Category: Offering HOPE

Holy Week Longings

It’s Maundy Thursday of Holy Week. Palm Sunday seems a long time ago. Children waved palm branches at church. It felt good to rejoice in the triumphal entry of the One who would surely be King and bring vindication and victory.

But when the the palm branches turn brown 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.

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.

At these times, it’s hard to 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 the confusion surrounding the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus, perhaps Jesus’ followers turned to words of the Psalmist David:

“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).

Even today, David’s poetic psalms speak to our emotions.

God still gives us poets who have the ability to express our heart longings. 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.

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

 

With Palm Branches Waving

GUEST POST

by Dennis Ellingson, author of God’s Healing Herbs

For three years Jesus had ministered in word and deed. There was no one greater than he. Even the elements listened to him and obeyed; and even the dead responded and lived again.

Those who witnessed Lazarus come forth from the dead could not doubt that “truly God” stood among them. When a person had been dead three days and rotting in cave, death was irreversible. But God can reverse what is irreversible. He gave Mary and Martha their brother back.

Then Jesus traveled on to Jerusalem, the City of Peace where there was no peace, the City of the King that had no true king.

But as Jesus and his disciplesaccompanied by a large crowdmade their way to the city for Passover, something happened. An election was held on the streets and the ballot boxes were ripped from the date palm trees. With palm branches waving, the people ordained Jesus as the king.

The red carpet was not out; but the long, full and stately palm branch would serve well in the excitement of the procession. This was a man who could feed the multitudes, calm the seas, and even raise the dead!

“A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut [palm] branches from the trees and spread them on the road.” (Matthew 21:8)

At the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, the people waved the branches and shouted, ‘Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the King of Israel.’

Jesus told the pharisees who were there to question and criticize, that if these people did not proclaim him king, ‘If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out’ (Luke 19:40).

On that day long ago, which we now celebrate as Palm Sunday, if the people had not proclaimed that Christ was King, God, Messiah, Savior—then the very inanimate rocks themselves would have proclaimed it.

More ornamental palms are sold during the Easter season than any other time of the year. Do we buy them just because they are nice? Or is it an expression of our own “Hosanna”—a declaration of Jesus as our eternal and personal King?


This post excerpted from the “Jesus and the Herbs” section of the book God’s Healing Herbs by Dennis Ellingson.

Drawing of a Palm Branch by Matthew Kondratieff

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.

 

 

Life As a Journey

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“Does the road wind up-hill all the way?”

“Yes, to the very end.”

“Does the day’s long journey take the whole long day?”

“From morn to night, my friend.”


This poem by Christina Rossetti has often given me encouragement to keep stepping onward and upward on my own life’s journey. Just recently, Rossetti’s poem came to mind again— when I noticed that many Cladach book titles allude to various aspects and dimensions of this journey called ‘life.’ For instance,

On that up-hill road, we often WALK:

As we walk, we will inevitably need to TRUST:

We may need to RUN (from SHAME and toward LOVE):

Our journey may lead to ESCAPE:

We may have to release and LEAVE BEHIND:

Our journey will be fraught with DANGERS:

Our journey will involve SEARCHING and finding:

We will COME to oases that bid us to STAY awhile and CELEBRATE:

The journey provides stretches of solitude for pondering and REMEMBERING:

The journey includes places for PAUSING, letting others pass, and finding renewed perspective:


But is there for the night a resting-place?

   A roof for when the slow dark hours begin.

May not the darkness hide it from my face?

   You cannot miss that inn.

Shall I meet other wayfarers at night?

   Those who have gone before.

Then must I knock, or call when just in sight?

   They will not keep you standing at that door.

Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?

   Of labor you shall find the sum.

Will there be beds for me and all who seek?

   Yea, beds for all who come.

–Christina Rossetti

 

A Tale of Two Creeks

The two creeks I have in mind don’t surge or produce whitewater. In fact, much of the year, they trickle…through prairie and grassland, over rises and around bends…ever moving, ever adjusting, fed by waters originating in the heights of the snow-capped Rocky Mountains, bringing life and sustenance to more remote, insignificant places.

Neither of these creeks flows through prime real estate attracting big-name land speculators and developers. Yet each has a story to tell of life and death, and of refuge seekers. Each has reflected the faces of generations as they laughed and cried, worked and prayed. And each of these creeks has received the blood, sweat, and tears shed there.

What stories these creeks could—and do—tell:  of community…of clashing and contrasting worldviews, lifestyles, and civilizations…of promises and lies, of seeking and finding, of celebrating and mourning.

Big Sandy Creek is noted for being the location of the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864 in southeastern Colorado. These days, long stretches of this creek appear dry on the surface, but water still flows underground. (A good reminder to us that some things may seem lost or forgotten, but their presence and effects still linger.) John Buzzard’s novel, That Day by the Creek, portrays the hopes and dreams, clashes and conflicts that culminated in the Sand Creek Massacre. There, the tragic, wrongful deaths of a remnant of oppressed human beings surely caused the life-giving Spirit of God to weep. One can imagine that God’s tears mingled with Cheyenne and Arapaho blood flowing into the shores and waters of Sand Creek.

Little Kitten Creek, which flows near Manhattan Kansas, is the namesake of the country road on which Nancy Swihart and her husband, Judd, settled and founded a life-affirming, loving community. Nancy’s memoir, On Kitten Creek, paints the picture of their migration from L.A. “in search of the sacred” in their daily lives, guided by the desire to live simply and Christ-centered. They creatively consecrated and used the land, the farm animals, and the buildings, including a big barn that hosted concerts, conferences and a dramatized Nativity. There, on what had been a dilapidated old farm straddling Kitten Creek, life-giving waters have flowed from the Spirit of God and touched thousands of lives through the years.

A tale of two creeks, two stories of the land, the people, the times—reminding us that God is with us, working in seen and unseen ways to bring good out of rocks and ruins.

Even though the Waters of Life seem at times to flow only in a trickle, or hidden underground, they will never stop until the day finally comes when all things are made new.

 

 


Photo by Nashwan guherzi on Pexels.com

Grace to Mothers and Fathers Grieving Aborted Babies

Sunset sky

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Child’s Poetic Expression of Faith on Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday

As we say, as

we sing, Glory to

the King almighty.

Glory.

Let us sing, let

us say Christ

has risen from

the grave! The

Lord is great,

the Lord is

good!

He forgave us

of our sins!!

 

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

 

Time for Truth, Accountability, and Healing

Timing. We often hear “in God’s time” or “timing is everything” or “this isn’t the right time” or “the time has come.” One thing we know, time keeps moving forward. And sometimes, when the pendulum swings by, you need to grab hold. That’s what author Susan Jenkins did with the Facebook post pictured below.

The “recent events in the news” Susan speaks of here are the many reports and stories exposing sexual harassment and abuse of women by men in positions of authority. In Susan’s memoir, Scandalon: Running From Shame and Finding God’s Scandalous Love, she tells her own story of sexual abuse by a pastor, emotional abuse in a marriage, and of scandal in her family. Hard things to write about and bring to the light. But that is often part of healing.

Susan also describes how she fled to—and lived in—China for 15 years. There Susan got to know the Chinese and observe the effects of trauma and abuse they suffered under Communism. God used her time in China to help bring the healing she needed. Inspiring reading!

I’m going to try using a Facebook screen shot here. Below is Susan’s public post to her many followers, which she shared on, January 16, 2018.

It’s time, all right. Time for truth and accountability. Time for healing.

 

When Your Beloved Home Country Becomes an Impossible Place to Live

Usually your native country is your homeland. That’s where you belong, live in community, practice the traditions of your people, enjoy the natural beauty and resources of the land.

But for many people in some places of the world their familiar and beloved home place is violently disrupted. Racial, religious, and territorial conflicts arise; corrupt governments crumble or oppress; natural disasters occur; genocide comes down hard.

How would you describe such a country? These people call it “home.” They don’t want to leave their home. But the time came they had to flee for their lives.

For instance, we have published the stories of refugees from South Sudan and Darfur. Here are three of them.

This is Muna Maria and her family. She was a child in a south Sudan village. “When I was six or seven years old I was abducted by a man from north Sudan…. On the day I was taken, the government soldiers began shooting in our direction and the mango grove caught on fire. Homes and shops burned down. All the children ran in different directions. They didn’t know where to go—they saw no way out. That’s when a soldier grabbed me and took me away. It must have been chaos in our village—parents looking for their children and children who had run too far away and couldn’t find their way home. …”

This is Gabriel. He begins his story with: “During Sudan’s Civil War that began in 1983, government troops from the north attacked and bombed my village in the south. My family was separated—we all ran in different directions. Most were killed. At that point, I was still with my mother, but when I was eleven years old I separated from her and fled with other young boys to Ethiopia. Eventually I began wandering from place to place in East Africa. But wherever I went, I was an outsider, a refugee with no documents…” For some time he was put in a “terrible, terrible jail.” Gabriel’s youth was a saga too long to tell here.

This is Muna from Darfur. Her story is of horrendous suffering. Her husband and five of her six children were killed. She says, “Nothing remained in our town after the attack on that black day. It was the rainy season when it feels like heaven opens and pours buckets of water down to the earth. My son and I ran in the rain and in the darkness. No light anywhere. I tripped and fell in the mud. My house dress caught on the thorny bushes and trees. I lost all my clothes but had to keep running. Me, who always wore the beautiful, colorful dresses and scarves common to our tribe. We finally reached the forest and hid like wild animals.”

To read more of the stories of these and other refugees from Sudan, get the book A People Tall and Smooth by Judith Galblum Pex.

Let’s keep our minds and hearts and arms open to the desperately needy in our world no matter from what beloved homeland they have had to flee.


 

Top Photo: © Can Stock Photo / Satori
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