A pretty good diet

A lovely surprise greeted Matt and me at our York home: the plum tree is already blooming! March 5, 2017

A lovely surprise greeted Matt and me at our York home:
the plum tree is already blooming! March 5, 2017

“I am living on hope and faith…a pretty good diet when the mind will receive them.”
Edwin Arlington Robinson

It’s interesting that a poet of Robinson’s stature, who penned the devastatingly powerful “Richard Cory,” would describe himself as living on hope and faith. Such somber work does not seem consistent with what we think of as a positive attitude. Yet, by their very nature, hope and faith are not as obviously necessary for survival when all is going well. It is only when the full weight of human frailty and mortality comes crashing in that we realize our souls’ crucial need for belief in something higher than we can now comprehend.

I have been living on hope and faith for many years, and never more than during the past four. Cynical voices (including the one in my own head that I can never quite shut out) might rightly ask: so you have, and where did this get you? Were not your hopes disappointed, even crushed? Yes, they were cruelly dashed, time and again. But faith and hope are not wishing wells where simple petitions are met with guaranteed fulfillment. Rather, they are dynamic, growing forces that reveal layer after layer of hard-won understanding. As Robinson attests, they provide solid nourishment for the soul, when the mind will receive them.

My mind won’t always cooperate with such a diet. Like a child who turns away from vegetables regardless of how many times the grown-ups talk about how good they are, I often handle my pain with binges of anger, resentment, self-pity and hopelessness. And the cynic’s question is equally valid here: where do these take me? Not to any place I want to be for very long. Faith and hope are, in many ways, their own rewards, conferring benefits not dependent on immediate fulfillment.

So how do we discipline our minds to receive this “pretty good diet?” What visual, auditory and tactile input goes into your own recipe for pressing on through tough times?  What tastes or aromas bring instant relief from stress? Sometimes, an unexpected and surprisingly small joy can snap me out of a dismal attitude. My first sight of our early-blooming plum tree was one such delight that helped me through this weekend. What works best for you?


  1. Ann

    What a thought provoking message. I will have to ponder this awhile before giving a full response. So glad your early blooming plum tree brought you joy. Lots of blooms and pollen here in SC.

    • Ann, it’s an odd coincidence that I had chosen that quote and marked it for today without realizing who said it…then in the car on the way between homes, I listened to Simon and Garfunkel’s song based on that poem, and thought “I need to write a post on that poem, although it’s not exactly about defeating despair, except insofar as it serves as a warning.” When I got home and saw who wrote the quote, I had to ponder that awhile myself! Glad you have the blooms, but sorry for the pollen. Almost everything seems to be a mixed bag in some way, doesn’t it? It’s turned off colder here…I’m praying for it to warm up by Friday.

  2. Cherie

    Yes, Julia, sometimes it’s the little things that fill us with Joy! I pray your day is filled to the brim! Love and Light! Cherie

    • Thank you Cherie! I pray the same for you!

  3. HarryS

    Some of my posts are obviously not acceptable. otherwise they would be published.

    • Harry, not true! I can’t remember ever deleting one of your comments– sometimes I just take a long time to get to them, that’s all. If one ever fails to show up by 10 days after you post it, send it again and write “did this get lost?” 😀

      • Harry Sims

        Thank you Julia and as you know I have already sincerely and deeply apologized in Email correspondence which you so graciously sent.
        Your cyber friend.

        • No apologies needed, Harry, but thanks for understanding.

  4. Carolyn

    We are in full bloom here, waiting for the pollen. I have had this cough forever and can’t seem to rite of it, but am feeling better. My voice doesn’t sound to great . I’m glad that you have some blooms at your York home. I pray that this is a beautiful week for you all. I will be there in spirit with you. Hugs and love to all who will be with you.

    • Hi Carolyn, our blooms are in danger of freezing now! The weather went from very warm, sunny and 70’s on Thursday, to SNOW on Friday that fell just as the caisson reached Jeff’s burial site! So it’s just as well you were not out in the cold. Hope this finds you feeling better. Love and Hugs!

  5. Jack

    How I wish I could simply bottle up that momentary euphoria that emerges when hope enters the picture and shines in the light of my (mostly) made up despair. I’m taught, but far more importantly, I believe that sorrow may last for a night, but indeed joy will come in the morning, that glorious morning when thinking informs my heart rather than feeling. I’ve been around enough despair to know that if I allow it, hope will always chase it away. May it be so for you too Julia!

    • Thank you, Jack. From where I sit now, it’s hard for even my thinking brain (vs. my feeling heart) to come up with a scenario that makes hope logical in my circumstance, but I’m hanging on and trying to remove as many obstacles to hope as I can. I appreciate your presence here, and your good wishes.

  6. MaryAnn Clontz

    Such a gorgeous tree, a great reminder that our Heavenly Father is blessing us with beauty! Clouds formations have been magnificent recently, causing instant joy & calmness.
    The quote is beneficial to me: “living on hope & faith” because as Christ-followers we know our home is in Heaven! Praying for you & your boys during this difficult time. Be patient with yourself, allow the feelings.
    I love you!

    • Thank you Mary Ann. The flowers are beautiful- one of the prettiest arrangements I have ever seen. I love you too!

      • MaryAnn Clontz

        Brian did a great job! I was so happy he contacted me! The photo of them looked lovely, so glad they lived up to it.

        • I think I got at least one photo of how they looked — exactly like the photo Brian sent. I could spot them right away even from a distance. I can’t wait to show you what I did with the greenery, which is still quite beautiful. Stay tuned…

  7. Raynard

    Julia I think several years ago we were talking.my wife and I man I had a Yul Brenner moment and said “The King and I..I digress. Oh back to my thought.It was about going back to DC to see the cherry blossome trees. Well after seeing a picture of I think it was someone famous in the crown of the Statue of Liberty. I now want to go back there to see if they let people in the torch or the crown. Now my next trick is to learn how to stream TV shows from our laptop to the TV set. Remember I’m the one who still listens to old radio shows from the 30’s 40’s and 50’s. lol.. I think I just had a ‘Barney Miller or ‘Cheers’ moment you were thinking umm Momma’s family or Andy Griffith , you need a laugh as I slipped that in lol

    • Raynard, I don’t know whether they let people go that high up into the statue, but Lady Liberty is so magnificent that it’s worth the trip even if you never get off the Staten Island Ferry (which is one of the best ways to see it in my opinion, and the price is definitely right). I’m afraid our cherry blossoms are going to be frozen this week. They have just started to come out and now they are calling for 6-8 inches of snow tonight. Somehow, the crazy weather feels appropriate this year. BTW when I read the reference to Andy Griffith I went instantly to YouTube and watched a few scenes of Barney, which always brings smiles. Be sure to see his “scared straight” clip if you haven’t seen it 100 times already! 😀

  8. Good morning, Julia,
    “Desperate times call for desperate measures…”
    Embarrassingly, I play the Ostrich game, and bop around to the Lego Movie’s “Everything is Awesome!” song:

    I’m praying for you and your “team” this week. I know that a lot of people, myself included, are praying for you; may you feel comforted and supported, surrounded by love.
    I’m also very excited to see your new plum blossoms!

    • Thank you, Susan. I watched a few seconds of that clip and I definitely must re-visit it– right now I’m sitting in the waiting room of the car dealership, waiting for my state inspection, so I didn’t want to interfere with the TV that others appear to be watching. And speaking of car inspections, rewind to last week, when Matt and I were en route from Alexandria to York:

      (flashing blue lights in my rear view mirror; traffic was so thick that I KNEW there was no way I could have been speeding. I pulled over and the cop pulled up behind me)

      Matt: What did you do?
      Me: I have no idea…

      Police officer: Do you have any idea why I pulled you over?
      Me: I have no idea whatsoever (sincere grin at the absurdity of it all)
      P.O.: When was the last time you got your car inspected?
      Me: Truthfully? (she nods) I never have. My husband always did it, but he died recently.
      P.O. (points to very large “1” on the sticker clearly visible in my windshield)
      P.O. What are your plans for next week?
      Me: I am burying my husband.
      P.O. (suddenly appears to believe me) Oh…I’m sorry.
      Me: Can’t I just go get it inspected today?
      P.O.: You can try, but at the end and beginning of the month, they are normally slammed with people getting inspections, so you might not be able to get it done for awhile.

      …anyway, she ran my license and it came up totally clean, so she let me off with a warning that subsequent officers might not be as lenient. I was super careful going home to do NOTHING else that might get me pulled over. Matt and I stopped at no fewer than SIX auto service places on the way home (where every single clerk echoed what the police officer had told me: no way can we get to it this week). So, at York I swapped my car, which expired in January, for Jeff’s car, which expires this month. And here I sit. I am grateful it was caught before somebody pulled Drew and family over en route to Jeff’s funeral!

      As I told the officer, every day that passes brings to light another little (or big) task that Jeff always took care of, that I now must manage. So keep those prayers coming! And I’ll enjoy the Lego song when I have a bit more privacy to bop around myself…

  9. Emily N Lavender

    Aunt Julia, As usual, I am touched by your words. I try to read every post, but rarely get to respond anymore due to a certain 15 month old in my life; however, today, she is asleep and I just wanted you to know there is much power in what you say. Living in hope and faith is all that has gotten me through certain times of my own life and struggles and making that daily choice is not always as simple as it sounds, but it IS always the choice that leads me to joy. So happy for your simple joy. Today I found joy patting a baby dolls back with my little one. I chose not to rush and get to all the busy that inevitably waits. It was worth every second. Love you!

    • Emily, what a sweet moment with Mary and the doll. Thanks for sharing it. As you could probably tell, all of Friday was a blur, but I am so happy you were there. Thank you for coming. Love you too!

  10. Good question. I had to think about what I usually get out of a gloomy mood … When the weather is nice and you can go for a walk, of course fresh air and move. And a good book.

    • Thanks Ethel- all of the above work for me! BTW your have an interesting domain there. 😉

  11. Julia, Great post. Too often hope is misunderstood.
    “It is only when everything is hopeless that hope begins to be a strength at all. Like all Christian virtues, it is unreasonable as it is indispensable.” – G.K. Chesterton

    • Thank you, Alan. I hope to be reading more of Chesterton soon (in fact, if I stay in this PhD program, I’ll be required to read him sooner or later. 🙂 ) Apparently he was a tremendous influence on C. S. Lewis’s decision to become a Christian after years (decades) of atheism. On a note related to the Chesterton quote you shared, according to biographer Alister McGrath, it was J. R. R. Tolkien who ultimately walked him over the line between belief and unbelief, when he convinced Lewis that reason alone could never capture the scope of the Christian faith. It was only when Lewis coupled his reason with his considerable imaginative power, that the grand story came into focus for him. For some reason, that reminds me of the old saying that “Democracy is the most problematic system of government, except for all the others.” 😀

      • Julia,
        Your last line is very true. Very Chesterton sounding. In your PhD program I hope the selected reading is “The Everlasting Man.” If not I recommend it regardless. C.S. Lewis as well in his attempt to disprove the stories of the bible, as an atheist, because of his expertise realized that these stories were not fabricated but in reality eye witness accounts. Which also aided in his conversion.

        • Alan, I think the one we have to read is called Orthodoxy, but I might be mistaken because I have also heard of The Everlasting Man, probably from having seen it on a reading list somewhere from an old course syllabus I borrowed from someone or found online. Yes, Lewis was so trained in the classics (he had to read all the ancient classical texts in their original languages while he was a student at Oxford) that he knew a true story when he saw one, and understood how essential story has always been in the communication of truth.

          • “Orthodoxy,” another great work of G.K.C. A must read and study in any theology course. I’ve read quite a few of his books. I’ve found that although when reading his thoughts may go over your head. You still will find you are better for the effort.

            • Alan, in library school they taught us, whenever we are reading to a group of different ages or abilities in children, always target the oldest in the group. Younger readers will “reach” for the more difficult meaning and comprehend more than we think they will, whereas the older students who are read a simpler story are likely to get bored and “tune out.” That rings true for me because I find that even when I don’t totally understand something on the first reading, I almost always get enough of it to make me want to dig deeper. I’m sure I’ll be doing a lot of that with Chesterton.

              • Take it from one who reads him often; you will! But will enjoy every minute of the effort.

                • They say this sort of thing is the best defense against TOTALLY losing one’s mental acuity to aging. So it’s a great time to be introduced to his work, and school will give me the incentive to stay with it.

  12. Prayer and reception of guidance makes a difference. In the end, it is always God who brings me to my senses.

    • So true! Perhaps in my case, it’s at least partly because God is the one who is always there despite my limitations and neediness…

  13. As always Julia, your writing is profound and thought provoking. I’m glad you’re able to express your disappointment, anger and even resentment at what life has brought your way. Honestly, we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t. The storm you’ve walked through could bring others to their knees, helpless. Honestly, I think sometimes the only thing that get’s me through is pure stubbornness.

    That being said, a few little things I do just for ME, 1) splat drops of my favourite natural oil scent in the shower and let it steam up before I get in. I’m going to bring you some next month. 2) Plan to meet up with friends. (even just to the local garden centre but Canada’s also on the table) 3) Take an art class. Just you, your brush and the colours you choose. I find it really relaxing yet rejuvenating. 4) Laying on the floor in a sun-puddle with the cats.

    Now you don’t have a cat and probably are not keen to have a cat, but I wonder if there are any fostering opportunities in your area. Our Animal Shelter is always looking for foster homes. Somewhere to house small animals until they’re adopted. I think some people who travel a great deal, enjoy having a dog or cat via their program.

    There you have it, Boomdeetudes for claiming moments of comfort. No one deserves them more than you Julia. x Boomdee

    • K, I know that my stubbornness is what gets me through…though in my case, it sometimes creates almost as many problems as it solves. One way I’m surviving lately is just letting go of some of the things I once considered non-negotiable. I like your “Boomdeetude” suggestions! I have thought about fostering an animal but I am afraid I would have way too hard a time letting go of one I’d come to love. My friend Kathy fosters animals and I am very thankful there are those who are able to do this, both for animals AND especially for children who so need a loving home environment. I will have to give fostering some consideration, since it is the traveling problem that is one of the big reservations I have about permanent adoption. Toward the end of Pasha’s life we never boarded him. We just hated to leave him in a strange environment, so he either went with us or we didn’t go. No regrets, though.

      • I know how you feel about leaving pets. We’re very very lucky to have such a loving pet sitter. She always writes us a beautiful thank you note for the opportunity to have time with Petals and Blossum. Cindy and I have had great long visits when she drops of our keys. She’s a dream come true and one of a kind. That said, I bet there’s someone in the area that loves pets as much as we do. If I didn’t have such a great job, that’d be my next choice. In fact, it’d be a great way to enjoy dogs even though Mr B says we can’t have one. It’s my fall back plan. Lori doesn’t want to be a shop owner forever xo K

        • If only you lived closer, I could get a dog for both of us. You would be a pet sitter extraordinaire.

          • I LOVE that idea! Adopt a doggie and he gets to have sleep overs at two homes. Twice the love, twice the walks, win/win 😀 xo K

            • Just think what will be possible when we can “beam up” our cats and dogs just like on Star Trek…come to think of it, did they ever have dogs and cats on Star Trek?

              • I don’t remember dogs or cats but they had ‘tribbels’ The episode was called, ‘the trouble with tribbels’ A number of techie things we have now where imagined and written into Star Trek in the 60’s. Automatic Doors, Cell Phones, Desk Top Computers so I think we’ll have a ‘transporter’ some day. Beam me up KittY!

                • Isn’t it interesting how the Sci-Fi writers sometimes know more about the future than anyone? Just like Jules Verne, although I don’t know whether what he wrote would be considered science fiction. But it’s fun (and sometimes scary) to read fiction set in the future, and wonder how much of it will come true.

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