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.
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.
Author and artist Joanne Fink’s husband Andy died suddenly at only 53 years of age. After 29 years of marriage, Joanne was devastated by his death. A few weeks after he died she began journaling and drawing her thoughts. When You Lose Someone You Love is the result of those cathartic writings and sketches.
This pocket-sized book (it’s 4×6, the dimensions of a photo, and ¼ inch thick) would fit in a small handbag. The pages alternate between artistically whimsical black and white line drawings and easily readable text utilizing a variety of casual craft-type fonts.
Here are some of my favorite pages (I can’t quote page numbers because there aren’t any):
“When you lose someone you love everything seems disjointed.
TIME seems to move at a different pace for you than for everyone else.”
“When you lose someone you love, you can be OK for hours or even days at a time and then totally lose it for No reason at all.”
“When you lose someone you love, you begin your life journey anew.”
Did I say the drawings were black and white. Well, that’s not entirely true for toward the book’s end color begins to make an appearance on the pages (a wonderful metaphor for what’s happening in the bereaved one’s heart and life) … just a bit at first with a little more color added on each succeeding page until the last full-color pages.
This book would make a perfect gift for a new widow, widower, or person who has just said goodbye to a parent, child, sibling or close friend. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen another publication quite like it. It’s a beautiful and thoughtful way to share sympathy and caring.
I received this book as a gift from the publisher for the purpose of writing a review.
“Mr Responsible died, suddenly and tragically. He was sick for only twelve hours. … A thief named sepsis stole his breath and his heartbeat, and his spirit slipped right through Curly Girl’s fingers, even as she tried to save him on the floor of their bedroom only two days before Christmas.”
This grim scene from the Prologue is the background of Tricia Lott Williford’s memoir Let’s Pretend We’re Normal—Adventures in Rediscovering How to Be a Family. You’d expect the story of how Williford and her two young sons, Tucker and Tyler, get back on their feet after their husband’s/father’s death to be a bummer. But it isn’t.
That’s because Williford is a great storyteller and fabulous writer. Though there are lots of sad times, she never melodramatizes them or milks them for sympathy. The only way we know she cries a lot is because her boys mention it in their conversations—of which she has wonderful recall.
In Let’s Pretend we see a mother trying to explain to two little daddy-less boys where God is in all this. We observe the three of them working through stages of grief. And Williford lives parenting before us in ways that I, if by some miracle I found myself parenting young children again, would want to copy.
There’s lots of humor too and scenes that any modern, busy, technology-blessed North American family can relate to. Plus there are stories that tug at the heart.
One of my favorites is of Williford buying a homeless man, Dave, a Happy Meal—and him coming back at her with encouragement from the Bible. Her conclusion:
“… I wondered if perhaps I had just had lunch with an angel sent on a mission” – Kindle Location 1180.
Another is the conversation she has with her boys one night after reading the story of God testing Abraham by asking him to sacrifice Isaac. Discussing their family’s test of losing husband/father, her older son asks:
“’But Mom, do you think God has an important job for you to do? And that’s why he asked you to give up my dad? … Mommy, do you know God has picked you to write these books. He made you a writer to tell stories. And so maybe God had to know you would trust him no matter what” – Kindle Location 2275.‘”
Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends will gain insight, compassion, and wisdom from Tricia Lott Williford’s faith-saturated story of family, grief, and recovery.
I received Let’s Pretend We’re Normal as a gift from the publisher for the purpose of writing a review.
“Sometimes the best way to see a thing is to look at its opposite,” says Randy Alcorn, quoting A.W. Tozer in his “Note to Readers.” The opposite is something of which we get large chunks in The Ishbane Conspiracy—a novel by Alcorn and his daughters Angela and Karina.
In the story (which was first released in 2001) we follow teenage characters Jillian, Brittany, Rob, and Ian for a year. Jillian’s younger brother Daniel and her mother Diane Fletcher also play main parts in the story. The opposite view comes via letters between demon character Ishbane and his understudy Foulgrin.
The letters give us an inside-out commentary on all that’s happening in the teens’ lives. These foul spirits gloat over successes like getting the “vermin” to consult the ouija board and tarot cards, ignore their parents, and get wasted on drugs and alcohol. But they wring their hands in dismay when the kids clean up their lives, pray, and witness to their friends about Jesus and His power to change them.
During the year, these kids face the gamut of modern teen temptation. They deal with the lure of the occult, drugs, alcohol and the partying lifestyle, the fallout of being bullied and teased, eating disorders, premarital sex, pregnancy, peer pressure, the communication chasm between teens and their parents, and more.
I gave this book four stars (not five) because I did find the characters somewhat one-dimensional, the plot contrived, and some of the demonic diatribes long and preachy. But I would still say The Ishbane Conspiracy is a worthwhile read.
Here are some choice demonic bits I highlighted:
“Keep their eyes closed to the spiritual realm. How? Simply by keeping them busy orbiting around themselves” – Kindle Location 1711.
“The humans’ minds are tainted because they have such vested interests in disbelief. If they don’t have a creator, that means they don’t have a Judge. How convenient” – KL 2393.
“She doesn’t understand prayer isn’t preparation for battle, it is the battle” – KL 5397.
Though The Ishbane Conspiracy is no Screwtape Letters (C.S. Lewis) I would say it does have the potential to impact modern youth. Novelist James Scott Bell says, in his endorsement of the book: “I would love to see The Ishbane Conspiracy in the hands of every high school and college student in America” – KL 17.
This tale did get me thinking too and asking what in my life would make an Ishbane or a Foulgrin groan—or cheer?
I received The Ishbane Conspiracy as a gift from the publisher for the purpose of writing a review.
Humans have a deep and abiding relationship with earth. Our bodies consist of elements common to earth. The Genesis account of creation has God forming man from the dust of the earth (Genesis 2:7).
This poem ends with my tip-of-the-hat to what will happen someday to each of us—our bodies will return to the dust.* However, to clarify, I believe that the soul inside each of us lives on; even death cannot extinguish God’s “breath of life” that makes us living beings.
(*God’s words to Adam in Genesis: “In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread / Till you return to the ground, / For out of it you were taken; / For dust you are, / And to dust you shall return” – Genesis 3:19.)
While others haggled over meat and fish
I caressed bolts of nubby linen
examined weave of wool
marveled at the rich lightness of silk.
When I became disciple
love of finery and fabric
was all I had to give
the Risen Wearer of the unseamed cloak.
Then I forsook my search
for that embroidered purple robe
which would proclaim “Gazelle.”
Instead stitched love for Him
into the tunics of orphaned lambs,
pieced sad raw sackcloth mantles
for widowed wives,
decorated girdles to flatteringly fit
more hopeful garments.
This day I find myself
(my needle stilled—
I couldn’t move it steady for the chills)
floating above them all
(strange how the drape of fabric
changes with perspective).
What is this place I enter
all so white (the fuller* here
must be exceptional)?
Beings of dazzle walk me arm-in-arm
to where He stands
and then I see what He is holding
in His hands
garment so gleaming white
I cannot look to tell
if it is silk, linen or purest wool.
“Gazelle!” He cries,
and I am held
by warm and welcoming eyes…
I stare surprised
into amazed and tear-smudged faces
feel the sturdy weight of covers
hear the squeals of children
remember—it seems years ago—the tunic
I put down yesterday,
and know that I again
take up the shuttle
to weave the warp and woof of life
as ever—but not
for I have seen my robe
and looked into His eyes.
This week Adele Kenny’s poetry prompt was to write about heaven. After reading it I thought of this poem I wrote some years ago. It was inspired by the story of Tabitha from Acts 9:36-42 in the Bible. Tabitha (who is also known as Dorcas and whose name means gazelle) was an early Christian woman who got sick, died, and was then raised to life by Peter.
I’ve read many accounts of near-death experiences, and I’m sure my imaginings were influenced by those stories in my flight of fancy about how Tabitha spent the time between dying and coming back to life.
(Though written years ago, this poem fits into my current project—poems about women of the Bible.)
The heart of our family was the dining room
more than the tight kitchen
with its claustrophobia of cupboards
woodbox on wheels, tilting-out flour bin
that hid desperate-legged beetles
and gas stove whose oven POOF!
terrified me when I was eight.
The dining room had the fridge
and the wood table squeak-stretched to fit eleven.
Beside it sat the bench for four brothers
squished in a row–-the bench where I swayed organ
when we pretended church, the bench I left
seconds before the plaster
crashed from the ceiling
leaving a hole the shape of Africa.
The living room was off the dining room
our house’s holy of holies
cold, and kept tidy for company
though it had the piano
so I was allowed in to practice.
Its cracked north wall showed off Mom’s clever
camouflaging wallpaper vine
its south had a bay window
that nooked ancient plants
under panes of tinted gold and rosy.
There was also a green stuffed chair
and a matching couch
from where, on sick days
I watched the flowers in the curtains
stare at me, then whisper to each other.
That house has another room now
–-one my brother and his wife added
to watch TV and store stuff.
On the other side of the kitchen and two steps down
it has glass doors that gaze
onto an endless field.
They had lately moved into it a hospital bed.
I visit on the weekend of the memorial:
the bed is gone now.
I study the red walls
the only ones in this old house
to have witnessed such a thing.
They give nothing away.
Two years ago today (January 25, 2011) my brother passed away after a several-year battle with cancer. He died in the farmhouse where we grew up. In this personal poem, I recall some of the scenes the walls in that farmhouse have witnessed. What would be the memories of the walls in your house?