time for reflection

“With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.”
William Shakespeare


(moi in 2013 / Julie Cook)

What are the types of things that happen to us in a year’s time?
What sorts of things take place to and or around us during the course of a year?

In my world, there were milestones, fieldstones, capstones and stone weights.

The greatest being a baby turned one as another baby came into the world.

And there were, for this small family of ours…

stress tests
epidurals
CT scans
MRIs
X-rays
ultrasounds
bloodwork
surgeries
healings
shots
medicines
waiting diagnoses
dental implants
additions
trips
trips to an ocean
trips to the mountains
trips to the city
family gatherings
quiet time
accidents
demolitions
updatings
hope
despair
surprises
growing
pruning
anniversaries
multiple ER trips
multiple Urgent Care trips
viruses
infections
food poisoning
haircuts
lost hair
purchases
sales
trials, literally
tribulations
disappointments
discoveries
tears
anger
laughter
solace
peace
good news
troubling news
bad news
sad news
happy news
new friends
old friends
new family
found birth parents
lost birth parents
welcomings
shunnings
new decades of life
frustrations
blessings
reflections…

And so here is to reflections…
May there be many more… that both come and go, in the next decade of living…

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to
completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

Philippians 1:6 ESV

the precarious balance of life

Regardless of the outcome,
God can bring about eternal good from every trial.

In a hundred years, the eternal good that comes from our trial will be the
only thing that matters.
Bill Sweeney
Unshakeable Hope


(the gardinas are in bloom / Julie Cook / 2018)

I have to confess that I am about to have a broken heart.

Not a literal broken heart mind you but rather more figuratively…
yet broken none the less.

For as much as I know that God’s word has always taught me that I am not to worry about tomorrow,
for tomorrow will take care of itself…I can’t help but think about tomorrow…or truthfully
it’s the day after tomorrow I’m thinking about.

Those of you who know me know that my daughter-n-law and new young granddaughter came to stay
with us almost two months ago when our daughter-n-law had to go back to finish out the school year following her maternity leave.

Someone had to care for the baby…
My hand went up.

Since they actually live in Atlanta, while the school where our daughter-n-law teaches
is in our area which is a good hour or so away from their home—with a new baby,
commuting was out of the question.

And as our course of prayer has been that she can find a school and school system closer to their
world rather than our world–we learned late yesterday afternoon that that prayer has
actually been fulfilled.

She has been offered a wonderful position at a private Catholic school in Atlanta.
Our son has finally gotten a good job with a large Atlanta based company so moving, again,
was simply not an option….nor was living life in two different places.

So for these nearly two months, I’ve been chief cook and bottle washer…literally.
Throw in diaper changer, entertainer, errand runner and grandmother…the list goes on.
And whereas my body reminds me daily why God intended younger folks to have babies versus us
older folks, I have been dutiful to my labor of love.

Starting late last week, as the thoughts of their departure came looming to the forefront of
my senses and as I’d feel the hot tears bubbling upwards, I’d push it all back down..trying
not to think about it while just living in the moment of now.

And that’s the thing, I’ve never been good about living in the moment
as I’ve always been one to fret about tomorrow.

I know in my head what is the best and the right thing…and that is for mom, dad, and baby
to be all together, as they should be under one roof, as this has been a difficult time for my son.
He misses them terribly.

And with a baby…missing those little day to day changes and milestones is to any new parent,
gut-wrenching.

They have been together on weekends, as time has afforded…but the weeks have been long for
all of them…especially Alice, their black lab.

And so yes, I will be sad.

Very very sad.

All of which I will address later… because today, I don’t want to talk about it…
because, tears remember, are bubbling upward all the while as I’m being mindful that enjoying
the moment is the true importance rather than dreading the future.

So it was with this all in mind and on heart that I happened upon a most timely post
from my friend Tricia over on Truth Through Empowerment
(https://freedomthroughempowerment.wordpress.com)

Tricia was actually sharing the post from another blogger.
A post from a fellow named Bill Sweeney over on Unshakable Hope.

Bill has ALS…a disease that he has lived with now since 1996.
Of which is pretty amazing if you know anything about ALS.
To most folks diagnosed with such, it is an immediate sort of torturous death sentence.

At the time of diagnosis, Bill was given only 2 to 5 years to live.
Bill lost all movement and speech shortly following his diagnosis but he has pressed
forward since.

Bill is also an ardent Christian.

Bill could have chosen to rile at an unseen God in rage…living his remaining life in
constant anger and resentment…
rather Bill has chosen to live this life he has been given by looking through the lens
of a great and powerful God.

It was something Bill wrote yesterday in his post “Unshakable Hope” that really hit a chord
in me…

“Regardless of the outcome,
God can bring about eternal good from every trial.

In a hundred years, the eternal good that comes from our trial will be the
only thing that matters.”

The eternal Good…

And so obviously, I get that my broken heart pales in comparison to the struggles Bill
and others face on a daily basis while living with debilitating illnesses or uncurable
disease—not to mention the trials faced by the loved ones and caregivers who work to support,
love and provide for those with such overwhelming circumstances.

Yet that’s the thing…
we all have our trials…be they physical, emotional, mental, spiritual…
and those trials will ebb and flow throughout our lives…
And during the course of a life, those trials will vary in intensity and severity.

But the key will always be found in our ability to look at said trials as events
far greater than ourselves.

We, humans, tend to be narrow in our scope of vision…
with that vision being through the lens of self.

Selfish, egotistically, self-indulgent, self-wallowing, self-pity…the me-first mentality that
life and the world pretty much evolves around us and us alone.

Much how my 3-month-old granddaughter thinks and feels…it’s all about needs, wants and comfort…
but at 58, such thoughts are not as cute, attractive nor inviting but are rather toxic.

So it’s always good to be reminded that life is bigger than ourselves.
It’s also good to be reminded that God is so much bigger than we are…
and that life is an extension of His greatness.

And that the eternal good from the trials we currently experience will bear
needed fruit long after we are gone…and that’s what truly matters…

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.
God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability,
but with the temptation, he will also provide the way of escape, that you may
be able to endure it.

1 Corinthians 10:13

Please read Bill’s offering:

https://unshakablehope.com

celebrations

“People of our time are losing the power of celebration.
Instead of celebrating we seek to be amused or entertained.
Celebration is an active state, an act of expressing reverence or appreciation.
To be entertained is a passive state–
it is to receive pleasure afforded by an amusing act or a spectacle….
Celebration is a confrontation,
giving attention to the transcendent meaning of one’s actions.

Abraham Joshua Heschel


(Dad’s cake / Julie Cook / 2017)

Over the years, I’ve read many tales of those who suffered in the death camps
of Nazi Germany.
I also have read a great deal about those who endured exile in the Soviet gulags.
Some of the stories end with liberation while many sadly, or perhaps poetically,
end in liberating death.

One key element that I’ve noticed over and over, that is evident in almost all of the
individual stories of those who endured the horrors of either form of death camp,
is the single element of either anticipatory hope or dejected hopelessness.

Those who chose to hold onto hope, did so in seemingly small, insignificant and almost
unnoticeable measures…

They would simply keep count.

They would count hours, days, weeks, months, years…
the counting of their own particular life’s moments…
Be it birthdays, anniversaries or any of their own personal life’s hurdles or goals…
anything of what life had been outside of the camps to them personally…
They would count and look forward…
forward toward what normal had been….
and holding on to that normal.

Notches were marked on walls, small prayers were silently said as hymns or songs were
privately sung…
As some semblance of recalling and holding onto the marking of these personal moments
could actually keep life sane…
It is what helped those tortured souls hold onto that which was of sanity and routine…
that of life’s normalcy….
all the while as they were being held in the depths of brutal insanity.

There is a bittersweetness found in the holding onto of normalcy during those times
in our lives that are anything but normal.

Those of us who have watched loved ones slowly ebb away due to illness, disease, war, famine,
brutality, paralysis, or any other catastrophic thief understand the importance
of continuing to count.

For if we didn’t count,
if we didn’t hold onto,
if we didn’t hope…even in the face of a seemingly earthly hopelessness…
we would simply succumb to a sorrow so deep, so black and so bitter
that we would be lost to the abyss of utter nothingness…
all of which we would know would equate to utter despair.

One of the hardest bible verses to live out in life is found in the book of James.
(1 James 2….)
We are told to consider it “pure joy” when facing trails.

A seemingly impossible task that many a non-believer throughout time has relished
in taunting the faithful with the sneering
“what kind of loving God would tell you to find joy
in your suffering…other than a maniacally sick puppet master…”

And as it is seemingly impossible to do just that when one’s heart is in the midst of
being torn out of one’s chest….

We continue doing just that….

Because in part we know that what we’ve counted and held onto here in this life,
that which we have considered so dear and so precious…
is but a glimpse of what will be even more so…
once we are liberated and home….

So be we liberated in life or in death…either way…we the faithful…
count our milestones and choose to celebrate…


(this is a really good picture of Dad right now, the other shots look wretched…but there remains
a small twinkle and sly smile in this image)

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,
because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.
Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete,
not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God,
who gives generously to all without finding fault,
and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt,
because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.

1 James 2-6

peaks and valleys

Life is supposed to be a series of peaks and valleys. The secret is to keep the valleys from becoming Grand Canyons.
Bernard Williams

“As the valley gives height to the mountain, so can sorrow give meaning to pleasure; as the well is the source of the fountain, deep adversity can be a treasure.”
William Arthur Ward

In the mountains, the shortest way is from peak to peak: but for that you must have long legs”
Friedrich Nietzsche

DSCN1827
(somewhere on the road in Gleann Cholm Cille in County Dongeal, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

I’m sorry.
You should know.
For what good it is, I’m not sure.
Yelling and screaming with the full force of fury– into the nothingness of air…
At you…
You who remain so silent and painfully elusive.

You who are up there, out there, somewhere high above the clouds.

Do you see through those gossamer layers way down here…to me…?
To me who was knocked to my knees in overwhelming frustration?
The me who continues to claim, to speak and hold on to all that is…
all that is of you…
While you continue to remain so oddly distant and so painfully silent.

Persevere,
Forge the path forward
Fight the good fight
Have faith
Be bold
I hear you
I see you
I know you
I will answer you….

Words that trail off into the frustration, the sorrow, the pain, the heartache of all the ages combined…

We have always lived our lives in hopes of being bourn upward and aloft…
To be able to take wing, as the birds, soaring heavenward…
high amongst the peaks, riding the wind while looking down…
Always with the knowledge that ‘up there’ is so much better than down here.
For high up along the tips of those peaks there are no worries nor concerns.
The air is cool, crisp, thin, yet dangerously exhilarating.
The perspective is massive as all the woes and trials of below seem tiny and insignificant.
And it is up among those peaks where you reside…seemingly without me.

Those of us in the valleys far below are constantly looking upward, wondering, wandering, wishing and hoping to be high and up above. The weight of the world does not seem to weigh heavy on the backs of those high above…not as it does on us here below.
Those of us here below who feel the full heaviness of the crushing gravity of every iniquity, every misdeed ever committed…for we are nearly crushed under the weight of all we bear…

Yet it is here, down in the valleys, where the scars are forged and the skin is thickened.
For it is down here in these valleys low, where the trials by fire reside. Where mere mortals are tried and tested true…annealed in the furnace of an ever fallen, broken world.
Hard fought, arduous and painfully endured.
Products of all the damnation that ever was, is or will be…which is found within an imperfect fallen world.

And yet…
It is you and you alone who knows of our yearning and desire to be among the peaks…
You who knows of our desire, dare it be said desperate need, to reside with and where you are. Our hopes and dreams to be bourn aloft and carried far far away from the sufferings, the agony, the mere frustrations endured down here… down within these valleys of our lives.
And it is You….the One who sees, the One who knows and the One who longs to have us up, among the clouds with You…where the weight of all that is…is simply no more…

And so He comes…

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn…

Isaiah 61: 1-2

what’s your mountain?

“How to get the best of it all? One must conquer, achieve, get to the top; one must know the end to be convinced that one can win the end – to know there’s no dream that mustn’t be dared. . .
Is this the summit, crowning the day? How cool and quiet! We’re not exultant; but delighted, joyful; soberly astonished. . .
Have we vanquished an enemy? None but ourselves. Have we gained success? That word means nothing here. Have we won a kingdom? No. . .
and yes. We have achieved an ultimate satisfaction. . .
fulfilled a destiny. . .
To struggle and to understand – never this last without the other; such is the law. . .”

George Mallory

DSCN0995
(Image of Mt Hood, Orgegon /Julie Cook / 2013)

The above quotation is in regard to the scaling of Mt Everest. Mallory, one of a threesome of British Mountain climbers, disappeared while en route to the summit in 1924. His body was not discovered until 1999. It is not known for certain whether he ever reached the summit before his death on Everest.

I cannot speak as a mountain climber.
Whereas I love mountains and trekking about them, I do not, however, seek to do so if I’m required to carry ice picks, crampons, oxygen tanks, snow goggles, ropes, or to have a Sherpa by my side. I will simply stick to my enjoyment of trekking verses climbing. Yet that is not to say that I do not fully comprehend nor duly appreciate both the physical as well as the psychological preparedness required for such adventure, nor is the strong alluring “call of the mountain” lost on my more timid personage.

We all have our “Mountain” or “Mountains” to climb. My mountain these days happens to be a continuous 30 minutes each morning on an elliptical machine. Complete with incline and resistance. Not that the elliptical is the “Mountain” of my life but rather, it is what I hope the elliptical will help me ascend to—that of better heart health, stamina and not to mention the added benefit of hopefully shedding of a few pounds. For a female, at 54 with a bum thyroid, not to mention that whole hormone thing, the overwhelming weight and health issue is the proverbial Pandora’s box—nothing but a big bunch of bad all mixed together.

If we breathe and live there will inevitably always be mountains in our lives requiring us to climb— as well as conquer.
For some of us it is the issue of weight and health. For others it may be the Mountain of an addiction to drugs, gambling, alcohol or sex. For others it may be the Mountain of debt, poor finances, poor health, illness, depression, illiteracy. . . as there is breath in our bodies, there will always be something that each one of us must climb and conquer during our lifetime. . .

These mountains are not easy to climb . . .
—leading many to rethink the journey.
With each arduous step upward, there is often something catastrophic sending us backwards by 5 or more steps.
We slip, we grasp, we fall. . .
Tired, weary, sore. . .
We ask to stop, just need a breath, just need to rest, just for a little while, “I’ll start again soon, I promise”— we bargain with ourselves, God and the looming Mountain.

Do we think that God is oblivious to our struggle?
Do we think that He is some sadistic malcontent who manipulates the Mountains, sickly and twistedly watching us struggling and stumbling backwards through our tears, frustration and feelings of defeat?

He is not that.
It is He who sheds the tears and feels the frustration alongside us . . .
With the one difference being, however, that He does not know the defeat.
In Him only rests an ending of Victory.
The journey and climb to that Victory, however, is always through a battle with Death.
Regardless of whatever each individual’s Mountain may be, the climb is always the same.
The Mountain will always be the Death of Self.
It is the Mountains of self which we must climb which ultimately lead to the Victory.

Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.
Mark 11:23

Our world will always have its mountains as we sadly live in a fallen world.
There is no perfection, no Utopia.
A world simply hiding under dark wings of Death.
Dreams will come and go just as the tides ebb and flow.
Struggles will constantly dog us while endlessly nipping at our heels.
What is the option if the climb does not continue?

Yes, the journey is arduous, as the task remains daunting.
The days will often be filled with frustration, sorrow and pain.
There will be days of defeat.
Two steps upward, 6 steps back.
“I quit”
“I give up”
“I can’t”
. . .so exclaims a dejected climber. . .
yet all the while, Victory remains open armed and waiting. . .

It’s always looming you know, that Mountain.
Despite decisions to abandon the climb, the Mountain never disappears.
Anyone who attempts to walk away simply lives the remainder of life in a frustrating dark shadow.

Yet this need not be a signal of a defeated end.
As there is light each new morning, as there is breathe each new day, the climb is never over.
For each new morning offers the new hope of another try.
Another chance at the Mountain before us.
Another chance to try again.
Another step upward.
Again, another opportunity to work toward the top.

For I, the LORD your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you.”
Isaiah 41:13

The climb, the conquest must always begin with just one step upward.
No Victory is ever reached without first taking a single step.