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.

Authenticity: From “Me” to “Who?”

 

Children don’t know anything but transparency and authenticity. Their freedom to be themselves is quite compelling.  It is only later that they begin to adapt to the social pressures in this fallen world.

I remember in my wise four-year-old mind becoming aware that the thoughts coming in the form of ideas or conversation with others were actually coming from me.  I remember the awe I would feel when I would whisper to myself, “I am Me.”  Allowing the thought to reach into my very soul, I was overwhelmed with a sense of my own identity, and I marveled at this reality.

But when a child is slowly growing through those formative years, identity can become very confusing, and authenticity becomes less and less automatic.  Little by little I began to lose that ownership of my identity.  In the next half a dozen years, we moved. A lot!  We were always the new kids in the neighborhood, the new students in the classroom.  In one of my first grade classrooms (I think I went to three first grade class rooms in three different states that year) the teacher had given us the wonderful privilege of writing on the chalkboard during the lunch hour.

One noon, I had finished my lunch early and had taken my place beside another little girl who was writing on the chalk board.  I quietly drew some figures on the board, but out of the corner of my eye I was watching this very sophisticated little girl, this  One-who- belonged, write her name.  She not only knew how to write her name, she knew how to write it in cursive!  Surreptitiously I watched and, hiding my work behind my left hand, I wrote it just like she wrote it, Betty.  I went back to my desk that day and continued to practice that special word, Betty.  Throughout my school years and into adult hood, any time I doodled, in the midst of the doodling one word was sure to appear. . . Betty.  In some ways, this was to mirror the loss of that sense of identity that I had grasped so innocently in my preschool years.  I did not consciously adopt someone else’s identity, but I became less and less sure of who was existing at my core, who God had intended me to be.

One thing remained constant, though, in my growing years.  The God who lived up there in those beautiful skies, grew to be my companion.  In so many ways He showed me His beauty, His kindness, His creativity, His protection.  However, He spoke to me most clearly through His creatures. They became His sketch book of every day lessons.  “Look dear child at the beauty of the many colors in that rooster’s tail.  Watch the tenderness with which that momma cow licks and washes her tiny calf; see the devoted look in those beautiful cocker eyes of your faithful dog Winky as she watches to see what you will do next.”  In each creature, I saw characteristics that had been placed by a loving Creator.  But there was more! Each creature seemed to be secure in who/what it was.  God had created it to be a dog, a cow, a horse, a sheep, and it found satisfaction in being, just in being.  True authenticity!  I have watched those creatures almost in awe.  They are content, unassuming, and real!  None of the socialization, none of the pressure that we as humans have experienced in order to fit in, to pretend, to perform.

My natural instinct has been, even as a child, to turn to those creatures that also seemed to accept me just as I was.  At the age of four, I would slip out to the dairy barn after the cows had been milked and had  settled for the night.  In that long old barn, I had birthday parties; I had prayer meetings.  With a little grain in my hand, I would walk from stanchion to stanchion, preaching, singing, and entertaining.  And they accepted me.  They were my adoring audience. I could be free to be me.  Later, after we moved from the dairy farm and began the saga of continual moving, my cocker spaniel, Winkie, was the receptor of my tales of longing, my companion on walks, and my nighttime buddy.  She loved me unabashedly and uncompromisingly.

By my teenage years, I was becoming more and more a creator of my own self.  With deep feelings of not belonging in this world, of watching it as an outsider, I was becoming a young adult.  Unlike that little four year old who was thrilled with the “me-ness of me,” the person I was becoming did not like the me I was.  I did not like the body I had been given, nor did I not like my history.  Instead of accepting my identity, I became adept at covering it, of masquerading it, of working hard to become what I thought I should be.

 

No Pretension

 

Authenticity.  Reality.  I think that was what drew us to our farm.  Yes, it was badly run down. The farm had seen a lot of living.  It had been used to raise chickens and pigs, to grow crops, to supply milk, to allow a tiny family of three with little outside income to live comfortably for years.  The eighty-five year old farmer had told us when we noticed the huge stacks of firewood around the house, “In the winter I stay snug as a bug in a rug.” The tiny house had been a shelter, a place of love, heartache, joy, loss.  No pretense, no desire to impress, just living out life in a simple, authentic way.  We stepped into that history and attempted to continue the story.

On an instructor’s income, we had no money to spare.  Most of what was done was by family (the boys were in Jr. High; Sara was six), and wonderful, incredible young college students.  Sara and I fed the crew sandwiches, chili, and hot chocolate in those cold months; and in the summer lots of lemonade, ice cream, pie, and more sandwiches. We worked evenings and weekends. We cleaned out the top of the barn that had been filled to the very ceiling with hay bales..  Slowly, those who had bought the hay at auction had come to claim their hay. What was left after the bales had been claimed was mounds of loose hay full of mementos: old horse harnesses, buckets, mice, snakes, etc.. Meanwhile, Kansas State University’s InterVarsity had used what bales were there as seating for their “barn party.” Hundreds of students were to pass through that old and unadorned barn in the future.

The crew tore down sheds that were too decrepit to restore, cut brush, created paths and gates, built steps with large rocks from the pasture.  The process of reclaiming and refocusing the use of the farm was a team-building experience because we did it together, in a simple and unpretentious way.

The open and natural expanse of land also beckoned my soul.  As I walked in the pastures and through the forests, I sensed the presence of the God who knew my innermost being, the One with whom I had no need of pretension.  He knew me better than I knew myself.  Up on the top pasture or down in the woods I was free to be myself … to sing, walk, pray, worship,  knowing I was loved and at home in His presence.  I had been on a journey for years learning to be open and  not self-conscious around others;  but alone with God as my companion, I had always been totally at home.                                      (to be continued)

 

Praise The Lord, the Drought is Over!

Welcome to the barn
Welcome to the barn

We were in the final day of our first Spiritual Dynamics Conference. Donald Mostrom, author from New England, had come to share his life with us.   We were soaked by  a sudden downpour as we approached  the barn where we had set up old desk chairs, a podium,  a small sound system   scrounged from friends.   It had been raining and now it was pouring rain.  I was quite discouraged as I walked with our guest who was ready to deliver his last message of the weekend. However, Dr. Mostrom was exhilarated.  “Praise the Lord,” he shouted as we walked up the hill to the barn that Sunday morning, “the drought is over!!!!”   I looked at him in disbelief, but also relief.

Forty to sixty guests had come to spend the weekend.  Some had stayed in town, others at the farm in tents or in the granary where, after sweeping and hosing it down, we had set up cots.   Dr. Mostrom, had the privilege of sleeping in the farmhouse in Sara’s bedroom while she bedded on the floor of our bedroom.

After all our careful planning and preparation for this conference, it had rained the whole weekend. We had planned some exciting and fun times, such as a trail hike, Frisbee golf in the pasture, a volley ball game in the front yard. But for most of the weekend we huddled in the barn.

We also were limited in what we could do in the barn.  At this point in our history, there was no kitchen in the barn, so we supplied all of the meals from the farmhouse kitchen.  The young families who attended the conference had small children, and we had carefully planned child care for them in the living room of the farm-house.  The bathroom in the basement served as the main bathroom for the conference.  In fact, the entire tiny house had become an extension of the conference.

By Saturday morning, we were almost wading in mud in the kitchen, mud that was dragged in by all of the necessary traffic.  By noon of the second day the basement had flooded.  From the bottom of the steps to the bathroom, we had set up an improvised “bridge” created from an old wooden ironing board that had been stored in the basement. (Creativity flourishes when there are few alternatives.)   The living room nursery was cluttered and dirty, but dry.

Don Mostrom, the author of Intimacy with God (1983), had been invited to be our first guest speaker for several reasons.  Our first year together we had studied The Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal by Richard Lovelace.  We were challenged.  As we read Lovelace’s acknowledgments, we discovered that a certain man, Don Mostrom,  had been one of Lovelace’s primary mentors.  After the Bascom family traveled to New England to attend a Peniel  Bible Conference, they came back renewed, refreshed, and desiring to hear more from Don Mostrom who had been the key-note speaker. We were thrilled when this man from the East Coast agreed to come to our poor, humble farm to join us for a weekend and share his thoughts from a book that he was working on at the time, Spiritual Privileges You Didn’t Know Were Yours.

We were deluged that weekend, but not only with rain.  We had found joy in working together as a young community. We had studied together, planned together, and were now working out the individual gifts of each member.  From cooking to nursery, from creating song sheets to leading the singing, from registration to clean-up, we each used our gifts.  Our children had been assigned their own important tasks:  Derrick was to park cars, Dan and Derrick created the Frisbee golf course and blazed the trails for hiking; Sara at seven years old was appointed “the chief smiler”which she did with  total sincerity. And together, our community had been sitting at the feet of a spiritual giant as he challenged us and encouraged us with spiritual blessings from God’s heart.

It is not always in the physical comfort of our surroundings that we find the presence of God.  He was there as we waded to the bathroom, as we mopped the muddy kitchen floor, as we sat huddled in the barn instead of doing all of the fun activities we had planned.  Grace and abundant joy in the presence of the others who had gathered with us.  This was an unwrapping of his presence in community. Yes, in the midst of the mundane the sun was shining.  Thus, the exclamation “Praise the Lord, the drought is over,” was the capstone that crowned our weekend.

The Chief Smiler
The Chief Smiler
Don Mostrom "driving the bus" in a Down on the Farm fun night.
Don Mostrom “driving the bus” in a Down on the Farm fun night.

The Beginnings of True Community

This group now calling itself Wellspring, was becoming a true community of like-minded people.  One of the couples who sat with us during the discussion that evening was Charles and Kay Bascom.  God creates community, and I fully believe that he brings together those with gifts to accomplish his purposes.  Through the years, Charles has served in an unofficial capacity as “pastor” to our little community, and Kay has been the model of gracious love, hospitality, wisdom, and a true support to her husband.

I remember working with Kay setting up the farm for that first Spiritual Dynamics conference.  As we were winding up our preparations in the house Kay turned to me with a twinkle in her eye,  “Ah, Nancy,” she said in hushed tones, “we are standing on tiptoe to see what God is going to do now.”

Kay and Charles have walked with us all the way:  from the inception of the small group, to the naming of the group, to the incorporation of Wellspring.  In the early years on the farm, they  purchased several acres from us and together with their sons (actually while Charles was doing a summer stint in Sudan) built their log home.

They had stepped into our lives with their rich history of walking with God.  In their early married life, Charles and Kay “stood on tiptoe” watching God work in their lives in north-eastern Kansas.  Charles became the beloved “country” doctor in a community where they immersed themselves into the lives of the people.  As Charles doctored the physical bodies, and many times the souls  of those communities, Kay led Bible studies. Together they watched God change lives as they also poured themselves into the ministry of  Young Life.

On tiptoe, along with their young family (Johnathan, Tim, and Nat), they responded to God’s call to serve in Ethiopia. Charles and Kay watched the work of God flow from their lives as they loved the people in the country they loved dearly.

Forced to leave Ethiopia for an extended period of time because of the Marxist revolution, the Bascoms moved to Manhattan.  Our family arrived in Kansas shortly after the Bascoms arrived from Africa, and we immediately were drawn together by a mutual vision and commitment to serve God through hospitality:   hosting an ongoing discussion of how we can address relevant social, ethical, and lifestyle issues in our community. Although these L’Abri type discussions were  a major focus of our early years of ministry on the farm, and the focus was to extend far beyond  . . . to hosting sundry events, ministries, and outreach over the years that were to come.

Our family was privileged  to observe Kay and Charles and their family, our role models here in our little community, as they welcomed old friends from around the world to stay in their home (any and all the time); walked through culture shock with the many internationals that call them their “adopted parents”; wrote and taught The Messiah Mystery, a study that systematically brings to light the Christ of both Old and New Testaments.  They have modeled family, faith, and gracious hospitality for our family.

After the revolution in Ethiopia was over and the country had settled to a more peaceful existence, both Charles and Kay have had opportunities to go back to their beloved Africa, working for a time in southern Sudan with refugees (Charles) and later in a hospital in southern Ethiopia (both).   Kay, with her heart for written expression, has put into book form some of the personal stories that came from the “amazing saga of the church in Ethiopia” in her book entitled Hidden Triumph in Ethiopia.

Lovers of God’s nature, a typical Bascom day will end with Charles and Kay (graciously inviting whoever may be visiting at the time) taking a quick drive up Kitten Creek Road to the top of the flint hill pastures.  As they watch one of the beautiful Kansas sunsets in the west, their voices will blend together in a hymn or chorus of praise to their Father.  And this is the essence of our friends, Charles and Kay . . . standing on tiptoe to revel in the handiwork of their Creator.  These are our neighbors, our co-workers here on Kitten Creek Road.

SAM_1626

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Name for the Group . . .and the Place

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This well story had been about our family until now.  First, it meant that we would not have to haul water; second, it meant that we had God’s affirmation on our calling at the farm; third, and most affirming to me, was the promise of God’s blessing.  Always, but now even more so, I saw this land as God’s land, and we were but his stewards

The week quickly flew by.  Finding water was not the end of the story.  Now we had to hire someone to dig the line from the well to the house, a distance of about three hundred yards, farther than we had hoped.  But who was complaining at this point?  God had proven himself faithful in giving us this unusual well, and we were beginning to understand the depth of his love and the steadfastness of his character.  At this point in the story we thought we had withstood all of the tests and had grown into maturity through these tests, but, as I see now in my reflections back on those years, in many ways we were still babies, learning how to live in a trusting relationship with our Father.  And this would be the beginning of more and more lessons through the years.

Soon, the well story began to take on more significance.

It was Saturday evening and our living room was crowded with eager, creative, college students along with several college professors and a retired missionary couple. After meeting for over a year and a half, we had somewhat jokingly called ourselves The Group at the Place with a Plan.  But, it was time to define ourselves.    As a group, we had already planned and orchestrated a L’Abri conference at Kansas State University with over 700 people in attendance, and we were now planning to follow-up by hosting a Spiritual Dynamics Conference at the farm.  But we needed a name.

The discussion that evening centered on what name we would attach to this rag-tag group.  What name would identify us as we sent out brochures and contacted others?  We now had a base of 700 names from the L’Abri Conference.

Of course, I was the big proponent of a name that had something to do with the well. “This was God’s affirmation of what we are doing here on the farm already.  And a promise of His Spirit poured out.  Surely, we the name should have something to do with water.” Lots of water images began to be tossed around:  Living Water (already taken), Water of Life, and finally, Wellspring began to emerge as the likely candidate.  Most of those present came on board, but Judd was dragging his feet. Since he was an important part of this decision,  we continued trying to work toward a solution. We wanted not just a consensus, nor a majority, but a unanimous decision.

Let me give just a brief description of these people who had gathered together in our living room.  It wasn’t just that they were gifted, nor simply that they had given of themselves to this project.  We loved them.  They were called together by the Spirit, we fully believed.  They were family, and as a family we were committed to one another with a bond that was difficult to describe.

In the middle of our discussion, the telephone rang and Judd jumped up to answer it.  The call was coming from California.  Our pastor, Gordon Mollett, one of the godliest men we had ever known, was on the line.  Judd had served on the steering committee of that little church which was, even now, our model for how to do church.

When Judd hung up the phone that evening, he came back into the room chuckling. “Okay, you guys, I give up.”  Before he hung up Gordon had signed off with, “Remember, Judd, Jesus promised that from your innermost being will flow rivers of living water.”

“I concede, ‘Wellspring’ it will be!”

And so began a new dimension to the place and to this group who were gathering at this place.  We had a name.  It was a name that would be our identity, but it was also a name that continually reminded us from where the source of our power, our heart, and our vision would flow.  We were committed to listening to that source as we made our plans.  He was to be the well from which we gained our sustenance.

His Answer

open Bible

As much as I hate to admit my naiveté, I dared to wish that we would find, not only the needed water, but perhaps . . . could I even dare to believe, we would find oil?

Excitement had filled my whole being as my soul waited on tiptoe to see how God was going to fulfill this promise.  He was going to “pour out” blessings.  What did this mean?  Water right away, I am sure, since this was not really the issue.  The real issue was that he was going to bless the land with an anointing of his Spirit.   But, God also knew that we had little financial resources.  He had always seemed to supply the Schaeffers[1] (our inspirations and models) with the money that would help them continue their ministry, so would he not supply ours as well? What was God writing in the Swihart story?

God leads us on an adventure, and we are often mystified by the twists and turns that adventure takes. How often I have learned that I must let go of my own expectations and desires, and trust what he is doing.   In reading David Benner’s Sacred Companionship, [i]  I am reminded that God is interested in all of the aspects of our earthly lives, but his perspective is eternal, and his interest is in our personal transformation into who we were uniquely created to be as his child.  He was leading us very gently on a journey.

Judd had called the drilling company as soon as we made the final decision to move ahead.  After talking to neighbors to find out where their wells were located, we had chosen several spots where we thought there might be an underground stream.  First, though, we wanted to make sure that the old well was indeed dry. When the drillers showed up early the next day with the impressive drilling rig, I was ready.  Judd and I had decided to dig once again and deeper this time at the last well hole.  The men set up the rig, and the drill began to churn its way down through the hole and past the bottom.  As I watched, I leaned forward expectantly, my eyes  fastened on that noisy contraption, expecting any minute that there would be a great discovery.  If you know anything about well drilling, you know that the drill today spins its way effortlessly through rocks, clay, and dirt.  This old one ground, sputtered, clanked, and smoked as it methodically chiseled its way down.

After an hour of watching from a standing position, I went back into the house and retrieved my Dad’s old fishing stool that I had civilized by painting and stenciling.  I placed it as close to the men and their machine as I could so I could have a good view, but far enough away that I would not interrupt their hard work. With the three of us, the large drill, and the truck all sandwiched between the lilac bushes and the bank of a hill, I was probably more a part of the operation than these professionals wanted. The October sun was gently shining on my back, and besides the upheaval of dirt and the noise of the machine, I was oblivious of any other distractions or to the driller’s discomfort.  This was my post.  So sure that there would be a miraculous discovery of water I was glued here, wanting to be in on the great celebration.

Finally, after what seemed like hours, the drill was silenced and the men came over to discuss what they had found.  Our old well had simply been a small aquifer that we had drained in the last few months, and it would take possibly years to fill again.

So, where to drill next?  With our direction, they moved the drill down by the garage and set up again.  I could not afford to sit all day and watch the machine that was going to, somehow, hit the water supply that we had been promised.  I had household chores that must be done, so reluctantly I picked up my stool and went back to the house.  From the kitchen I could hear the clanking of the drill as it went after that illusive water.  No water in that spot, was the report.  Once more they moved the rig, this time across the gravel road.  The day was waning.  Drilling had gone on for eight hours.  When it grew quiet down in the field, I sensed that the men had quit for the day . . . without the promised water supply.  Disappointment, but not discouragement.  He had promised.  Yes, our faith was being tested, yet I could not doubt Cod’s commitment to us.

All of this drilling was costing us money that we had not planned. It was as though time had suspended, and we were waiting for it to begin again.  “Wait” is a word and a stance that has become familiar to us over the years.

When the drillers came back the next morning, they came to the back door and knocked.  Head down, moving from one foot to the other, the boss, finally looked at me and said, “Supposing we choose the sight to drill this morning?  We would like to move farther down in the field.  It may be farther from the house, but we think that area is more promising.”  At a loss for any other suggestion, I gave them my permission and blessing.  “You are the experts.  Go for it!!!”

Again, the chug of the motor as they started the drill and the clanking of metal as it hit rocks.  I continued my clean-up in the kitchen.  God would do what he was going to do without my observation, I reasoned.

It was an hour or two when the drilling seemed to come to a halt.  Two drillers appeared at the back door.

“Water!!!  Lots of water!!!” was the triumphant report.  They acted as though they had hit a gold mine.  Having dug hundreds of wells, they appeared almost disbelieving.  Most wells in our area were producing one half to four gallons a minute.  This well was producing more than a hundred gallons per minute. They were not sure exactly how much because they could only measure up to one hundred gallons per minute.  It became known as one of the best wells, if not the best, in the area.

“Abundantly more than we ask or think” (Ephesians 4:20).  We were committed now.  How was God going to create and sustain this ministry?  How would we work with him in the coming years?  Who would he bring along to join us?  The future was entirely in His hand.  Forward we would go.

 

[1] The book L’Abri by Edith Schaeffer had given us a model for living by faith and serving as a family, using their home in Switzerland as the focus of their ministry.

(Benner, 2002)