Showing Love and Offering Hope in the World

We can each do something this day to increase shalom, well-being, and flourishing in our world—God’s kingdom come.

I like the quote by Anne Frank, that I photographed this summer when I was visiting Birmingham, Alabama. This monument was erected in the context of the Civil Rights struggles of that city, quoting a young Jewish girl hiding from the Nazis. If she could think and pen such words, shouldn’t we as followers of the Messiah—who revealed to us God’s heart of Love and compassion—be looking for ways to “improve the world” that God created, died for, lives to intercede for, and is coming back to reclaim and re-create? “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son.” John 3:16.

As a believer and follower of Jesus, the Creator and Redeemer, I want to reflect his character of holy love into this groaning, strife-filled world.

One way I seek to do that is by publishing books that offer hope. I believe that is what sets “Christian books” apart among general book publishing. Whether fiction, nonfiction, memoir, or poetry, a story, essay, or poem may portray a context of brokenness, sin, and conflict. But into that milieu will shine a ray of hope that gives the reader renewed courage to reach up and take hold of “the helping hand at the end of God’s long arm of love.”*

————

*This is the way a former pastor of ours used to define “grace.”

God’s Love Present in Our World

“God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.” (I John 4:7)

As a publisher, I love to publish books and stories that demonstrate the love of Jesus … stories ever fresh, personal and creative … stories of a love that has power to change lives and change history. Many Cladach books tell of lives changed by this love.

  • In Come, Stay, Celebrate! we read of John and Judith Galblum Pex loving people in Israel—all kinds of people—into the kingdom of God and his Son.

  • In On Kitten Creek, we read how God came into the midst of a people devoted to him in a place consecrated to him, and he worked in unexpected ways to make his love tangible.

  • In Journeys to Mother Love we read how love and forgiveness can overcome and heal the wounds and conflicts in mother-child relationships.

  • In Everywhere I Look, we read how everyday experiences and observations reveal the pervasiveness of God’s love to everyday people.

  • In All We Like Sheep, we read how God used flocks of sheep to teach two shepherdesses about his shepherd-heart of love.

  • In Remembering Softly, we read poetic expressions of moments when God’s love seeped, rushed, jolted, flashed, and poured into a searching heart.

  • In Creation of Calm, we read how God’s love transformed pain and loss into beautiful art that brings calm to others caught in life’s storms.

  • In Hostage In Taipei, we read a true, extreme account of God’s love working through believers literally caught in the crossfire, eventually overcoming violence and hate.

  • In Face to Face, we read of Love personified who, unlike everyone else, looked at a woman broken and spiritually oppressed, saw her heart, and released her with his words of love.


Photo credit: Canstock Photo/ © paktaotik

Hope for Refugees

Lang with her brother and three sons in our backyard

On this World Refugee Day (June 20) I think of the refugees I have known. First, years ago my family helped sponsor a family of Vietnamese “boat people.” Lang, a South Vietnamese Army officer’s widow, and her brother and her three sons, escaped for their lives off the shore of Vietnam in a small boat to wander the sea along with many others. They gave everything they owned to the boat’s owner. They suffered on the sea. But they were fortunate that a ship picked them up and took them to a refugee camp.

Lang with my daughter

They arrived in our town frightened, slightly sick, “lost” in a completely different culture. While we waited for an apartment to open for them, this sad little family stayed in our home. Our little girl gave up her bedroom for them. Our way of living was so different from theirs. I showed them the glasses in the cupboard. They took one and drank water from it, then returned it to the cupboard. I bought five plastic glasses and wrote their names on them and lined them up on the counter for them to use.

They had experienced dangers and horrors that I could barely imagine. Even though I made beds on the floor, at night they all slept side by side on one double bed.

The word “refugees” changed in my mind from strange, almost-suspect stories into warm, real human beings.

Using gestures and a Vietnamese-English dictionary, I tried to tell Lang about Jesus’ love. Tears welled in her eyes. I tutored her in “English as a second language” for a short time. Eventually they moved to another city and I lost track of them. But I’ll never forget all I learned from them. And I have prayed that the welcome we gave them, and the bit of God’s love we tried to show them across cultural and language barriers, would grow like a seed planted—and that I will see Lang and her family again in Heaven. I look forward to worshiping around the throne the One who gave us freedom, who rescues us from sin and evil and death, and gives us the opportunity of new life and hope and peace.

Because of this experience, and then later getting to know the many Laotian refugees who came to our church, I had the opportunity to write and publish the book, No More Fear: From Killing Fields to Harvest Fields, the story of Physa Chanmany who came to America as a Cambodian refugee.

Physa also had some things in common with many refugees today. As a boy, Physa saw indescribable horror and genocide. Taught to fear Westerners, especially Americans, he had never heard the truth of Jesus. But as a lost and traumatized refugee, he had a dream in which he encountered Christ, who set his life on a new course of hope.

When a Young Father Has Cancer

When I hear the word “cancer” … There’s deep disappointment.

I feel I am letting my family down.

… My body has been invaded.

Dear God, comfort them! I can’t right now.

The hardest part… is not being able to pick up my son when he is close to tears.

The sadness is not all bad, for it guides me to Jesus and he speaks:

“I love you and I know it hurts. Put your faith in me.”

During chemo … it is hard to focus on anything for more than 5 minutes.

Moments together turns into hope, a hope that is reachable and lasting.

My children provide me with strength needed to move forward. I can forget my condition when they are with me.

Cancer has a strong grip, not just on the body, but also on the mind. Even though I am now “healthy” and have not had to face it head-on in a while, it still rears its ugly head. This helps:

“So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-17 MSG)

A lot of who I am today comes from who my dad has been for years. I thank the Lord for the gift of an earthly father who just loved me!


Drawings and text excerpted from the book Creation of Calm: A Cancer Survivor’s Sketchbook Story by Mark Fraley

Quotes About Poetry

Because I value the gift, solace, and challenge of poetry, I have started collecting quotes that help illumine the process and purpose of poetry. I’ll add to the list as I find good ones, from both historical and contemporary sources. Here is what I have so far:

“To me, that’s the gift of poetry—it shapes an endless conversation about the most important things in life. … Reading poems can help bring clarity and insight to emotions that can be confusing or contradictory.” ~Caroline Kennedy

Poetry is:

“the music of the soul.” ~Voltaire

“the art of uniting pleasure with truth.” ~Samuel Johnson

“the universal language which the heart holds with nature and itself.” ~William Hazlitt

[that which] “makes my body so cold no fire can warm me,” [and makes me} “feel as if the top of my head were taken off.” ~Emily Dickinson

“not the assertion of truth, but the making of that truth more fully real to us.” ~T.S. Eliot

“The best craftsmanship always leaves holes and gaps in the works of the poem so that something that is not in the poem can creep, crawl, flash, or thunder in.” ~Dylan Thomas

“Make a poem that does not disturb the silence from which it came.” ~Wendell Berry

“Through poetry, [we] can inquire about the world and [our] place in it…. It is a communal form of inquiry directed towards discovering universal truths.” ~Nayeli Riano

“Poetry is, to me, the art of putting the NOW into words.” ~Gary Haddis

“What draws us to poetry is its ability to connect with us by burying ideas beneath the mere words written. Subtext is the magic that keeps us coming back. But in order for the magic to work, the text above the subtext must always remain somewhat ambiguous.” ~Greg Boyd (in regard to biblical poetry)

 

 

Senior Athletes and Writers

I experienced the 2017 Senior Olympics last week in Birmingham, Alabama. My husband, Larry, and his basketball team competed at the Senior Games, representing Colorado. They played 10 basketball games (half court, 3-on-3) in 4 days, against teams from states such as New York, Ohio, Texas, Tennessee, Alabama, and Nebraska. The competition was fierce. The camaraderie was fun. The determination was palpable. The overcoming spirit was inspirational.

We wives cheered our husbands to victory. We also enjoyed watching the women’s teams and the many sports represented in the Senior Games by men and women athletes, ages 50 to 100+.

Here’s a photo from one of the games that led to Silver Medals in their division:

I’m proud of my husband. He scored 33 points in two different games. That’s him dribbling the ball in these photos.

In May (last month) Larry attended a writers conference with me (we’re pretty supportive of each other’s interests). At the conference, I taught two workshops, one for poets, and one for “senior” writers.

Senior athletes and senior Christian writers have much in common. Both have depth of experience and perspective. Both have developed their skills over the years. Both have much to offer. Both have sometimes had to push through the pain. And both have learned to give it all they’ve got! Both are living in a great time of life and in a great time in history, when opportunities abound to use their gifts, callings, and opportunities. Both are going to leave legacies and examples for upcoming generations to follow.

The athletes earns medals and ribbons. The writers may win awards on earth, but are more importantly “laying up treasures in Heaven.”

Our Colorado team with their silver medals. All except Mike, who had to go run a race in the Track & Field events.

“Trail Angels” for Jesus in Israel

(In Hebrew with English subtitles)

Judith Galblum Pex writes from Eilat, Israel:

Shalom dear friends,

…We just want to share with you a short video clip that the Israel Broadcasting Company made about the Shelter Hostel as part of their new digital series about Trail Angels. I mentioned our interaction and help with the Israel Trail hikers in my book, Come, Stay, Celebrate: The Story of the Shelter Hostel in Eilat, Israel.

On the original website from the Broadcasting Company, the video already has more than 156,000 views. Here’s the link to the video on YouTube [The video is embedded above.] where you can also share it with your friends. To read the English subtitles, just press on the “settings” button on the lower right side of the screen, a cogwheel, and click on subtitles – English.
 
 
With love and blessings,
John and Judy

When John and Judy Pex, Israeli believers in Jesus, hiked the Israel National Trail in their late 50s, it was life changing. A challenging trail that runs from the southern to the northern tip of Israel, through many types of terrain—deserts, coast, cities, and mountains. Judy wrote about the experience in Walk the Land: A Journey on Foot through Israel. John and Judy were helped along the way by “trail angels,” and they decided to sign up to be trail angels themselves. They offer one free night in their hostel in Eilat, close to the southern end of the Trail.

As you can see in the video, young Israelis like to walk the trail and often take the Pexes up on their offer. At the Shelter Hostel, they offer hikers a bed for the night, meals, help with phone calls, and advice in starting out on the Trail. All guests at the Shelter Hostel also have opportunity for spiritual discussion, fellowship, and worship.

This is just one more way the John and Judy Pex have found to share the truth and love of Jesus. Judy tells about many more ways God has worked and helped them reach out to thousands of people through the years—tourists, travelers, students, refugees, Jews, Gentiles, and Arabs—in the book, Come, Stay, Celebrate: The Story of the Shelter Hostel in Eilat, Israel.

We can pray for John and Judy and their family in Israel. We can also learn from them and seek to find ways to share the life and love of Jesus with people in our spheres of influence.

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.)
%d bloggers like this: