the secular stealing the Sacred

As a survivor of the Communist Holocaust I am horrified to witness how my
beloved America, my adopted country, is gradually being transformed into a
secularist and atheistic utopia, where communist ideals are glorified and
promoted, while Judeo-Christian values and morality are ridiculed and
increasingly eradicated from the public and social consciousness of our nation.
Under the decades-long assault and militant radicalism of many so-called
“liberal” and “progressive” elites, God has been progressively erased from
our public and educational institutions, to be replaced with all manner of
delusion, perversion, corruption, violence, decadence, and insanity.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn


(vintage Christmas Card)

About a week back or so, I wrote a post about the fact that we actually have two
Christmases…with the truth being that we do…we do have two.

And in turn, we have what seems to be a melding.

One is the secular Christmas of Santa, presents, stockings, commercialism and merchandising.

The other, of which is the original of the two, is the Christmas of a birth.

A birth that isn’t just any kind of birth…but rather it’s the birth of
a Savior…the birth of the Sacred.

So now that we have all of that clear—I should let you know that I have always tried hard
to keep the two separated yet at the same time, trying to keep them as one.

I think that chore is more of a burden that is not merely my burden alone…
but rather a burden that most Christians have struggled with…that being
the balance of the Sacred and secular.

And it seems as if, every year about this time, I jump on a tiny soapbox pontificating this
same ol conundrum…
And every year I tell myself, enough is enough.
I won’t get sucked in…not again.

There’s a lot of work to do for our secular side.
And it’s really a great deal of busy, and even expensive, sort of work.
And oh how we stress over it all.

We fret over the tiniest of details.
We strive for perfection while always falling short as we are then made to feel as if
we did not live up to the expectation our culture has put upon us.

But let’s be honest, we really put it on ourselves do we not?
If put another way, we actually “allow” it to make us feel as if we have not lived
up to the perfection….
However, me thinks there is something more going on here, more than meets the eye…

It’s actually something which many would consider near criminal…
A crime that is actually taking place in plain sight—
yet none of us appears to be any the wiser.

It is the stealing of the Sacred by the secular.

Yep, you read correctly.

The secular is, or certainly is trying, to steal the Sacred.

Yet here’s the thing…we are allowing it to happen.
We are complicit.
We are falling hook, line, and sinker— while all throughout this theft, we’re being dupped.

It is in our defense, that I state for the record, that we are being hoodwinked.
We are being lulled into this crime of complicity by the shiny lights and sounds
of the slick merchandising of the season that now ramps up sometime after July 4th.

So this year, my one small “rebellion” against complicity…

I opted not to send out Christmas cards.

At first, it was going to be the lights.
Then it was the tree, the gifts, the cooking, the decorating….see what I’m saying??
we’re living on an out of control fast rolling snowball turned avalanche.

Every year, early in the Fall, I’d seek out my Christmas Cards.
I did not take the task lightly.

When our son was little, ours was the basic card of a small family wishing
A Merry Christmas to all.
It was always a photo type card of our little boy with a Christmas Greeting from
all three of us.

Yet as time passed and he grew to be a young man versus that of a little boy, I shifted our
card focus from the greeting of a family through the image of their child to now
a card of only the Sacred.

A religious card that proclaimed the birth of a Savior.

It was not to be one of those types of cards with pictures of the whole family at the beach,
or on some exotic trip or some sort of montage of family feats and accomplishments…
nor was it to be one of those letter types of card that is a laundry a list of who, what
and where of the great and grand.

I understand that the simple sacrificial Christmas card morphed into becoming a surrogate
form of communication…
It became the equivalent of filling in the gaps of a year without having touched base
with the list of names on a list.

The Christmas card turned into the catch-up of life, liberally spiked with a heavy dose
of grandstanding.

It became the litany of a brag sheet of trips, events, accomplishments, and milestones…
Nothing about Christmas…that being Christ’s mass.

Nothing about Christ even being hidden in the details of that spectacular vacation to Machu Pichu
or your eldest now graduating top of her class.

Where is Jesus in the tales of where you went, who you saw, or what you accomplished?
Are there any thoughts or reflections regarding your service to Him or his sheep?

I don’t mind the images of the little children or even those of grandchildren as children
seem to be the connecting glue between the Sacred and the secular…
it is the children…or so that is what it should be.
The Sacred is that of a child and the secular is that of collective children.
Or so it was to be…
Innocence and the mystical mixed with the gift of Sacred birth.

So I figured…I’d send out my card here instead.
Just one big card for friends, family, and even strangers…

And since I would have sent them out by now, I figured I should do so here today.

So I offer you this lovely Italian baroque time period painting of the Nativity–also known
as the Adoration with Saints Francis and Lawrence…
a beautiful image for reflection and proclamation.

Yet it is a painting by the Italian artist Caravaggio—commissioned in 1609 as an altarpiece
for an oratory in Palermo, Sicily, the Oratorio di San Lorenzo…
A painting with a mysterious past, painted by a rogue of a painter…

It would be centuries following its completion that the painting would be
quietly taken by two men working for the Mafia and in turn
it would be “lost” for nearly 40 years.

A painting of the Sacred, painted by one who was anything but…
A painting that was stolen by those who were perhaps even worse than the artist…

Thus we have an example of the secular literally stealing an image of the Sacred….hummmm

(here’s a little link to the backstory behind the painting and artitst…I’ve written
about Caravaggio before…a very secular rogue of an artist who could paint oh so powerfully
the of the Sacred in a way unmatched by many other artists…one of my favs…
http://art-crime.blogspot.com/2009/12/breaking-news-on-stolen-caravaggio.html )

May we all be blessed as we recall the Sacred birth of Salvation…


The Adoration / Nativity with St. Francis and St Lawrence / Caravaggio 1609)

average troubles and updates

“I am not more gifted than the average human being.
If you know anything about history, you would know that is so–
what hard times I had in studying and the fact that I do not have a memory like some other
people do…
I am just more curious than the average person and I will not give up on a problem
until I have found the proper solution.
This is one of my greatest satisfactions in life–
solving problems–and the harder they are, the more satisfaction do I get out of them.
Maybe you could consider me a bit more patient in continuing with my problem than is
the average human being.
Now, if you understand what I have just told you, you see that it is not a matter
of being more gifted but a matter of being more curious and maybe more patient
until you solve a problem.”

Albert Einstein


(Autumn is feeling better / Moppie Cook / 2018)

I’ve always thought my life was pretty much average.
I grew up average.
I lived in an average house.
I had an average family.
I went to an average school.
Average was good.
Average seemed safe…

Some folks think average equates to boring…

I rather like average.

Yet our life these days has been anything but average…

Things have been less than ideal for a couple of months now.
Less than average.

There have been high adulations and low dark shadows.

It started really last year with what I called the season of loss…
that was followed by the news of new life and hope.

But then our son had a massive job change the week before his first child was born.
Things were uncertain.

Next, this first child came into this world with tremendous concern and trepidation.
Yet joy pushed the worry aside.

Then it was a here there sort of life.

I was staying there, they were staying here…
As the new mom struggled through a couple of infections.

And so now we all stay here…

The two of us and the two cats have grown to three more plus a black lab.
The 3 four-legged siblings are not too keen on their new “sister”

Yet that’s all about to change again come tomorrow when our son goes back to Atlanta
to a position with new company—of which he is very excited….yet the excitement
comes with a somewhat heavy heart because his wife and young daughter will continue staying
here as mom finishes out the school year.

Blessedly there will not be the hair-raising commuting, but this new small family is now separated
while these imperfect grandparents try to make things as smooth as possible for all concerned.

Throughout all of our small world ordeal, I’ve thought a great deal about our deployed troops—
who are separated from their families for months at a time.
Worlds apart from all that is important and dear.
Our temporary imperfection pales to their sacrifices…

Which reminds me that nothing in life is ideal, is it?

To add insult to injury, during all of our transitions, our daughter-n-law had her
identity stolen.

We worry that it was actually while she was in the hospital.
It’s a top-notch hospital but if you’ve ever listened to Clark Howard,
he’ll tell you the medical field is the primary culprit when it comes
to identity theft…
and her troubles didn’t start until a day after her discharge….
when 4 iPhone 10s were bought on a plan in her name using her SS number
clear across the country in Seattle, Washington.

There were several other phone purchases and phone plan purchased in the same area.
She contacted all of the credit bureaus and had to file police reports in order to
have all the credit applications and purchases taken off of her reports.

The police explained that the phones are bought then shipped and sold overseas.

It’s been a very long story of sorting but hopefully, we’ve nipped it all in the
bud in the nick of time before too much damage has been done.

Next, adding insult to injury, the Social Security office sent out our
new granddaughter’s SS card, but it never arrived.
The SS office then told us they couldn’t track where the card went.
They sent it, that’s all they could determine.

Great.

We now have a new card…but wonder where the other one went…???
And what of a two-month-old’s identity now being compromised???

Next, our daughter-n-law got salmonella right before she was to return to work
from maternity leave.
We’d gone out to a rather nice seafood restaurant in Atlanta to celebrate birth,
life and to see if a new baby could handle public life.

After a night of being deathly sick…
she spent a day in urgent care followed by a day in the ER
The CDC even called…
This while a newborn was at home with an inept grandmother.

It wasn’t lettuce and it wasn’t E-coli…it was salmonella and it was at the restaurant.
I called the manager…he was apologetic.

Three weeks later, as you know, Autumn became deathly ill.
She spent hours in one ER only to be sent to Scottish Rite’s ER in Atlanta.
She too tested posted for salmonella.

But the jury is still out as to the source.
The doctors think the window between her mom’s outbreak and her onset had
actually been too long.
They questioned two new trial formulas.

Her fever was high.
The diarrhea was more blood than not.
As this tiny precious little one was weak and pallid.

She was hooked up to machines and had been stuck in both arms…while nurses searched
for tiny veins.
A difficult thing to bear when such small wee one is suffering.

She had a spinal tap.

The fluids were thankfully clear.

She received a powerful injection in the ER then another one the following day at her
pediatrician’s office.

We were then told we’d switch to an oral antibiotic while waiting to see what
the final cultures revealed.

As of Thursday, the hospital called and told us that nothing had grown from the cultures
and that they felt confident that the salmonella had not spread to the brain.

I spoke with my own gastroenterologist this week and he explained that salmonella
is a gravely troubling illness as it can spread rapidly throughout the body affecting
much more than just the guts…it can lead to a myriad of ailments including arthritis.

Autumn is so much better but not totally 100%.
We had been diligently working on getting her on a schedule and regime of both
eating and sleeping but this latest hurdle threw a massive curveball at all
of our best efforts.

Add to all of this my husband working toward retiring…bringing a 50-year career
in a small family business to a close…
which is an entirely different post unto itself…

Topsy turvy and far from average…a roller coaster of emotions…

So…
average is sounding pretty darn nice, doesn’t it?

We thank each of you for your prayers, thoughts and good wishes…
We couldn’t do any of this without your prayerful support…

Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer,
believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

Mark 11:24

A bookstore, a war and a reunion….

“Be swift as a gazelle and strong as a lion to do the will of God in Heaven.”
(as seen on the ex libris of a book looted by the Nazi’s, a reference to
a line form the Mishnah, the Jewish redaction of oral traditions:
Andres Rydell The Book Thieves)


(the interior of a book store in Padova, Italy (Padua) / Julie Cook / 2007)

Today’s tale began many years ago, when my aunt and I found ourselves wandering
and weaving up and down the snake-like alley streets twisting through the old historic district of Padua, Italy…
better known to the Italians as Padova.

We were actually en route from Milan to Florence and opted to stop over for 3 days
in order to explore this deeply rich historical city.
And it just so happened that during our stay, during this particular mid June,
it was the height of the city’s yearly commemoration of Saint Anthony.

Padua is home to the Basilica Pontificia di Sant’Antonio di Padova, or the Pontifical Basilica of St. Anthony of Padua—a massive and beautiful church built to honor the Portuguese born saint who settled in Italy, making Padua his adopted home.
The building of the basilica was begun  in 1232, a year following Saint Anthony’s
death, and was finally completed in 1310—with modifications taking place in both
the 14th and 15th centuries.

It was a wonderful experience being a part of such a festive atmosphere, as
thousands of Catholics worldwide flock to this small Northern Italian town for
the June 13th feast day—
The city goes all out to make a colorfully vibrant yet equally respectfully spiritual
time for the thousands of pilgrims and tourists who flock to this city just south of Venice.

There are parades where the various ancient guilds are dressed in period costume as children, nuns, priests, monks and lay people march solemnly through the
narrow ancient streets all carrying flags as residents drape banners from their windows.

Yet Padua is more than just a spiritual hub, it is also very much of an intellectual
hub as it is home to the University of Padua, one of Europe’s oldest universities,
having been founded in 1222.
It is here where Galileo Galilei spent 18 years, of what he has described as being
the happiest years of his life, while he was the head of the Mathematics Department…
teaching, studying, lecturing and writing.

Italy, so rich in history, also happens to have a wonderful history with
paper making as well as bookmaking.
And Padua has its fair share of both fascinating and beautifully rich paper
as well as book shops–shops selling books, antique lithographs and rare prints.

It is said that after Spain, Italy is where paper making actually had its start.
It was most likely introduced to southern Italy by the Arabs who had in turn first
learned the craft from the Chinese.
Arab influence, particularly in architecture, can still be seen in and around the
Veneto region.

So it was during our visit, as we were wandering about one evening following supper,
that we saw the book store I’ve included in today’s post. The store was closed for the night and as we were going to have to be at the train station bright and early the following morning, I knew I would only get to visit this store by pressing my nose
to the window.

All these many years later, I still think about that store.

It had a wealth of what I surmised to be rare antique and ancient books.
Books, despite the language barrier, beckoned for my further investigation.
I would have easily considered giving up my train ticket to Florence just to be able
to wander in, dig and explore….
but it would take years for me to actually understand the draw as to what I would
be digging and looking for….
And as Life so often has her way, time has simply afforded for my wistful musing of
what might have been.

Having finally finished reading The Book Thieves by Anders Rydell,
the image of that book store in Padua has drawn me back time and time again
as I made my way through Rydell’s book. There is a very strong pull to go back
to look, to seek and to wonder.

There are not words nor adjectives enough for me to do justice to the meticulous story
Rydell lays out as he recounts the Nazi’s scrupulous, maniacal and highly
calculated quest to en masse the books of the all of Europe and Russia with
a keen penchant for those of the Jews.
Not only did they attempt to eradicate an entire race of people, they wanted
to hold, own and control the entire literary word of man—
particularly that of religion, science and history.
As they saw themselves as the new keepers of the history of humankind.

Millions and millions of books, both precious and random were taken…as myriads
are now lost or destroyed for all of time.

The Nazis had a detailed system for categorizing the stolen books.
And many of the books that are now scattered across the globe…
be they in large University libraries or small college collections,
to the random bookshop or second hand store—
many of those books still bare the labels of the Nazi’s numerical filing system.

The long arduous journey of Rydell’s very sad, horrific and overwhelming tale ends
in England with his actually reuniting a granddaughter, Christine Ellse, with a lone
little random book that had belonged to her grandfather–
a man she had never known personally but knew he had died in Auschwitz.
There were never any photographs, no sounds, no memories of a the man
this now grown woman so longed to know.

“Although I’m a Christian I have always felt very Jewish.
I’ve never been able to talk about the Holocaust without crying.
I feel so connected to all of this,” says Ellse,
opening the book and turning the pages for a while before she goes on.

“I’m very grateful for this book, because…I know my English grandparents
on my mother’s side.
They lived and then they died.
It was normal, not having any grandparents on your father’s side.
Many people didn’t, but there was something abnormal about this.
I didn’t even have a photograph of them.
There was a hole there, an emotional vacuum, if you see what I mean.
There was always something hanging midair, something unexpressed,”
Ellse says, squeezing the book.

“You know, my father never spoke about this.
About the past, the war.
But my aunt talked about it endlessly, all the time.
She was the eldest of the siblings, so she was also the most ‘German’ of them.
She coped with it by talking;
my father coped with it by staying silent about it.
I knew already when I was small that something horrible had happened.
I knew my grandparents had died in the war.
Then I found out they’d been gassed, but when you’re a child you don’t
know what that means.
It’s just a story—you don’t understand it.
Then I learned they’d died at Auschwitz. Only after I grew up did I begin to understand and get a grip on it.
It was very difficult when I found out they’d been murdered just ten days
before the gas chambers were shut down.
It was agonizing.
I imagine myself sitting on that train, experiencing the cold and the hunger.
And then straight into the gas chambers.
I’ve never able to get over it.”

Historian Patricia Kennedy Grimstead, a woman with a mission to see that war plunder is eventually reunited with families, notes that “millions of trophy books–although no one can say how many there are—will remain as ‘prisoners of war,”
Today, in Russia, there is no willingness to return books to the countries or families
that were plundered. But we still have to know what books are still represented there
from Europe’s cultural inheritance, a monument to the libraries that were destroyed
and scattered as a consequence of the most terrible war in human history.”

And so my mind wanders now back to that bookstore in Padua—
what book, if any, was there that had once been someone’s personal book
before madness took it away…
a book I now wish I could have found, in order to have brought it back home
to its rightful family.

The Lord will afflict you with madness, blindness and confusion of mind.
At midday you will grope about like a blind person in the dark.
You will be unsuccessful in everything you do;
day after day you will be oppressed and robbed, with no one to rescue you….

All these curses will come on you.
They will pursue you and overtake you until you are destroyed,
because you did not obey the Lord your God and observe the commands
and decrees he gave you.
They will be a sign and a wonder to you and your descendants forever.
Because you did not serve the Lord your God joyfully and gladly
in the time of prosperity, therefore in hunger and thirst,
in nakedness and dire poverty,
you will serve the enemies the Lord sends against you.
He will put an iron yoke on your neck until he has destroyed you.

Deuteronomy 28:28-29, 45-48

dubious

Jove weighs affairs of earth in dubious scales,
And the good suffers while the bad prevails.

Homer,
The Odyssey, Book VI, line 229. Pope’s translation


(a problematic flock of geese, Mackinaw City / Julie Cook / 2017)

Last night, as I was fast asleep,
with sleep being a relative term at this stage of age in my life,
my credit card mysteriously crawled out of my wallet and teleported itself
miraculously to Europe…
And of course with a few jaunts back and forth between the US, the UK and greater
Europe…all for good measure and long before I ever woke up.

It even made a stop in Luxembourg—

I’ve always wanted to visit Luxembourg.
I’m so glad one of us has gotten to go.

I discovered this near mythical adventure upon getting up this morning.

Bleary eyed from my usual tossing and turning, I stumbled into the kitchen to
start the coffee.
I picked up my phone and noticed a copious amount of messages regarding my
credit card.

Huh?

Rubbing my eyes and adjusting my glasses I grabbed my computer and pulled up
my email.

Sure enough…24 messages reporting suspicious activity on my card with
purchase after purchase being declined,
thank goodness…

A dollar here, a pound there and even a euro or two …
all of which was a dead trigger…

But then it became bold and went onwards and upward of $300 bucks to such places
as Domino’s pizza somewhere in Austria, some sort of FaceBook virtual store in Germany, nintendo of Europe, netflix somewhere in the UK….

As it seems as if my credit card was having a mid-life crisis and was attempting to
live someone’s youthful abandon all on another continent…
or perhaps in reality it was something more inline with sorry wonton
wastefulness….

I’ve ridden this merry go round before—seems like I just wrote a similar post..
but that was my debit card—this is now my credit card…
so we are officially 2 for 2.

And no, I don’t buy a lot nor do I order all that much on-line….

I called the nice folks at the credit card company.
She ran me through the gauntlet of security before I delivered my
tale of woe. And from her end, she could see just how busy my card had
been in its jet set ways.

She verified my last purchase—three books from Amazon…hummm I now wonder…
Next it was to all the latest 24 bizarre or so “traveling” purchases,
all of which had been declined, and were now seen for what they truly were—
stealing.

She canceled the card and has issued me a new one which will be arriving
post haste.

After we hung up, I continued receiving notifications that whomever was
out there playing me, hadn’t given up yet…
I don’t know, maybe it would take 30 tries before this idiot figured
declined meant declined.

For good measure I called the credit card company back letting them know I
was still receiving their fraud notifications—
of which they told me not to fret–
the card was no more and the notifications would stop when our rocket scientist
friend figured such out…as he, she, it would then most likely move on to the
next stolen card number…

In all the gallows humor here, there is a seriousness that really leaves me
angry because I loath those who steal…
particularly information, numbers and identities…
because if the truth be told, all of that is really lazy man stealing.

Sit on your arse as it were, hiding behind a computer screen,
trolling and taking….

Nice and neat, or so it would all appear.
No one is physically hurt.
Or so our arse sitting thieves would assume.

What’s a little free Dominos pizza somewhere in Austria or
some Facebook virtual-store crap in Luxembourg??
Or things I don’t even know of in New York???

So before I had even had my first sip of morning coffee, I was mad.

Like you, I try to live life as I would expect others to live theirs…
work, earn, pay….

But life is not easy like that.
Not everyone buys into doing the right things in life.

There are bad people, lazy people, violent people, bad lazy people,
bad lazy violent people…
People who would only sneer at my desire that we all do what is right
by one another.
Think psychopaths, think gangs, think MS13…

As in there are dubious and nefarious individuals who do not consider life
to be a gift, who do not hold love nor honor in their hearts and
who prefer only to serve a darker and more sinister side of life.

And as we now que those out there who will sing the song of lamentation
that this behavior is due to a poor childhood, a less fortunate history,
a lack of this or that, an unbroken cycle…….

The bottom line is choice.

A choice to do what is right and decent
or
a choice to do what is wrong and bad.

And it is those more sinister and heartless out there who scare me.

They scare me because they remind me that darkness continues to walk this earth.
That there is indeed a deep spiritual battle that rages all around us—
whether we are awake or asleep…it rages.

For despite my best efforts at keeping my little world nice and neat,
tidy and safe…
Satan and those who do his work, are busy.

We either choose to serve Light or we choose to serve darkness
It’s as simple as that.

Others would disagree.
There will be excuses…
There are things like victimhood…
and cycles, and disadvantage…
but in the end…
none of that matters because when we choose one over the other…
that choice is on us and us alone.

For no one is telling us which to choose…for the choice,
despite our circumstances is still up to us….
so perhaps then such poor choosing just makes us all victims does it not..?

A troublemaker and a villain,
who goes about with a corrupt mouth,
who winks maliciously with his eye,
signals with his feet
and motions with his fingers,
who plots evil with deceit in his heart—
he always stirs up conflict.
Therefore disaster will overtake him in an instant;
he will suddenly be destroyed—without remedy.
There are six things the Lord hates,
seven that are detestable to him:
haughty eyes,
a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to rush into evil,
a false witness who pours out lies
and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.

Proverbs 6:12-19

No getting around it

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times.
But that is not for them to decide.
All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

― J.R.R. Tolkien

“I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born,
and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”

― Mark Twain

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the
intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body,
but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke,
thoroughly used up, totally worn out,
and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”

― Hunter S. Thompson

DSC00247
(image of Christ crucified, Rapperswill Polish Museum, Rapperswill, Switzerland / Julie Cook / 2012)

Death…
There is no getting around it.
No bailing out.
No avoidance.
No free pass.

It is the proverbial truism…
Death…
and of course those blasted taxes.

It comes to all of us, at some point in our lives…
Be it tragically, prematurely or thankfully…
One thing is certain, it will come.

Driving home from the store this afternoon I drove past a cemetery with a freshly dug grave
close to my line of sight.
Having recently buried my father-n-law, then having rushed a feeble dad this week in for IVs as he’s gotten himself in a dangerous predicament, death has been a frequent thought.

Death is certainly disrupting.
It disrupts obviously the one who it just whisked away…
and it disrupts those who are now without the one Death so rudely, or thankfully, took away.

Picking up the pieces is, more times than not, an emotional nightmare.
I’ve done my share of picking up and I’ve not much cared for it.
But haven’t we all….

There is such a finality to it all.
No reruns, no redos, no getting back.
It’s a done and done sort of deal.

It’s the ultimate in being robbed or stolen from…
And I don’t like that.

Yet if given the option of living forever, I would politely decline.

For life is hard.

Oh don’t get me wrong, Life is grand as well,
but overall, it can be hard.

Yet I feel an odd sense when pondering death…
something I really don’t like pondering…
as in, I’d rather not think about it.

I don’t like thinking about being separated from those I love…
Me from them and them from me.
Of things moving merrily along without me.
I would be so sad.
Yet is that not our ego…thinking we just need to be here, in the thick of it all…
Or fretting over what we might just miss…

And then there is the wondering of exactly where might I be headed.
Up, down, all around….

I like to think I’m headed in the right direction…
Being a follower of the Resurrected Christ.
Having confessed, and confessed some more, those egregious actions and sins of mine…
and then trusting in God’s promise and Holy word…

Yet what human, no matter how much they profess, claim, proclaim and believe…
isn’t plagued by questions?
If you’re not, nor haven’t been, your’e a far better person than I…

Yet I do know that the Prince of Darkness loves to whisper in the ear of the faithful
all sorts of gobbledygook, lies, half truths and falsehoods…
Inserting and sowing doubts, worry and fretting wherever the ground seems fertile.

Then I worry about being alone…
as in left alone
Not in the book series but rather here by myself all alone…
I don’t like that.

Yes there is indeed lots to ponder when Death happens upon our door…

Do you remember when you first learned to swim?
I almost drowned at the age of 5 during that process
but that is not my point here….the point is remembering the process.

Chances are you stood on the edge of the pool or on the boat dock
or at the edge of the lake or up on the sand at the beach…
A parent, or older trusted individual, was below (or standing in the surf)
treading almost effortlessly in the water, arms out stretched, waiting for you
while they coaxed, encouraged, implored or even pleaded with you to jump…
waiting patiently for you to come to them….to their strong open arms…

It was an overwhelming feeling.

Big and deep, murky or clear, cold or warm, the vast body of water waited along with a loved one.
There was a bit of excitement, of wonderment, a sense of mounting adventure.
Yet there were also the nerves, the worry, the anxiety, the predisposed need for survival percolating upward from some deep recess of your hypothalamus (that part of the brain responsible for fight or flight).
The internal struggle of should I or shouldn’t I was raging in the span of just a few minutes.

Some of us may have needed to run through this routine a couple of times before working up our nerve or building our trust.
We may have had to run to mom, or someone perched on dry land who could reassure us that it was going to be ok.
We’d work that nerve up again, and again…facing that great challenge,
all the while knowing that we weren’t really going this alone because there was that person who wanted to love us and protect us, who was waiting for us in that water…

Learning to swim is not just something done for fun…
it is a true life survival skill.
A skill our parents and loved ones want to instill in us.
There is the benefit of swimming for fun and pleasure, but don’t let that fool you, it is a survival skill plain and simple.

I kind of like to think Death will be a lot like learning to swim.
There are the nerves and the trepidation.
The fear of the unknown.
But then we see Jesus, with His arms outstretched.
I see the wounds in His hands as He stretches out His arms towards me…
There is peace in His eyes…
He voice is calm as He beckons…

It’s going to be ok,” he reassures…
I’ve already done this, so don’t you worry…..”

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.”
John 14:1-4

I am as mad as a wet hen!!

Anger is one letter short of danger.
Author Unknown

“The robb’d that smiles, steals something from the thief; He robs himself that spends a bootless grief.”
― William Shakespeare

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(one of the chickens that calls my dad, neighbor / Julie Cook / 2013)

No this hen is not wet and I don’t think it’s exactly mad but it was the best visual I had for this post regarding my being mad.
I’m not just mad, I’m furious!
I’m so mad, I can’t see straight.
As my students would have said, I’m so mad I could dot someone’s eye!
I am so beside myself that if I could, I’d snatch someone up by the collar and clock them one!!

As you know, I tend to lead a rather low key, low profile, low technology sort of life.
Pretty old fashioned.
I don’t do any of that social media business.
I dont TIVO
I don’t HULU.
I don’t do on-line banking.
I have one credit card and one debit card.
My life pretty much consists of the grocery store, Target (pronounced as Targé), the pharmacy, the dry cleaners, a monthly visit or so to the liquor store to procure any necessary medicinal supplies of something nicely fermented and aged plus the occasional Lowes or Home Depot run–and here is where the trouble began. . .

This morning I decided it would be nice to order a new pair of TOMS shoes. I love TOMS—not because the shoes are great by any means but more so because it is a “get one give one” company. A purchased pair of TOMS leads to the giving of a pair of shoes to someone across this planet in need of shoes.

As the purchase was not expensive, I thought I’d just use my debit card.
Well, oddly the purchase wouldn’t go through.
“Strange. . . ” I thought but chalked it up to maybe something to do with using my debit card verses my regular credit card.

Later I made a run around town for a few small items. I ran into a local shop to pick up a few things. As I went to pay for my purchase, using my debit card, something again rather strange took place.
The card wouldn’t go through.
Hummmmm.
Thinking I had put in the wrong pin the clerk told me it wasn’t the pin and it appeared that I needed to go over to the bank to figure out what’s going on.

Writing a check (and yes I still have a check book as some local business still do not have credit / debit machines—which is actually quite refreshing) I paid for my items and made a beeline straight to the bank.

Once at the bank I proceeded to explain to the teller that for some odd reason I couldn’t get my debit card to work, twice. I knew I had money in the account and thought that maybe the magnetic strip was messed up or the pin, or who knows. . .
Looking at her screen of my pulled up account she asks “Did you make a purchase at Sears?”
“Sears???!! No, I haven’t been in a Sears in years”
“How about $500 at a Walmart?
“WHAT???!!!WALLMART???!!! I don’t even go in Walmart!!!”

She proceeds to tell me that my card has been red flagged over some suspicious activity. She gave me a number to the credit protection agency, told me to call them in order to verify the activity and then I’d have to get a new debit card.

Are you kidding me??!!!

I proceeded to sit down in the lobby of the bank, call the agency on my cell phone, confirm that I had not made the purchases, hang up, then move over to a desk with two women who were in the fraud department of the bank.

The nice ladies pull up my account, again.
It appears my card has been to Illinois, Kansas and south Georgia to name but a few locations all on Saturday and Sunday.
By this time I’m feeling the heat rising to my face.
I am feeling sick to my stomach, I am in a panic and I am mad.

Luckily for me the only thing that went through was a $5.42 charge at a Sears in Illinois.
The other big charges, like the $500 charge to Walmart and the charge for some motel in Kansas were all declined.

The nice bank ladies took my card, cut it in half before shredding it, ordered a new debit card and flagged my account as having been compromised—which led me back to Home Depot.

We’ve all heard or read in the news of the identity and credit breach affecting Home Depot as well as Target . . .
Thankfully my Target Red Card was not affected. Which has made me realize my troubles had to be from Home Depot.

It was Easter and I had gone to Home Depot to get a few things in order to put together an Easter basket of goodies for our son’s new house. . . rake, shovel, broom, hedge trimmers, pruning shears, etc—“stuff” a new home and yard owner would certainly be in need of. . .when I recall using my debit card.

AAAGGGGHHHHH—-I am robbed putting together an Easter Basket—go figure.

Months later the news is rife with the latest and egregious data breach affecting millions of shoppers at Home Depot. As I had not noticed anything “fishy” on my bank statement, all these many months following the news of the breach, I breathed a sigh of relief and went merrily on with my rather boring rut filled life.

That is until today.

Luckily for me, I am only out a little over $5.00, of which the bank will be crediting back to my account.
I know those who have had their entire identities stolen— living now a nightmare existence.

The little ladies at the bank were nice, thorough, efficient and full of advice and warnings. However, I already thought I was pretty savvy.
I do not use my debit card in restaurants, or for fast food, or rarely for on-line purchases, or even when I travel to Atlanta to shop. I simply use it here in little ol Carrollton. But even life in little ol Carrollton is not free from predators, thieves, criminals and crooks.

It’s really hard for me to wrap my brain around how other people can so readily, easily, and often time craftily and creatively, steal from others.
Like I say, I could certainly dot someone’s eye right about now. . .yet despite my anger, my panic and my feeling of betrayal or of being somewhat broadsided out of the blue, I am sad.
Sad that we live in a world that grows less and less safe and trusting with each passing day.

The wolves lie in wait, waiting to devour the unsuspecting around each corner. One more signal that I need to regroup and rethink how I live what I thought to be a rather dull, rut filled and routine laced life.
Maybe the less information out there is better?
Maybe cash is the only way?
Maybe there is something to getting off the proverbial “grid”
Maybe I need to find some deserted island out there with my name on it?

A sad sign of the times to be sure.

Here are a couple of things to look for if you suspect any fraudulent activity on a debit card:
—many thieves are patient, usually waiting weeks or even months after a breach–do not relax your vigilance of monitoring your accounts and statements
—It usually starts with a small insignificant transaction –prime example my initial $5.42 which raised the red flag.
—fraudulent transactions often take place over a weekend once banks are closed for several days in a row.
—I was fortunate that my bank did flag that initial fraudulent transaction and consequently declined the ensuing transactions taking place all over the country.
—be smart when and where using a debit card

. . .yet sadly, the times, they are a’changing and it matters not how safe and smart we think we may be— people will still choose to do bad things and bad things will still happen to good people.

So the poor have hope, and injustice shuts its mouth.
Job 5:16

“Bring back our girls!”

Suffer the little children. . .
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (NIV)
(Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come to me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. KJV)
Matthew 19:14

“Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.”
― Margaret Mead
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(Stain-glass window of St Anthony of Padua / located in the Cathedral of St John the Baptist/ Savannah, Georgia / Julie Cook / 2013)

I cannot allow one more day to pass without noting the terrible barbarism taking place in Nigeria.
With the abduction of the nearly 300 girls, taken from school–the place they had gone, thinking they would be safe in order to take their end of term final exams—my heart cries out within me.
I cry out as a mother who’s heart shares the anguished grief of so many other mothers in Nigeria.
I cry out as an educator for the safety of those students entrusted to a teacher’s care.
I cry out as a human being who is outraged by the barbaric treatment of children by cold and calculating adults.

Our world grows ever darker.

The sinister shadows of sex trafficking and of a modern day slave trade twist and distort what bright light remains shining in this world. When we allow the marginalization of our children– be it in the latest trauma in Nigeria, the shanty drug dens of Rio de Janeiro, the impoverished isolated communities of southern Appalachia or the myriad of children living in squalor worldwide–the light of our hope grows ever more dim.

Boko Haram, which roughly translates to “Western education is forbidden”, is the latest group in a long list of terrorist organizations hell bent on jihad against humanity. Abducting then selling children–children which are seen as simply as the spoils of war, is one of the most heinous and reprehensible acts that one human can inflict upon another. It is beyond my soul how terribly detached a human can become, so much so that they regard children as a mere commodity for human depravity.

Helplessness and an unquenchable sorrow now strangles almost 300 Nigerian families.
300 families that we have knowledge of—the question remains. . .
how many more families suffer without the world’s knowledge?
How many more families, in the family of humankind must suffer?
How many more children must be exploited and used for the sick twisted pleasure of disturbed individuals?
How many more people must become less than, before we, the people with the voices, join together to shout a collective “NO MORE!”

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.
Matthew 18:10