Well seasoned

“Accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields.
And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.”

― Kahlil Gibran

“What an abundant harvest has been collected in autumn! The earth has now fulfilled its design for this year, and is going to repose for a short time. Thus nature is continually employed during the greatest part of the year: even in her rest she is active: and in silence prepares a new creation.”
― Christoph Christian Sturm

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(bits of the remains of a farm in Teileann, County Donegal, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

There is a rhythm and certain cadence to life,
as well as to living that life.
Divided amongst the four seasons…
A time to reap and a time to sow
A time to make merry and a time to grow…

In December, the weather is to be cold.
The trees, both twiggy and dormant, are to stand as Winter’s lone sentinels.
Yet what an odd sight when those sleeping trees, which are to wake up and bud in March, are alarmingly budding now.
Odder still…a single remaining tomato plant continues to persevere offering up small ripening fruit.

Where are the freezing temps, the chilly days and colder nights?
Forthcoming they say…
Why do the crickets still sing at dusk,
when they should be fast asleep for the winter?
Ode to our seasons being out of sync and out of step.

For we are rhythmic beings.
Our bodies
Our seasons
Our time
Our earth
Our universe

We have been created to live a seasonal and rhythmic life.
Our very breath rises and falls as our heart beats rhythmically along—both in sync
Any glitch, such as an illness or accident, creates havoc to life’s ebb and flow.
And when one component of our being falls out of tempo with the rest, everything within and without, seems to follow suit.

Disruption
Distraction
Disjunction
Disconnection
Disorder…

We are also spiritual beings.
Who are inextricably linked to the One who set all that is into motion…
Linked endlessly to the One who has given us our being, our rhythm, our life.
Yet long ago, having chosen disobedience over obedience, chaos over order, darkness over light, we placed into jeopardy the very essence of that rhythmic relationship.
The harmony of Life’s seasons was turned upside down and despite our best efforts, remains hopelessly out of sync and out of balance to this day.

So as we find ourselves in the waning days of yet another year,
in the midst the final season of a time which was…
A time of transition…
from cool to cold,
from colorful to bland,
from bright to bleak,
from life to death,
from light to dark….
a time and a season of longing and expectation…
A time that has us wondering, watching, waiting…

A time that is to offer renewing Light…
As in a living Light.
A Light which will bring life giving warmth as it banishes the darkness of colorless death…

There will be those who we will long for this light…
as there will be others who will remain unaware, dismissive and stubbornly unaccepting.
Yet this living Light thankfully comes regardless of the wants and whims of man…
It comes despite the poor choices and refusals…
It comes to offer both Hope and Redemption for any and all…as it will finally set the captives free, as the blind will finally see and those who have been silenced will find their long awaited song.
The Light which will restore the very cadence and rhythm…
to our relationship of One…

There are plans

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
Jeremiah 29:11

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(A lone sentinel sits watch along the outer wall along the Rock Of Cashel / County Tipperary, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

I lose sight you know…

Losing that certain knowledge…

Lost in the day to day…

It’s truly…simply lost…

In fact, I think I, as in myself, my life, my very being, has gotten lost.

I didn’t quite realize it until just recently.

The din of madness from this chattering world of ours, with its dark vacuum and slick diversions, has sucked it all slowly away.

I am like those crumbling ruins of ages past…
Once great and grand, sure and solid…
Impressing both self as well as others…
Made to last forever. . .or so it seemed…
Yet over time and little by little, the beauty and loftiness has faded…
The glory is now forgotten…
I sit alone and abandoned left feeling more numb than sad.

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(the crumbling edifice of the Rock of Cashel which dates to the early 12th century / County Tipperary, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

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(the crumbling edifice of the Rock of Cashel which dates to the early 12th century / County Tipperary, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

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(the crumbling edifice of the Rock of Cashel which dates to the early 12th century / County Tipperary, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

Then one day, when it is least expected, a single ray of light shines into the blurry, chilly grey abyss…there is a word, a touch, a feeling, a reminder…

We pursue God because, and only because, He has first put an urge within us that spurs us to the pursuit. “No man can come to me,” says our Lord, “except the Father which hath sent me draw him,” and it is by this very prevenient drawing that God takes from us every vestige of credit for the act of coming. The impulse to pursue God originates with God, but the outworking of that impulse is our following hard after Him; and all the time we are pursuing Him we are already in His hand: “Thy right hand upholdeth me.”
A.W. Tozer

The notion that I, as in me…who out of the billions of human beings on this planet, has been considered worthy enough for the most high Omnipotent God to have long ago, well before I came into being, placed a piece of His own Divinity within my very being…only to call out to that very tiny particle years later, is a thought that is more than difficult to wrap words, let alone thoughts, around.

It is as if two missing pieces, separated forever ago, now palpably yearn, nay ache, to be joined and bound together—at last…in order to finally become one, to be made whole.

Those who are adopted often come prewired with a sense of unwantedness.

It is a psychological hiccup in the cornerstone of formation sadly instilled in utero.
It is a hindrance that is carried beneath the conscious mind throughout life, only to rear its ugly head in the myriad of relationships held throughout the course of a lifetime.

It is that hidden sense of unwantedness that acts to repel the notion that one is deeply and passionately loved, wanted, savored…particularly so by the very Creator of all of Life Himself as it is He who instilled His loving “want” at the time the unwantedness was issued.

A contradiction in utero–the sacred and the carnal colliding in the creation of life.
Want and rejection become a stalemate of one.
Brokeness is pushed forever deeper as all manner of satiation is sought throughout the journey known as life–anything to fill the unrecognizable carnality subconscious ache.

Yet the Divine Want far surpasses any secular carnal unwantedness.
Grace, Redemption, Desire, Love, Acceptance each flows freely, coursing through veins which had narrowed in their ill perceived lack of want and years of temporal satiation.

It is as if someone has taken hold of both shoulders and shaken so hard that a revelation has actually, thankfully, finally been jared loose, knocking all falsehoods off balance. The ah ha moment of the very reality of Creation crushes down on the hardened ego of self and on the sheer act of survival– as joyfully selfless Love indeed trumps all…

…and so it is, the tiny wee particle, buried deep within, hears its long awaited missing half…a Voice speaking through the mist —
“You are indeed worthy…for you have always been mine…
There are plans…”

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Chapel window from Kylemore Abbey / County Galway, Ireland / Julie Cook/ 2015)

Nothing from nothing leaves. . .something

“Nothing from nothing leaves nothing,
Ya gotta have something”

Billy Preston (Nothing from Nothing song lyrics)

You have to create something from nothing.
Ralph Lauren

“We can know only that we know nothing.
And that is the highest degree of human wisdom.”

― Leo Tolstoy

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(a “volunteer pumpkin on the compost pile / Julie Cook / 2015)

We have a growing pile of debris that has risen and fallen over the course of our time living here at this house. It sits right on the edge of the property just at the periphery of woods which surround our property on two adjoining sides. It’s where we usually put all of our clippings from the bushes, any fallen tree limbs, discarded shrubs and spent flowers. I think of it like a rather large compost pile that ebs and flows with the passing seasons.

After this spring’s big yard re-do, the brush pile grew exponentially as the landscapers dumped stumps, stripped grass, and discarded shrubbery lost to the change.

There have been a few past Christmas trees which have found their way to the brush pile, as well as numerous pumpkins that just didn’t seem to survive the Fall, petering out before Thanksgiving.

And it is to these pumpkins that my recent attentions have now turned. . .

The other evening when I was dumping some grass clippings on the pile, I noted a squash-like vine emerging from the debris spreading out in two separate directions. I pleaded with my husband not to mow over the vine because I was exciteed to see what might happen if we left it to grow. . .
He throws in some comment about needing another plant for pollination so it won’t ever come to anything. . . but I countered with a “leave it to the bees and we’ll see. . .”

Low’n’behold, a white pumpkin is now growing from my debris pile.
I remembered back to last Fall when I had bought a multitude of heirloom pumpkins—there were indeed a few white pumpkins in the mix. . .
I am so excited!
A bonus pumpkin, given as a small gift from the compost. . .

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Which brings me around to another sort of thought. . .a real thought about debris, reclaiming, and growth.

Many many years ago when I was a college sophomore, attending a very large state university, I found myself in a familiar situation that a great many young Christians find themselves in when heading off to college—that surreal state of desperately seeking that hidden balance between one’s faith and one’s life while taking in the whole college experience–
Greek life, parities, sports, dates, new friends, new thoughts, new experiences, liberal minded professors and courses, challenges, questions and hidden insidious digs executed from the dark one—all of which are attacks upon a fragile young threatened faith.

I rode the waves.
Sometimes staying on top, wildly riding the monster wave. . .other times, I was falling off the proverbial surf board of life, miserably wiping out while nearly drowning in the crashing waves.

Having come home one weekend, during an away football game no doubt, I found myself sitting in the office of one of my priests from my home church, having a bit of a late afternoon confession session.
I had failed miserably and instinctively knew I needed a good dose of wisdom, tough love, and true Christian absolution.

Patiently he listened. . .
offering a tissue,
while quickly cutting through the crap.
Saying something that has stayed with me all these many years later. . .
“it doesn’t matter what you have done–it doesn’t matter what you still may do, or how bad you may have been or how bad you may yet be—even if you’re covered from head to toe in dog crap, God still wants you, cares for you, loves you. . .nothing you have done is going to separate you from His love as long as you continue to seek His Grace. . .
We call that unconditional love. . .”

It was a never give up on yourself sort of talk.
While being countered with the need for change on my part talk. . .
the stop being a yo-yo Christian sort of talk.

I’ve used that same line of thought with lots of my kids over the years at school and I’ve had to recall it often in my own life.
I’ve fallen lots of times over the years.
I’ve screwed up.
I’ve gotten to that place when I’ve felt as if this time was it. . .as in, it’s all over.
I’ve done it for sure this time, there’s no going back. . .
I’m done, I’m toast, all chances are up, chips are cashed in, there’s no going back. . .

I think we’ve all gotten to that place in our lives when we’ve felt as if we’ve gone too far.
We’ve crossed the line and we just figure there’s no going back. God has washed His hands of us and finally walked away—or at least He should walk away.

We shrug our shoulders, as we toss our spiritual beings on the brush pile out back, believing our relationship with an unseen God is over as we’ve pushed the envelope just one time a little too far.

Yet God has never given up on the junk out back.
There’s life to be had in that compost.
It might be a volunteer pumpkin or it might be a redeemed heart and soul. . .
Either way. . .there’s always HOPE in that which was thought to be nothing. . .

For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value. 19 It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God.
1 Peter 1:18-19

What was. . .and will be

All that’s bright must fade, The brightest still the fleetest; All that’s sweet was made But to be lost when sweetest.
Thomas Moore

“God can make a new beginning with people whenever God pleases, but not people with God. Therefore, people cannot make a new beginning at all; they can only pray for one. Where people are on their own and live by their own devices, there is only the old, the past.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas

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(frozen and wilted gerber daisies / Julie Cook / 2014)

Brilliant and masterful, the truth once stood
Where luminescent colors mixed and mingled, flowing gently down upon the dirt.
The choice was presented, more times than once, but only the innocent could hear the offer.
“Prepare ye the way,” as the cold swept in, this time from the Northwest sky.
Heeding the warning, we gathered all we had.
The time to seek shelter had arrived.
The advancing forces prepared to route all the followers.
Heads now bowed, no strength remained, “it is done” whispered the wind.

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(frozen and wilted gerber daisies / Julie Cook / 2014)

Fading joy now sorrowfully droops, turning brown and crisp to the touch as the fluids of life simply drain away.
Limp and dying, yet held sweetly in strong arms, the silent foe claims victory at last.
Dormant and silent life now yields its glory.
No sounds nor growing objects dance to fill the silent void which stretches beyond empty ears and eyes.
Barren and desolate prop up against a monochromatic canvas now painfully empty as the sinister thief makes off with all we had.

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(frozen, wilted and brown a once white hydrangea / Julie Cook / 2014)

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(sickening gray and yellowing once vibrant blue hydrangea droop in the cold / Julie Cook /2014)

3 hours gives way to 3 days which gives way to 3 months, as a flat muffled world now waits in devoid silence.
Yet hidden, under the cloak of darkness and buried beep within, a mystery unfolds.
Trembling and twisting, that which was thought to be lost, begins to take form as the Master Creator secretly breaths hope in a world filled with hopelessness.
Hesitant color gingerly and slowly returns to the ashen gray cheeks of death.
Life reaches desperately upward, bursting through its burial chamber, as the gaping crevasse is thankfully bridged.
The resilience of a cyclical world, marked by the miraculous seasons of life, death and life again, offer to all who so choose to believe in the everlasting redemption of Hope.

The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.
(John 10:10)

A shot at redemption

“If the characters are not wicked, the book is.” We must tell stories the way God does, stories in which a sister must float her little brother on a river with nothing but a basket between him and the crocodiles. Stories in which a king is a coward, and a shepherd boy steps forward to face the giant. Stories with fiery serpents and leviathans and sermons in whirlwinds. Stories in which murderers are blinded on donkeys and become heroes. Stories with dens of lions and fiery furnaces and lone prophets laughing at kings and priests and demons. Stories with heads on platters. Stories with courage and crosses and redemption. Stories with resurrections.”
― G.K. Chesterton

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I don’t know, does she look mad?
Maybe she’s just looking a bit weary, as in “not so fast missy, the jury’s still out on you!”
You may recall my mother’s day debacle.
The one I still don’t think I can talk about.
You know the one. . .
The one featuring the brand new purple martin house–the one I thought I had put together perfectly.

Then there was the husband with the best of intentions who thought he’d take down the old dilapidated purple martin house, rig a way to put up the one I screwed up assembling, all the while clueless that the bluebirds had moved into the slum, aka the old broken purple martin house.

The babies. . .oh the babies.
I can’t talk about it.
We didn’t know.
We didn’t see them. . .unitl it was too late.
Ugh. . .(picture my head hanging very very low)

Today the lopsided new martin house, the now crooked new thing that is dangling precariously on the 25 foot pole out in the field, is a constant sad reminder. . .it remains as we just can’t bring ourselves to bring it down in order to fix it.
More time must past.

Fast forward to yesterday.

I was out working in the yard, when suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I saw what I thought to be a blue blur swooping past my head. I quickly turned, just in time, to catch the blue tail end of a bird darting in the birdhouse.

“Could it be?”
I wondered.
I hoped.
You may recall during my lamentation of the mother’s day disaster that there are 5 bird houses scattered throughout the yard–blue bird houses to be exact. Why in the world had they not chosen one of them?!

Fast forward to today.
As I was heading out the back door, rounding the end of the garage, I saw it.
A blue head poking out of a round hole.
“Camera, where is the camera when I need it???!!”
Proof, I need proof of my redemption!!

I run back in the house.
Then back out of the house.
Ugh—it’s gone.
I pull up a chair.
I gently perch the camera on my knee, zooming in just so and proceed to wait.

In about 5 minutes, she returns.
Ahhh. . .
They’re relocating!
Starting over, again.
See the warm smile on my face.

I feel that Hope, Life and Redemption is alive and well.
This as I utter a silent thank you Lord.

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Ashes to Ashes…a history lesson

Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the
earth: Grant that these ashes may be to us a sign of our
mortality and penitence, that we may remember that it is
only by your gracious gift that we are given everlasting life;
through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

(Prayer taken from the current Book of Common Prayer’s Ash Wednesday’s service and the imposition of the ashes)

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(Master of San Francesco crucifix / Louvre Museum / Pais, France / Julie Cook / 2011)

Ash Wednesday, for Christians worldwide, marks the solemn period of the liturgical year known as Lent—the forty day time period which recalls Jesus’ time spent in the desert being tempted by Satan, as this was the precursor to his public ministry.

For Christians, Western and Eastern alike, Lent is the 40 day lead up to Easter.
(it should be noted however that the time period of Lent differs in both the Western and Eastern churches as they each adhere to a different liturgical calendar)
Lent is intended as a time of deep reflection, repentance, personal denial, and remembrance. For many, Lent is marked by the Ash Wednesday church service which most likely involves, for those in attendance, the imposition of ashes administered to the forehead.

The imposition of ashes has its roots in ancient Jewish belief and is based on various passages from the Old Testament with the foremost being taken from Genesis 3:19
By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”

(NIV)

The phrase, “from dust you came and to dust you shall return,” is also a key prayer from The Rite of the Burial of the Dead, the Book of Common Prayer:
FORASMUCH as it hath pleased Almighty God, in his wise providence, to take out of this world the soul of our deceased brother, we therefore commit his body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; looking for the general Resurrection in the last day, and the life of the world to come, through our Lord Jesus Christ; at whose second coming in glorious majesty to judge the world, the earth and the sea shall give up their dead; and the corruptible bodies of those who sleep in him shall be changed, and made like unto his own glorious body; according to the mighty working whereby he is able to subdue all things unto himself
(Prayer to be said at the graveside for the burial of the dead taken from
The Book Of Common Prayer, 1789 edition)

It is the belief that we, the descendants of Adam, who God formed from the dust of the ground, would all eventually return to that very beginning, of decayed dust. It is because of the Resurrection that the saved souls of the temporal bodies of dust will eventually rise upon the day of Judgement and ascend, just as Jesus had ascended, to Heaven and that of the eternal Kingdom.

The priest marks the forehead of those attending the Ash Wednesday service not as a symbol to be worn with pride–not as a “look at me, I’ve been to church on a Wednesday of all days and got ashes smeared on my head” kind of symbol, but one that goes much deeper.

The ashes are a symbol to remind the recipient, as well as any observer of such, of simply put, the sinful nature of man. There is no sugar coating of the facts here. This is the real deal acknowledgement. . .no politically correct business here. It is called as it is—sin— and it is displayed as such that all the world may take note and hopefully reflect— that we are sinners and we all fall short of the Glory of God.

Nothing more and nothing less.

Something more akin to the blazing red A as seen in Nathaniel Hawthorn’s tale of the Scarlet Letter–the ashes are a symbol of sin and we are all reminded that there is simply no way getting around the issue—we are sinners–sinners in desperate need of redemption. But in our tale of the wearing of the painful reminder of glaring offenses, we already know the ending of the story . . . redemption, love and hope are now available.
For Lent is a “season” of life offering to us all a powerful reminder of the importance examining our lives and of who we are and of our relationship to God as Creator and to His son as Redeemer, and of our desperate need for that very redemption.

The following excerpt, taken from Colin Buchanan’s book A to Z of Anglicanism,
is a nice bit of history regarding the use of ashes in the Ash Wednesday service”
Ash Wednesday.
The first day of Lent is called “ Ash Wednesday.”
It originated in the enrollment of catechumens for the period of
preparation leading to baptism at Easter, from which Lent itself is derived. Thus the day is also traditionally the beginning of Lenten fasting for the whole church.
The use of ashes within the liturgy, traceable in the West to before the 10th century, stems from the Jewish background of using ashes to express sorrow and self-humiliation (cf. Matt. 11.21), though there has usually been a secondary theme of a reminder of mortality (cf. Gen 3.19). The imposition of ashes was prohibited by the 1549 Book of Common Prayer, which inaugurated instead the commination service. In Thomas Cranmer’s Prayer Books, the day was entitled “the First Day of Lent, commonly called Ash Wednesday”—a clear indication that the old title was now viewed as misleading. The use of ashes has slowly reappeared in some Anglican provinces over the last 100 years under the influence of the Anglo-Catholic movement, and consequently official provisions is now made within modern Prayer Books, as in the Church of England’s Lent, Holy Week, Easter. There is a widespread custom of burning palm crosses distributed on the previous year’s Palm Sunday in order to provide the ashes for use on Ash Wednesday.

May we all take pause either this day, Ash Wednesday, or at some point during these next 40 days of Lent, as we are afforded (oh how many times are we afforded. . .) a time of deep reflection leading up to the celebration of Renewal and Hope known as Easter, to contemplate our lives lived, our mortality, our sins and of the deep endless love of the Father of all Creation and of the Son of Renewal and Hope—May this time awaken in our souls the knowledge that we all need so much more than what we can simply offer ourselves which are the limitations of this life— but may we rather look beyond ourselves, to that which is so much greater—for it is in only in the Redeemer that we may live.

Greatness is calling

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(photograph: statue of St Peter at the steps leading up to St Peter’s Basilica / The Vatican / Rome, Italy / Julie Cook / 2007)

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter,
“Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said,
“you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep

(NIV John 21:15-17)

There is something very powerful about the man known as Simon bar Jonah that touches a chord deep within my soul. This apostle who was called from the sea. A fisherman by trade. A rough-neck, a hot head. Impulsive and brash. A man who acted before thinking, a man who most likely did not have nor use filters before speaking what came first to mind. A man of very little, if any, patience. A simple man who saw the world in black or white. A man of very little, if any, education. A man who was a deserter, a coward, a liar…the character flaws of this man go on and on and on…. and yet there was another man who was of great importance who saw something of great importance in this simple, rough around the edges, fisherman.

There is hope in all of this as this most broken, most lacking, most flawed of men was chosen–was chosen for a life altering task. Someone great believed in this broken man even when the broken man did not believe in himself. He cowered in the shadows when he was most needed to lead. He was weak. And yet he was tasked with changing the world.

I can certainly identify with the many character flaws of Simon bar Jonah… I am ashamed to admit. That is why I feel a connection with this fisherman….I feel like I know his man. I’ve had my own share of demonstrating less then stellar attributes in front of others, only to wish for a quick rewind, a do-over, or the ability to up and quickly move countries.

Luckily there is hope. Hope in the fact that good can come from not so good. That a dirty old rock pulled from the ground can be cut and polished into something priceless.

He was forgiven, over and over and over again….so that he in turn would understand the importance of doing the same.
He was nurtured and “coached” all along the way… finally to be turned out on his own to set the world on fire. And the world, like it or not, has never been the same. Regardless of whether or not you are a Believer, even your world has been effected…this man altered history.

I sat in a small, dark, damp, cave-like cistern deep within the ground in what was once ancient Rome that was formerly his prison. I saw some relics that tradition claims were chains that held him captive. And I made my way through an ancient, dimly lit alley road way, buried deep within the earth, within the bowels of the Vatican, that led to his skeleton, or more accurately some of his bones, plus or minus a skull depending on who you ask.

He was tried and tested but withstood the trials. To Christians, he is huge, but it is not this hugeness, this larger than life persona, that speaks to me. It is rather the brokenness that speaks to me. I know of my brokenness and flaws and I am thankful and hopeful that there is redemption–

There is, always, thankfully hope. He was asked to feed lambs—and he did.

Today is the first day of school. Teachers are tasked with nurturing lambs (some of the lambs are more like goats with a few wolves hiding out as well)…they wanted to feed the lambs and so they do.

You too have been tasked with something important….something that can and will change lives. Are you cowering in the shadows, or are you being cut and polished? Is there someone who needs for you to believe in them so that they may go out and change the world? Greatness is still waiting to happen but it may not be perceived as Great….brokenness can be mended.

There is always hope, there is always redemption for the brokenness, there is always room to believe in others……Greatness beckons…God is calling… are you listening?