The Glory of the Ordinary


Such a day of small things, still, but on God’s terms, and that is enough.   1 January 1902

The last day of January and only now am I penning my new year thoughts.  I love a new year, ripe with new opportunity and fresh starts.  Yet I have long abandoned new year resolutions, knowing I might as well copy/paste the same from years – decades  – past.  Nothing changes much.  Still want to lose 20 pounds, exercise daily and achieve balance in my schizophrenic life of action/reflection.  Still have closets to clean, files (no, piles!) to sort and a mountain of written work to attend.

Clearly I’m already hopelessly behind on January.  Where did the month go, this supposed new start to a brand new year?!  Keeping Christmas decorations up through Epiphany got January off to a late start.  Tasks, events, visits, visitors dot the calendar filling up the days.  Still I’m determined not to allow January to slip past me without taking stock of the year past and, in light of that, consider the year to come.

So . . . no more “resolutions,” rather a time to reflect on:  “What’s next?”  “What do I want this year to look like?”  “What have I learned from last year?”  “How can I correct the imbalances in my life style?”  And a time to lay my soul bare before God asking, “What do You want for me this year?  What do You want from me?”

The lead quote from Lilias is one I have reflected on many times but this time for a different reason.  I note this journal entry was made the first day of the year – 1902 – adding to it the weight of a new start. The previous year had been a difficult year for Lilias and her team.  Hightened political unrest resulted in severely curtailed itineration in places where people had received the Gospel gladly.  Even so she saw some rays of light as she entered the new year with the opening of a mission station in the nearby village of Blida and the recruitment of some French-speaking workers who could reach places from which the English workers had been restricted.  She rejoiced in the possibilities of the year to come while acknowledging the challenges past and present.  The backward/forward assessment of life and ministry was standard annual procedure for Lilias and from these reflections invariably evolved a “theme” for the year to follow.

As I reflect on the past year I identify high points that mark the calendar:  family visits and our annual beach vacation, wonderful opportunities to introduce the legacy of Lilias to a broader audience, happy moments with friends, some serendipitous getaways for Dave and me.  There were challenging times as well.  Low points.  Yet, in reality, most of the days of my year were ordinary days – just as are most of the days of the liturgical year.  And I can assume the same for this new year.  The high points are to be savored; the low points to be survived.  The true challenge – perhaps the goal for this year – is to live out the practices and duties of the ordinary days with grace, beauty, and joy.

Christianity Today published their pick of the top 100 books for 2018.  At the top of the list was, Liturgy of the Ordinary, by Tish Harrison Warren.  I loved the title before I read the book.  I loved the book!  Warren’s thesis supported my reality and framed the evolving focus for my new year:  “In overlooked moments and routines, we can become aware of God’s presence in surprising ways.”  She goes on to explore, chapter by chapter, how we can embrace the “sacred in the ordinary and the ordinary in the sacred.”  Beginning with “waking” and ending with “sleeping” each chapter begins with the simple daily functions of the particular then explores the deeper significance and potential splendor of these homely, yes, ordinary functions and routines.

A commencement address at the University of Texas, by Navy SEAL Admiral William McRaven, “Change your World by Making Your Bed,” went viral with its down to earth practical perspective.  “If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day,” he said. “It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another, and another.  And by the end of the day that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed.”  Simplistic as it may sound, coming from the Commander of the Special Forces that organized the raid to kill Osama bin Laden, adds considerable heft to his insight:  the significance of performing well the little duties in ones daily routine – in war or peace!

Fact is, most of what we do in a given day is ordinary. Our days are comprised of countless “little things” yet it is the seemingly trivial functions and duties that create the context for the extra-ordinary.  Dr. Samuel Johnson, 18th century  literary figure, wrote:  “It must be remembered that life consists not of a series of illustrious actions, or elegant enjoyments; the greater part of our time passed in compliance with necessities, in the performance of daily duties, in the removal of small inconveniences, in the procurement of petty pleasures.”

Ms. Warren lifts Johnson’s observation to an even higher level noting that it is in the ordinary practices of daily living – making the bed, brushing ones teeth, losing keys, eating left overs, fighting with a spouse, checking emails, sitting in traffic, calling a friend, drinking tea  – that we “experience God’s presence.”  It is in all the actions of the hours of the day that the profane can be transformed to the sacred – depending on the spirit in which they are attended.  Many are familiar with the “apron pocket prayers” of Brother Lawrence who, assigned dreaded (by him) kitchen duty, resolved to “do the little things for the love of God.”

Lilias sums her new year’s thoughts about “small things” with a Biblical perspective, casting them in the context of “God’s terms” adding “and that is enough.”  It is enough to be faithful in the little things assigned us in the course of an ordinary day – of which most years hold in plenty.  But what elevates those “small things” above the ordinary is that we approach them“on God’s terms.”

There will be highlights and low points in the new year.  That is a given.  I have not abandoned my goals, my lists.  I will drag out my stationary bike and write up my objectives for this year.  But my challenge – the “theme” – of this new year (the eleven months left of it) – is to intentionally embrace the ordinary of each new day . .  to lay my soul open before God to ascertain His terms . . .  to be obedient and faithful to what I know is my duty and to what He reveals . . .  and to be fully open to the surprise of God’s Presence in the ordinary – and the extraordinary!

Painting from Parables of the Christ-life 


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Just Enough Is Plenty

tolga house

I have been seeing so clearly lately how they (Arab believers) must be trained in every way possible to give, not just to receive – and it has come as the solution at last of the problem of ours, how to fulfill the command about not shutting up our compassion from them, without weakening their moral fibre – They must learn to give as well as we – that is the plain solution. Diary 1896

The house is greened for Christmas.  The tree trimmed (once again “the best tree ever”).  Christmas shopping tackled with packages purchased, wrapped and winging their way  to family members afar.   And now I face the week-before-Christmas with all the last minute preparations – the final Christmas cards to address . . .  gifts to wrap . . . goodies to bake . . .  Christmas carols sound throughout the house enveloping us in nostalgia for seasons-past and reminding us through message and melody of the Biblical narrative of the birth of Jesus.  God Incarnate.

I review what has been done and what stills need attention.  Even with  little creches placed strategically throughout the house, visual recreations of The Event we celebrate, my mind strays and my spirit strains with the annual Advent tension between not-enough and too-much.  There are surfaces begging for a candle or wreath.  There are people with whom I would like to spend time, savor the season – and the friendship. I have cut out all manner of recipes which I would like to attempt and toast the festivity.  Books to read. . . special events to attend. . . programs to watch from the comfort of the home . . .

Nowhere do I feel this tension more strongly than when it comes to gift giving.  Nothing seems too much to give the ones we love – the gifts at best only tokens of love.  Images from stores and media promise a smile on the faces of loved ones.  But . . .  what is reasonable?  What can we really afford?  And what is even good for the recipient?  For many of us that question moves from hypothetical to real in faces of children – our children or grandchildren; biological or surrogate  – aglow with anticipation.  We don’t want to disappoint.

Just Enough is Plenty.   The title of this book appealed to me even before I read the first page.  This Hanukkah tale brings us into young Malka’s home and family:  “They were poor, but not so poor.”  Not so poor that they couldn’t share what they had with relatives or even the stranger who knocked on the door.  And as Malka saw their diminishing supply stretched to the very limit, her whispered query –  “Is there enough?” – was always answered:  “Just enough.”  Even as supply ran low, Malka comforted herself: “Mama can always make plenty out of just enough.”  It is a holiday tale and as such has a happy ending with a visit from the prophet Elijah whose presence, as with the widow and son, blessed them with abundance after they shared their last morsel.

Just enough is plenty.  I remember the year that we had just moved into a new home one thousand miles away from all that was familiar – and one month away from my father’s first pay check.  We were warned that this would be a “different kind of Christmas,” that we would enjoy our new home and being together as a family.  An abstract blessing for a homesick ten-year-old girl and her thirteen-year-old brother!  Then, a surprise gift arrived in the mail and with it “an adventure!”  We were each given a twenty-dollar bill (a huge sum to us at that time) and told that we were going to the city for the afternoon during which time we would spend our money on three gifts – one for each family member.

What an afternoon!  Set free in Marshall Field’s festive department store in Chicago, we were committed to making the most of purchasing what would be one of the three gifts received by each family member.  Hilarity reigned as we would run into sibling or parent making secret purchases.  Bargains were made as we pooled resources for a “perfect gift” for a parent.  Each gift, opened under the tree the following Christmas morning, came with the story of purchase.  This now is family legend told over and over again through the years.  Just enough is plenty.

Lilias, a century earlier, was concerned about the possible negative effect of their generosity to their Arab neighbors who gathered at their home for classes in reading and trade, and in the process often were recipients of necessities – food, clothing, even shelter.  Consistent with her certitude that giving strengthens the giver – indeed, was the antidote to greed – she was ever devising ways to make that possible:  providing sewing classes for the women to make “haiks” (an outer garment) for the poor of Central Africa; encouraging the men to take up an offering for the needy of Kabyle and then to deliver it in person – a most uncommon gesture between Arab and Kabyle at that time.  Even the children put a coin in the collection basket to send to Amy Carmichael’s orphans in India!

Elizabeth Elliot remembers the depression years when a “tramp” was almost a daily visitor at their door given the hardness of the time.  Her mother would walk over to the fireplace mantle and take from a jar some coins to give the needy person.  “I never knew that we were poor because we always had something to give away.”  Just enough is plenty.

Christmas is a time of giving.  And receiving.  I confess, I love both:  to consider another person and try to think what would please them and how to present it in a special way; to open a wrapped present, lift it from its tissue in the suspense of not knowing – then giving it a special place in my home and in my heart as a reminder of the giver.  The tradition of gift giving was initiated, I believe, by the example of the wise men who brought their gifts to the Baby Jesus.  And, perhaps, to commemorate the greatest gift ever given:  the Son of God in human form.  Come to walk among us. Emmanuel:  God with us.  Come with a purpose:  to lay down His Life, once and for all, for us , . .  in place of us . . .

But the challenge, as for any tradition, is to keep in sight the meaning behind the gesture.  So let us give gladly and receive gratefully.  Let us savor the music, the stories, the food, the relationships, the traditions – all potential pointers to the deeper meaning underlying the outward celebration.  (Just a glimpse of the simplicity of people and setting  God choose for the birth announcement and delivery of Jesus should say it all!)  And remember: Just enough is plenty!

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What’s in a Name?


The thistles here are a commentary to me on that wonderful title of 1 Timothy 1:11 – “The Blissful God.”  It is as if now that not a flower is left on the barren ground, His gladness and His beauty must pour itself out on something still, so He takes the thistles and glorifies them.   29 September 1904

“What’s in a name?”  This question is raised in one of the most famous quotes of Shakespeare from the play Romeo and Juliet:  “What’s in a name?  That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”  Juliet, of course, is resisting the very thing that legislated against the star-crossed love of young Romeo and Juliet – a name! Their love is doomed from the start as members of two warring families, Montague and Capulet.  “Tis but thy name that is my enemy. . .”

What’s in a name?  Well, as it turns out, in life as in fiction, a great deal is in a name.  A name can divide families and countries.  A name can define, honor and extol a virtue or a person who embodies certain characteristics worthy of emulation.

This week I received a notification of yet another baby to join the list of girls named after Lilias Trotter.  Listing the newborn baby’s statistics – name, date, weight and length – the grateful parents added:  “Named after Lilias Trotter, a pioneering missionary to North Africa who has long been a personal heroine of Anna’s (mother), we pray that our Lilias will follow hard after her loving Father and bring blessing to those around her.”

Several organizations have, likewise, claimed the name of Lilias as the embodiment of certain ideals and purposes.  The new Fletcher Center at the international headquarters of Pioneers, a world-wide mission agency, has named their large conference room Trotter Center after Lilias Trotter who, through a “marriage” with Arab World Ministries, is now part of the history of this larger mission family,  How apt to name after her this  space allocated to preparation for new long and short-term missionaries, refreshment for workers on home assignment, training cross-cultural workers in church planting, security and language learning – to mention a few of its purposes all close to Lilias’s heart.

The Lilias Trotter Center, in New York, claims Lilias as “our inspiration” writing. “Her art and writings demonstrate her commitment to the beauty and truth of God’s Word and God’s world.  Her lifestyle of a deep spirituality combined with theological acuity is the model we hope to emulate in all that we do and teach.”  (

What’s in a name?  Lilias, in spite of her reluctance to make “official” their work, was forced by practicalities of growth, both in numbers and finances, to acknowledge the need for a more formal system of organization.  In 1907, almost 20 years after arriving in North Africa, they organized under the name Algiers Mission Band.

I doubt she would have dreamed that her name would outlast the mission’s title and become iconic a century later for what she represented to the parents of a newborn baby or the birthing of a world-wide program “enabling thoughtful Christian engagement with Muslims.”  (I am certain that she, who prayed for and trained young people for ministry, would be honored to have these training centers devoted to carrying on the work so dear to her heart!)

What’s in a name?  Why is it important?  In a naming of a child I suppose it can represent the hopes and dreams for this tiny bundle of potentiality.  Something – someone – to look up to. . .  an image, by definition or example, of certain qualities of character worth emulating.  So with an organization resonate with certain ideals.

Scripture would indicate that God saw the possibilities in a name:  in the very act of naming the first people on earth then assigning them the naming of all living creatures. He was active in re-naming individuals to indicate a mission or an advance, of sorts, in the purpose and/or direction of their lives.  Think how God changed Abram’s name, meaning “high father,” to Abraham, “father of a multitude.”  Then, again God interfered with the naming process after Abraham and Sarah laughed at the really laughable thought of Sarah bearing a child at the age of ninety.  God not only confronts Sarah’s denial of laughing but goes on to instruct them to name that child “Isaac,” which in Hebrew means, yes, laughter!  God appeared to Jacob, Abraham’s grandson, blessing him and saying, “Your name is Jacob, but you will not be called Jacob any longer.  From now on your name will be Israel.”  (Genesis 35:9-10)

Skip forward many generations to Jesus and His naming of people.  Take Peter:  When Jesus set eyes on him He said, “So you are Simon, the son of John” (John 1:42) and from that time on he called him Cephas, which is Aramaic for Peter, which is Greek for rock.  And a rock he did become but not before betraying that same Jesus and seeming to fall apart, very un-rock-like at the least provocation.   While it is not clear when or even why the Apostle Paul’s name was changed from Saul to Paul, this new name was certainly a clean break from his identity as persecutor to apostle – the name by which he will forever be remembered.

Names matter.  But probably no more than in the many names in Scripture given the God-head.  As many as seven-hundred – maybe more – have been identified.  Look at a few:  Comforter. . . Emmanuel . . .  Good Shepherd. . .  Jehovah. . .  Redeemer. . .  Savior. . . Rose of Sharon . . .  Bread of Life. . .  Truth. . .  Wonderful Counselor. . .  Morning Star. . . Light of the World. . .  Sun of Righteousness. . .  Teacher. . .  Truth . . .  Refuge. . .  Jesus. . .  Messiah. . .   Say them aloud.  Think deeply of the implications of each and every name.  Let them pour over your very being like fresh spring water.

All the names combined can not contain or express the fulness of the character nor the work of God.  Yet each name speaks directly to the needs and longings of the human heart – some at certain times more than others.  He is all the above and more – sufficient for all that we may encounter in life.

What’s in a name?  When isolated or lonely, “Emmanuel,” God With Us, speaks to the void within me.  The “Comforter” soothes my sadness.  He is my “Counselor” when in need of direction. . .  my “Refuge” when fearful. . .  my “Strong Tower” when weak or  vulnerable. . . .  my “Teacher” satisfying  longings after Truth. . .   He is “Jesus,” my friend who walks the pilgrim way alongside me having walked it Himself before me.  As for the alienation between myself and God, He is the The “Savior-Redeemer” now and for all Eternity.  He is all the above and more, sufficient for everything that I – that all humankind – might encounter in life.

Frederick Buechner, in Peculiar Treasure: A Biblical Who’s Who,  under “J” wrote about Jesus. He listed many of His great works on earth but concluded with the time He lay sleeping in the stern of the boat, pillow under His head, seemingly oblivious to the raging winds, waves washing into the boat, his anxious disciples waking Him.  “The way, when they woke Him, He opened His eyes to the howling storm and to all the other howling things that He must have known were in the cards for Him and that his nap had been a few moments of vacation from. ” Buechner goes on to say,  “Lamb of God, Rose of Sharon, Prince of Peace – none of the things people have found to call him has ever managed to say it quite right.  You can see why when he told people to follow him they often did, even if they backed out later when they started to catch on to what lay ahead.  If you’re religiously inclined, you can see why they went even so far as to call him Messiah, the Lord’s Anointed, the Son of God, and call him these things still, some of them.  And even if you’re not religiously inclined, you can see why it is you might give your immortal soul if you thought you had one to give, to have been the one to raise that head a little from the hard deck and slip a pillow under it.”

What’s in a name?  Everything:  even life itself.

“We rest in Thee, and in Thy Name we go.”

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Soul Shelter

clouds TROTTER_F022_003 (2)

Trained faith is a triumphant gladness in having nothing but God – not rest, no foothold – nothing but Himself. A triumphant gladness in swinging out into the abyss, rejoicing in every fresh emergency that is going to prove Him true.  ‘The Lord alone’ – that is trained faith.”   9 September 1902

“Mom!  Dad! Have you heard the latest weather report?!  Hurricane Irma is coming straight up Central Florida – through Lake County.”  It is 11:30 p.m.  We have been without power now for several hours.  The batteries on our radio are dead.  (So much for “buying in advance!”)  Our only connection to the world is our land phone and to our three children who have been faithfully updating us on every new development:  two  tornado  warnings, a hard hit on their childhood town of Lake Wales –  and now an unexpected change in direction, the eye of the storm predicted to come through our town.

The calls continue – reports of damages (and terror) along the relentless path northward, statistics of sustained as well as gusts of winds, updates on tornado status.  And, now, as the clock pushes 2:00 a,m., the last intrepid caller confesses, “I think I better go to bed.  I’ll call you in the morning.”

We settle back into the darkness awaiting God knows what.  I consider our preparations:  all furniture and moveable objects have been brought into the house, we’ve stocked up on soup, peanut butter and crackers and placed water bottles in the freezer to extend the cooling.  We’ve gathered together all our battery-lit candles making a dimly lit pathway from room to room.  There is nothing left to do but settle into our makeshift bedroom in the downstairs library  – the closest location to our “safe place” – and wait out the storm:  await the unknown.  That is, I await the unknown.  Dave is fast asleep!

I lay wide-eyed on the sofa.  My mind races.  What if there is a tornado?  Will I hear it in time for us to retreat to the tiny bathroom: our designated “safe place?”  With memories of Hurricane Charlie (2004) I wonder what the world will be like when the night is over.  The back screen door is slaps open and shut with the increasingly strong gusts of wind.  We should have taken up the offer to join our North Carolinian family during the storm.  We should have tested the batteries on the radio before the stores were emptied of supplies.  We are virtually alone without any means of communication.  What if we have a medical emergency?  I don’t know what is happening nor when it will end.

Reality:  I feel completely helpless – I am completely helpless – in the known and of the unknown.  There is absolutely nothing I can do but wait it out. Howling winds and strange sounds are magnified in the absolute darkness of night.  How do I pass the seemingly endless night hours of unknowing – and, yes, fear?

Fear.  Where does trust in God come in?  Are there any promises I can claim?  Any guarantees of protection?  I try to recall Scripture verses.  (I must remember to memorize more – later).  I turn to familiar hymns of the faith – easier to recall – at least the choruses.  Stronger gusts of wind batter the house and Dave stirs.  Noting my anxiety, he suggests that I sing “God of Grace and  God of Glory.”  “Shall we sing it together?” I invite.  “No, sing it to yourself.  Not out loud.  In your mind.”  (He dozes off  again!)  The words of the chorus come to me and with it insight:

“Grant us wisdom,                                                                                                                                   Grant us courage,                                                                                                                                   For the facing of this hour,                                                                                                                   For the facing of this hour.”

It’s courage I need.  And for courage I pray:  for the facing of the hours ahead.  There is no way around it:  I must pass through it.  Whatever that means.  As to promises?  There are no guarantees of outcome.  But there is, in Scripture, the repeated promise of God’s Presence. He said, “My presence will go with you, and I’ll give you rest.”  And that is enough.  The “rest” is in His Presence, not in the outcome.  Another verse, one of my favorites, comes to mind:  “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will  guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  (Philippians 4:7)  I clasp unto these promises to fortify my night vigil.

The hours pass slowly:  endless gusts of wind followed by a sudden then prolonged stillness.  Is it over?  I venture to the front of the house and open the door to an eerie calm.  The eye of the storm.  I slam shut the door and return to my vigil.  The winds build, again, in intensity.  Will it ever end?  The sky slowly lightens promising a new day.  The phone rings.  Our daughter asks, “How are you?” and I ask her, “What is happening?”  “You’re on the other side of the storm.  The worse is over.”

Five hours.  And the worse is over.  Debris covers the ground; lack of power inconveniences our day.  But we were spared.  My mind turns to those in more precarious situations.  Without the protection of a strong roof or the presence of a strong, albeit slumbering, man.  I consider those who have recently experienced loss and destruction through flood surges.  The people who live in a constant state of the unknown due to unending war or disease or poverty.  How does one carry on when there is no relief from anxiety or guarantee of outcome?

I recall the physical perils Lilias faced in her years in North Africa.  She weathered blinding sandstorms in the Sahara – with only tent and camping gear – that paralyzed her guide who said with characteristic fatalism:  “If you die you die” or “It is written.”  She experienced suffocating siroccos and mountainous mudslides,  hostile enemies and exposure to deadly disease.  Yet, it was not the physical storms with which she seemed to wrestle.  (She probably would have slept through Hurricane Irma!)  No, it was the spiritual battles and emotional storms that sapped her energy and brought her to the lowest places.  Writing about the outward challenges of their early years in North Africa, she acknowledged that the greatest disappointments were in themselves:  “The testings on the battle-field where the inner life failed, the nerve strain with which all teems out here, – the lessons which we thought we knew and which we had ‘turned back again and again to be learnt afresh.”

I think of storm as metaphor.  How the struggles of life so aptly parallel the storms of nature.:  waves of betrayal. . . disease. . .  disappointment in relationships. . . financial setbacks. . .  depression. . .  addiction. . . to name a few.  During the storm – short-lived (as with my 5 hours of darkness) or ongoing – we don’t know what we will experience in the storm nor what will be the outcome.  Yet we can – we must – cling to our faith in who God is and what He can do.  We can rest in His goodness and His loving care for us.  He is our shelter in the time of storm:  our soul shelter.

An old seaman was quoted as saying:  “In fierce storms, we must do one thing; there is only one way:  we must put the ship in a certain position and keep her there.”  Richard
Fuller went on to make this observation:  “You must stay upon the Lord; and come what may – winds, waves, cross-seas, thunder, lighting, frowning rock, roaring breaker – no matter what, you must lash yourself to the helm, and hold fast your confidence in God’s faithfulness.  His covenant engagement.  His everlasting love in Christ Jesus.”

I admit it:  I didn’t score well in the faith department during the storm.  (My sleeping husband did much better:  having prepared for the storm he could sleep through it!)  But I did have plenty of time to think about the nature of faith and my lack thereof.  And to  learn more about myself – and some faith lessons in the process.  “My soul finds rest in God alone.” What I learned in the “storm” I must practice in the “calm” as well:  The Lord Alone.

“Faith, walking in the dark with God, only prays Him to clasp its hand more closely.”                                                                  (Phillips Brooks)





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Kind Hearts


“Nothing is irretrievable with God.”  

Thomas Erskine as quoted by Lilias Trotter  23 July 1906

Dave calls on his way home from his golf tournament in Georgia.  “I had an interesting experience this morning,” he says, and proceeds to relate this incident.  He stopped along the road for a quick breakfast at a Waffle House. While his waitress was taking his order the door opened and she immediately looked past his shoulder and with a smile calls out,  “Hey Slim!”  Soon other employees echo her greeting and ask Slim “How is it going?” and other welcoming words.  Dave cannot restrain his curiosity and turns his head to view the object of their enthusiasm.  Slim is an emaciated old man, poorly kempt and shabbily dressed.  “The usual?” they ask.  He tucks in a hearty breakfast and heads off, again with farewells as warm as the greetings.  “Looks like Slim’s a regular customer?” Dave comments to his waitress.  “Yup.  He comes in here everyday.  We think he’s homeless. We all chip in and feed him breakfast.”

Who were these people who gave with such loving constancy to this needy man?  What was their motivation?  Did Slim fully appreciate  what he was being given?  Did he express gratitude?  We will never know the back story much less the answers to my musings.  But this we know:  they were kind-hearted.  Through their daily act of kindness – to this one man – love was manifested.

Lilias Trotter came to Algiers with a big vision:  to bring the light and life and love of Jesus to people who did not know Him.  Yet much of her everyday life was made up of what appeared, on the surface, to be random acts of kindness:  countless gestures of caring and devotion unobserved by others and seemingly undeserved.  Were they fully appreciated by the recipients?

One such person was Almed.  A person from their past, he showed up unexpectedly, clearly in need of help.   Lilias observes:  “Wreck as he is, there is something touching about him – something of possibilities yet undestroyed.”   Despite his poor track record her heart goes out to him and she longs to give him “one more chance to get on his feet.”  So they set him up with housing and a bit of work – and love – and a glimmer of hope.

What becomes of Almed?  What becomes of their efforts on his behalf?  He seems to fall off the pages of her diary much as he appeared – much as did many others in whom Lilias and her colleagues invested.  Charia. . .   Omed. . . Fatima. . . Aissha. . .   Doudja. . .  people come and go, touched by love – for a day, a week, a year – or intermittently for decades.  Lilias does not give up hope.  She does not stop loving.

This week our hearts have been focused on Texas and the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Harvey.   We watch horrified, from the comfort of our homes, as flood waters rise and engulf homes, roads, communities.  We watch perilous missions as people are rescued by boat and plane from the waters rapidly rising in their homes. Stories begin to surface as the waters begin to subside and people return to assess the damages and begin to reconstruct their homes and their lives.  Stories of bravery and sacrifice documented by interviews and fleshed out by film: individuals risking lives to check on neighbors. . .   volunteers coming to the aid of complete strangers. . .  people turning their spaces into shelters for the displaced or homeless. . .   individuals giving sacrificially of personal resources – money, supplies, services – to help others begin to rebuild their lives.

There are poignant images etched on the public consciousness that reduce the scale of suffering, loss – and hope – to the intimate:  a gentleman picking out a haunting melody on a piano submerged in several feet of water. . .   the reunion of a son with his aged father. . .   heartbroken reflections of a couple who have lost 3 generations of family in a car swept away by flood waters. . .

Our nation unites, if only momentarily, in a massive virtual hug as we witness the loss as well as the response.  It touches something deep in all of us as we unite around our screens if not descend upon the scene.  We breathe a mutual sigh of relief:  maybe there is something decent in humanity that transcends the media negativity.

Back to Slim.  We don’t know what motivated those kind hearts to care in such a practical way for him.  We don’t know what became of Almed.  Did he make good this “one more chance” offered him?

This we do know:  acts of loving kindness bless the giver as much as the recipient.  “Compassion,” wrote Henri Nouwen, “asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into places of pain.”  When we enter others’ “places of pain” we become better people:  more fully human.  And who of us is without pain – whether hidden or obvious?

For the Christian, kindness is not an option.  It is a mandate.  Throughout Scripture, kindness is upheld as a requirement:  for the benefit of the needy, for the wholeness of community, for the health of ones’ soul, and for the honoring of God.

Kindness can take a radical even costly form as in the cases of Slim, Almed and Hurricane Harvey responders.  More often it finds expression in simple acts of  thoughtfulness scattered throughout the day:  a smile. . .  a word of encouragement. . . a gentle response. . .  a listening ear. . .   a bunch of flowers. . .   an email. . .   a compliment. . .   a card with a personal note. . .   transportation to a doctor’s appointment. . .  an errand done willingly. . .   The list could go on and on.  At heart, it lies in being attentive to the people whose lives we touch, profoundly or incidently, in the daily round of living.  It asks no credit.  It keeps no score.  It measures no results.

Joe Stowell, in an Our Daily Bread devotional writes:  “In J. R. R. Tolkien’s book, The Hobbit, the wizard Gandalf explains why he has selected a small hobbit like Bilbo to accompany the dwarves to fight the enemy.  He says, ‘Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found.  I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay.  Small acts of kindness and love.'”

“Be kind and compassionate to one another. . . “

Ephesians 4:32a

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                         “He is so gentle and patient with them, the blessed Spirit of God.”                        Journal 1898

Silence.  My copy of this classic novel, by Shusako Endo, remained unopened on our library table for weeks.  Never have I approached reading a book with such a mix of emotions: anticipation of a highly acclaimed book; reluctance given the subject of persecution and apostasy.

The story of the 17th century effort to eradicate Christianity in Japan was told largely through letters of the Jesuit priest, Rodrigues, who against all counsel, made the dangerous two-year journey from Portugal to Japan, knowing that his life would be in mortal danger.  His purpose was two-fold:  to determine the truth about his mentor who was rumored to have apostatized; to be a priest for the hidden Japanese Christians. Having survived the treacherous journey, he was to learn, first-hand, the unspeakable torture Christians suffered for their faith.  The Christian was given a choice between the repudiation of their faith or relentless persecution.  The way of freedom was seductively simple:  stepping on the fumi-e (a bronze relief sculpture of Christ or Mary mounted into a wooden frame) as a public act of apostasy.   (“Do it.  You don’t even have to mean it.”)

Through the brilliantly nuanced narrative, Endo took me with Rodrigues, to depths of despair, I would rather not have traveled even in print.  Through the complexity of the characters drawn and situations encountered in this account, I was confronted with suffering – physical, spiritual, moral – that I would hope not to face in a lifetime.  And I wondered:  What would I have done in the same situation?

Such was Lilias’s experience living and working among the Arab Muslims.  Knowing the importance of young Christians boldly proclaiming their faith – whether through adherence to Biblical teaching or abstaining from the disciplines of Ramadan – she gained a growing awareness of the suffering for the same.  Her heart ached with compassion for the persecution of these “baby souls” for their faith in Jesus.  Social ostracization, loss of jobs – or husbands – was only the beginning of their torment.  They were subject to physical abuse and physiological intimidation in the form of poisons, drugs and “spells” wearing down first their bodies and then their wills.   She developed a deeper understanding for what she called a ‘Nicodemus” or secret disciple writing, “He is so gentle and patient with them, the blessed Spirit of God.”  

It is impossible to associate any form of discomfort or unease I might experience resulting from living out my faith in a post-Christian society with either the 17th century Japanese Christians or 19th century Algerians – or for that matter the persecuted Christian throughout the world today.  But I have to ask myself if there are, perhaps subtle or even subconscious, ways in which I apostatize – “trample the fume-i”?  Are there instances in which my silence betrays Christ?  Or my indifference or nonchalance minimize my faith?  Does a glib self-satisfaction belie the very essence of my true condition – and God’s grace?

This I can say with certainty:  having read this book, I will never see things quite the same way again.  As this is neither a book review nor a critique (much less a spoiler), I will only allude to themes which, in the reading, shook me to the very core of my being: the perceived “silence” of God amidst the unthinkable suffering for His sake. . . the Judas-like character, Kichijiro, who shows up on Rodrigues’ first day in Japan then dogs his steps from that point on, seeking absolution then betraying, denying and apostatizing –  again and again. . .  Rodrigues’ driving determination to not, above all things, deny the Jesus he dearly loved – only to face, in the end, the most unimaginable moral dilemma. . .

Endo does not let us off easy.  He forces the reader to watch and to experience the ambiguity of all the above – and much more.  He does not offer simple answers or pithy take-aways.  Enough is left unsaid as to elicit discussion and disagreement with others – if not in one’s soul.  Yet enough is said to leave us with hope.

My take-away – along with an ongoing soul-searching – is a far greater compassion for others in their crisis of faith or tension of choices – large or small. . .  a greater generosity toward the limitations or weaknesses of others – along with more honesty with those of my own. . . a desire to be more passionate in living for and loving Jesus the Redeemer. . .

Perhaps the strongest “take-away” is summed by Philip Yancy in his Foreword to Silence and Beauty, Makato Fugimura’s companion book to Endo’s Silence.  “Every one of Jesus’ followers, from the first disciples down through history to the present day, knows the feeling of betrayal.  Sharp-edged gossip, the stab of envy, that colleague we humiliated, the racist comment that drew a laugh, a sudden and inexplicable cruelty, apologies to our children deserved but never made, a furtive fantasy, a stolen kiss, callousness toward another’s misery, an addiction to what demeans or even destroys – in ways small and large we too step on the fumi-e.  Our only hope is the forgiving gaze of the betrayed Savior, the still point of Endo’s novel.”

He is so gentle and patient. . .  the blessed Spirit of God. 

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A Way of Seeing

                                          “Many things begin with seeing in this world of ours.”                                               Between the Desert & the Sea

I hold within my gaze a little gem of a book – A Way of Seeing* – 40 of Lilias’s inspirational reflections exquisitely illustrated with paintings selected from the Egerton Collection (Lilias’s family). While either the paintings or the writings alone would be reason enough to own or gift this book, there are two added features that make it unique:  1) a Preface by Stephen Wildman, Professor of the History of Art, Lancaster University/Director, Ruskin Library and Research Centre, on the relationship between John Ruskin and Lilias Trotter; 2) an Introduction by Darcy Weir, classics scholar/lecturer on faith and art, on the art of seeing.

Because Darcy Weir captures so beautifully the essence of Lilias unique way of seeing, I have chosen, with her consent, to print in full her introductory essay – with the belief that these words not only introduce us to this work but to a wonderful way of viewing our own worlds.  Read.  Look.  See!


This little volume, A Way of Seeing, is intended to be more than simply a selection of Lilias Trotter’s work, presented for the viewer’s enjoyment. Lilias’s drawings, paintings, and sketches form a record of her visceral and almost mystical communion with the natural world, a world which she beheld as much with a quickened spiritual eye as with the trained vision of an artist. The result is a collection of colorful jewels, each capturing the very essence of the scene, the plant, the person, or the object before her eyes. Her ability to see and then artistically render the very essence, the quiddity of what she beheld, was singled out by her mentor and friend, the great Victorian art critic John Ruskin, when he praised her uncanny skill in making a “minute, instantaneous and unerring record of the things that are precisely best.”

Very few people possess this rare artistic gift, but all of us possess, at least potentially, the ability to pay close attention to what is before our eyes, to be patient as we behold an object or scene, to linger on it long enough, tenderly and attentively enough, for it to begin to reveal its own unique nature. This was Lilias Trotter’s way of seeing, and it can become yours as well. Spend time with the images, enough time to allow your spirit’s inner eye to awaken, and your imagination to stir. Be patient. Gradually, the mystery, the unique identity, of the object or scene will unfold before your eyes. As you become more accustomed to this way of viewing Lilias’s works, so will you begin to see the beauties of your own surrounding world reveal themselves. And then the purpose for which this little volume was created will be fulfilled.

Before you embark on this voyage of discovery, a few bits of background and biographical information are in order. You will be looking at scenes from a variety of places where Lilias lived and journeyed, from the English countryside to the deserts of North Africa, from perilous mountain passes to scenes of everyday life in the Casbah of Algiers. To all these vistas she brought a fresh and eager eye, but also an unerring gift for capturing vast expanses in the smallest compass. Living the life of a missionary in rugged terrain, Lilias did not have the luxury of large canvases and boxes of paints and brushes with which to work. She captured these impressions “on the fly,” using a bare minimum of equipment—a small brush or pencil, a few paints, and a tiny 4×6 sketchbook or 2-inch square space in the margin of a journal for canvas. Some of the images you will see in this book—scenes of a glorious desert sunset, of a large bay, of a sunrise on the sea—will have been created on a surface no larger than a matchbook. Conversely, she could fill up that small space with a single image of a seed pod or a bee fumbling amongst flower blossoms, and you would swear that you are seeing a much larger surface—a canvas of, say 36×24 inches. Very few artists have this capacity for elegantly rendering vast spaces in a tiny compass, or depicting a seemingly insignificant thing—a shell, a puppy, or clump of grass—as if it were the subject of a large and major work. Rembrandt and Dürer come to mind, but very few others. Lilias Trotter is one of those very few.

This faculty of accurately interpreting space, of attending with equal care and attention to the very large and the very small, was also emblematic of her approach to people. Each person, no matter how destitute, dirty, and downtrodden, was a precious soul, a being who bore within him or herself the image of God. Just as the fumbling bee could be as worthy a subject of painting as a distant view of a vast mountain range, so was a six year old Muslim child as worthy of attention as a powerful London banker.

Lilias Trotter renounced a potentially glorious career as an artist in order to work as a missionary in North Africa, a calling both difficult and fraught with peril for a young woman of frail health from London’s upper middle class. The great critic John Ruskin said “she would be the greatest living painter and do things that would be Immortal” – but only on condition that she give herself up entirely to art. This she would not do, but the images in this little book reveal how she continued to use her artistic gift, even though art was no longer the main focus of her life. Rather like her contemporary Gerard Manley Hopkins, whose exquisite poetry only came to light after his death, and who often felt his life as a priest in God’s service bore little fruit, Lilias’s art was hidden for long years, and her toil in the deserts of North Africa seemed to meet with limited success. But Hopkins and Trotter have now both been brought back from obscurity into the light, and both artists in their respective domains are inspiring new ways of seeing, new ways of appreciating God’s magnificent, infinitely varied, wonderfully curious creation. As Hopkins said,

And for all this, nature is never spent;

There lives the dearest freshness deep down things….

It is those things and more that await you, as you learn to practice a new Way of Seeing.

by Darcy Weir

*Available at Amazon Books

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Lilias_Portrait_Build_01 (1)

“God only knows the endless possibilities that lie folded in each of us.”    Parables of the Cross

Possibilities. How do we choose our path(s) when different vocational possibilities seem to pull us in different directions?  How was Lilias Trotter’s  set of vocational possibilities influenced by the current cultural assumptions of her era?  What would it have looked like if Trotter had pursued her art without the waning of her commitment to Christ?  Vocation, being as diverse and simultaneous as the many kinds of relationships in our lives, how then do we handle overlapping vocations?  What is our set of imaginative vocational opportunities?

These questions, along with others, were the focus of the Lilias Trotter Symposium at Wheaton College this past Thursday (September 15).  Lilias’s radical choice, concerning the role of art in her life, became the springboard for thought and discussion about the complexity of vocation choices explored through a variety of presentations:  On the Life of Lilias Trotter (Miriam Rockness), On John Ruskin (Matthew Milliner), On the Making of “Many Beautiful Things” (Laura Waters Hinson), On leading Discussions of Film (Lena Connor/Giovanna Meeks).   Biographer, artists, film maker, patrons of art, further explored this subject during the panel discussion following the screening of “Many Beautiful Things.”

Vocation.  I’m often asked, in regards to Lilias’s vocational choice, “Was it worth it?”  Implicit in the query is the doubt that the gain was worth the sacrifice.  I was, I admit, haunted by this question when researching and writing her story.  Was it necessary for her to give up all that potential and opportunity in the world of art and culture?  Could she not have served God as effectively – more effectively – through her art and those who would people her world?

Having “lived” in her world, through her diaries and written work, I hasten to respond:  I might agonize over  the “what if’s” and “might have been’s” but one thing is certain:  Lilias did not.  The decision made, art continued to be essential to her soul – whether processing her own pilgrimage or developing material for ministry – but she whole-heartedly pursued what for her was “God’s calling” without looking back and with an undivided heart.  Furthermore, it is important for me to note that she did not generalize her radical choice to others.  In Parable of the Cross, she writes:  “There are those to whom a blessed life of fruitfulness to God comes in a simple way, with seemingly no hard process of dying involved…”  

Clearly, our vocations – in the traditional Christian framework – (to quote Chris Armstrong, Director of OPUS: The Art of Work) “are the ways we love and serve our neighbors and thus, ultimately, the way God loves the world and supplies their need through us.”  Lilias’s vocation was demonstrated through incarnational love lavished upon the Arab Muslims as well as.among other services, translating and printing Scripture to strategically “plant” throughout the land of Algeria.  Today, a church visible in Algeria is, in part, the germination of those seeds planted a century ago by Lilias and her colleagues.

This symposium, in truth, was the culmination of the efforts of many people in many vocations – doubtless an interweaving of vocations as varied and simultaneous as the phases and stages of each participant’s  life. Consider the variety of vocations represented in creating this particular venue:  teachers, librarians, media technicians, writers, artists, film maker, editors, business persons, patrons of the arts – to say nothing of the formation of an academic institution to host such an event!

This event was, likewise, a celebration of the diversity of skills and talents and work that crafted “Many Beautiful Things”.  Each aspect of the finished work has its own story, as specific and personal as Lilias’s story.  Each person involved in this creative venture has followed their “calling” – or, should I say God’s calling – in their lives.

In conclusion I want to share one person’s “story” – Austin Blasingame – the artist who animated Lilias’s art for the film. Follow this link to hear his story of how the creative process fed him as he drew upon his talent – vocation! – to enrich the lives of others.

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived                                                                             what God has prepared for those who love Him –                                                                                      but God has revealed it to us by His Spirit.”




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Lilias Trotter Symposium

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Dreamers Dreaming Greatly



“Before us all dawned, I think a new horizon – of the glory of the task to which God has called us – a glory in its every hardness & in the sense that we are working for the future & its coming day.  ‘We were dreamers dreaming greatly.'”  23 October 1911

May, 2013, five women met in Mt. Dora, Florida, under the name Trotter Trust (chosen more for its alliteration than any legal standing!) charged with the mission to 1) select a filmmaker for a documentary about Lilias Trotter; 2) to determine the site for the “care & keeping” of the Egerton Collection, the Trotter family collection of Journals and Sketchbooks containing over 200 original watercolors; 3) explore broader venues to present the unique legacy of Lilias Trotter.

With open hearts and minds, we prayerfully sought God’s direction for this task, focusing each day on one question:  Day 1) “How did you ‘meet’ Lilias and how has she impacted your life?”  Day 2) “What, if any, is Lilias’s value for today’s world?” Day 3) “How do we connect Lilias and her work to our world?”  Day 4) concluded with the challenge “Dare to Dream” – and the final question “What would you dream for her legacy if there were no known restrictions?”  We departed with a prayer of dedication for her life and legacy and a heightened sense that Lilias Trotter did, indeed, have relevancy to culture today.

Now, three years later, we look back with nothing short of awe and wonder upon the events that followed.  The most immediate task was finding the filmmaker, Laura Waters Hinson, who early established her giftedness winning a Student Academy Award for her  documentary, “As We Forgive.” For the next two years, top priority was given to the development of the documentary which Laura carried out with vision, skill, and artistry beyond our greatest expectations.  The end result was, “Many Beautiful Things,” a 70-minute documentary augmented with a lavish presentation of her art (some of which was highlighted with deft animation), poetic re-enactments of her life, and readings from her Journals and her letters from Ruskin – read respectively by Michelle Dockery and John Rhys-Davies.

The process of film making – gathering resources, connecting with people and places of significance to Lilias’s life and legacy, developing an evolving story-line – likewise became catalyst for many wonderful Trotter-related experiences and relationships.  One highlight, for me, was returning to Brantwood, Ruskin’s home in the Lake District, where Lilias, pressed by her mentor/friend, made the great decision: the role of art in her life.  There, on that sacred site where she made this life-affecting decision, I was privileged to tell “The Rest of the Story,” to “The Friends of Ruskin” fortified by slides of Lilias’s art from Ruskin’s collection, deposited at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.  Another highlight was meeting with Eva Longley (at the tea room at Selfridges in London) –  on the day of an underground strike! – and hearing her stories of organizing and sending the Lilias Trotter memorablia (Diaries, Journals, and papers along with North Africa Missions archives) out of Algeria eventually to the UK – an endeavor that took almost one-and-a-half years and without which most of her visual  legacy would have been lost.

The official release of the film was, internationally, at the Manchester Film Festival (Summer, 2015) and, nationally, at the Heartland Film Festival (Fall, 2015).  Our “February Launch 2016” of the film was initiated at the Smithsonian National Gallery in Washington D.C. with 750 people packing a 500 seat auditorium!  The following week(s) saw  one-night-only screenings in 30-plus theaters across the country with as many more screenings in churches, universities, and community centers.  We have been amazed at the creative ways in which the film has been presented:  an Art Show with Local Artists “Inspired by the Art of Lilias Trotter;”  church banquets with a “North African” theme, university screenings followed by round table discussions about the role of “Faith & Art” and/or “Vocation;”: Mission Festivals with the theme of “Surrender, Sacrifice and Service.”  I’m still waiting for the Trotter Tea – themed with all things Victorian!

We have, likewise, been gratified by wonderful media coverage of the film or, more to the point, the life and legacy of Lilias Trotter – which is, after all, what this is all about.  We recognized, from the beginning, the unique opportunities to share widely her legacy through her art.  Wonderful articles by the Chicago Conservation Center, Ruskin scholars and, most recently, The New York Times have carried her story to an ever broadening audience and, in a sense, validated Ruskin’s high opinion of her art! (See below) And, of course, we likewise value positive articles and reviews that have been published by various Christian media sources, many of which can be accessed on Facebook:  Many Beautiful Things.

What about the future?  What lies ahead for the film and for the legacy of Lilias Trotter? A number of additional screenings at universities, seminaries, and churches are scheduled for the future – most immediately a Fall Conference at Wheaton College (details to follow).  “Many Beautiful Things” DVD (and streaming) is now available on Amazon along with Discovery House publications of her biography, A Passion for the Impossible, and compilation of her writings and watercolors, A Blossom in the Desert.  Additionally, Oxvision has published a picture book, Lily:  The Girl Who Could See, as well as facsimile editions of three of her out-of-print works – Parables of the Cross; 1876 Sketchbook:  Scenes from Lucerne to Venice;  1889 Sketchbook: Scenes From North Africa, Italy & Switzerland (also available on Amazon) – with more in the line-up along with several new books which draw upon her watercolors and writings:  A Way of Seeing; Images of Faith.   And we have good news for those who desire to have prints or notecards of Lilias’s watercolors!  Check out the Fine Art American site for prints and quote cards of various size and surfaces.

So, what is the future for “Many Beautiful Things”?  For Lilias?!  While these many venues have provided wonderful exposure we, nonetheless, go back to the start of our common venture:  “dreamers dreaming greatly.”  The answer?  Only God knows.  Everything that has happened from the beginning (which was long before my discovery of Lilias) has been initiated and implemented by God.  From Lilias’s “call” to North Africa (“strange soundings in my heart”), to the Band of men and women who joined her in Algeria (and those who continue the work to this day), to the saint who secured the archives gathered, eventually, at the Arab World Ministry Headquarters in the UK, to the two women who gifted their treasured books by and about ILT to the then young minister’s wife in Lake Wales, to the individuals who commissioned and underwrote her to write a current biography, to those who came alongside to implement and advance the research, to the visionaries who have taken it from there to a broader world: each and every person and transaction was initiated by God. Each and every person felt privileged to be, in some way, collaborators with God for His Purposes.  No one had any idea how their role – great or small – would contribute to the whole.

And that is where we are today.  We have no advertising campaign for the film – only Facebook and website presence.  But we are confident that God will use the legacy of Lilias in ways unknown to us today or, probably. . . ever.  We are “dreamers dreaming greatly!

RESOURCE LINKS                                                                                                                                               Chicago C0nservation Center:

New York Times:

Facebook:  Many Beautiful Things


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