Category Archives: Beginnings

Just in: Pictures of Emmaline and Sam

 

Sam and Emmaline were engaged in the pasture behind her family home.

So, this granddaughter is the first born grandchild, a surrogate mother and official right hand to her mom. The gal who always seemed to have a mature relationship with the Lord. For example, when she was nine years old, as we were leaving the grocery store, she turned to me and asked, “So how are you doing spiritually, Oma?” Shocked, I stumbled around saying, “Uh, I am very comfortable with my relationship with Jesus, Emmaline. How are you doing?”  “Well,” she replied, “i am working on my judgmental spirit right now. I have asked Jesus to help me with this.”

That was and is Emmaline. She was the last we ever expected to move away from Kitten Creek Road. But today, she and Sam are living in Missouri. This will take some getting used to. But this is what it is all about: sending the “arrows” out and blessing them as they begin their own lives and ministry.

Emmaline, Sam, with Lillian (Emma’s sister and maid of honor.)
Leaving Kansas. Missouri bound.

A Dog, A Donkey, and A Soul

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As Dakota and I crossed the brome field and headed toward the farm, I glanced over my shoulder. The picture of an upset donkey caused me to hesitate. Don Quixote (Donk) was stomping, throwing his head over the top of the fence, and getting ready for a loud, obnoxious bray. Dakota, the black lab, and Donk have forged an unusual friendship during her short stay with her “grandparents.” It is no secret that I am a soft-touch when it comes to animals. Doubling back, I grabbed Donk’s lead rope and opened the gate. Satisfied that he had been understood, he offered me his chin, and I fastened the rope to his halter. So, we were three that day walking the trails.
As we made it to the top of the pasture, we had settled into a routine. Donk had given up trying to graze his way along and was quite docile walking beside me, moving his ears strategically to hear the various sounds, occasionally stopping, his ears pointed forward and intently watching something that I could not see or hear in the distance. Dakota was running through the tall grass sniffing the ground, disappearing for a while, and then reappearing to check on Donk and me. We were all acting out our given natures. Dakota was being a dog, Donk was being a donkey, and I was doing the human thing: reminiscing. I recalled all the years that I have walked, prayed, led students, and pointed others to this trail.
The trail hadn’t always been here. In the early years, after forging my way through the blue stem prairie on my daily prayer walks, Judd had mowed a three-quarter mile path around the pasture for me. Once, when it grew over, and Judd was busy, I had dragged the push mower up the rocky drive and mowed the path myself. Once, that was. I have more vision than brawn, and I never did get the “vision” to do it again. But today that path has become a mainstay. With riding mowers and tractor mowers, there is always someone who has the vision to mow them when they begin to grow over. And today the trail serves many of us as a place to get away, to exercise, or to walk and pray.
We had made it around the three-quarter mile trail and were ready to head back down into the lower pasture. At the angel shelter, I stopped to pick up a golden tin foil angel halo that had been lost in the dark not so very long ago. The cedar-chipped outcrop where the angels stood was worn and compacted. Their short “Hallelujah Chorus” followed by “Joy to the World” seemed to echo softly across the valley. Leaving the upper pasture, we picked our way over the rocky path and headed toward the shepherd’s fire pit and sheep pen, to the lower pasture. Stopping a moment, I once again found myself in reverie. Memories. A month ago, over two thousand pairs of feet had tramped the path below me. I imagined I could hear the singers as they followed the groups caroling across the pasture. A few feet down the rocky path, we passed the stump behind the cedar blind where “Gabriel” sat to wait for his cue. Donk had carefully maneuvered the rocks and Dakota, once she determined the direction we were heading, ran past us, and once again led the way. Passing the rustic sheep enclosure and rock-built fire pit, we continued toward the camels and Wiseman iron silhouettes that stand partially hidden in the little cedar alcove. Ashes filled the narrator’s fire pit, and I remembered how strikingly poignant is the delivery he makes every year as he describes the stars, the excitement, and the miracle of the star the wise men followed.
Walking down the cedar chip trail toward the barn, I can see through the cedars the outline of the barn. No children are running up the trail and shouting, “He is here! He is here! Come and see!” But, I think I can hear a faint echo. Oh, the wonder of memories!

Awe accompanied my gratitude. All of this had been a dream, a cloudy, quite unspecific dream those many, many years ago, and look what God has wrought!

Did we have a master plan in those early years that we followed step-by-step? NO. We faced many disappointments, incredible amounts of “just wait” times. Strategic people came and went. What was permanent was the land, God, and faith that He could take “what we held in our hands” and use it for His glory. And this, in turn, has become our blessing!

Gratitude. My heart was filled! “It is God who works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” His pleasure has been my blessing.

My companions have no recollections and reminiscences. They find pleasure in “being.” Donk is content being a donkey, and Dakota finds joy in being a dog. But I have the opportunity to feed my eternal soul on what was, and is, and is to come. And I am in awe.

 

i] So the Lord said to [Moses], “What is that in your hand?” —Exodus 4:2

 

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.

 

 

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.