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)


Solitude (Part Three)



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)




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


“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)