He Restores My Soul

Photo of the Pawnee National Grasslands

Vast solitude under changing skies

On the first day of June we decided to get clear away from office, computers, books, and other projects. My husband and I felt a hankering for bird watching and wildflower viewing. So we drove out to the Pawnee National Grassland, bringing our dog, Jasper, with us. This mile-high, protected habitat on the prairie of Northern Colorado provides nesting ground to a colorful variety of migratory birds.

Some years the grassland—a vast solitude under changing skies—is hot and dry. This time. after a wet spring, we found it cool and green. Wildflowers dotted the native grasses. Prickly Pear had started opening their blooms. And the birds! They foraged in the grasses, perched on fence posts, did aerial gymnastics to catch flying insects, scratched in the sandy roadside, hunted from the sky, and paddled on small ponds.

We walked a little ways on a trail through the grasses. Larry took a picture of Jasper and me:

Pawnee-May30-CandJasper

We identified 25 bird species, including Vesper Sparrow, Prairie Falcon, and Loggerhead Shrike. At one point along the gravel road we spotted a bird that looked like a miniature roadrunner. It ran on the ground with its tail held high. We watched it through binoculars and checked our bird guide (and the birding app on my cell phone, the only technology we used that day). It appeared to be a Sage Thrasher. Then the bird lifted into the air and we thought our chance to observe it was over. But it landed on a fence post just ahead of where we had stopped our car on the narrow road (The occasional approaching car or pickup could be seen miles away, in plenty of time to pull over).

As the breeze ruffled its feathers, the Sage Thrasher lifted its head and sang! And sang and sang. What a show. It felt like a gift to have this bird—uncommon in our area—perch and sing for us. I took a picture the best I could with my smart phone:

102_0790

Here’s a clearer photo of a Sage Thrasher singing:

A Sage Thrasher

Used with permission of sagegrouseinitiative.com

In the wonder of this bird perching and singing so close to us, we felt even more connected with nature around us.

Connection is important. We connect with people, share ideas, express creativity, and conduct business through keyboard, screen, digital images and sounds, artificial light and wifi. This virtual world is full of potential and offers fascination. But experiencing life through technology can gradually drain our souls. One way I know this soul drain is happening is, when I go to bed, close my eyes and, instead of drifting to a peaceful sleep, I see images and text, web pages and video flashing across the screen of my mind. (This is why I generally turn off my computer by 9:30 p.m.)

King David said, “He leads me in green pastures and beside still waters. He restores my soul” (Psalm 23).

Once in a while we need to unplug, go out into a world that engages all the senses, and let our souls be restored. Nature and the rediscovery of wonder offer a gateway to a restored soul. Carol O’Casey, author of Unwrapping Wonder, writes, “I escape expectations … and take a walk on the wild side. Whether exploring field or forest, marsh or meadow, or the edge of the sea, in the natural world I am transformed. There, in the solitude of nature I experience God’s presence.”

That night, after a day of birding on the prairie, when I lay my head on the pillow, I began to realize what a gift I had brought home with me from the grassland. When I closed my eyes, my mind wasn’t filled with a screen through which virtual images came at me. No. Instead, I was still among the Lark Buntings, Horned Larks, and Longspurs winging, swooping, twirling in the air. I was still surrounded by the songs of Meadow Larks, Brown Thrashers, and Mountain Plovers. I was still watching Swainson’s Hawks soar on high and kite in the breezes. I was still enjoying the yellow, blue, and red wildflowers and smelling the sweet grasses. With these images, sounds and smells came a peaceful, delighted and deep sense of Presence—the presence of our Creator, the Restorer of our souls.

Gifts are always better when shared. To my surprise, when Larry got in bed and turned off the light, after just a few moments he remarked, “I’m still seeing birds.” Lying side by side in the darkness, we compared notes and agreed that it had been a wonderful day.

A special sense of attunement and restoration has stayed with me—even as I type this at my computer.

Grace to Mothers and Fathers Grieving Aborted Babies

Sunset sky

Mother’s Day is painful for many people, for the bereaved, the childless, and those who suffer from post-abortion grief.

Not long so, my husband and I visited a friend in his home. Though he’s been married more than once, he has no children. Speaking of that fact, he got a little misty-eyed. Then he pointed to a memento sitting atop his TV: a ceramic baby booty. He said it represents a baby he fathered that the mother didn’t allow to come to birth.

I saw the tear in our friend’s eye. And I heard the wistfulness in his voice when he told me he believed this child of his would meet in Heaven.

I was touched by the emotions of this man, over something that happened decades ago.

If you believe, as many Christians do, that babies and young children who die before the age of accountability go to Heaven; and if you believe that unborn babies are persons with eternal souls; then you believe as I do that all those aborted babies will be in Heaven. Perhaps they’ve been growing and developing in the nurture of Jesus and loving saints. Then, what a host of beloved children are waiting there.

Our friend obviously believes and hopes to meet his one child someday in the heavenly realms.

One of the contributors to Journeys to Mother Love, Kyleen Stevenson-Braxton, has written movingly about her post-abortion experiences and healing. To our friend and to Kyleen, and to the many women and men who chose abortion when they felt trapped, hopeless, and helpless … the Lord of mercy and grace has healing, hope, and restoration for you. And He is taking care of your child. May that thought give you comfort this Mother’s Day.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The emotions that can lead to—and result from—the choice of an abortion, are expressed in this video trailer for the novel Katie’s Choice, by Tracy Langford:

Flowering and Flourishing on May Day

May Day Baskets

Not as many May first flowers here—

Not as many kind words and smiles—

as times and places I lived as a child.

Then, roses burst, clambered, and climbed already,

enough garden posies to revel in—make chains

for garlands and necklaces, plenty to fill

baskets to take and surprise the neighbors.

Now I could fill baskets with a few dandelions,

chokecherry and crab apple blossoms.

Or I can let my cup overflow with gracious responses,

pick loving words to give as lavish surprises.

~Catherine Lawton

 

Many of my poems are published in Remembering Softly: A Life in Poems,.


Photo by Enis Yavuz on Unsplash

 

Healing and Resilience after Trauma

A radio interview yesterday with Janyne McConnaughey proved to be a lively and profound conversation worth the listening time. The show is posted online.

Janyne McConnaughey, author of BRAVE, and Patti Shene, host of Blog Talk Radio’s “Step Into the Light”, discussed topics especially helpful for anyone who has experienced childhood trauma, anyone who has children in their life, or anyone who works with children.

I jotted down these two quotes from Janyne as Patti interviewed her:

“We not only pass down our genetics, but we also pass down our pain to our children.”

“For a child to be resilient, it takes one person to be there for that child. We need to be that person.”

You can listen to the radio show interview HERE.


*Janyne McConnaughey, PhD is the author of BRAVE:A Personal Story of Healing Childhood Trauma.

**Patti Shene’s program, called “Step Into the Light” has an “INTERVIEW FORMAT SHOW WHERE GUESTS SHARE THE WAYS IN WHICH GOD’S LOVE AND GRACE HAS TOUCHED THEIR LIVES. WE ALL EXPERIENCE DARK TIMES AT SOME POINT, AND THESE TESTIMONIES WILL HELP LISTENERS STRENGTHEN THEIR FAITH AND REACH OUT TOWARD THE LIGHT THAT RADIATES FROM A GOD WHO CARES, WHO HEALS, AND WHO LOVES US UNCONDITIONALLY.”

Photo by Thomas Jay Oord

Experiencing the People and Places of the Stories

I love hearing from our authors about their interactions with their readers.

Judith Galblum Pex (Judy) often forwards emails and vignettes to me.

Judy is an American-born Israeli Jewish Christian. From their home and ministry in Eilat, Israel, she and her husband, John, have a unique perspective on the Middle East—and the world—especially because thousands of travelers stay in their hostel (The Shelter) each year. And because the Pexes are “Trail Angels” who help people who are walking the 600-mile Israel National Trail. Judy wrote a book (Walk the Land) about her and John’s experience of walking the famous and challenging Trail from one end of Israel to the other.

Here’s one experience Judy shared in a recent update:

“Last night John and I slept out at a camp site on the Israel Trail. In the morning we met a group with 50 participants called ‘Walk about Love.’ They enable people to do the Trail by providing meals and taking their bags from camp to camp. One of the women, a Reform Jewish rabbi, from New York City [in the picture above with Judy] immediately recognized me from Walk the Land, and very excitedly told me she had read my book and wanted a picture with me. Another woman was eager to have a copy in Hebrew. The organizers of the group knew the Shelter. … In preparing for her trip she came across my book on one of the sites and ordered it on Amazon. She used a Yiddish word to mean “preordained” when she realized she was meeting the author.”

And here’s another recent experience Judy had, this time at The Shelter:

“A tour group with 25 people from New Zealand led by a couple we know and guided by a friend of ours came to the Shelter today to hear about the work here and we sold fourteen books, a mixture of all three books.”


Judy receives emails from readers all over the world who have read her book(s). Here are examples of recent messages she has received and shared with me:

“I have just enjoyed reading your book “Walk the Land.”  It was lent to me by Astrid and Craig who are friends at our church and who met at your Hostel and were saved through your ministry.  Like Astrid I am Jewish, in fact I am a child survivor of the holocaust.”

–(a reader in Australia)

“Shalom Judy. I am currently reading your book Come Stay Celebrate. I’m only on chapter 9 and I can’t put it down. Your stories have reminded me of when I first believed in Jesus in 1986. How my life changed and how exciting it was to learn and grow. It’s created a hunger in me to keep learning and growing! Thank you for writing this book and sharing your faith and leading so many to Jesus!!”

–(a reader in Las Vegas Nevada)


Judy often shares experiences like these on her Facebook author page. You can follow her there: https://www.facebook.com/Judith-Pex-author-280669071951952/

Judy’s books:

A Child’s Poetic Expression of Faith on Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday

As we say, as

we sing, Glory to

the King almighty.

Glory.

Let us sing, let

us say Christ

has risen from

the grave! The

Lord is great,

the Lord is

good!

He forgave us

of our sins!!

 

—Written by one of my granddaughters (age 10 or 11 at the time) during an Easter Sunday church service as we celebrated Christ’s resurrection. I found this joyful verse written on the back of a bulletin I brought home in my purse. She gave me permission to share it but asked to remain anonymous. This child’s spontaneous expression of faith inspires me anew to praise the One who is risen indeed!

 

Writers: Poetry Can Sharpen Your Prose

For Writers: Ten Ways Poetry Can Improve Your Prose

  1. Writing poetry develops skills of concise wording (something we editors like!).

  1. The writing (and reading) of poetry can sharpen your observation skills.

  1. Because syntax matters in poetry, you will improve in your understanding of syntax matters.

  1. Figures of speech used in poetry teach you finer subtleties of word usage and connotations and make you a better wordsmith.

  1. Poetic precision of words will sharpen your skill in choosing the most fitting, evocative, precise words for your prose.

  1. The rhythms and rhymes of poetry tune your ear to hear fluctuations and patterns in the sense and sound of language.

  1. Writing (or reading) a poem can provide a rejuvenating break from a long writing project. It may even break you out of writers block.

  1. Writing a poem can help you distill a thought, discover a kernel of truth, and find your focus on a topic to develop more fully later, in prose.

  1. A poem or short rhyme can add variety/spice/interest to a longer piece, when used in an organic way in a novel, memoir, blog post, even an expository piece of writing (and it looks good on the page).

  1. You may possibly find your calling as a poet and discover that your poetry will reach your readers’ minds and hearts more effectively than 1,000s of prose words.

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This list first appeared as a guest post on Marlene Bagnull’s blog “Write His Answer” at:

https://writehisanswer.wordpress.com/2018/03/19/why-write-poetry/


Photo credit:  ©David Lawton

Clouds of Glory

An unseasonably warm day here in Colorado yesterday prompted my husband and me to go out birding. We took our nature-loving granddaughter with us. We drove toward the mountains west of us, into a little canyon formed by a ridge along which a small creek flows, where an American Woodcock has been spotted (a common bird in some states but rare in Colorado).

Our granddaughter suddenly exclaimed, “There’s a rainbow cloud. I love rainbow clouds.”

I looked out the car window, and sure enough, all the colors of the rainbow were displayed in this cloud against a blue sky. I’ve never seen such a cloud in my life. Sometimes at dusk the Colordado sky is rimmed all around with clouds glowing orange and pink. This was about 2:45 p.m., thoughnot even close to sunset. The day was sunny, warm (for February), and dry. Yet this one, lone cloud contained a rainbow. We quickly and excitedly took pictures with our phones.

The three of us shared a moment of awe and wonder.

The past week I had been reading an old book by the Scottish writer and minister, George MacDonald, The Hope of the Gospel. In it, he quoted the poem by William Wordsworth that begins,

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting;
The soul that rises with us, our life’s star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home…

Then MacDonald quoted Henry Vaughn’s poem:

Happy those early days, when I
Shined in my angel-infancy!
Before I understood this place….
And looking backat that short space
Could see a glimpse of His bright face;
When on some gilded cloud, or flower
My gazing soul would dwell an hour
And in those weaker glories spy
Some shadows of eternity;
From God, who is our home

That sense of wonder that is part of childhood, that makes children spiritually sensitive, and that perhaps is a trailing cloud of the glory from which we each came when God created us a living soul, born into this world … I want to nurture this sense of wonder and awe as I become older. I want to see the rainbow clouds when they appear so briefly in the sky. I want to see and wonder at a little bird that surprisingly shows up in cold Colorado in February to forage along a tiny, protected, flowing stream full of watercress and fallen cottonwood leaves before flying on to its faraway spring destination.

George MacDonald wrote, “To cease to wonder is to fall plumb-down from the childlike to the commonplace—the most undivine of all moods intellectual. Our nature can never be at home among things that are not wonderful to us.”

 

 

Valentines, Lent, and Love Poems

GUEST POST by Mary Harwell Sayler

Today, Valentine’s falls on Ash Wednesday—the beginning of Lent and, in many churches, the annual 40-day season of introspection and self-examination that leads to confession, repentance, and the spiritual freedom needed to receive the joy of Easter.

At first, though, it seems ironic that a Valentine’s Day of flowers and candy coincides with a time typically thought of as giving up something—such as flowers and candy! But then, the colliding and coinciding can help us to see what they have in common with each other and this blog: love.

Praise God our Father!
Blessings on our Mother Earth.
We are their love child.

–Mary Harwell Sayler in PRAISE!

Love of the beloved needs expression! The highest examples of these come in the Bible, the trek toward Easter, and the love expressed in poetry. You’ve undoubtedly read love poems—from greeting card verse on a Valentine to the 23rd Psalm to the poetic lines of a romantic sonnet. [You may have] tried your hand at writing a love poem too.

But “love” has many faces.

Take, for example, this prose poem. I’ll explain it once you’ve had a chance to experience it.

Scavengers
(after reading Attila Jozsef)

Attila the Hungarian poet, I really love you. Please
believe me before you throw yourself beneath that
train. The fright of flying freight crushes my reading
of your prose poems—poems poised with insight
and odd juxtaposition. I try to rescue the paragraphs
you pose from extermination, reeling as I read. What
can I do but pet The Dog you left behind, ragged and
muddy, ready to avenge your wounds and scavenge
the pieces of God you hid in my upper berth on this
looming train?

–Mary Harwell Sayler in Faces in a Crowd

Ever since childhood, I’ve “loved” poetry, which led to my reading the best works of classical and contemporary poets as evidenced in the above poem….. Once my tastes in poetry became more eclectic … I discovered poets from all over the world, each of whom brought experiences beyond my own.

Attila Jozsef of Hungary was one such poet, with his thought-provoking, deliciously-worded, introspective poems (suitable for Lent) such as “The Dog.” But when I learned he’d committed suicide by throwing himself in front of a train, that sad news stunned me into writing a poem pleading for life and poetry and, perhaps, for his forgiveness of those of us who have led easier lives.

Contemplation of our ease versus dis-ease, our lives versus death, our love versus bigotry, bias, boredom, and indifference gives us the stuff of which poetry and Lent are made. But the greatest of these is God’s Word of love.

Child, Child,

If God didn’t love you, no eyes, no ears
would weave into your gut, no
heart would arch into the inner soles
of your shoes, showing you where to go.

If God didn’t trust you, there would be
no joy to oil your neighbors, no love to
cover the sins of your enemies, no Good
News to paper the walls of your head.

Mary Harwell Sayler in Outside Eden

Love, Risk, and Rescue

I was editing a novel about mountain rescue about the time of Hurricane Harvey. Reading the fictional story set in Colorado’s mountains and watching videos of flood victims rescued from the rising waters in Houston, got me thinking about the rescues I’ve experienced or witnessed.

I lived most of my life near the mountains and rivers of Northern California and near rivers flowing down from the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. In both places I have witnessed major floods where many people had to be rescued from rooftops, bridges, and floating logs.

Random tragedies happen. And they have victims—people, livestock, pets, wildlife.

I have been on the victim end of tragedy waiting for someone to rescue me. When I was four years old our house burned down in the night. I woke in a back bedroom to smoke filling the room and the sound of crackling fire quickly moving through the house. My mother came in her nightgown, took my hand, and led me through the burning house and out the front door in the nick of time. I tell some of that story in Journeys to Mother Love.

My mother herself was rescued at the age of 21 months. Her mother had died of TB and her father had abandoned the children to go find work. The county took the children into custody and declared them neglected and sent them to a state orphanage until age 21. But my mother, the youngest child, was rescued by the doctor who did a medical exam of the children for the court. He knew a childless couple who wanted a child and overnight arranged an adoption. So my mother was rescued from an institutional childhood and brought into a loving, nurturing home.

These types of tragic experiences can cause emotional trauma from which God’s love and grace is seeking to rescue us. Janyne McConnaughey‘s memoir, Brave, describes the process of healing from childhood trauma. Physa Chanmany‘s experience of extreme trauma as a child in the killing fields of Cambodia is described in his memoir, No More Fear. It’s hard to imagine anything more tragic than the genocide perpetrated by Pol Pot’s regime. But God’s physical and spiritual rescue of Physa is a story you won’t soon forget.

Speaking of God’s gracious love, the greatest rescue of all happened on the cross where Jesus revealed the extent of God’s love for us, making a way for us to have fellowship with the Father and to be set free from sin and death. I grew up as a preacher’s kid, spending a lot of time on a church pew and singing gospel songs such as, “There’s a sweet and blessed story of the Christ who came from glory just to rescue me from sin and misery. He in loving kindness sought me, and from sin and shame hath brought me…”

Rescue costs. It involves risk and compassion. Theologian Thomas Jay Oord teaches that God’s nature is essentially “self-giving, others-empowering” love that doesn’t seek to control the creatures whom he has created with free will. That means we can resist rescue—or we can choose to cooperate with God’s rescue work and ministry.

For a person buried in an avalanche in the mountains, one can hardly imagine they would resist help when a rescue team finds their location and digs through the snow to reach them. The risk involved in such a rescue is displayed by teams in our mountains here in Colorado—mountain rescue teams who answer the call to go into avalanche, blizzard, and sheer-cliff conditions to rescue and save mountain adventurers from deadly situations—often at risk of their own lives.

The latest Cladach fiction release—a debut novel by Jeanie FlierlTo Conquer A Mountain—brings together light romance and suspenseful adventure with high-mountain rescue set in the Rocky Mountains. Reviewers have commented that the descriptions of the rescues were their favorite parts of the story. I know Jeanie did a lot of research to make those scenes realistic.

At the beginning of the novel, the main character, Tatum, avoids risk and stays away from heights and situations she can’t in some way control. But after she experiences a series of unexpected, tragic events and relationships, later in the story we see her high on a 14,000-foot mountain peak, both rescuing and being rescued.

If you’d like some easy reading for long winter evenings, get To Conquer A Mountain. It might also get you thinking about love, risk, and rescue.

 


Photo credit: jamehand on Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC-SA

 

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