An unlikely tale of unity

“We are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business;
we are each other’s magnitude and bond.”

― Gwendolyn Brooks

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(American Beautyberry bush / Julie Cook / 2015)

Crown Him with many crowns. . .a much beloved and joyful hymn sung in any number of Catholic, Anglican and Protestant churches. How many of us, who have sung this hymn during any given Sunday service, have known that this hymn is as much about Biblical scripture as it is about Christian unity?

Catholics and Protestants have long suffered through a strained relationship of both love and hate–a tenuous relationship that has existed ever since Martin Luther set loose a reformation with all that nailing to a door business.
It’s been a tug of war between acceptance and rejection ever since 1517.

There has been blood shed, heads chopped off, houses of worship destroyed, statues crushed, books burned, the faithful tortured, confessions coerced, beliefs recanted, prayers cursed. . .
all in the name of the proper observance for the Christian faith.

During one such tumultuous time period in this long suffering relationship, a hymn was composed by two vastly different men—Matthew Bridges a Catholic convert and Godfrey Thring an Anglican clergyman. The composition however was not originally intended as a joint effort in unity but rather, in actuality, was a conglomeration of equal time for each opposing team.

In the 1800s there was great tension between the Catholic and Anglican churches. Crown Him with Many Crowns is a wonderful example of how God takes the troubles of man and turns them around for good (Romans 8:28).The song was originally penned in 1851 by Matthew Bridges (1800-1894), who once wrote a book condemning Roman Catholic theology, and then later converted to Catholicism. Bridges wrote six stanzas, based upon Revelations 19:12, “…and on His head were many crowns.”

Godfrey Thring (1823-1903) was a devout Anglican clergyman who was concerned that this popular hymn was allowing Catholic theology to be sung by protestant congregations. And so he wrote six new verses.

The 12 stanzas have been mixed and matched down through the years.
(excerpt taken from Sharefaith.com)

So as we stand in our collective churches this Sunday morning, lifting our voices skyward, may we all be mindful that our faith in the resurrected Son of the Most High God, is the tie that binds us as brothers and sisters–bound by the blood of Christ—one belief, one faith, one Savior, one voice lifting to Heaven. . .

I am soooo over it. . .I am done!!!!

There is only one day left, always starting over:
it is given to us at dawn and taken away from us at dusk.

Jean-Paul Sartre

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(a southern dogface butterfly visits a freshly planted petunia / Julie Cook / 2015)

Don’t panic. . .
It’s Summer, I’m talking about Summer. . .
As in I’m done with it. . .
I’m over it. . .
As in kaput, fini, over and out!!

Actually. . .I’m talking about heat, hot, drying and dying—the tiresome end of all that was once lush, plump and thriving.

In late August, here in this deep South of mine, there is no thriving and there is barely any surviving.
Everything is leggy, yellow and very near death.
And mind you, there is many a day, during this particular time of year, that I feel very much the same.

The little flower bed, just out from our front door, had been full of snapdragons and petunias that were planted back in early Spring when the yard was overhauled.
Had any one asked me, I would not have chosen petunias—I’m just not a fan, but nobody asked me and my husband thought they looked nice. I had to go back in later, as the late frosts of Spring did a number on the petunias, so I threw in some snapdragons in order to fill the gaps. I wasn’t keen on the snapdragons either but I knew they were pretty darn hardy—

Pink snapdragons and crimson petunias.
Not my idea of color choices but again, nobody asked me.

The tiny plants did begin to thrive. . .
Filling out and covering nicely the little flower bed the landscape guys had decided to create for me.
Had I had my druthers, I would have moved the bed, enlarged it and done it a bit differently—
but again, nobody asked me.
The landscape guys had put out some very pretty pine straw all over the yard in the newly formed beds and then for some reason they added bark to the little flower bed.

We had bark once.

It washed like nobody’s business whenever it rained.
I would have a river of bark racing down the front walk requiring scooping and sweeping up after every down pour.
I was done with bark.
However the landscapers were into contrast when they were laying out the yard and again, nobody asked me.

So bark it was and bark it is.

As the Summer has worn on, like a tired old moth-eaten wool overcoat, the petunias and snapdragons have been rapidly approaching their limit. Long, tall, leggy, yellowing, more vine than leaf, shriveled and grossly unsightly. . .I could no longer stand to look at the flower bed without feeling a great sense of anxiety. . .with a touch of disgust added in.

For weeks I’ve been telling myself “not much longer. . .September is almost here. . .then you’ll be able to pull up all that crap and replant it all with some fresh wonderful crisp fall magic.”
Yes, I’ve told myself that for many weeks now.

A tiny cold front passed through the state last night–and please note I use the words cold and front with much rolling of the eyes. . .
I will admit that it did actually drop our temps to the mid 60’s this morning.
Never mind that the high was still 90ish–I’m taking that smidge of crisp and I’m running with it. . .all the way to the local the garden center.

This entire week will see me at dads, doctors, dentists so if I was going to act, it had to be today.
The only problem was that the garden center really doesn’t have in crisp fall magic yet.
They still have in hot summer same ol same ol. . .
No matter–I would make do.

I got home with my assortment of trays.
When I thought I was grabbing some pansies, I was actually grabbing trays of petunias as well as a couple of trays of snapdragons—as in been there done that, it’s too early for violas and pansies so AGGGGHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!

Oh well, no matter, they’re purple and white and they’ll do until the garden center gets in its fall crisp magic.

I chose white because I like white.
I wear a lot of black, as I like to say it hides a wealth of woe, so I suppose I like it’s opposite as in I think white looks elegant. Never mind when the white elegant blooms die, turning a sickly shade of brown and falling off–I’m sticking with elegant—
And purple because the butterflies like the purple butterfly bushes I recently put out.
I had told the landscapers I wanted some butterfly bushes—
Surprise, I didn’t get any.
Lest we remember that no one was asking and obviously no one was listening. . .

So I spent the remainder of my day cutting all the leggy spent petunias and snapdragons–leaving 3 clumps that still seemed to be “ok”
I then raked off the tired dry grey bark from the bed.
Next I spread a big ol heavy sack of soil—all over the red Georgia clay that makes up the bed.
I had wanted the landscapers to add topsoil to all the excavated ground but remember, no one was listening.
I put in two dwarf fountain grass—
why you ask—
because they caught my eye on the way to the checkout register–
I think we call that an impulse buy. . .however not to fear, I liked them.
I added my trays of the new petunias and snapdragons—experiencing a bit of deja vu as I did so.
I watered, re-spread the tired grey bark- – – but no matter as it now matches the once pretty red supple pine straw the landscapers had put out, which is now dull, crunchy and grey.

One good last watering and I was happy—well, happier than I was.
I’ll really be happy when it’s finally fall crisp and magical. . .

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(work)

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(more work)

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(leggy and spent)

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(better)

Colorful returns

There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.
Nelson Mandela

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(early season wild blackberries / middle of nowhere Troup County, Georgia / Julie Cook / 2015)

Bejeweled little beauties
Transforming in the May sun’s warmth
Like tiny chameleons. . .
They charm and captivate
First green then red
And later purple, maybe even blue. . .
Before finally reaching the lusciousness of black. . .
Bulging with sweetness
Beguiling and beloved
They bedazzle and bewitch
Tempt and bemuse
Announcing Summer’s triumphant return . . .

Unblemished

“It is far more important to me to preserve an unblemished conscience than to compass any object however great.”
William Ellery Channing

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(new beauties snapped on the IPhone at the local garden center / Julie Cook / 2015)

A trip to the garden shop, especially this time of year, is nothing short of mesmerizing topped off with a color filled overload of spectacular.
Rows upon rows of picture perfect annuals, perennials, biennials and any other ennial you can imagine. . .
Talk about things that sell themselves.
Who wouldn’t want to walk away with a cart, or two, filled to the brim with the likes of such beauties. . .large, tall, spiky, showy, red, blue, white, yellow, orange, pink, purple, lavender, green, black, two tones, monotone, sweet, sassy, demure, austere, even those of the exotic bordering on the erotic. . .

These flowers and plants are perfect.
Nary a blemish to be found.
Perfectly watered.
Fertilized to perfection.
Protected from wind, rain, and the relentless burn of the sun
Picture perfect and gorgeous.

But just get them home. . .
Get them repotted and replanted,
Add your own special TLC, step back and bask in the glory. . .
That is until the blooms begin to fade, eventually dying–oh did you forget to deadhead?
The leaves curl or turn yellow.
Wooops, you forgot to water when you went away for the weekend. .
Talk about drying out.
Looks like you over watered. . .
And it actually died from root rot.
Applied too little or too much fertilizer. . .
Wait, whoa. . .what about those Japanese beetles, aphids, white flies. . .
and the birds—who knew they liked to eat those flowers or was that the deer, or chipmunks,
or rabbits, or armadillos or. . . .

Things always look better in the store as there is an army in place to ensure such.
As in it obviously takes a massive village of caregivers
to keep everything prime for the shopping public. . .

For those of us who are Christian believers. . .
do you remember how it felt when you first made that conscious decision to be a follower of Christ?
That moment in time when you were brought to you knees. . .
Do you remember those first couple of days of the giddy excitement?
You felt clean and no longer bruised or full of blemishes
You basked in the warm glow of joy, peace, acceptance.
Your burdens had been reduced and you actually felt good for the first time in a long time.
You felt strong and bold, unafraid.
You felt like the teflon king or queen, as in nothing any one threw your way would stick or hurt.
You were walking on cloud nine.

And then, without your cognizant acknowledgement, life crept back into the picture.
What once seemed like a life of endless joy and energy gave way to frustration and irritability.
You quickly discovered you weren’t exactly indefensible or indestructible.
Your significant other decided to leave.
Your boss gave you your walking papers.
Your kids got in really bad trouble.
You got sick.
You got in a wreck.
You got robbed.
That joyous high that you had been riding seemed to crash right down on top of you. . .

“Oh where is your God now” they whisper?
What?
Does Mr / Ms religious have a temper?
Did you just curse?
Are you feeling guilty for thinking all those bad things about those who have hurt you?
What happened to all that forgiveness and pie in the sky loving of yours. . .
All of this as the bitterness creeps slowly back in.
You’re heard to murmur sarcastically “thanks a lot God”
A slick voice is heard encouraging you that you’ll be better off without Him.
“Forget about Him, see how He deserted you, let you down. . .He wasn’t really real. . .”
“Come back to your old ways, your old friends, your old life. . .you were comfortable there, accepted. . .”
As in. . . all the current misery is loving all the present company. . .

I once heard a sermon where the priest reminded everyone in attendance, who had decided to establish or reestablish their relationship with Jesus, not to be surprised if they actually lost their job the following day. . .
Hummmm. . .

Was that what you signed up for?

Be mindful. . .
Where the Sprit works, there also dwells Satan.
A power struggle ensues for each and every heart and soul.
The faithful will be battered and hit with all manner of harm.
For ours is a fallen world.
We cannot change that fact.

We are like the pretty plants and flowers we bring home,. . .those that are so full of hope.
Yet we get a hold of ourselves and things don’t go so well—either by our own devices and ignorance, or at the hands of Life which is beyond our control, delivering a one two punch.

Doubt
Despair
Hate
Resentment
Pride
All of which rapidly creep in whispering into our ears the endless lies. . .

But all is not lost.
For God has never walked away despite those lies we are told.
He has never left, never given up. . .
on you or I. . .

Yet let us be reminded once again, we live in a fallen world.
A battle zone of Good and Evil
Yet thankfully we live with a God who Loves without ceasing.
He tells us to get back up, again and agin. . .and to simply follow Him
Never mind the bruises, blemishes, cuts and scrapes. . .
He tells us to gird ourselves with the armor of Truth.
His armor, His Truth.

However, for any of that to be true, to be real. . .
You’d have to believe in Good and Evil
You’d need to admit that there is indeed a God in Heaven
Or that there is evan a Heaven
Or a Hell
Or a Satan. . .

You’d have to admit that the soul of man hangs in the balance
You’d have admit that there is a Divine Design and not a random design
You’d have to let go of self, ego and pride
You’d have to be willing to become less in order to get more. . .

Many may scoff that unlike those unblemished flowers in the garden shops, ours is a life
full of imperfection, struggles and challenges, falls and scrapes, bruises and blemishes. . .
Yet just like those well tended and pampered flowers,
We too have an arsenal, a team waiting in the wings offering aid, assistance, defense from the struggles and trials of life. . .

We have a Master Gardener who has given us His all,
In order to afford each of us the chance to not merely survive,
but rather the gift to thrive . . .

The righteous man will flourish like the palm tree, He will grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Planted in the house of the LORD, They will flourish in the courts of our God. . .
Psalm 92:12-13

A curative for the wintertime blues

Patience is the best remedy for every trouble.
Plautus

“Winter is not a season, it’s an occupation.”
― Sinclair Lewis

“I must have flowers, always, and always.”

― Claude Monet

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(the varying stages of a hyacinth bloom / Julie Cook / 2015

Do you smell that?
Oh. . .
no. . .
I’m sorry, I forgot. . .
sadly you cannot.
Hummm. . . lets see. . . what to do. . .
Wait!
I know. . .
Quick!
You must get thee to some sort of store, shop or greenhouse, post haste. . .
Some place which has flowers blooming!!
Yes, I know it’s the dead of Winter.
Yes, I know some of those varmints out there, aka groundhogs, saw their shadows, but here’s the thing. . . there’s a bit of a dispute brewing because some of their kin claim to have seen no shadow.
Talk about an axis shifting conundrum!!
For some of us, Winter is not about to let up. . .
Snow
Nor’easters
Rain
Sleet
Ice
Grey
Cold
Mist
Drizzle
Fog. . .
You get the picture right?
It’s almost enough to drive the most winter hearty of us over the edge. . .unless you are part yeti or abominable snowman.

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(you remember this guy right, form the 1964 classic Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer?? The dreaded Bumble)

So therefore, the only recourse you have is to quickly find a flower sporting some much needed pop of color accompanied by a bouquet of fragrance.. .It’ll be just the thing to chase away those winter blues—you’ve got to trust me on this. . .
You must stand before said blooming flower, closing your eyes, never mind what those around may be thinking, trust me, they’ll join in soon enough.
Now bending over ever so gently, get as close as possible, just until you feel the slightest twitch to your nose. .
There, hold that pose!
Now you must breathe, breathing in deeply of the heady floral aroma. . .
Light, exotic, flavorful.. .drinking in the intoxicating scent which speaks of far away lands, or perhaps conjures up the sweetest of memories from times long past. . .
Now there, exhale. . .
with a long audible drawn out soul refreshing, “Ahhhhhhhhhhh”
. . . you’re now feeling better aren’t you?
Just what the doctor ordered for every sense deprived winter overloaded soul out there in need!

“But ask the animals, and they will teach you,
or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you;
or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,
or let the fish in the sea inform you.
Which of all these does not know
that the hand of the Lord has done this?
In his hand is the life of every creature
and the breath of all mankind.”

Job 12:7-10

Turning point

From a certain point onward there is no longer any turning back. That is the point that must be reached.
Franz Kafka

We have come to a turning point in the road. If we turn to the right mayhap our children and our children’s children will go that way; but if we turn to the left, generations yet unborn will curse our names for having been unfaithful to God and to His Word.
Charles Spurgeon

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(twilight in the western Georgia sky / Julie Cook / 2014)

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(a rising moon in an eastern Georgia sky / Julie Cook / 2014)

In the stillness of the in-between time known as twilight,
Sandwiched between sunset and moonrise. . .
Stepping briefly away from the never-ending emotional assault of manmade turmoil,
The otherworldliness found in Nature’s landscape, offers a respite to overwhelmed senses.

There is silence.

In front lay the setting of a December sun, offering a palette of warm and cool hues swiped across the western sky—the day’s final mark of the Master Artist’s dripping brushstrokes.
Behind rises a brilliant white disc shrouded in the purple gauze of a cloudy eastern sky. Each canvas offset with the royal shades of blues and purples as well as a few touches of soft pink whimsy.

Pivoting and turning both ahead and back, as each landscape’s offering is vastly different yet captivatingly mystical, a great sense of calm descends over the Earth.
Greater and more grand then anything made by man with the overstimulating offering of electronics, technology, and artificial this and that, the heavens above leave no doubt as to what is truly important.

The world stands at a crossroads.
Behind, lay the remnants of what was.
There in the shadows hides civility, morality, compassion, understanding, kindness, and the common goals of unity . . .
Ahead, the seemingly sinister rages of anger, anarchy, chaos, violence, looting, hatred, mistrust all coupled with a strong helping of individual self-centered agenda, set about ready for destruction. . .
The tragic results of falling away and turning from God’s word.
Yet many scoff at such simplistic explanations of the sad state gripping our world—
As the concept of an Omnipotent God competes with the more modern theology of Self.
Appeasement and all inclusiveness seem so much nicer than the following of certain tenants as stated in the covenants established between God and man.

. . .as that would require the belief in such a God and the yielding of self to something much greater. . .

The following words spoken by the late exiled dissident Russian author and Noble Prize Laureate, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, given during a speech in the late 1970’s, eerily ring deeply more prophetic for us today than perhaps the writer could have ever known:
“We have become hopelessly enmeshed in our slavish worship of all that is pleasant, all that is comfortable, all that is material — we worship things, we worship products. Will we ever succeed in shaking off this burden, in giving free rein to the spirit that was breathed into us at birth, that spirit which distinguishes us from the animal world.”

Time is of the essence, yet who is listening. . .
as the sun continues to set and the moon continues to rise. . .


Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever!
Amen.

2 Peter 3:17-18

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(sunset in a western Georgia sky / Julie Cook / 2014)

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(soon to be full moon / Julie Cook / 2014)

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(a full December moon / Julie Cook / 2014)

Sweet, fuzzy and demure

Cold blows the wind against the hill,
And cold upon the plain;
I sit me by the bank, until
The violets come again.

Richard Garnett

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(small tiny fuzzy African violet bloom / Julie Cook / 2014)

The African violet, the sweet demure blue, purple or white blooms of the Saintpaulia, originated in Eastern Africa. The plant was officially “discovered” in 1892 by Baron Walter von St Paul-Illaire, (from which the name derives) a german district commissioner in today’s Tanzania. Seeds made their way back to Germany as well as to the Royal Botanic Gardens near London, helping to ensure the plants popularity during the Victorian Age.

The tiny blossoms, which are edible, are often “candied” and used in decorating cakes or tossed for added color in various salads. The flowers have long been associated with both Greek and Roman mythology where they were attributed to those of chaste virtue and often given as tokens of enduring love. They are the official state flower to 4 different states as well as the official flower of Greece.

Throughout history the plants have been associated with Mary, the mother of Jesus, and therefore denote modesty and chastity. It is said that the violets were all originally white but as Mary deeply mourned, having witnessed the agonizing death of her son, the flowers turned purple, reflecting her sorrow.

It is my desire today to offer to you a small token or gift—-a gift of gentleness and remembrance—as well as a gift of color, a much needed dose of bright beautiful color. So many of us are finding ourselves crawling out from under the sudden blast of winter weather overload, which is currently gripping the entire Nation.
Weren’t we just wearing shorts last month!?

50 of 50 states have recorded freezing temperatures this week (Hawaii has mountains remember).
6 feet of snow blanketed upstate New York in a single day, as an additional 3 to 4 feet followed yesterday.
Tornadoes, flooding rains and straight line winds reigned havoc upon an unsuspecting South and are forecast to return by the weekend. All this was immediately followed by record breaking freezing days and nights. While out in the Pacific Ocean, a massive lava flow continues gobbling up land and homes in Hawaii.
Crazy weather and climates. . .
. . .and it’s only just Fall.

Yes, a little jolt of sweet tender color is much needed. . .

The desert and the parched land will be glad;
the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the Lord,
the splendor of our God.

Isaiah 35:1-2