What is Grace—I just keep having to ask

I have had to experience so much stupidity,
so many vices, so much error, so much nausea, disillusionment and sorrow,
just in order to become a child again and begin anew.
I had to experience despair, I had to sink to the greatest mental depths,
to thoughts of suicide, in order to experience grace.”

Hermann Hesse

“Extraordinary afflictions are not always the punishment of
extraordinary sins, but sometimes the trial of extraordinary graces.”

Matthew Henry


(a tiny bloom of a strawberry to be / Julie Cook /2015)

****Even though this is actually a post that I wrote 6 years ago,
the notion of Grace has never been far from my thoughts.
For you see, I am very much a product of Grace.

Over and over, or so it seems.

Merriam Webster defines grace as:
a:unmerited divine assistance given to humans for their regeneration or sanctification
b: a virtue coming from God
c: a state of sanctification enjoyed through divine assistance

And so here’s the thing about this “unmerited Divine assistance”-
it is a gift that is freely given.

It is neither earned nor bought.
And it pricks the most tender part of one’s soul.

It pricks the hard steely, yet false, façade and bravado we call self.

It breaks down the walls and the hardened heart while it fills
a sea of endless wounds.

A flood washes over us and we find ourselves terrified of letting
go and letting Grace transform us.

So why is it so hard to receive something so welcoming and healing?
The answer is beyond my soul—it is not something I can logically comprehend…
and maybe that’s the thing.

Grace is not logical.

Grace brings us to our knees…because we know we have not earned this
gift called Grace.
Quite the contrary.
We have done everything in our power to shun it and even repel it.
We bristle at such tender warmth while being too cold,
too hard, too lost to see the simple Truth.

For me it’s seems to have come in phases–
throughout this thing I call life.

Maybe it’s just a matter of me needing to be reminded…
reminded that maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t as accepting
of the initial gift as I needed to be….
For I still have kept a deep part of my wounds hidden.

Too ashamed, too hardened, too wounded to think
Grace would or could ever make me truly whole.

I’ve recently been reminded of this most tenderest of gifts.
It’s broken my heart…broken my façade..
and that’s just what Grace does…
it breaks us and then it heals us and then it makes us whole.

And thus we are each the better for Grace…

And so I want to thank my dearest of friends who recently offered me Grace…
Grace coupled by her own graciousness.
A gracious heart…reaching to a wounded heart.
It is a gift she has freely given me—
a freely given gift that was not nor ever has been deserved nor earned,
yet one that was freely and lovingly given…no strings, no penalties.
And it is within this most generous gift that I have been poignantly reminded me
that God is not yet finished with me and that He continues to want
me make me whole.
Love can and does heal a multiple of sin…

and now the post from 2015–

Do you know Grace?
Have you seen it out and about?
During your comings and your goings?
Have you ever been properly or formerly introduced?

I truly much doubt so…
As Grace is often quiet and demure.
It prefers to go rather unnoticed until it is called upon…
More shy than bold.
It is neither garish or loud.
Nor is it boisterous or showy.

What exactly is Grace you ask…

Grace is the second chance when all other chances have been used up.
Grace is the peace in the midst of the fierce raging storm.
Grace is acceptance when the world screams rejection.
Grace is forgiveness when the act has been intolerable.
Grace is hope when none had been previously offered.
Grace is mercy when judgement should be called for…
Grace is life when one actually deserves death…

It should be noted that Grace is not cheap.
For it cannot be bought nor sold.
It can not be bartered over or traded.
It cannot be taken or stolen…
For it is actually free—free to both you and me.

Yet this free Grace was once actually rather costly.
For that which is free today to both you and me, once cost God a great deal.

Think of this question…
Would you ever hand over your child…
Your only child, to be brutally tortured and murdered before your very eyes…
Just to be able to offer someone else their freedom?
I would think not.
Yet that is exactly what happened.

A price paid for the healing power of Grace.
A tremendous price that cost God so very much–
Yet it was a price He willingly paid out of a tremendous love for both you and me. . .
and it is because of that very Grace that I am here, writing you today…

“Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks’ wares.
The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin,
and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices.
Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury,
from which she showers blessings with generous hands,
without asking questions or fixing limits.
Grace without price; grace without cost!
The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid
in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing.
Since the cost was infinite, the possibilities of using and spending
it are infinite.
What would grace be if it were not cheap?…

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance,
baptism without church discipline,
Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession.
Cheap grace is grace without discipleship,
grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ,
living and incarnate.

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field;
for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has.
It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods.
It is the kingly rule of Christ,
for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble;
it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves
his nets and follows him.

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again,
the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow,
and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ.
It is costly because it costs a man his life,
and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.
It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner.
Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son:
“ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us.
Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear
a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us.
Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

Deja vu not intended and this is going to be a long rehab

“We are healed of a suffering only by experiencing it to the full.”
Marcel Proust


(Percy, on the morning following his having found us when he was thrown from a moving car as a tiny kitten—
his injuries were severe but 8 years later, he’s been loved to both life and health…
yet a remnant and a torn tendon has brought the most traumatic surgery to date)

I thought I’d be all techy and try to put together a post to use yesterday on the evening prior,
via my phone.
I found the little quotes I wanted to use and picked out a picture…
then I hit the button to save the post.

Yesterday morning, I pulled out my phone, went into my drafts and hit publish.
But what was published was not what I had put together but rather as a previous post from a week
or so prior.

Huh?

So I’m just going with the idea of Divine Intervention…meaning
Someone greater than I thought a repeating was in order and repeat we did.

For you see, on Monday, I had taken my Percy over to a surgical vet’s practice north of Atlanta
for a joint fusion to help repair a near unrepairable injury.

I dropped him off and headed to stay the night with the Mayor and the new Sheriff,
who also had to go back to visit the doctor for his ongoing issues.
So needless to say, I didn’t have the proper time to write a decent post, hence the quickie from
my phone…that actually didn’t work.

If we can just get these two little boys on the track to good health, it’ll be a wonder!

Percy’s surgery was successful…
however, it’s not so much the surgery that I now worry about being successful
but rather this business of recouping and rehab time.

12 weeks he’ll need to be confined to a cage!!!
But oddly it seems Percy started out his life in a cage…healing from abuse
when someone threw him out the window of a moving car.
Dante would say there is a certain ring in hell for such folks but I digress.

So yes, deja vu in all sorts of ways.

But now let’s add in an “e” collar or what is known as an Elizabethan collar or more infamously, the cone of shame.
Add a splint as big boxing glove on his back leg and life is now a giant misery for all involved.

How he’s going to manage to get into the litter box is yet to be seen but I somehow don’t see any of this
going well.

He can’t stand on the giant splint.
He can’t eat with the cone.
I remove the cone and hold a bowl up to his mouth.
Spoon feeding didn’t work so well as more fell than hit his mouth.
And drinking water has been a no for now.

He is currently in the foyer just off the den so he can be near us.

He flops and flays, falling into the litter box.
I’ve had to fetch him out of the litter box twice.
But since he’s yet to “use” the litter box, we’re ok.

He gets meds twice a day.
That part is proving the easiest thus far.

We will make the pilgrimage back in two weeks for the sutures to be removed and
hopefully a cone removal and smaller splint…but that is if he doesn’t break his neck
flaying in the meantime, starve to death or make a terrible mess all over himself…

Living with an open wound, exposed bone coupled with the bleeding and oozing while having to
rebandage every other day, oddly is now a bit more appealing to this current slight fortune
of a surgery in order to bring, literally closure to a nearly year-long battle.

The new Sheriff is on doses of maintenance antibiotics to keep any and all UTIs at bay—
a regime that will last for months.
Balancing his digestion and guts throughout all of this will be a delicate balance.
His surgery will be in about 5 more months.

One day for a day…is now the motto of this family!!!!

“Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint
them with oil in the name of the Lord.
And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well;
the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.”

James 5:14-15

simplicity of faith

“Christ is my Spouse.
He chose me first and His I will be.
He made my soul beautiful with the jewel
s of grace and virtue.
I belong to Him whom the angels serve.”
St. Agnes

(a simple cross on an old pine for a simple deditcation / Julie Cook / 2018)

“Jesus Christ did not think the sovereign beatitude and glory of Heaven too dearly
purchased at the price of unspeakable tortures, and by suffering His sacred
flesh to be mangled by nails, thorns, and scourges.
Great indeed must be the value of that which cost the Son of God so dear!
And yet we esteem it so little, as to be even ready to renounce our claim to it,
as, in fact, so many of us do, for the sake of some wretched pleasure or despicable interest!
Ye blind and deluded children of men, contemplate the Wounds of your Crucified God,
and see in what manner the gates of the kingdom of glory have been opened to you!
See what it has cost Him to place you in possession of it,
and understand, if possible, how infinite a benefit was bestowed upon you by the
Son of God when He purchased for you, Heaven, which you had lost by sin! …
Enter in spirit into these sacred Wounds,
and you will comprehend the value and sublimity of that eternal felicity which
they have acquired for you, and you will learn to detach your heart from the
earth and from creatures, so as to place all your affections and desires upon Heaven.”

Fr. Ignatius of the Side of Christ,
p. 226-7
An Excerpt From
The School of Christ Crucified

Sticks and stones

“Keep in mind the person that came up with the old adage, ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me’ was obviously deaf.”
Annonymous

“Detraction is a kind of murder. . .the detractor, by a single stroke of his tongue, ordinarily commits three murders: he kills his own soul and that of him who listens to him by a spiritual murder, and he takes away the social life of him who he defames”
St Francis de Sales

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(the emerging blooms from the apple “sticks” we planted last week / Julie Cook / 2015)

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(an emerging rock wall in a soon to be yard / Julie Cook / 2015)

Throw rocks at me,
beat me with a stick. . .
I may or may not recover from the physical wounds–
depending on how hard I get hit. . .
but I can take a liken and eventually get kickin.
An assault by words, however, well that’s a different matter entirely.
Wounds inflicted by words have a tendency to fester and linger.

During the course of a lifetime,
hands that are used daily, over and over, build callouses.
Hard layers of skin that are tough and
no longer prone to blistering or tearing.

Our feelings, which are more like smooth skin, particularly when we are young, are often most tender.
Any preteen kid can testify to the hurtfulness of words,
As children are often most cruel and unabashedly honest.
It usually takes a lifetime of living in order to build a thick skin,
The calluses of the psyche. . .the ability to repel verbal malice
without the penetrating harmful blistering or tearing.

Years ago, when I was heading off to college, my godmother gave me a tiny little book,
which addressed a rather bigger subject. . .
The Taming of the Tongue by Elaine Murray Stone– first published in 1954.

During my youth I was, for good or bad, prone to the “exuberance of the mouth”. . .
I had a quick temper, often opinionated and possessed an unfiltered mouth,
often speaking what came to mind without first pondering “to speak or not to speak”
plus I’ve always been blatantly honest
coupled with being very passionate. . .
Not always the best of combinations.
I’ve also always had a strong need to communicate what was on my heart
hummmmm. . .

At the time, I had expressed a nagging frustration with having a bit of a sailors mouth, especially when I’d get mad. So my godmother, who was the wife of the Episcopal dean of the church we attended, no doubt had her own worries about my venturing off to the slippery slope of college and lovingly gave me the tiny book—a bit of food for the soul as a part of my send off.

There are days that we are all tested and tried.
Our buttons are pushed and we feel the immediate reflex to push back.
Yet the older we become, however, our skin does indeed thicken, providing a bit of human kevlar,
providing protection from errant hurtful words.
The counter to that thickness however is that with thicker skin, comes a tongue and wit that is often
fine tuned, shaper and smarter than it was in our youth.
We tend to be able to jab and parle much faster,
making the jabs more venomous and painful.

And so it is, as I am finding myself navigating some rather rough waters theses days,
traversing a minefield of malice, animosity, control and misplaced anger. . .
I find myself asking God to temper my reactions and emotions.
That He may grant me wisdom in choosing my words, knowing when and how to use them while adding additional coatings to my kevlar skin. . .
such that the misdirected hurtful angry words hurled in my direction will simply bounce off as I counter with His words of Grace. . .

Keep your tongue from evil,
And your lips from speaking deceit.
Depart from evil and do good;
Seek peace and pursue it.

Psalm 34:13-15

Healing

“I didn’t expect to recover from my second operation but since I did, I consider that I’m living on borrowed time. Every day that dawns is a gift to me and I take it in that way. I accept it gratefully without looking beyond it. I completely forget my physical suffering and all the unpleasantness of my present condition and I think only of the joy of seeing the sun rise once more and of being able to work a little bit, even under difficult conditions.”
― Henri Matisse

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(roses / Boston Public Gardens / Julie Cook / 2014)

I’m traveling bright and early over to Atlanta today, taking my son to a specialist at Emory as we seek some much needed healing of body. Complications from the kidney stones are not getting better but seem to be worsening.

As we travel to Emory I am very mindful that Dr. Kent Brantly is currently in Emory’s infectious diseases facility for treatment of the dreaded Ebola virus he contracted while in Africa treating the growing number of victims of this frightening virus. Tuesday Nancy Writebol, a missionary also in Africa to help those victims of the virus, as well as, the second American to contract the virus, will arrive in Atlanta for treatment.

I am aware, as a mother, how I am concerned over the health of my now grown son–I can only imagine how the families of both Dr. Brantly and Mrs. Writebol must feel. The fear of the unknown coupled by the knowledge of what a virus such as Ebola can do to the human body with a vicious and deadly rate of speed.

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(roses / Boston Public Gardens / Julie Cook / 2014)

Today may we all offer our hopes and prayers for healing.
Healing for all who are currently afflicted by illness of both body and mind.
May we remain prayerful for those suffering in Israel and Gaza.
May we remain prayerful for those in China who were affected by yesterday’s deadly earthquake.
May we remain prayerful for those in Ukraine and Russia as that portion of the world remains in crisis.
May we continue to be prayerful for the families who have lost loved ones on both the Malaysian planes–one downed and one still missing.
May we pray for all in Africa who are afflicted with Ebola.
May we pray for all the healthcare workers throughout this world who work tirelessly to bring hope and healing to all who suffer.

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(roses, Boston Public Garden / Julie Cook / 2014

Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
Isaiah 53:4-5