When the sudden and unexpected death of a partner hit Heidi McLaughlin for the second time, it would not have been surprising if she’d have become bitter and joyless. But she was determined not to end up that way. Fresh Joy is her story—the first-person account of a woman who goes from a trauma-shattered state of shock to an expansive place of joy.
Along the way she takes us past milestones of unanswered prayers, regrets and “if onlys,” accepting a season of loneliness, appreciating God’s refining process, and more. McLaughlin skillfully weaves details from her story with the spiritual principles she teaches. Each chapter also contains many practical ways to deepen joy.
I especially enjoyed the chapter on hearing from God. McLaughlin writes,
“I never before thought to ask God a question and then, with pen poised, wait for his answers. This discipline of listening for God’s voice and writing down his answers opened up a whole new God dimension for me” (Chapter 12).
McLaughlin goes on to suggest several doable ways we can nurture our relationship with God by listening and so enhance our joy.
McLaughlin’s style is an easy mix of storytelling, teaching, and challenging her readers. The topical nature of each chapter, along with the concluding sum-up neatly contained in the acronym STOP would make this book great for study and discussion groups. This book would be especially helpful for those who are newly grieving the loss of loved ones—and the rest of us, who have no idea what challenges to joy lie ahead.
I received a copy of Fresh Joy as a gift from the author for the purpose of writing a review.
In Blood Ties, Book 2 of Tracy Krauss’s Three Strand Cord series, we again get involved in the lives of Stella, Tempest, and Cherise.
College-educated Stella returns to her ranch home in Texas to find both ranch-hand brothers in love with her.
Dirk, Cherise’s brother, falls for Tempest but when she doesn’t reciprocate, this rich sometime-playboy decides to volunteer at a Mexican orphanage (maybe this new leaf will convince Tempest that he really has changed).
Cherise, meanwhile, gets involved in a relationship with one of Stella’s friends but, unable to face hurting him due to her track-record of short-term serial romances, decides to join Dirk at the orphanage. There, confronted by the superficiality of their lifestyles the siblings, Dirk and Cherise, are challenged to look for deeper meaning and purpose.
A mean-spirited computer hacker in Texas and suspected drug activity out of the orphanage add danger and suspense to this contemporary romance.
Though some of the shenanigans of Cherise and others would put this book (and the series) into the edgy category, the message of God’s love and ability to change hearts, desires, and actions comes across loud and clear. That dual focus makes the series relatable to contemporary young people, Christian and non-Christian.
I received a copy of Blood Ties as a gift from the author for the purpose of writing a review.
In dramatic scenes fueled by an informed imagination, Cooper-Matchett takes us into a little-known time in Israel’s history. The Jews are in exile in Babylon. Zerubbabel—a brilliant Jewish lad and companion of Nebuchadnezzar’s successor Belshazzar and sister Belshalti-Nanner, is being groomed for service to Babylonian royalty.
However, Zerubbabel also feels the tug of his Jewish heritage. We follow him as he matures to adulthood and is challenged with the ultimate assignment—to lead his people back to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. The cost is great and the pursuit of his divine destiny—predicted by prophets Daniel, Zechariah, and Haggai—tests him to the core even as it highlights God’s intricate plan for His people.
Matchett’s writing is tight, her story-telling taut and filled with Middle Eastern sights, sounds, smells, and machismo. Beyond the Purple Sky is a good read!
Yesterday a newsfeed headline “How to Prepare Now for the Complete End of the World” caught my eye. I didn’t read the article right away, but it got me thinking.
Are we near the “complete end of the world”? The spreading covid19 virus, the doom and gloom of climate change purveyors, the local civil unrest over aboriginal land claims, and more, compound to give me a feeling that life, if not about to end may not return to “normal” anytime soon…maybe ever.
The danger that the covid19 virus poses to seniors (I’m in that age group) is especially concerning. And so, in my staring match with mortality, I ask myself, am I ready for the end? Are you?
I did read the above article this morning. I’m not sure I like its answers. It describes a “rewilding movement” where people get back to stone age living—making fire, hunting, wearing animal skins, eating roots and herbs, living in communes of yurts, basically like the hippies of the 1960s, only more primitive.
“Rewilding” may be a solution if commerce grinds to a halt and technology dies. Trouble is, there’s still a personal end of the world beyond that. How do I prepare for the complete end of my personal world?
For me that means being ready to die and meet God.
Suppose you were to die today and stand before God, and He were to say to you, “Why should I let you into My heaven?”* What would you say? Would you say, I’ve done my best; I’ve done more good things than bad; I’ve been better than John down the street…?
I live with the conviction that we can give God a satisfactory answer. The Bible explains it this way.
January 2018 seems like just yesterday in some ways—and like a long time ago in others. As I look back and ahead, here in the middle of the year, I see several trends.
My one-little-word for 2018 is FOCUS. I began to put that word into action early in the year by cutting out some activities and routines. One of them, you Poetry Fridayers may have noticed, was to withdraw from posting a weekly poem and linking up with Poetry Fridays. Indeed, my poetry-writing has taken a back seat to other things this year.
Graphic art interest
The interest in doodling, drawing, and lettering that was ignited when I discovered Bible art journaling last spring, has continued to grow. Joining Instagram earlier this year (@vi_nez), has challenged me to grow even more as I’ve discovered amazing artists whose work I admire. It seems to me that at some level, drawing uses similar mental, emotional and intellectual brain pathways as writing (especially writing poetry) and so my urge to create has been absorbed in this new-to-me art form.
In June I took part in a flower-drawing challenge (we were given the names of 15 flowers to draw; lettering/words were at our discretion if at all). I chose a Christian quality as a title for each of my flowers. Here are four that I did.
Finish what I start
One writing project that I continue to work on is a novel—a sequel to the Bible fiction I published in 2012. That book (Destiny’s Hands) fictionalizes the story of the Bible character Bezalel. He was singled out for the job of making the Tabernacle and crafting all its worship accessories (along with many helpers—see Exodus 31:1-11). In Destiny’s Hands, I follow Bezalel from the Egyptian craft guild, where he works for Pharaoh, to the time he receives his assignment from Moses.
In the sequel (my working title is Under the Cloud), I follow his sister (a purely fictional character) through the rest of the exodus, taking her and her family to the border of the Promised Land.
I’ve worked on this project for several years and still don’t feel I’ve researched enough. But a while ago I decided enough of that, better get writing. I am about two thirds of the way through (53,000 words Monday) what I’ve planned. I’ve been beavering away at that project for most of this winter, doing 90 minutes a day four days a week.
During the summer months I’m going to shelve that project but am determined to take it down again when we get back from our travels. My goal, at this point, is to simply finish a first draft. It may never get published, but I will finish writing it.
Our summer vacationing starts next week with trips planned to see our children and grandchildren and hopefully take a meander through Canada’s maritime provinces after the summer rush. We’ll see.
Early in the year I was part of an artist mentoring group. In that group we were encouraged to create a vision board. Here is a photo of mine. It addresses various aspects of life and I think it might be time to update it.
I’m loving the creative shot-in-the-arm I’ve received from taking up art journaling, drawing, and lettering. It’s a lot of fun to learn new things! At this point I have no ambitions for this new venture but to learn it. My writing I hold loosely too. I put all these things under the umbrella of a Bible verse I chose for the year:
“Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected, but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. … One thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” – Philippians 3:12-14 NKJV
This post is part of Spiritual Journey Thursday, a link-up with other bloggers who write about their lives and work from a spiritual perspective. Doraine Bennett is hosting our link-up this month. Visit her at her blog Dori Reads.
Summer. Even saying the word makes me feel good. I think the magic of this season is so much a part me because of the rhythms of school ingrained from childhood. From my earliest memories it has always been ten months of school (September to June), two months of summer holidays (July and August)—the standard in Canada.
Then there’s the weather. Where I live, in the northern hemisphere, much of the year is chilly. The warmest months of the year argue loudly for a break in routine. And that’s what summer is for many of us.
One of my favourite summer activities is reading. I read all year but summer with its beach mornings, its lazy afternoons, its long light evenings makes it especially conducive to getting lost in a good book, or series of books.
“Egghead” sculpture by Kimber Fiebiger (On exhibit in Castlegar B.C., 2016) Explanation of the sculpture: “Egghead is a tribute to all people who are excited by a good book.”
A couple of summers ago I read all of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books. Last year I indulged in Tolstoy, completing Anna Karenina (not the most upbeat read but long-lasting).
This year I’m reading the Lord of the Rings books. (Are there three or six? The Kindle collection I downloaded has six!) Though I’ve already been reading it for some weeks, I am only at 36%, it will probably take me much of the summer to complete, and thus it’s the perfect fat summer tome (especially as it’s readily available, without added weight or bulk, on my iPad).
As well, summer is the perfect time to read the bestseller of all time—the Bible. Whether you read it chronologically in great chunks or selectively a few verses at a time, it’s sure to enhance the spiritual aspect of your summer reading. If you’ve never read it before, try reading a modern version (like The Living Bible – TLB). A good place to start might be the life of Jesus as told in the Gospels of Matthew or Luke (the first and third books of the New Testament).
What about you—do you also enjoy wiling away the summer hours with books? Which ones would you suggest?
(The poems are from my 2017 “Summer Shorts” photo / poem project.)
This post is linked to Spiritual Journey (first) Thursday, hosted today by Margaret Simon on her blog Reflections on the Teche.
A few weeks ago an acquaintance sent me a newly published book of her poems. They were simple but beautiful in their first-person expression of praise, love, and gratitude to God—a collection of modern psalms. I reacted to that book like I have to other similar ones, asking myself, why don’t I write more overtly spiritual poetry? I ask because writing about spiritual subjects is hard for me to do.
I’m not sure why. It may be because I fear using theological jargon and worn-out phrases, thus slipping into cliché. (It certainly does take thought and attention to relate spiritual experiences and express convictions and emotions with fresh language that avoids being trite, maudlin, or sentimental.) Or I might avoid that kind of writing because many of my convictions don’t fit the politically correct social climate of the day and so the poems come whiny or like a rant.
As I look over the overtly spiritual poetry I have written, I feel that the poems that have come to me the most easily and naturally are the persona poems. In these I’ve tried to get into the head space of a Bible character.
Preparation to write these got me studying characters in the Bible and imagining their thoughts and feelings as they faced specific circumstances. I often fictionalized how that moment was a catalyst to growth in faith or rejection of it.
Several years ago I wrote a collection of these based on Bible women. Here are two from that collection.
I cannot remember a time when music wasn’t part of my life. The steel-backed Heintzman that I grew up with— that my mom played with flowing chords and that I attacked at 6 a.m. to practice scales, arpeggios and four-note chords in my Royal Conservatory days—still lives with me.
One of my earliest memories is of Dad, up early to do laundry with Mom. He helped her by pinning the loads of diapers to the clothesline. Between loads, he put on records of rousing gospel music with voices and brass ensembles that drifted into my bedroom.
Singing was an integral part of my Mennonite church and community—rich singing in harmony. From childhood on I sang in choruses and chorales, small groups, and mass choirs. Early in life I learned the pleasure of harmonizing with my alto-range voice, using it cooperatively as part of a many-voiced instrument.
Music is still a huge part of my life. Perhaps it’s no wonder that my Spotify app is a close second behind photos for space used on my iPad. It is also testimony to how music’s delivery has changed—many times over in my lifetime—from records, to 8-tracks, to cassette tapes, to CDs. That Spotify business is evidence of the latest change—one I adopted by necessity.
We listen to music a lot when we travel. So when I discovered, just after we had sealed the deal on a new car in 2016, that it had no CD player, I all but panicked. What would we do for music?
A few days later, through our music savvy son, we discovered the music-sharing behemoth, Spotify and the Bluetooth capability of my iPad and our new Honda. I’ve hardly bought a CD since.
Music is the sound track to many hours of my life, especially those spent in the kitchen. Some of my favourite artists are Matt Maher, Shane and Shane, Audrey Assad, Don Moen, Fenando Ortega, and Andrew Peterson, to begin the naming.
The poem, below, is one I wrote a few years ago, after we joined our church choir which, at the time, was very into singing Black Gospel.
Gospel Choir Newbie
You sing coffee
dark, strong, edgy
your bodies a caffeine choreography
with the Hallelujah beat
and the Praise the Lord bop
and the vamp
and the vamp
and the vamp
In me the notes are Sweet Jesus
honey flow over vocal cords
wrap themselves around arms
legs, trunk, hold spellbound
to clap, do those little two-steps
and dips to make
our robes sway
Last Saturday the #CY365 photo prompt was “Currently Reading.”
Two of the books I’m reading are the Bible book of Revelation along with Discipleship on the Edge by Darrell Johnson—a book about Revelation (which two of our pastors are teaching a class of seniors and others on Tuesday afternoons).
The teaching sessions and the book are fascinating. We’ve learned about apocalyptic literature as a genre. (Revelation is an apocalypse—written large with symbols and hidden meanings in order to encourage the Christian churches of that time with a message disguised by images they, but not necessarily their persecutors, would have understood.)
We’ve been given insights into the meanings of numbers and symbols with special emphasis put on how would the people of John’s time may have understood the book.
A refrain that Johnson keeps repeating throughout is “Things are not as they seem.”
A letter to lamp stands,
a throne room, a crowd
seals that won’t break.
for Church’s sake.
Dragons and angels
that prostrate themselves,
sevens and forties
hundreds and twelves.
Horsemen and plagues
that fill mankind with terror,
signs from the heavens
that change Earth forever.
pursue the Lamb’s team
but do not despair— Things are not as they seem.