Tag: God with us

Adoration and Celebration of the Christ Child in Poems by Mary Harwell Sayler

In her fresh, almost-breathless style, Mary designs the title as the first line in most of her poems in PRAISE! POEMS. She employs sometimes startling images and reversals. Read and meditate on these poems that praise, adore, and celebrate the Christmas Child.

 

 

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

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

The Sound of Silence

I took this photo of a sign erected at a viewpoint in Rocky Mountain National Park. I have visited the park during all seasons. In spring and summer the melodies of birds, squirrels, chipmunks, etc. rise and fall on the air. In late summer and early fall, elk calls bugle through the park. Then, on many winter days a soft, white, silent layer of snow breathlessly quiets the scene. Would you think of this “utter, complete silence” as a sound, as Andre Kostelantez did—even “one of the greatest sounds of them all”?

This brings questions to my mind:

Should we seek/embrace silence?

Where/how do we find silence?

Why is silence important/needed?

What can we learn in silence?

Do we tend to avoid—maybe even fear—silence?

My curiosity piqued, I looked up Andre Kostelantez and learned that he was a Jewish/Russian immigrant to America who became one of the most successful conductors and arrangers of music in history. Among many accomplishments, he conducted the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.

I personally knew an orchestra musician who spoke of silence as if it were a sound: my daughter’s violin teacher. She drilled into my daughter the concept that a “rest” in the music was an “important nothing.”

Music rests, seasons of silence, “important nothings”; these provide natural, satisfying rhythms to music and to our lives. This is a principle that God seems to have woven into creation. As physical, emotional, and spiritual beings, we need times of silence that can become “the greatest sound of all” to us.

 Nancy Swihart has learned to embrace this life-enhancing principle. In her memoir, On Kitten Creek, she describes the times of silence on Kitten Creek farm that have become to her, as Kostelantez expressed it, one of the greatest sounds of them all:

“On prayer walks I do most of the listening,” writes Nancy. “Up here in this sky-drenched pasture a comforting solitude is one of the greatest gifts the farm has provided—placing my body, soul, and spirit into the presence of God without distraction.”

Nancy has learned to seek and relish these important-nothing rest times that give meaning and lilt to the music of her life.

Have you found ways to incorporate regular seasons of silence into the flow of your days?

A Spiritual Adventure Story

GUEST POST

by Dr. Mike Parker

On Kitten Creek: Searching for the Sacred by Nancy Swihart is a remarkable, modern day adventure story about how one family, grounded in Christian love and guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit, developed a Christ-honoring community. The power of these verses is fulfilled in her book and life:

In Psalm 71:18, we are encouraged to “declare God’s power to the next generation, His mighty acts to all who are to come.”

Psalm 90:12 tells us to “number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

As I read Nancy’s story, I remembered my own family’s journey… When our first military assignment took us to Kansas, we were blessed with a life-long friendship with the Swihart family as well as our involvement with Wellspring Ministries. My three children, my wife, and I spent many a happy day frolicking on the Swihart farm, enjoying the uniqueness that only farm life can hold, as well as being impacted by the spiritual adventures that took place there on Kitten Creek. Of particular interest to my animal-loving children was the variety of animals found there, which the Swiharts wove into their ministry (and Nancy into her book) much like C.S. Lewis did in his Narnia stories!

This is a life-changing book as it points to self-introspection in regards to how our own lives might be used to further the Lord’s Kingdom here on this earth.

As a retired U.S. Army soldier and now a professor at the University of Alabama, I was impressed by the Wellspring team’s openness to so many college students… their willingness to simply be present, to listen, and to provide a relational community where young people could experience faith in action.

Nancy’s memoir guides her readers to our Savior and encourages a lifetime of focus on Him and the gospel. It reminds us that God provides, corrects, leads, and answers our prayers and needs as we continually seek His presence in our lives. The importance of remembrance is emphasized as the Lord incorporates our whole lives into the strength of our witness for Him, and the value of praying and thinking the Scriptures is encouraged.

In a personal application of this book, though us city folk do not inhabit a farm in Kansas, we do have a small cabin on a river in the Appalachian mountains in north Alabama. We are now inspired to place a Christ-focus in our times there for our family and friends.

On a professional note, I am part of research and ministry with aging congregations across the world. Our team plans to recommend Nancy’s inspirational book as an encouragement to older persons of faith to share their Christ-honoring stories with the next generation and to remind adult children to capture the stories of their parents and grandparents. Nancy provides insightful suggestions and resources about how to tailor and accomplish this. Her own book is a superb example of how one’s own family story can impact this world for the Lord and His life-saving mission.

–Dr. Mike Parker, Professor, University of Alabama, Associate Professor, UAB Medical School, Department of Geriatric Medicine, Non-Resident Scholar, Duke Center for Spirituality and Health


 

Don’t Settle for Dormancy—Live Abundantly

Are you settling in to dormancy?

In November I’m reminded of nature’s cycles of dormancy and productivity. Here in Colorado, many trees have lost their leaves. Grass is gradually going dormant and turning brown.

Trees and shrubs have produced seed pods and cones; flower heads have released seeds that may sprout and surprise us in the garden next spring. Pumpkins have been cut open and seeds scooped out and roasted.

Author / scientist Carol O’Casey unwraps the wonder of seeds—using biology, literature, personal experience, and scripture—and applies this to the believer’s life of faith. In her book, Unwrapping Wonder, she writes, “Often times, in order for us to blossom into the abundant life God has in store for us, we must accept our own spiritual brokenness—just as germination requires the seed coat to be broken.”

Don’t settle into dormancy and stay there.

“Are you lacking the life-giving water necessary to initiate the germination process? Do you long for an abundant, seed-coat-busting life? Abandon your dry and routine life to [God]. Risk heat. Risk exposure. Risk growth. And take heart. Jesus tells us, ‘Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds’ (John 12:24).

Even during the dormant season of winter, life is waiting in the seeds. Some plants will sprout surprisingly early, as soon as daylight hours start increasing. Meanwhile, wait in hope and expectancy.

“Allow God to unleash his power in your life. Dream big. Grow great.” Be ready to “sprout where you are planted. And live. Abundantly.”¹


1. The quotations above are taken from the book, Unwrapping Wonder: Finding Hope in the Gift of Nature by Carol O’Casey.

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Credit for photo of seed capsules of Strelitzia nicolai: Tatters/  http://www.flickr.com/photos/62938898@N00/4745843554

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

 

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