circling the wagons

“Yup.
The end of a way of life.
Too bad.
It’s a good way.
Wagons forward!
Yo!”

John Wayne

A faithful friend is a strong defense;
And he that hath found him hath found a treasure.

Louisa May Alcott

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I’ve spent the better part of the past two years circling my wagons…
As I’ve been riding on a merry-go-round of all things focused on caring for a dad…
one who has been more child than father…
as it should be noted that that has been pretty much him for the majority of my adult life.

As a life long high school teacher, I can multitask with the best of them…
except when it comes to a crisis…
then my mind and actions narrow.

I become steely eyed…
as I grow laser focused,
blocking out most everything that sits on the periphery of life,
as I turn every available resource to the problem.

Trouble is, there have been a myriad of troubles during the course of
the last couple of years…
all of which have kept me and my sights narrowed and hyper-focused
for much longer than is most likely healthy….
hence my back, or whatever it is back there that has me unknowingly holding my hand
to my lower back as I go about my day in a gingerly fashion….
So unlike my ADDness of darting here and there all before blinking…

As an only child caring for two elderly individuals who have varying degrees of dementia,
as well as a wealth of physical ailments…
and who live miles away in a different city from my own…
it has all left me more and more isolated and emotionally spent

It seems my closest friend these days is the main caregiver who spends her days
making certain no one falls or forgets their medications…
let alone forgetting to eat…
which for one of them is a constant battle.

I live on the road, traversing back and forth.
The days I spend not traversing,
are spent on the phone with various doctors and healthcare facilities,
or paying a sea of endless bills,
or simply organizing a home and household other than my own…
A house that is nearly 65 years old and needs much in the way of care….

My phone rings constantly with the calls from an ever growing confused 88 year old man
who has decided he will die in the hospital come Friday during his surgery…
as his wife, my stepmother,
just can’t understand and is irritated as to why he keeps having to run to the loo.

The concept of a large tumor and bladder cancer has simply flown totally
over her head as she has decided she hates the new dishwasher.
I had to buy it,
have it installed
and now she hates it
for the one single reason…
that I bought it…
Go figure…

She now demands that the caregivers hand wash every dish and glass.
Just as she refuses to eat the groceries brought into the house
because she is convinced they have all gone bad and are rotten upon
arriving fresh from the store.

And if it’s not dad calling, it’s the caregivers calling with the latest craziness
as I work my magic to put out the fires of bodies and minds fighting themselves….

The journey getting here was slow and almost unnoticeable at first.
There were, however, signs and warnings…

Signs and warnings, that perhaps in my naiveté,
I thought would all turn out differently
or never materialize in the first place…

Just like the pictures I had in my mind of my future with my mother…

That when she would one day grow old and grey…as dad is now,
I warmly entertained the thoughts of how we’d have fun together…
We’d go to lunch and to the antique shops we each enjoyed when she and I were younger..
Just as we would then travel and see the world…together…

But those thoughts were smashed 30 years ago when she suddenly died from cancer….
So I don’t know why I try to imagine things as a certain way,
as that is not how they will be…

For the snowball has picked up momentum and is barreling at breakneck speed toward me…

And so, yes, I have circled my wagons…
drawing my camp ever near.
As my circle in life has tightened..
excluding many from what once was…

My eyes have narrowed
As I hold my cards tight to my chest,
lest they reveal too much…hopefulness…

Yet this story of woe is not as tragic as it might seem…
Nor is this heart bitter as it might sound…

For despite the fact that my world has shrunk from what it was…
from my friends
from my freedom
from my choices
from my comings and goings…

there has been much…
inward growing
inward learning
inward bending
inward moulding
inward shaping

For the winds of this life are shifting…
And attentions must be turning…

So I ready myself and my camp
for that which comes our way…

‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’
declares the LORD,
‘plans for welfare and not for calamity
to give you a future and a hope.’

Jeremiah 29:11

The Serenity Prayer
God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is,
not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
If I surrender to His Will;
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with Him
Forever and ever in the next.

Amen.
A prayer attributed to Reinhold Neibuhr (1892-1971)

Urgency

“How much does one imagine, how much observe?
One can no more separate those functions than divide light from air,
or wetness from water.”

Elspeth Huxley

“I have been impressed with the urgency of doing.
Knowing is not enough; we must apply.
Being willing is not enough; we must do.”

Leonardo da Vinci

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(Remnants of stain glass, Bunratty Castle / County Clare / Julie Cook / 2015)

At some point or another, we will all find ourselves at a crossroads.
We will be confronted by a choice.
Left?
Right?
Perhaps even, back….

It will be at such times that the Spirit of God will be resting His hand upon our shoulder.
He will be nudging, or perhaps pulling, or more urgently yanking us…
For the path we are to choose is crucial…dare one might even say, dire.

We certainly may not discern the current quandary of choice in direction as spiritual…
especially if we do not consider ourselves to be such…
In fact, as we stand before this choice of left, right or back,
the last thing we are considering is our belief in a god…
or whether God would be, could be, the source of our quandary.

Beginning this blog 3 or 4 years ago (I’ve lost track) my initial desire was to sprinkle out a few little cookie crumbs here and there….a little bit of this and that…always with a spiritual sense about it all, but still more hodge podge than not.

Then a trip to Ireland and an encounter with someone I’d never known prior, and all of what I thought or imagined changed.

My original intent for dabbling in writing, sharing and creativity were keyed more into my life’s experiences—that of retired high school teacher, artist, Christian, wife, mother, daughter of a man living with Alzheimers, a lover of cooking, an adopted child, etc….

But then all of that shifted after Ireland.

It’s not so much that one must take some grand adventure or trip in order to feel something seismic…
not in the least.
Seismic can take place sitting in ones car while stuck in rush hour traffic.
It matters not the place nor time for seismic.
When the Spirit touches our shoulder,
and the original intentions lift, revealing our truer purpose,
that is when we can begin to finally see with the utmost clarity.

And it just so happened that I felt that seismic shift while sitting at a dinner table in a country not my own.

No longer did I feel compelled to rattle on about the random, but I felt a sense of urgency in speaking the Truth.
The Truth as in the Word of God.

Not like some itinerate tent evangelist.
It’s not like I’d been down some crazy bad path in life, had some catastrophic mishap, then bam,
it was a religious conversion of the utmost that needed sharing.

No, it wasn’t any of that…
actually quite the contrary.

I am not a fundamentalist.
I am not a Pentecostalist.
I am not gregarious in my faith.
I am not a theologian who is versed in every verse of scripture or translation of the bible.
Nor am I a mystic who has visions.
No, I’ve never had a vision…migraines yes, visions no.

Yet I knew last fall that my sharing, my words, my offerings were no longer to be my own.
There was a sense of urgency placed in my being—
time was / is of the essence.

God, His Truth and His Word…have never been readily accepted by man.
For we are a fickled lot.
Our internal struggle for independence often precludes our understanding of need.

The filters of the world have always lowered over our eyes, changing our view of the Truth…
Altering our perception of what is real and what is false
We have been told lies and we have allowed those lies to become our truth….

The lies are slick, told by a master in telling tales.
They come guised in forms which speak to our brokeness…
To those areas where we are least secure.
They speak to our ego and bravado and to our desire to having it all.

They are thinly veiled in soothing comfort…
as they tell us that we truly are ok and that our desires are, in turn, also ok.

We are told that we can have our cake and eat it too.
We are told that everything goes as long as we are happy..
because isn’t that all that matters…our happiness?

We are fed a bunch of garbage about fairy tales and fables..
That the stars point more to Life’s truth than the supposed Word of an unseen made up god.
Yet within those stars is found His very hand…

His word is mocked and scorned as are those who claim it as their own.
Misguided, ignorant, weak, clueless lemmings chasing after that which is
neither seen, felt nor heard…

That is until we stand at the crossroads,
a place we will each find at ourselves at one point or another…
We will have to decide…
Left?
Right?
or back

That internal struggle will rage…
and you will either try and ignore it or you will know it for what it is…
and at that point, everything will become clear and you will never be the same…

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying,
“This is the way; walk in it.”

Isaiah 30:21

Time to expect the unexpected

“There is only one kind of shock worse than the totally unexpected:
the expected for which one has refused to prepare.”

Mary Renault

“A thing long expected takes the form of the unexpected when at last it comes”
Mark Twain

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(premature fallen acorns / Troup Co. Ga / Julie Cook / 2015)

This morning finds us turning the page once more, summoning forth yet another day and another month.
September has rather unceremoniously arrived.
No fanfare.
No gala.
No festive celebration.

Yet September, this 9th month out of 12, is truly a month of the unexpected,
the unpredictable, the unassuming. . .and albeit a bit of the unappreciated.

Obviously no one has told the tired old thermometer that Fall is all but a few short weeks away.
The mercury continues to hover at 90 as the humidity continues to cling to our very being like a sticky, hot, wet towel. . .yet the shift has secretly begun. . .
We sense ourselves sliding into something different, something changing
and something slightly new.

We are creatures of the season you and I.
Delightfully craving the ever changing and ever new which can only be found in the trading of one season for another.

We both yearn and long for what the coming change has in store for us.
We are as giddy as children on a bright Christmas morn as we’ve anxiously waited—waited to finally feast our eyes on what lies under the tree—
Our time has finally drawn nigh.

We find ourselves shifting gears as our likes and dislikes begin, once again, to ebb and flow.
Our taste palettes are now craving the savory as our surrounding palette will soon shift to warmer tones yet cooler nights and crisper days.

Our brains are screaming that the time is here yet the world arounds us seems to be stuck in place. It’s as if life is in slow motion as it appears Mother Nature may need a gentle nudge reminding her that we have had our fill of heat and humidity, bugs and pests.
Like a hungry child anxiously anticipating the hearty simmering fare on the stove, we hold our arms outwardly stretched ready to embrace cooler, crisper, softer.

Will today be the day?
Will it be a day which still thinks of itself as a child of the Summer
or. . .
will it be a day of change. . .
refreshingly clear, cool and full of the unexpected. . .

August’s doldrums

“August depresses me a little. I don’t even feel like eating. And when I don’t eat, that’s a sure sign of stagnation.”
Willard Scott

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(a lone little piece of a sand dollar awash in the surf / Julie Cook / 2011–seen in a previous post)

The calendar has turned to our eighth month.
August is a time in life, in the Northern Hemisphere, when everything slows to a snails pace. We typically attribute this drastic slowing down to the heavy blanket of sticky oppressive heat and humidity which descends upon the world at large. This in turn leads to what those of us here in the extreme southern area of these United States refer to as the Dog Days of summer.

Dog days have been around since Greek and Roman times when the ancients used the same term to denote the hottest time period of summer, as this was the time when the star known as Sirius, the dog star, would shine brightest.

The grass is no longer cool and refreshing to ones bare feet—instead it is now dry and crunchy. The once beautifully rich greens and bright colors of Spring have long since faded. Plants have grown leggy, blooms have long fallen away, and many succulent tender plants have since perished under the heat of a relentless sun. Rain has been sparse. Enthusiasm for the out of doors has waned as everyone attempts to avoid the often dangerous heat of the day.

We dart from house to car, from car to store or work, from work or store to car, from car to home–dashing in and out as quickly as possible before expiring from our excessive perspiring.
The noseeums, the mosquitoes, the gnats, the horseflies, the wasps now all rule the air. The joy of lingering in a rocking chair on a lazy summer evening, idly whiling away the hours, is all but a faded memory as there are simply too many bugs looking for a free meal underneath the hot and heavy blanket of air that is simply too thick to breathe.

This stagnate time of heavy languishing heat, when experienced out on the open seas, is known as the doldrums. A time of utterly calm seas lacking wind or wave. According to Wikipedia: “The doldrums is a colloquial expression derived from historical maritime usage, in which it refers to those parts of the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean affected by the Intertropical Convergence Zone, a low-pressure area around the equator where the prevailing winds are calm. . .The doldrums are also noted for calm periods when the winds disappear altogether, trapping sail-powered boats for periods of days or weeks.

Sailors would dread being stuck in the doldrums. Zero winds equalled zero movement as the sad sails would dangle limply from the mast. Days would turn into weeks. Provisions would run dangerously low and drinking water would become a dire disappearing commodity–as ship and sailor languished in a giant bathtub of deathly still water.

August, this eighth month, is the time of year when we sail into the doldrums.
A time of stagnation and languishing, both in climate as well as with vegetation.
Gone are the days when the entire family would be needed for the harvest. Hence why our schools would not begin until September, long after the crops had been finally gathered.
As we now live more and more in the urban regions of the country, our agrarian society is but a fading memory.
Much of Europe has closed down for the month of August, as the general populace heads on holiday.
Even our central governing body has recessed until Fall (unfortunate, but I digress)

Yet there is a shift beginning to take place.
Schools, here, are preparing to open their doors.
Our teachers and students will return to their routines come Monday.
Sadly for many a young person the end of “summer break” is upon us.
We are now in the in-betweens.

In-between Summer joy and Fall splendor.
In-between heat and cool
In-between long day and short night
In-between bloom and fade
In-between indoors and outdoors
In-between inactivity and activity.

As you find yourself a bit lost, hot, bored or stuck inside a tad too long during this month of seemingly endless time and heat, find comfort in the words of the Rime of the Ancient Mariner as we languish together in the hot still sea of August. . .


All in a hot and copper sky,
The bloody Sun, at noon,
‘Right up above the mast did stand,
No bigger than the Moon.
Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, no breath no motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge