Monday, July 28, 2014

Reflections on a journey: Laura Ingalls Wilder, South Dakota, William Wilberforce, and Rich Mullins

We just returned from a vacation – only our second in almost 20 years of marriage. My husband and I are Little House aficionados, and we have long dreamed of a “Little House” vacation where we would see the various museums around the country. Four years ago, as a graduation present when I completed my master’s program, we went on our first vacation – a quick trip to nearby Mansfield, Missouri, where we spent a couple of days immersed in Laura & Almanzo’s life in the Ozarks, where she wrote the books and lived 64 years of her adult life. 

On our 19th anniversary last November, we made the decision to plan a trip for our 20th. We didn’t know how much God would provide for, so we researched and planned and ultimately settled on De Smet, South Dakota, where five of Laura’s books are set and where she met and married her husband Almanzo. De Smet was a pioneer town, so we knew there would be a lot of history about our country’s westward expansion, as well as all the ‘Laura stuff’.  We excitedly booked our trip and looked forward to it for months – talking about it daily for the past few weeks as we re-read the Little House series in preparation.

I thoroughly expected to love the Laura stuff. What I didn’t expect God to teach me so much that goes far beyond a connection to our country’s formative Westward Expansion years.
-         I didn’t expect to see so many life lessons while on vacation, to have my mindset transformed about things like agriculture and political primaries and simplicity and so much more.
-         I didn’t expect to find my heart expanded to love another place so much.
-         I didn’t expect to leave with such a sense of awe and worship as I said farewell to a part of God’s creation I’d never seen before.

I certainly didn't expect to leave infused with such hope.

The people of De Smet are probably the most unpretentious, down-to-earth people I’ve met. Talk about “salt of the earth” – they are living on the Dakota prairies. De Smet unashamedly embraces and celebrates its past, while continuing to quietly impact the present through farming and other ventures. There is a simplicity and patience to farm life – from all we could see people generally don’t do anything they can’t really afford, and repairs/upgrades are done as money is available. No fancy cars, no fancy stores, and we didn’t see a large ornate church in the place – just people who work hard and wait when waiting is needed. Truly, the heartland.

I quickly fell in love with what I called the undulating prairie – it’s hard to describe, but as the wind blows the grasses or crops, the prairie looks like it is waving, almost like the waves of the sea. It is beautiful and incredible to behold and I watched it for hours out the window of the car.

During the trip, I continued reading Amazing Grace by Eric Metaxas - the story of William Wilberforce and the abolition of the slave trade in England. I read about the incredible circumstances that only God could orchestrate to connect individuals who actually considered slavery wrong and wanted to do something about it – connecting them with each other, and bringing about events that no human could imagine.

As we headed home, we popped in Rich Mullins "Songs" and soon came to “Calling Out Your Name.” I watched the prairies waving, “calling out His name” as only God’s creation can do. And suddenly, a line I’d just sung past before jumped out at me:

From the place where morning gathers
You can look sometimes forever 'til you see
What time may never know
What time may never know
How the Lord takes by its corners this old world
And shakes us forward and shakes us free
To run wild with the hope

To run wild with the hope
The hope that this thirst will not last long
That it will soon drown in the song not sung in vain

I thought of Wilberforce and William Grenville and Hannah More and Granville Sharp and John Newton and John Wesley all the rest – people God used, in one way or another, to transform the world. For not only slavery was affected. This was one of the hingepins of history, where God truly did “shake us forward, shake us free”  - not only from slavery but from the culturally acceptable religious hypocrisy that allowed it and so much more to flourish. 

As I listened to Rich sing, and watched the prairie grasses calling out God’s name, and thought of Wilberforce, and remembered the faces and people we met alone our journey to the heartland  – I felt hope rising within me.  Hope that some of the struggles our world faces now will one day be historical footnotes to a great story that God is writing. 

In Luke 8:26-39, Jesus heals a demon-possessed man.  The man’s transformation evokes a strange reaction in the people of his village: 

Luke 8:37 NIV Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left.

Fear. Imagine that. Someone who was demon-possessed, kept in solitary confinement and guarded, is suddenly in his right mind – and everyone was so afraid they asked Jesus to leave. (The loss of their livelihood when the pigs ran off the cliff was certainly a factor as well.) As I thought about the “shakings” that God brings about to “shake us forward, shake us free” I realized – not everyone wants to be shaken forward. Because with it, comes a loss of the familiar. The people of Gerasene literally preferred the “demon they knew” to the Jesus they didn’t know.

This is a truth of any dramatic freedom: It will be resisted by some who hold on to the familiar darkness rather than wade into the unknown light. As they hold on, it might get worse on the way to better (2000 years of church history and current persecuted believers can testify to that).

And yet, I’m still hopeful. I still think of the prairie grasses waving. I remember that Psalm 119:9-91 tells us that all things are His servants. Some willingly, some unwillingly. 

I’m wild with the hope that He will indeed shake us forward, shake us free.

No comments: