Category: Offering HOPE

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—to participate in “God’s kingdom come.”

I like the quote by Anne Frank, that I photographed summer 2017 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, Christ gave his life for, ever 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 hope is what sets “Christian books” apart among general book publishing. Whether through 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.”

————

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.

“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

Antidote To Fear and Tension

I recorded this reading, and now I share it, with the hopes you will be encouraged in these unsettling times.

The poem is “Antidote” from my book of poetry, Remembering Softly : A Life In Poems

May the peace of Christ rest upon you!

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