Finding the Sacred in Place, People, and Story

“Are you hungry for a life that is more than simple existence, for something to give you hope, for surprises bathed in an eternal aura? Do you long for fellow travelers, for genuine community, a place where you can tell your story and listen to others? With whom you can share life and experience mission?”

So begins the book ON KITTEN CREEK: Searching for the Sacred by Nancy Swihart

God seems to make sacred the places where true Christian fellowship and community happen.

Inspired by Francis and Edith Schaeffer’s L’Abri center in Switzerland, Nancy Swihart and her husband dreamed of starting something similar in America, where people could come to learn about and experience—away from their usual distractions—”the God who is there.”

When the Swiharts left their thriving ministries, that were full of “promise” in Southern California and moved to a rustic, old 160-acre farm in the Flint Hills of Kansas, a missional center developed that came to be known as “Wellspring.” This loosely formed, and constantly evolving and renewing fellowship of folks experienced true, transformational community. Through the past thirty years, thousands of people of all ages have benefited from what Wellspring has offered in sacramental, creative, loving, and edifying ways.

Nancy’s memoir released this week.to the following praise:

“Nancy Swihart’s On Kitten Creek is an uplifting and thoughtful read. It will minister to your spirit and move you to give thanks for life’s simple gifts and cause you to reflect deeply about your life, as it has prompted me.” –Ken Canfield PhD., Founder National Center for Fathering; President, National Association for Grandparenting

“Let Nancy give you glimpses of His handiwork among us. Be inspired to look for sacred connections and creative opportunities waiting to surprise you within what may seem mundane in your own life.” –Kay Bascom, Author, Teacher, Missionary, and Conference Speaker

“A look over-the-shoulder and through-the-heart of someone with much to teach every one of us.” –Steven Garber, Principal of the Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation & Culture; author of Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good

I first met Nancy at the Colorado Christian Writers Conference. Drawn by her warm smile, I became convinced that her story fit every part of Cladach’s stated purpose to:

• exalt Christ as Savior and Lord, and know God as Creator, Father, and Redeemer-King.
• witness to His presence and work in creation, and in our world today.
• encourage believers in a mind-set and heart experience of joyful faith and obedience.
• provide practical guidance for developing a life of health and wholeness.
• through the power of story, depict grace to a postmodern world.

Nancy practices listening prayer, gives of herself in hospitality, has searched for and found the sacred in her daily life, and has embraced mystery in the mundane—while caring for farm animals, taking prayer walks on the farm trails, hosting ministry events in the barn, or teaching at a Christian college and giving hospitality to students. Active in local churches, schools, and wider ministries, the Swiharts and their friends together have dreamed, laughed, cried, celebrated, served and shared the life of Christ creatively in ways we all long for.

Let Nancy inspire you to embrace the story that God is writing in your own life!

Amazon currently has the price discounted from $13.49 to $8.83. It’s also available in Kindle and Nook.

Here’s a picture of the Wellspring barn (that is on the book cover) in more recent years undergoing a remodel:

 Nancy with two farm animals, including “Donk” who is in the book.

Nancy with friends at her book-signing in the barn yesterday.

A beautiful tower of books:

(Thanks to Nancy Swihart and Terri Gasser for the photos.)

Holding and Writing What Gives You Life

ROCK_CHAPEL

If only we could get away for a while to some quiet, sacred place and find rest, renewal, and transformation. Surely, then, our writing, as well as our lives, could be revolutionized.

But our lives are so daily. Made up of moments piled on moments, experiences both planned and unexpected. Perhaps, though, your daily routine includes habits that you don’t even view as being a “spiritual exercises” but that are gradually giving you the perspective you crave. That was the case for me.

To speak or write effectively to others, in a way that reaches hearts as well as minds, we must speak and write from our hearts. But first we must get in touch with our own hearts. I’m going to share with you a way I found to do that.

Jesus said “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” If you want the words that flow out of your mouth or pen to be purposeful, meaningful, life-giving … then first tend to your  heart. How do we as writers tend to our hearts? In his book, Pray, Write, Grow: Cultivating Prayer and Writing Together, Ed Cyzewski describes his practice of daily self-reflection that “grew into an essential exercise that also revolutionized my writing.”

I have experienced something similar. A few years ago I felt overwhelmed and pulled in various directions by duties, desires, and demands, and I felt a need for focus and clarity, an unbroken sense of the Lord’s presence, and a new release of creativity. At bedtime I began the practice of thinking over my day, and I focused my mind on the best thing that happened that day: the time during that day when I felt the most joy and life. I saw those moments as gifts and drifted to sleep embracing the gift God had given me that day:

  • a child’s laughter
  • sunlight dancing on a pond
  • flowers blooming in my garden
  • a surprise visit from a friend
  • the way the Lord spoke to me in a scripture and came close to me in prayer
  • the way the phrases, rhythms, and rhymes of a poem came together.

These moments I treasured in my heart; they gave me hope and a sense of anticipation for the next day, to see what the next day’s moments would bring.

Then I found a charming little book by Linn and Linn, Sleeping With Bread: Holding What Gives You Life, and I learned that what I was doing was a type of Christian spirituality taught by the Ignatians, called “the Examen.” You reflect prayerfully back on a day (or a week, a year) and ask, “What today gave me consolation and life?” You also may ask, “What took life from me, gave me a feeling of desolation?”

It is good for the soul to embrace and hold to the life-giving, consoling moments of our days. And over time, we can observe patterns and learn what we really should focus our energies on, because God indeed speaks to us through the experiences of our days; He wants us to experience His life and joy and consolation in a way that will flow out of us to others. By practicing the Examen you may even discover your unique gifts and calling.

As a Christian writer, this practice and the resulting insights indeed could revolutionize your writing. Rather than laboring to write something you think you ought to write, or that others seem to expect, write the form, subject, theme, and style that engages and expresses your heart as well as your mind, that fills you with consolation, hope, joy, help, and fulfillment. And most likely what you write will do the same for your readers.

(This post was first published two years ago.)

Mother Love

We feel sentimental, grateful, or maybe sad, on Mother’s Day.

Mother love is beautiful. In many ways it reflects God’s love. It is something to celebrate.

But giving and receiving love between mothers and children doesn’t always come easy. So many obstacles can get in the way. What do we do, then, with mother wounds and losses, the conflicts, and the unmet needs we may carry? In the book, Journeys to Mother Love, nine women – mothers and daughters of all ages – share how they, with Christ’s help, overcame hurts and conflicts, experienced relational healing, and found new freedom to give and receive love. Women with broken places in their relationships with mother or child can begin their own healing journey as they read:

“Run, Run, as Fast as You Can” by A.R. Cecil

“She Did Her Best” by Treva Brown

“Take Care of Your Mother” by Verna Hill Simms

“Finding the Blessings in Alzheimer’s” by Kerry Luksic

“Beauty from Barrenness” by Kyleen Stevenson-Braxton

“When I Feel Forsaken” by Catherine Lawton

“Finishing Well” by Ellen Cardwell

“Walking My Mother Home” by Ardis A. Nelson

“White Knuckles” by Loritta Slayton

What Readers and Reviewers have said about Journeys to Mother Love:

“From murder to manipulation, Alzheimer’s to abandonment, through barrenness and bewilderment, this crisply-written compilation of stories is arresting and unflinchingly honest. You will find elements of your own journey in all of them; you will want to join the company of these courageous women who are now traveling with less of a limp and more of a leap.”

− Alice Scott-Ferguson, author of Mothers Can’t Be Everywhere, But God Is

“An anthology of heartfelt true stories by Christian women about the healing gifts of God, and how He helped mothers bridge rifts between themselves and their children or stepchildren…. Profound, powerful … highly recommended.”

− Midwest Book Review

“The emotional distance between a mother and daughter can be painful and prolonged. The heart-wrenching stories in Journeys to Mother Love reveal how God can bridge this chasm with healing and love.”

− Nancy Parker Brummett, author and speaker


The book is available in paperback and kindle version at Amazon.

Visit the Journeys to Mother Love BLOG

Importance of Readers/Reviews/Endorsements

Book reviewers and advance readers are one important element in the publishing process. It’s hard for the author and the editors to be objective about the book they’ve been immersed in for months, maybe years. Enter readers and reviewers who usually have little or no personal stake or emotional involvement in the book. We hope they are people who appreciate good literature, who want to share God-glorifying stories with their friends, who recognize authenticity in narrative that “rings true” and offers help and hope.

We are thankful for the advance readers who, in the midst of their busy schedules, have read a pre-publication copy of On Kitten Creek: Searching for the Sacred by Nancy Swihart and have sent us these endorsement/ reviews:

Ken Canfield PhD., Founder National Center for Fathering; President, National Association for Grandparenting says:

“Nancy Swihart’s On Kitten Creek is an uplifting and thoughtful read. It’s a fresh reminder that we are each living an adventure. At times our adventurous lives, the meaning of certain events, relationships and living spaces are obscure; however when we take time and reflect, as Nancy has done, the richness in living bursts forth in her narrative like a warm sun. Reading On Kitten Creek will minister to your spirit and move you to give thanks for life’s simple gifts. I particularly enjoy the way Nancy inserts her breath of literature, practical wisdom and spiritual insights in each chapter. Her concluding and short review of the “markers” of life’s adventures is worth the price of the book alone. I know you will enjoy On Kitten Creek and hopefully it will cause you to reflect deeply about your life, as it has prompted me.”

Steven Garber, Principal of the Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation & Culture; author of Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good says:

“’Lots of love, lots of tears, lots of growing.’ I could write on and on about the unusual richness of Nancy Swihart’s On Kitten Creek, but those few words of hers capture the life she has lived “in search of the sacred.” Always hospitable, always inviting, she is also artful and poetic, writing about her family’s life on a small farm in the Flint Hills of Kansas—the hours and days of hard work, the surprising commitment to a common life among neighbors, the celebrations and heartaches over the years. She graces us with eyes to see all of this as born of a longing for God to be present in her life and world. A quiet read for a quiet day or to be read aloud among friends, its gift is to draw us into the truest truths of the universe, sure that we have been looking over-the-shoulder and through-the-heart of someone with much to teach every one of us.”

Kay Bascom, Author, Teacher, Missionary, and Conference Speaker says:

“Strangers driving past the big red barn and outbuildings on Kitten Creek’s gravel road could never guess the magnitude of what has happened on that property in the last thirty years! The open hearts and hands there on the farm have enabled countless revolving college students and community friends to bond, build, create, study, experiment, grow, enjoy, laugh, serve, and fan out over the world, blessed. Let Nancy give you glimpses of His handiwork among us. Be inspired to look for sacred connections and creative opportunities waiting to surprise you within what may seem mundane in your own life.”

Thank you, Ken, Steven, and Kay!

May we all experience “God’s kingdom come”—more and more—on earth, and His will being done (in our lives and influence) as it is in Heaven. And may many readers be blessed by this book you have been willing to endorse with your good name.


Top photo credits: Can Stock Photo / ©Aaronam, ©monkeybusiness

Cathartic Tears

Are you, or someone you know, crying—even as Mother’s Day approaches? You are not alone. Here is a poem for you, from one of our authors:

WHAT? YOU CAN’T STOP CRYING.

What? You can’t stop crying.
I hear you. Been there.
You say you left your grocery cart in frozen foods.
You’re telling me it was loaded with food
and every kind of whatnot
from all the other aisles,
and then you hightailed it to your car.
There you hid behind sunglasses and drove home.
Did you remember to wipe your fingerprints
off the handle of the loaded, abandoned cart
in frozen foods?—
Just kidding.

You complain you couldn’t sleep because your slumber
was interrupted by the need to blow your nose.
David of the Old Testament cried on his bed.
See, we are in good company.

Let’s look at the list of life’s events that can trigger
such an avalanche of emotion.
Just check the one that fits, or mark “Other”
at the bottom.

All right, here we go.
You poured your life into the children.
All the children left home.
The empty nest doesn’t feel as good as you thought it would.

You lost your job.
You’re too old to be hired.
You’re not sure whether this reinventing is right for you.

You moved your mother into a nursing home.
You tried to manage Mom at home.
You moved your mother back into the home.

There is an injustice in your life.
You try to think of ways to address it.
Every idea leads to a dead end.
You choose to remain silent.

You have just received a bad diagnosis.
Many well-intentioned people are offering suggestions.

Someone who is dear to you is very ill.
That loved-one says, “Just sit with me.”

An important person in your life passes away.

Other.

Listen, if you weren’t crying, I’d be worried about you.
I sympathize with you.
God empathizes with you.
That’s the reason He included people
like Joseph, David, Job, and Paul in His Book.
Think about them; think about the Lord; and think about me.
And, in the near future,
you’ll be able to leave your empty cart in the corral,
go home, store the perishables in the refrigerator,
and then sit on the sofa and have a good cry.
Now, that will be progress. That will be hope.

~ A.R. (Alice) Cecil

Editor’s note: This poem first appeared in A.R. Cecil’s published book of poetry, IN THAT PLACE CALLED DAY: Poems and Reflections That Witness God’s Love. Mrs. Cecil is also the author of That Was the Best Christmas!: 25 Short Stories from the Generations (Cladach, 2013) and is one of the contributing authors of Journeys to Mother Love: Nine Women Tell their Stories of Forgiveness and Healing.(Cladach, 2012).

Colorado Christian Writers Conference

Mtns-at-CCWC-2013

The view of the Rocky Mountains from one of the buildings at Colorado Christian Writers Conference

Looking to attend a Writers Conference? Consider the wonderful setting, great staff and faculty, and nurturing atmosphere of the Colorado Christian Writers Conference May 17-20 in Estes Park, Colorado. It’s coming soon—next week, in fact. We’ll be there, meeting with prospective authors and teaching workshops. We’d like to meet you there.

A few other reasons to attend:

  • Marlene Bagnull is the director (You can listen to an interview with Marlene on blog talk radio, http://ow.ly/JI3lY )
  • Large Faculty of agents, editors, and authors
  • Four free 15-minute appointments with faculty of your choice (including Cathy Lawton of Cladach Publishing)
  • Fiction Clinic w/Tracie & Jim Peterson author 100+ books
  • Nonfiction Book Clinic with Craig Bubeck
  • Writing Powerful Narrative Nonfiction with Sherri Langton
  • Speakers’ Clinic with KPOF radio personality Roy Hanschke
  • Author interviews & booksigning Thursday evening
  • and many more …

Check it out: May 17-20, 2017 Colorado Christian Writers Conference. http://colorado.writehisanswer.com

Poetry at ALTARWORK

Earth And Heaven

As wind in the forest bends the trees With sounds of whooshing and unearthly creaks, In Sunday sanctuary where footfalls creak wood, Both moved and moving, both chosen and choosing;…

read more

Snow On Good Friday

We grieve when snow falls on Good Friday eve. What about the greening, the beginnings of spring? when like manna fallen from Heaven— “My body broken for you” into flakes…

read more

In The Cleft Of A Cold, White Rock

As in the close space between dawn and dusk of a January day when hoar-frosted trees have their feet in snow and their branches raised against a white, weighty sky,…

read more

In My Heart An Altar

While I stand here before the Lord or sit and meditate, My heart still at an altar bows; and that I contemplate. An altar by my parents stood, with me…

read more


All the above poems are found in my book, Remembering Softly: A Life In Poems.

Why Animals Touch Our Hearts

animals in a meadow

Photos of furry creatures … videos of cute animal antics … stories and movies of animal adventures. These are popular because they evoke feelings of wonder, memories of beloved pets, the joy and excitement of wildlife sightings, the sensory experience of a trip to the farm.

Have you ever noticed how many book covers feature pictures of animals? Evidently, animal pictures on covers help sell books. We have a few books with animals on the covers, ourselves. I looked inside each of these books today for some clues as to why animals trigger such heart responses in us. Here is what I found:

1.  Animals are our fellow creatures, loved by the Creator.

God'sCreatures

God’s Creatures

In God’s Creatures: A Biblical View of Animals, Susan Bulanda explains that God cares for his earthly creatures. He created them, blessed them, called them “good.” He saved the animals from the Flood, and he included “every living creature” in the covenant he made with us after the flood (see Genesis 9:9-17). Bulanda goes on to show that many Scriptures display God’s care for animals. Old Testament laws protected animals. Jesus’ parables affirmed and spotlighted them. Then, Bulanda asks:

“Is it possible that God has put the desire to care for all animals in the hearts of many people … God’s love for his creation showing through humans?”

and

“Could there be subtle lessons of love God gives us through our pets?”

2.  Animals can provide companionship, inspiration, and comfort.

Walking-in-Trust

Walking In Trust

In Walking In Trust : Lessons Learned with my Blind Dog, Gayle M. Irwin describes an afternoon of companionship with her dog:

“Snow falls in large flakes outside my door this afternoon and a warm Sunday fire blazes in the wood stove inside the house. Sage has found a way to wedge herself into the over-stuffed chair. At first she lies quietly stretched out beside me. Then, as if she has an itch, she suddenly rises, turns herself around and lays her head on my chest. I pause from my reading to softly stroke her black and white fur. She sighs deeply and tries to snuggle closer. I pet her long muzzle and then scratch behind her ears, a favorite spot of hers. As I minister these gentle strokes, I tell her what a wonderful, loving dog she is. Sage closes her eyes, relishing the experience. I, too, bask in the tender moment. My hand rests lightly on her shoulder and we sit like this for hours—protected from the frigid cold outside—in comfortable, companionable silence inside our cozy house.” … “I learned more from Sage than she did from me: lessons about trust, courage, loyalty, contentment, and perseverance.” … “Sage’s visits and her life story encouraged many children to persevere in spite of the hardships and challenges they face. Through the life of a blind Springer Spaniel, I have learned more fully what it means to walk by faith and not by sight.” (p. 145 and 9)

3.  Animals teach us about the Creator and how to relate to him.

All-We-Like-Sheep

All We Like Sheep

In All We Like Sheep: Lessons from the Sheepfold, shepherdess Marilyn Bay Wentz writes:

“I continued cutting out the weeds, but the burdensome task was balanced with the delight I felt watching my flock. I knew the serenity of the scene could be broken at any time. Movement as mundane as a startled Cottontail rabbit jumping from behind a bush to hop across the pasture could send the flock running for the protection of the pen. … In that moment, the joy of the Lord, expressed by the psalmist when he said ‘We are his people, the sheep of his pasture,’ made perfect sense to me. God compares his delight in me and you to a flock of peacefully-grazing sheep. He could have compared his delight to another animal in his creation. Why not say we are his people, the horses of his stable? Horses (which I am partial to) are beautiful, strong and fast. Surely, the Lord delights in seeing the horses he created. Or, why not compare his delight in us to that of seeing a lion? Male or female, a lion is a powerful and awe-inspiring animal. Or, surely the Lord is delighted to see the soaring eagles he created. They are simultaneously fierce and beautiful. They can soar high and dive powerfully. Their outstretched wings are a wonder to behold. But, he says I am as pleasing to him as the sheep of his pasture. To please him we don’t need to be fast and athletic like a horse, powerful like a lion, or beautiful and awe-inspiring like an eagle. What pleases him is when we, like the skittish sheep, run to him for everything we need, trusting his sufficiency to supply all our needs.” (pp. 156-157)

4.  Animals provide metaphors of our lives.

Dangerous-Journey

Dangerous Journey of Sherman the Sheep

In his allegorical fiction, The Dangerous Journey of Sherman the Sheep, Dean Davis describes the Shepherd taking his flock to the “high country”:

“Their destination was a lonely valley deep in the hills and an ancient sheepfold with four high walls of stone. This became their home away from home, the place where all their journeys began and ended. Early in the year, when grass was plentiful, their travels were short, hardly more than outings. At dawn the Shepherd would open the gate of the fold, whistle for the sheep, and lead His flock to a nearby meadow with a pool of fresh spring water to drink. Then at dusk they would all return to the safety of the fold’s strong walls. But as spring gave way to summer, and summer to fall, the journeys grew longer and more difficult. They’d be gone for many days, camping beneath the stars or in caves. The meadows grew fewer and the water more scarce—and to find these, the flock had often to follow their Shepherd through dark, narrow canyons, where wolves or lions might be lurking in the shadows. … Yes, this was the dangerous time of year, a time when sheep could get hungry, thirsty, or even hurt. Needless to say, the Shepherd took such dangers very seriously. But as for the sheep, they simply trusted in their Master’s care. They knew that sooner or later He would give them rest, just as He always had. (And as for Sherman—well, for him danger was just another word for adventure; and adventure was the one thing Sherman loved best)!” (pp. 8-10)

5.  Animals represent elements of Mystery.

Gadly-Cover-for-LS

Gadly Plain: A Novel

In Gadly Plain: A Novel, J. Michael Dew uses the literary device of a talking donkey who has lived since the Garden of Eden. This donkey represents the victory of life over death, of God’s overarching purpose in human history. This same donkey had gone up the mountain with Abraham and Isaac, had talked to the prophet Balaam, joined the other animals in Noah’s Ark, carried Mary to Bethlehem and witnessed the birth of Jesus. Toward the end of the book, the donkey, who is named Amen, is on the Isle of Patmos with John the Apostle. Amen and John share this conversation:

“Amen,” John says one day. “I have a story to share, a new one as fresh as a spring blossom.”
“My ears, friend, are big,” says Amen.
“I have seen the end and the beginning, the omega and the alpha. I have written it on a scroll. There is something you should hear.”
Amen swallows what he has in his mouth.
Then John goes on, “He showed me. His voice was like the sound of rushing water. The end is terrible and good. The fibber will have his due.”
“I don’t like the fibber,” says Amen. “He is the enemy of hope.”
John says, “It will be a great and awful reckoning.”
“When?” asks Amen.
John just smiles. “Amen, you have been faithful.”
“I have tried to be led well.”
“It is better to be led than pushed,” says John. “You will be led some more, good donkey.” And John laughs so hard, he cries and tries to catch his breath.
Amen just takes another bite and swishes his tail to swish away a fly.
Finally, John scratches Amen behind the ears. “Amen, do you know why, of all the other animals, you were given the ability to speak to man?”
Amen says no.
“I’ll tell you,” says John. “As a donkey, you are well-suited to carry heavy loads. The load you carry now is a story: words strung together since the beginning, invisible cargo on the back of a humble beast. I have seen the end of this story. I have only seen glimpses of the next.”
“I am a storyteller?” asks Amen.
“Yes, and a guardian, too.”
Amen shakes his head hard at that.
“How am I well suited to be a guardian?”
“You are stubborn. You won’t forget. You won’t give in to time. You haven’t yet.”
Amen thinks about that for a minute, and then he asks, “But to whom? I have learned a lot about man. He can be a cruel master. There were times when I kept my words to myself. Some men only hear their own stories. And worse, some men only hear lies. I know a story that can free them from their torments. Who can hear it, though, with the fibber taking them for long walks in the desert?”
John rubs Amen’s withers, and it feels good. “Yes, yes,” he starts gently. “The fibber is persistent. But what is his persistence next to the truth you carry?”
“I know the strength of his tug.”
“You have also felt his release, unwilling though it was.”
“Thank God.”
“Yes, and praise.”
Amen he-haws, because whatever he thinks to say, it doesn’t work.
“My brothers and I aren’t the only ones charged with relaying the good news.”
“I am a donkey. I talk. You say it is to tell a story—one I’ve lived, one I carry.”
“Yes,” says John. “You have been entrusted.”
“Please tell me then: Who will listen?”
“Those who can.”
“Those who can?”
“Those who wouldn’t think it that strange or that impossible to hear a donkey speak.”

(adapted from pp. 171-173)

Good Friday Poem

Cladach Publishing

April-Snow-on-Bulb

Snow on Good Friday

We grieve when snow falls

on Good Friday eve.

What about the greening,

the beginnings of spring? when

like manna fallen from Heaven—

“My body broken for you” into

flakes and crumbs—

soft, pure-white flesh

spread upon all that lies

both dormant and sprouting,

at morn reflects the rising sun;

except for rockiest places

saturates fallow and seeded,

both broken and wasted ground.

~Catherine Lawton
©2015

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