“They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him.” (Matthew 27:29)
We are told that creation itself moans because of the curse put upon us. Everything bears the mark of humankind’s sin. I don’t know how to understand it—but I believe plants, animals, and all of creation respond in some way to the God who made them.
If a thorn bush could think, I wonder how it might have mourned to know that its branches were used to hurt the very One who had made it. If a bush could have shed tears rather than causing blood to be shed, and a bush could choose, I wonder whether the bush would have chosen tears.
“History tends to repeat itself.” But some events in history were so evil, shameful, and tragic—that we should pray and work to see that they are never again repeated.
Within the worst of times, however, one can find a few good people who showed faith, hope, and love. Re-telling the stories of those people can offer us a vicarious experience of the past and perspectives needed in the present.
In the mid to late 19th-Century, tensions were building between civilizations, political factions, and people groups competing for land, resources, and power. Westward expansion was thrilling and offered opportunities—land to tame, farms to establish, towns to settle, gold and silver to mine, territory to claim for the United States, a state to organize and add to the Union. But all this encroached on the centuries-old way of life of the Plains Indians. As treaties were made and not honored, more and more military presence moved into the Territory, ambitious opportunists rose to power, fears, misunderstandings, and violence increased.
The story is told in John Buzzard’s historical novel, That Day by the Creek. Set against the backdrop of the Civil War and Frontier struggles, a young seminary graduate answers God’s call to come west and minister among the Cheyenne Indians. His name is Joshua Frasier. He is soon caught up in the action when he is recruited as a chaplain in the Colorado militia led by John Chivington. Through the fictional character of Joshua we meet the major historical figures of the era, including John Evans (first governor of Colorado) Silas Soule, Black Kettle, etc.
Joshua even marries into the Cheyenne tribe and comes to appreciate most of the Cheyennes as “friendly” Indians who just want peace, to be able to trust the White leaders who have made them promises, and to provide for their families by access to their ancient hunting grounds and rivers.
In telling this important story, John Buzzard’s writing style is straight-forward and unsentimental, and the well-paced action keeps you reading as conflicts build to that fateful day.
The true events on which this story is based are heart-wrenching, not an episode of American history to be proud of. John Buzzard deals with the historical people, issues, and events with a clear eye, the informed perspective of a researcher, and the heart of a person of faith who sees individuals as nuanced and flawed, but also sees that even when evil seems to get hold of groups of people and have its day … a faithful few are planting seeds of love, truth, and forgiveness that will survive and bear fruit.
That Day by the Creek brings history to life and reminds us not to allow fear, distrust, and anger to escalate to the place where we would ever again experience such a day as That Day by the Creek!
More MEANING in every part of the season’s celebrations?
The same PEACE that the angels proclaimed to the Shepherds?
Elusive JOY that Christmas seems to promise but that seems to get buried in the hustle and bustle?
In Donna Westover’s story, The Crimson River, Charlie’s descendants are looking for a treasure that Charlie hid many years ago. They have a map and Charlie’s diary for clues. In the twists and turns of their search, Jake, Larran, and Emma, with their various personal motives and conflicts, cling to hopes of uncovering something that will help them reconnect with lost riches and heritage. What they find is the true heritage left by Charlie, their uncle and grandfather: FAITH.
Admittedly, it is unusual to give away the last chapter of a book; but that’s what Cladach is doing here. And we are calling it “Charlie’s Treasure.”
Enjoy the short read. And may the Christ of Christmas help you find and experience the treasure He has prepared for you, buried within the season, flowing like a Crimson River from generation to generation.
Click the cover image to access or download and read the story. Enjoy!
How are we to think about the Refugee Crises in the world? Here’s a good example of responding to an influx of refugees. This Christian couple living in Israel saw new people groups come and responded immediately with God’s love.
Are you experiencing joy, even when your path may lead through trials, disappointments, and losses? This kind of joy is infectious. With this joy you can “brighten the corner where you are.”
As a young teen in my father’s church I remember one old lady who stood in every testimony service to give an account of all her woes. Then in a mournful voice she would conclude, “But the joy of the Lord is my strength.”
Although my generation never thought we’d get old, the thought must have crossed my mind: “Is that what I have to look forward to, when I’m a ‘mature saint’?”
Since then I’ve met truly joyful elderly Christians who inspire me to focus on the gifts of each moment and on our abounding hopes for the future. Likewise, I’ve met Christians of all ages with disabilities who focus on their abilities and using with abandon the gifts they have (I had a wheelchair-bound friend who both painted and played basketball). I’ve met young mothers and fathers who have lost babies, or who face the fatality of serious cancers, but focus on unseen hopes, on loving and enjoying loved ones while they have life.
I’ve also witnessed this kind of God-created joy in nature. As children, my sister and I had a little dog named Buster who joyously followed our escapades in the neighborhood and in the vacant lot near the parsonage. Whether we were running, skipping, skating, riding bikes, walking on stilts … Buster was there. But trouble lurked in stickery patches where goatheads pierced his little paws. He never cried or stopped. Just kept running on three legs. More than once I saw him holding up a second paw and running on two legs! We hurried to his rescue and removed the thorn(s). But I do believe that, if he had stickers in three paws, he would have tried his best to hop along on one leg. It wouldn’t have surprised me—much—knowing Buster.
Nature—including our pets—can speak to us about the Creator’s ways and His provisions. We are drawn to nature photos for their calming, inspiring effect. These—and other types of photos—can add zing to blog posts and books. For instance, visual treasures—both of nature and other subjects—reside within many Cladach books.
In the next few weeks I’ll dig for these treasures and share my favorites here.
Today I present two black-and-white photos fromWalking In Trust : Lessons Learned with my Blind Dog by Gayle M. Irwin (above and below). These photos show the joy of a dog named Sage as she experienced life and navigated her environment. Blindness didn’t stop her—or her people—from adventures (that you can read about in the book).
Who would think—from these photos—that Sage the Springer Spaniel was totally blind?
Sage inspires us to live fully, this moment, in the joy of the Lord.
We shivered in ski jackets on the beach in January. With my son David and his family, I was walking a stretch of Long Island Sound’s northern shore.
A shrub-lined, curving trail took us over a hill and down upon a tumble of boulders, where we met an unexpected sight: a fit young man bouncing his seat-less bike from one precarious, rocky perch to another. He was focused, concentrating, balanced in spite of what seemed insurmountable odds. To the music of salty wind, lapping waves, laughing children, and calling gulls, he worked silently.
David continued up the trail with binoculars, intent on birding. The children explored shells and driftwood. My daughter-in-law, Hannah, and I stood watching the cyclist.
He hopped off his bike and looked our way.
Hannah called to him, “Are you training for something?”
Without hesitation he answered, “To be a better man!”
Taken aback briefly, Hannah blinked then said, “God bless you!”
“I’m a stuntman,” he explained. “Just came out here to practice.”
He returned to his balancing-act practice. Hannah and I enjoyed the show a few moments longer then hurried to catch up with the family. But the image of someone accomplishing—with apparent ease and grace—something that to me seems impossible, has stayed with me.
Like my grandchildren, since childhood I’ve loved exploring beaches, forests, rivers and meadows. In those places my imagination soared. If I had a book with me, all the better. Good stories opened a world of possibilities. Early I dreamed of writing a book myself. But in my child mind it seemed impossible. How could anyone choose and balance and fit together so perfectly that many words, to make characters and places come alive, to create meaning so believable and absorbing? To me such a process held as much mystery as the thought of God creating the flowers in the meadow and the fish in the creek. But he did. And people do.—They create stories and poems and write books.
I found out later in life, just as the stuntman on the boulders had no doubt learned, that such talent and achievement requires diligence, work, and passion.
Years ago, as I was preparing my first book for publication, I felt as if I was trying to balance two narrow wheels on steep, slippery boulders, and I felt dizzy and inadequate. One night, as deadlines approached, I cried to my husband, “I can’t do it! This is too hard.” He just hugged me and prayed for me.
The next morning I woke with new courage. The book came to be and has found readers—opening windows of possibilities to those readers—around the world.
The stuntman probably started bouncing his bike on the pebbly beach and the uneven, rocky trail before he tried to mount boulders. If you have the passion and the vision, then the way of carrying out that vision will come clear. Maybe not all at once or as easily and quickly as you would like; but the path will open to you and the grace will come, as you practice, learn, and keep trying.
Along the way you will have the opportunity to pursue an even greater purpose. Like the stuntman on the beach, you can say, “Yes, I’m in training—to be a better person”: a person who listens to the wind, takes time to dream, look for birds and seashells, and speak from the heart.
My father, G.H. Cummings, preaching on the radio as a young man
The preacher and his family. I’m the older sister there.
G.H. Cummings in 2009
My dad and me in a “selfie” shortly before his passing.
Practically being raised on a church pew helped set me on a literary path. We sang with gusto the gospel song, “Publish glad tidings, tidings of peace; tidings of Jesus, redemption and release.” During my growing-up years as my father’s daughter, watching him and my mother minister in many churches, I learned:
The potency and potential of words in a book.
In those days in church we were people of two books: the Bible and the hymnal. Every church service began and ended with opening that wondrous, heavy book, often holding it so the person next to you could share it. The hymnal united us as we joined our voices in lilting melodies and straightforward harmonies accompanied by my mother’s lively piano playing, often eliciting “amens” of blessing. All the symbols to help us make music together resided on the pages of that book, all the words to elicit such response, blended in heart-stirring, mind-engaging, and soul-satisfying rhythm, sense and rhyme.
In every meeting the Bible was also opened—and revered. The congregation stoond for “the reading of the Word.” With a reverent, sonorous, unctuous voice, the preacher read a passage from the Bible, then exhorted from its inexhaustible storehouse of truth, wisdom, and life application. I saw evangelists hold their big, black, leather Bibles aloft in one large hand while exclaiming something like, “The Word of God is alive! It is sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing enough to reveal your sin.” And I quaked. But I also learned, quite young, that real comfort could be experienced from those pages. No mere words on paper. But alive! Jumping off the page and into the mind and heart of the reader or the listener. Quickening!
The joy of writing, printing, and disseminating words on paper.
I watched my preacher father as he typed the church bulletin—and perhaps a newsletter—during the week on his old black typewriter (I loved the clicking of the keys and the how the little hammers hit the paper, resulting in words appearing and forming themselves into sentences that said something and that people would read and use to plan their week). On Saturday Daddy would crank out maybe two-hundred copies with his mimeograph machine. I can still smell the ink and hear the sheets of paper swoosh round the rollers and shoot out onto the pile of materials ready to be folded and stacked, then handed out and read—to inform and influence—to be published!
The importance of getting the word out.
Twice a year our churches held extended revival services with an itinerant evangelist, and, in preparation, Daddy would mimeograph a flyer about the upcoming week of meetings. I remember a few times when he paid my sister and me 5¢ each per city block to take the flyers door-to-door and invite people to the services (though “city block” doesn’t quite describe neighborhoods in these rural towns surrounded by farms). My sister and I learned the importance of overcoming our trepidation, knocking on doors, and getting out the word (much like the publicity side of book publishing).
The value of reading and sharing books.
We had few toys and TV (which we got when I was about 11) was our only “tech” entertainment. But always there were books. Books lined the shelves in my father’s study. He took my sister and me to the public library regularly, encouraging us to browse and check out books that interested us. My sister read every horse book she could find, especially those by Walter Farley. I read all the Louisa May Alcott books. And when we brought books home from school or library, our mother often read them, too, and we all enjoyed discussing together the stories. In fact, my sister and I always told each other the stories we read. As a result, I felt I’d read the Black Stallion books even though I never did. And she knew the characters and plots in Little Women and Under the Lilacs even though she didn’t read them. She didn’t have to. That ability to vicariously experience the stories really helped, because there were so many more books to discover! (A side note: When I was a girl I’d hear people argue their point in conversation by saying, “I know it’s true. I read it in a book!” Whether people were readers or not, I observed that most had a sort of reverential awe of books.)
The importance of knowing your readers, your audience, your market.
My father made it a practice to call on his flock in their homes regularly and also to be there whenever trouble hit a family. He would stop by their businesses, farms, and work places for a friendly chat. When he stood in the pulpit to preach on Sunday, he knew those people. He knew their families, their joys and sorrows, the challenges they faced. He also knew their interests, their hobbies, what made them laugh or cry.
How to recruit, train, and encourage workers.
The work and mission of the church needed people of all abilities and ages (and still does). I saw discernment in operation, encouragement expressed, and responsibilities entrusted. Organizing, scheduling, holding meetings were necessary. But loving God and loving people mattered most. Whether or not I heard that expressed in so many words, I definitely “caught” the mindset. As a publisher I want to see sales and increase distribution. I want well-edited and designed books, I want engaged authors, reliable print providers, and enthusiastic book reviewers. I want customers to buy our books. But most of all I want to experience God’s presence in all we do. I want to always remember that, as a Christian publisher, what we publish truly is “glad tidings.”