Pandemic Lifestyle – a poem

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When presented, by my writing group, with the challenge to write about my experience during the pandemic, my first thought was to do it in poem form (seeing as how it’s April and National Poetry Month). “Pandemic Lifestyle” is a snapshot of some of the things that have characterized the last months for me and my husband. (The last stanza makes reference to Psalm 91 that has been a mainstay for me and many others during this time.)

Pandemic Lifestyle

We keep our social distance
intentionally move out of the way
of anyone approaching us,
take to the sidewalk’s grassy margin
the street’s parking lane
to honour a fellow-walker’s
and our own
2-metre force field.
As we pass our eyes meet
momentarily
above masks,
smile humour (This feels ridiculous)
and apology (Sorry to be treating you
like a pariah
).

We live in a bubble
cloistered behind the membranes
of doors and windows
that become transparent
during Zoom meetings,
where we see each other at kitchen counters,
lounging against headboards,
seated in front of bookshelves (looking so well-read),
or posed before waving palms and surging surf,
mute testimony to where we have been
where we would love to be again
yet relieved to be here, now,
surrounded by the familiar and the safe.

We are sheltered under a wing
covered by divine feathers
as we experience sweet family life virtually
with children and grandchildren,
brothers and sisters,
in Bible studies, prayer meetings
and streamed church services.
Here we have been hidden
from the Covid-19 pestilence
that walks in darkness,
the prowling pandemic
that lays waste at noon.
We have not been numbered
in the daily 3 o’clock count
of thousands and ten thousands
that have fallen around us,
and we are incredibly grateful.

© 2021 by Violet Nesdoly

The Minister’s Wife – review

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The Minister’s Wife: A Memoir of Faith, Doubt, Friendship, Loneliness, Forgiveness, and More by Karen Stiller

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



I first discovered this book when I attended a webinar on writing spiritual memoir hosted by an Ottawa writing group, where the author, Karen Stiller, was the presenter. I was intrigued. Watching a later interview of Karen by Patricia Paddey on YouTube had me downloading a Kindle edition of the book, and I’m so glad I did.

The Minster’s Wife is a beautifully written memoir of Stiller’s spiritual journey, from her introduction to faith in her youth to her current self-admittedly greying years as a still-learning believer and minister’s wife.


I love the humble, self-deprecating tone of Stiller’s faith pilgrimage stories, which are rich in detail and often humorous.

In fourteen chapters organized by topic rather than chronologically, Stiller relates tales of “Identity,” “Doubt,” “Community,” “Envy,” “Forgiveness,” “Holiness,” and more, Stiller gives us glimpses into her pastor’s wife role that is as satisfying and rewarding as it is sometimes frustrating and challenging. Her love for the church, her children, and her husband glows through her candidly confessed imperfections.


I so appreciated Stiller’s lack of bitterness and self-pity, as she described her experiences, both bad and good. Her stories gave me a new appreciation for the role of pastor’s wife. Her style of showing us what happened without over-explaining its significance left room for this reader to mull over the multi-layered learning that happens so often in real life.



The Minister’s Wife is recommended reading for lovers of memoir and for ministers, minister’s wives, and all of us parishioners who love them.




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Lent Conversation — Conclusion

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Here, on Good Friday, the last day of Lent, Laurel and I conclude our Lenten conversation with one more poem and image.

Laurel’s poem prompt, “Quicken,” articulates the restless dissatisfaction and the sense of “dare I hope that things can be different?” characteristic of us in our human state. Those feelings have only been amplified by the strangeness of the past year and its restrictions, imposed because of the pandemic.

Quicken

I’ll bring
my unsettled,
uncentered self, to you.
This week it’s all ‘the holy’ I have.
Emotions scattered,
resolves shattered,
not because of anything,
it’s just well, everything, and
I don’t want it to go back
to the way it was. Not entirely. There.
I said it. Whispered it
our into your silence.

Can this atom of, I don’t know – hope?
be enough for you to split
and quicken me back to life?

© 2021 Laurel Archer – all rights reserved

The word “split” in Laurel’s poem opened the visual door for me. I thought of the way a germinating seed splits to let out new life. But in the process it dies. Yes, that too is part of the gospel message–a part that makes this dark Friday “good.”:

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain” – John 12:24 NKJV.

In the end, I opted to portray a bulb instead of a grain of wheat, with a sprout that has just split open its white shroud.

“Hope” – Violet Nesdoly © 2021
Pen and watercolour on 140 lb. watercolour paper, 9×6 inches.

So, Lent is past. But stay tuned. Easter is just around the corner!

A Lent Conversation – Week 5

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Is God involved in the tiniest details of our lives? I think so.

It was Laurel’s turn to start the conversation this week with a poem. When I hadn’t heard from her by last Tuesday, I emailed and asked if she had a poem for the week. It turned out she thought she had sent it, and promptly did.

When I read “Still Life,” I thought immediately that something simple, like a pencil sketch, would suit Laurel’s humble expression of faith. The thing was, I had done a couple of pencil sketches the very night before. The clincher that my sketches were the right response to her poem—she speaks of light in her poem, and one of the things I happened to sketch was a light bulb!  

I challenge you—be on the lookout to notice how God is making His presence known to you in the details of your day!

“Still Life” – poem by Laurel Archer © 2021

Light bulb, staple remover and a jar of shells and floats – sketches by Violet Nesdoly (in 5×8 inch Artist’s Loft Sketchbook) – © 2021

Amee’s Story – review

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After reading  the first few pages of Amee’s Story, I wasn’t sure I would ever finish the book. That’s not because it was poorly written. Rather, it was so well written I was pulled back into  a difficult time in my own life. However, I persisted with the reading and I’m so glad I did.

In thirty-three chapters Harrison takes us from the birth of Amee, in August of 1982, through her miraculous life-and-death early months, the challenges of childhood and teen years, up to her 28th year (2010, the year the book was published). It’s an inspiring story of a special child and the faith, prayers, and perseverance of her mother—indeed an entire family—who supported and encouraged her.

Once into the book I found it hard to put down. Harrison describes in detail the physical, intellectual, and social challenges Amee faced at the various stage of her life and how Amee, her mother as main caregiver,  and the whole family rose to them. The search for a correct diagnosis and then helpful therapies, the recurring challenge of getting medication dosages right, and the difficult saga of her education are all themes too familiar in the lives of special needs children and their caregivers.

I would recommend this book not only as an inspiring story, but also as an eye opener for parents of newly diagnosed special needs children as well as school, community, and church educators.

Amee’s Story was a Finalist in the 2011 Canadian Christian Writing Awards.

Behind Her Name – review

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Behind Her Name by Eunice Cooper-Matchett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


You would never know from the confident look of the woman sitting at the bookstore table signing books for her fans, that Sage Bush was still trapped in her traumatic childhood. But she was. In Behind Her Name, author Eunice Cooper-Matchett explores, with wonderful story telling, the secretive world of bullying and its devastating effects.

The familiar Canadian setting (small town Alberta), a cast of complex and interesting characters, combined with the author’s exploration of serious themes like bullying, forgiveness, trust, and how to answer the age-old question, why does God allow evil in our lives, are aspects of this well-written book that make it more than just another entertaining tale. Oh, and I loved the unique way the author had Sage handle times of stress and overwhelm—with poetry!

Fans of Christian contemporary romance won’t want to miss this special offering!




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Prepare for the End of Your World

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“Galaxy” – © 2020 by V. Nesdoly

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.

1. Grace

– Heaven is a free gift (Ephesians 2:8,9).

– It is not earned or deserved (Romans 6:23).

2. Man

– But man (humans, males and females) are sinners (Romans 3:23)

– We don’t and can’t live up to heaven’s standard of perfection (Matthew 5:48).

– We can’t save ourselves (Proverbs 14:12).

3. God

– Is merciful (Jeremiah 31:3b).

– But He is also just and must punish sin (Exodus 34:7b).

In order to solve the dilemma of His mercy and justice…

4. Jesus

– God sent Jesus to earth 2000+ years ago to live and die as the infinite perfect God-man (John 1:1,14).

– For 33 years Jesus lived on earth. Those years are recorded in the Bible (books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).

– At the age of 33 years, Jesus was crucified—died.

– His death was/is the payment to God that our sins deserve (Isaiah 53:6; 1 Peter 2:24).

–  His death in our stead shows God’s mercy while at the same time satisfying God’s need for justice. We call it GRACE: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.

5. Faith

– We accept this gift of Christ’s death on our behalf through faith.

– It is more than intellectual faith, but a believing faith where I entrust our lives to Him now and for eternity (Acts 16:31).

– If we have believed in Him in this way, we know that He will accept us into heaven because He has said so (John 3:16; 6:37,47; John 14:1-3).

And so, when we come to the end of our personal world, and stand before God and He asks us, “Why should I let you into My heaven?” I can say, you can say, because Jesus paid the penalty for my sin.

Need to explore more? Get yourself a Bible or access one online. Read it. Start with the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).

* This explanation of the Gospel is adapted from Evangelism Explosion materials.

The Way of Letting Go (review)

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The Way of Letting Go: One Woman's Walk toward ForgivenessThe Way of Letting Go: One Woman’s Walk toward Forgiveness by Wilma Derksen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The abduction of their 13-year-old daughter in November off 1984 shunted Winnipeg residents Cliff and Wilma Derksen onto an unfamiliar and horror-strewn track. The discovery of her body seven months later, bound and frozen, provided closure on one level. She had been murdered. She was never coming home. But that day opened a Pandora’s box of feelings, reactions, learnings, and conclusions about how to deal with the unthinkable crime of the murder of their child. Early on, the Derksens declared their decision to forgive.

In The Way of Letting Go, published in 2017, 32 years after the crime, Wilma Derksen describes what forgiveness has entailed for her. Drawing inspiration from “the Nazarene” and the Sermon on the Mount she tells (in chapters titled, for example: “Letting Go of the Happy Ending,” “Letting Go of Fear,” “Letting Go of my Ego” etc.) incidents that triggered realizations of what she was hanging onto and needed to release. She also analyzes the spiritual and practical implications of these relinquishments.

The triggering incidents she tells help us to put together the Derksen’s story in a puzzle piece way. We also get glimpses of what it was like to be in the spotlight of the victim and involved with the police and justice system of Canada.

The Way of Letting Go not only tells a riveting story but also challenges us to consider (when we’ve been wronged) the difficult, complicated, repetitious (“Seventy times seven”) response of forgiveness. Highly recommended.

This book is part of my own Kindle collection.

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Vicarious (Spiritual Journey Thursday)

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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.

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Image: Pixabay

Miriam

(Based on Exodus 15:19-21)

Though I lived under the bright
Egyptian sun these many years
my sky went black the day Moses left.

Even his return with snake-rod
didn’t banish the clouds
hovering on my horizon.

Premonition dampened
my celebration when we crossed
out of Goshen into the wilderness.

Dust of approaching chariots
was my nightmare
entering the day.

But somewhere on that black
step-by-step sea crossing
I walked through fear to faith.

I taught Moses to sing.
Now he gives that gift back to me
Hand me my timbrel!

© 2018 by Violet Nesdoly (All rights reserved)

 

Orpah

(Based on Ruth 1:1-14)

I am too young
to give in to death
be numbed by Naomi’s
negative breath.

Mighty Yahweh has failed
this family, my man.
Here’s my chance to detach
from this unlucky clan.

So I’ll return to Moab
to make a new start
(despite this strange yearning
deep in my heart).

© 2018 by Violet Nesdoly (All rights reserved)

If you’re like me and find writing poems about spiritual subjects a challenge, maybe writing persona poems could become a spiritual poetry portal for you too.

spiritualjourneyfirst-thursday-copyThanks to Carol Varsalona, who suggested the subject of Poetry as spiritual practice of the heart, and who is hosting Spiritual Journey First Thursday today at her blog Beyond Literacy Link.

 

A resolution for 2018 #BibleJournaling

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HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Are you all set for 2018… new calendars up, dreams and goals written down, diet started? Just kidding! It’s early days, I know. Still, it’s not too soon to start thinking about what we want the year ahead to look like.

One resolution that hits my list every year is to get more of God’s word into me in the coming 12 months. David Kitz writes about that in Chapter 22 of Psalms Alive, a chapter that delves into the “Beth” section of Psalm 119 (Psalm 119:9-11).

My Bible journaling response was to verse 11 of that chapter.

“Your word I have hidden in my heart,
That I might not sin against you.”

IMG_0783

I was particularly challenged by Kitz’s drilling down into what it means to hide God’s word in our hearts:

“How do I hide God’s Word in my heart? The answers may seem obvious. Hear it. Read it. Study it. Meditate on it. Apply it to life. Commit it to memory.

Most often understanding springs out of application, not out of hearing. I can hear a particular truth a thousand times but it isn’t really mine until I apply it to my own life. Applied truth bears fruit. It yields results” – Psalms Alive p. 200 (emphasis added).

To do my journal response I made a heart out of parchment paper, attached it, with Washi tape, to the outside edge of the page as a tip-out, then doodled on the heart and behind it some ideas of how to hide God’s word in my heart. (Other materials used: colored pencils, Pigma Micron pens)

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May we spend time in 2018 hiding God’s word in our hearts—in all the ways we can!