Category Archives: The Place

So Much Happening on Kitten Creek

 

Milestones: Two weddings. Our grandchildren are growing up. Brother/son/grandson, EJ, was married to Jena on March 18. The next weekend sister/daughter/granddaughter, Emmaline, was married to Sam. Words do not suffice in expressing our joy and thankfulness.  Emmaline’s pictures are not available to me,yet, but here us a link to EJ’s and Jena’s wedding pictures. The pictures relate the joy of the couple and also of those who love them. http://www.miravisuphoto.com/austin-wedding-photography-blog/

Actually, there were three wedding in that one week. Our dear neighbors, the Bascoms, were also celebrating a daughter/grandaughter wedding. The original farm acres were filled with guests and celebrations.

We are now in relaxation and recuperation mode.

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.

 

 

Fire in Them Thar Hills

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A group of thirty to forty of us had gathered in and around the prayer chapel after making our way from the barn, across the pasture, and down into the ravine.  Listening to the prayers of thanksgiving and dedication, my mind was drawn back to that fateful day the previous fall.

Derrick and I had headed down Anderson on our way home from Kansas State University. The four mile trip home past farms and fields was always refreshing and restorative. Oblivious of the drama going on at the farm, we were enjoying the spectacular fall colors.  I had never appreciated the grassy fields and roadsides in the fall before we moved to Kansas.

My first fall here, on an inspired whim I had stopped one late afternoon and picked the tall prairie grasses that were growing along the road.  Bundling them up, I had taken them home, trying to preserve the beauty as long as I could in a large vase on the table.

Today, as in every fall, the leaves were changing again into yellows, reds, and gold, and the prairie grass to shades of purple, red, and orange.  Beautiful!  A steady wind was blowing from the south across the fields, and the grasses and leaves danced to its rhythm.

Rounding the corner into the little village of Keats, we were sobered to see a fire truck coming down Kitten Creek Road and pulling to a stop as it waited to enter Anderson. “Oh, no!  There must have been a fire on our road!  I wonder who? Where?” We were both speaking at the same time.

I couldn’t help but press my foot to the gas a little harder as we entered the gravel road and sped toward home.  As we passed the Peterson’s we could not see any signs of more fire trucks or activity.  But by the time we got to the Hageman’s, we could tell the activity was in our own front yard.  “Oh, please, no, God!” I prayed softly.

Pulling into the driveway, we took a quick inventory.  Thank God, the house was still standing, the barn was still there.  As another fire truck rolled down out of the pasture, past the barn, and into the driveway, it was clear that the fire had been up in the pasture.

It is true, we Kansans do burn our pastures in the spring, but never, never in the fall.  With the dry grasses and the wind, fall fires can quickly grow out of control, so this was a fire that MUST be stopped.

We saw one remaining truck in the pasture as we ventured up the hill and waded out to the truck across the black ashes and soot, all that remained of the grass.  The volunteer fire men were still dousing the fire on the hillside above the prayer chapel.  We did not realize the extent of God’s grace that day until we scrambled down the hillside and into the chapel.  The trucks had lightened burn of chapelmanaged to get to the top of the hill just as the flames were licking at the corner of the chapel.  The only damage to the structure was where the fire had settled into a corner of the railroad ties out of the reach of the hoses and had smoldered there until the firemen reached it with containers of water.

Later that evening we were able to put together the pieces of the story as Sara and Kay recounted their harrowing day to the rest of the family.

The schools had been closed that afternoon for a half-day teacher in-service, and Sara, a Jr. High student at the time, had been the only one at home.  The rest of us were either at the university or at work.

Arriving home on the bus after a morning of classes, Sara was relishing her freedom from classes and was looking forward to a peaceful afternoon.  She had settled into a comfortable chair, ready to pick up the book she had been reading the evening before when the phone rang.

Kay Bascom, our dear “over-the-hill” neighbor was calling.  “Sara . .      .” (pause).  Not wanting to alarm Sara, but very concerned, Kay chose her words carefully.  “I think . . . that maybe I am smelling smoke. Do you know if anyone is burning something?”

Sara, quick to hear the concern in Kay’s voice, looked out the window.  “No, I don’t see anything,” she said cautiously, “but let me go up in the pasture and check.  I’ll call you back if I see anything.”

Now it has never been a secret that Kay does not appreciate the controlled spring “pasture burning” process.  In fact, there usually is a plan to have Kay busy in town when we plan a burn.  But today, Kay and Sara were the lone occupants of their respective homes.  After this fateful day, Sara joined the ranks of pasture burning naysayers.

Sara did, indeed, begin to smell smoke as she climbed the hill, and then see smoke, billows of smoke.  Coming from the south the fire was raging toward the barn.  Or so, at least, it appeared to her.

Since this episode was taking place long before cell phones were part of the normal communication process, Sara raced down the hill and into the house.  Grabbing the phone, she dialed Kay’s number.  “Yes!” she reported, out of breath and gasping for air. “There is a fire, and it is headed our way!”

They quickly confirmed that Kay would call the fire company and Sara would call her dad. When Judd’s secretary answered the phone and told Sara that Judd was in a session, Sara left a desperate message:  “The pasture is on fire and is headed toward the barn.”

Meanwhile Kay had dialed 911 and the fire trucks were on their way. Volunteers arrived first and determined that the fire was actually in the fields, and the structures around the house and barn were not in danger. However, in the fields above the barn the fire was barreling its way across the pasture. That wind that had seemed so playful on our trip home was creating chaos in our pasture.

Thinking it was a simple pasture fire, the firemen were quickly corrected by Kay.  “You must stop it before it goes down into the woods.” Kay’s love for the chapel made it especially difficult for her to remain calm. “There is a structure in its path down in the ravine: a prayer chapel.  Please stop that fire,” she begged.

I am sure those firemen had never considered a structure would have been erected in that ravine, let alone a prayer chapel; but rising to the occasion through Kay’s desperate pleas, and guided by her directions, those volunteers were able to get to the woods above the chapel, just as the structure received its first licks from the flames.

By the time Derrick and I had arrived, the remaining fire truck’s crew along with Kay were making sure that they had extinguished every last ember.

We never did determine how the fire had started, just that it had begun in our neighbor’s pasture, and with the wind coming from the south it had raced hungrily toward ours.

My reverie of remembrance was abruptly interrupted by a song. The chapel and the wooded hillside reverberated with the voices of our thankful group as Charles led us in singing, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” The prayers had been offered and the scripture read and a little bronze plaque had been nailed to the wood beside the charred hole.  “Thou dost encompass me with deliverance.”  Psalm 32:7, the plaque reads.  Yes, even when we are unaware of the dangers that may threaten us, He does prepare a way of deliverance: someone who smells smoke, someone to put out the fire, a community of deliverers.

Leaving the chapel that day with this thankful group of friends, I turned to read the words inscribed above the chapel door, “Let him who is thirsty come; and whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely.”   Revelation 22:17.  We were finding the sacred in the midst of the mundane once again.

Crazy or Inspired?

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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.

 

 

Solitude (Part Three)

 

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And so in those first steps on the prayer trail I allow the vestiges of any mask to be gently erased by His love.

A little uneven with a stubble of grass here and there, this trail has been tractor mowed specifically for anyone who would like to be alone with God.  It has been trodden not only by my feet, but by my children, my grandchildren, by neighbors, by friends, by students, by local pastors.  It has become hallowed ground.  We have all met with God, discussed with God, been encouraged by His presence, and dropped to our knees on this hallowed ground.  As I walk, I think of our neighbor who wrote his thesis on the geography of God’s presence.  It was his strong belief that here, where so many prayers have been laid before God, so many conversations have been carried on in that supernatural realm, that God’s presence inhabits this land more palpably than in other places that had been inhabited by godless living.  I believe he is right, although I have no evidence or thesis to present on the subject.  But that is for another day’s consideration…

As I continue my walk I reach the north fence line where the trail bends and turns west.  Buck is still keeping his eye on me while he checks out the buffalo wallow.  He is looking for a few laps of water that may still be lingering in the hole from Tuesday’s rain.  Now my thoughts begin to turn to questions I need to place before God. This particular day, I am feeling troubled.   A friend I love dearly has been wounded… and those wounds have come from me.  Yet, I cannot betray what I truly believe is a biblical position.  And so we sit on the same committee, but our hearts are full of pain and, at times, anger.  ”God, how do I handle this?  What do I do with these feelings?”  I am gently reminded of a quote I wrote in my prayer journal a few days before, “We just have to walk in the kingdom with others, instead of trying to drive them to change their ways and attitudes” (Willard, Divine Conspiracy 231).    My prayer becomes, “Please give me wisdom in our encounters to be able to communicate your love.”  And, I have the gentle assurance that He is aware of this issue, He is teaching me through this, and good will eventually come from it.  Do I feel this?  Nope.  But I know this.

I smile as I round the southwest corner and turn my feet and my face toward the east.  How many times before have I wrestled with my feelings up here on this trail?  How many times has God listened to my tears, my anger, my questions?  Probably the laments outweigh the praises, if I were honest.  How patient He is with me.  So I spend these last few minutes focused on the goodness of my Companion.

Turning my face toward the trail that will lead me down to the farmhouse, I look for Buck.  I see he has found his buffalo wallow and has obviously enjoyed lying in the cool mud because his belly and legs are a nice chocolate brown contrast to his yellow back.

Thank you, God, I whisper.  I now can begin my day with a little more hope, a little more peace.  I have been reminded by the “God Who is There” that He is there and here and in me and above me and around me and inside me.

 

 

Solitude (continued)

 

 

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This “walking-with-God path” I have loved to share with others.  “Go, listen to God up on the trail,” I have said to dear friends and students, fully expecting them to have the same conversations I have had.  But not everyone has been able to “hear” God in this way on this path.  Hard as it has been for me to understand this “deafness,” up there on the trail,  I have come to accept it.  I remember one of my dearest students had been searching for answers, for a sense of God’s presence and I had confidently sent her out to walk and listen.  She was gone for an hour or more and when she returned, we met in the farmhouse. Sitting beside me on the futon in the front room, she had burst in to tears.  “Nancy, I didn’t hear God at all,” she sobbed.  “He wasn’t there for me.  All I saw were trees, and grass, and while I was praying I stumbled into a hole, and my Bible and I went sprawling and I am such a klutz and God is not there, at least for me He is not there.” The words came out in a stream of frustration . I was dumbstruck!  I had no answer.  She was trying so hard and had failed.  Recently, this gal and I  had a conversation about that experience so many years ago.  “I have decided that I just don’t hear God the same way you do, Nancy,” she explained.  She is now a wife and mother, a wise and godly woman.  And I can accept this now.  God speaks to us in our own language, after all, he wrote all of the languages and placed them in our hearts.  This pasture has been one of my strongest languages.

As I stroll along the “prayer trail,” I have no masks before my God.  He knows me, and He loves me just as I am.  I don’t have to pretend that I am worthy of His attention.  I don’t have to apologize for my not-so-perfect face, my stringy hair, and my rather stumpy legs.  For goodness sakes, He is the one who fashioned all of my parts.  And He is satisfied.  He and I can both agree that I have lots to learn and gobs of maturing to do, but He has promised He will not give up on me. For the initial part of my walk, I simply bathe in that love and acceptance.

Celebrating Solitude

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“The aim of God in history is the creation of an all-inclusive community of loving persons, with himself included in that community as its prime sustainer and most glorious inhabitant.”—Dallas Willard  

I believe that building community with Him as our prime sustainer and most glorious inhabitant has at its core our personal communion with Him . . . sometimes in solitude.  The following is from an earlier entry:

I pull my jacket closer to my body and quietly close the back screen door, not wanting to arouse Vince and Tiger.  I consider them my loyal “guard cats,” guarding the farmhouse from any additional forlorn feral cats that would like to call this home. Actually, truth be known, I would welcome more cats into my life, but God seems to have given me a built-in safety mechanism in the garb of Dear Husband that keeps me from over-doing it on the welcome-every-animal-to-the-farm penchant.  This morning the cats stretch and come out from under the porch to greet me, but they will have to wait for their handful of dry cat food because I am on a mission.

I reach the gravel driveway and crunch my way past the little workshop, a converted old chicken coop.  Heading toward the barn I see Buck, our yellow lab bouncing up and down at the end of his chain, excited at the possibility of being loosed from his own particular guard post—the looming door of the old red barn.  Buck’s duties include scaring away any unwanted rodent (although he has been known to spend the winter with a family of skunks  that had sneaked in the backdoor of the barn and  found refuge in the stack of milled lumber being stored over winter.)  Buck’s other duty that he has taken on of his own accord is scaring the daylights out of Vince and Tiger.  To Buck, cats are prey.  Forget the squirrels and rabbits that inhabit the yard.

Buck loves our early morning walks.  What I consider my “prayer walk,” Buck considers as pure adventure and delight.  He sits obediently as I run my fingers around his collar, feeling for the metal snap.  The instant the snap is loosened Buck is bouncing again, this time in a circle around me as together we head past the barn and move toward the stony road to the pasture above.  Finally calmed down, he begins to follow rabbit trails, his nose lightly touching the pebbles and tufts of grass, watching my movements out of the corner of his eye.

We make our way past the old barn.  Ahead on the pathway is the gate to the pasture.  This gate, a gift built by artistic Second Son, has words carved into it that aptly describe my intent for this early morning stroll: “”I will lift up my eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my help; my help comes from the Lord.” Yes, Lord, I am lifting up, not only my eyes, but my soul to you this morning.” The old glass knob, now turned an antique lavender, glistens in the morning light from the dew that has settled in the sharp crevices.  I unlatch the hook, pull the gate open, and walk through onto the tree-lined path.  Ever upward we climb on this surprisingly non-flat Kansas pathway.  The gravel road leads past the outhouse and up a steep incline, through the cedar and oak woods to a high, blue stem pasture. We are now in part of what is called the “last stand of the tall grass prairie.”  These grasslands run from Texas up to Canada in a narrow strip where the land has been unbroken. Less than five percent of the original prairie remains today. Farmer Judd takes great delight in giving tours of this unique pasture land of grasses:  the tall bluestem, the buffalo grass, the side oats, the Indian grass.  This is a small part of God’s great eco-system, and our family has become partners in care-taking this small plot of ground.   My soul begins to drink in the beauty of this out-of-the-way world and I begin my own private time of conversation with the God of all time and eternity.

I call this “conversation” with God, because I do most of the listening up here in this sky-drenched pasture. Having moved from Southern California, now so many years ago, one of the greatest gifts the farm offered was this comforting solitude.  It was not just the chance to be alone, but it was a chance to place my body, soul, and spirit into the presence of God without distractions of noise, frenetic activity, and with no concerns about meeting anyone else’s expectations.  I could simply let God’s presence become a blanket of comfort and acceptance around me.   (to be continued)