Category: Offering HOPE

The Long Cold Stare of January

JANUARY

A captive to granite gray stare,

I shiver and hunker there.

Clouds shudder also and

shake loose frozen crystals

flashing slivers of light.

Now silver gleam the gazing eyes.

I rise unblinking, captivated.

As I awoke from sleep one morning, these words came distinctly to my mind: The long, cold stare of January.

I don’t know where those words came from. But they came clear and definite and stayed with me. I wrote that phrase in my journal, thought about it a while, looked outside at the wintry landscape, then composed the (above) poem.

I live in northern Colorado. January is our coldest month. And it is a long month, 31 days. The cold, short days and long nights can make one feel captive. It is a season when people, those who can afford it, like to travel to places like Mexico, Florida, or Spain. Other people may dream of warm beaches during January. But the weather often keeps us indoors and isolated. One can feel captive.

One can also feel captive in an uncomfortable way when people stare at them. Cold stares are especially disconcerting.

Feeling trapped, fearful, impatient with your situation can make your outlook seem hard and gray. But, truly, there is beauty in every season. Opening our hearts to “see” that beauty can turn those cold, gray eyes to a silver gaze.

Contemplatives speak of the “gaze” of the face of Christ that holds, sees deeply, and can draw out the inner radiance of one’s true self.

Recently I was reading a story that described the “silver” eyes of some Scottish Highland folk. I had never heard eye color described as silver before. Polished silver is not necessarily a cold-looking metal. A warmth seems to gleam from deep inside.

Hidden in every hard place is hope. If we look for it with eyes to see, it will eventually gleam forth; and then, rather than be captives we may become captivated by the presence of love and even joy.

~Catherine Lawton


Photo by Kacper Szczechla on Unsplash

This post was first published at Godspacelight 1/18/22, here slightly edited.

Bobo, Ouyang, and Susan: Experiencing Community

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.

So I was delighted when Susan and Ouyang contributed a story, “Bobo the Hedgehog,” to our most-recent release, The Animals In Our Lives: Stories of Companionship and Awe.

“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.

 

 

Living Creation

Stepping into the garden

We plant gardens, come what may.

In the Garden a few years ago

Every morning we look out the window of our home office and see our vegetable/flower garden, and on most days we see the Rocky Mountains rising in a solid, constant backdrop to the view.

Last fall the mountains were hidden by wildfire smoke that settled over our Northern Colorado area (and much of the western states, too). We were reminded that, though nature is given to bless us and for us to steward, we cannot control it.

We’re thankful for those who manage well the wild forests, rivers, and grasslands. And here at our home place we continue to care for the piece of earth entrusted to us, and we seek to persevere with the hope and patience we learn from Creator God who brings sunshine and harvest, cycles of seasons and rains, maintains the stars in their places, and every spring calls forth new life out of burns, decay and dormancy.

Life will winlove will win … as we commune with, cooperate with, work with our living, loving God who is actively creating and re-creating.

This is a theme I feel called to share through writing and publishing, featuring …

 

Holy Stillness

Treasures of Darkness : Holy Stillness

I have found that spiritual, emotional, and physical healing can begin even in times that are darkened, cold, alone, silent … when I still my heart and contemplate the “treasures of darkness” (Isaiah 45:3). One of the sweetest treasures of darkness is the realization that we are not alone. This realization encouraged me anew this winter as I contemplated that nature also experiences the waiting that has become more acute for us during a pandemic winter.

In much of the Northern Hemisphere, at least, we have been waiting for lighter, warmer days of nature’s renewal. And during these days of Lent we also recall, again, Jesus’ crucified body waiting in a dark, cold cave of death. When Jesus “woke up” in that cave of a tomb, did he open his eyes to darkness? Or did his open eyes, his very breath and resurrection-life energy, shine light into the darkness even before the stone rolled away? John wrote that Jesus is the light and the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5).

We can experience moments during periods of waiting that are holy, even healing. One morning this past winter I sat in meditative prayer in a corner room of our basement. That room has two windows with below-ground-level window wells. During the summer, toads and tiger salamanders dwell in the window wells. My grandchildren like to look for them. During winter, these denizens of the deeps dig into the earth and wait in darkness, finally emerging again in late spring. On that cold, sequestered pandemic morning I was thinking about these creatures—and my own sense of waiting—when this poem came to me:

Holy Stillness
There is no heartbeat
in a seed
Yet life waits
in that brittle encasement
as surely as in the stilled
breathing and slowed
beating heart of
toads and salamanders
in winter deeps and
sleeping bears in caves
Waiting, waiting, we wait
in lengthened nights and
chilled soil and cloistered suns
for warmer, lighter, moister days
to dawn
From on high—and pulsing
in the depths—we hear
“Wait… Wait… Be still…”
and “Coming—
I did, I am, I will.”

~Catherine Lawton


(This post was first published at GodSpace on 3-27-21.)
Photo: Ehud Neuhaus / Unsplash

Watching For God In Season and Out

We have never experienced a Christmas like this one. No children’s programs at church, school, or community. No concerts to attend. Not much “window shopping.” No caroling door-to-door, no dinner parties, few gatherings or family reunions. I do think I see more people putting lights on their houses and trees outside.

In this season, as during this whole pandemic year, my husband and I have found great comfort in nature, even right in our backyard, especially the many birds that visit our feeders, birdbath, and trees and shrubs.

On a more normal Christmas a few years ago, our young grandchildren came to visit. We enjoyed playing in the snow and other activities, such as making pine cone suet feeders for the birds. Later I wrote these verses (below) and even illustrated them in a little Advent / Christmas book for the grandchildren. Two years ago I published this story-in-verse, entitled Something Is Coming To Our World.

These verses tell something of my own hopeful vision for the world, how our loving God is present to all creation, and has come into our world in the form of Jesus, the Incarnate Christ, whose coming again we await with anticipation, and with whom we can now be “partners,” co-laborers, caring for creation and loving people. (May God’s reign soon fully come!)

• • • • •

What Is Coming To Our World?
(How a Backyard Bird Sees Christmas)

Seasons have passed of warm, wiggly worms,
bountiful gardens and bright wildflowers,
plentiful insects on leaf and wing,
sun traveling high across the sky,
and all good things that make us sing.

The days grow shorter. The air grows colder.
We search now for meals and warm roost.
When the hawk and fox come hunting,
I will quickly hide in a bush.
The chill in the air tells me high on the peaks
snowflakes are drifting in piles white and deep;
soon, in this place that’s home to me
frost will sparkle and snow will fall.
Creator God, who gives sunshine and seeds,
berries and water, spring, summer, fall—
surely wants us to thrive all year long!

Bells are ringing. I hear singing.
Good aromas are increasing.
What should we anticipate?
What story does the music relate?
When the people open their doors,
I smell something warm, spicy and sweet,
and the seeds they bring us are nice.
Nippier days turn their noses pink,
but something good is coming, I think.
Anticipation fills the air.

Nights are cold, but lights are bright
and they twinkle everywhere.
It looks like stars are coming down
on trees and houses from the air.

It looks to me—all around—
like Heaven’s surely coming down!

Children come bounding out in the snow,
all rosy and bundled for winter play.
They gather greenery, seedpods, and cones—
much like we do sometimes in spring.
I wonder what they’re going to make?
A blue-eyed girl and boy look my way.

I start to fly; then I hear the girl say,
‘Hello, little bird. Here’s a present for you.
Do you know that tomorrow is Christmas Day?’
The boy says, ‘Merry Christmas to you, little bird,
and happy celebrations with your friends, too.’
I like the peanut butter and seeds they’ve pressed
into the pine cones they hang in the tree.

I’ll fly to the highest branch and sing
a song of Heaven coming down,
light in the darkness, warmth in the cold,
provision and plenty, promises of old.
As seeds wait patiently within the earth,
there’s hope for us all—even little birds.
All feathered friends, all four-legged creatures,
all living things, now hear my song.
All who Creator God called ‘good’:
God cares—and comes—for all.

I will sing the song God gives me.
I will wing the flight that lifts me.
I will listen to the glorious sounds,
for Heaven’s love is all around.

~Catherine Lawton

Illustrations from the book, Something Is Coming To Our World: How A Backyard Bird Sees Christmas

 

Giving Thanks To “A Worthy King”

For Thanksgiving (this week) and Christ the King Sunday (which is today) I am updating this post, first published three years ago. So much has changed since three years ago. I have added more comments/questions/affirmations after this poem:

Worthy to Receive Glory

Made to honor, we give fealty,

We seek true north like a needle.

But to look for your king

in a pulpit, disappoints;

in a government, fails;

in the mirror, distorts.

Look instead with the eyes of your heart

to the Wounded who heals;

to the Throne that is true;

to the Lamb who was slain,

Christ the King.

–Catherine Lawton

© 2018, 2020

(Excerpted from the book Glimpsing Glory)

In Revelation Chapter 5, Christ the King is depicted as a Lamb who has been slaughtered. Yet all the magnificence of Heaven bows down and worships this Lamb.

In Isaiah 53 we are told “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.”

Then why do we continually seek the pretty, the popular, the powerful, the persuasive, and the polished to emulate, venerate, and follow?

More questions: Have we ever given thanks to God for entering into our humanity and suffering with us and for us? Have we given thanks for the privilege of suffering with him and for him? Are we giving our hearts, our allegiance, our lives to the slaughtered Lamb who lives? the wounded one who heals? Are we willing to bring our wounds to the Lamb for healing? to transform us into wounded healers?

This Thanksgiving, even in the midst of pandemic fears, political uncertainties, and limited gatherings, I want to “virtually” join all those who “fell down and worshiped” the lamb. as they held aloft bowls filled with “the prayers of the saints” and as they sang a “new song”:

“You are worthy … for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed, for God, saints from every tribe and language and people and nation;…

“Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered …

“To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

He is our king and he is with us, even in our present sufferings!

Giving thanks,

 


Photo: Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash

Photo taken in Rocky Mountain National Park

BRAVE WHIMSY and VULNERABILITY

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.)

Peace Blows In

Sometimes the simplest moments are the most profound. On a quarantined breezy morning last week, as I watched the branches of our front-yard tree waving in the wind, these lines of verse came to me:

Spring Wind

On a bright blossomy breezy day

my fears and sorrows blew away;

And in their place gentle hopes

of fresh tomorrows came to stay.

~Catherine Lawton

Five weeks ago I wrote (in this post) that I had both caught a virus and a virus had caught me.

Now (as I have recovered), I’m thinking that sometimes it feels as if the peace of God is caught much like a virus is caught. Though perhaps I wouldn’t say God “catches” us the way a virus “catches” us, yet I will say that…

  • We are both found by God and we find God.
  • We are both taken hold of by God and we take hold of God.
  • We are both accepted by God and we accept God.
  • We are both embraced by God and we embrace God.

It is being said that anyone exposed to this new Corona Virus will “get” it, whether they show symptoms of Covid 19 or not, because we humans have no resistance to it yet. On the other hand, we humans are adept at resisting God’s pursuit.

A virus seems to pursue us, intent on invading. It can kill. On the other hand, God, out of love, pursues and woos every person he has created, desiring to rescue and save and give life.

As long as we resist God’s pursuit and wooing, we are filled with spiritual death, as if a virus has invaded and found receptors in our vital “spiritual organs.” But as we turn to God, he envelops us in his arms of love. I don’t want to say God invades us like a virus, but he freely enters our being, fills us with the spiritual life of his presence. Then Death is swallowed up in Victory.

O Breath of Life, breathe on us. Let your Wind blow through us and fill us anew with your healing Spirit, that we may resist both spiritual and physical disease. Give renewed life and vigor to our bodies’ very cells that we may resist and defeat viral attacks. Thank you that even the final death has been swallowed up in victory by the death and life of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Fear not, my soul.

Fear not, friends.

 

Current Buzz – Feb. 2020

Over a month into 2020 we’ve had some surprises as well as some planned happenings. In this post I’ll share with you some of the surprises. One of our authors has garnered increased media attention lately:

Hostage In Taipei : A True Story of Forgiveness and Hope by McGill Alexander

This memoir by now-retired South African ambassador and brigadier general tells the dramatic hostage story that occurred in Taiwan. A few years after the book was released, National Geographic TV broadcast a docudrama of this amazing story and testimony of the Alexander’s, which was re-enacted by a British production company. Now the “Locked-up Abroad” episodes, including this one (Season 1, Ep. 10: “Taiwan”), have become available on Amazon video. Viewers of the docudrama sometimes search for more about the story and land on Alexander’s Wikipedia page, which leads to info about Hostage In Taipei, which may lead to the interested party purchasing the paperback or ebook. One such viewer / searcher / reader was a Christian media person, who then invited McGill Alexander as a guest on his podcast. Find it in audio or video here:

 Artwork for Audio Mullet #35: How To Forgive The Man Who Shot Your Daughter Audio Mullet #35: How To Forgive The Man Who Shot Your Daughter  Or, even better, watch video of the episode on Youtube here.

Doug TenNapel and Ethan Nicolle welcome special guest McGill Alexander from South Africa, who was in an intense hostage situation many years ago while living in Taiwan. A notorious murderer and rapist held his family hostage for 26 hours, shooting McGill and his daughter – both survived. McGill and his wife later brought a Bible to the man who held them hostage and led him to Christ, forgiving him for what he put them through. This interview is all about that act – loving those who are your enemies, praying for those who persecute you. Why are we called to do it and what does it mean?

(In the 40-minute interview, McGill tells the story with such passion and freshness, you’d think it happened yesterday.)

Then, it so happens that one of the “Mullet” podcasters, Ethan Nicolle, also co-hosts the Babylon Bee podcast, which then hosted McGill on Jan 24. This one is probably even more indepth and thoughtful. You can listen to this 48-minute podcast segment on this page: Forgiving The Man Who Took My Family Hostage: The McGill Alexander Interview Jan 24, 2020.

You may know the Babylon Bee as a Christian / Political satire site. There are good vibes but no satire this time, as the story is deadly serious, has eternal ramifications, and has provided challenging, inspiring testimony to the world. In their interview, Kyle Mann and Ethan Nicolle covered these topics and more:

    • McGill’s story : How this hostage event happened and who the criminal was

    • McGill’s Christian faith

    • How did McGill get through this horrible event?

    • Forgiveness- what is it and what does it look like?

    • How long did it take to forgive, was this a process, and what was going through his mind as all this was happening?

    • Is forgiveness completely unconditional?

    • Does forgiveness condone the evil?

    • We live in a “show no mercy” culture nowadays, especially on social media. How does forgiveness shape how we approach this culture?

We at Cladach appreciate the length of these podcasts and the time they gave McGill to tell his story, as well as the excellent questions and subjects covered in the discussions. (Thank you, Ethan.) We are also pleased at the increase in sales we have noticed as a result of these media opportunities. And we are even more pleased that the Alexander’s story is reaching ever-widening audiences.

In another part of the world, McGill Alexander was invited to Indonesia by CNA, an English-language Asian news network, to appear in an episode of The Negotiators to tell his hostage-crisis story, which was also reenacted. The 47-minute episode can be viewed at:

 The Negotiators: Ep 2: Taipei Hostage Crisis (Updated: ) Taiwan’s most-wanted criminal holds a South African diplomat’s family hostage at gunpoint. Negotiators find themselves trying to do their work in the midst of a frantic media circus.


Even though McGill was ill while in Indonesia for this filming, he did a great job.

I thank God for continuing to open doors for this story and testimony to be told through both Christian and secular media.

 

The Courage of Authenticity

It takes courage to be an author, to declare and publish to a busy, perhaps skeptical world what you have experienced privately … to tell in “bright lights” what you have seen and learned in dark places.

Long ago in Bethlehem, shepherds waiting and watching on a dark hillside experienced a wondrous awakening and illumination. Then, even as they stood there in awe of the heavenly hosts, the shepherds must have needed courage and bravery to leave their flocks in the care of their guard dogs and run into the dark, crowded city of Bethlehem to look for a newborn baby “in a manger” and then worship him as the promised king. Surely there were more qualified and famous individuals to use as messengers.

I think the needed courage gripped the shepherds because the authenticity of their experience and their certainty of it overcame their trepidation. They obeyed, they went, they told. And their story was full of immediacy and hope.

Sometimes we authors feel that way.

Though angels didn’t exactly appear to us in the night sky and declare wonderful tidings of great joy for us to write,  Christian writers do sense a call from God and we experience wonder and the help of God (and perhaps even of angels) as we write. We certainly have good tidings to share.

Janyne McConnaughey is an example of one writer who has a life-changing story of hope and is compelled to write and tell her story to encourage others. I don’t know whether she has been “touched by an angel” but I know she has been touched by God with the courage to share her story. The title of her first book, BRAVE, tells that. And these comments from readers and reviewers on Amazon.com tell us of the authenticity and immediacy and hope in her story.

  • “There is hope!”
  • “A compelling journey”
  • “A very important book”
  • “A road less traveled … a path to healing”
  • “Kept me on the edge of my seat”
  • “Powerful story”
  • “Healing from complex trauma”
  • “A roadmap to freedom”
  • Brave is a fitting title for this true story.”
  • “A beautiful soul shows us the way to hope and healing.”
  • “A book every person who has struggled with trauma should read.”
  • “This book can be your path to healing from childhood trauma.”

Whatever your place of waiting ‘in the night’—or journey in the dark— be encouraged. A savior is born and he brings good news to the oppressed, including those suffering from complex trauma.

~Catherine Lawton


Photo: Hubble Space Telescope

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