wrestling and waiting

“Father, teach us all how to wait.”
Andrew Murray


(shelf fungus / Julie Cook / 2017)

I must confess that I’ve been in a prayerful desert as of late.
Meaning I have been petitioning God long and hard…
yet it seems that my pleas just fall upon a vast emptiness….
as in…deaf ears.

However I know that I am not alone in my frustration or perplexity
of this seemingly one way spiritual conversation.

I am not the first nor will I be the last to beat upon the gates of Heaven
only to hear…what is perceived to be…..nothing.

Yet on and on I pray with little to show for my diligence.

Or so it seems…I go unanswered.

There are tears.
There is anger.
There is frustration.
There is indifference…
and there is a sense of hopelessness….
until….
It all begins all over again….
As a determined penitent rolls up her sleeves, continuing on, unabated.

It is because I will not be deterred…
not by the whispered doubts and naysaying….
not by the one who would like nothing more than for me to quit,
give up and walk away in disgust and frustrated anger.

And the truth is that somedays are indeed much harder then others…

And so today, as I was continuing to walk through the desert,
focused and imploring….
I actually stumbled upon a small respite of wisdom.

For I learn just how old my plight actually is….
As the wisdom of those who have trod this path before offer me a cup
of refreshing living water….

My child, hear about another delusion.
There are also other monks who work on all the virtues together,
and trust in their works. And when they pray and ask something from God,
they do not seek it with humility, but with insolence and pretension,
as if they have obligated God with their toils and therefore He owes it to them.
When they are not heard and the Lord does not do their will,
they are troubled and greatly grieved.
Then when the Devil our enemy sees them with this ignorance,
he attacks them with twisted thoughts and teaches them saying,
“See? You are struggling so hard even until death to work for Him,
and He doesn’t even listen to you!
So why do you work for Him?”
Then he pushes him to blaspheme the name of God,
so that he may enter inside him and possess him,
and then people bind him with chains….

But you, my beloved child in the Lord, since you are obedient,
and confess everything openly, do not be afraid.

excerpt from Elder Joseph the Hesychast.
Monastic Wisdom: The Letters of Elder Joseph the Hesychast.
An Epistle to a Hesychast Hermit. Chapter XII.

For the full reflection see the post:
https://thoughtsintrusive.wordpress.com

There are times when our prayers seem so one sided.
On and on we pray, beseeching and imploring and yet….we hear no movement..
we see no results.

We often expect, or if the truth be told… we actually demand,
that after we’ve demonstrated an unrelenting persistence of time, energy and focus…
then surely God will move Heaven and Earth in order to show us how much He cares
and just how well He listens and just how much He agrees with each
and every component of our prayer…never mind if there are others involved in
said prayer…

As it is all just so utterly frustrating when we believe that all we see and hear
is merely empty silence.

No movement, no shifting, no little glimmer that things are working in the direction
of our desire, need, hope, want….

And for many, it seems almost cruel…this silence.

Yet we are told that no prayer goes unheard.

I once heard it put that God answers prayers in one of three ways….
Yes
No
Not now….

And more often then not, it is the ‘not now’ that is most vexing.

And so we pray on…

Because He knows and He sees and He is listening…

We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end,
so that what you hope for may be fully realized.

Hebrews 6:11

traipsing in the woods amongst the fungi

“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.”

J.R.R. Tolkien

Traipse:
intransitive verb
transitive verb
traipsed, traips′ing
to walk, wander, tramp, or gad

When out in the woods my husband, more often then not, walks with a sense
of focused purpose and direction..

Me on the other hand, well I tend to lag behind…
traipsing about, camera in tow….

(all pics taken in the mid west Georgia woods last Sunday–Julie Cook / 2017)

“But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens,
and they will tell you; or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you;
and the fish of the sea will declare to you.
Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?
In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind.

Job 12:7-10

Be careful what you ask for. . .

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

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

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

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

God is no fairy godmother waving a magic wand.

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

Enter my latest learning curve.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enter a desire for macro.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enter frustration.

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

In the meanwhile. . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A necessary evil, of loss–or–my broken heart

“Herein lies the supreme wisdom, human and divine; and the task of philosophy consists in teaching men to submit joyously to Necessity which hears nothing and is indifferent to all.”
Lev Shestov

“Doctoring her seemed to her as absurd as putting together the pieces of a broken vase. Her heart was broken. Why would they try to cure her with pills and powders?”

Leo Tolstoy

It has been said that trees are imperfect men, and seem to bemoan their imprisonment rooted in the ground. But they never seem so to me. I never saw a discontented tree. They grip the ground as though they liked it, and though fast rooted they travel about as far as we do. They go wandering forth in all directions with every wind, going and coming like ourselves, traveling with us around the sun two million miles a day, and through space heaven knows how fast and far!
John Muir, July 1890

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(our son in 1999 standing beside the posted construction permit allowing us to begin construction on our home, with one of the oaks situated behind him)

In the grand scheme of life, on Life’s Richter scale, this crisis of mine is not up there with the usual calamities which are catastrophic to life and limb.
Yet to my heart, well, it feels as if someone has reached into my chest and just pulled it on out.

I’ve made mention in the past about the two oak trees out in front of our house. The two trees which were actually situated in a perfect setting for the construction of the house as we would be able to showcase the trees just as the trees showcased our house. Our house was nestled perfectly in-between and under their growing arms. These two trees are what offset our house and made it what it is in the vast realm of my concept of landscaping.

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Maybe it’s because I grew up in a city during the height of post war urban sprawl.
Maybe it’s because all we had were a couple of tall toothpick like pines dotting our yard.
Maybe it’s because I always wanted a tree house but as I just stated— all we had were tall toothpick pines— not suitable for the building of a fort or treehouse.
Maybe it’s because somehow God anointed my heart to have a deep seeded love of and for trees, woods, forests. . .

As we’ve now been in our house going on 14 years, that little oak in the first picture with our son has since grown into a mighty majestic oak. This tree sported 4 bird feeders and 4 wooden bird houses–until today. Planted at its base were azaleas and day lilies. I had several adirondack chairs sitting beneath the tree’s gracious canopy of shade as this was a favorite place for me to sit seeking relief from a relentless summer’s sun when I was out doing yard work or merely seeking solitude enjoying a lazy Sunday afternoon reading.
Perhaps it was my grownup version of a perfect location for a “tree” house / fort.

A few years ago a tornado tore through our county, coming very close to our home. The winds were frightening as we sought shelter in our basement. Once the storm passed, we gave thanks to see that our home and yard had been spared. The only thing askew was one of the two oaks–the one at the far end of the house. It was obvious that the tree was “pushed” but not toppled by the destructive winds.

Also a few years ago, we began noticing an odd phenomenon with both oaks. Just as soon as April arrived each Spring, and the trees began sporting their new Springtime wardrobe of tender brightly colored green leaves, the leaves would begin falling. The leaves would turn a brownish yellowish greenish with brown spots. The leaves would proceed to drop falling off until Winter, leaving our yard looking as if we were stuck in some sort of perpetual Autumn-time mode. Which in turn keeps my husband nonplused by the constant barrage of dead leaves all over the lawn, the front walk, the shrubbery, etc, of which keeps our yard carpeted with dead leaves from April until the following April. . . when it begins all over again.

As our county does not currently have an Aborist, one to call upon when there are tree issues, I did my best to figure out what was afflicting our trees. Then on top of disease, both trees had now grown exponentially in size threatening both corners of the house should we be dealt a bad hand by Mother Nature.

I deduced both trees were suffering from Oak Blight or also known as Oak Wilt. Trees can live for several years until the disease run its course, killing the tree.
There is no cure.
In addition to the blight, the one tree that had taken the lick in the Tornado, over the past two years, has developed shelf fungus—which indicates that the heart of the tree is dying if not already dead.

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Here is an image of the house a couple of Summers ago when the trees were still healthy and full.

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There is a tremendous difference in the fullness and health of the tree as noted in this photo from last month.

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(the leaves have all fallen off the lower half of the tree well before Fall)

My heart was / is also dying alongside my trees.

I know some of you reading this do not understand my sorrow over the loss of two trees that sound as if it was just a matter of time before they would go anyway. I know those of you who have had trees to cause devastation in your lives and to your homes are telling me “good riddance”—-
yet something in my heart is now so very sad and empty.

Maybe the trees offered me a false sense of protection and safety as I ( and my home) was situated behind their massive bodies diverting and separating the barrage of the endless traffic up on the road from my little world.
Maybe I now feel exposed–no longer hidden and embraced.
Maybe I thought that they were like those majestic oaks of old, offsetting my piece of the deep South in grand splendor.
Maybe it’s because the trees offer(ed) me such an intimate view, allowing me to quietly and secretly observe the birds and squirrels who call my yard home.
Maybe it’s because I could mark the milestones and developments of our little family’s lives by these trees. . .like the time they were the back drop to a Prom dinner hosted here for our son’s junior year.. .or as in the very first picture to this post, it marked the new beginnings to a new home. . .

Maybe it’s because in some weird way I feel these trees, any trees, are inextricably connected to God and to all of His creation–in turn offering me a tangible link to Him as my Creator.

Sadly when Jose (of Rodriquez Tree Service) called last night, letting me know that he was coming this morning with his crew, I felt a sudden sickening sense of loss that I immediately realized was happening whether I liked it or not and that there was not one damn thing I could do to stop it. Helpless and sad all rolled into one.
Yes, all over a tree–well, actually two.

I confess I was (am) mad at my husband.
This due to his infinite wisdom of putting his foot down with his “enough is enough”—that the time to cut the trees is now. . .fussing that it must be done before they dislodge the front walk with their ever spreading roots, before they turn the entire house black and green from the mildew along with their continued damaging of gutters and roof— all from living in the dampness of their shade and sloughing off of their debris. . . “And remember Julie, the trees are sick, how much longer will they be able to stand before they die and fall on the house?!”

And yes, he is right.
. . . but that doesn’t mean I have to like it or even agree with him as living in the denial of the inevitable has seemed a much better option. But as my husband, I know he wouldn’t do something to hurt my heart, as much as this current crisis seems to be, unless he saw no other alternative or option. . . and as my husband, I know I must trust him. I live in that very old fashioned world (as so deemed by society) that as a married couple in the sight of God—God has set the standard that my husband is indeed head of this household and I, in turn, trust that my husband does what he believes to be just and right as he tries to listen to God—-whether or not he hears God as clearly as I think he should is an entirely different matter for an entirely different post, but as usual, I digress.

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I did however have one small thought. . .
I asked Jose to cut me some rounds from the trees that I would dry, eventually turning them into cutting boards, chargers and even a small little table or two. That is if they don’t crack all to pieces while drying out, which is more than likely to happen with my luck.
I even contacted Michael, our very own blogging wood craftsman over on http://michaelswoodcraft.wordpress.com
seeking his advice as how best to preserve a small memento from my trees.

Despite this latest crisis of mine, in my small corner of this world–the one thing I’ve always clung to in life, especially when things look most dire, dismal and gloomy, is. . . Hope. . .

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You will be secure, because there is hope; you will look about you and take your rest in safety. You will lie down, with no one to make you afraid, and many will court your favor.
Job 11:18-19

Beauty in decay

Autumn wins you best by this its mute appeal to sympathy for its decay.
Robert Browning

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A long day spent delving deep into the woods leads one to the discovery of the otherworldly and alienesque.
Flora, fauna, fungi. . .
There is both life and death . . .
And there is beauty, even in decay. . .

These images are of the myriad species of shelf or bracket fungi (polypores).
These woody growths are telltale signs of the decline and eventual death of a hardwood tree.
They have been used throughout the centuries for both the making of jewelry, medicines as well as sustenance—

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(all images are shelf fungi (polypores) / Troup Co, Georgia / Julie Cook / 2014)

You see a dead tree, I see something beautiful

Nature is the art of God.
Dante Alghieri

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We were out and about over the weekend wandering through some woods when a decaying tree, which had obviously fallen quite some time ago, caught my eye. There was something about this single tree mass that drew my attention. I think it was the “alienesque” feathery white appearance…”what is that” I mused. Daring to leave the relative safety of the worn and rocky path, I ventured into the overgrowth with its wealth of ticks, spiders and poisonous snakes. Taking my chances… I tiptoed oh so carefully over to the tree.

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The creamy white fungus, known as a shelf fungus, covered the tree like a sheath. It was a visual wonder of texture, shape and pattern. It made me want to reach out to run my hand over it, but I restrained myself as I was not so inclined to be bitten or stung by anything around, in or on the tree. This fungus looked almost like crashing waves washing over the body of the tree.

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I realize that this “living” fungus (aka of the mushroom clan) is now enjoying its home on this dead tree, as the dead tree has provided a temporary respite for another “living”… and I use the term loosely… thing. It was all rather otherworldly, creating a light airy feel for something that once was heavily grounded. So odd how nature works and yet how perfect.

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On this new day to a new week, remember to be on the look out for the wonders of nature. Make time this week to wander out of doors if at all possible. Do not be afraid to venture off that trusty worn path going boldly, but carefully, into the overgrowth seeking the beautiful nuances of God’s most talented hand. Who knows what blessing abound that are most often passed by without any notice. Dante is right you know…nature is indeed the work of a Masterful Artist.