Grace, Glory and ….a white pigeon?!

“If you are suffering from a bad man’s injustice,
forgive him—lest there be two bad men.”

St. Augustine


(an odd visitor / Julie Cook / 2019)

Yesterday morning, I was out picking the burgeoning blueberry bushes.
I must confess that I’ve gotten a late start doing such due to both a lack of time
and desire…
So in my absence, the birds have pecked their fair share and the latest rains
have plumped them up a bit too much…
Yet I felt obliged to get to my picking responsibilities…

Suddenly I hear my husband hollering.
What he was hollering was alluding me, but I could tell it was with a heightened sense of alarm.

I drop my berry bowl and race up the bank toward the carport.
He’s not there.
I race into the house and he’s now on the back deck scanning the yard looking for me.

“Did you see it???!!” he exclaims—
“See what?” I reply with heightened concern.

“The white bird!!”

Huh???

“The white bird by the driveway??”

“No” I dead pan.

“How could you miss it???”

“Well I heard you hollering and I thought something was wrong…I wasn’t aware there was a bird…”

But sure enough, I walk out into the carport and I see a white bird bobbing about in the grass.

It was too big to be a white dove.

I walked closer.

The bird was nonplused and was obviously accustomed to people as it paid me no never mind.

Upon further investigation, we determined the dove was a pigeon.

Firstly, pigeons don’t hang out in our neck of the country woods and secondly,
a solid white pigeon is certainly an anomaly.
The bird was not an albino.

In his own little world and not bothered by us, the bird sauntered up the driveway
over to the other side of the yard where the grass is actually greener—
he just kept bobbing up and down making his way through the grass while I went back to berry picking.

My theory was that perhaps there had been a wedding over the weekend and
someone released white birds…one of which was not a dove but a pigeon who just
kept flying.

And so as we were gifted by this odd little visitor, a white bird that brings my thoughts
immediately to that of the Holy Spirit…and given the fact that Sunday was the marking of Pentecost,
I will leave us with these thought-provoking words by Blessed Cardinal Newman…

“My God, you know infinitely better than I how little I love you.
I would not love you at all except for your grace.
It is your grace that has opened the eyes of my mind and enabled them to see your glory.
It is your grace that has touched my heart and brought upon it the influence of
what is so wonderfully beautiful and fair . . .
O my God, whatever is nearer to me than you, things of this earth,
and things more naturally pleasing to me, will be sure to interrupt the sight of you,
unless your grace interferes.
Keep my eyes, my ears, my heart from any such miserable tyranny.
Break my bonds—-raise my heart.
Keep my whole being fixed on you.
Let me never lose sight of you; and, while I gaze on you,
let my love of you grow more and more every day.”

Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman, p. 44-5

Natalie

I reached out to Nikki, Natalie’s daughter, late this afternoon—

Since I’m not on facebook, I didn’t know how things were going.

Sadly Nikki just text me that Natalie “went home Monday to be with Jesus”—

Maybe that’s why I’ve seen so many butterflies this past week, flitting about in the yard amongst
the newly budding flowers.

I had a feeling Natalie had transcended this earth.

Natalie loved the Spring and all the new birth taking place in the garden.
She adored her yard and garden.
And she always strongly proclaimed on her blog the joy and confidence she found in our Savior.

Au revoir mon Ami. Je voudrais vous voir bientôt—–
Farewell to the consummate French teacher and life long educator…
I will miss you, Natalie.

is enough ever enough?

Food for the body is not enough.
There must be food for the soul.

Dorothy Day

At first you think you are merely looking into a flower.
A bloom from a rose of sharon plant.
But upon further inspection, there happens to be a bumble bee deep inside, covered in sticky pollen.

And not only was there one pollen covered bumble bee, there were several…

It was as if the bees simply couldn’t get enough.
They were gorging on nectar while becoming completely covered in sticky pollen.
So much so that many of the bees had become lethargic.
So overtly satiated, that they were almost catatonic…
and yet they kept on with their quest of consumption…

Happily miserable with themselves.

And who among us has not gone after something equally tantalizing with a
similar gusto and vigor?
Gobbling up our fill until we can barely move, able to go no further…
as we are full, engorged and yet unable to push back, calling it quits…
Pressing on until we actually make ourselves sick…

Yet what if we sought God with a similar desire?
With an unabashed hunger…
seeking to fill the bottomless void of our hearts?
As we eventually bask, being happily full and
deeply satiated, in all that is of Him….

But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.
Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and
into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into
ruin and destruction.
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.
Some people, eager for money,
have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

But you, man of God,
flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love,
endurance and gentleness.
Fight the good fight of the faith.
Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made
your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus,
who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession,
I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame until the
appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ,
which God will bring about in his own time—God,
the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords,
who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light,
whom no one has seen or can see.
To him be honor and might forever. Amen.

1 Timothy 6:8-16

(al pollen ladend bumble bees in various Rose of Sharon blooms /
Julie Cook /2017)

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

I am soooo over it. . .I am done!!!!

There is only one day left, always starting over:
it is given to us at dawn and taken away from us at dusk.

Jean-Paul Sartre

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(a southern dogface butterfly visits a freshly planted petunia / Julie Cook / 2015)

Don’t panic. . .
It’s Summer, I’m talking about Summer. . .
As in I’m done with it. . .
I’m over it. . .
As in kaput, fini, over and out!!

Actually. . .I’m talking about heat, hot, drying and dying—the tiresome end of all that was once lush, plump and thriving.

In late August, here in this deep South of mine, there is no thriving and there is barely any surviving.
Everything is leggy, yellow and very near death.
And mind you, there is many a day, during this particular time of year, that I feel very much the same.

The little flower bed, just out from our front door, had been full of snapdragons and petunias that were planted back in early Spring when the yard was overhauled.
Had any one asked me, I would not have chosen petunias—I’m just not a fan, but nobody asked me and my husband thought they looked nice. I had to go back in later, as the late frosts of Spring did a number on the petunias, so I threw in some snapdragons in order to fill the gaps. I wasn’t keen on the snapdragons either but I knew they were pretty darn hardy—

Pink snapdragons and crimson petunias.
Not my idea of color choices but again, nobody asked me.

The tiny plants did begin to thrive. . .
Filling out and covering nicely the little flower bed the landscape guys had decided to create for me.
Had I had my druthers, I would have moved the bed, enlarged it and done it a bit differently—
but again, nobody asked me.
The landscape guys had put out some very pretty pine straw all over the yard in the newly formed beds and then for some reason they added bark to the little flower bed.

We had bark once.

It washed like nobody’s business whenever it rained.
I would have a river of bark racing down the front walk requiring scooping and sweeping up after every down pour.
I was done with bark.
However the landscapers were into contrast when they were laying out the yard and again, nobody asked me.

So bark it was and bark it is.

As the Summer has worn on, like a tired old moth-eaten wool overcoat, the petunias and snapdragons have been rapidly approaching their limit. Long, tall, leggy, yellowing, more vine than leaf, shriveled and grossly unsightly. . .I could no longer stand to look at the flower bed without feeling a great sense of anxiety. . .with a touch of disgust added in.

For weeks I’ve been telling myself “not much longer. . .September is almost here. . .then you’ll be able to pull up all that crap and replant it all with some fresh wonderful crisp fall magic.”
Yes, I’ve told myself that for many weeks now.

A tiny cold front passed through the state last night–and please note I use the words cold and front with much rolling of the eyes. . .
I will admit that it did actually drop our temps to the mid 60’s this morning.
Never mind that the high was still 90ish–I’m taking that smidge of crisp and I’m running with it. . .all the way to the local the garden center.

This entire week will see me at dads, doctors, dentists so if I was going to act, it had to be today.
The only problem was that the garden center really doesn’t have in crisp fall magic yet.
They still have in hot summer same ol same ol. . .
No matter–I would make do.

I got home with my assortment of trays.
When I thought I was grabbing some pansies, I was actually grabbing trays of petunias as well as a couple of trays of snapdragons—as in been there done that, it’s too early for violas and pansies so AGGGGHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!

Oh well, no matter, they’re purple and white and they’ll do until the garden center gets in its fall crisp magic.

I chose white because I like white.
I wear a lot of black, as I like to say it hides a wealth of woe, so I suppose I like it’s opposite as in I think white looks elegant. Never mind when the white elegant blooms die, turning a sickly shade of brown and falling off–I’m sticking with elegant—
And purple because the butterflies like the purple butterfly bushes I recently put out.
I had told the landscapers I wanted some butterfly bushes—
Surprise, I didn’t get any.
Lest we remember that no one was asking and obviously no one was listening. . .

So I spent the remainder of my day cutting all the leggy spent petunias and snapdragons–leaving 3 clumps that still seemed to be “ok”
I then raked off the tired dry grey bark from the bed.
Next I spread a big ol heavy sack of soil—all over the red Georgia clay that makes up the bed.
I had wanted the landscapers to add topsoil to all the excavated ground but remember, no one was listening.
I put in two dwarf fountain grass—
why you ask—
because they caught my eye on the way to the checkout register–
I think we call that an impulse buy. . .however not to fear, I liked them.
I added my trays of the new petunias and snapdragons—experiencing a bit of deja vu as I did so.
I watered, re-spread the tired grey bark- – – but no matter as it now matches the once pretty red supple pine straw the landscapers had put out, which is now dull, crunchy and grey.

One good last watering and I was happy—well, happier than I was.
I’ll really be happy when it’s finally fall crisp and magical. . .

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(work)

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(more work)

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(leggy and spent)

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(better)

Unblemished

“It is far more important to me to preserve an unblemished conscience than to compass any object however great.”
William Ellery Channing

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(new beauties snapped on the IPhone at the local garden center / Julie Cook / 2015)

A trip to the garden shop, especially this time of year, is nothing short of mesmerizing topped off with a color filled overload of spectacular.
Rows upon rows of picture perfect annuals, perennials, biennials and any other ennial you can imagine. . .
Talk about things that sell themselves.
Who wouldn’t want to walk away with a cart, or two, filled to the brim with the likes of such beauties. . .large, tall, spiky, showy, red, blue, white, yellow, orange, pink, purple, lavender, green, black, two tones, monotone, sweet, sassy, demure, austere, even those of the exotic bordering on the erotic. . .

These flowers and plants are perfect.
Nary a blemish to be found.
Perfectly watered.
Fertilized to perfection.
Protected from wind, rain, and the relentless burn of the sun
Picture perfect and gorgeous.

But just get them home. . .
Get them repotted and replanted,
Add your own special TLC, step back and bask in the glory. . .
That is until the blooms begin to fade, eventually dying–oh did you forget to deadhead?
The leaves curl or turn yellow.
Wooops, you forgot to water when you went away for the weekend. .
Talk about drying out.
Looks like you over watered. . .
And it actually died from root rot.
Applied too little or too much fertilizer. . .
Wait, whoa. . .what about those Japanese beetles, aphids, white flies. . .
and the birds—who knew they liked to eat those flowers or was that the deer, or chipmunks,
or rabbits, or armadillos or. . . .

Things always look better in the store as there is an army in place to ensure such.
As in it obviously takes a massive village of caregivers
to keep everything prime for the shopping public. . .

For those of us who are Christian believers. . .
do you remember how it felt when you first made that conscious decision to be a follower of Christ?
That moment in time when you were brought to you knees. . .
Do you remember those first couple of days of the giddy excitement?
You felt clean and no longer bruised or full of blemishes
You basked in the warm glow of joy, peace, acceptance.
Your burdens had been reduced and you actually felt good for the first time in a long time.
You felt strong and bold, unafraid.
You felt like the teflon king or queen, as in nothing any one threw your way would stick or hurt.
You were walking on cloud nine.

And then, without your cognizant acknowledgement, life crept back into the picture.
What once seemed like a life of endless joy and energy gave way to frustration and irritability.
You quickly discovered you weren’t exactly indefensible or indestructible.
Your significant other decided to leave.
Your boss gave you your walking papers.
Your kids got in really bad trouble.
You got sick.
You got in a wreck.
You got robbed.
That joyous high that you had been riding seemed to crash right down on top of you. . .

“Oh where is your God now” they whisper?
What?
Does Mr / Ms religious have a temper?
Did you just curse?
Are you feeling guilty for thinking all those bad things about those who have hurt you?
What happened to all that forgiveness and pie in the sky loving of yours. . .
All of this as the bitterness creeps slowly back in.
You’re heard to murmur sarcastically “thanks a lot God”
A slick voice is heard encouraging you that you’ll be better off without Him.
“Forget about Him, see how He deserted you, let you down. . .He wasn’t really real. . .”
“Come back to your old ways, your old friends, your old life. . .you were comfortable there, accepted. . .”
As in. . . all the current misery is loving all the present company. . .

I once heard a sermon where the priest reminded everyone in attendance, who had decided to establish or reestablish their relationship with Jesus, not to be surprised if they actually lost their job the following day. . .
Hummmm. . .

Was that what you signed up for?

Be mindful. . .
Where the Sprit works, there also dwells Satan.
A power struggle ensues for each and every heart and soul.
The faithful will be battered and hit with all manner of harm.
For ours is a fallen world.
We cannot change that fact.

We are like the pretty plants and flowers we bring home,. . .those that are so full of hope.
Yet we get a hold of ourselves and things don’t go so well—either by our own devices and ignorance, or at the hands of Life which is beyond our control, delivering a one two punch.

Doubt
Despair
Hate
Resentment
Pride
All of which rapidly creep in whispering into our ears the endless lies. . .

But all is not lost.
For God has never walked away despite those lies we are told.
He has never left, never given up. . .
on you or I. . .

Yet let us be reminded once again, we live in a fallen world.
A battle zone of Good and Evil
Yet thankfully we live with a God who Loves without ceasing.
He tells us to get back up, again and agin. . .and to simply follow Him
Never mind the bruises, blemishes, cuts and scrapes. . .
He tells us to gird ourselves with the armor of Truth.
His armor, His Truth.

However, for any of that to be true, to be real. . .
You’d have to believe in Good and Evil
You’d need to admit that there is indeed a God in Heaven
Or that there is evan a Heaven
Or a Hell
Or a Satan. . .

You’d have to admit that the soul of man hangs in the balance
You’d have admit that there is a Divine Design and not a random design
You’d have to let go of self, ego and pride
You’d have to be willing to become less in order to get more. . .

Many may scoff that unlike those unblemished flowers in the garden shops, ours is a life
full of imperfection, struggles and challenges, falls and scrapes, bruises and blemishes. . .
Yet just like those well tended and pampered flowers,
We too have an arsenal, a team waiting in the wings offering aid, assistance, defense from the struggles and trials of life. . .

We have a Master Gardener who has given us His all,
In order to afford each of us the chance to not merely survive,
but rather the gift to thrive . . .

The righteous man will flourish like the palm tree, He will grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Planted in the house of the LORD, They will flourish in the courts of our God. . .
Psalm 92:12-13

The magnolia tree

“For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone.
Hermann Hesse

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(magnolia bloom / Julie Cook / 2015)

Growing up, we all have a measuring stick.
A benchmark of growth.
A point of reference for progress.
A door frame, a yard stick, a section of wall ripe with the marks of hoped for and greatly anticipated advancement.

Even when I was still in the classroom, my kids marked their various heights along the doorframe of the classroom’s door.
Who was taller this year verses the heights from year’s past.
Ever onward and upward. . .

Today was not easy.
Another trying day.
Sweet Dad.
Yet Gloria is struggling.
Transition and growth, that was once exciting, is now painfully dreaded.

Funny how we are always in such a hurry to “grow up”
yet suddenly one day we wake up,
wanting nothing more to do with it, preferring simply to stop it all–
Racing frantically backwards to the blissful days of youthful abandon.
When nothing hurt, nothing mattered and everything worked as life was nothing but good.
Where did the time go. . .

Looking out the window from the sunporch, I noticed a lone bloom on the massive magnolia out back.
I know this massively tall tree.
I remember when 50 feet was just a tiny sapling.

I excuse myself to go out back to take a picture.

When do those things which once seemed so expansive and endless
become small and constrained?
Standing in the backyard, my presence fills the space that once seemed so vast.
Vegetation has moved closer to the house.
The monkey grass use to be further back. . .
I don’t remember that carpet of ivy. . .
Where did the pine straw islands disappear to?
And the magnolia tree. . .

For whatever reason, my grandmother who I had spent the weekend with, decided to bring
me back to mom with a magnolia sapling in tow.
The sapling was tiny and leggy.
At 7, I towered over the plant.
“And this was to become a tree,” I mused,
Not impressed I “humphed” away rather uninterested.

The tree now towers over the landscape.
It’s out of place.
Not harmonious with everything else in the yard or surrounding yards.
It dwarfs everything around it.
It’s far out lived both my grandmother and mother.
At this rate it might just outlive me.

I marked my life by this tree.
We played backyard football around this once tender plant,
Making certain we didn’t hit it with the ball.
It was a reference point or boundary during many a childhood game.
“Don’t go past the magnolia tree”. . .
“The base is the magnolia tree”. . .

It was mother’s tree.
A gift from one mother to another mother
As oddly I now seem to be a distant guardian.

So on this most difficult of days
Finding the lone bloom beckoning me out,
Out to the yard, to a place I’d not simply wandered through in years,
As it’s really no longer my space to wander. . .
I felt a deep sense of comfort.
As perhaps both Mimi and Mom were somehow still standing there,
Wondering where in the heck to plant a tiny little sapling in a vast backyard. . .
Which in turn would greet me these 50 years later in a now seemingly small backyard
With the gift of welcomed comfort from a single lone bloom.

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