Category: Offering HOPE

Holding and Writing What Gives You Life

ROCK_CHAPEL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(This post was first published two years ago.)

Mother Love

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

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

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

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

“She Did Her Best” by Treva Brown

“Take Care of Your Mother” by Verna Hill Simms

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

“Beauty from Barrenness” by Kyleen Stevenson-Braxton

“When I Feel Forsaken” by Catherine Lawton

“Finishing Well” by Ellen Cardwell

“Walking My Mother Home” by Ardis A. Nelson

“White Knuckles” by Loritta Slayton

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

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

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

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

− Midwest Book Review

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

− Nancy Parker Brummett, author and speaker


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

Visit the Journeys to Mother Love BLOG

Holy Week Longings

Palm Sunday is over. It felt good to rejoice in the triumphal entry of the one the people thought would be an earthly king, bring vindication, independence, national victory.

But as the the palm branches turn brown in the sun and the “red-carpet” of cloaks is put away, unresolved conflicts remain. Evil presses in, not as easy to identify as we thought. Sin wins the day, both personally and corporately. Friends transform into enemies. Favorite Doctrines and Laws lose their luster. Disappointment, cynicism, and fear blind the eyes. A pervasive, gray cloud threatens to smother hope.

If today we didn’t know what Holy Week would bring, we would be filled with longings and regrets, perhaps we’d even join the mob mentality of the Jews as Passover approached. Or perhaps we’d find ourselves cowering and cowardly as were the disciples.

If we’re honest, there are times we can’t see the Light, feel the Hope, hold onto Courage. Some of us feel overcome by a sense of failure, helpless yearnings, and hopeless waiting.

In these times, as during the gathering darkness leading to the Crucifixion and Resurrection, we can turn to words of the Psalmist David, as Jesus’ disciples surely did: “How long, O Lord? … How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? Look on me and answer, O Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death…” (Psalm 13).

The Lord still gives us the gift of poets who have the ability to express the longings we are feeling. One such poet is James Troy Turner. Like Jesus’ followers who were not highly educated, who had few of this worlds goods, but who felt the burden of sin and oppression and wanted to believe that a Deliverer would set them free— so James Troy Turner expresses the neediness and longing of Holy Week with these verses:

THE END

Deeper and deeper into the open arms of death,

As the world lives, then what time is left.

We push and we pull, filling our lives

With only the promise of tomorrow.

And where is the light?

 

TRUTH

How I long for the days of

   My simple youth.

You could believe all they said—

   You knew it was true.

A man was a man always,

   True even to himself.

The good he would buy—

   Top quality on each shelf.

But those days are past,

   I think never to be again.

Listen hard what they say—

   Truth and lies in a spin.

 

WORLDLY

I am so far off the bubble

sitting idle in all this rubble.

It really doesn’t make any sense;

reality is left so unraveled,

no common sense, I’m left baffled.

I live by His Word, you know it’s true;

followers of satan are all but through.

It all adds up to endless trouble;

the wrath of God, it will be double.

So trust in Him, His will be done;

and if you do, you’re loved like His Son.

(verses excerpted from the book, POEMS by James Troy Turner)

(Photo credit: © Can Stock Photo / luckyraccoon)

 

Be Still and Know

During the month of April we are Celebrating:

  • National Poetry Month
  • Lent/Easter
  • and Spring!

Take time to experience, appreciate, and meditate on Re-awakenings and Renewal:

  • in Nature all around us;
  • in our Relationships to God and each other;
  • of our Spiritual Life and Eternal Hope.

    Reading inspirational poems can help you focus, “be still and know.”

PRAISE! for Easter

Are you feeling pressed down by the negativity of the world—bad news, worries, hurts, fears, anger?

If you enjoy contemporary, spontaneous, free verse—or if you are willing to try poetry as a remedy for the affliction of a heavy spirit—Cladach has just released Mary Harwell Sayler‘s book, PRAISE! Poems.

Read this book during Holy Week and be ready on Easter to sing “Hallelujah!”

Let an explosion of praise break forth in your own life with adoration and celebration of our good God!

While these short, contemporary poems acknowledge the realities around us, they also look for the good in everything.

Sections within the book include: Praise • Prayers • Easter • Creation • Wonder • Christmas.

Here are a few sample poems from the book:

Scattering Books Like Seeds

In my mind, a publisher distributing books is like a farmer broadcasting seeds. We send them out in every direction, hoping they fall on ready, canstockphoto2973557-sowerprepared soil that will receive the message and take it to heart.

This wintry time of year, seeds lie dormant in the ground waiting, sealed. When days grow longer and warmer, the seeds will awaken, sprout and eventually produce leaves and fruit.

Same with books. You may buy a book or be given one, but the season of your life isn’t right yet. The book sits on a shelf, or under a pile of other volumes—or a list of Kindle files—you plan to read sometime. Then one day you pick it up, or click it open, and start reading; and you marvel that these words are exactly what you need at this time of your life.

Casting/sowing seeds or books takes faith. A Christian publisher must believe that these books, which contain kernels of life-giving truth, will be carried by the Wind of the Holy Spirit. And when prepared personal soil opens to them, we pray that their message will be watered by the Living Water. The resulting fruit will be minds and hearts growing and encouraged to flourish in hope, wholeness, spiritual insights, and joy.

So I choose the mindset of an under-gardener. My Father is the Gardener. By his grace I’ll do my part. His is the overall plan, purpose and power. The resulting fruit cannot be fully seen or measured this side of Heaven.

Then, how can we fail? Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must lick my finger and hold it to the wind.

Experiencing Wonder

carol-and-chickadee-web 

Carol O’Casey was born to be wild. As a field biologist, pastor’s wife, and author she says:

As soon as I could walk I toddled outdoors to watch tadpoles knit themselves into frogs and clouds quilt the skies. I was at home in nature. Connecting it all to God would come later. Much later.

Those childhood years as an amateur naturalist fueled my passion for nature and led me to pursue a degree in marine biology. Yet, somewhere in the middle of a hardcore science education, I met a man studying to be a pastor. Who says God doesn’t have a sense of humor? Suddenly my world of science collided with the world of religion. Little did I know I would soon become a biologist and a pastor’s wife.

While God doesn’t promise us a life of comfort, he does promise to walk beside us. So I navigated the road of the ministry, rough edges and all. Along the way, God provided rich rest stops that soothed my soul. I found hope in his gift of nature as I escaped the expectations of ministry and took 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 was transformed. There, in the solitude of nature I experienced God’s presence.

What about you? Are you burdened with expectations? Do you feel drained from the demands of the day? God’s creation has the power to restore wonder. And wonder connects us with the divine.

Renowned agricultural researcher George Washington Carver experienced awe in his encounters with the natural world and exclaimed,

“I love to think of nature as unlimited broadcasting stations, through which God speaks to us every day, every hour and every moment of our lives, if we will only tune in…”

In a society obsessed with speed, we must slow down, tune in. How often during an average day do you tune in—or tune out? What daily distractions can scramble your signal?

Perhaps Moses, the ancient futurist, could be considered the pioneer of tuning in to the God frequency. Moses was a murder convict on the lam, wandering in the wilderness, when he stumbled upon wonder. He could have missed the whole shebang. I’m thankful he didn’t. Consider Moses’s journey en route to wonder:

Moses sees: To avoid murder charges and Pharaoh’s pursuit, Moses escapes to the wilderness. While tending the sheep on the far side of the desert (read: the middle of nowhere) Moses sees a sight that piques his curiosity: “Moses saw that though the bush was on fire, it did not burn up” (Exodus 3:2).

Moses slows: Moses moves into step two of his journey to wonder as he intentionally veers off course and investigates. In our frantic, time-starved lives, we often fail to notice what we are seeing. Not Moses. Moses, in the act of holy wondering, pursues this sight of wonder. This burning bush intrigues him and he desires to know more.

Granted, this is probably easy for him to do. After all, what else do you do in a desert in the days before Kindle, Internet, cell phones—conveniences that, while helpful on one front, distract us from the wonder of nature on the other. Moses entertains himself with the world around him—in this case, a burning bush that does not stop. I guess he had become tired of counting sheep (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

Moses connects: Because Moses slows to see, he experiences step three on the journey to wonder: Moses connects in a conversation with the God of the universe. “When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look…” (Exodus 3:4). Whoa. Let’s just park there for a minute. Did you catch that? God was watching him the whole time!

God was watching and waiting to see what Moses would do with this wonder created to catch his attention. Imagine God, in eager anticipation, peering out from behind the curtain of his magnificence, waiting to see how Moses would respond. Would Moses look? Would he divert his attention from his everyday duties to notice this amazing sight sparked into existence especially for him? He did.

What happens next dazzles the mind. God calls to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And so begins a personal conversation with the Creator of the universe. How amazing. While Moses leads the sheep through a wasteland of wilderness, dutifully engaged in the ho-hum routine of life, the Creator of the cosmos calls to him. God calls to Moses the murderer, Moses the runaway, Moses the coward hiding in the desert.

Let’s be real. There is no hiding from God. When God wants us, he finds us. His presence goes before us, wherever we go. His presence waits for our attention.

Notice how Moses responds to God: “Here I am.” Three simple words. Honest. Concise. To the point. Through wonder, the burning bush is seared into Moses’s mind; God gets his attention and Moses is ready to listen. No excuses (those come later). Perhaps Moses is stunned speechless. I know I would be. What would be your response to such a call?

“Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them” (Psalm 111:2). As a “wonderologist” (one who studies the wonders of nature), I delight in the details of creation. From the bumblebee that manages to fly on wings that appear too small for its ungainly body; to the dragonfly that rises from its waterlogged larval form and morphs to a powerful airborne adult; to the barnacle that literally stands on its head and snatches its meals with its legs, God entertains and delights us with the endless wonders he has created.

Now I confess, I’ve never seen a burning bush; but then, I’m no Moses. I’m a regular old child of God hiking through creation for a glimpse of the Master. Mind you, nature doesn’t solve my problems, but it does reset my “worry-ometer.” When I explore his wonders, I worry less. Care to join me? You don’t need a degree in science or a month in the rain forest to find wonder. All you need is a willing heart and a few minutes of time to intentionally see, slow, and connect with God and creation.

~Carol O’Casey

from the Introduction to the book, Unwrapping Wonder: Finding Hope in the Gift of Nature

 

Grace in Horrific Times

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There are more than 65 million displaced people in the world today, more than ever before in history.

There are more natural disasters occurring than ever before in recorded history.

There is a growing spirit of division among people, notably in the U.S. and in Britain, as evidenced in current politics and elections. So much of this division seems fueled by fear, anger, and distrust.

There have been horrific times before in history. We humans like to think we have learned from those experiences and that we wouldn’t let such things happen again. Can we learn from history? Will we? Or must history repeat itself?

Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) And he said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)

Cladach has released books that feature true stories of God—and his people—at work even during the most horrific historical times. For instance:

All these personal memoirs happened in extremely tumultuous times and circumstances. Each describes injustices, cruelty, and evil forces unleashed on nations, people groups, and individuals. Each of these stories also gives witness to God’s grace.

We offer these stories in the hope that readers will find renewed perspective, faith, and love.

Both Wise and Innocent

Photo ©David Lawton

As the world seems to get smaller, do you feel more and more powerless? We continue to believe that each individual—and each group—makes a difference. What we do, how we think, our actions and prayers—along with the currents of God’s purposes and the showers of his love—cause ripples that can bring lasting change for well-being in our world.

“I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil….The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.” (Romans 16:19-20)

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