Category Archives: The Gift of Vision

Longing

1 Corinthians 2:9barn picture  But, as it is written, “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”—

In our daily life on the farm we have been faced with the mundane:  a ritual of tasks and chores,  mopping up muddy boot tracks across the kitchen floor, pulling off ticks and trying to remember to use bug spray in spring and early summer, dying pets and farm animals,  more work to do on buildings that need constant repair.

And yet, we continue to search for the sacred in the midst of this mundane existence.  We long for the presence of a Holy God, who not only can create beauty from these ashes, but who brings a promise of even better things to come.

And thus,  in this blessed existence here on earth we find ourselves longing.

Longing, something deep within that has its source in our innermost being; something that seems to lurk in the shadows of our souls and suddenly bursts forth as an intake of breath, a deep sigh, a surprising ache of loneliness or melancholy.

C.S. Lewis calls this longing Sehnsucht, a sense of separation from what is desired, a ceaseless longing which always points beyond, a sense of displacement or nostalgia for another and better life.

There is a sense of joy in that longing.  In this life we get a glimpse of what is now only partial, but is a promise of what will be eternal.  A little glimpse of eternity. God gives these glimpses as a gift: as I walk along a wooded path, the trees forming a protective arch overhead, listening to the rustle of leaves at every step;

or observe a mother ewe after surviving the pains of birth when she gently nudges the struggling wet mass of wobbly legs encouraging this new life to stand,

or as I stand on a hillside and watch the incredible colors of a Kansas sunset.

The beauty, the promise, the joy of new life is fleeting and I cannot capture it and make it stand still in time.  I will leave the path; the lamb will grow and eventually face the hardships of life; the color in the sky will slowly fade away.  But for an instant there is beauty and promise.  And I experience it in those fleeting moments.

We have been gifted with a promise that speaks deeply into our souls:  Revelation 21:4  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

So….. we keep searching for the sacred in the midst of the mundane today, and tomorrow, until we reach that land where we will have to search no longer, for it will be a shining, glorious, constant Presence.

 

 

Crazy or Inspired?

prayer chapel

Recently, Teri, my writing partner, and I spent one of our writing sessions walking around the farm and visiting some of the buildings that have been a big part of the ministry of Wellspring.  One of those spots was in the secluded hard wood forests north-west of the farm-house.   Visiting that spot brought back warm memories of past years.  I could almost see the faces and hear the voices of those young men so many years ago as they erected this unusual building dubbed “The Prayer Chapel.”    Although it is in dire need of repair today, through the years it has been a place of dedication, tears, lamentations, heart-cries to God, and rejoicing.  But its story began many years ago.

I am not sure what the neighbors thought as they watched that old pick-up truck make its way slowly down Kitten Creek Road loaded to the top of the cab with wooden ammunition boxes.  I am sure we were creating some interesting conversations.  These crazy Californians seem to be very busy over there at that Fritz farm.  Lots of activity goin’ on.  Can we trust them?  And now they are bringin’ in a truck load of ammunition.  

New neighbors were not a regular occurrence on Kitten Creek Road, and most of the neighbors were kin. Cousins, aunts, uncles, brothers all seemed to settle around the old farmsteads where they had grown up.

We were strangers from California and under suspicion here until we could prove ourselves. Bringing in a truckload of ammunition boxes did not help.

The truth was a lot less dramatic.  Lowell had won the bid for these empty wooden boxes at an auction at Fort Riley.  When he and Judd unloaded them in the barn, there was some discussion as to how we could actually use them.   We would find a way.

Cheap, free.  Those were our criteria for building a ministry at that time.  God supplied, and we trusted that he would give us the creativity to put them to use.  These particular “possibilities” became rustic seats and cupboards; some of the wooden lids became the backdrop for painted artwork.

In fact, we had a hard time passing up any treasures that had potential, and the wooden ammunition boxes were only the beginning.  Windows scored quite big on our list of acquisitions.  Dave and Suzanne Osbourne had attended the L’Abri conference and were members of our church, Grace Baptist.  Dave owned The Osbourne Construction Company, and when he won the bid to renovate an elementary school in Manhattan, he donated all of the old windows and the slate from the black boards to Wellspring.

We would find a way to eventually use most of the school windows in various projects. Over the years the slate became black boards, fire-proof backing for wood stoves, and tile for the entrance to the old farm-house.

“A prayer chapel. That should be the first official Wellspring building project. A place where there is silence, nature, and an invitation for solitude or for group worship.”  I am not sure who introduced the idea, but our focus on this project became a focus of the whole group.

Looking at the supplies that we had on hand, we decided those old windows from the elementary school would be a perfect fit. Creativity and imagination reigned in those days.

A committee scoured the land looking for the ideal spot to put a prayer chapel. Along with Lowell, who became the architect on the project, the group found that spot beside a small ravine back in the hard wood forest.

I secretly believe the guys took great delight in the building of that scan0005chapel.  It rises high into the top of the trees.  Those men used ropes and scaffolding to get that creative circular center and shingled roof put into place. Man-work.  Railroad ties (another scavenged commodity), the Osbourne windows, rocks, sand, muscle, creativity, danger, and fun  went into building that rustic edifice.

In the end, a charming chapel was erected: a six-sided building that reaches to the tree-tops.  Four of the sides are built from the windows; two sides are open, allowing pure nature from the secluded forest to enter the chapel uninhibited by any man-made objects.

I am sure Mr. Fritz, the original owner of that property, never imagined a prayer sanctuary would grow out of that forest where he had probably hunted, trapped, or looked for lost calves.  It was not useable, fertile ground, just a wooded acreage that had grown in a useless ravine.

Crazy?  No.  Inspired?  Yes.  One more gift where His presence is unwrapped in a very simple and “mundane” location on this farm on Kitten Creek Road.

 

 

Painting by the Number (continued)

One evening we gathered in the living room of our little home with people seated on chairs, couch and floor.  We had worked together and eaten together.  Now we were relaxed and spending some time in worship, song, and sharing. Dennis led us, playing a few of our favorite choruses.  Judd and John co-led as we jumped into one of our favorite topics.  The discussion was one that had become familiar, but this time Kathy recorded what we said. What was the next step?  Better yet, what was the big picture that God was painting?

Jane began the discussion in her calm, level voice.   “Perhaps, when you look at the gifts represented here, one focus we have could have is a home for emotionally disturbed children . . . or even family therapy,” she suggested,  her brown eyes resting on Judd in particular.

Ken, leaned forward in his chair intently. “Or we could be a community that welcomed pregnant women who needed shelter and a place to be loved and accepted.”  Ken was also seeing a potential that would possibly meet some of the needs of society and combine them with the gifts of our group and potential of the farm.

After some discussion of these possibilities, Dennis, his blue eyes fixed intently on the floor in front of him, looked up.  He slowly crossed his arms and leaned back in his chair.  “What if we offered a place as a community where others could come to discuss and present ideas for feedback?”

Thayne jumped in and expanded  Dennis’ idea, “Perhaps we could be a community where we were living and supporting one another.  Where we are there to meet each other’s needs . . .  an alternative to the “me” generation.  We could offer an example of Christians living in a fallen world but exhibiting the consistency of God’s character, meeting emotional needs of acceptance, a place where questions will receive listening, and a place where people can come to regain themselves.”

More and more as we talked, we began to identify, not only gifts, but an expression of heart needs.  We would be a community, and together we were molding the shape of what that would look like.  All of those gifts and heart needs, a rainbow of colors, began to blend together to create the foundation of God’s “art work.”

It was a rich experience, this “visioning” together as we began to uncover that particular piece of artwork God was directing.  We all had our paintbrushes out and we were doing a lot of dreaming and coloring.

Of this group, only Charles and Kay and the Swiharts  (including our children’s families . . .Dan and Sara Swihart/Troyer”s  and Nat Bascom’s) would be the ones to finally build that permanent community. The rest of this small focus group would paint some lasting stories and pictures here at the farm before they would spread out into the world to create their own beautiful works of art.

 

 

Painting by the Number

Whenever God rejects a “wish dream” it is not out of His disdain for our wishes, but it is always that He has something better.  In rejecting my wish dreams, God did not hold back His blessing from the farm, its ministry, and its supporters.  He had a better plan.

Looking back now I can see that what happened over the years was God’s plan painted in pictures that we could only uncover as we lived under His leadership. His plan was like the old-fashioned paint-by-the number pictures I had done in my childhood.  The pictures came to life when I followed the numbers carefully, choosing the right colors to fill in the spaces until the image began to appear: a galloping horse, a cuddly puppy, or a lovely cabin by a stream.

Those early days were exciting as we began to uncover that particular piece of artwork God was directing.  We all had our paintbrushes out and we were doing a lot of dreaming and coloring.  Sometimes, when we used the wrong color, we had to step back and listen to the Artist again.  Whenever we in Wellspring ran into bumps, disappointments, disagreements through the years, the issues could always be traced back to our own personal dreams and visions of what that final art piece would look like.

We did have vision, excitement, and dreams!  We had no real idea of the big picture God was painting, but we were eager to see what He would do.  That first small rag-tag group anticipated God was going to produce something beautiful . . . and He was going to allow us to work with Him.  Not only Judd and I, but all of us in our newly formed group had visions and dreams, and as a community we had to learn to listen. Listen to what each other had to say, what gifts each brought, and what God was saying into all of this.  Voices arose, flags raised, and we certainly accomplished a lot.

L”Abri had been our model, but we were wise enough to know quite early in that first year that we would not look exactly like L’Abri.   As we looked at the gifts God had given each person in our group, we had a myriad of ideas that led to very interesting discussions.

One evening we gathered around the small living room.  The discussion was one that had become familiar, but this time Kathy recorded what we said that evening.   We represented a variety of potential, experience, and interests in this living room.  Jane, a student at Manhattan Christian College and the leader of the Youth for Christ at Riley County High School; Dennis, the area InterVarsity staff person here at Kansas State University and Emporia State University;  John and Ken, graduate students in the Geography Department; Kathy, our recorder that evening, a grad student in Family Studies; Thayne studied in Fine Arts; Lowell a grad student in architecture; Carol a grad student in Physics; Charles a physician at Kansas State’s Lafene Health Center; Judd teaching in the Family Studies department; and then there was Kay, whose wisdom always put a capstone on our discussions; and as always, our children and I.   Not present were two professors from the Family Studies area at the University, George and Ken.  George was a child psychologist and Ken had many years’ experience in family studies.

What should our focus be?  Where were we going to put our efforts?

 

 

Visions and “Wish Dreams” (continued)

Now I was facing a dilemma. My faith was being tested.  My vision, my dream, was deteriorating.  I knew that God had the power to change Judd’s mind, and He had not.  And I  knew that since He owned the cattle on a thousand hill, He could have provided the financial resources we needed.   I also knew that I needed to support my husband and submit to something that he felt was right.  Now it was time to step out in faith, believing that God is sovereign and  I must walk a path that seemed so wrong to me.

So I began to look for jobs. I had been doing a little part-time work, but none of it seemed to bring the kind of permanency that we needed. It was at this point when the phone rang one day.  A voice on the other end identified himself as a neighbor.  Fred was one of the head librarians at the Public Library in Manhattan.  A position at the reference desk was open, Fred informed me, and he was wondering, since I was not employed at the time, if I would be interested in applying for the position.

When I hung up the phone, I was in disbelief . . . and a little dread.  This was too much of a coincidence.  Of course, I would pursue it.  Within a few weeks, I was employed full time

After working only six months at the library, I had already missed one of Wellspring’s Family Conferences and Derrick’s and Dan’s State Track Meet.  Need I say, by this time I was in anguish over the whole business of working, yet God kept faithfully directing my steps.   Full-time teaching would be the best opportunity, I believed, for a mother of school-age children. In order to qualify for a teaching position in a university town that was filled with well-educated teachers looking for jobs, I needed to pursue a master’s degree in American and British Literature. The cost of the graduate programs in those years was quite minimal compared to the tuition costs of today, which made this a viable option for our tight budget.  In the last few semesters of the program I also worked as a Graduate Teaching Assistant which eliminated most of the cost of tuition.

My lines had fallen in pleasant places at last!  In the library I had been telling people where to find books they were looking for, books that I was too busy to read.  Now, I was reading them, sometimes nine to twelve novels a semester.  I was in heaven!  And my schedule was my own.  Besides showing up for class and doing the required work, I could now attend the important meetings of my children, help with the Wellspring ministry, and host those who came to the farm.  God’s blessing on a heart that longed to be obedient.

As a student I also began working for the National Center for Fathering.  At that time Ken Canfield, a grad student in Family Studies at Kansas State University, was also part of the Wellspring group along with his wife Dee and children.  Ken offered me a position as editor of the materials the Center was producing, and eventually we co-authored a book together.  Upon graduating with my Masters, I was offered a part time job teaching at Manhattan Christian College.  My cup was running over.  Everything in my life began to blend together. This was all God’s vision, not exactly mine, but so much better than mine would have been.

It would not be until years had passed from the time I had agonized about my lost dream that I began to realize my wish dream had been a handicap to what God was really doing. I was teaching a class at Manhattan Christian College called Modern Masters of Christian Literature, and the list of authors included Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  As we looked at Life Together I was forced to look more closely than I had before in my reading of this work.  I was struck by his apparent distaste for visionary dreaming.  “God hates visionary dreaming, it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious” (27).  Had I been clinging to a “wish dream?” Fortunately, God pried my fingers loose from the dream part, and, as I learned to trust Him and hold out empty hands, He filled my hands with what my heart needed.

Vision and “Wish Dreams”

I do believe that God plants into our souls an expectation of His miraculous presence in our world, and He is pleased when we do not simply submit to the mundane, to the ho-hum life of mediocrity, but press for the life that is “above and beyond all that we ask or think.” Perhaps, the verse “I would have fainted if I had not seen the hand of the Lord in the land of the living,” was the impetus to my vision, my dreams. I seemed to be blessed with vision; my dear mother accused me of wearing “rose colored glasses” in my early years. Maybe it was good that I was not the dominant leader in our adventure at the farm; I was the quiet visionary with my hopes and dreams, but I could “see” some of the potential of this property that we had bought.

One fact that most married couples discover through years of togetherness is that, although both husband and wife may speak the same language and say the same words, many times the ideas behind the words are quite different.  As Judd and I began our venture in ministry at the farm, we realized that we acted out our dream differently.  We were not totally different in commitment, but quite different in type of commitment to a dream. I was expecting something to happen that would be life-changing, maybe even world-changing . . . and I had made a commitment to God to dedicate every inch of every acre to ministry. Judd immersed himself in the realities of buying an old farm, the work, the unexpected expense, taming the wild territory, and doing it with a group of young people who had creativity and youth on their side. But, while Judd saw the land as our own personal property and responsibility,  I saw it as God’s property, and fully expected Him to work with us in accomplishing the goals that He would set for us.  So . . . you can see we were at logger heads at times: Judd feeling that I expected him to do all the work, and I feeling that Judd might be inhibiting God’s leading by his own sense of overwhelming responsibility.  Oh, we had much to learn!  But the learning was all part of the maturation process, the growing in spiritual stature and knowledge of ourselves, each other, and of our Father.

It was difficult for me to give up my “wish dream,” as I later was able to call it. I had fully believed that the farm would be a full-time occupation for me, not to “farm” it, but to manage it as a ministry. I believed that there would be people coming and going throughout the week, there would be weekend conferences and retreats, and daily visitors who would come for retreats; all this activity would need a coordinator, a hostess.  Besides, I had a family to nurture, to feed, to support emotionally.  My “call” was to stay home and to do ministry on this farm that God had given us.  It was a commitment!

Judd was working full-time and was also getting his PhD.  He never does things casually, but had committed himself to graduating from the program in three years.  All this besides hosting and leading this little band of “Wellspring.”

And he was convinced that I must go to work full-time, helping with income and being more productive than just a stay-at-home mom now that the children were all in school.

For months this was a source of extreme contention between us.  I felt called to my children, to the farm, to ministry. Without my available presence, I could see our family becoming disjointed, with everyone going their own way. I was the glue who held things together, who kept track of everyone.  And what would happen to the ministry at the farm?

I begged God to provide the money that would enable me not to go to work. I tried to raise money with a few letters, but that was very distasteful to me; I thought maybe we would inherit money. Every day I would go to the mailbox looking for the money that I thought God would supply. Remember, I had read L’Abri.  Always when they needed money, it would come in some unexpected fashion.  Surely, the God who supplied their needs could supply ours!!

I was fearful of abandoning my family and my commitment to God.  I had unsettling dreams about becoming so busy that I would lose my relationship with God.  One dream that I had remains vivid in my memory: I was walking in a crowd of people on a busy street going intently toward some unknown destination. We were passing others going the opposite direction.  Suddenly I had a horrible feeling that I had missed something.  As I turned around to look behind me, I recognized the back of a man going slowly with the crowd.  I knew instantly that it was Jesus, and I had not recognized Him.  My heart was broken, and I woke from my dream in tears.

God never provided the money I had prayed for.  Nor did Judd change his mind.

How does a child of God  respond?  Does she choose to feel abandoned?  Does she allow resentment to fill her heart?  Does she give up on her dreams?  Or, can she walk in faith of a sovereign God who loves her?  (More to come)

 

Authenticity: The “Real I” and the “Real Thou”

 

At fourteen, a few days before I turned fifteen, I had a crash-bang encounter with the Real Thou…and He spoke directly to the Real I.  Having been chosen at the last moment to replace someone on our Youth For Christ Bible quiz team, I had crammed for a week, trying to memorize scripture that we would cover in quizzes against other teams from our North Atlantic District.   We were going to represent our group at a large convention in Ocean City, New Jersey. This was a big deal…and I was scared.  By the time we got to Ocean City, I was not feeling well.  I got worse as the week went on.  Except for the evening services, the quizzes were about the only part of the conference that I could attend during the day.  Other than that I was in my hotel room, sick.  .  My only real memory of that week was sitting with the other 2,000 young people listening to Torrey Johnson bring to conclusion his sermon.  No words from that sermon remain in my memory.  What I remember is that the crowd faded away and I saw Jesus hanging on the cross…and it was for me.  The depth of His love touched my very soul.  And it was His love for me, that little girl who had some knowledge of who He was and a very little knowledge of who she was.  He intimately knew and loved that young woman who was ready to give up pursuing hope; the one who had lost her sense of the adventure of life.

He knew me and He loved me, the real me, with unfailing and undying love.  Never again would I have to flounder on my own, never again would I need to search for an identity.  He knew who I was and He would reveal that to me in a loving, unfolding way the rest of my life.    That knowledge changed my life.  I was forever devoted to Him.

I am continuing to learn how that authenticity works.  In much of C. S. Lewis’ work, he emphasizes the importance of the “real me” in relationship with “the real Thou.”  I am learning about my Creator/Savior as I read His word, as I talk to Him, as I listen for Him, as I watch his creation, especially his creatures.  I am getting to know more and more the “real” Thou.  And slowly I am becoming the “real” me.

Yes, I am ME.  I am the one God created to live out this life in all of its surprises, conundrums, joys, sorrows.  Inside this skin.  Within the boundaries of my family of origin, with all of the handicaps and giftedness that may entail.  In Kansas!  On a farm!  With my husband (that gift from a God who never changes).  With the children and grandchildren God has given.  I must take every day as a gift from Him.  And then I must live it as the person God created me to be and continues to form me to be.  That life will not look like anyone else’s life.  It will be uniquely mine.  And in that uniqueness, I will be bringing glory to God that only I can bring.  I will be uncovering something about the mystery of God that only I can uncover.  I am becoming authentic.

The gift of authenticity. The farm gave us as a family a platform where we could practice being authentic, and where we could offer an authentic experience to others.