Unhealthy Atmosphere

Lines for these times:

Unhealthy Atmosphere*

May we never grow
accustomed to this smoke,
this red sun, this pink moon,
this hazy shade of autumn.

May we crave fresh air,
keep peering at gray horizons
expecting mountain peaks,
lake’s far shore, lengths of fields.

May acrid particulates
burning nostrils, biting eyes
prompt us to heave
our bucketful on the flames.

May memories live of
galaxies singing masses,
eagles riding sunbeams,
sweet rain on clean grasses.

May we never accept
patinas of ash and soot,
but choke on a supply
tainted with destruction.

May we seek obscured paths,
light the way to fellowship,
community. How can we,
those blurred, be humanity?

Would St. Francis weep to see
“Brother Sun,” “Sister Moon,”
red faced, shrouded, looking
down on forests burning?

~Catherine Lawton, Oct. 2020

*Not only has 2020 given us pandemic isolation, we also have “smoke” from political and social “fires” that are raging, blurring human connections/community and obscuring truth. To make matters worse, here in the West wildfires have been blazing and sending us smoke and ash, darkened days that feel almost apocalyptic, and “unhealthy air quality.” In these days, as followers of Christ, we must work to keep alive hope and visions of beauty, truth, and love (and as we meditate on these good things, seek to act in ways that bring renewal and flourishing). With this in mind, these lines have been coming to me. –C.L.

Creative Author and Creative Readers Reflect on our Creator God

Sample pages from BIBLE POEMS (with reader doodles)

The creativity of Donna Marie Merritt, poet and author of Bible Poems for Reflection and Response extends even beyond her poetic word pictures. She had the idea of giving her readers the opportunity to not only reflect on her poems (which themselves are reflections on the Bible) but to allow space on the pages, including 17 blank pages, for readers to respond with their own poems, thoughts, prayers, drawings and doodles. The book released this month (September 1, 2020). What we’ve already heard from readers tells us this book is encouraging reflection:

  • “These jewels, these pearls each carry a small glimmer of truth, wisdom, stern instruction, and unconditional love.”
  • “I am delighted to take away thoughtful pieces … to meditate on further.”
  • “The questions raised throughout the book help me evaluate, repent, and respond with worship.”

One reader sent us photos of the reflective/responsive art she created on the book pages. You can view those colorful doodles in this short video:

As a publisher I love to bring authors and readers together, and especially I love it when they are reflecting together on God’s truth, creation, and the life of faith. In this way, writing—and reading—a book of poetry can lead to worship expressed in words, art and action.

Living Creation

We plant gardens, come what may.

Every morning we look out the window of our home office and see our (somewhat wild this year) vegetable garden, and on most days we see the Rocky Mountains rising in a solid, constant backdrop to the view. Today the mountains are hidden by wildfire smoke that has settled over our Northern Colorado area (and much of the western states, too). We are reminded that, though nature is given to bless us and for us to steward, we cannot control it.

We’re thankful for those who manage well the wild forests, rivers, and grasslands. And here at our home place we continue to care for the piece of earth entrusted to us, and we seek to persevere with the hope and patience we learn from Creator God who brings sunshine and harvest, cycles of seasons and rains, maintains the stars in their places, and every spring calls forth new life out of burns, decay and dormancy.

Life will winlove will win … as we co-operate with our living, loving God who is actively creating and re-creating.

This is a theme we feel called to share through publishing…

 

BRAVE WHIMSY and VULNERABILITY

The unique style of author Janyne McConnaughey—interweaving literary whimsy, informative narrative, and raw vulnerability—is reaching into the hearts and minds of readers. For instance, in A BRAVE LIFE we find Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz interacting with Janyne’s three adult selves and many child selves.

We love the way Janyne weaves delightful, fictional characters into her narratives. In Janyne’s previous book, JEANNIE’S BRAVE CHILDHOOD, Alice of Wonderland appears throughout (and rumors are she may return in a future book). But Dorothy of Oz and her Yellow-Brick-Road companions, even Oz himself, fit perfectly in A BRAVE LIFE.

Janyne McConnaughey PhD

In this new book, Janyne shares the story of how she lived her adult life with the effects of childhood trauma and attachment issues. Janyne describes her “Yellow Brick Road” journey that taught her about the abundant life and the many ways it had been stolen from her by childhood trauma. A BRAVE LIFE offers hope and insight to all who have persevered and silently suffered without knowing why…. and it provides a handbook to help Christians in the church minister to those who, as children, were victims of the unspeakable.

Janyne bravely paints a word picture of how a childhood-trauma survivor experienced adulthood—including multiple moves and transitions, marriage and parenting, and a college teaching career—all the time coping through dissociative “split” personalities.

It was a confusing life fraught with “emotional landmines,” but Janyne’s healing journey led to her “Emerald City” as all the parts of Janyne learned to trust each other and work together—which they do beautifully in this book.

Jesus shows up in A BRAVE LIFE also. The scenes where Jesus talks with Janyne’s various selves are descriptive, not prescriptive. They describe what Janyne heard the Spirit of Jesus say to her heart, true words that helped heal the effects of what trusted adults had wrongly said to her way back when she was 10.

Just as pushing back the curtain revealed the “real” wizard of Oz, Janyne had the courage to push back the curtain and reveal her feelings of being an “imposter,” of dissociative pain and struggles and their root causes. We agree with Pathway to Hope director, Kiersten Adkins, who says of Janyne, “May her courage inspire us to find safe spaces for ourselves and be those safe spaces for others.”

If you long to find your own safe spaces in which to heal, and to help (not hinder) others’ healing, you may want to join the many readers being encouraged, informed, and helped by the BRAVE series.

(Note: The three graphics above created by Janyne McConnaughey and posted on Facebook. Used here with permission.)

Moments Morph into Poems

Our lives are built of moments in time and space. And just as one moment of your life doesn’t define you, so one poem doesn’t define a poet.

Some moments of my life I wouldn’t want anyone to remember. Some moments beg interpretation. But not every moment of life warrants being grappled with or immortalized in a poem.

Some of my poems come out of my humanness / humanity; some come from the living workings out of faith; some come out of my searching, listening, and questioning; some poems come out of the sensations of a moment in time.

Some moments that inspire poems are microcosms of creation’s cosmic array, snapshots of life’s bigger pictures. Some poetic moments are unique flashes or epiphanies that I wish could be repeated but will likely never come again, at least not quite the same. These moments can change us if we allow them to, if we open our hearts to receive what they have to give. I think that is true, to some extent, of poetry as well.

I don’t sit down to make lines and rhymes, but to use words, rhythms, and metaphors to paint pictures of life’s moments of observing, noticing, being present to someone or something in a new way … of seeing a sometimes-startling new depth or aspect or facet of a fleeting, evocative, life-giving moment.

Poems come to the poet out of living moments that, penciled on paper, morph into verses of word art that can bring meaning to the reader’s own moments.

~Catherine Lawton

A Time for Tears

Guest Post

TEARS ARE ONLY FOR A TIME

by Alice Scott-Ferguson

I wasn’t just crying, I was wailing. I had traveled five-thousand miles to see my father and I missed him by a few hours. He had gone where there are no more tears and I was left to mourn and cry buckets of them in the days and weeks that followed that fateful day years ago. That the Father called him home suddenly, that he passed peacefully and at the ripe old age of eighty five, persuades me to agree with the British journalist Julie Burchill when she says, “Tears are sometimes an inappropriate response to death. When a life has been lived completely honestly, completely successfully or just completely, the correct response to death’s perfect punctuation mark is a smile.”

The smiles came later.

But how glad I am for the sweet release of crying, the catharsis that tears provide, and the commonality of the experience to all of us. At times, our lives seem to float on an ocean of tears and sometimes we feel that we are drowning in their salty sea. I got to thinking about those drops of fluid that flow from our eyes and what volumes they speak of the condition of the human heart. What is this curious creation, what are the causes, the kinds and the cultural connotations of crying?

The dictionary definition calls a tear a drop of clear, salty liquid that is secreted by the lachrymal gland to lubricate the surface of the eyeball and wash away irritants. This marvelous process goes on continuously and it is only when emotion triggers a profusion of the fluid that we are aware of the phenomenon known as crying. In the Russian language, there are seven distinct words to describe the various properties of tears. There is a word for large ones, one for clear tears, and another two for both hot tears and salty ones. Yet other selections describe the abundant as well as the sparse and a word that specifically depicts tears falling rapidly one after another. Many of us will have shed some of these and some of us, all of the above.

Various emotions evoke tears. Generally known as more negative, the emotions of anger, frustration, self-pity and manipulation certainly cause crying. Then tears are expected and accepted when we experience sadness, grief, joy or compassion. Perhaps there is a mix of these emotions in all of our tears. I suspect so, for even in the sorrow over my father’s death there was certainly self-pity at the prospect of life without his presence. Hence the inability to smile. Sorrow would have turned to celebration if I could have cast my thoughts heavenward. Perhaps compassion commands the purest of tears. Yet, there is an undeniable element of anger even as we are moved to deep weeping over an abused or starving child, for example. We are angry and frustrated over the inexplicable inequities of life even though we tenderly suffer with the victim. No matter what their etiology, tears are therapeutic and God-designed. Through the voice of Mr. Bumble in Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens declares, “It opens the lungs, washes the countenance, exercises the eyes and softens down the temper; so cry away.”

When my sons were small, I encouraged them to cry away. “God gave you the same apparatus as he gave girls when he installed lachrymal glands in your eyes.” So they learned what to this day they still unashamedly do, they let the tears fall when they or others around them hurt. Back then it was scraped knees when they fell on the playground, now it is the bitter bruises of dreams dashed in the playing field of adulthood. I am saddened to see little boys fight back the tears just because society still generally deems it sissy to cry. I witnessed such a little fellow at an airport recently as he said good bye to his Dad. He bravely stifled his sobs and wiped away the telltale tears with his sleeve while his sister, of similar age, cried loudly and lustily.

I had learned from my father that the dignity and beauty of tears is as much the domain of men as of women. Although raised as a stoic Scotsman, he could never get through telling the story of Abraham offering up Isaac without crying. Still less the account of Calvary and the suffering of the Savior he loved. Christ Jesus, who was both God and the man of all men who wept. The brief account in John 11:33-36 often provokes debate as to why he was crying. I like to think that he simply felt the pain of those around him who mourned the loss of Lazarus.

The scriptures are not shy to tell us tales of tears. Not surprisingly, Job is recorded crying. In chapter 16 and verse 20 he says, “My friends scorn me: but mine eye poureth tears unto God.” Friends and family may grow weary of our crying and they may consider it attention getting, weakness or histrionics. However, we will always have the caress and the uncritical, caring attention of our Father. Jeremiah the weeping prophet, so named for his proclivity to tears, wails, “Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!” (Jer. 9:1). He, in common with us, experienced the place where the tears have dried up but the sorrow is still unstaunched. Mothers can relate to Rachel weeping for her children who were no longer there (Jer. 31:15). Some of the deepest grief must undoubtedly come from the loss of a child to untimely death, estrangement or to the land of the prodigal. However, the Lord exhorted Rachel to stop for there is hope in the end.

From the pen of David who wept through the gamut of human emotions, comes these wonderful words “Thou tellest my wanderings: put my tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy book?” (Psalm 56:8). Here David is alluding to the ancient burial custom of collecting the tears of mourners in a bottle and putting them in the tomb of the departed. Greater than the reference to the grave, is what we glean of the tender care of our Father. He cares about and counts our tears as he does the number of hairs on our head and records the most mundane and intimate of our hearts’ experiences. He noted that little boy at the airport!

But, like Rachel, we know there is an end to our tears. They belong only to this frame of time and space. That great and glorious promise beckons us beyond the present picture when we read “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Rev. 21:4). At the very same time that I wept over the aching loss of my father, our heavenly Father was gently wiping away my Dad’s tears, whispering that the promise had come true. “My beloved child; your crying days are over.” Smile indeed. Smile forevermore.

Wonder-Working Hope

The grip of grief has slackened its shackles
Hope, the thin, unbroken thread stretches
to permit a spring in the step
Hope, the harbinger of happy
highlights bright color and contrast
Though life is air brushed in sadness,
though tears still wait willingly in the wings,
They serve now to baptize a reluctant convert
into a new and different life
Hope springs eternal…

~Alice Scott-Ferguson

Poet and author of Pausing in the Passing Places and Mothers Can’t Be Everywhere But God Can

 

 

Peace Blows In

Sometimes the simplest moments are the most profound. On a quarantined breezy morning last week, as I watched the branches of our front-yard tree waving in the wind, these lines of verse came to me:

Spring Wind

On a bright blossomy breezy day

my fears and sorrows blew away;

And in their place gentle hopes

of fresh tomorrows came to stay.

~Catherine Lawton

Five weeks ago I wrote (in this post) that I had both caught a virus and a virus had caught me.

Now (as I have recovered), I’m thinking that sometimes it feels as if the peace of God is caught much like a virus is caught. Though perhaps I wouldn’t say God “catches” us the way a virus “catches” us, yet I will say that…

  • We are both found by God and we find God.
  • We are both taken hold of by God and we take hold of God.
  • We are both accepted by God and we accept God.
  • We are both embraced by God and we embrace God.

It is being said that anyone exposed to this new Corona Virus will “get” it, whether they show symptoms of Covid 19 or not, because we humans have no resistance to it yet. On the other hand, we humans are adept at resisting God’s pursuit.

A virus seems to pursue us, intent on invading. It can kill. On the other hand, God, out of love, pursues and woos every person he has created, desiring to rescue and save and give life.

As long as we resist God’s pursuit and wooing, we are filled with spiritual death, as if a virus has invaded and found receptors in our vital “spiritual organs.” But as we turn to God, he envelops us in his arms of love. I don’t want to say God invades us like a virus, but he freely enters our being, fills us with the spiritual life of his presence. Then Death is swallowed up in Victory.

O Breath of Life, breathe on us. Let your Wind blow through us and fill us anew with your healing Spirit, that we may resist both spiritual and physical disease. Give renewed life and vigor to our bodies’ very cells that we may resist and defeat viral attacks. Thank you that even the final death has been swallowed up in victory by the death and life of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Fear not, my soul.

Fear not, friends.

 

Publishing During the Coronavirus Pandemic and Social Isolation

Photo by Julentto Photography on Unsplash

Like everyone else, Cladach has felt the effects and isolation of the virus. Especially in these ways:

  • Amazon, where many of our sales happen, has de-prioritized orders, sales, and shipping of books during the pandemic as they concentrate on shipping more urgently needed items. But, the good news is we’ve heard from customers that their orders are on the way. Amazon has our books in stock and will fulfill orders, though the ship time may be longer than usual. So go ahead and place those orders!
  • Postponed spring titles and uncertain release dates. But the following books will release in 2020 (dates to be announced):
    • A BRAVE LIFE by Janyne McConnaughey, PhD
    • BIBLE POEMS by Donna Marie Merritt
    • UNPAUSED : Poems by Alice Scott-Ferguson
  • Author events cancelled. Here are a few examples:
    • Catherine Lawton (that’s me) was scheduled to teach three workshops at the Colorado Christian Writers Conference, which had to be canceled, but conference director Marlene Bagnull says she plans to save the 2020 program in 2021. Conferees can look forward to my workshops on these topics in May 2021 in Estes Park, Colorado: 1) Poetry, 2) Creative Nonfiction, 3) Marketing
    • Janyne McConnaughey (author of BRAVE and now living in Seattle) has had to cancel her early May trip to Colorado Springs, where she was scheduled to participate in the Mountain of Authors event and do a book signing at a local shop.
    • Alice Scott-Ferguson had anticipated a trip in April to Monument, Colorado for a Pen Women’s event, meeting with friends, authors and readers and selling copies of Pausing in the Passing Places.This event was postponed.
  • As we’ve all heard, small businesses, including those in the book business, have suffered because of lower sales, closures, layoffs. One way to support local independent bookstores is to purchase books through the nation-wide, excellent and efficient online Bookshop program, Books are shipped directly from printer/warehouses, and the profits from these online sales are shared among all participating, local independent bookstores. Cladach titles that are available through IndieBound are also searchable and orderable through Bookshop. For instance, you can find my new book, Glimpsing Glory, at Bookshop HERE.
  • We all feel the isolation. “Staying Home” and social distancing can bring out creativity and is surely teaching us some important and hopefully lasting lessons if we will listen in the solitude to what our very-present God is whispering to us. May it be so. May healing and hope spread through our world, and may we come together again soon!
  • Some heartwarming stories are coming out of this difficult season, as people choose to show generosity and a giving attitude. Donna Marie Merritt (author of forthcoming BIBLE POEMS, who lives, writes, and works as a librarian in Connecticut) shared this happy, heartwarming report: “Last night I was feeling helpless, looking at a box of children’s books [that she authored] sitting idle because there are no book events right now. Then … I posted on a local FB page that any child in need of a book right now could get a signed copy from me free. Within hours, the entire box was signed and waiting in bags on my porch for pick-up. I had unemployed parents reach out, parents with bored children, parents who can’t bring their kids to the library during this crisis. It was the best ‘book event’ of my career. And some have begun sending photos.” [Photos posted below with permission].

Does a virus catch us, or do we catch a virus?

The news, social media, and our attention has been occupied by the Corona Virus sweeping the world and Covid-19 case numbers increasing daily, Meanwhile, our publishing schedule is interrupted, author events canceled, and I haven’t posted here for a while. The following story (which I wrote and posted for my Facebook friends two days ago) explains part of the reason for my recent silence. Someone said, “Our stories matter. Everyone needs to share their stories.” Here’s mine at this time. This story is longer than most of my posts. Thanks for reading. And thanks for visiting. Feel free to share your response or a bit of your own story at the bottom of the page. ~Cathy on 3-31-20


Not long ago, we heard of a newly mutated virus discovered and starting to spread in a far away place called Wuhan. I didn’t give it a lot of thought. But numbers kept increasing. We heard briefly of a “whistle blower,” and it caught our interest more. Then we heard that that exotic virus somehow showed up on our shore. And soon it was spreading in Seattle, where I have friends (including Cladach authors). And it was more and more in the news. It seemed to show up in the area of every international airport (and one of those is an hour away from us). Before long this new virus was in our state of Colorado! Then someone in our state died of it. At that time we heard a lot about washing hands and not touching our faces.

About that time Larry and I attended a philharmonic orchestra concert at the Union Colony Civic Center in Greeley. Unlike most orchestra concerts, this one was packed! This time Greeley’s wonderful philharmonic invited a tribute singer and his small band of drums, bass, mandolin, and flute to join their orchestra onstage to perform John Denver music. The music was lovely. John Denver is popular in Colorado, and people happily crammed together, reminiscing about concerts at Red Rocks in the good ol’ days, and singing along. No doubt there were a few coughs, as there are in any crowd.

At intermission, the crowd–mostly senior citizens–flocked to the restrooms. We waited close together in line outside and inside the restroom. And because of all the advice about hand washing, we stood patiently in a crowded line to wash our hands, a long time as each person took a little longer (20 seconds?) to scrub.

Just a couple days after the concert, the public was told we needed to practice “social distancing” and stay 3 to 6 feet away from each other. When we took our neighborhood walk and approached other walkers, one neighbor would step off the sidewalk onto the grass or street and we’d greet each other from a few feet distance. We were somewhat careful but not worried.

A few days later, we were told the virus had spread within our city. What?! From Wuhan, China to Greeley, CO in such a short time?! Our church, which had prepared for Sunday by cleaning, putting away pew hymnals and Bibles, and offering plates, now, along with all faith groups in the state, was asked not to meet in groups larger than 10. Actually, that’s when it hit us more seriously. Online church was no longer just a convenient option. It was the only way to “go to church.”

Meanwhile we were going to stores, offices, small group meetings, a medical building. Larry played basketball at the gym several times during the week, as usual. Then the rec centers suddenly closed–indefinitely. It was time for spring break for students. Spring break was extended. Then schools were closed indefinitely.

We thought, well we can still take drives, maybe go to nearby Rocky Mountain National Park. But then the park was closed! OK. This is getting real and immediate and a little unsettling.

It seems a virus caught us–somewhat unawares, unprepared, somewhat unbelieving.

And somewhere along the way, I caught a virus.

One day I was walking our dog, Jasper, on our regular route. About 1/4 of the way I began feeling seriously out of breath, strangely, and had to turn back. By the time I got home I was exhausted. But in the usual way I have of ignoring symptoms and determinedly pressing on, I didn’t give it too much thought. Nor did I give the occasional dry cough much thought.

But when I started waking up at night with an awful-feeling achy, burning, tightness in my chest, I wondered. But one day I’d feel better and over-do it. Only to feel worse, though, the next day. I don’t generally take naps, but I had to lie down in the middle of the day. I began taking my temperature. I was running a low-grade fever, which usually isn’t considered crucial.

A week and a half after these symptoms started sneaking up on me, I thought, I should go to the doctor. By then we’d been learning a lot more, and no way did I want to go to a hospital or ER. I called my doctor and was surprised that they said to come in. But they told me to call from my car when I arrived and they would check me in by phone, then they’d meet me inside the door with a mask for me to put on.

Well, my doctor, wearing a mask, examined me and said I had the symptoms of Covid 19. She prescribed one of the meds that doctors worldwide are finding has some effect in fighting Covid 19. She said, “We don’t have tests. We have to save them for patients in hospitals or we’d run out.” She added, “You’re sick. Stay away from people!” and “If you get worse, go to the ER.”

I texted our son and daughter, and you can be sure text messages began to fly back and forth across the country. Our son immediately contacted his close friend who is the head of Emergency medicine in an East Coast city. His advice was relayed to me. Then our son contacted his other good doctor friend, practicing in So Cal. He sent the advice to “Rest, rest, rest!”

Everything I tried to do exhausted me quickly, so I complied. My grown kids know I can’t easily be made to rest, so they keep reminding me. I know they love me, and it’s good to feel their love (and that in itself is probably the best medicine).

Meanwhile, I told my prayer group that I was sick and they have been so concerned and prayerful. I told my sister, and her church’s prayer chain got the word. Many of them are our friends, and some of them called and texted. In the past few days I’ve heard of several groups and prayer chains praying for me! Wow. No wonder I feel such peace. And I’m hopeful I’m turning a corner and coming out of this. It has been two weeks since I first felt symptoms. And I’ve got a ways to go. [But no “place to go” anyway, it seems. 🙂 ]

So, I think a virus catches us as well as we can “catch” it. And, even though the reported case numbers are rising so fast, I’m sure they don’t nearly represent all the actual cases.

Pay attention to cautions, to symptoms, to governor’s orders, etc. Express your love to your loved ones through texts, calls, emails, letters. Take care of yourself and those around you. And pray!

~Catherine Lawton, 3-29-2020

 

 

Antidote to Hate, Fear, Disgust, and Vexation

With this poem I affirm my faith in:

  • God’s love, that changes hearts.

  • God’s power, that calms storms.

  • Jesus’ victory, that delivers from evil.

  • The Holy Spirit’s presence, that offers soul rest.

ANTIDOTE

Some things in this world make me mad—
but I cannot live with hate.
The One whose anger had no sin
plants His love within.

Some things in this world frighten me—
but I cannot live in fear.
The One who calmed the thundering storm
keeps me safe and warm.

Some things in this world are abhorrent to me—
but I cannot live in disgust.
The One who cast the demons out
gives a victory shout.

Some things in this world vex my nerves—
but I cannot live in tension.
The One who took all mankind’s stress
gives vitalizing rest.

~Catherine Lawton

(extracted from the book, Remembering Softly: A Life In Poems  by Catherine Lawton © 2016)