Beauty, comfort, and caring community can come to us in surprising ways.
Ouyang is a Chinese friend of our author Susan Elaine Jenkins. They became acquainted while she lived and taught school in China for many years. Ouyang appears in Susan’s memoir SCANDALON: Running From Shame and Finding God’s Scandalous Love. If you read Scandalon, then you know how Ouyang helped Susan adjust to life in China and how Susan helped Ouyang better understand Christianity. Their conversations shared in the book are deep and moving and show God’s hand at work across cultures.
“Bobo the Hedgehog” relates a moving childhood experience of Ouyang during the dreary days of the Communist Revolution in China—a period of time with very little beauty, comfort, or caring community. Seemingly by accident Ouyang found all those things—beauty, comfort, and caring community—when he happened upon a rare thing, a rose garden, one of the few gardens sanctioned by the government. And inside that “secret,” gated garden was a kind old gardener who befriended Ouyang. When the old man found a hedgehog by the river, he kept it hidden and let it be Ouyang’s “pet” for a while until the risk became too great and the hedgehog was released back into the wild. But the comfort and joy a pet hedgehog brought to the boy never left him and became a part of who he is today.
The kind gardener (however clandestinely) sharing the creature with him, at a time when families were not allowed to own pets, a terrible time when starving people were eating whatever animals, including pets, they could find … is the type of experience that can give needed hope to a child in a bleak environment.
Ouyang’s childhood memory, written for him by Susan, provides a rare glimpse into what life was like in those difficult times. It also gives a glimpse into the life and character of the boy who became the man, Ouyang.
Soon after The Animals In Our Lives was published, Ouyang found this little hedgehog (pictured above with him) on a river bank. Happy, formative, hope-giving memories again flooded back to his heart and mind.
Ouyang’s story of “Bobo the Hedgehog” is one of many included in The Animals In Our Lives, that demonstrate how animals of all kinds can give us companionship, the experience of awe, and a sense of God’s presence.
Photos of furry creatures and social-media videos of cute animal antics … books and movies of animal adventures … these are popular because they evoke feelings of wonder, memories of beloved pets, joy and excitement of wildlife sightings, or perhaps sensory experiences of a trip to the farm. Here is what I believe about our relationship to animals:
• Animals are our fellow creatures, loved by the Creator.
• Animals can provide companionship, inspiration, and comfort.
• Animals can teach us about the Creator and how to relate to God.
• Animals provide metaphors of our lives that help us understand ourselves.
• Animals (especially those in the wild) represent elements of Mystery.
God cares for his earthly creatures. He created them, blessed them, called them “good.” He saved the animals from the Flood and then made a covenant with “every living creature.” Many Scriptures display God’s care for animals. Old Testament laws protected animals. Jesus’ parables affirmed and spotlighted them.
In God’s Creatures: A Biblical View of Animals, Susan 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?” Later, she adds: “Could there be subtle lessons of love God gives us through our pets?”
I think you will recognize these reciprocal lessons of love—some subtle and some not so subtle—in the stories, poems, anecdotes, and reflections included in this volume.
Sometimes animals are mirrors for us to see ourselves more clearly. I have found my dog to be a barometer of my emotions. His responses tell me when I am getting anxious or when my words sound too harsh; he responds much differently when my tone of voice is sweet and cheerful. It makes me feel bad to see him put his ears back and watch me with a worried expression. It makes me feel good to see him wag his tail and smile at me.
Animals, both wild and domestic, also help us by calling forth our sense of awe. As Thomas Berry has said, we need all of creation, including the animals “to evoke a world of mystery, to evoke the sacred.”
I continually wonder at the wilds of nature that can thrive alongside, often in spite of and struggling to adjust in the midst of, the civilized, tamed, domestic world. When a bird comes close and sings, when a deer steps out of the forest; these surprise sightings thrill. Finding myself sharing space with a wild creature, aware of each other, watching each other even for a moment, is a reminder of not only how different we are, but of what we have in common. Both the animal kind and my kind have breath. We communicate with body language and voice. We walk, run, choose mates, nurture families, search for food, seek shelter. And when we share moments of awareness and attention, the resulting experiential knowledge surely changes or affects us both in some way (hopefully not making us more fearful of each other), perhaps increasing our appreciation of our common creation.
We also share our lives with pets and, sometimes, farm animals. Our human friends learn to accept our animals as “part of the deal.” In a deeper application, the slogan often seen on kitchen towels or plaques, “Love me, love my dog” could, I think, be re-phrased “Love God, love God’s creatures.” Theologians have said as much, and more.
Celtic saint Columbanus exhorted, “Understand, if you want to know the Creator, created things.”
Orthodox scholar Maximus the Confessor taught the idea that creation (as well as Scripture) is God’s book. “God is ‘encoded’ for us in everything he has made. We are surrounded on every side by his ‘letters,’ his ‘analogies’ in creatures….” Our part is to care for, as well as give attention and respect to, the creatures, and even to praise God on their behalf.
Protestant evangelical theologian (and bird watcher) John Stott wrote, “God has given to human beings a midway position between himself and the animals. … In consequence, we combine the dependence on God that is common to all his creatures with a responsible dominion over the [animals] that is unique.”
Catholic writer Charles Camosy adds, “Nearly all theologians now agree that the biblical dominion God has given human beings over creation is not a license to use and dominate, but rather a command to be caretakers and stewards.”
I am thankful for all the dogs, cats, fish, chickens, ducks, birds, as well as the rabbits, squirrels, and deer that have been part of my life at different stages. I have cared for them, learned from them, and shared life with them. Many times when I or my family were facing challenging times, our hearts and spirits were lightened because the animals were there.
God, of course, is always there, everywhere, ever present to us; but God, who is spirit, does not have a corporeal body with skin, hands, and feet. Animals (as well as people) help God help us feel our loving, relational God’s presence.
With all this in mind, I enjoyed compiling, editing (and writing a number of) these often-funny, sometimes sad, and always awe-inspiring experiences with animals. I hope our readers enjoy these stories, too. You may find yourself laughing, crying, and appreciating more than ever God’s creatures, the animals in our lives.
This essay/post is extracted from the Introduction to the book, The Animals In Our Lives: Stories of Companionship and Awe. The book contains delightful accounts of people with their dogs, cats, sheep, horses, backyard birds, woodland deer, and many other creatures. Our animals—pets, farm animals, and wildlife—inspire our awe, entertain us, help us, teach us, play with us, mourn with us, even work with us. Any animal lover will enjoy this very readable book.
Sample pages from BIBLE POEMS (with reader doodles)
The creativity of Donna Marie Merritt, poet and author of Bible Poems for Reflection and Responseextends even beyond her poetic word pictures. She had the idea of giving her readers the opportunity to not only reflect on her poems (which themselves are reflections on the Bible) but to allow space on the pages, including 17 blank pages, for readers to respond with their own poems, thoughts, prayers, drawings and doodles. The book released this month (September 1, 2020). What we’ve already heard from readers tells us this book is encouraging reflection:
“These jewels, these pearls each carry a small glimmer of truth, wisdom, stern instruction, and unconditional love.”
“I am delighted to take away thoughtful pieces … to meditate on further.”
“The questions raised throughout the book help me evaluate, repent, and respond with worship.”
One reader sent us photos of the reflective/responsive art she created on the book pages. You can view those colorful doodles in this short video:
As a publisher I love to bring authors and readers together, and especially I love it when they are reflecting together on God’s truth, creation, and the life of faith. In this way, writing—and reading—a book of poetry can lead to worship expressed in words, art and action.
The unique style of author Janyne McConnaughey—interweaving literary whimsy, informative narrative, and raw vulnerability—is reaching into the hearts and minds of readers. For instance, in A BRAVE LIFE we find Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz interacting with Janyne’s three adult selves and many child selves.
We love the way Janyne weaves delightful, fictional characters into her narratives. In Janyne’s previous book, JEANNIE’S BRAVE CHILDHOOD, Alice of Wonderland appears throughout (and rumors are she may return in a future book). But Dorothy of Oz and her Yellow-Brick-Road companions, even Oz himself, fit perfectly in A BRAVE LIFE.
Janyne McConnaughey PhD
In this new book, Janyne shares the story of how she lived her adult life with the effects of childhood trauma and attachment issues. Janyne describes her “Yellow Brick Road” journey that taught her about the abundant life and the many ways it had been stolen from her by childhood trauma. A BRAVE LIFE offers hope and insight to all who have persevered and silently suffered without knowing why…. and it provides a handbook to help Christians in the church minister to those who, as children, were victims of the unspeakable.
Janyne bravely paints a word picture of how a childhood-trauma survivor experienced adulthood—including multiple moves and transitions, marriage and parenting, and a college teaching career—all the time coping through dissociative “split” personalities.
It was a confusing life fraught with “emotional landmines,” but Janyne’s healing journey led to her “Emerald City” as all the parts of Janyne learned to trust each other and work together—which they do beautifully in this book.
Jesus shows up in A BRAVE LIFE also. The scenes where Jesus talks with Janyne’s various selves are descriptive, not prescriptive. They describe what Janyne heard the Spirit of Jesus say to her heart, true words that helped heal the effects of what trusted adults had wrongly said to her way back when she was 10.
Just as pushing back the curtain revealed the “real” wizard of Oz, Janyne had the courage to push back the curtain and reveal her feelings of being an “imposter,” of dissociative pain and struggles and their root causes. We agree with Pathway to Hope director, Kiersten Adkins, who says of Janyne, “May her courage inspire us to find safe spaces for ourselves and be those safe spaces for others.”
If you long to find your own safe spaces in which to heal, and to help (not hinder) others’ healing, you may want to join the many readers being encouraged, informed, and helped by the BRAVE series.
(Note: The three graphics above created by Janyne McConnaughey and posted on Facebook. Used here with permission.)
Like everyone else, Cladach has felt the effects and isolation of the virus. Especially in these ways:
Amazon, where many of our sales happen, has de-prioritized orders, sales, and shipping of books during the pandemic as they concentrate on shipping more urgently needed items. But, the good news is we’ve heard from customers that their orders are on the way. Amazon has our books in stock and will fulfill orders, though the ship time may be longer than usual. So go ahead and place those orders!
Postponed spring titles and uncertain release dates. But the following books will release in 2020 (dates to be announced):
A BRAVE LIFE by Janyne McConnaughey, PhD
BIBLE POEMS by Donna Marie Merritt
UNPAUSED : Poems by Alice Scott-Ferguson
Author events cancelled. Here are a few examples:
Catherine Lawton (that’s me) was scheduled to teach three workshops at the Colorado Christian Writers Conference, which had to be canceled, but conference director Marlene Bagnull says she plans to save the 2020 program in 2021. Conferees can look forward to my workshops on these topics in May 2021 in Estes Park, Colorado: 1) Poetry, 2) Creative Nonfiction, 3) Marketing
Janyne McConnaughey (author of BRAVE and now living in Seattle) has had to cancel her early May trip to Colorado Springs, where she was scheduled to participate in the Mountain of Authors event and do a book signing at a local shop.
Alice Scott-Ferguson had anticipated a trip in April to Monument, Colorado for a Pen Women’s event, meeting with friends, authors and readers and selling copies ofPausing in the Passing Places.This event was postponed.
As we’ve all heard, small businesses, including those in the book business, have suffered because of lower sales, closures, layoffs. One way to support local independent bookstores is to purchase books through the nation-wide, excellent and efficient online Bookshop program, Books are shipped directly from printer/warehouses, and the profits from these online sales are shared among all participating, local independent bookstores. Cladach titles that are available through IndieBound are also searchable and orderable through Bookshop. For instance, you can find my new book, Glimpsing Glory, at Bookshop HERE.
We all feel the isolation. “Staying Home” and social distancing can bring out creativity and is surely teaching us some important and hopefully lasting lessons if we will listen in the solitude to what our very-present God is whispering to us. May it be so. May healing and hope spread through our world, and may we come together again soon!
Some heartwarming stories are coming out of this difficult season, as people choose to show generosity and a giving attitude. Donna Marie Merritt (author of forthcoming BIBLE POEMS, who lives, writes, and works as a librarian in Connecticut) shared this happy, heartwarming report: “Last night I was feeling helpless, looking at a box of children’s books [that she authored] sitting idle because there are no book events right now. Then … I posted on a local FB page that any child in need of a book right now could get a signed copy from me free. Within hours, the entire box was signed and waiting in bags on my porch for pick-up. I had unemployed parents reach out, parents with bored children, parents who can’t bring their kids to the library during this crisis. It was the best ‘book event’ of my career. And some have begun sending photos.” [Photos posted below with permission].
Publishing is not complete until readers have read, digested, and interacted with the book’s contents.
The book may hold something different for each reader. They may even glean meanings of their own. The reader plays an integral role in the whole process/picture/purpose of publishing.
For instance, a “blurb” describing a book may appear on the back cover, on bookseller catalog pages and promo materials. An editor, a marketing person, or the author may write these descriptive blurbs. But we have worked so closely with the book’s content that we may not express its benefits with the same freshness as a reader just discovering the book’s treasures and the author’s unique voice and message.
When readers choose to share their reactions to—and interactions with—a book, and post a review, they often describe the contents and benefits better than we have done. The newest AGATES Book of Poetry release—I Cry Unto You, O Lord by Sarah Suzanne Noble—has prompted readers/ reviewers to articulate their responses in words that I wish I had thought of myself! For example, in these comments recently posted on Amazon:
“I was so fortunate to find this book at a time when I was going through an absolute low. Not only did [Sarah Noble’s] words bring me comfort and healing during this time but it made me feel like I’m not alone in this turmoil. She covers so many of the intricacies within grief, mourning, depression, loss, struggle, and pain. Her words create this powerful imagery that also shows the possibility of something truly beautiful coming from such dark times.”
“I wasn’t sure what to expect while reading this book, particularity because I am not in a time of lamenting in my life. What I discovered, though, was that it helped me realize how fortunate I am right now not be be in a place of despair, but also recognize how friends in my life may be and how this book would be powerful and helpful. Most importantly, this book emphasizes how in all phases of life, Christ is present and living and how His father, and ours, is clinging fervently to us.”
Susan Jenkins writes:
“When I first held this book in my hands, I turned to the table of contents and was immediately engrossed in the extensive scope of its poems. Hard subjects are included in the segment of PAIN, such as Migraines, Suffering, Crush, Wail and Stiff Neck. The author bravely addresses each topic, and in a gentle approach that, I believe, brings a sense of healing to the heart and mind. The other three sections—BEAUTY, CHRIST and WONDER—are all as descriptive, encouraging and even playful at times, speaking to the interior of the reader’s very soul.”
Bethany McKnight-Kamau writes:
“Sarah manages to express the total range of human emotion with a heart that is continually bowed in worship. The images that she creates through her words paint beautiful pictures of pain, disappointment, gratitude and hope. Beautifully written!”
This never fails to bring us great satisfaction: to see a book go full circle from the author’s experience to the reader’s experience. From insights and observations that captured the writer’s imagination, heart and mind—to words presented artfully on the pages of a book, reaching readers and capturing their imaginations, hearts and minds!
Each generation must find its way amidst cultural changes, clashes and conflicts. Carolina and Mauricio had to do this in the new novel, PRAIRIE TRUTH (just released). Reading a good historical novel not only gives the reader momentary escape, but paints a colorful picture and historical perspective that helps to clarify the conflicts of today.
Like the characters in PRAIRIE TRUTH, and like those who actually lived in the San Luis Valley of New Mexico / Colorado in the 1800s, I can look back at generations of my own family tree and find abundant examples of people fleeing persecution, oppression, and hardship to seek an identity, a living, and fulfillment.
My husband’s Danish forebears immigrated to America when Germany took over the southern section of Denmark on which their farm was located, and attempted to conscript their sons into the German army.
My Scots-Irish ancestors had earlier found their way to America amidst turmoils, persecutions, and deprivations in their part of the British Isles.
My great-grandparents found their way to a homestead in Eastern Colorado to seek new opportunities.
Members of my mother’s birth family found their way to the agricultural fields of California to escape the poverty of the Dust Bowl and Great Depression era in Oklahoma and southeast Colorado.
Another great-great grandmother, who is said to have been a Cherokee Indian escaped from the Trail of Tears, hid at the back of a tobacco farmer’s fields in Indiana and raised his illegitimate child. That child, who grew to be my great-grandfather, took the farmer’s name, avoided school, farmed steadily, and carved out a quiet life raising a family and serving the Lord, keeping silent about his parentage.
Fact can be stranger than fiction, and that makes fiction like PRAIRIE TRUTH believable. In this historical novel, a young woman born on the Colorado prairie to a white settler’s daughter and a Cheyenne Indian, never fully accepted by either culture, leaves home and rides her horse toward the mountains and high valleys southwest of Denver. There she learns the language and customs, and blends in, at least for a time. There she make friends, proves her abilities to contribute to the good of a community, and falls in love.
She finds out that her new community itself—the San Luis Valley of Colorado in 1888—is racially and culturally and religiously mixed also. Wars have been fought and won or lost. Borders of nations and states have been re-drawn. They must adjust to new language, new laws, and prejudices. But also, new opportunities present themselves.
The sufferings, traumas, and separations of the past were as real as those of today. The challenges of the present may feel insurmountable at times. But learning how resiliency, integrity, and community have carved paths of hope in times past, gives us courage to face into our problems today with renewed faith and hope for a better future.
Depending on what part of the country/world you live in, you may have already winterized your home by “backing out” the sprinkler system, cutting back perennials in the garden, mulching roses, bringing in or covering patio furniture, checking insulation around windows and doors, etc. Here in Colorado we have done some of those things. Days are mostly warm still, but night temperatures can plummet. Maybe you live in the southern hemisphere and you’re preparing for summer. You may want to read this post six months from now. More northern parts may have already seen snow as in the photo above. Brrrrr.
Christina Slike has advice for those who are preparing for shorter, colder days and for spending more time indoors:
Have you winterized your home inside?
The season is just around the corner, but there’s still time to prepare. Here’s how you can get through the extra-long dark evenings and nights:
Dust your bookshelves and nightstands.
Organize the books around your house.
Be excited about new adventures and knowledge you can find in a new book.
Order some recently-released books from Cladach. (see below)
While waiting for your new reads to arrive, I recommend you have a blanket, hot drink, and a comfortable, well-lit lounge area ready.
Congratulations. You’ve winterized your home! When the Cladach books arrive from:
Welcome, November! A season of change and anticipation.
Here in Colorado we can see “every season in every season.” A sudden chill may hit and bring snow in October or November. Then back to 60 and 70 degree sunny days. But no matter where you live, change is in the air.
As we anticipate upcoming holy days and holidays, we at Cladach are preparing good things to share with our readers—some for this season and some for all seasons
1. Janyne McConnaugheyhas written a companion volume to her psychological memoir,BRAVE,entitledJeannie’s BRAVE Childhood : Behavior and Healing through the Lens of Attachment and Traumawith a release planned for January/February. We hope to have the book available by Christmas. What a great gift for anyone who has children or works with children, and anyone who experienced trauma in their own childhood. If you enjoyed BRAVE(and many have) then you will love this companion volume.
2. Yes, I (Catherine Lawton) am the publisher at Cladach, But I am also an author and poet. I am passionate about some things, such as my grandchildren, good books, and experiencing God in nature. I have combined these interests in a Christmas picture book,Something Is Coming To Our World : How a Backyard Bird Sees Christmas. Available late November on Amazon and elsewhere. This little, colorful book will be an experience for families to share.
3. Watch for new interviews, videos, giveaways, and sales on the many seasonal and gift-worthy books we publish. Stay tuned! Let joy-filled anticipation of good things rise in your heart throughout the month of November.
Look for—and you will find—God, in this season.
“Praise the Lord from the heavens… Praise the Lord from the earth … Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 148:1,7,14)
Meet Jeanie Flierl, author of the novel, To Conquer A Mountain. My questions are in color. Jeanie’s answers will give you a glimpse of the heart of this warm, talented woman.
Welcome, Jeanie. Thank you for the opportunity to ask you a few questions. First, I’d like to know: In your novel, the main character, Tatum, is a Colorado native. Are you a native also?
No. I was born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I moved to Colorado in my twenties because of my love for the mountains. I worked for Safeway for eleven years and met my husband, Denis, there. After home-schooling our three girls, I put all my energy into a retail store in Evergreen, Colorado. My store sells quality chocolates, nuts, and candies.
Sounds yummy. No wonder the retail shop in your novel feels so real! In fact, there’s a lot of realism in your story. What real needs do you think readers may have that your book addresses, that makes it a “must read”?
As the story unfolds, Tatum’s reactions and prayers in moments of happiness or pain reflect real feelings toward God and toward other people. She finds it’s OK to be mad at God, but she doesn’t stay there. In the end, she realizes God was with her all along, in the good and the bad. I think many people, like myself, need to learn that kind of open-hearted honesty before a loving God.
The characters in To Conquer A Mountaindefinitely come across as authentic. Besides your own daughters, what experience have you had with young adults in their twenties and thirties that helped you envision your book’s characters and conflicts?
Denis and I have worked together in the marriage ministry for more than twenty-five years, teaching communication skills. We have spoken at small conferences and MOPS (Moms of Preschoolers) groups on related subjects.
What got you interested in Mountain Rescue? And how did you conduct your research?
I was in awe of Alpine Rescue Team in Evergreen. Their Facebook posts were so exciting that I started reading anything I could get my hands on about mountain rescues. It is mind boggling that these mountaineers, here in Colorado, and elsewhere for that matter, are so selfless in going into the mountains, rain, shine, snow, and cold, to help people having a very bad day in the mountains. And they don’t charge anything!
I had the opportunity to visit Alpine Rescue Team and see the vehicles and equipment they use for rescues, which they purchase with donations. Later, my husband and I took a member of ART to dinner, and he regaled us with real-life incidents. I took those actual rescue stories, jumbled them together, and came up with the fictional rescues described in my novel.
What other circumstances in your life played a role in your conception of this story?
The settings of the book—in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains—have always interested me. And my point-of-view character—to whom I gave many triumphs and tragedies—has traits that I find in myself. For instance, I had to learn to take risk in my own life. That didn’t come as naturally to me as it does to some people.
Tatum learns to trust God more as she lets herself take risks. How important is faith to you?
I grew up in a Christian home and prayed to receive Jesus as my personal savior at the age of four after listening to a children’s program on Christian radio. But my faith became my own, not just what I grew up with, when I moved to Colorado. Through the ups and downs of living, the fun times and hard times of parenting, Christ has been woven into the fabric of our marriage, our children and our home life.
Tell us about your journey to become a published novelist.
My parents never had a TV in our house until I was a junior in high school. Maybe that played a role in my love of reading. Writing intrigued me, too, but I thought I could never write like the authors I loved to read. Seven years ago I decided that I would stop talking about writing a novel and finally do it. I just dove in, not realizing there was a craft to novel writing. Each writers conference I attended gave me more direction, and I’d apply what I learned. I had great encouragement and editing help along the way.
Where can your readers connect with you online?:
I look forward to interacting with my readers. I have recently started author pages:
Thank you, Jeanie, for your time. I hope many readers find themselves engrossed in your story, To Conquer A Mountain. And I hope they come away from it with more desire to take the risks of living in the unique adventures and opportunities that God offers to them.