rapidly and tightly closing throat.
I stood in the middle of the terminal looking around, trying to make sense, trying to translate
signs directing us where we needed to go.
It was as if my brain had gone blank and all that practice of asking in Italian where
the train station was located…as was now gone the time spent memorizing the map of
the airport…it had all instantly, completely and totally left me.

Yet I had to get a hold of myself as I didn’t need my 70-year-old aunt turning into
a wailing Henny Penny.
“GET A HOLD OF YOURSELF” I mentally screamed at myself.

And just as quickly as that sense of panic of a blank brain had engulfed me,
I clamped down on that boiling panic and calmed down… as I casually sauntered over
to the information desk asking the nonplused airport employee if they
“parli inglese”
and DOV’È LA STAZIONE CENTRALE?

And no that was not the end of our adventures during that particular trip…
but those are stories for another day…

It does, however, remind me of today’s quote by St Augustine.

A bold reminder that we Christians are strangers on this rather strange planet.

For we are indeed a strange people in a strange land.

Just like my aunt and I when we first arrived in Milan.
Strangers, much out of place, most uncomfortable and seemingly lost in what
was a new strange land.

I am currently grossly far behind reading and listening to both my two favorite
‘across the pond’ clerics, that it isn’t even funny.

This new role of grandmother, dashing around on the fly, with little to no sleep while
being out of pocket from my usual routine and home…
has me terribly out of sync here in blogland.

Yet I did manage to look over Bishop Gavin Ashenden’s latest musings which
actually starts off with a tale about Meghan Markle of all people—
that soon to be bride of Prince Harry.

It seems that Ms Markle has “agreed” to be baptized and subsequently confirmed
into the Anglican Chruch of England…as a gesture of graciousness for her soon to be
Grandmother-n-law who, as Queen, is known as the “Defender of the Faith” and “head”
of the Chruch of England.

The good bishop smells something a bit odious.

Not so much because of Ms Markle herself, who is obviously trying her best to now “fit in” into
her fiancee’s most British world as well as into his family…
but rather odious because of the Chruch of England itself.

As a Christian, I find it a bit odd, awkward and simply wrong that one would want to be
“baptized” as a child of God and in turn confirmed into a church body simply for the sake
of “fitting in”…
Not to mention the notion of a church body that sees such a life-altering decision as a mere
technicality.

I wonder if Ms Markle actually understands the implications behind what it means to
be Baptized–or as to the requirement of what is required of one who “joins” the church?

I wonder if the Church of England actually understands the life-changing and deeply
mystical experience that resides within the act of Baptism.

When we have a church body baptizing individuals as a means of helping one to fit in
or as a technicality…then I know we as Christians are indeed treading in a strange land.

And here is the dilemma for the Church of England.
A state Church wedded to a state that hates Christian virtue and Christian ethics;
a state that has begun to criminalise Christian witness as hate speech,
where police arrest street preachers and have them thrown in prison at the push of
a SJW’s phone button;
a state that has begun preparations to remove children from their Christian homes
if social workers detect what they improperly label ‘homophobia’ in the parents;
a state where Christian teachers are expelled and sacked if they do not endorse
the secular brainwashing on the fluidity of gender.

Meghan Markle, Justin Welby & The Use And Abuse Of Baptism.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men,
who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
For what can be known about God is plain to them,
because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes,
namely, his eternal power and divine nature,
have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world,
in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

Romans 1:18-20

Skill, Intuition, or just plain ol luck

“In sandy soil, when deep you delve, you reach the springs below; The more you learn, the freer streams of wisdom flow.”
Thiruvalluvar

Luck is a matter of preparation meeting opportunity.
Lucius Annaeus Seneca

“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien

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(your’s truly with the luck of the cast / Wedowee, Alabama / Julie Cook / 2015)

Those with skill. . .
Who have spent their years immersed deeply in laborious study and arduous practice, . .
Those who have invested time and energy while honing their patience amongst the coy sirens of empty promises. . .
Are they then more likely to glean the prize before all others. . .

Those with intuition. . .
Those more mystical seekers who are gifted with the intrinsic sense of time and placement. . .
Those who just “know” where and when, how and why.
Those whose vision of the quest comes naturally. . .
Those who just know the hows, the wheres, the whys by the given gift of the 6th sense are they more apt to zero in on prize before all others. . .

Those with luck. . .
Those unsuspecting naive souls who just happen upon the right place at the right time. . .
Those who have invested neither time nor blood nor sweat. . .
Those who merely show up, stepping into the elusive prize without ever realizing the pure dumb luck of it all. . .are they then worthy of the prize. . .

Then suddenly, as if out of the blue, while catching everyone by dumbstruck surprise, enters Hope. . .

Those with Hope. . .
Those with Hope know that regardless of skill, intuition or luck their’s is the one true constant.
Despite the hardships and the emptiness of the those that got away, the better luck next time, the day in and day out of coming up empty handed, the sting of defeat and loss. . .
The Hopeful know that regardless of the negative, theirs is the positive.
The Hopeful do not know defeat.
The Hopeful face every challenge, win or lose
They realize and openly admit that they may lose a battle, perhaps a string of battles. . .
They accept that they may not be the most skilled or the one filled with the depths of intuition. . . yet the Hopeful rest in the knowledge, not of luck nor chance, but rather in the knowledge that the war has long since been won and that they have indeed followed the only true Victor to the one true prize Eternal. . .

For in this hope we were saved.
Now hope that is seen is not hope.
For who hopes for what he sees?
But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness.
For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

Romans 8:24-26

Be careful what you ask for. . .

“You cannot always depend on prayers to be answered the way you want them answered but you can always depend on God. God, the loving Father often denies us those things which in the end would prove harmful to us. Every boy wants a revolver at age four, and no father yet has ever granted that request. Why should we think God is less wise? Someday we will thank God not only for what He gave us, but also for that which He refused.”
― Fulton J. Sheen

“For prayer is request. The essence of request, as distinct from compulsion, is that it may or may not be granted.”
― C.S. Lewis

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(a practice shot of a toadstool with the new macro lens / Julie Cook / 2015)

Stressed and stretched as far as your limit allows, you decide praying for patience is your only hope.
Oddly life only seems to get worse.
You then try praying for even more patience.
Life gets almost unbearable.
Confused and troubled, it finally dawns on you. . .

God is no fairy godmother waving a magic wand.

There is no heavenly magic Fraiy-God holding a wand over our heads, granting us our heart’s desire.
God is no genie hiding in a lamp waiting to grant wishes.
As much as we wish He worked that way, jumping in to give us magically what we decide we need, He does not.
Praying for patience results in circumstances requiring more patience—call it a heavenly learning curve if you will, as our lives are indeed all about learning and growing.

Enter my latest learning curve.

I thought I knew what I really wanted for Christmas.
A brand new camera.
Oooooo
I’ve always had a little camera of sorts over the years.
When I was growing up, my dad was always into cameras— so naturally, starting when I was around 10, I had my very own small kodak. Remember those flash cubes?
Eventually I graduated to a 35mm when I was in high school–that was back in the day when we actually used real film, had to focus a camera ourselves and attach an expensive flash attachment.

Enter the digital age–an age I have reluctantly dared to venture.

A trusty, ever evolving, automatic point and shoot has basically filled my needs—a camera to take pictures of our son growing up, family trips and vacations, gatherings of friends etc.—-and like the proverbial watch, any camera of mine would need to take a licking and keep on ticking as I tend to be a tad rough on things.

As I got older, I eventually retired from teaching and my sights turned to new forms of creativity.

With newly added gusto, I picked up my camera, started taking pictures and started this little blog of mine.
That was 2 years ago February.

Forever a stickler for detail, I have always loved those closeup magnified images of the simplest objects. Images of random things such as bugs and flowers, items both animate and inanimate, magnified to offer the viewer a zoomed-in hyper image of detail—it’s that wow factor of photography. I suppose that’s why I have such an affinity for the illuminated manuscripts of the Middle ages with their beautiful tiny attentions to detail. And whereas I am no longer really painting or working on my own version of those manuscripts, I am, however, seeking detail—just in a more photographic approach.

Enter a desire for macro.

Frustrated by the fact that my latest Nikon point and shoot could only zoom up on closeup objects just so much, I decided I needed to expand my horizons.
However. . .a new camera would require some learning and adjusting.
It should be known that I am a fierce creature of habit (be quiet Sophie)
I am far from being a camera pro.
I don’t know apertures, shutter speeds, back lighting, yada, yada.
I am no techie.
No pintrest, no instagram, no flicker, no twitter, no facebook.
I don’t like complicated.
I like simple.
I like easy.
I like pure.
Hummmm

I set my sites on a Sony Ax 5100. It would require the ability to change out the lens of the camera.
Hummmm. . .
The camera would still be smallish, sleek and automatic to a certain degree. . .I could certainly change out a lens or two right?

I’ve looked at this particular little camera on and off for about a year now at BestBuy (don’t go there, that’s another post for another day)

I had used a Sony in my classroom and was pretty certain I wanted another one now.
I called Sony.
I explained my level of knowledge—that being low.
I explained my wants in photography.
I explained my likes and dislikes in my current camera.
The kind Sony lady told that the 5100 should do the trick.
Next I wrote down all of the info on a piece of paper (price, order numbers, phone numbers) that I then, not so discreetly, left for my husband to find, and with fingers crossed, he would utilize as his shopping list for my Christmas gift.

On Christmas morning, much to my excitement, I opened a package that contained what I just knew had to be my camera!!!
It was a camera,but wait, this wasn’t the one I had written down.
This was a 6000
What?!
AAAGGGGGHHHHHH
In my husband’s very big but misdirected heart, he figured bigger was better and should not I, his wife deserve, the bigger which obviously equates to better camera? There is sweetness in that thinking but it doesn’t help in detailed specifics.
Lets just say a 6000 is for more of a picture taking aficionado and not the queen of point, shoot, click.
UGH.

Add to the now huge unanticipated learning curve of a very fancy smancy camera that came with one lens attached, along with a macro lens found hiding in another package, as now neither of the two lens could zoom up on far way images, like the birds and deer I so like to stalk with a camera, not like my now old Nikon—hence another lens would be required–making a total of 3 lens.
Ugh.

Enter frustration.

Do you know how to hide disappointment on your face?
I do not.
Which in turn leads to disappointment in the gift giver, aka my husband, who is still trying to figure out why bigger is not better.
I now need a third lens.
May I just say lens are not cheap, with some of them costing 3 to 4 times the cost of the freaking camera.
UGH
Christmas night found us online seeking one more lens.
It should be here tomorrow.

In the meanwhile. . .

Today, after the holiday fracas has finally and slowly subsided as the Christmas company has all departed, returning back home, with Life now slowly beginning to regain its routine, I settled into the studying of this new camera.

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A couple of practice shots with the macro lens appear promising yet tells me that there is still much more to be practiced and learned, yet I did feel a hopeful tinge of excitement edging out the disappointed frustration.

Enter the pink tiny crab.
He was on a small twig of driftwood I found on Oregon’s Cannon Beach a summer ago. He was deceased but preserved perfectly. I brought him home. Who knew he still had sand specks stuck on his body?!

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How about a small dried piece of shelf fungus. . .

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So as I continue this uncomfortable yet productive journey of learning, I am reminded that with any sort of wanting and asking, there will always be responsibilities attached to such, there will be many lessons to be learned, practice and skills will have to be experienced and mastered, as there will be frustration and work.

Things should not always come easy to us.
Things should stretch us, mould us, move us.
God made us to be entities that can learn and grow, evolve and grow.
We are not stagnant creatures.
Yet learning and growing is not easy nor is it always meant to be comfortable.
Beginning the acquisition of any new skill is hard and tough yet the satisfaction of mastering something challenging, not being given or magically granted success but rather toiling, sweating and fighting over it all, is certainly oh so sweet.

So on this new Monday of this new week, of this new month and of this brand new year, make certain that the next time you ask for or wish for something— you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and are willing to be challenged, pushed and pulled mentally as well as physically. Trust me, you’ll be the better for it in the long run.
Now where’s that other new lens. . .