BEING CREATIVE, better together, Book Blurbs, book review, books recommended by librarians, breath of joy, captive audiences, chapter excerpt, Creativity, Expectations, featured, Fruits of the Spirit, improvisation, ingenuity, inspirational, journal, Kathy Joy, Laura Bartnick, op-ed, Scent, spring books, spring season

Breaking Bud – A Roguish Spring

KATHY JOY, AUTHOR, EDITOR, MESSIAH COLLEGE ALUMNI

You’re likely familiar with “Breaking Bad”, the TV series about a chemistry teacher desperate to secure his family’s financial future, after his devastating cancer diagnosis. Facing the reality of death does funny things to people.

Find a Singing Spring Gift Book here. A Breath of Joy

Even if you’ve never watched Breaking Bad, apparently most of America has. The series quickly became a national sensation and rendered a new buzzword, “breaking bad” for when someone good suddenly changed character.

If “breaking bad” is slang for “defying expectations” then “breaking bud” is a crisp turnofphrase for “just kidding, the weather has a mind of its own”. Out of the brown and crinkled tan shades of left-over winter, buds are due. The milk of flowers is already rising through pale green rose stems.

Fine, with this springtime tease, we’ll don a warm jacket today, a light sweater tomorrow, carry a pair of boots in the car for just–in–case.

Spring waltzes in sideways, full of bluster and drizzle, followed by little sunny intervals of calm. Throw in a late snow squall for good measure, and you have springtime in Northwest Pennsylvania: Unpredictable, moody, playful, and perplexing. But we always tolerate the irregularities of spring because it holds promises: Birds returning, leaves unfurling, windows are thrown open to let in the breeze.

We’re starting to hear the spring peepers, those tiny chorus frogs that give us loud concerts every night for a fortnight. The early flowers are already pushing through soil, declaring forgiveness for winter’s icy grip. Something shifts in the air. There’s a mix of earthy smells, a giddy kick of anticipation.In spite of all the challenges we’ve endured, there is this one thing: Spring is “breaking bud”.

I had the honor of proofreading the book, BEING CREATIVE, by Laura Bartnick this spring. Her thoughts on creativity simply jibe with my feelings about springtime’s empowerment. I’m declaring new explorations this year. Did you know. . .

God calls all of His creation His servants, because He has a purpose for our existence. He is the Re-namer, and Redeemer, and Re-purposer. When we walk with the LORD, the possibilities are endless. We can search for Him—though He is not far from any of us. Coming closer to our Creator, we can accept His call to be cunning and skillful. We can even become His friend.

“Anything can become the next exploration. Even those creatives who want nothing to do with being a child of God often find their best material in Scripture and in the church. God can use the imagination of anyone to teach us.

“Your own skill is a learned thing. Wisdom takes time. You may not yet understand this when you begin to write about a tragedy causing a family to become displaced, all their treasures to be lost. What you are really going to discover and write about is the greater gift of creativity from loss, the value of new relationships, and community—finding other treasures in hidden places. This story may require much prayer, wrestling with God for the blessing, and many edits to test and strengthen the wings.”

Spring is going forward and gathering steam, hurtling headlong into backyard picnics, flip-flops, beach time and road trips.

There are ten little rules of creativity listed at the end of each chapter in BEING CREATIVE. There is also the suggestion to keep a journal nearby.  I have practiced this invitation of capturing the wonder of my days, of God’s creative invitations to life in my own way. This is where the gift book series, BREATH OF JOY, was budded and flounced. SINGING SPRING announces this season of life burgeoning from death. It celebrates wonder with yellow daffodils, with purple lilacs, and with perfuming pink hyacinths.

Crops are going in this spring, and before we know it there will be rows and rows of sweet corn. That’s what I love about seasons. They simply show up. Regular as a heartbeat, as welcome as the friend you haven’t seen in quite a long time. Springtime is roguish, breaking bud and being mischievous in all the best ways.

I found one of my favorite quotes in chapter four of BEING CREATIVE:

Experience allows us to follow the dots into the unknown. We learn from intersecting paths along the way. We learn to improvise.”

I just love this! I want to lift it out, highlight it, then repeat it for emphasis!

Unconcerned about vaccines, politics or March Madness, the season is a joyful riot of mud puddles and sudden bursts of color, chasing away the landscape’s last edges of grays and browns.

Happy Spring, ya’ll !

Coronavirus, Creativity, dreams, Faith, featured, Kathy Joy, Listening, op-ed, opposites, patterns, Pennsylvania author, poetic, ritualistic firsts, Sequestered at home, singing, Speak Wonder, spring season, Will You Hold My Story?

A Chorus of Peeps

“Good morning – “

“You’re up early!”

“Well, I wanted to catch you on your morning walk. I woke up wondering whether the chorus of spring peepers was singing around the lake yet.”

“It’s not quite warm enough. It’s only supposed to be 63 degrees in Erie today. Maybe next week.”

“Really?  We’re supposed to have another blizzard this weekend.”

“Well, that’s a Rocky Mountain springtime for ya. Once we hear them, we will have three more freezes – then, it’s truly spring!”

“The coming of the peepers foretells three more freezes?”

“Oh yes. There’s the onion leek melt, the sweet pea melt, and one more – I’m having a memory melt right now.”

“Ah, ‘Singing Spring’ comes in notes and melts, like your book.”

“None too soon.”  I’m huffing and need to hang up on this conversation in order to accomplish this morning’s walk.

Spring Peeper

“Hey, I woke up in one of those post-dream phases, the phase where you’re not asleep but not quite awake, either.”  But, my friend also has to go. We say our ‘goodbyes,’ and my thoughts turn inward, dredging up memories, I mean, really distant memories – from lifetimes ago. Mostly good ones. These memories came from this morning’s dream.

A recent National Geographic study polled people around the world—including more than 600 featured in just one study—who say they experienced a new phenomenon: coronavirus pandemic dreams.

Science has long suggested that dream content and emotions are connected to well-being while we’re awake. Bizarre dreams laden with symbolism allow some dreamers to overcome intense memories or everyday psychological stressors within the safety of their subconscious.

The study concludes,

The virus is invisible, and I think that’s why it’s transformed into so many different things.”—Deirdre Barrett, Harvard University

I agree with Deirdre. The virus is invisible, and I think that’s why it’s transformed into affecting our dream state.

I keep hearing about the virus. I have lost friends to it. But, we never really see it, do we? Most of us are prevented from seeing the worst of it, even with our loved ones.

This next season of social isolation comes with a promise of a new vaccine. It’s a trade-up.

So as I was saying, I was dreaming of my childhood lunchtime trade-ups. I was in one of those post-dream phases where you’re not asleep but not quite awake, either: the best time to rein in the edges of your dream and frame it before it is erased by cornflakes and coffee and morning light.

I remained as still as possible to capture the details.

We were all back in elementary school. As dreams rarely make sense, my classmates included pint-sized versions of people I have known throughout my lifetime, even my grandmother.

No matter that she was in grade school a full 60+ years before I was; dreams are like that.

So as dreams go – 

We were out on the playground. It was recess and lunchtime and a cluster of us were sitting cross-legged in a circle near the swing set. I remember there was a teeter-totter there, too.

We were trading lunches.

  • Two Twinkies for a homemade cookie.
  • Bologna for a PBJ.
  • An apple for a Hershey Bar … (is that a fair trade, really?)

A kid named Robert was in the circle, and he had a liverwurst sandwich. This detail rang true – there really was a kid named Robert in the first grade whose mom packed a liverwurst sandwich nearly every day. Maybe his mom had told him how the iron in it would make him grow up to be a muscle man, but Robert seemed to like it and rarely traded it out. He probably wouldn’t have very many takers, anyway.

I mean, liverwurst.

It was only a dream, but it had real slices of reality sandwiched in.

Maybe you, too, shared lunchtime negotiations back in the day.

You got rid of those vegetables and Mom was none the wiser.

We are almost always alert to something better out there. Trading.

Those murky-dream-drenched lunch swaps – snippets of real memories rising to greet me during the Great Sequester of 2020 and continuing through the springtime of 2021 with the promise of a trade-up. Is there a better vaccine to conquer our isolating fear of the real thing?

Trading lunch is metaphor-speak for what many of us are actually doing these days.

Opening our lunch pail, assessing the situation, and looking up to see what tastes better on that day. Negotiating a trade, pooling our resources, helping each other survive the “liverwurst” of life.

What if?

What if we traded sorrows for singing with a chorus of peeps?

Worry for watching the patterns. What is God doing?

Anxiety for trust in the available flavors and coming flowers.

News grazing for cloud gazing.

Swollen ankles for walking the dog.

Despair for Curiosity.

Trading trauma for a sweet pet whose fur accepts our tears.

These are good swaps, life-giving, even.

Switching out the bologna for iron-rich blood, if not liverwurst, then ribeye; trading the mundane for the moment you will savor and return to for a tasty reminder during a day of scarcity.

There’s a song lyric from a favorite musical that goes like this:

The clouded sun shall brightly rise,

And songs be heard instead of sighs.”

What a glorious swap!

A chorus of songs rising up to conquer the gloom – a goofy, ravaged, joyful mix of imperfect voices rise in natural praises every day.

Gathering momentum, drowning out the cries and making sense of the sighs.

I know the swampy spring peepers will lay bitsy eggs, attaching them to vegetation in shallow waters.  They may hatch in four short days. Their dream state will end in an energetic wetland chorus.

I rouse myself from my sleepy knowledge-memories to walk amongst the happy spring peepers, now camouflaged, who are not beleaguered by any virus. Their chorus will come melodiously and noisy overnight, regardless.

Crisp late-winter Lake Erie air has done its job. My lungs are woke. My stomach rumbles.

Do you know that 24 hours before the Spring Peepers are singing under the tell-tale ‘X’ marking on their backs, they are wee black tadpoles swimming underwater? Full metamorphosis takes an uncanny 24 hours!

Oh, Get ready!

We will wake from this dreamlike state one day, looking to each other for guidance into the light of a New Normal. We will add our voices to the chorus frogs.

Pass me the Corn Flakes, I can hardly wait.

Kathy Joy
is the author of Singing Spring, one book in the Breath of Joy seasonal coffee-table series. This month, her children’s picture book released to the public, Will You Hold My Story? This Shell Silverstein-esque story features the adult idea of listening to a child’s tales in a Mister Rogers-esque neighborhood.

Click through to Amazon’s Learn More page here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08RLV59WH/
Will You Hold My Story? Book Launch Activities Here: https://www.facebook.com/events/749089085979643
Find Singing Spring Gift Book A Breath of Joy here
Big Creek Appalachia, breath of joy, Coronavirus, Cyndi Kay Green, featureed, literary, op-ed, Sequestered at home, spring season

FINDING AN ESCAPE

By Cyndi Kay

Due to social distancing and quarantine requirements, I have noticed that many of us are finding ways to escape the torturous abundance of downtime. Gloom seems to be lurking in the shadows of the unknown.  So, let’s talk about some of these escape methods, shall we?

Not homebodies or entertainers, some escape artists feel that “staying put” in a family group has become very trying on their patience.

Now I am not saying this in a bad way, just the opposite, I am just saying some people would rather be outside enjoying our world rather than caught up in the latest Netflix series. Needing the fresh air, these people are the ones you’ll find outdoors building raised flower beds and Koi ponds pretty much all by themselves. Solitude is a valid and beautiful way to get lost. Creating a secret garden is the design and physical digging of dirt and life, a tiny version of the world at home by good and proportional use of God’s creations. It’s a place to bring serenity in the midst of the anxiety created by the unknown.

We move on to those who need to escape to the country.  They cannot stay put at home but don’t mind a bit of company in their explorations.

They are not thrilled with flower beds and fishponds. It’s an accomplishment if they get the yard mowed once a week. They need to go. They need to explore. They feel the need to get away from home. So where do we find these gypsy spirited people?

My first guess would be at the nearest lake or river. They could be sitting on the dock fishing and just enjoying the tranquility of wondering whether the fish will actually stay on the hook. Maybe they own a boat and they want to spend time trolling around the lake soaking up the sunshine (if there is any). Though they are not sequestered at home, they are still for the most part social distanced and quarantined.

Another means of escape this way is going on a day trip of exploration. I have a good friend who is one of those non-sit-stillers. She loves to go dancing or alternatively, be outdoors. With dancing clubs shut down, she discovered the option of taking day trips. She recently took a road trip to Arkansas and our newsfeed was full of photos of trains from this trip. Some of us in this narrowing, nervous world want to get out and enjoy the living and free world in which we still live. So, pack a lunch, grab a camera, and load up for a day trip of riding through the country.

Others enjoy staying home to learn a new hobby and escape into some future potential.

Photo by Laura Stanley on Pexels.com

These are the introverted, creative ones. Those who do not want to be near anyone in case they don’t know how to behave socially in public, especially since the 6 ft. spacing rule was instituted. They are too busy playing, learning, and experimenting with something imaginative to worry about going out and about. They have learned to build a greenhouse or to crochet, knit, and maybe even sew since there is now a demand for face-masks. Some of them have taken to creating wonderful crafts that would likely be bought up in a heartbeat if all of the summer festivals had not been canceled. These crafters will be thrilled that Hobby Lobby has once again opened their doors. But they’ll need someone else to run and get them the craft supplies.

One of the best ways to evade today’s chaos is to get lost in the pages of a different time and place.

I remember my dad, born in 1918, telling me as though a badge of courage demanded the telling, that he only made to the 6th grade and had to start working to help support the family. I thought about this when I found my own quiet, sunny nook and read a book, actually a series of 2 books, set in the 1920’s.

A trail in the Allegheny Highlands of West Virginia

The 1920s was a time of arranged marriages and families consisting of more than 2.2 children. It was a time when life was hard and if a child graduated 8th grade, then they were considered old enough to be married. The books were written by Tonya Jewel Blessing. The first one was The Whispering of the Willows and the second book was Melody of the Mulberries. Both of these were set in the Appalachian Mountains and revolved around the Ashby family, namely Emie Ashby. Opening the pages of book and partaking in a life that is not our own gets us away from the gloom and doom speculation and allows us to relax. I enjoyed being taken back in time to a place I have never been just so that I could get away from the everyday duties of being home and taking care of the house. I find it humorous that in today’s situation, West Virginia has become the great escape destination. So much so, that Governor Jim Justice has issued new state orders concerning non-residents fleeing to Appalachia to avoid COVID-19.

Overall, the world in which we live is far different than it was just 3 months ago.

As we look back, we already see how much has changed. Gone are the days of hanging out all night at the clubs or coffee shops. We don’t know who has been where or with whom, so we decide that we just can’t risk the health and wellbeing of our families. Even our esteemed Hollywood actors, such as Tom Hanks and his wife, have felt the grips of Covid-19.  Into focus has come the question of legalities and civil rights in a whole-county lockdown. As we look back in time, we see how the American way of life has been forever impacted by so many different situations. Whether it be war, terrorism, racial tensions, or viruses, America is not what it once was in the years past.

It is a hard time in this new America of 2020, but nonetheless it is up to us to find the good and know that while we have faith, hope, and love, God has more.

Travel a Prism Book Tour in June, 2020

Take this time to cherish the quiet moments of memories that you would have missed had you been rushing through your nightly routine in order to be able to get up and do it all over again tomorrow.

Whether you are finding escape into the earth, into new explorations, into the creative future, or into history, your personal preference will help you reinvent yourself and will offer a peaceful portion to a world engulfed in uncertainty.

Guest Writer, Cyndi Kay

Find out more about Cyndi Kay and her writing on her website.

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picnic tables on beach near waves
breath of joy, Coronavirus, Faith, featureed, Kathy Joy, spring books, spring season

Surprise on Beach 1, Lake Erie Pennsylvania

By Kathy Joy

Capture Books

Breath of Joy Seasonal Gift Books

I went to Beach 1 over the weekend for a mental excursion. Keeping a healthy distance from other humans, I watched from my perch on a picnic table. Above the thundering of the waves beating the shoreline, I heard a sound I hadn’t heard in some time: laughter.

A woman, bent down to scour the sand for beach glass, was suddenly drenched in cold lake water; she’d gotten a little too close to the waves. Her response was a wail of surprised laughter. Through the wind, over the water, like a rescue rope to all our drifting souls, her laughter caught us and pulled us to safety.

I laughed along with her and noticed others looking up from their nature walks, their feet, their buried thoughts and dreams. They joined in the sudden ripple of laughter.

It was music.

picnic tables on beach near waves
Picnic Tables on Beach 1, Lake Erie Pennsylvania

It was a sacred pause on a windswept beach, lasting only a moment.

I pocketed that moment like rare blue beach glass, and carried it home with me to be sustained and reminded: shared laughter was our Sunday communion; our imperfect song; our rescue.

May you be surprised and soul-fed by a swell of pure joy today. I hope it bumps into you from unexpected places and knocks you down and jiggles out a sound you need to hear: the release of your own shut-in laughter, finally finding a way out.

Kathy Joy is the author of Singing Spring, and pursuant to the request of her employer, writes Lunchtime Jabs for her co-workers in Erie, Pennsylvania while they are working from home during the quarantine. Her Breath of Joy books are a series of seasonal pick-me-up styled coffee table books featuring glorious images of Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter. On these images, her wordsmithing talents soar and dive and dig into the human experience.

daisies and sky breath of joy
adaption, Book Blurbs, Coronavirus, Faith, family caregiving, featureed, G.K. Johnson, Replete, spring season, The Zealots

Unclean?

By G.K. Johnson

Unclean. The opposite of being clean. In our current times, people are doing everything they can to avoid this descriptor. We wash our hands. When we leave our homes, we wear gloves and masks and try to keep at least six feet between ourselves and others.

There are those for whom the word is an unavoidable description of their current condition. They are sequestered in their homes or other isolated places to wait out the virus, their bodies fighting their invisible attackers as best they can. The sickness has spread through their body, out of their control…they are unclean.

Mankind is no stranger to disease and sickness.

Thousands of years ago those with life-altering illnesses and disease had even less hope for healing. Medical knowledge was extremely limited in comparison to what it is now. Those who found themselves with incurable diseases were often sequestered in isolated places with others suffering the same fate. One of these terrible diseases was leprosy. Not only were there terrible physical ramifications from the disease, but it was also believed that those infected with leprosy earned the condition through their sin.

Imagine the heaviness of this diagnosis: the shame, fear, and loneliness that the inflicted person would feel.

“Unclean!”

“Get away!”

“Don’t infect us, scum!”

Shim’on pushed into the crowd trying to see the subject of the disruption.

People backed up and parted to reveal a man swathed head to toe in dirty white linens. The only uncovered parts of his body were his fingertips and a gap in the head covering where his eyes peered out.

Looking at his hands, Shim’on flinched. Instead of healthy pink skin, he saw white deformed stubs. The man had leprosy. Instinctively, Shim’on, Andreas, and the other two disciples stepped back.

Instead of moving away from the leper, however, Shim’on watched the rabbi walk toward him! What was the man doing? Leprosy was extremely contagious. Lepers were not permitted in populated towns; but only in leper colonies outside the village.

The disease attacked the nerve functioning of those it infected and caused sores to develop all over the body. If ever a leper were to come in proximity to a ‘clean’ person, one not tainted by the disease, he was required to shout “unclean!” to warn others of his condition. The life of a leper was lonely and filled with shame.

This rabbi was taking a gamble by approaching the leper, and Shim’on couldn’t decide if he were completely crazy or extremely brave.

Jesus continued walking toward the man until he stood directly in front of him, only a foot or so away. The crowd, which had grown increasingly large, quieted, holding their breath to see what the rabbi was going to do.

Suddenly Jesus reached out his hand and set it on the man’s shoulder. Gasps and whispers crossed over the crowd.

“Be healed,” Jesus spoke quietly, looking into the man’s eyes.

The man began to cry, tears wetting the dirty cloths wrapped around his face. He reached up a hand, and it was then that Shim’on saw that what had been decaying tissue was now healthy skin. The man continued staring at his fingers and then began unwrapping the cloth, revealing a hand, then an arm. The flesh was perfectly healthy; the leprosy completely gone!

Murmurs spread, growing in volume, through the crowd. Everyone was amazed.

“Who is this man?”

“He healed the leper with a word!”

Jesus spoke to the man quietly.

Tears poured down the man’s face and he knelt before Jesus. “Thank you, Rabbi!”

He stood in amazement and Jesus clapped him on the shoulder, grinning. The man laughed in gulps of wonder and then, he departed.*

The Zealots, author G.K. Johnson. publishing September 2020, by Capture Books.

Our Lord touches even those whom the authorities in this world say are untouchable, unclean.

Our God enters into the dirtiest, most shame-filled places of our lives and speaks life!

And it brings Him joy to do it.

The book of Mark, chapter 2, records a dinner where Jesus attends to a tax collector’s needs at the tax collector’s home. The Hebrews despised tax collectors.

These tax collectors were Hebrews who had turned on their people and accepted Roman jobs because of the financial benefits. They extorted their own people and helped to support the Roman occupation at the same time. So when Jesus invites a tax collector to follow him, imagine the outrage many of the Hebrews would feel. Can’t Jesus identify the scum in our community? Is Jesus intentionally circumventing our social bias and the rules we use to keep this kind of traitor down? The disciple, Mark, reflects that some religious Pharisees grumbled to the disciples, “Why does he eat with such scum?”

Jesus replies, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”

Isn’t this beautiful? It’s the very core of the gospel. I am unclean. You are unclean. We are all physically, socially, and spiritually sick with sin. And it’s only when we can acknowledge that truth to Jesus, the Great Physician, in a seed of faith for His help, that He can administer His miracles of life and spiritual birth. Sometimes it’s physical. Other times it’s a healing of our hearts.

Let’s be careful and wash our hands and follow other medical wisdom to not spread sickness. Yes, let’s also be mindful of the unclean around us…the obviously sick and those who may not show physical symptoms.

But, let’s also ask, How can we be the hands and feet of Jesus? Perhaps it’s letting His word soak into our own hearts while resting so that we have some good news to spread in a fresh way. Perhaps, it is sending a card or letter, singing hope to our neighbors from our backyard, offering to help with shopping or giving out medical gloves for commercial transactions, or maybe simply making a phone call.

Most of all, remember, dear unclean one…Jesus came to help you.

References: Matthew 8 (New Living Translation of the Bible)

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