5 things you might not know about St. Patrick!

Learn about the rugged, fiery, faith-filled man behind the myth — the saint who was captured as a child, was converted in the lonely wilderness, and returned to spread the love of Christ in the land of his captivity.

 

1. “A boundary against night”
Legend has it that after St. Patrick’s death on March 17 in AD 493, there was no night for twelve days, and people said that for a whole year the nights were less dark than usual.

 

2. Patrick used his “weakness” as his strength
Inevitably, a man of Patrick’s force of character and achievements would have aroused some feelings of jealousy and voices of detraction….One charge that was brought against Patrick was his lack of literary education. On this count Patrick disarms the criticism by a full admission of his rusticatas, his lack of culture, and acknowledges that as he grows old he feels his deficiency more and more…..His narrative is designed to show that it was entirely God’s doing, who singled him out, untrained and unskilled though he was. He explained that there were not worldly inducements to support the divine command, that he obeyed simply without any ulterior motive, and in opposition to the wish of his family.

 

3. Patrick’s wish for the Irish (and you and me):
Patrick wished the Irish to have two phrases ever on their lips, Kyrie Eleison and Deo Gratias; Lord have mercy, and Thanks be to God. It was between these two prayers that Patrick lived out his full and saintly life. It is where we, too, will find fullness of life— trusting in the forgiveness of the One who loves us, and eternally grateful for everything.

4. Did you know there is a mountain named after Patrick?
Patrick spent six years of his young life near the forest of Fochlad, and the small mountain called Crochan Aigli, or “Eagle Mountain.” The latter has since been renamed Croagh Patrick; at 2,510 feet tall, it sits close to the town of Westport in County Mayo and is visited by tens of thousands of pilgrims each year, particularly on the last Sunday of July, when many of them climb the mountain barefoot. It is said that Patrick fasted for forty days on the mountain at some point during his lifetime, and from its summit drove the snakes out of Ireland.

 

5. Patrick’s prayer life:
In his own words: “After I came to Ireland, I was daily tending sheep, and I prayed frequently during the day, and the love of God, and His faith and fear, increased in me more and more, and the spirit was stirred. In one single day I have said as many as a hundred prayers, and in the night nearly the same.”
“But this I know for certain: Before I was humbled, I was like a stone lying in deep mud, until He who is powerful came and in His mercy raised me up, and cared for me and placed me in His Protection.”


(This text is taken from Ireland’s Saint: The Essential Biography of St. Patrick by J. B. Bury, edited with Introduction and Annotations by Jon M. Sweeney)

 

Read away the winter doldrums with Paraclete Fiction

Lights on the Mountain
by Cheryl Anne Tuggle

Chapter 1

Hazel Valley
Prospect, Pennsylvania
May 1, 1952
5:53 am

When Jess Hazel left the warmth of the house that morning of the Light and trudged down the hill to the barn, he did it with unusual reluctance. He was in a dark mood, tired to the bone after another long night of poor sleep. The conversation between his parents, low and tense and punctuated by his mother’s sobs, had gone so late it was early by the time it ended. How early, he did not know. If he had risen to check the time, Clyde and Millie would have known he was lying awake in the room above theirs, every nerve stretched tight. What he did know was that by 5:30, when he’d left his bed unrested, all sound had ceased. And he knew that down in the kitchen, the percolator, which should have been working at a pot of coffee strong enough to get him through chores, was as cold and silent as the house. Seeing it, he had crept back upstairs to finish dressing in the dark, cursing the bed across from his own. Cursing the absence of his only brother in it.

The Fourth of July would mark a year since Walter had up and joined the Marines, got himself shipped off to Parris Island for basic training and from there to Korea, to help solve that peck of trouble. Jess missed him with the pain of a phantom limb. Two years and three months between them, but he and Walter were as close as twins. So close, they were, in fact, that Jess sometimes pondered, as he was inclined to do all life’s hidden things, the strength of their bond. A pure gift, he would most often decide, after considering awhile. What else could it be, when they were as different as dawn from dusk and hardly looked like kin?

He and Walter resembled one another so little, in fact, that at the drunken send-off shindig Walter’s friends had thrown—a bonfire gathering of folks who (if you didn’t count Mike and Sully Latona) were all strangers to Jess—not one person had taken them for brothers. Likeable, easygoing Walter had the dark Cherokee eyes and the small, light frame of their mother’s folks. Jess was six feet and seven inches, taller than any man in the valley, even their father. And as if the curse of absurd height had not already marked him as the peculiar son, nature had also given Jess a wiry bramble of hair, black as a crow’s wing, and sunken eyes of the palest gray. “Hungry,” a canny old woman selling lemonade at the county fair had once said of his eyes, “like a young Lincoln,” after which he had started casting them mostly downward.

He made his way around the barn to the milking shed behind, mud sucking at his boots. Storms in the south had brought to the valley warm winds and an early thaw. He thought of climbing up to the loft and knocking back in the hay as Walter used to do, he was that weary. But it would never work and he knew it. When Walter had slept in the loft, Jess had always been tending to the herd. Left to wait, the cows would complain in voices loud enough to bring an irritated Clyde. Also, it was Thursday. Pat Badger would be pulling down the lane soon, wanting milk for the weekend. Not the sort of man you asked to stand by and watch you dig sleep out of your eyes.

Sage. That was how Jess’s mother, Millie, described Pat. A single word, spoken as though she held an egg on her tongue, was somehow always closer to the point than Jess could get working with full sentences. Pat did take a keener, wider, more generous view of the world than most anyone else Jess knew. In fact, on another morning when Jess wasn’t so cross, he might have sought counsel, asked the sage old farrier to see what he couldn’t, which was how a fellow was supposed to live with any pleasure now that Walter wasn’t going to come sliding into the milking shed of an evening, late as the dickens and cheerfully unrepentant. No working wisdom out of Pat today, though. Jess had no patience for it. The man had to be tapped like a great old tree, and the sap ran very slow.

The horses had heard him coming down the hill. Big Jake thumped on the stall door with his hoof and Maggie called out, shrill and insistent, demanding Jess stop by the tack room and dip his hand into the potbellied jar on the shelf. He ignored the pair. They knew full well Millie’s ginger snaps were only given out in exchange for work. Some days they begged for them anyway. He ducked to miss the doorframe as he entered the milking shed and slipped quietly inside. The bawling of the cows only made him more eager for the peace the work of milking would bring. He set down the sanitizing buckets and began filling the troughs with fodder. When all was in readiness, he opened the lower door, letting in the noisy, complaining herd. The boss cow entered first. He greeted her as he always did, with a gentle slap on the rump. As she passed, he gazed over the bony crests of her hips to the valley stretched long and slender below the barn. Where the thin light caught the dew, the grass sparkled and glinted, as if the pasture had a sugar glaze.

So often at this hour, when the sun still hid behind the wall of Kerry Mountain, when the valley lay wrapped in the pale gray shadows of earliest dawn, Jess felt the thrill of a watcher, stealing in to witness a hidden, mystic rite. It pleased him to think that however old and practiced the ritual was now, it hadn’t always been. A gawky young first night had once had to learn this graceful way of making an exit, of taking proper leave of the world, smoothly handing it off to the day.

It was just as this rite was ending that the light appeared.

Read More (just $1.99 on Amazon.)

Also! This week for just $1.99 on Amazon!

Unveiling: A Novel by Suzanne M. Wolfe

Rachel Piers, a brilliant young conservatrice at a Manhattan art gallery, is given the dream assignment of restoring a mysterious medieval painting in a church in Rome. She seizes the opportunity to advance her career in one of the most inspiring and romantic cities in the world, leaves behind a bitter divorce and painful childhood incident. As Rachel meticulously restores the damaged artwork, she uncovers layers of her soul that she would rather be kept hidden. Written in descriptively sumptuous prose, Unveiling brings the ancient city of Rome vividly to life and reveals a courageous woman coming to terms with a tragic past.

Can You See Anything Now? by Katherine James

A debut Novel that follows a year in the small town of Trinity where the tragedy and humility of a few reveal the reality of people’s motivations and desires.

This is a story without veneer, and for readers who prefer reality to sanitized fiction—this book is unsentimental, and yet grace-filled.

 

Ash Wednesday – A Lenten Journey

“We are not converted only once in our lives but many times, and this endless series of large and small conversions, inner revolutions, leads to our transformation in Christ.” —Thomas Merton

“What are you giving up for Lent?” This long-established custom of giving up treats, chocolates, caffeinated or sugary beverages, alcohol, or tobacco is perhaps the way we most often think of Lenten discipline. And it makes good conversation in casual situations. But we know it is surface stuff. Choosing to give up something good for something a bit less is a play-it-safe strategy. Something tells us there is more to spiritual transformation than this. We suspect that playing it safe is not what Christ lived and died for.

Thomas Merton’s view, that we must undergo a series of large and small inner revolutions, is a truer picture of Christian transformation. When we choose some exercise for Lent, daily worship, daily prayer, abstinence from one thing or another, it is not so much the practice that transforms us. It is our willingness to change. And Merton says the process is endless. It’s not about getting there, it’s about being on the way.

Lent is our chance for a fresh start, a new page. We consciously let down our defenses against the grace of God. We admit to ourselves our need for improvement. We notice how hopeless we are. We tell God we’re doing our best but we wish we could do better. We put ourselves in God’s hands. That is what Jesus does when he goes into the desert. He puts himself completely in God’s hands.

In Matthew’s Gospel we read: Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. (My first thought: don’t try this at home.) By exposing himself to hunger Jesus opens himself up to assaults from the Devil. But he isn’t just performing daredevil stunts. He makes a deliberate surrender of the will, a spiritual exercise. Jesus is placing himself in the Father’s hands.

The time Jesus spends in the wilderness is a time of preparation. It is a kind of training. Jesus has a larger mission to fulfill, a ministry, a life’s work. He is preparing himself for a larger call. When we go into the wilderness with Jesus our motive is similar, surrendering ourselves as a kind of preparation.

But how can we compare our little Lents to the walk Jesus takes in the wilderness? Of course the gap is huge between our holiness and his. We can hardly say our own names in his presence. But Jesus doesn’t notice this gap, or he seems to overlook it.

The huge divide between our lives and his is a gap he is constantly closing. He wants us to come into the wilderness with him, if only just to observe at first. “Watch how I do this,” he seems to be saying. “Notice these steps, this maneuver.” Practice, he is telling us. Practice, and you’ll improve, without even knowing it. Practice.

One thing we can learn from Jesus in the desert is to fortify ourselves with God’s word. When the Devil tries to goad him into turning stones to bread, as a kind of power play, Jesus answers with words from Deuteronomy, Scriptures he knows by heart: It is written, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” The Devil wants him to break his fast. More important, he wants to weaken Jesus’ allegiance.

What can we learn from just this little visit with Jesus in the wilderness? From watching him resist the Evil One?

We know, by watching Jesus, that emptiness is the beginning of holiness.

We know that we are blessed when we hunger and thirst for righteousness. We know we will be filled.

We walk with Jesus to be purified. We walk with him to be fortified. Nourished by sacrament and word, we walk through desert places more easily. We learn to deal with our own gaps, our lapses. We find that we can tolerate our hunger and our thirst.

We are converted not only once in our lives but many times. And the conversion is little by little. Sometimes it is as imperceptible as grass growing. But Lent gives us a time to move the process along. Intentionally. By small surrenders.

Merton says we “may have the generosity to undergo one or two such upheavals, (but) we cannot face the necessity of further and greater rendings of our inner self. . . .”

Merton says we cannot. But I think he knows we can. That is how our holiness grows, by small surrenders, without which we cannot finally become free. Learn More.

Fed By Angels – Excerpt from “God For Us”

Fed By Angels
By Ronald Rolheiser, OMI
Excerpt from God For Us

Celebration is a paradoxical thing. It lives within the tension between anticipation and fulfillment, longing and consummation, the ordinary and the special, work and play.

Seasons of play are sweeter when they follow seasons of work, seasons of consummation are heightened by seasons of longing, and seasons of intimacy grow out of seasons of solitude.

Presence depends upon absence, intimacy upon solitude, play upon work.

In liturgical terms, we fast before we feast.

In our time, we struggle with such paradoxes. Many of our feasts fall flat because there has not been a previous fast. In times past, there was generally a long fast leading up to a feast, and then a joyous celebration afterward.

Today, we have reversed that: there is a long celebration leading up to the feast and a fast afterward.

Take Christmas, for example. The season of Advent, in effect, kicks off the Christmas celebrations. The parties start, the decorations and lights go up, and the Christmas music begins to play. When Christmas finally arrives, we are already saturated and satiated with the delights of the season—we’re ready to move on. By Christmas Day, we are ready to go back to ordinary life. The Christmas season used to last until February. Now, realistically, it is over on December 25.

Celebration survives on contradiction. To feast, we must first fast. To come to real consummation, we must first live in longing. To taste specialness, we must first have a sense of what is ordinary.

When fasting, unfulfilled longing, and the ordinary rhythm of life are short-circuited, fatigue of the spirit, boredom, and disappointment invariably replace celebration and we are left with an empty feeling which asks: “Is that all?” But that is because we have short-circuited a process.

I am old enough to have known another time. Like our own, that time too had its faults, but it also had some strengths. One of its strengths was its belief—a lived belief—that feasting depends upon prior fasting.

I have clear memories of the Lenten seasons of my childhood. How strict that season was then! Fast and renunciation: no weddings, no dances, no parties, drinks and desserts only on Sundays, and generally less of everything that constitutes specialness and celebration. Churches were draped in purple. The colors were dark and the mood was penitential, but the feast that followed, Easter, was indeed special.

Lent. We know it is a season within which we are meant to fast, to intensify our longing, and to raise our spiritual temperatures, all through the crucible of non-fulfillment.

But how do we understand Lent?

Sometimes the etymology of a word can be helpful. Lent is derived from an old English word meaning springtime. In Latin, lente means slowly. Therefore, Lent points to the coming of spring, and it invites us to slow down our lives so as to be able to take stock of ourselves. While that captures some of the traditional meaning of Lent, the popular mindset generally has a different focus, looking at Lent mostly as a season within which we are asked to refrain from certain normal, healthy pleasures so as to better ready ourselves for the feast of Easter.

To further our understanding, perhaps the foremost image for this is the biblical idea of the desert. Jesus, we are told, in order to prepare for his public ministry, went voluntarily into the desert for forty days and forty nights, during which time he took no food, and, as the Gospel of Mark tells us, was put to the test by Satan, was with the wild animals, and was looked after by the angels.

Clearly this text is not to be taken literally to mean that for forty days Jesus took no food, but that he deprived himself of all the normal supports that protected him from feeling, full-force, his vulnerability, dependence, and need to surrender in deeper trust to God the Father. And in doing this, we are told, he found himself hungry and consequently vulnerable to temptations from the devil; but also, by that same token, he was more open to the Father.

Lent has for the most part been understood as a time of us to imitate this, to metaphorically spend forty days in the desert like Jesus, unprotected by normal nourishment so as to have to face “Satan” and the “wild animals” and see whether the “angels” will indeed come and look after us when we reach that point where we can no longer look after ourselves.

For us, Satan and wild animals refer particularly to the chaos inside of us that normally we either deny or simply refuse to face: our paranoia, our anger, our jealousies, our distance from others, our fantasies, our grandiosity, our addictions, our unresolved hurts, our sexual complexity, our incapacity to really pray, our faith doubts, and our dark secrets.

The normal “food” that we eat (distractions, busyness, entertainment, ordinary life) works to shield us from the deeper chaos that lurks beneath the surface of our lives.

Lent invites us to stop eating, so to speak, whatever protects us from having to face the desert that is inside of us. It invites us to feel our smallness, to feel our vulnerability, to feel our fears, and to open ourselves to the chaos of the desert so that we can finally give the angels a chance to feed us.

That is a rich biblical image for Lent, but human experience, anthropology, and our ancient myths offer their own testimony. For example, in every culture, there are ancient stories and myths that teach that all of us, at times, have to sit in the ashes. We all know, for example, the story of Cinderella. The name itself literally means, the little girl (puella) who sits in the ashes (cinders). The moral of the story is clear: before you get to be beautiful, before you get to marry the prince or princess, before you get to go to the great feast, you must first spend some lonely time in the ashes, humbled, smudged, tending to duty, unglamorous, waiting.

Lent is that season, a time to sit in the ashes. It is not incidental that many of us begin Lent by marking our foreheads with ashes.

There is also the rich image, found in some ancient mythologies, of letting our tears reconnect us with the flow of the water of life and of letting our tears reconnect us to the origins of life. Tears, as we know, are saltwater. That is not without deep significance. The oceans too are saltwater and, as we know too, all life takes its origins there.

And so we have the mystical and poetic idea that tears reconnect us to the origins of life, that tears regenerate us, that tears cleanse us in a life-giving way, and that tears deepen the soul by letting it literally taste the origins of life.

Given the truth of that (and we have all experienced that truth), tears too are a desert to be entered into as a Lenten practice, a vehicle to reach new depths of soul.

Lent. It is a season to slowly prepare our souls. It is a time to open ourselves to the presence of God in our lives and let the angels feed us. It is a time to sit among the ashes, confident that love will abound in due time. It is a time to be washed by our tears into the water of new life, to come to real transformation and newness ready to celebrate the feast that is given us at Easter. Read More.

Celebrating the one year anniversary of Billy Graham’s death

Just in time for the first anniversary of Billy Graham’s death, Allison’s reflection on the life and work of America’s pastor is now available in paperback.

This week’s blog feature the new preface by the author, new to this edition.

Surprise, surprise, surprise.

Between the time my biography of Billy Graham first appeared in April of 2018 and now, as we are preparing to release the paperback version, I’ve been more than a little surprised at how many people have Billy Graham stories on the tip of their tongues. Many, many people have shared their stories with me. In almost every case, a story includes the storyteller’s surprise that they felt as if Billy were a brother or a friend to them. The common denominator in the stories seems to be his kindness, his graciousness, his easy familiarity. Mr. Graham, or Bill as he preferred being called, made friends everywhere. This aspect of his personality comes through in my book, I hope, but I choose to emphasize it in this preface because it’s an uncommon trait in CEOs of large nonprofits and corporations.

Billy was the founder, CEO, and Chairman of the Board of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association throughout eight decades of active ministry. Such leaders are usually noted for their vision and focus on the goals of the organizations they lead. They are usually no-nonsense, organization-first people. They have appropriate interpersonal intelligence, as well. But they aren’t generally friendly in the sense of seeming to genuinely care for the people they meet or who work for them. My read on Mr. Graham through the testimony of many, and my own story of knowing and working with him, was that he was an exception to the stereotype. People were not afraid to work for him and alongside him; they did not fear his criticism. Rather, they worked for him because he honestly seemed to care about their well-being. This created a loyalty, not only in his organization, but with hundreds of other Christian groups with whom he partnered. It is appropriate to suggest Billy led not only his own ministry but the rise of Evangelicalism for decades because of his affection as well as his vision.

A caring leader creates a contagion of caring and loyalty. I found the same level of friendliness and genuine care in his closest friends and co-laborers. Cliff Barrows, Sterling Huston, David Bruce, Tom Phillips, and a host of others within the Billy Graham organization displayed such care for me when I was first brought into the Association orbit in late 1998. Those friendships still exist, except where my old colleagues and friends have passed on to glory. I watched them do the same with scores and hundreds of other people. Like leader, like team. It was a rare and beautiful part of Billy Graham, and he passed it on to others.

When I was stepping aside from leading the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College in late 2013, I received a call that said Mr. Graham wanted to see me. He was ninety-four at the time and living a somewhat reclusive life in his home in Black Mountain, North Carolina. His health was deteriorating and his faculties were declining. I flew in from Chicago, and under the guidance of David Bruce, Billy’s executive staff leader, I went to visit Billy one last time. I wasn’t sure he’d remember or recognize me since my fifteen years of work was done outside of his headquarters a thousand miles away. When I sat down in a chair next to him in his wheelchair he said something to the effect of, “Lon, I wanted to see you one more time and say thank you for your leadership at the Graham Center.” I remember responding, “Mr. Graham, I’m sorry I didn’t do more, I’m sorry. . . .” He cut me off mid-sentence. Then, with eyes looking directly into mine no more than three feet away, he said, “No, I have followed your ministry and know what you’ve done and I thank you.” I’ll take that encouragement with me to heaven.

Mr. Graham would not wish me to end this thought about his genuine affection and appreciation of people without saying that anything he was that was beautiful and memorable was because of Jesus Christ, his Lord. Jesus is a friend of sinners, quick to forgive and abounding in love for all. Billy mirrored that a bit because God’s Spirit dwelt within him. He would also say that Jesus is ready at every moment to receive all who call on him to become their friend, forgiver, and Lord forever. If you’ve not done that, my prayer is that this book will convince you to do so.

I conclude this preface by thanking several people who were instrumental in helping with this book. David Bruce and Tom Phillips from the Graham organization were multidecade eye witnesses of the work and life of Billy Graham. They were gracious to support this effort and give me guidance and stories. I also want to thank my writing group, the Mead Men, who listened, suggested, and corrected the manuscript. Wheaton Bible Church graciously gave me the time to do the work. Finally, my deep thanks to the Publisher of Paraclete Press, Jon Sweeney, who became a devoted and tireless editor and helper of the project. In the final month of research and writing I was diagnosed with liver cancer. Jon’s prayers and encouraging words, and the graciousness and hard work of his staff will never be forgotten.

—LON ALLISON, West Chicago, Illinois

The Miracle of Awakening

This blog is excerpted from the Introduction to Sarah Arthur’s Between Midnight and Dawn: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Lent, Holy Week, and Eastertide. 

We arrive at Lent, those forty days (not including Sundays) leading up to Easter. It’s that time when the church—and the soul—faces the tomb, aware of its own mortality, seeking the promise of light on the other side. It’s a journey we make alone, yet not alone, surrounded as we are by those who have caught a glimpse of sunrise. And we need them.

Whoever has lain awake during moonless hours between midnight and dawn knows this: the darkness is final. It owns the earth utterly. It takes hold in the tick of the clock and the stillness of the woods and the shallow breath of your own mute body. Anyone taking notes during those hours would be convinced there is nothing more: no further turning of the earth, no future flourishing of existence under a warm star, no life recalled from the tomb. It is the last and definitive night.

But then, by some magic that cannot be quantified, it is not. The earth stirs, inhales, stretches. A bird pipes in a forsythia, as if talking in its sleep, startled awake by its own daring. Light, where there was no light, makes visible: first the outline of a window, then the edge of the bed, your own hand, a book open on the covers.

There’s no saying precisely when the turn happens. But it does. Every morning. From the beginning of the world.

It’s the same miracle of awakening that happens when winter changes to spring. The earth, frozen in a silence that will not break, the days brief and brutal, our own cold selves making their grim way through the dark . . . and then . . . and then . . . something shifts. Light in the east, earlier than we remembered; a lift in the air, like a warm updraft; a patch of mud that grows and grows as the snow recedes.

It’s the same turning as when the church, emptied of vestments and cold as a crypt, lights one candle. When the community finds itself, against all odds, redeemed. Lenten sorrow makes way for Easter joy, and nothing—nothing—will quench the dawn.

And it’s the same shift that happens when the soul, alone in grief or guilt or illness or isolation, finds company in the life-giving words of another. During the midnight hours we shelter our guttering faith, and by its light we read poetry and prose that transcend centuries, hemispheres. Words from poets whose battles with God do not lead to victory but to a kind of grumpy determination. Stories from novelists who have tumbled into the abyss of their own undoing— of everyone’s undoing—and found Someone there already, holding the bottom rung of the rescue ladder. Raise your eyes, these voices say. Look to the east. Do you not see it? There. The dawn. 

In this collection you will find such voices. And their words are not always easy. Lent is, after all, the season of repentance, of soul-searching, of Christ’s lonely journey to the Cross. We start in darkness together, naming its various shades, uncertain, even, that morning will come. And the night deepens, if possible, during Holy Week, when the crowds that once celebrated hope’s arrival now spurn it with venom, taking all of humanity down in the process. The stone is rolled across the cold tomb; and there we are, buried with Jesus, left with nothing but a body wound in a white sheet, destined for dust.

But take heart, these voices say. There is a power here in the bowels of the earth, a “deeper magic,” as C. S. Lewis called it.1 Death is not given the final word. In the night of the tomb, our Lord sits up, shakes off the sheet, swings his feet down onto the cold stone floor. He steps out from the crypt into the cool of a damp garden, inhales, smiles. Christ doesn’t need to turn east to greet the sunrise: he is himself the Dawn by whose “light we see light” (Psalm 36:9). The sun will not set again. That was our last night. Ever.

So, at last, we enter the season of Eastertide, which runs from Easter Monday to Pentecost. We step into the morning of a new day. These poets and novelists remind us that the sunrise is undeserved, but here we are. Our battles are ongoing but just skirmishes, really, the last desperate attempts of the losing side to go down fighting. The war itself is over. When it’s our time to physically enter the tomb of our own mortality, we know that if we have been buried with Christ, we will rise with Christ. We’ll ride on his coattails, so to speak. And what we’ll see then won’t be simply light at the end of a tunnel, but light at the end of all things, the final and permanent morning.

So let it begin. Read More

Happy marriages don’t just happen.

It’s National Marriage Week! And we are celebrating with a $1.99 Kindle special (available here!) of Jerry and Claudia Root’s and Jeremy Rios’ book, Naked and Unashamed: a guide to the necessary work of Christian marriage. Enjoy the authors’ preface to their practical and inspiring guide.

Preface: The Purpose of this Book

This book exists because, despite the abundance of magazines, articles, and self-help volumes available, people continue to struggle with marriage.

On the one hand, the cottage industry of wedding planners, consultants, Pinterest pages, and independent bloggers has shaped young hearts to dream and plan for the biggest day of their lives. The day is everything, and they will plan each element with precision, from flowers to cake decorations to party favors. Acting on this crafted desire, couples will spend an enormous amount of time and money preparing for the wedding. Ironically, they will spend little to no time or money in preparation for their marriage itself. The investment into the perfect day is all out of proportion with the investment into life together after the day. At times it even seems as if people are more interested in getting married than they are in staying married. This book exists to help couples prepare for the rest of their life together.

On the other hand, it seems that too few couples comprehend the degree of work required to make a marriage successful. Divorce rates are clear evidence of this, but so also are the many married people who are in dire need of counseling and care, who persist in loneliness and difficulty, feeling ill-equipped to navigate the unforeseen difficulties of marriage. Many people hope one day to get married; few people seem to know what it really means to be married. The truth of the matter is that happy marriages rarely just happen. In fact, the majority of the time they will require at least as much energy and preparation as is directed toward the grand celebration on the wedding day. This book exists to coach couples through strategies that will assist them to succeed.

On the wedding day, a bride and groom will make a promise before God and the witness of their friends and family—a promise to have and hold one another, in sickness and health, in wealth or poverty, until death. Sometimes these promises are uttered in a rush of devoted emotion, at the same time sometimes their demands are glibly considered; yet no couple (we trust!) sets out intentionally to fail. While no book can promise perfect success, the best we can do—and this we hope to do—is to offer hope and guidance to couples in preparation for marriage, to couples struggling in marriage, and possibly encouragement to couples thriving in marriage. Marriage, in point of fact, is a living, growing thing, and a resource such as this one hopes simply to provide a plumb to what is bent, a balm to what is broken, and an enrichment to what is thriving.

If marriage is so difficult, and if the risks are so high, then it might be tempting to conclude that it is not worth bothering about. This is unsatisfying, chiefly because we are convinced that marriage—with all its difficulties—remains one of the best hopes for human happiness and fulfillment. A successful marriage is a thing of unprecedented and radiant beauty, and as G. K. Chesterton (a great believer in marriage) said “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.”[i] This book is targeted for any person who wishes, given the liabilities of marriage, to attempt to maximize its benefits and experience the fullness of its joys.

Billy Bray, Welsh preacher and evangelist, hearing once about other people’s trials of faith stood and exclaimed, “Well, friends, I have been taking vinegar and honey, but, praise the Lord, I’ve had the vinegar with a spoon, and the honey with a ladle.”[ii] Many couples may feel that in marriage they’ve had honey by the teaspoon and vinegar by the ladle. As we said, no book can promise success, and yet the couple that commits to reading together, to learning together, to discussing together, to developing good habits together—that couple will gain a significant advantage in the management and enjoyment of their common life. All marriages ought to begin with the best possible foundation. All existing marriages ought to have the courage to reexamine and correct their foundation as necessary. And, by God’s grace, the honey will outweigh the vinegar beyond measure.

[i] G. K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong with the World (London: Cassell and Company, Limited: 1910), 254.

[ii] Billy Bray, The King’s Son (London: Bible Christian Book-Room, 1874), 29.

New Year’s Resolution—be more like your dogs!

Author of Faithfully Yours for Kids, Peggy Frezon, shares her New Year’s Resolution—to be more like her dogs.

If we’re smart, we can learn a lot from our dogs. Following their example, we can learn to play with gusto, eat heartily, and nap often. We can learn how to forgive others and love unconditionally. We can also discover lessons to apply to our spiritual lives.

Keep Daily Quiet Time—My golden retriever Ernest’s quiet time consists of stretching out in a patch of sunlight streaming in through the window, resting his head on his paws, and closing his eyes. I can see his muscles relax and his expression fill with contented peace. Following his example, I curl up on my big green chair, relax my body, close my eyes and allow God to enter my mind. Allowing Him to direct my path fills me with contented peace.

Wait Faithfully—When we first rescued our senior dog Ike, he used to cry whenever I left the house. I could hear his heart-wrenching whines, even outside in the driveway as I was climbing into the car. After a while, Ike began to trust that I’d always return. He stopped crying when I left. He waited for me faithfully, in comfort that he’d be okay while I was gone. We are never truly separated from God, but when times are tough and it seems like He is far away, I can trust that He is always there. If I wait faithfully, I will hear Him and feel His loving touch again.

 Love thy Neighbor— My dogs live for walks around the neighborhood. They think everyone they meet is their friend. I love the way Ernest approaches little children so gently. And how Petey wags and pulls me toward everyone he meets. Their open and accepting approach to people warms my heart. Sometimes I find myself too busy with my own life to pay attention to others. Or I make judgments about others’ interests and feelings. But if I act more like my dogs, I’ll greet others wholeheartedly without judgment or reservation.

Devour Enthusiastically—Ernest and Petey don’t pick at their food. They gobble it up heartily, wasting no time in consuming every last morsel. God is the nourishment for my soul. I want to receive Him eagerly and joyfully, and be filled with the Bread of Life. Just like Ernest and Petey, I will not hunger or thirst!

So this year, I’m going to try to be more like my dogs.

 Adapted from Pawprints on my Heart by Peggy Frezon, Guideposts.com Jan. 2015

Chapter 2 – The Cry of the Poor

This week’s blog post is excerpted from Jean Vanier’s “We Need Each Other.” This week get the Kindle version for just $1.99 on Amazon.

CHAPTER 2
The Cry of the Poor

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.

But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

(from Genesis 3)

I started L’Arche because I heard the cry of the poor. The cry of the poor is, “Do you see me as important? Am I of value?” The underlying cry of the poor is, “Do you love me?” At the very end of the Gospel of John, Jesus asks Peter the same question, “Do you love me?” By asking this, Jesus shows his vulnerability and his need for love. Jesus teaches us that he is one with the poor.

A few years ago, we welcomed Eric into our community. Eric has his own story, which began with a lot of pain. When his mother discovered the seriousness of his disability, she was devastated and heartbroken; she did not want a child like him! Both mother and Eric were wounded. His mother kept him at home until the age of four, but she did not know what to do with her little boy. Eric was not growing like other children his age, and he was also deaf and blind. At this tender age of four, his mother took him to the local hospital, where it was recommended that he be put into the regional psychiatric hospital. This is where we found Eric twelve years later. He was sixteen years old.

Eric was blind and deaf. He could not speak. He could not walk, and he had a severe intellectual disability. His mother had only come to see him once because she could not bear the lack of love and care that she saw in the hospital. I can say that I have never met a young person so vulnerable and with so much anguish. Eric was living with so much inner pain, yet within that pain lay a mystery.

Eric had not been baptized when he joined our community, but we still took him to the chapel. I remember him sitting in there, in his fragility, blindness, and deafness. There was a quietness about him, and his face was filled with peace. Did he know that he was in the chapel? He may not have known, but it seemed evident that God was present in him.

When Jesus announced the Last Judgment and told the people to come into his kingdom, he said: “When I was naked you clothed me.” The crowd responded, “But we never saw you.” Jesus continued, “When I was hungry you gave me food.” Again, the crowd responded, “But we never saw you.” It is clear that the entrance into the kingdom is through compassion, through clothing the naked, welcoming the foreigner, and visiting the prisoner; it is through welcoming the vulnerability of Eric.

Each one of us was born as a little child. This is an incredible reality in our forgotten histories. When a baby is born, the baby is vulnerable, easily wounded, fragile, and without any kind of defense. This child, held lovingly in the arms of the mother, learns through the tone of her voice, the tenderness of her touch, and her unfailing attention that he or she is loved. The child is not frightened of being vulnerable; he or she learns that it is okay to be weak and to have no defenses because he or she knows, I am loved. The message of the mother who says, in some way, “You are unique, I love you, you are precious, you are important,” is a source of joy for the child.

What happens if a child does not hear this? What happens if the child is caught up in a world of conflict, of hate, and of fear? Such is the vulnerable and broken heart of Eric. The anguish of Eric arose as he sensed that he was not wanted, that he was alone and unloved. We can understand his mother’s pain and the pain of parents who discover that their son or daughter has a severe disability. How will a mother in pain gradually discover that it is okay to be the mother of a child like this? To be the mother of Eric?

At the beginning of his life at L’Arche, Eric was incontinent, so one of the first things we did was to try and help him urinate in the toilet. One day he did! We all had champagne that day. People came in and asked what we were celebrating, and we said, “Today Eric has peed in the toilet!” Life is made up of little things. You do not have to do big things to celebrate together in joy. Every morning, one of us living with Eric would give him his bath. Even though he was sixteen, he was small. Bath time was a very precious moment. Through the touch involved in bathing Eric, we helped him to relax and to discover that he was loved.

Over the last few years, I have felt growing within me the recognition of the incredible vulnerability of Jesus, the wounded heart of Christ. The heart of Jesus is wounded because of his yearning to bring us together despite the fact that we are often resistant. The wounded heart of Eric and the wounded heart of Jesus are one. So what is L’Arche about? L’Arche exists to say to the Erics of the world, “I am glad you exist. I am happy to live with you.”

National Change a Pet’s Life Day!

Enjoy this delightful Q and A with Peggy Frezon, author of The Dog in the Dentist Chair – which releases today, National Change a Pet’s Life Day!

Q. Faithfully Yours for Kids is about animals who “visit, cuddle, help, heal and love kids.” What is one of the most surprising ways an animal helps children?
A. One of my favorite stories in the book is about JoJo, a golden retriever who jumps up
onto the dentist chair with kids who are afraid of getting their teeth worked on. I think it’s a wonderful, non-medicated, non-invasive way for a child to be calmed at the dentist. Just stroking the dog, and feeling her warmth close to them, helps comforts them. I think I like this story too because just maybe I’m a little uncomfortable at the dentist office, too.

Q. What is the most unusual animal in the book?
A. I’d have to say the most unusual animal in the book is Bacon Bits, the therapig, or therapy pig! He loves to be around kids and visits them at schools, libraries, fairs, group homes, hospitals, airports, parades, and many, many events. He’s a mini (well, at 125 lbs, not so mini!) local celebrity. The next most unusual might be the therapy rats. Kids love them! We also have stories about a cat who encourages kids to read, a black lab who helps a boy when he’s about to have a seizure, a golden retriever who surfs with special needs kids, a draft horse who helps strengthen the muscles of kids with cerebral palsy. There are many, many other ways animals help kids.

Q. Many of the animals in the book are service or therapy animals. What is the difference?
A. A therapy animal is a dog, cat, or other animal which provides comfort and affection to people. They often visit hospitals, schools, libraries, nursing homes, and group homes, offices, airports…just about anywhere. People are encouraged to pet and interact with the therapy animal. A service animal (dog) is specifically trained to perform a task or tasks that help an individual. Guide dogs for the blind, seizure alert dogs, and mobility assistance dogs are examples of service dogs. Service dogs perform tasks that the individual cannot do himself or herself, due to a disability.

Q. Are pets good for children?
A. Pets are great for kids when the whole family is on board and ready to welcome them into the family. Pets help children learn about nurturing and compassion. They help kids learn responsibility. Pets may even help a child be healthier–there is evidence that having a pet in the home during a child’s first year of life may help reduce the child’s risk of developing allergies. But most of all, the family dog or cat is often a child’s first friend. When we foster a loving connection between children and pets, and teach them to be respectful of all animals, the bonds will be forever strong.

Q. You’re a dog lover. Tell us about the dogs in your life.
A. My husband and I adopted a special dog about five years ago—he was eleven years old and had been dumped on the streets to fend for himself. He was just so sweet and loving—he’s the dog who helped us realize that God put it on our hearts to rescue senior dogs. We take them in and give them a nice retirement, a loving home for their golden years. We now have a golden retriever, Ernest, who is 10 years old. Just after we adopted him he was diagnosed with cancer. He now is a therapy dog for people with cancer. We also have a golden retriever, Petey, who’s one and a half, and doing his best to keep us all young.

Now available!