finding a faith stone through the dark times

“…in our willful desire to live independently of God, we have severed the lifeline that flows from the source of all life”
Billy Graham

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(Wicklow Mountains, Glendalough National Park, County Wicklow, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

There are no exemptions in this life when it comes to difficulties, struggles, trials and conflicts.
Some are self imposed, some are random and some, for the believer, can be most vexing…
for it can often feel as if God has…
walked away,
deserted us,
or…
is proving to be more stubborn than ourselves.

Some periods will be more severe than others and there is certainly no clear window as to how long or how short such episodes will each last.

There will be times of great dryness…a rough patch of road that leaves one feeling empty…
or better yet, feeling nothing at all, as in void of feeling or emotion…
A sense of isolation, depression and emptiness…

Other times there will be the feeling as if the rug has been pulled out from under foot …
As one is left wondering if facing one more moment, let alone one more day, is even possible…preferring simply to throw in the proverbial towel while gladly giving it all up.

Maybe it’s seasonal…
What with these long cold winters of shortened days, limited light, constant gray, heavy clouds, cold rains, blanketing snow and a never ending feeling as if one can never get warm.

Maybe its the long hot summers of endless days, excessive heat, dry barren ground that becomes brittle to the touch..leaving one and all the only option of slowing down to a crawl in order to preserve energy while hoping to sweat a little less while praying for a cooling breeze to quench the fire .

Maybe life has simply dealt a wicked hand.
Tragedy has struck,
illness prevails,
and loss is paramount.

Or maybe it’s as if one has been left to simply bam ones head against a wall…as in the wall isn’t budging and neither are we. Frustration has taken hold and we are stuck in our dead-end tract of never-ending madness.

Whatever the reason, life is…
hard and difficult,
frustrating and tiresome,
sad and often unbearable…

I was offered some wise counsel yesterday from a dear friend—which I hope he won’t mind that I now share…
In our conversation my friend offered up an interesting perspective as to when we find ourselves in the midst of struggle and suffering…

“sometimes its better to go back to the last place you encountered God in a mighty way
in your life and use it as a marker….
When Moses parted the red sea and the children of Israel crossed over, the first thing they did was build a stone altar there and gave thanks to God for their deliverance…
So it is with us….
When God does something in our lives and we know it was Him, it is a marker…
A faith stone that repairs our hope in troubled times.
It is good to remember that place and a good starting point to carry on….”

For me that moment, that mile marker , when I knew that I had encountered the Omnipotent I AM, was during my fall trip to Ireland…I think we all have a myriad of moments throughout our lives, but for whatever reason we may simply miss the significance, write it off as mere happenstance, or we may have felt so dreadfully barren for so very long that perhaps it feels as if it were the only real true encounter we have ever experienced….

So my marker, my road of Damascus moment, was one September evening in Ireland.

Yet to literally re-vist that very moment in order to restudy, review, re-live that exact moment in time is impossible, impractical and far from feasible…

It is impossible for me to fly back over, gather those 3 particular friends together again on that lone September evening, at that exact restaurant table up in County Donegal…it is impossible for me to have that exact same conversation which lead to the words being spoken that shot into my mind and heart like a hot arrow piercing my very soul…unleashing the overwhelming sensation that time was standing still and I was suddenly alone with God.

It was all of a second, maybe two, for those words to be uttered and in turn to be heard…
however it seemed much longer as each word reverberated throughout my entire being…

Whereas I may not be able to actually re-live that amazing turning point, it’s not impossible to recall those three life changing words….
“Be at peace…”
“Be at peace with your God”….

Yet it was the first three words of that simple sentence that knocked me and my current world upside down.
Yet…the words were not for that night…not then…

Those simple words which were offered over dinner were not intended for that moment…not for a moment that was indeed peaceful as four friends enjoyed a good meal and drink, with good conversation in an ideal setting.
For that particular moment was of peace itself…

It was to be later when I would need to revisit those words.

As I have needed to do so this very week.
As well as last week and mostly likely next week and the many weeks which lie ahead.
Life is that way.
Life has a way of sucking out the very life of one’s being.
It can be hard.
It can also be joyous as well…
yet frustratingly those joyous times are often forgotten as one is wading through the hard with the muck of madness clinging to one’s boots.

So yes… it behooves me to remember my marker.

Three words….

Be at peace….

Thank you my friend for reminding me to find my marker, my faith stone and to return to that place where God had made His presence known….

Therapy amongst the mint

“All of earth is crammed with heaven
And every bush aflame with God
But only those who see take off their shoes.”

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. As long as this exists, and it certainly always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances may be. And I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.”
Anne Frank

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(a clump of freshly pulled mint mixed in a pile of roots / Julie Cook / 2015)

The air was punctuated with the pungent aroma of mint and basil mingled with a heavy dose of loamy moist dirt.
I had taken pruning shears with me, but put them aside in favor of my two gloved hands.
My intent was to simply cut it all back but instead I opted to hopefully rid my yard and life of the invasive mayhem.

The growing green mass had covered the whole front corner of the bed by the garage and was set to cover up Mimi’s ancient cement bench if something wasn’t done and done soon to stop this almost giddy encroachment.

My heart has felt much the same in recent days, overrun and over burdened with and by the onslaught of the grim global headlines.

The now burgeoning sickly yellowish green patch is usually the first thing in the yard to show its tender new verdant foliage during those sleepy hopeful wee days between winter and spring. It’s what gives me hope that life, rebirth, regrowth and Spring will indeed vanquish Old Man Winter while ushering in welcoming warmer days.

As I wondered about how best to tackle the latest infestation of overgrowth in the shrub bed, my thoughts wandered a world away to what or whom would or could now vanquish the sweeping global sorrows that were entangling both my heart and soul.

Come late Summer. . .when life is dried out and burned out, just as the seasons prepare to knock on the door of Autumn, the leggy gangly masses have become a truly unsightly tangled mess of tired and spent. As in I’m just ready to cut it all away, rid my life of the jumbled mess and happily welcome in some cool crisp colorful order.

I wish I could easily do the same for our hurting planet.

I’ve always found solace in working with my hands.
The more manual the labor the more productive and alive I feel.
There is a cleansing honesty in working with one’s hands.
Never mind that my back has been giving me fits, never mind the heat index is still in the triple digits, I will gladly get down and dirty, as the sun continues to bake the world, for working hard in the yard is good for the soul, the mind and often literally the heart.

Oh that it could be so easy with this greatly burdened world of ours.

As a true Southerner I’ve grown up with mint sprouting from every yard I’ve ever called home. What better accompaniment to one’s tea or julep, depending on your preference, than a sprig of fresh mint? Anyone will tell you mint is easy, as in it grows itself. In fact it’s just a little too easy, as in too eager and way too invasive. It’s more like a weed gone wild then a treasured herb. Plus everyone who does any work in a garden will tell you, any novice can grow mint— it offers instant gratification to the more hesitant would-be gardeners among us.

But my mint patch has been on the run and I had to stop it before things got anymore out of hand. Rather than cut it back, just for it to sprout right back to this same spreading madness within a few days, I took to pulling it up, by the long lanky root full. Even poor ol St Francis had to be laid on his side just so I could get to what was running under my favorite saint’s feet. I don’t think he was much bothered by the intrusion.

As I yanked and pulled, buried just under the top layer of straw and soil, was a criss crossing network of an eerily bone white root system stretching for what seemed to be miles. With each tugged, pulled and unearthed jumble of lanky roots and dirt, earwigs and beetles alike scurried helter skelter, madly seeking a dark cloak of safety in the damp compost soil.

The more my thoughts drifted over the latest mounding national and global turmoils, I pulled harder and deeper. Sweat trickled down my face, pooling at the tip of my nose before dripping and disappearing into the blackened soil. The sweat seemed to reach across the globe mingling with the tears of those thousands of people now walking hundreds of miles in search of asylum and safety.

As the morning turned to afternoon, I had finally pulled up the last of the mint. The piles were now all raked up, the walkway swept and the pine straw smoothed as the shrub bed now had a delightfully clean and fresh look.

I still had no grand revelations as to how to help the ever growing global crises sweeping across our lives nor how to ease the lingering tensions within our own Nation. I was hot, tired and weary of body, but there was oddly a refreshing clarity of thought.
No longer did I feel totally overwhelmed or at a loss.
Still not knowing where to even begin to help, I gratefully no longer felt as defeated as I had.
There’s just something about physical labor, with it’s overwhelming beginning and productive ending, that gives hope to the overwhelming obstacles of life. . . hope that we can indeed tackle and eventually overcome the litany of misery facing our current global family.

I trust we will be able to do so. . .
for only in God, comes hope to the hopeless, and strength to the weak. . .

Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.
Galatians 6:10

“Let me arise and open the gate, to breathe
the wild warm air of the heath,
And to let in Love, and to let out Hate,
And anger at living and scorn of Fate,
To let in Life, and to let out Death.”

Violet Fane

There is strength even in being small, be not afraid.

If you faint in the day of adversity,
your strength being small;
If you hold back from rescuing those taken away to death,
those who go staggering to the slaughter;
If you say, “Look, we did not know this”
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it?
And will he not repay all according to their deeds?

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(male ruby throated hummingbird / Julie Cook / 2014)

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This is no time to be ashamed of the Gospel. It is the time to preach it from the rooftops. Do not be afraid to break out of comfortable and routine modes of living in order to take up the challenge of making Christ known in the modern metropolis. ”
― Pope John Paul II