life begets death, begets life

None but praying leaders can have praying followers. A praying pulpit will beget praying pews. We do greatly need pastors and evangelists who will set the saints to this business of praying. We are not a generation of praying saints. Who will restore this breach? The greatest will he be of reformers who can set the Church to praying.
Edward McKendree Bounds

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(seaweed washed on shore / Santa Rosa Beach, FL / Julie Cook / 2016)

To be born again…man’s age old conundrum…

Atop an open roof top, deep within a quiet summer’s evening,
two new friends chat late into the night.
The air was heavy yet dry as slight breeze aided in taking off the edge from the day’s remaining heat…
A dog can be heard barking in the distance.

One man is elderly yet a trusted and learned member of the local religious community.
The other man is new comer to the area and is known by the locals as a traveling young teacher.

The elder of this odd twosome knows that to be seen with this young teacher would cause unnecessary chatter amongst the established community, yet he also knows that there is just something otherworldly about his new young friend…something about the confidence in which he speaks that stirs the heart of the older gentleman.

The elder man shares his observation with the young teacher that he believes the young man is truly in the favor of God—for the things of which he speaks and the things of which he does could have no other authority but that of God’s.

Noting the intuitive perception of his elderly friend, the young teacher acknowledges his friend’s insightfulness adding that “no one can see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again”

Incredulous the older man asks how could such be possible…how can a man be born again as the only way would be to re-enter the womb…of which is a sheer impossibility.

But the young teacher responds…
“Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

Again, mystified the elder man asks how this can be.
And again the young teacher explains to his friend the meaning behind his words…

“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

It was in Jesus’s agonizing walk to his own death in which we were shown the door to our new birth.

The timeless words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer continue to remind us of such…

We pay more attention to dying than to death. We’re more concerned to get over the act of dying than to overcome death. Socrates mastered the art of dying; Christ overcame death as the last enemy. There is a real difference between the two things; the one is within the scope of human possibilities, the other means resurrection.
It’s not from ars mourned, the art of dying, but from the resurrection of Christ, that a new and purifying wind can blow through our present world. Here is the answer to Archimedes’ challenge:
“Give me somewhere to stand, and I will move the earth.” If only a few people really believed that and acted on it in their daily lives, a great deal world be changed. To live in the light of resurrection–that is what Easter means.

The conundrum lies within the choice…
the choice between living a life in this world complete with its ensuing death…
or the choice to live life outside of this world, in the victory over Death, with its ensuing life…
Each comes with a cost…eternal death, or a rebirth into eternal life
Seems easy enough….

This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.
Deuteronomy 30:19

a need for prayer

“The function of prayer is not to influence God,
but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.”

― Søren Kierkegaard

“Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God,
at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depth of our hearts.”

― Mother Teresa

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(broken sand dollar/ Santa Rosa, Beach, FL / Julie Cook / 2016)

I’m a huge believer in prayer and the power found in this sacred and mystical transcending form of communication.

I’ve lived long enough to know that not all prayers are answered as we often hope or even expect.
But I know that there are indeed answers—
I know that there is a powerfully innate connection that takes place when we earnestly seek the presence of the Creator…

We are told …
“Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for,
it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.
For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

Matthew 18:19-20

So I come before you this evening to ask for your payers…

Our niece, my husband’s younger sister’s middle child, was rushed to the ER yesterday morning and remains in ICU.
Her potassium levels are deathly bottoming out for reasons yet discovered.
She is not responding to the emergency treatments.

Her father, a physician, told us this morning that “they” were being cautiously optimistic but his face told us otherwise.

Her name is Chrissy…she’s a 44 year old wife and mom.

The obvious prayer is that Chrissy be made well…
but I know that there is more to just praying for a “miraculous healing”

I know that prayers must also be said over and for her husband Bill and 14 year old son Eli.
Prayers for her brother, sister and their respective families…
As well as for my sister-n-law and her husband…

Prayers are offered for the nursing staff and the doctors…those charged with solving the mysteries and saving lives.

I believe that many hearts and voices raised in unison create a powerful force.

I ask if you will please join me in this time of needed prayer….

Thank you….

the characters

“I wish we could sometimes love the characters in real life as we love the characters in romances.
There are a great many human souls whom we should accept more kindly,
and even appreciate more clearly,
if we simply thought of them as people in a story.”

― G.K. Chesterton

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(a deceased crab on the beach / Santa Rosa, Fl / Julie Cook / 2015)

We all know who they are, right?
As every community has them…

You know….
It’s the guy who rides all over town on the bike that’s decked out as if it should be in a Mardi Gras parade…
Or the elderly lady who pushes the grocery cart into the hospital lobby, awkwardly chatting with everyone waiting.

There always seems to be those loner individuals within each of our towns and or communities.
Those quirky individuals who we consider simply as bizarre characters…
Those odd souls who we more or less claim as community mascots.
With each and every town and community seeming to have their own lot of unique and peculiar characters.

I know our small town certainly does…

There’s the Vietnam vet who runs all over town holding an American flag.
He runs rain or shine, hot or cold….
And he runs precariously close to the road, even out on the busy by-pass.
I use to think he was just some sort of patriotic marathon runner who was always in training.
I was informed otherwise.
He has been hit and run over on more than one occasion and left for dead.
He always seems to rebound, always coming back to pound the pavement with flag in hand.

There’s the young man who looks like an old man.
I know this because I taught him.
He dons a three piece suit, even in the sweltering summer heat, as he proceeds to walk all over town— talking out loud to himself in a high pitched falsetto voice. He is known to preach out loud to no one in particular or curse the cars that he feels infringe upon his walking space.

There is the man who started out as a young man, who has now progressed into being a middle aged man (I know this as well as I also taught him), who walks all over town carrying a tennis racket. He likes to engage in conversation with anyone who stops long enough to listen…he chatters on about this or that non relevant,random mumbo jumbo, asking all the girls if they’d please be his girlfriend.

There was (I’ve not seen him in quite sometime) the middle aged fellow with the mustache wearing a tank top and shorts who was alway carrying a throwback walkman, complete with head phones stuck on his head. He’d be singing at the top of his lungs, with fingers snapping to the beat, as he walked up and down the busy thoroughfares.

There was the young man with the long hair and his mother…or so we thought them to be mother and son.
Always together and having been know to hold hands…they had a tendency to worry and creep out those who saw them wandering all over town. I think the truancy folks once tracked them down because they enrolled the boy into the high school where I taught. That didn’t last long because the woman, his mother, waited at the front door of the school all day, very nervous and agitated.
He quit as quickly as he enrolled and they were seen walking again, carrying bags of this and that….

In addition to the regular characters, there are those individuals who seem to be merely passing through—drifting specters riding along the quiet breeze— those odder individuals who thankfully drift away as quickly as they came…as there’s just something unsettling about them.

So today, as I was driving to the post office, I saw her again.
A middle aged woman walking slowly up the sidewalk, on a less traveled road, carrying, or actually cradling, a white stuffed animal.

The first time I saw her, I thought she was holding a small dog.
I assumed she was walking to the discount grocery, perhaps to purchase some food for the animal…
but on closer inspection, when I was heading back in the direction I had come, I saw that the pet in question was actually stuffed.

I found myself wondering.

What in this woman’s life would prompt her to walk, very slowly yet very determined, up the sidewalk clutching a stuffed animal to her chest.
What has happened in this woman’s life that now finds her alone on a back sidewalk, walking towards a busy main arty leading to town, seemingly in a daze while holding something obviously very important to her.

All of which has me now wondering about all the characters who walk or ride or sit along each of our life’s journey.

So often we see them from afar… safely from a window of a car or business.
We either ignore what we see because something about them makes us feel uncomfortable,
or we smugly stare thinking how much better off we are than them.

As much as we try or would like, we cannot “unimagine” them into nothingness.
They are real, living, breathing individuals with a story…just like you and me.
Their lot in life may have once been what we’d consider normal…yet something tragically or simply oddly happened.

Or perhaps they have simply been less fortunate than you and me—having never had the support that we’ve received along the way.

We can often hear a voice within our heads repeating the mantra…
“there but for the grace of God go I…”
As we are thankful that we are not on the sidewalk talking to no one in particular,
or pushing a shopping cart full of plastics, or singing to everyone and yet to no one.
We are thankful we don’t have to clutch a stuffed animal as we walk alone up a lonely sidewalk.

Seeing these people does one of two things.

It either makes us feel uncomfortable as we try to ignore both them and how they make us feel…
Or, on the other hand, we allow their perceived misfortunes to oddly make us feel better about ourselves.

We allow the encounter to convince our inner selves that we’re not as crazy as we thought.
We’re not as bad off as we thought.
We aren’t as lonely as we thought.
As we now happily consider ourselves to be of the normal lot.
The good lot
The preferred lot.
The lucky lot…

We safely assume that we are better than.
Smarter than.
Happier than.
Safer than.

But the question should be… are we?
Are we better, safer, happier…or perhaps are they?

Have we as human beings not been charged with the care and concern of our fellow man…
even those who are the quirky characters walking through our lives….

Rather than allowing their quirkiness and oddity to make us feel uncomfortable…
or arrogantly even better about ourselves…
what have we ever done once to help them….?

And then suddenly, out of the blue and on any given day, we actually take notice that “they” haven’t been around in awhile, haven’t been seen or heard…
we find ourselves oddly missing them.
We find ourselves wondering what could have happened to them…
And we wonder…
what could we have done…
for them…

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
Matthew 7:1-5

Be not dismayed

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous!
Do not be terrified or dismayed (intimidated),
for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Joshua 1:9

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(jellyfish on the beach / Santa Rosa, Fla / Julie Cook / 2016)

We are currently living in a boiling tempestuous sea.
A time of grave moral unrest.
A troubling time…

Some merely observe that it’s been bad before and it’ll be bad again…
Others note that it’s just a part of life…
an ebbing and flowing…
a swinging of the proverbial pendulum…

And it is true…
In my lifetime I have seen, as well as experienced first hand,
the upheaval of perilous unrest in this brave Nation of ours…

I have seen the continued growth and birthing pains of an ever evolving democracy.
I have seen the colliding of old verses new.
Young verses the elderly

I have lived under the dread and worry of nuclear annihilation for all my life…
beginning with the tuck and cover drills of elementary school…

I have sadly seen…
flags being burned
draft cards being burned
bras being burned
and politicians burned in effigy

I have seen protests…
sit ins
die ins
marches
hunger strikes
picket lines

I have seen clashes of ideologies, religions and beliefs…

Yet I cannot recall such a dangerously contemptuous time in my near 60 years.

We are perched on the precipice of what seems to be the death of life as we once knew it.
As a delusional group of “politicians” vie for control and power…of my life and of your life,
and of the life which we have known.

This Nation, united under the benevolent eye of the very God our pilgrim settlers and founding fathers each paid homage to,
is transforming and morphing under the cloak of a sinister shape shifting blanket,
that is barley detectable to the naked eye…

Some believe this is all for the good…
While other believe this is all for the bad.

Throwing the baby out with the bath water is never a good idea…
and yet that is what is slowing taking place.

Those of us of a certain age watch, as a deer in headlights, the daily news feeds…
wondering if there is anything left that is recognizable…
While others simply ignore the melee as they reach for another cocktail or numbing agent of choice.

The moral Judaeo/ Christian sector of this Nation has idly watched a slow yet deadly erosion…
an erosion of such catastrophic proportions, that shoring things up…is now nearly impossible…
As the very traditional family nucleus, the core center which has served as the lynchpin and underpinning of the history of humankind, is now ominously ready to cascade into a dark abyss.

So is it any wonder that so many of those who cleave to the belief in an Omnipotent God,
stand jumbled up and cast off to the side, in udder bewilderment and dismay….
as they are left wondering and shuddering at the strangeness now taking hold to all that they have known….

‘You are My servant,
I have chosen you and have not rejected you
[even though you are exiled].

‘Do not fear [anything],
for I am with you;
Do not be afraid, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you, be assured I will help you;
I will certainly take hold of you with My righteous right hand
[a hand of justice, of power, of victory, of salvation].’
Isaiah 41:9-10

fishing

“You [demagogues] are like the fishers for eels; in still waters they catch nothing, but if they thoroughly stir up the slime, their fishing is good; in the same way it’s only in troublous times that you line your pockets.”
Aristophanes

“As no man is born an artist,
so no man is born an angler.”

Izaak Walton

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(great blue heron out fishing, Santa Rosa Beach / Julie Cook / 2016)

Casting nets…
day in,
day out…

What will be pulled up…
What will be thrown back?

Who will be saved?
Who will be cast aside?

Throw the nets wide,
making certain they go deep

We all fish for something
The question remains…
what are you fishing for?

When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon,
“Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”

Luke 5:4

Feast and fellowship or the memories made around food

“I propose a toast to mirth; be merry! Let us complete our course of law by folly and eating! Indigestion and the digest. let Justinian be the male, and Feasting, the female! Joy the depths! Live, O creation! The world is a great diamond. I am happy. The birds are astonishing. What a festival everywhere! The nightingale is a gratuitous Elleviou.
Summer, I salute thee!”

― Victor Hugo

“What greater thing is there for two human souls, than to feel that they are joined for life–to strengthen each other in all labor, to rest on each other in all sorrow, to minister to each other in all pain, to be one with each other in silent unspeakable memories at the moment of the last parting?”
― George Eliot

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(a remaining squash blossom perched upon one of Michael’s cutting boards / Julie Cook / 2014)

Behold the lowly squash blossom.
An unassuming little component to something seemingly so “other than.”
And yet, were it not for this fading blossom, once opened flower, would we not have the fruits of our labour and the prized pieces of the bountiful harvest we call summer?

And as I beheld this spent, shriveling and most beguiling little remnant, I was made most aware of something that was once most delectable, memorable and grand.
And so it is with so much of life.
One thing, even the spent remains, always seem to lead back to something that was and that is so much more.

This fading little blossom, which is now but an after thought of the actual squash or zucchini fruit, which is awaiting transformation in my kitchen, was once the highlight of one of the most memorable meals I ever had the pleasure of partaking. . .

I have a dear friend in Florence. Actually I have two dear friends. Cecilia Papini and her father Paolo. The family has a beautiful leather business there, just mere steps from the “Old Bridge” and the Arno. Their family business has been serving locals and tourists a like since 1896.

Several years ago, my aunt and I had traveled to Italy on a bit of a pilgrimage at it were. We had visited Padua for the feast day of San Antonio, June 13th. Wending our way south, via the train, we stopped in Florence for a few days in order to visit my cousin as well as Cecelia and Paolo.

It was Paolo who recommended that we dine at a small restaurant directly around the corner from their business. The name of this tiny establishment has long since faded from memory but the experience has remained clear as if it were yesterday. The lasting piece of the memory from that evening was based solely on the gastronomic delights we were served, which made this truly a most memorable experience—specifically it was the fried squash blossoms.

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Amazing how one spent little curled up flower can evoke such a powerful memory. One minute I’m picking up and looking at a discarded little blossom, as I was bent over in the garden on a very hot afternoon, cutting the ripe zucchini and squash, when next I’m suddenly transported someplace else–to a different time and place. A powerful potent for the recalling of a memory.

Good food, good friends–or perhaps just a good meal shared simply by just one other. . .
Either way, the importance of what I’ve always called “feasting and fellowshiping” is a key component to what forges lasting memories and bonds. As those moments of sharing together, in the company of friends and family coupled by good food and drink, in turn becoming precious memories, are all intricately woven together.

So many of the important moments of my life seem to evolve around food, as well as those who have joined me around said food.
Why that is, I am not certain.
The one thing I do know is that I do like to eat. . . don’t we all?
And I do like eating good food which is lovingly, skillfully, and at times, artfully prepared—be it simple fare or a Michelin Star experience—combine that with the union of others–be it family, friends or both—-that very mixing of the food and company makes for an intimate union of souls, the very impetus of memories.

Sometimes I try to replicate the moment by trying my hand at a particular meal or dish that I may have had on a special trip or outing, in turn hoping to share it with others—maybe it is my attempt at simply replicating the moment. Like the heavenly tomato flan with warm basil infused olive oil I had in Cortona, Italy.

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Last summer I attempted to duplicate this feast for the tastebuds of my husband using our garden’s tomatoes.

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And who ever says it has to be something fancy or decadent? A humble hot dog turned brazen in that windiest of cities, can be just as divine and just as memorable, –behold the Chicago Dog. . .

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Followed then by my own version I prepared for my most grateful husband who is a huge Chicago Dog fan:
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Yet some things are best savored at the initial sitting and the initial sitting alone, as a replication could and would only pale in comparison–as in, some moments are meant to be just that, a moment, a single and only once in a lifetime moment. . . case in point is my usual breakfast meal at The Donut Hole in Santa Rosa Beach, Fla—a delectable breakfast of their version of cheese blintzes. The slightly sweetened orange accented cheese filing, wrapped ever so lovingly in a thin crepe like, lightly fried, shell coupled by local fresh fruit of the season, real sour cream and brown sugar–to be consumed bleary eyed while donning shorts, t-shirt and baseball cap as the throngs of locals and tourist line up vying for one of the limited tables while the heavenly scent of freshly prepared doughnuts gently wafts in the air. . .one cannot replicate that.

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I’ve never tried my hand at blintzes nor many of the other marvelous wonders out there . . .never thinking I could come close to such tasty treats as those Parisain delectables the French Macarons, or Italy’s light and airy fried squash blossoms or even a hearty pot of Swiss fondue—some things are best left to the pros and some things just need to remain as that single special memory.

As I sit here remembering memorable meals and moments which have come and gone, I am poignantly reminded of a humble platter of store bought fried chicken.

I think I’ve shared this story with you before. . .it is worth sharing again.

September will mark 28 years since my mom passed away from a short bout with cancer. That heavy and sad Tuesday, following her funeral, everyone had gathered back at my childhood home for a Wake. Mother would have enjoyed the gathering. As Mom had been sick for a while, without any of us realizing why she had slowed down so much, the house and its upkeep fell woefully behind. I was not living in Atlanta and would drive over on Saturdays usually taking her out to lunch—as I would wonder why she was eating less and less or hardly eating anything at all.

When she went into the hospital, for what turned into her final 6 weeks, the poor house and its upkeep simply went to pot. The washing machine in the basement had been leaking, creating a small river and pond on the basement floor. Do you think Dad had even taken notice?!

When it came time for the Wake, friends and family all brought in a banquet of food. The time honored tradition of “the covered dish.” It’s what we do so well here in the South, a gathering, be it happy or sad is always surrounded by the best casseroles, dishes, cakes and pies—- but I suspect this ritual to be a global affair.

I would shuttle all the food up and down the precarious basement stairs to the extra refrigerator perched near the leaking washing machine in the dungeon like basement. One of my oldest and most dear life-long friends, who had loved mother dearly, had brought over a platter of fried chicken she had gotten at Kroger (or as we like to say in the South, “The Krogers”

As everyone began gathering for the Wake, my friend accompanied me down to the basement to assist me in transporting all the platters and casseroles back up to the kitchen. As my friend took hold of her platter of chicken, something caused the platter to shift, suddenly sending all the chicken crashing to the floor, landing in the stagnant pond of washing machine water. My friend immediately burst into tears. The surreal moment of our having lost mother who, at the time, was so young at 53, coupled by the sorrow of why were in that basement in the first place with a mountain of food, my friend’s pride in her contribution to mother and this most surreal moment all came crashing into one another as a platter of chicken now sat on a wet basement floor.

Always known as the one who is the rock and who keeps things together, I quickly told my friend “it’s okay, it’s all okay. . . and now we’re going to pick up that chicken and put it all back on the platter.” Of which we did. Drying it off, as well as her drying her face, we artfully rearranged each piece of chicken on the platter. We arrive back up the stairs, placing the platter of chicken on the kitchen table amidst the hams, casseroles, pots of beans, bowls of slaw, hot and cold dishes, rolls, cold cuts, etc.

As everyone was spending the afternoon mixing tears with laughter, I spy my cousin, out of the corner of my eye, making a bee line for the chicken. I nonchalantly but quickly make a quick pass by the table and hiss “don’t eat the chicken, put it back and eat the ham” before moving on to visit with the others.

That platter of store bought chicken, which fell in a pond of washing machine water, lovingly brought to my mother’s wake by a cherished life long friend, and a clueless cousin will always be a meal which makes me smile, as I brush away a tear.