This year, give something… no matter how small…

Give something, however small, to the one in need.
For it is not small to one who has nothing.
Neither is it small to God, if we have given what we could.

St. Gregory Nazianzen


(winter blooms in the deep South / New Orleans, LA /Julie Cook/2022)

“A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds.
A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship,
and he who plants kindness gathers love.”

St. Basil the Great

O tidings of comfort and joy…Merry Christmas

Man’s maker was made man, that He, Ruler of the stars,
might nurse at His mother’s breast; that the Bread might hunger,
the Fountain thirst, the Light sleep,
the Way be tired on its journey; that the Truth might be accused of false witness,
the Teacher be beaten with whips,
the Foundation be suspended on wood; that Strength might grow weak;
that the Healer might be wounded; that Life might die.

St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430)


(ice crystals form on the glass / Julie Cook /2022)

In the midst of the mystery of these cold and dark days, my wish is that we
will each continue to seek and find both comfort and joy…
Comfort and joy found in both the knowledge and grace of the birth of an innocent babe…
God made man…
Savior to all who are lost and to all who still seek that which is greater
than themselves.

God rest ye merry gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
For Jesus Christ our Saviour
Was born on Christmas Day
To save us all from Satan’s pow’r
When we were gone astray
O tidings of comfort and joy
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

From God our Heavenly Father
A blessed Angel came;
And unto certain shepherds
Brought tidings of the same,
How that in Bethlehem was born
The Son of God by Name.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

The shepherds at those tidings
Rejoiced much in mind,
And left their flocks a-feeding
In tempest, storm and wind,
And went to Bethlehem straightway
The Son of God to find.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

But when to Bethlehem they came,
Whereat this infant lay,
They found Him in a manger,
Where oxen feed on hay;
His Mother Mary kneeling down,
Unto the Lord did pray.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

Now to the Lord sing praises,
All you within this place,
And with true love and brotherhood
Each other now embrace;
This holy tide of Christmas
All other doth efface.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy.

‘God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen’ is one of the oldest Christmas carols
there is, and one of the most popular.
The carol originates from 16th-century England and the
earliest known printed edition was published in 1760.

Classic Fm

And so this is Christmas…

And so happy Christmas
We hope you have fun
The near and the dear one
The old and the young
A very Merry Christmas
And a happy new year
Let’s hope it’s a good one
Without any fear
War is over, if you want it
War is over now
And so this is Christmas

John Lennon

(as noted yesterday, I wanted to share the two posts I’d written over the years regarding
the Christmas Day ceasefire truce between British and German troops during WWI.
No matter what circumstances we may be facing…be it war or simply life–there
remains nonetheless the Holy Miracle of a December’s night eve.)

The WWI Christmas Truce
December 17, 2019 by Jenny Ashcraft
On December 24-25, 1914, an impromptu cease-fire occurred along the Western Front during WWI.
Amid the battle, soldiers from both sides set aside their weapons and came together peacefully
in an event that has come to be known as the WWI Christmas Truce.
Here are a few first-hand accounts of that historic event.


British and German Officers Meet in
No-Man’s Land During WWI Christmas Truce Courtesy of Imperial War Museums

The Canadian Expeditionary Forces 24th Battalion recorded their experience.
“Early in the afternoon shelling and rifle fire ceased completely and soon
German soldiers were seen lifting heads and shoulders cautiously over the parapet
of their front line trench.
Encouraged by the fact that no fire was opened by the men
of the 24th, a number of Germans climbed over the top, advanced in
No Man’s Land, and, making signs of friendship,
invited the Canadians to join them
and celebrate the occasion.
Regulations frowned on such action, but curiosity proved strong,
and a group of Canadians, including a number from the 24th Battalion,
moved out to see what the enemy looked like at close range.

Conversation proved difficult at first,
but a number of the Germans spoke English fluently and others,
having rehearsed for the occasion, one must judge,
endeavored to establish their benevolence by
constant repetition of the phrase, “Kaiser no damn good.”

For nearly an hour the unofficial peace was prolonged,
the Canadians presenting the Germans with cigarettes and foodstuffs
and receiving in return buttons, badges, and several bottles of
most excellent beer.

By this time, news of the event had reached authority,
and peremptory orders were issued
to the Canadians in No Man’s Land to return to their own line forthwith.

When all had reported back, a salvo of artillery fire,
aimed carefully to burst at a spot where no harm to friend or foe would result,
warned the Germans that the truce was over and that hostilities had been
resumed…

For some days after Christmas comparative quiet prevailed in the front line,
but soon activity increased and the Battalion’s losses indicated that
normal trench warfare conditions again existed.”

Captain Hugh Taylor from the 2nd Battalion Scots Guards led his company in an attack
near Rouges Bancs on December 18-19, 1914.
His troops succeeded in pushing back German soldiers and occupying their trenches.
While returning alone to the British trenches to report,
Taylor was caught in machine-gun fire and killed instantly.

For nearly a week, his body lay near the German line.
During the informal Christmas Truce, soldiers from both sides collected the dead and brought their bodies to the center
space between their respective lines. They dug two trenches and buried
British soldiers in one and German soldiers in the other.
An English Chaplain conducted a service.
Afterward, the soldiers spent several hours
fraternizing with one another. Captain Taylor’s body was carried
to a small military graveyard at La Cardoniere Farm and buried.


(British and German troops bury soldiers during the WWI Christmas Truce – 1914
Courtesy of Imperial War Museum)

Three Americans serving in the Foreign Legion took part in the Christmas Truce.
Victor Chapman, Eugene Jacobs, and Phil Rader were in the trenches that day.
Rader, a former United Press correspondent, wrote a stirring account of his experience.
“For twenty days we had faced that strip of land, forty-five feet wide,
between our trench and that of the Germans, that terrible No-Man’s Land,
dotted with dead bodies, criss-crossed by tangled masses of barbed wire.”
Rader recounted cautiously raising his head.
“Other men did the same.
We saw hundreds of German heads appearing.
Shouts filled the air.
What miracle had happened?
Men laughed and cheered.
There was Christmas light in our eyes and I know there were Christmas tears in mine.
There were smiles, smiles, smiles, where in days before there had been only rifle barrels.
The terror of No-Man’s Land fell away.
The sounds of happy voices filled the air.”
The Christmas Truce of 1914 eventually ended, and the goodwill shared between enemies
for a brief moment during WWI
evaporated as fighting resumed.

(To learn more about WWI and the soldiers who fought in it, search Fold3 today!)

So this is Christmas
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun
And so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun
The near and the dear one
The old and the young
A very Merry Christmas
And a happy new year
Let’s hope it’s a good one
Without any fear
And so this is Christmas
For weak and for strong
For rich and the poor ones
The world is so wrong
And so happy Christmas
For black and for white
For yellow and red one
Let’s stop all the fight
A very Merry Christmas
And a happy new year
Let’s hope it’s a good one
Without any fear
And so this is Christmas
And what have we done
Another year over
A new one just begun
And so happy Christmas
We hope you have fun
The near and the dear one
The old and the young
A very Merry Christmas
And a happy new year
Let’s hope it’s a good one
Without any fear
War is over, if you want it
War is over now
la, la, ah, ah
Happy Christmas
Happy Christmas (happy Christmas)
Happy Christmas (happy Christmas)

(John Lennon)

Scurvy, Limeys, Victorian Stockings and St. Nicholas (a re-boot)

“A man ought to carry himself in the world as an orange tree would
if it could walk up and down in the garden,
swinging perfume from every little censer it holds up to the air.”
Henry Ward Beecher

“The giver of every good and perfect gift has called upon us to mimic
His giving, by grace, through faith, and this is not of ourselves.”

St. Nicholas of Myra


(bowls of both whole and sliced Calomondians and Kumquats being readied
for a cranberry relish / Julie Cook / 2014)

(a little timely history lesson for this season of giving/ originally posted
in 2014)

“Shiver me timbers boys.
Looks like the scurvy’s hit the ship”
Scurvy you ask?
A devastating Vitamin C deficiency which was a very common occurrence for sailors, as well as pirates, of the 1600 and 1700’s. Cases have actually been documented as far back as ancient Egypt.

Months aboard a ship, with very little fresh water and food, let alone the luxuries of fresh fruits such as oranges, lemons or limes, rendered sailors deathly sick. It was an abnormality of sailing that left captains and doctors scratching their heads.
Sailor’s gums would swell and hurt. Their teeth would begin to fall out, their legs would swell, turning purple– a condition, which left untreated, would eventually lead to death.

It wasn’t until the 1747 when British doctor James Lind, intrigued by the mysterious ailment afflicting British Sailors, as well as renegade sailors such as pirates, conducted several experiments determining that the sailor’s bodies were depleted of Vitamin C.
Therefore all British sailors were originally issued lemons and lemon juice as part of their sea rations. However, lemons not always being as plentiful as limes, a substitution was hence made. It seems that the acid content of limes is less than lemons, almost by 50%, so the sailors would have to consume larger quantities of limes, earning them the moniker of Limeys.

The gift giving of citrus, particularly oranges, didn’t occur until the Victorian Era when children began receiving an orange in their stockings on Christmas Eve. In fact, the celebration of Christmas itself, much as we know it to this day—that of jolly ol St Nicholas, gift giving, card sending, a decorated tree and stockings being hung on the mantle, is greatly attributed to Victorian England and the arrival of the Industrial Revolution. The custom of placing an orange in a stocking first became popular in England and much later in the United States with the birth of the tansconinental railway system.

Oranges were considered to be an exotic novelty as they had to be shipped to England from more southern Mediterranean climates. And what more special gift could one give to weary winter senses than a tropical fruit such as an orange?! The fact that oranges and other citrus fruit helped to ward off deadly disease by offering much needed and depleted vitamins made even more sense when it came to offering them to children, especially those in disadvantaged families where fresh fruits and vegetables were considered luxuries.

Scurvy was not a disease confined only to those stuck on ships for months at a time, but it was a prevalent disease throughout Ireland during the deadly potato famine. Many soldiers as well as civilians also fell victim to the disease throughout much of Russia during the deadly Crimean war.

The custom of oranges as gifts however dates back even earlier than Victorian England–actually as far back back to 325 BC, to our original St Nicholas who was the Bishop of Myra, located in present day Turkey.

Known for his generosity to the poor and disadvantaged, legend has it that St Nicholas learned of three sisters who’s father was so terribly poor that he could not provide a dowery for his daughters–therefore the girls were to be sold into slavery. Nicholas who had come from a wealthy family took it upon himself to secretly deliver a bag of gold for each girl. It is said he tossed the gold through an open window, which in turn landed in a shoe–hence why many European children began leaving shoes out on the eve of St Nicholas day (December 19th) in order to receive a gift.
The gold, over the years, evolved into being associated with that of a gold ball and eventually an orange.
And as time would have it, St Nicholas who was the patron saint of children, also evolved– eventually becoming associated with the birth of the Christ child and one who would deliver presents to children on a certain night in December (as according to the Julian Calendar)

In the United States, oranges where given as gifts following the completion of the transcontinental railway system, when items such as citrus fruit grown primarily in California and Florida, could be transported all over the country. Oranges were especially popular during WWII as a special stocking stuffer since the rationing of so many food items had become prevalent during the war days. To receive any and all types of fresh fruits were considered a very special treat.

Which brings us back around to today and the growing prevalence of oranges, and their citrus cousins such as grapefruits, which are currently whisking their way to grocery stores shelves across the country as our “winter” fruits now make their debut. With the growing seasons of the citrus crops in both California and Florida coming to fruition, now during the Christmas season, there’s no better refreshingly bright addition to a home than either a scent infused, clove studded, pomander or the heavenly scent of citrus infused baked goods and cookies. Be it an orange, tangerine, pomelo, meyer lemon, key lime, kumquat, or grapefruit to name but a few, be sure to add a little Vitamin C to your diet and enjoy some citrus during the holidays. . .

pondering…proposes, invites, counsel and freewill

“And above all, be on your guard not to want to get anything done by force,
because God has given free will to everyone and wants to force no one,
but only proposes, invites and counsels.”

St. Angela Merici


(Julie Cook / 2022)

On a snowy Sunday afternoon…way down here in the deep South—
a day full of anomalies…meaning….
that the two notions of a deep South and a snowy day are not usually
found within the same sentence, it seemed to be a perfect day for pondering.

Pondering.

Merriam Webster tells us that the definition of the word ponder is:
to weigh in the mind or to think about or reflect on…

And so, on this stay inside sort of day, this day of a deep South’s
day of ice and snow, pondering simply seemed to be a perfect pairing.

To weigh, to think, to reflect…

I found the following quotes, both above and below, to be so full
of thoughtfulness..so full of deep reverberations…
so full of infinite truths…
all of which each echo within the walls of any longing soul…
so much so that each quote has caught my breath.

words spoken…

Words which speak of purpose…
words which speak of freewill…
words which speak of accepting actions…
words which speak of burdens…
words which speak of conscience…
words which speak of opportunity,
words which speak of forgiveness…

All three quotes give us much to contemplate, examine and reflect upon…
all during these dark days of winter…

Tis the season to ruminate…to ingest and to ponder…

“We have difficulty understanding this,
just as a blind man has difficulty understanding color,
but our difficulty doesn’t alter this fact:
God’s omnipotence and omniscience respects our freedom.
In the core of our being we remain free to accept or
reject God’s action in our lives—-
and to accept or reject it more or less intensely.
God wants us to accept him with all our ‘heart, soul, mind, and strength’—-
in other words, as intensely as possible.
But he also knows that we are burdened with selfishness and beset by the devil,
so it will take a great effort on our part to correspond to his grace.
Every time our conscience nudges us to refrain from
sharing or tolerating that little bit of gossip, every time we feel a tug
in our hearts to say a prayer or give a little more effort,
every time we detect an opportunity to do a hidden act
of kindness to someone in need,
we are faced with an opportunity to please the Lord
by putting our faith in his will.”

Fr. John Bartunek,

The more I wanted to pray for my father and could not,
the more I realized how much my hatred of him had harmed me
instead of harming him.
I can’t remember where I heard this saying,
but it came back to me then:
Refusing to forgive is like drinking poison and hoping that
the other person will die.

Derya Little
from her book From Islam to Christ

don’t be comfortable with the status quo

Perfect holiness is the purpose for which we were created,
so we can’t allow ourselves to be comfortable with the status quo.

Fr. J. Augustine Wetta, OSB
from his book Humility Rules


(2017 / Julie Cook)

“It is undoubtedly true that each of us, men and women,
irresponsible and thoughtless as we often are,
hold within our hands the happiness and sorrows of others.
We cannot help it or escape from it.
The power is in us inalienably almost from birth to death—in us,
because we are persons—and we are responsible for the use we make of it.
Indeed, so mysterious is this power that the very presence of a person
who does not realize his responsibility is often the source of the keenest pain of all..
The failure to exercise the power to give happiness to others is
not merely negative in its results;
it is the source of the most positive suffering of all.
Thus there is no escape from the responsibility involved in the
possession of this power.
Not to use it where it is due is to destroy all happiness.
Strange power, indeed, to be committed to such weak and unworthy hands;
yet there could be but one thing worse:
that none could interfere with the joys and sorrows of others.
We might envy their happiness and pity their sorrows,
but we could not help them.
It would be a world of isolated individuals wrapped in inviolable selfishness;
each must take care of himself and the world must go its way.”

Fr. Basil W. Maturin, p. 149

food for thought; Advent

Sometimes I don’t need God to tell me what he is like so much as I need God
to tell me everything will be alright.

anonymous


(Julie Cook / 2013)

So as the debates rage on…
Be it a draconian world supposedly led by science vs one of humanity’s common sense…
complicated by lockdowns, masks, vaccines…
I caught a few storylines yesterday that only seem to add to the confusing madness.

According to Fox News, Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s supreme nutjob,
has ordered national executions, placed a ban on fishing as well as placing a
ban on salt production…
These various actions being his idea of handling Covid and preventing it from
entering his hermit kingdom.

Kim Jong Un has ordered at least two people executed, banned fishing at sea,
and locked down the capital, Pyongyang, as part of frantic efforts to guard against the
coronavirus and its economic damage, South Korea’s spy agency told lawmakers Friday.

One of the lawmakers, Ha Tae-keung, quoted the NIS as saying Kim is displaying
“excessive anger” and taking “irrational measures” over the pandemic and its economic impact.

Ha said the NIS told lawmakers that North Korea executed a high-profile
money changer in Pyongyang last month after holding the person responsible
for a falling exchange rate.
He quoted the NIS as saying that North Korea also executed a key official in August
for violating government regulations restricting goods brought from abroad.
The two people weren’t identified by name.

North Korea has also banned fishing and salt production at sea to prevent seawater
from being infected with the virus, the NIS told lawmakers.

So I suppose if you can kill the people first before they even can get sick…
then that makes perfect sense.

Next came a more somber headline out of Japan–

You may or may not know this but Japan has a very dark secret…
it has the dubious distinction for a proliferation of suicide.
They even have a beautiful and tranquil forest that is known as a place where
folks go to end things…the suicide forest.

And given the added burden brought about from the pandemic, be it lockdowns, lost
economy…Japan’s fragile mental health is even more fractured.

The National Police Agency said suicides surged to 2,153 in October alone,
with more than 17,000 people taking their own lives this year to date, CBS reported.

By comparison, fewer than 2,000 people in the country have died from COVID-19 in 2020.

The forest might need to be exorcised.

Then there was this little cheery headline:
The US could face an ‘apocalypse’ by Christmas as COVID-19 cases surge

Apocalypse in one hand…Christmas in the other.
Notice how I am weighing them.
Tipping back and forth…yet Christmas just simply lifts higher.

Winter is setting down upon us.
Heavy, dark, and foreboding.
Yet we must not despair.

We must not allow the news outlets or our leaders to crush our hope.
We must not allow them to crush our Christmas spirit!
Let us not allow a pandemic to win.
Let us not allow despair to triumph.

We are preparing today to enter an ancient time of mystery.
And it is in this mystery that we have overcome the world…
This mystery has overcome pandemics, elections, wars, division, animosity,
hatred, pettiness, along with man’s small-mindedness.

We are allowed a small peek at the ending of the story…and in that glimpse,
we see that victory will indeed be ours.

Be clear-minded.
Be watchful.
Wait…
He will come…

God travels wonderful ways with human beings,
but he does not comply with the views and opinions of people.
God does not go the way that people want to prescribe for him; rather,
his way is beyond all comprehension, free and self-determined beyond all proof.
Where reason is indignant, where our nature rebels,
where our piety anxiously keeps us away: that is precisely where God loves to be.
There he confounds the reason of the reasonable;
there he aggravates our nature, our piety—that is where he wants to be,
and no one can keep him from it.
Only the humble believe him and rejoice that God is so free and so marvelous
that he does wonders where people despair, that he takes what is little and lowly
and makes it marvelous.
And that is the wonder of all wonders, that God loves the lowly…
God is not ashamed of the lowliness of human beings.
God marches right in.
He chooses people as his instruments and performs his wonders where one would
least expect them.
God is near to lowliness; he loves the lost, the neglected,
the unseemly, the excluded, the weak and broken.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer,
God is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas

can’t go back…lessons from the road

If you’re down and confused
And you don’t remember who you’re talkin’ to
Concentration slips away
Cause your baby is so far away.
Well, there’s a rose in a fisted glove
And the eagle flies with the dove
And if you can’t be with the one you love
Love the one you’re with
Love the one you’re with
Don’t be angry, don’t be sad,
Don’t sit cryin’ over good things you’ve had
,
Lyrics, The Isley Brothers


(the main stairwell in the Biltmore House / Ashville, NC / Julie Cook / 2020)

About a week or so ago,
I wrote a post bemoaning the fact that I had cared for sick grandkids who in turn,
unintentionally, gave me their sickness.

It seems that germs just love to travel and share themselves.
Just like the song by the Isley Brothers, you gotta love the ones you’re with…
germs will love any and all… whoever they are with or even near.

But this is NOT another post chattering on about coronavirus or the flu or any other bug.

This post is rather about adventure…
Or better yet…this is a post about lessons.

In that previous post, I had made mention that we had had a little impromptu adventure
while trying to escape all this unrelenting rain…

About two weeks ago, we were sitting in the house… sick and tired of sitting in the house.
It had rained for almost the entire month of February.
It was our wettest February on record.

Let’s get away” I proclaimed
My husband agreed.

We threw some things in a bag and headed north.
About a 4-hour drive north.

It had been years since we’d visited the Biltmore House
and thus that would be our destination.

We opted to stay at the Inn on the property,
spending the following day visiting the house,
then we would drive around the mountains before heading home.
Short and sweet.

And most importantly, it was minus the rain.

But then there was the snow.

However, let’s back up 40 years.

Back in 1980, I was a college student who had no real feel for what I wanted to do with my life.
I thought I knew.
I thought I had known.
I wanted to work with kids.
I wanted to write.
I wanted to work in advertising.
I wanted to meet a nice boy.
I wanted to get married and I wanted to be a mom.

I bounced back and forth between each different course and college major that were
more or less, a flavor of the day regime.

I have written about this journey when I first started blogging.
It was about how I finally made my way into teaching.

It was the summer of 1980 when my angst and turmoil finally came into focus in the
middle of the mountains of North Carolina.
Specifically, Black Mt., NC.

I had taken a job at a Christian summer camp for girls as a camp counselor—
Riflery Director oddly enough.

I spent my summers working at the camp until I graduated and made my
way to my first teaching post.
It was a position that would last 31 years.

So before we set out on this little adventure,
I asked my husband if we could drive over to Black Mt,
find a little inn for a night and spend an afternoon
wandering the little town before going to see the camp.

Knowing how important this place once was to me,
he knew he was now simply along for the ride.

When we started out from home on this northward drive,
we took an off-the-beaten-path route.
Many two and four-lane roads avoiding much of the interstate.
Crossing over into NC from Georgia, just before entering the Nantahala forest,
I caught sight of a homemade sign perched along the side of the road…
sitting boldly in plain sight.

It was a conversation bubble sign.
One conversation bubble read: “God, why won’t you send us someone who will help us?
The response bubble read: “I did, but you aborted them”

A powerful thought to chew on and get lost in while driving.

Our visit to the Biltmore was brief but enjoyable.
It had been meant to be our diversion,
a brief respite from our temperate rainy winter.

But then…it snowed.

The snow was pretty as it gently covered the mountains.
It was a gift from the relentless rain we had left back home.
Soft and silent.
White and muting.
A fitting and tender offering.

The small town of Black Mt. is about a 15-minute drive east from Ashville on I-40 or about
20 minutes via Hwy 70.

It was my home for several summers…a place that had left
and indelible mark upon my heart, soul and on the person who I would grow to be.

My former boss and dear friend, the camp’s director, had passed away several years away,
leaving the camp to now be run by two of his sons.

I had been very close to the older of the two boys.

At the time, he was instrumental in the growth of my Christian faith.

He was one of those individuals who you knew had a relationship with
Christ that transcended both time and space.
There was a depth not normally seen in “normal” Christians.
There was a mysticism.
There was a sense that He was privy to something that was not experienced by many others.
It was so much greater than…

There was a diligence to his faith.
A detachment from the world, yet done so graciously and most willingly.
It was a relationship that had been tried in a furnace…
a furnace so hot that it had burned away all the dross.

It was a relationship that I marveled over from afar.
A relationship that I wanted yet always felt as if it was just beyond my reach.

During that time, I had also become close friends with another counselor.
She and I both were attending the same college,
however, we had not met until our summers working at camp.

She was a hungry and joyous Christian..strong and uncompromising in her faith.

The three of us became quite the trio.
I earned the name slugly…the questioning one who always seemed to be
lagging a step behind.
The one who still had the one foot in the world.

Despite my now almost manic positive spin on life,
I carried a heavy black cloud.

Most often my friend and I both felt like students sitting at
the feet of a master teacher as we learned so very much from our older and wiser friend.

His had once been a hard and rough life.
We were fortunate to have met him long after the darkness.
We were the grateful recipients of the light now shining through him.

Yet as life would have it, we remained as close as we could,
as our lives simply took us each on different journeys.
I married first, followed by our friend then finally my fellow counselor friend,
found her true love.

Three different states, jobs, children, and life, made the years race past with less and less contact.

What might I find after 40 years?

I felt a sense of heaviness and nervousness…a journey of trepidation.
The excitement of what might be was shadowed by both what was and what
had passed.

I knew that the camp had grown and even changed.
A boys camp and also a climbing adventure camp has become spin-offs of the
original girls camp. Things were much larger and not as intimate.

Billy Graham was the camp’s neighbor, living on the neighboring mountain top
and Montreat College was less than a mile up the road.

Graham was now gone but the college was still there having, like everything else,
grown and expanded.

We drove up from the what was once a sleepy mountain town that has since boomed
into a buzzing home to artists, breweries and eclectic eateries–
a top NC mountain must-see travel destination crowned by all things southern
and travel, Southern Living…crowned as one of America’s most charming small towns.

I pulled into the familiar hemlock lined gravel drive leading up to the main house…
and that’s when I stopped the car for the briefest of moments before quickly deciding to turn around…
simply driving back to town.

Just like that.

With all that growing anticipation and wonderment I felt during our drive from home…
in the end, I knew that the girl who had spent her summers in this small part of the world
had, in the end, moved on.

I decided to drive back leaving what was.. simply to be.

Later that evening, once back in town,
we started walking the couple of blocks from our Inn to the trendy new restaurant
that had been recommended to us.

While walking rather briskly, shielding ourselves against the bitter cold,
a group of college-age young folks fell in line behind us on the sidewalk.

All we could hear was ‘F’ this and ‘F’ that as they weren’t but
a few steps behind.
There were no filters, no restraints, no consideration for our obvious older ears,
that was for sure

They were loud and raucous, cursing as if uttering simple words in conversation.
I turned and smiled while giving that knowing look of
“hey, consider the other folks in your surroundings
as your language just might not be suitable let alone appreciated
by those in such close earshot.”

The loudest gal in the group just looked at me, not missing a beat
with her profanity-laced chatter.

Thankfully they veered off to head into one of the local watering holes
while we kept walking.

Aggravated by the thought that the one place I had always held somewhat sacred
and somewhat protected,
as it had been just that for me all these years ago, was now just like any other place invaded by
a youthful, progressive left-leaning, mindset as I saw many a Bernie, pro-choice, coexist, and all
things feminist stickers stuck on the cars parked along the sidewalks.

With the crisp mountain air now laced with cigarette smoke, the sweet scent of weed and stale beer,
I could feel my shoulders slump just a tad.

There was now a heavy dose of melancholy and irony found in being just the other side of
Ashville…the home to the great writer, Thomas Wolfe…

Wolfe was right you know…we can’t go home again.
Home is never the same.
The then is no longer as it is simply the now.

I was clearly reminded that our home is truly not of this earth.
Our peace will not ever be found here despite our constant searching.

For we are indeed strangers in a strange land…
We seek a home where we know our hearts will finally be at rest…
it is our life’s innate quest really.
Seeking a home that is beyond that which we have known…a home
that is eternal and somewhere just beyond those mountains I once
considered my haven of peace.

I think that’s what my friend had known all those years ago…it just took
me forty years to figure it out.

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh,
which wage war against your soul.
Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable,
so that when they speak against you as evildoers,
they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

1 Peter 2:11-12

a whole mess of weeds

I always think of my sins when I weed.
They grow apace in the same way and are harder still to get rid of.

Helena Rutherfurd Ely, A Woman’s Hardy Garden, 1903


(one of many bucket loads of weeds / Julie Cook / 2020)

You should probably know that the state of Georgia can actually experience all
four seasons within a week’s time.
Sometimes that might simply be during the course of a weekend.

Our winters have become a cycle of one day of dreary wet, grey cold followed by
a day of bright warming sun…
this pattern persists for much of December, January, and February…
with a possible blizzard come March.

With that being said, peering out the window on those dreary wet chilly days,
I’ve sorely noticed how the wild onions have been taking over my flower beds.
Mild temperate wet is a perfectly fertile condition for weeds like wild onions.
One of the many banes of my existence.

Yesterday was dreary chilly grey.
Today was temperate sun.
Tomorrow is to be wet chilly grey.

Sooooo, I thought I’d take advantage of today’s temperate sunshine, while I had a
few glorious hours without any clamoring demands…all but for those demanding weeds.

I grabbed a pail and trowel while donning my gloves as I set out about digging up those
annoying wild onions along with any other emerging pest.

As my back began to ache, forcing me to wobble through the flower beds “walking”
on my knees, that is until I hit a rock, I mused whether or not I should simply learn
to accept and maybe even relish the weeds.

Should I forego the flowers, the plants, the bushes and let the weeds simply run amuck?

Suddenly the thought of God allowing weeds, aka sins, to run amuck hit me like
a ton of bricks.

Plucking, digging and pulling is arduous…it is painstaking…especially the older I get.
But I do it because I know just how great the flower beds can look in their full
glory come Spring.

Yet does not God do that very same thing?
Plucking, pulling, digging, deadheading…
And why does He do it?
Because He knows how beautiful we will be in our sin-free reborn selves…

And so I continue in my pursuit…
because continues in His pursuit of me…

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin,
and so death spread to all men because all sinned—

Romans 5:12

winter’s shadows overpowered by Grace

“If the heart wanders or is distracted,
bring it back to the point quite gently and replace it tenderly in its Master’s presence.
And even if you did nothing during the whole of your hour but bring your heart back
and place it again in Our Lord’s presence, though it went away every time you
brought it back, your hour would be very well employed.”

St. Francis de Sales


(Rosemary Beach / Julie Cook / 2020)


(Rosemary Beach / Julie Cook / 2020)


(Rosemary Beach / Julie Cook / 2020)

“This great power of grace over nature appears at first sight as unnatural,
for which reason nature strives against it and does not even wish to hear of the necessity
of penance and mortification. But the obligation of penance remains,
and precisely because of nature’s opposition,
it cannot be emphasized often enough or earnestly enough.
Softened, wounded nature, moreover, makes difficulties greater than they really are.
Grace does not wish to destroy nature, but only to elevate it,
that is, to drive out the evil that makes it sick and then to introduce a new and better life.
By taking away all that nature loves to its own detriment,
and thus wounding it in its innermost depth,
it at the same time pours such a healthful balsam into this wound that it is
a delight to be wounded in this way.
Ask the Saints if they have ever experienced any greater delight than in those moments
when they offered themselves, body and soul, as a victim to God…
Ask yourself if you have ever enjoyed a deeper or more genuine delight than when you
suppressed a violent desire of proud, angry nature, or performed any other act of
heroic mortification with the help of grace. If, then, grace could give the Saints
such a wonderful, superhuman and heroic courage as to elevate them above themselves
and make them lead an angelic life already in the flesh,
can it not enable you to live at least as a man, in harmony with your natural dignity,
and not as a slave of the flesh, of the passions, of your own will and opinion?”

Fr. Matthias J. Scheeben, p. 260
An Excerpt From
The Glories of Divine Grace:
A Fervent Exhortation to All to Preserve and to Grow in Sanctifying Grace