October 31, 2008

Famous Journals - Bonnie Way

Many people, writers and non-writers alike, keep journals or diaries. My mom likes journaling so she can look back on what she was doing a few months or years ago. During a time when I was very lonely, the pages of my journal became a listening ear to my thoughts and feelings. Like Anne Frank, I found that "When I write, I can shake off all my cares."

Many of us feel like British author Frances Burney (1752–1840), that “To Nobody, then, will I write my journal! since to Nobody can I be wholly unreserved—to Nobody can I reveal every thought, every wish of my heart, with the most unlimited confidence, the most unremitting sincerity to the end of my life! For what chance, what accident can end my connections with Nobody? No secret can I conceal from No-body, and to No-body can I be ever unreserved. Disagreement cannot stop our affection, Time itself has no power to end our friendship. The love, the esteem I entertain for Nobody, No-body’s self has not power to destroy. From Nobody I have nothing to fear, the secrets sacred to friendship, Nobody will not reveal, when the affair is doubtful, Nobody will not look towards the side least favourable.”

And yet others journal in a more public way, sharing what they write with Everybody. In our modern era, journaling has gone electronic—it’s now blogging. As I’ve surfed through the blogosphere, many blogs that I’ve seen are one person’s ramblings on their own life—and more or less interesting, depending on their life and their writing skill. Yet with the millions of blogs now being published, there is something there that keeps us not only writing such blogs, but also reading them.

Martha Brockenbrough suggests that journals are a way to “learn about yourself and your fellow humans.” We are all curious about those around us, whether they think and feel and see what we do. And not only those in our own era, but those in past eras as well. Historically, journals are important documents about times past. Think of famous journals you’ve read or heard of—Anne Frank’s is probably the first that pops into your head, but other people such as Lewis and Clark, Sir Ernest Shackleton, David Thompson and Charles Darwin also kept journals that are now publicly published.

Recently, my mom and I were touring Dundurn Castle in Hamilton, Ontario. Our guide kept referring to the journal written by the thirteen-year-old daughter, Sophia McNab. It was easy to imagine a bored and creative young girl, confined by the manners of the time to the nursery upstairs, recording the daily happenings in the pages of her journal. It is interesting to consider that her journal would become the most important source about a time when children were to be seen and not heard and women belonged in the drawing room. As one blogger says, “Doesn’t it make you just want to keep a diary, something to ensure that the record is accurate, a reference book for the tour guides in the unlikely event that your house is still standing 180 years from now?

So whether you blog or journal in a more traditional sense, don’t think it useless or silly. You never know who may read what you write and learn from it!

October 28, 2008

The Source of Joy

A Christian friend and I met each other in a shopping mall recently and as we were chatting I couldn’t help but take notice of his expression of joy. I felt it was proper and due him to make mention of his exuberant joy that I know comes from serving the Lord. I said to him, “you are always so full of joy!”

He didn’t respond with words but by action. Placing his hands on my shoulders he whisked me around full circle and pointed upward to the store name that was directly behind me. It was called “The Source.” The word ‘the’ was in small letters and ‘Source’ was in very large and prominent letters. As I turned back, he paused for a moment and gave me that raised eyebrows look as if to say, “Need I say more? God is my source of joy, what else can I say?” he said reassuringly.

It is true that most Christians radiate the joy of the Lord. Sometimes people glow with the love of God when engaged in conversation. I especially noticed that before I became a Christian. When I was seeking Christianity some years ago, I found myself studying Christians just to find that something different about them to make me want to say, “yes Lord, I will follow you.”

After all, isn’t that what Jesus exemplified? Pure joy? Doesn’t He long for His children to experience His joy? Even in the midst of trials God is our ever-present companion. He provides the pure joy that gives us strength to endure all kinds of trials. In the book of James we find that joy is exemplified when faced with trials of many kinds. (James 1: 2-3)

Jesus promised that once we discovered His pure joy, no one would ever be able to take it away. (John 16:22) His words make our joy in Him complete. (John 17:13)
Even the angels become joyful as people choose to follow Christ!
As I continue to come in contact with my friend, his expression of joy is always evident, and his faith is always joyfully expressed. His true joyful attitude is one that has confidently spilled over to others and me.

Copyright Janice Keats

October 26, 2008

Wee Sleekit Cowerin' Timorous Beastie - Glynis

Robert Burns the Scottish poet coined the phrase ‘such are the best laid plans of mice and men’ in his poem, To a Mouse. He refers to the nasty little critters as ‘wee sleekit, cowrin’ timorous beasties’ and then rambles on about the poor mouse and how rodent fears are unfounded.
Mr. Burns was off his rocker. My daughter agrees. We came to that stunning conclusion one night as we sat huddled in terror on the kitchen counter top. The hideous rodent scurried and scampered haphazardly in front of us.

The wretched little monster ran around the kitchen floor like an out of control windup toy. Amanda and I became emotionally unraveled. Our screams were now interspersed with laughter and tears. Our behaviour bordered on psychotic, but our trembling bodies bid us stay put, out of reach of the darting, ghastly creature.

I tried to get a grip – after all I was the matriarchal influence who was supposed to teach my daughter how to react appropriately when in a threatening situation. At one point I lowered a leg to the floor. As if by radar, the repulsive creature which actually, upon closer inspection, looked like a mole, stuck its nose in the air and headed in my direction. The kitchen once again sounded like a chorus of distraught, shrieking seagulls. The rodent darted the other way. Then the foolish thing stopped near the fireplace brick. Didn’t it realize getting out of our sight would have decreased the decibel level?

Eventually Amanda and I calmed down enough to discuss our dilemma. My dearly beloved was gone for the day. We had a choice. We could stay stranded on the countertop for eight hours or we could attempt to trap the wretched pint-sized rodent. I opted for the eight hours on the countertop. My daughter thought otherwise.

Luckily we were perched directly above the plastics cupboard. Amanda leaned over and retrieved a margarine container. Like a couple of timid tightrope walkers, we slithered down the cupboard. Amanda held the lid. I held the bottom of the container. My job was to cover the creature. Amanda agreed to ‘slip’ the lid underneath.

The rest of the story is a blur. I remember screams and panic as the dratted thing wiggled and jiggled under the margarine container. We didn’t even attempt to put the lid on for fear the little wriggler would squeeze out. It wasn’t quite as terrifying watching a margarine container glide around the kitchen. At least the pesky critter was in jail – sort of. We, the two sleekit, cowrin, timorous lasses, meanwhile, headed for the basement where we remained for about eight hours and awaited our rescuer.

So I guess my question is...why? Why did God create mice or rats or moles or, for that matter, is there really a purpose for houseflies and mosquitoes? Okay, okay...He declared that it was all good, didn't He? I guess His thoughts are not mine.

Obviously Robert Burns knew something that I haven't yet figured out.

October 17, 2008


"Give and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you." - Jesus, Luke 6:38

Who doesn’t salivate at Jesus' word picture of abundance? Yes, bring it on!

But I wonder how often I don’t recognize the abundance I already have.

We have an abundance of food in our freezer and a well-stocked pantry

We have an abundance of books (this bookshelf x about 5).

I have an abundance of clothes.

We have an abundance of good memories in shelf-fulls of photo albums and many more photos in boxes and on computer disks.

We have an abundance of CDs (these are just the ones in my office).

I have an abundance of pens, pencils and paper.

I have an abundance of Bibles (many more than this!)

You get the picture?

I think this "good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over" has already hit me in many areas of my life. I think what I'm needing most now is an abundance of thanks!

October 14, 2008

A Thing Called Grog by Marcia Lee Laycock

Some people seem to have an underlying belief that writing about what is painful and ugly in life is somehow denying the goodness of God.

I disagree. We do not write about the ugly, the dark things of despair, in order to glorify them, nor to question God, but in order to put them in their place and to recognize that there is something more, there is redemption of all that is ugly and evil in this world, because of what happened on a cross at the base of a hill in a tiny country then called Palestine.

Psalm 12:6 (KJV) says – “The words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. “Tried in a furnace of earth.” That doesn’t sound pleasant to me. “Purified seven times.” That sounds like struggle and anguish and pain that has been forged into what is pure and wholesome.

As a pottery student many years ago I learned that you can’t use just any old clay to make pottery. It has to be the right consistency, the right combination of elements. Some clay is too fine. When it’s thrown on a wheel it won’t stand up, won’t keep its shape, won’t survive the heat of the kiln, so a substance called grog is added. Grog is clay that has been previously fired in the kiln, then ground into fine particles. Grog sometimes hurts. As you throw a pot on the wheel you can feel it scraping your hands. Sometimes it even makes them bleed.

Our writing needs grog – that stuff that has been ground up inside us as we struggle. We must put the stuff of real life into it, or it won’t hold up. It won’t do what it is intended to do.

I wrote this short devotional for a local paper some time ago. I called it Hard Questions:

It seemed fitting that the sky hung heavy and low. It seemed right that the wind was bitter, howling with the fierce shriek of winter around a tiny country cemetery. There was a very small hole in the ground and a very tiny casket to be put into it. It seemed appropriate that we all stood numbed by the cold of that day.

A friend of mine once wrote a poem about Adam, Eve and God in the Garden of Eden. It was a good poem, well constructed with a strong rhythm and powerful images. One of those images often comes to mind when bad things happen to good people. It’s an image of God curled into a fetal position, and the wailing sound of His weeping.

Sometimes we ask hard questions. Why did that baby have to die, God? Why is my friend suffering with a painful cancer? Why are those people in Africa starving? We don’t usually get a good answer to those questions. They leave us numb and they leave us wondering if God is there.

But then there is that image and that sound. In my friend’s poem God mourned the first disobedience, the first break in His relationship with the creatures He put on the earth.
The picture my friend painted with his words was of a God who cares, a God who feels our pain, a God who mourns with us, especially at the graves of tiny babies.

He is also a God who will answer. He is a God who acted to redeem all that was broken in our world. He is a God who continues to do so. The redemption was accomplished on the cross of Calvary, but it is not yet complete. As the writer of the book of Hebrews said, God “… waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Hebrews 10:13).

The process is sometimes painful, but the world will one day be made entirely new, entirely redeemed. The scriptures talk about creation groaning as we wait for that day. The groans do not fall on deaf ears, nor will they remain unanswered forever. One day that tiny baby will rise, whole and perfect as God intended him to be.

God’s plan is unfolding. What then, should we do in those times when we groan and feel there is no answer? Again, scripture tells us – “To act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

Humility before God bows the knee and continues to believe. Humility before God acknowledges His sovereignty and calls Him good. Even when babies die and the pain of this world overwhelms, humility before God says, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

The Sunday after that piece appeared in print, the father of that baby approached me in the lobby of our church. He said he was in a local restaurant when he read Hard Questions. He said it wasn’t long before tears were streaming down his face. I held my breath as he described what he was feeling. Many things flew through my mind. Was he angry with me? Should I have written and published that piece when it exposed not only my pain, but his?

Then, with tears brimming in his eyes he said, “Thank you. It was part of the healing. Thank you for writing it.”

Madeleine L’Engle has said - “The discipline of creation, be it to paint, compose, write, is an effort toward wholeness.”

This is our responsibility – to struggle toward that wholeness in our lives and in our work; to take our work deeper, to make sure it has enough grog in it to stand, and perhaps even to heal.

All to the Glory of God, because that is His plan for us, His plan for our work.

October 10, 2008

Keeping Close - Janet Sketchley

As we walk with God, are we like a dog with his master, sometimes at His side but often ranging away on our own? Testing the limits of the leash, investigating all sorts of interesting smells and sights?

How much better to be like a young child, slipping his hand into that of his parent just because he likes the closeness? The two walk together, talking about what they see on the way, sometimes stopping to investigate, but always together, always communing.

My word from the LORD this year was “return” – not in the sense that I’d been far away, but in the sense of “keep close by My side”. He’s right. I need to be close to Him. And wonder of wonders, He likes it when I am.

© Janet Sketchley, 2008
For devotionals, reviews and conversation, stop by Janet Sketchley's blog, God with Us: Finding Joy.

October 08, 2008

A Sacrifice of Thanks

Have you ever thought of thankfulness as a sacrifice to God? Psalm 50 talks about giving thanks in this way.

There's always something for which to be thankful. When our 10-year-old son, Travis, was struck by a hit and run driver and suffered severe head trauma he lay in a coma for a number of days. We were far from home, living in Ecuador and I started getting pretty grouchy as the days passed and Travis continued to just lie unresponsive in the ICU unit.

I knew people were praying. I read my Bible looking for comfort. I prayed. I cried. And I became frustrated and a real bear. I didn't even try to be nice. Then one morning I read Psalm 50 and was startled by the idea of thankfulness as a sacrifice. But I wasn't very pleased with my attitude and the Lord spoke to me about this so....

What did I have to be thankful for? There were many things.

My son was still alive. I could stroke his arm, watch his chest rise and fall, and sing to him.
My daughters were being well looked after at home in the jungle without me having to organize anything.
I knew many people were praying.
The MAF (Mission Aviation Fellowship) flight was able to fly us up to the capital city without any weather worries.
There was good medical care available.
Friends brought food.
My husband was by my side.

The list went on. As I gave thanks, nothing in my situation changed. Travis still lay in a coma, the outcome unknown. But I changed. I took my focus off of the negative aspects of the situation and thanked God for the things that were more positive. It's hard to be grouchy with a thankful heart. I didn't become a "Pollyanna" thinking that everything was going to be wonderful, but I gained a perspective that was oriented more to God and his work than to my impatient and frustrated desires.

There are many reasons to worry and be grouchy these days - the economy, the climate, family troubles, world issues - it's all a mess. But in the midst of troubled times, offer a sacrifice of thanks to God. You'll be amazed at the perspective you'll gain.

October 06, 2008

Conference Memories - Bonnie Way

Back before the ICWF Spring WorDshop in 2001, I bought myself a notebook to take to the conference. It went with me to Spring WorDshop the next year and to every Fall Conference since 2001. Its pages are scribbled with notes—some neat, some not so neat; some detailed, others not so detailed. It has dates, speakers, topics. It should be a veritable source of writing information, yet most of the time it remains in my drawer, to be pulled out and added to when conference time comes around again.

As I flip through it, memories flash back upon me.

LaVerne Erickson talked about how dreams impact our writing. He said that dreams don’t just exist in our minds, but in the mind of Christ; when God stops thinking of us, we cease to exist. Marcia Laycock talked about God owning words and lending them to us, and said that God has given each of us a field to write and speak in. Ross MacInnes told us to treat writing as a business; set a schedule and stick to it, have marketing plans, and do what works.

At the second Fall Conference I attended, in 2001, John Moore reminded us that we writers don’t find our identity in writing or ministry, but in Christ. He also told us to make sure that we do something other than write, or we won’t have anything to write about.

Kathleen Gibson said that God created us to be creative, for He is a creative God. Yet creativity is still hard, messy work. And sometimes, our most creative times come after or during dark times. According to Gibson, we were given creativity not only to make the world a better place, but also to impact it with the truth. Sigmund Brouwer also commented on that, saying our first audience is God himself and we’ll never know how many people our writing will touch. So write with your heart and soul; then turn off your computer and become a businessman like MacInnes said.

On and on the advice goes. Some names are familiar, others I barely remember—Carolyn Aarsen, Sheila Sims, Grace Fox, Susan Titus Osborne, Elsie Montgomery, Hugh Cook, Deborah Gyapong, Murray Pura, Larry Willard, Angela Hunt. They each passed on their wisdom, faith, and knowledge to a bunch of writers wanting to learn and grow. I am grateful for the opportunity that I had to hear what they shared. And maybe next time my writing is feeling dry or dull, I’ll take another peek into this little notebook.

October 02, 2008

Commitment and Providence by Marcia Lee Laycock

"Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative there is one elemental truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too.All sorts of things occur to help that would never have otherwise occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings, and material assistance which no man or woman would have dreamed could have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it.Boldness has genius, power, and magic to it.Begin it now." Goethe

Let’s play what if. What if Abram didn’t pull up the tent pegs and set off from Ur. What if Noah didn’t pick up the hammer? What if Moses didn’t pick up the staff? What if Gideon didn’t climb out of the winepress and break down the altar to Baal? What if Joshua didn’t march around Jericho? What if Ruth didn’t go with Naomi? What if David didn’t take the provisions to his brothers on the front lines? What if Solomon didn’t build the temple? What if Shaphan the secretary didn’t read the book of the Law to Josiah? What if Josiah didn’t tear his robes? What if Esther stayed home? What if Daniel didn’t pay attention to his dreams? What if Matthew didn’t walk away from the tax collectors booth? What if Peter didn’t put down his nets?

What if you don’t take up your pen?