Category: Experiencing peace

Sweet Sorrow at Christmas

Ah, Christmas! Bright lights, hustle and bustle, joyous music and celebrations….

Yet, hidden behind all the glitter, many people feel the pangs of sadness and loneliness more acutely during the Christmas season. If you have ever experienced a great loss at Christmastime, the holiday season awakens that grief again each year.

I know. My mother died on December 19, many years ago. My father was the pastor of a loving church at the time, and the people were sweet to us, though they also grieved the death of their beloved pastor’s wife. Our family found comfort in togetherness—my husband and I with our two toddlers, my sister, and our dad. After the funeral, we stayed and spent Christmas in our parents’ home, with everything around us to remind us of Mother. … But no mother/wife/grandmother. She simply and permanently was not here.

At a time when we celebrated the birth of Jesus who brought new life, we learned first-hand the awful separation and finality of death. The first night after she died, I lay awake in the guest bedroom listening to Daddy sobbing his heart out in the next room.

She was too young to die—in her forties. But she was gone.

On Christmas Eve, my husband and I wanted our toddler children to have fun, not just sadness, so we borrowed little sleds and took them out to play in the snowy woods. In the fresh, crisp air, laughter came as a wonderful relief, and was exactly what Mother would want for us. Maybe she saw us and smiled with joy.

Mother had a way of infusing Christmas with music, anticipation, beauty, delicious tastes and scents, warmth and surprises. She loved decorating the house and the church, preparing special music and programs for Christmas Sunday, often sewing new dresses for my sister and me, baking cookies, and taking us Christmas shopping.

I love Christmas, too; but even after many years, the bright lights, the biting scent of pine, the taste of cinnamon and cider, the making of fudge and fruitcake, the singing of carols, the ringing of Christmas bells, the decorating of the tree, the excitement of gift giving—all is sweet sorrow.

I wonder: Did sadness mix with joy for Mary, the mother of Jesus, when she carried her baby to the temple and heard Simeon prophesy her child’s death? He said, “A sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2:35). Mary didn’t understand yet that Jesus’ death as well as his life would bring eternal joy in the heavens and cause celebrations of his birth for centuries to come. But she would certainly experience heart-piercing sorrow and separation.

Years later, as Mary watched Jesus die a tragic, painful death, did she despair? Or did the memory of the miracles surrounding his birth and life give her hope? Life won out. His death brought our spiritual birth.

Now we know, because of his birth, life and death, we can live—and celebrate Christmas—in the certainty that death will not have the final victory.

That one Christmas has influenced every one of my Christmases since—the year my vibrant, young Mother died. Our bereaved family celebrated together with gifts and festive food. Then we drove up a snowy hillside to a fresh, flower-covered grave site. The contrast of the red-rose-and-holly covered grave to the icy, brown hills spoke to my warring emotions.

There, feeling the pain of death’s separation, I looked up into the evening sky and noticed the first star twinkling, and I smiled through my tears. Her physical presence is gone from us here. But someday we may be with her “there.” The realities of pain, suffering, and death are inescapable. But the hope of Christmas lives!


The story of the healing I have experienced in regards to my mother is found in the book, Journeys to Mother Love: Nine Women Tell Their Stories of Forgiveness and Healing.

After the Storm: Creation Heals

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Our corner bee garden before the hail storm

It seems God created this world with the capacity for healing built into it.

I remember Kiki, my pediatrician friend, saying that she almost enjoyed it when she got a cut or other minor injury on a finger, because watching it heal was such a wonder. I took this statement from Kiki with a grain of salt. She, of course, doesn’t desire the hurts that come from random accidents and afflictions of this life.

When the hail storm hit in July, I did not enjoy seeing the near-golf ball size hail bombard our home and trees and gardens. In late July, when our gardens were at their lushest—when trees throughout town, flowers in front yards, fruits and vegetables in gardens, crops in the fields were flourishing—came a hard-hitting, hurling from the sky, storm of hail that broke, battered, tore, ripped. It only lasted a few minutes. But it left roofs with holes, windows cracked, siding pocked, bee hives panicked, birds injured, crops destroyed, gardens sad-looking.

Our gardens give us (my husband and me) pleasure. We love to share their beauty and bounty with others. So, in my disappointment over the storm’s devastation, for a few days emotional storm clouds threatened to descend into my soul.

Why, God? What’s the use of planting and tending and making beauty, if destruction can hit any time?

I know people who have weathered many storms—both storms of nature and stormy relationships. Some have given up or have chosen to play it safe in one way or another. Cut down the trees in their yard. Take out gardens and put in rocks. Choose to distance themselves from family and friends. And I’m sometimes tempted to react this way to life’s troubles and conflicts.

But I have been learning more and more to know God as Love. He doesn’t cause evil or bad things. He is not up there somewhere, angry and vindictive, choosing to send hail on some people and gentle showers on others, then watching to see our reactions.

I recently read the book, Does God Always Get What God Wants? by Tim Reddish. He writes: “The whole Godhead suffers to bring shalom to all of creation… To love our suffering sinful world is to suffer…. The one who does not see God’s suffering does not see his love. God is suffering love…. [However,] God doesn’t let suffering have the last word. Instead, God responds to every situation in ways that promote growth and healing.”

God is, always and everywhere, with us, rejoicing with us and suffering with us.

With that truth on my mind, I took advantage of a quiet morning to spend time in contemplative prayer. And there I regained a sense of help and hope.

I have found that contemplation often clears the way to action.

I put on my sun hat and garden gloves, took clippers and went out into my corner flower garden. I began cleaning up, clipping away broken, spent, bent branches and knocked-down leaves, twigs, and flowers. And as I did, with each clip, I said, “I choose hope.” “I choose love.” “I choose beauty.” “I choose to suffer with.” I choose to enter into even the suffering of nature. (We are in this life together, after all.) I choose to cooperate with God to bring order and beauty out of brokenness and chaos, to encourage hope, light, and healing. To expect renewal and new possibilities. I decided to try rooting some of the broken plant parts. I deadheaded to encourage new blooms. I noticed the bees were making the best of things, too, extracting juice from hail-broken rhubarb stalks. Perhaps they would process it into honey.

I will join nature in its response to our God’s ever-creating and re-creating presence. I will stay engaged, by God’s grace, open to His constant working to bring beauty and goodness and newness out of pain and loss and scars…to increase Shalom.

I grieve the losses, the hurts, the scars; but like my friend Kiki, amazed at watching her finger heal, I choose to embrace hopeful wonder.

May God’s kingdom come.

 

 

The Sound of Silence

I took this photo of a sign erected at a viewpoint in Rocky Mountain National Park. I have visited the park during all seasons. In spring and summer the melodies of birds, squirrels, chipmunks, etc. rise and fall on the air. In late summer and early fall, elk calls bugle through the park. Then, on many winter days a soft, white, silent layer of snow breathlessly quiets the scene. Would you think of this “utter, complete silence” as a sound, as Andre Kostelantez did—even “one of the greatest sounds of them all”?

This brings questions to my mind:

Should we seek/embrace silence?

Where/how do we find silence?

Why is silence important/needed?

What can we learn in silence?

Do we tend to avoid—maybe even fear—silence?

My curiosity piqued, I looked up Andre Kostelantez and learned that he was a Jewish/Russian immigrant to America who became one of the most successful conductors and arrangers of music in history. Among many accomplishments, he conducted the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.

I personally knew an orchestra musician who spoke of silence as if it were a sound: my daughter’s violin teacher. She drilled into my daughter the concept that a “rest” in the music was an “important nothing.”

Music rests, seasons of silence, “important nothings”; these provide natural, satisfying rhythms to music and to our lives. This is a principle that God seems to have woven into creation. As physical, emotional, and spiritual beings, we need times of silence that can become “the greatest sound of all” to us.

 Nancy Swihart has learned to embrace this life-enhancing principle. In her memoir, On Kitten Creek, she describes the times of silence on Kitten Creek farm that have become to her, as Kostelantez expressed it, one of the greatest sounds of them all:

“On prayer walks I do most of the listening,” writes Nancy. “Up here in this sky-drenched pasture a comforting solitude is one of the greatest gifts the farm has provided—placing my body, soul, and spirit into the presence of God without distraction.”

Nancy has learned to seek and relish these important-nothing rest times that give meaning and lilt to the music of her life.

Have you found ways to incorporate regular seasons of silence into the flow of your days?

God Reviving Me One Morning

A photo I took on one of my walks on the river trail not far from my office.

Stressed, working hard to prepare books for publication in the midst of several life adjustments, one morning I knew I had to attend to my soul. For me, soul care and renewal involve reading, meditating, praying / releasing, and experiencing nature / creation.

First I drank my coffee and read a devotional article that said: “Am I willing to continue yielding my life wholly to God? If so, there is power for me…. God promises help to accomplish the task toward which His Spirit points me.”

I wrote a list of the things on my heart that had become burdens, prayed over them and gave them to God, again.

Then I read: “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all that we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!” (Eph.3:20-21,NIV) I prayed this scripture, inserting my name and then the names of our family members. Assurance came.

Then, for the solace and renewal of nature, I drove down to the nearby river trail. There my senses were immediately overwhelmed and filled with the sights and sounds and smells and textures of that lush spot where grassy farmland meets the river that has flowed down from the Rocky Mountains. There, nature burgeons with life.

One thing my husband and I are learning as we live in this high place of Colorado where every season happens in every season—We are learning to appreciate and “seize” the moment. If we don’t come down to the river trail for a couple of weeks, we hardly recognize the place next time. All summer, layer upon layer of grasses and flowering plants keep coming up, replacing the previous layer, each a little higher than the last, reaching for the intense sunshine which often gives way to evening thunder clouds. In the early summer, wild roses were blooming under the giant cottonwoods. Later they had dried up and purple thistle had risen 5 to 6 feet tall, bright and stately. You might think them renegade weeds in your garden, but out here, they’re royalty. Clouds of foamy yellow flower heads grow here and there, and every shade of foliage.

Bird songs abound! I recognize the sounds of killdeer, red-winged blackbirds, and others. I see the orchard oriole that was here last time, and the bullock’s oriole, the eastern kingbird, and many others. A rabbit hops near the river’s edge. Farmers are irrigating today, obviously, because the wet river banks and shallow water indicate most of the river’s flow here has been diverted to the canals. I watch several huge river-bottom fish, and their backs often rise above the water’s surface and I can see the golden eye high on their foreheads. They glisten in the sunshine and are too big for the six snowy egrets nearby to tackle. But if a bald eagle happened by, they’d be easy prey, so visible in the shallow waters. In a clearing on the other side I see prairie dogs with their young. They stand up straight above their holes and suckle their little ones who then lick their mothers faces. They’re cute. And they supply food for the many hawks and owls around here.

In the shady places under the heavy cottonwoods, myriads of butterflies float and flutter. I see one group that fly this way and that and round and round in sync as if propelled by a little twister wind. How do they synchronize their flight in milliseconds like that? The hot sun intensifies the scents of grasses mingled with damp river smells. Several cyclists ride by me, calling out “on your left.” Two lark sparrows perch on the fence and stay there watching me, showing off their harlequin faces, feathers glowing like polished bronze in the sun.

I’m thankful for this day, and this place, and God’s glory all around.

Back at my car, I give thanks to God. As I walk into the house, a CD is playing and I hear the words of a gospel song, “Morning by morning new mercies I see….Great is thy faithfulness.” Tears smart my eyes. I “seize the moment” and find joy in it, and in knowing God is in it!

Even Under a Cloud of Smoke

 

Under the blanket of smoke in this NASA photo, and right by one of those red dots, was our home for 30 years and the place where we took the humble first steps of founding Cladach Publishing. Many roots and memories. Many beloved people and places. Much trauma and loss this week.

It all happened so fast. My sister was awakened at 1:00 Sunday night and told to get out immediately. She grabbed her dog, purse, a few clothes and ran out to her vehicle. Smoke everywhere. A wall of fire on the hill above her neighborhood. She drove out to the highway and sat in her vehicle dazed, not knowing what to do. She decided to drive to a friend’s house. With all the cars trying to get out of the area, it took her 1 1/2 hours to drive about 5 miles. Soon after she arrived there, her friend was also evacuated. They fled to the friend’s brother’s home in another town west of there. My sister, grateful for a home to stay in, has been there all week, sleeping on the living room couch, and doesn’t know when she’ll be allowed back into her home. Though the fire devastated—wiped out—the entire neighborhood just two streets away from her home … her house and street have remained intact. Several of our friends in Sonoma County have lost their homes.

But how beautiful to see people set aside their differences and come together in the face of a common enemy, to support and help and encourage each other.

One Cladach author, Dean Davis*, lives in Sonoma County. When the fire hit, he was recovering from surgery just three days prior. His wife, Linda, shared this encouraging update on Facebook. I share her words here with her permission:

~~~~~

Today, Friday Oct. 13, is a new day. Old things are passed away. I don’t think we’ll ever be the same.

The Santa Rosa fires have died down and though they still flame up here and there, we believe the worst is over. There is no wind this morning. The area is just filled with firefighters, police, national guard, and volunteers (and smoke!). People are tender and in shock…. This is such a season for reflection.

On the first day of the fire, I went through the house asking myself what I really needed to take with us. There was very little. Photos, tax records, and our cat. And even when the evacuation came, I had to leave the cat. Now that the danger has passed (at least for the moment) we will move ahead with a new perspective of what is really important.

God was very good to provide volunteers to come get our horses the first day. To have them safe and away allowed me to focus on keeping Dad safe and healthy. God knows the little things that show us his kindness and mercy. We are all back at the house (except for the horses) and we feel we will most likely be able to stay put.

We have been told to wait another 36 hours before resuming life as usual because high winds are expected again tonight and everything could change again.

We are numb. But at peace.

A week before the fire a little scripture put to tune came to me every day, all day. “Thou will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee, because he trusteth in Thee.” I couldn’t get these words out of my mind. Little did I know they were preparing me for these days. I think this experience has taught us to take nothing for granted. We have no rights, just mercy and grace. The only ‘right’ we have is our righteousness through Christ, who has given it as His free gift….  We feel vulnerable yet under the shadow of His wings at the same time. We are reminded that this life and this world are just temporary yet very important. Each day is a gift because He is with us. And our gift back to Him is a life of service, faith and gratitude. God is good…all the time!

~~~~~

Thank you, Linda. God protect you and yours. We pray for your safety and for continued peace… and for Dean’s full recovery.

The one good thing about these horrendous trials is that we become more acutely aware—though often not until after the crisis—that God Is With Us … always, even in the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

Even under an ominous cloud of smoke with erratic fires erupting all around.

——–

*Dean Davis is the author of The Dangerous Journey of Sherman the Sheep. (My ten-year-old grandson loves the story of Sherman who encountered many trials on his dangerous journey and finally learned that the Good Shepherd was always with him.)
Photo: NASA MODIS Rapid Response Team, Jeff Schmaltz

 

Antidote to Hate, Fear, Disgust, and Vexation

This poem* is a testimony and affirmation of 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” from the book, Remembering Softly: A Life In Poems  by Catherine Lawton © 2016

 

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.

“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

Antidote To Fear and Tension

I recorded this reading, and now I share it, with the hopes you will be encouraged in these unsettling times.

The poem is “Antidote” from my book of poetry, Remembering Softly : A Life In Poems

May the peace of Christ rest upon you!

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