Last Chance

Our greatest happiness does not depend on the condition of life in which chance has placed us, but is always the result of a good conscience, good health, occupation, and freedom in all just pursuits.
Thomas Jefferson

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(Downy woodpecker / Julie Cook / 2014)

“The last minute is finally here”
“Hurry, hurry, hurry”
“Last chance”
“Hurry it’s not too late”
“Save, Save, Save”
“Order by midnight and it’ll be there by Christmas”
“On time delivery, Guaranteed”

The promises
The promotions
The gimmicks
The pitches
On and on and on they go
The Television ads
The inundated email inbox
The glaring newspaper ads
The annoying radio spots
On and on and on
Ode to the frantic consumerism of Christmas
Prices slashed
Promises made
Guarantees guaranteed

Everyone seems to be vying for your business.
Stores are offering deals, savings, price cuts and rapid deliveries at almost super human speed.
There’s a franticness in the air.
A do or die sort of mentality.
All as the “last minute” fast approaches.

And what is this last minute business of which we are hearing so much about?
Is it the single final millisecond remaining to buy a loved one something that will “make their life??”
Because who wants to wake up Christmas morning disappointed because someone waited too late?
Is that what this is all about?
Disappointment?
Not having the latest and greatest?
No latest this or that waiting under the tree, hiding beneath the pretty paper and bows,
nestled gently in a stocking?
Does it mean we are loved any less?
Or is it that those we love, must not love us as much if they didn’t brave the madness or act quickly enough to get us our heart’s desire?
Making us not worth it?
Not worthy of time, effort or money?
Hummmm. . .

All sounds a bit trite really.
A bit empty.

There is, however, one gift waiting.
Not so much under a tree or nestled in a stocking or wrapped up in a pretty box.
Nor is it still sitting on the shelf at the store.
Or riding around on some UPS truck.
Or costing an arm and a leg to buy.
It neither sparkles, shines, whirs or buzzes.
Its price has not been slashed in half.
No loud voices are screaming for one and all to come in NOW, as time is quickly running out.

No this is not that kind of gift.

This gift breathes life.
It’s a gift offering fulfillment, love, hope.
It is a gift that will not break, tarnish or become quickly obsolete.

The gift whispers to us from just beyond the sparkles and the lights.
Just beyond the carols and the cookies. . .
Well beyond Santa’s sack and sleigh. . .

“Beloved, I am here” it can be heard to coo.
Quietly behind the noise.
Waiting away from the glaring lights.
Sitting without pretty papers and bows.

We are told it comes with no price tag or drastic sales cut.
It has no pitchman hawking in a buyer’s market.
It does not insist that you must come NOW although it would prefer that you do.
It can wait, it’s already been waiting on you most of your life.
And it will continue to wait for you.
As it does not need to be shipped overnight as a guarantee.
For there is no magic cut off day or time. . .

For simply it states “I am here, waiting, when you are ready.”

Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you;
therefore he will rise up to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for him!

Isaiah 30:18

Smallest of the small

Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see.
C. S. Lewis

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(a tiny shriveled seckel pear / Julie Cook / 2014)

Christmas.
Is that Christmas with a big C or a little c?
Depends on who’s asking and who’s telling.

If it happens to be those special interest groups wishing to do away with any and all Christian religious attachment to the word, then if so, it’s merely just a time of year we offer a “winter break” which happens to have a huge helping of buying, spending and giving thrown in just for good measure.
It’s a time of “winning one for the economy” you know.
So therefore it must be the commercial Christmas of the consumer driven economy, right?
What with all that Black Fridays, Cyber Mondays and SALE, SALE, SALES. . .
As economists, financial folks and marketing giants are either ho ho hoing or bah bah humbugging all the way to Wall Street.

Is that Christmas with all the trimmings?
The Christmas of the glitz and the glamor and the Hollywoodesque productions?
The thousands of trees–real and fake, the miles and miles of lights all woven, strung and assembled in Communist China. . .you know the place, the country where there is no religion but the leader. . . The stockings hung waiting for baubles and cash as the boughs are all decked by folks who began this show known as Christmas as early as October, bypassing tricks and treats plus the joining of a Thankful Nation all in order to be the biggest and the brightest because that’s what we’re all about in this country, bigger and brighter.

Or is it the Christmas of the tiny and the small?
The less and not the more.
The forgotten and the overlooked.
The soft and not the garish.
The time of quiet reflection.
The time of recalling, recollecting and remembering.
The time of arrivals and not for massive departures.
The time for a wee tiny babe to be born in a dung filled, hay scattered stall in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere Judea–not to a rich and famous, big named, trendsetting mover and shaker couple, but rather to a poor, overlooked, hungry Jewish couple just trying to do the best they can by their soon to be born child?

A Christmas when it is a mere baby who brings hope and salvation as opposed to the more obvious big, loud, showy and ultra powerful.
A Christmas when we witness the God of the Universe, the Creator of all that was, that is and that which will be, descend upon a withering, riling and agonizing planet–coming in the form of pure innocence and vulnerability—-reminding us all that indeed there are great and powerful things found in the smallest of the small.

A small thank you to Bono in a growing world of ingratitude

I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.
G.K. Chesterton

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(Black eyed Susan / Seaside, Florida / Julie Cook / 2014)

If you don’t already know this little fact about me by now, let me just remind you—- I am not the most “digital” oriented individual in this age of electronic technological wonderment. I am happily, rather, a much more simpler person really. Perhaps considered old fashioned by some standards. Appreciating the straddling of two worlds–that of the “that was then”–“this is now” best of both worlds.

I had recently caught a glimpse somewhere, on some commercial, something about U2 offering some sort of free iTunes download. As this seemed to coincide with Apple unveiling their latest must have device, my most uninterested brain thought there was a correlation—thinking that if you got a new phone, a free download followed suit. I don’t know, like I said, I wasn’t really paying attention and it wasn’t really on my radar because I’m happy with my older version phone as I continue figuring out how it works—plus I’m just not an ardent music fan.

Now don’t get me wrong, I certainly like music. I actually love Jazz, Motown, Classical and contemporary Christian. I like some R and B, some top 40, but I just don’t cleave to it as I once did when I was much younger. I no longer listen to music when I’m in the car—preferring the sounds of quiet and silence—or perhaps more like the sounds of a rather raging world. That might have something to do with 31 years I spent in a classroom filled with the never ending deafening din of teenagers chattering, arguing, screaming, laughing, fighting, and never ever shutting their mouths.

So imagine my surprise the other morning when I journeyed downstairs to the basement for my morning ritual of bonding with my emotionless nemesis—aka my time on the elliptical, when there was a change of tune, literally on my playlist. I have a small selection of tunes downloaded to my phone which I turn to during my morning “workout”– aka death march, which helps to drown out my suffering, huffing, puffing and snorting.

I have 4 little classic U2 songs which pretty much sum up my routine. I know exactly which one and at what place I should be on my daily death march, aka workout, with the playing of each song. Two rounds get me near the end of my time of servitude and torture, aka workout, closing out with the finale of a rousing rendition of triumph from the band Macklemore.

Yesterday morning, suddenly following “Beautiful day” came a most unfamiliar tune–something about being raised by wolves. “What in the world” I could be heard uttering with breathless concern. Fumbling for my glasses, as I worked to balance keeping up my endless rhythm of stepping, I grabbed my phone to investigate what had taken control of my playlist.

Low and behold, it appeared that my playlist somehow connected to that invisible “cloud” of which seems to be the latest technological otherworldly invisible hangout, and I received the “free” U2 download.
Hummmm.
How’d that happen I wondered.
I don’t even know how to “go to the Cloud!!”
And what in the heck is the Cloud?
Where is it?
Why is it?
and really. . .
How in the heck does something invisible work for everyone on the planet?!
It’s all so, otherworldly. . .perhaps even alienesque, but I digress.

So as I continued my workout,my act of homage to health, listening to this new album (here is not the place nor time for a critique but I do find it all to be a bit dark and melodious but we must remember that Bono and the boys did grow up in Ireland during the height of a very sad chapter in Irish history known as “the Troubles”, but I digress as usual), it dawned on me that I needed to tell Bono and the boys “thank you”

In a day and time when a rather youthful society has grown accustomed to the ubiquitous BOGO (buy one get one), the free this and that attached to purchases of everything from food to clothes from electronics to even cars—all of which I call the marvelous marketing hook, the simple act of saying a proper “thank you” has been all but forgotten.

If, you the consumer, come in for a “free” test drive, we, the dealer will give you a new iPad. If you the consumer sign up for our insurance, we the company will give you a “free” cruise. If you the consumer sign up for our phone service, we the company will give you, not one, but two, free phones. And of course there are the department stores with their mega 70% off sales. . . Really? Do we honestly think we’re getting something next for nothing? Do we really think these mega department stores, with their crushing percentage sales, are giving away their profit margin without making money. . .woe to the naive.

Consumers are sadly being duped into thinking they save and gain, which leads to an unrealistic inflated sense of buying power— this false sense of power is produced by a frighteningly slick and savvy Product Marketing, super sales, economic selling engine. Nothing, and I mean nothing in our economy comes for free–despite that incentive cash loaded gift card Wally world just gave you for spending your money with them. There must be give and take—it’s just that the need to feed the proverbial consumer machine comes with a growing ravenous appetite in order to keep our accustomed sense of well being in tact–it is a vicious economic cycle that continues to spiral out of control.

And sadly, all of this economic game of cat and mouse comes with a jaded consumer market left ungrateful and simply wanting and hungry for more. Give us more glitz, glamorous goodies, shiny and slick tricks and baubles all in order to get us to buy–more.
The enticement has become expected.
We have created our very own ravenous consumer monster—a monster of expectation and assumption.
There is no gratitude, rather only ungraciousness and a hunger of wanting more.
If we, the consumer, do not receive our incentive of something for nothing, we rile against the
provider of service and goods.

All of which in turn has lead to a generation that has either forgotten how or never knew how to properly say “Thank You”

I grew up in a place and time when it was expected that if I, as a child, received any sort of present or even the slightest act of kindness, I was expected to offer a hand written thank you.
And don’t think I can’t see you. . . I see you rolling those eyes and I certainly can hear the snide asides of “how archaic” and “who in the world sends a thank you note, let alone actually writes anymore? Who needs to write when all we do is peck on keyboards. . .”

Yes I know, this blog is produced via a keyboard—but trust me I have stationary, I write and I love snail mail! My early years of conditioning and acknowledging the need to offer thanks, leads me to a constant stream of written cards, notes and hopefully an obvious gracious heart.

And as it now appears that I have received a small gift, a free download of a new album by the Boys of Belfast, I need, I want to send a proper Thank You.

And whereas I’m not quite certain as to where I would need to write Bono, or to whether or not he would ever see such a note, I shall use my tiny platform in the blogosphere to offer a heartfelt “thank you” for the “free” album that has mysteriously descended from the proverbial Cloud into my most humble little playlist.

Now whether or not there is an “alternative” reason behind this suddenly “free” kindness, I don’t know nor do I wish to sound ungrateful or assumptive as to motives. As my grandmother would tell me, you just need to write the Thank You note, end of sentence.
so. . .

Dear Mr Bono,
I wish to express here, in this small blog of mine, a humble offering of gratitude. . .
I wish to offer you a heartfelt thank you for. . .
Firstly making music—music which offers hope, joy, soulful examination, lessons of history and most importantly for the assistance of aiding a middle aged woman, who is working her way to the goal of better health, the incentive to simply keep plugging at it. You do all of this by offering the gifts and talents of self by setting your time and skills to the writing and creating the rhythms and beats of a talented music making machine.
Secondly I wish to thank you for the acts of kindness and compassion I know you offer to an ailing world. You unselfishly use your platform to bring recognition and awareness to causes and concerns, as well as a voice to many of the voiceless, in this often tragic and sad world.
And Thirdly Mr Bono, thank you for the album you just gave me for simply turning in. . .
Blessings for many more productive years. . .
Sincerely, Cookie

The hidden things you do not know

Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.
Jeremiah 33:3

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(a pair of Cardinals/ Julie Cook / 2014)

The still small voice of God

Would we not assume it to be LOUD, LARGE, BIGGER THAN LIFE, ATTENTION GRABBING?
Yet experience teaches that God does not operate as we do or as we would–which is truly our blessing.

We might think a big name Ad agency should be hired. High tech, glitzy commercials, billboards, neon lights. . . run a spot during the Super Bowl—yeah that’s it, the Super Bowl. Use George Clooney or Heidi Klum as a spokesperson.
Offer some sort of give away—a new iPad, a new camera, a new car. A five nights, all expenses paid, trip to Disney–yeah that’s it, Disney.

Maybe we should Google the reviews to that Still Small Voice.
How many likes?
How many followers?
Has it been tweeted?
Can we follow it on FaceBook?
Has it opened on the NYSE?
Does it have a blog?
Can we clip a coupon, getting a discount?
Door busters, that’s it, does it offer a door buster to those who are the first to hear it?
Does its doors open extra early?
Does it offer extended hours?

Funny what we think to be attention grabbing and slick sales techniques—those things which we would employ as all important “hooks”—that which is loud, garish, flashy, tech savvy techniques, with millions spent in order to garner customers and sales. Our all engrossing sensory overload techniques. All this as we as a people are growing ever jaded with and by our savvy consumerism. It now takes something almost monumental to get our attention, our money, our business. As we continue searching and seeking something for nothing.

And yet God, the Almighty, Jehovah, Emmanuel, Yahweh, The Alpha and the Omega, the Omnipotent, the Creator, the Adonai. . . does not employ the tactics of mere mortals. He is not concerned with “out doing” the competition. He is not concerned without out selling the competitors.
The power is in the silence not in the noise.

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
(1 Kings 19: 11-13)

A voice.
A whisper.
A simple spoken voice.
No screaming.
No shouting.
No yelling.
A voice.

We wonder where He is?
Why doesn’t He speak?
Why is He so silent?

The real question. . .
Is He?