Category: Offering HOPE

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

 

Horrors, Trauma, and Healing

Sunday night my husband and I got around to watching, for the first time, the excellent and important movie, Hotel Rwanda. It was harder to watch than I expected. I’m glad the portrayal of genocide wasn’t as graphic as it could’ve been. The true story and the acting were gripping.

What broke my heart was seeing those Rwandan people—children, adults, a whole nation—traumatized by the violence, hate, death, and evil. I went to bed disturbed in my soul. But rather than seeing images of the movie in my mind … I saw images and felt the awful panic of the time as a 4-year-old when I was trapped in, and barely escaped from, a burning house in the middle of the night.

I know a little of what trauma is and how it stays with you. Enough to cause my heart to “go out” to the millions of war-, genocide-, disaster-, and massacre-traumatized people of our world.

Then on Monday morning we woke to news of a shooting massacre in our own country, this time in Las Vegas.

I find myself praying, “O, Lord, send the balm of your healing Spirit to these loved-ones of yours who are emotionally wounded and stuck in ‘fight, flight, or freeze’ mode. Wake us up and fill us with your love and somehow use us to bring the hope and healing you offer.”

Perhaps I will write more in this space about the emotional and spiritual healing I have received. My story was touched on in Journeys to Mother Love. Through Cladach I have also published other people’s experiences of horrors, trauma and healing: A People Tall and Smooth, Hostage In Taipei, No More Fear, Paper Poppies.

Similar to Rwanda, South Sudan experienced horrors of genocide. One Sudanese survivor/refugee named Yien told author Judith Galblum Pex, “We have suffered too much and are still suffering. In our twenty-one years of war, two million people have died. Some people look to the SPLA (the South Sudanese army) to take care of [us], but I turn to God.” (quoted on p. 151 of A People Tall and Smooth)

May this be true of the countless survivors of recent disasters, massacres, and wars—In the aftermath of these horrors and traumas, may people turn to the God … the God who does not cause such evil, but who is with us and is love.

This is a subject to be continued …

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, as evidenced in current discourse, events, 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:

  • Pol Pot’s genocidal regime in Cambodia (in the book, NO MORE FEAR).
  • A political terror-hostage crisis (in the book, HOSTAGE IN TAIPEI).
  • Christian and Muslim refugees in Africa and the Middle East (in the book,A PEOPLE TALL AND SMOOTH).
  • Spiritual hunger during the Communist revolution in Russia (in the book, PAPER POPPIES).
  • Jewish children and their pets during the Holocaust (in the book, FAITHFUL FRIENDS).

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 personal presence, providence, and grace.

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

Showing Love and Offering Hope in the World

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

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

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

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

————

*This is the way a former pastor of ours liked to describe “grace.”

Hope for Refugees

Lang with her brother and three sons in our backyard

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

Lang with my daughter

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

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

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

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

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

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

When a Young Father Has Cancer

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

I feel I am letting my family down.

… My body has been invaded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Finding the Sacred in Place, People, and Story

“Are you hungry for a life that is more than simple existence, for something to give you hope, for surprises bathed in an eternal aura? Do you long for fellow travelers, for genuine community, a place where you can tell your story and listen to others? With whom you can share life and experience mission?”

So begins the book ON KITTEN CREEK: Searching for the Sacred by Nancy Swihart

God seems to make sacred the places where true Christian fellowship and community happen.

Inspired by Francis and Edith Schaeffer’s L’Abri center in Switzerland, Nancy Swihart and her husband dreamed of starting something similar in America, where people could come to learn about and experience—away from their usual distractions—”the God who is there.”

When the Swiharts left their thriving ministries, that were full of “promise” in Southern California and moved to a rustic, old 160-acre farm in the Flint Hills of Kansas, a missional center developed that came to be known as “Wellspring.” This loosely formed, and constantly evolving and renewing fellowship of folks experienced true, transformational community. Through the past thirty years, thousands of people of all ages have benefited from what Wellspring has offered in sacramental, creative, loving, and edifying ways.

Nancy’s memoir released this week.to the following praise:

“Nancy Swihart’s On Kitten Creek is an uplifting and thoughtful read. It will minister to your spirit and move you to give thanks for life’s simple gifts and cause you to reflect deeply about your life, as it has prompted me.” –Ken Canfield PhD., Founder National Center for Fathering; President, National Association for Grandparenting

“Let Nancy give you glimpses of His handiwork among us. Be inspired to look for sacred connections and creative opportunities waiting to surprise you within what may seem mundane in your own life.” –Kay Bascom, Author, Teacher, Missionary, and Conference Speaker

“A look over-the-shoulder and through-the-heart of someone with much to teach every one of us.” –Steven Garber, Principal of the Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation & Culture; author of Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good

I first met Nancy at the Colorado Christian Writers Conference. Drawn by her warm smile, I became convinced that her story fit every part of Cladach’s stated purpose to:

• exalt Christ as Savior and Lord, and know God as Creator, Father, and Redeemer-King.
• witness to His presence and work in creation, and in our world today.
• encourage believers in a mind-set and heart experience of joyful faith and obedience.
• provide practical guidance for developing a life of health and wholeness.
• through the power of story, depict grace to a postmodern world.

Nancy practices listening prayer, gives of herself in hospitality, has searched for and found the sacred in her daily life, and has embraced mystery in the mundane—while caring for farm animals, taking prayer walks on the farm trails, hosting ministry events in the barn, or teaching at a Christian college and giving hospitality to students. Active in local churches, schools, and wider ministries, the Swiharts and their friends together have dreamed, laughed, cried, celebrated, served and shared the life of Christ creatively in ways we all long for.

Let Nancy inspire you to embrace the story that God is writing in your own life!

Amazon currently has the price discounted from $13.49 to $8.83. It’s also available in Kindle and Nook.

Here’s a picture of the Wellspring barn (that is on the book cover) in more recent years undergoing a remodel:

 Nancy with two farm animals, including “Donk” who is in the book.

Nancy with friends at her book-signing in the barn yesterday.

A beautiful tower of books:

(Thanks to Nancy Swihart and Terri Gasser for the photos.)

Holding and Writing What Gives You Life

ROCK_CHAPEL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(This post was first published two years ago.)

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)

 

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