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

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments


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.”




Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Lilias Trotter Symposium

Image | Posted on by | 9 Comments

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.  http://fineartamerica.com/profiles/oxvision-media.html?tab=artworkgalleries&artworkgalleryid=629437

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:http://www.theconservationcenter.com/article/2084427-lilias-trotter-missionary-artist

New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/20/arts/design/a-renewed-spotlight-on-two-women-artists.html?_r=0

Facebook:  Many Beautiful Things

Website:  liliastrotter.com

Posted in Lilias Legacy, Lilias Trotter, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Resources: By and About Lilias Trotter

67 diary journal collage

The film, Many Beautiful Things, has introduced Lilias Trotter to many people for the first time, raising questions and queries about her life and legacy.  What did her work in North Africa really involve?  What specific approaches did she use to connect with the Arab Muslims?  How was she received?  Or, more importantly, how was her message received?  What was the nature of her dialogue with the Sufi Mystic Brotherhood?  How did she survive the desert years – physically and spiritually?  What, if any, was her legacy in Algeria?  What is her legacy today?

With these, and many other questions in mind, I want to take this opportunity to introduce you to resources by and about Lilias Trotter, with a brief description of each work, then connect you to places that they can be purchased.

Product Details

A Passion for the Impossible:  The Life of Lilias Trotter by Miriam Rockness,  Discovery House Publishers, 1999.  This is the most current biography, drawn from original sources as well as past biographies.

Can be purchased via the following links:

Product Details A Blossom in the Desert:  Reflections of Faith in the Art and Writings of Lilias Trotter, by Miriam Rockness. Discovery House Publishers, 2007.  This is a wonderful compilation of some of Lilias most memorable insights paired with her watercolors, most of which have been hidden in obscurity for a century.

Can be purchased via the following links:

A Way of Seeing, by Lilias Trotter, compiled by Miriam Rockness, Oxvision 2016.  Forty Trotter reflections paired with watercolors from the Egerton/Trotter Collection (Lilias’ family archives).  Two additional features that make this book unique are 1) the Preface about Ruskin/Trotter relationship, written by Ruskin scholar Stephen Wildman and 2) the Introduction about the art of seeing, written by classic/scholar lecturer on faith and art, Darcy Weir.

Can be purchased via the following links:

Product Details

Lily: The Girl Who Could See, by Sally Oxley with Tim Ladwig and Miriam Rockness.  Oxvision 2015.  Lilias’s developing talent and calling is presented in a recently published picture book for “children of all ages.”  Here the simple narrative of her life is compellingly related by Sally Oxley and beautifully illustrated by Tim Ladwig.

Can be purchased via the following links:


Lilias Trotter:  Daring in the Desert, by Irene Howat. CF4Kids, 2016.  A chapter book for children – part of the award-winning Trailblazer books (historical fiction novels introducing great Christian heroes).   Advertised as a “read-aloud” book for 8-9 year-olds and a “read alone” book for ages 9-14, this is actually a wonderful read for anyone.

Can be purchased via the following links:

Product DetailsParables of the Cross, by Lilias Trotter, Oxvision 2015.  This devotional classic, written in 1893, remains, rare and true, composed of timeless verities tested by personal experience. This volume is distinct from other reprintings being the only facsimile edition.  This edition includes high quality color plates copied from the original publication.

Can be purchased via the following links:

Product DetailsLilias Trotter’s 1876 Sketchbook:  Scenes from Lucerne to Venice  This is a facsimile edition of the sketchbook that a young Lilias (23 years old) carried to Venice – where she met the famed John Ruskin, England’s foremost arbiter of art.  It contains sketches most likely instructed by the master himself.

Can be purchased via the following links:

Lilias Trotter’s  1889 Sketchbook:  Scenes from North Africa, Italy & Switzerland, Oxvision. This facsimile edition of her pocket sketchbook reveals her ability to quickly capture views with accuracy and beauty – a skill that John Ruskin extolled in his 1883 “Art of England” lecture.

Can be purchased via the following links:

TROTTER_F004_021The Sevenfold Secret, Lilias’ masterful treatise for her beloved Sufi Mystics, while not available in hard copy, can be accessed online (click on the title).  This remarkable and relevant work is based on Jesus’  seven “I AM’s” recorded in the Gospel of John and, through their unfolding “secrets,” speaks to the longings of a seeker’s soul – then and now.

Many Beautiful Things: The Life and Vision of Lilias TrotterMany Beautiful Things plunges viewers into the complex age of Victorian England to meet Lilias Trotter.  As Lilias journeys to French Algeria in the late 1800’s to pioneer missionary work with women and children viewers are left to wonder “Could you abandon a dream to pursue your true calling?” Featuring the voices of Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbeyand John Rhys-Davies (Lord of the Rings, Indiana Jones). Directed by award-winning filmmaker Laura waters Hinson (As We Forgive) with original music by Sleeping at Last. Executive Producers: Brian and Sally Oxley. This DVD contains options for Japanese audio and Japanese, Chinese and Korean Subtitles.  It can also be purchased Internationally via the Vision Video website.

Can be purchased via the following links:

Finally, (at least for now!) is the anticipated publication of Images of Faith by Miriam Rockness, a devotional book of reflections inspired by the art and writings of Lilias Trotter.  Miriam dips deeply into the journals and diaries of Lilias Trotter to reveal the context of Trotter’s insights and to explore their application to our lives today.



Posted in Uncategorized | 16 Comments

Parables of the Cross

It is in the stages of a plant’s growth, its budding and blossoming and seed-bearing that this lesson has come to me:  the lesson of death in its delivering power.  It has come as no mere far-fetched imagery, but as one of the many voices in which God speaks, bringing strength and gladness from His Holy Place.         Parables of the Cross

I hold in my hands a facsimile copy of Parables of the Cross by Lilias Trotter.  A dream come true.  Leafing through the pages, I savor the exquisite paintings from nature perfectly positioned to augment the text:  chestnut leaf and bud, flowering rush, golden blaze of gorse-bush, sunny buttercups, wild-rose pedals, dandelion seed-globe – among others.  And I feel anew, the first thrill of opening this book in the original edition.  Even more:  the moment the seed was planted in my heart to see this book re-published in a facsimile edition.

Flashback in time to October, 1992.  Place: Loughborough, England.  My husband and I had scheduled our return trip from Israel, a 20th anniversary gift from our church, through London to accommodate a side trip to the Arab World Ministries Headquarters where the Trotter archives were housed.

Words fail to express my emotions as I opened a leather-bound page-a-day diary and saw, for the first time, her exquisite watercolors – a museum in miniature – flowers, landscapes, people, houses, sunsets and mountain ranges.  I could only briefly browse diaries, journals, pocket sketchbooks that recorded her 40 years in North Africa.  And there was much more:  reports evolving in style and format, scrapbooks circulated amongst the mission stations, seed ideas for writing, booklets in French, English and Arabic for women and children as well as devotionals for the English speaking.  I jotted down my observations in a notebook even as I vowed: I will return!

The day sped by all too fast, punctuated by a brief coffee/devotional time with the staff and a light lunch put together with gracious hospitality.  At the conclusion of the visit our host and guide – “keeper of the archives” – Alasdair McLaren asked a simple question:  “What is your purpose in coming here?”

How to answer?  How to explain the powerful impact this woman had already had on my life and spiritual formation?   How to put into words the driving desire to see with my own eyes the art mentioned only in footnote on a printed page of an out-of-print book?  All I could say in answer was simply:  “Pilgrimage.  I’m here on pilgrimage.”

Upon return to the USA, I continued to ponder that question – and my answer.  I realized that trip had put in my heart a desire to see her work re-issued in publications that contemporary readers could likewise study and ponder.  So I wrote a letter (before the day of emails!) saying that upon further reflection, I did have yet another purpose:  to see some of her out-of-print works republished – beginning with the devotional classic, Parables of the Cross.

With their blessing I began yet another pilgrimage to editors and publishers and other Trotter fans toward that end.  Elisabeth Elliot wrote, in response to my query:  “I have tried various publishers to see if I might persuade them to reprint the PARABLES. They say no – impossible to reproduce the paintings except at prohibitive coast.  Alas.  But I quote her and tell people about her whenever I can.”  (She went on to write a book, A Path Through Suffering, meditations based on Trotter’s two books, Parables of the Cross and Parables of the Christ-life illustrated with sketches by her brother, James Howard.)  And such was my experience as well.

Until a fortuitous meeting with Marj Mead and Lyle Dorsett at The Wade Center at Wheaton College.  Dr. Dorsett, upon seeing the parable book, proclaimed this book  publication-worthy but that it needed a readership acquainted with Lilias Trotter before such an undertaking – and went on to commission me to write her  biography.

Fast forward 23 years from that first meeting in Loughborough:  two books and a film later – A Passion for the Impossible:  The Life & Legacy of Lilias Trotter; A Blossom in the Desert: Reflections of Faith in the Art and Writings of Lilias Trotter; “Many Beautiful Things:  The Life and Vision of Lilias Trotter” – my original dream finally has been fulfilled:  the publication of a facsimile edition of Parables of the Cross. (http://www.amazon.com/Facsimile-Parables-Cross-Lilias-Trotter/dp/1938068076/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1444521970&sr=8-5&keywords=parables+of+the+cross)

This has not been a solo venture.  Countless people have come alongside me during the past 2 decades supporting the vision of reviving Lilias’ legacy with encouragement, ideas, research, materials, funding.  Others have caught the vision for republishing her parables, a wonderful contribution resulting from new digital printing options, resulting in at least 10 separate editions at last count.

Which raises the question:  why one more?  This is the only facsimile edition, copied directly by the Conservation Center of Chicago from the first edition published by Marshall Brothers and printed by E. Nister of Nuremberg (Bavaria).  Faithful not only to text but the alignment of text to illustrations, it likewise reflects the advance in quality of color printing.

One might also ask, why another devotional book?  And one written over 100 years ago?  Bookshelves and catalogues are filled with all manner of devotional writing in up-to-date English with contemporary tone and examples.  It must be acknowledged that the text  reflects a distinct voice of the Victorian era and that the contents are not for the faint-hearted as deep and sometimes hard spiritual realities are stated and explored.

But the fact remains, this is a devotional classic, rare and true, composed of timeless verities tested by personal experience.  It was written within the window of summer/fall 1895 at a time Lilias was taking an extended break in England.  Her health, never robust, had been seriously compromised after seven years of unremitting labor in the testing climate of Algeria.  The result was this book, born of her own spiritual struggles and tempered with her depth of life experience.  It reflects her deep grounding in Scripture and is animated by her growing sensibility to God speaking through His natural world.

Parables of the Cross.  Read for yourself.  Read slowly.  Read prayerfully.  Read for insight into God’s Ways:  the unchanging and inexhaustible truths of a loving Heavenly Father.

Posted in Cross, death, Faith, freedom, growth, life, nature, renunciation, suffering | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

Desert Rose


The wonder lies in the (desert) floor itself.  It is a layer of crystallized gypsum, several feet thick, that underlies the sand of this district, and serves the land for all building purposes.  You will see scattered along every roadside and built into every wall these beautiful crystals, several inches across, imitating flames of fire, or crysanthemums, stars or roses, as the case may be, and calcined and powdered they form the cement into which they are embedded.   Between the Desert & the Sea

The long anticipated week in England is history now, captured in photographs, journal jottings, scraps of menus, programs and other memorabilia – and in memory. The purpose of this trip was the world premier of the Lilias Trotter documentary, “Many Beautiful Things,” at the Manchester International Film Festival.  It was a thrill to see the film come to life on wide screen. . . to receive affirmations from a wide range of viewers. . . to share this culminating moment with the film maker and her husband, our patrons and their adult daughters. . .  A never to be forgotten moment, launching the next phase:  the presenting of the film to the public.  More than two years effort coming to fruition – at last!

Yet there was another event, personal and private, that ranked high in my heart at the time and now upon reflection:  the meeting of Eva Longley, the only former member of the Algiers Mission Band still living.  While not a contemporary of Lilias, she lived in Dar Naama, Lilias’s home (and AMB Headquarters in Algiers) and, during those years, worked alongside the then older women who had joined Lilias decades previous.  That alone would have made her a person-of-interest – but there was much more to the story and her unproclaimed role in preserving the Trotter archives.  A  story I learned considerably after my appropriating those very archives for the writing of the biography,  A Passion for the Impossible. and compiling paintings and writings for A Blossom in the Desert.

 A chance meeting with a friend’s son and a retired Arab World Ministries missionary connected me to a woman who, likewise, had based at the HQ in Dar Naama for many years.  It was through a telephone conversation with this contact that I was told the history of the archives and given Eva’s UK phone number.  Thus began a friendship via phone linked by our common regard for the life and legacy of Lilias Trotter.  Over the past several years I would contact her with my endless list of questions:  “Do you have any stories that her colleagues shared with you?  Any mannerisms or qualities that might better illuminate her personality?  Any foibles or weaknesses that would humanize her?  After each “visit” I felt I knew Lilias better – as well as my new friend, Eva.

But the most illuminating story was, in fact, her crucial role in the preservation of the Trotter Archives along with related North African Mission/AWM archival material.  During political unrest in the 1980s, missionaries left the country.  Eva stayed on, working her day job at an embassy in Algiers.  Every evening, for one and one-half years, Eva would attend to her greater mission: organizing the storage space filled with all manner of paper, books, pamphlets, journals, diaries and documents, keeping record until she was satisfied that she had secured a copy of everything of importance.  As individuals visited her over those months, she would entrust into their care (and suitcases) these items to be deposited at their respective destinations.  Ultimately they were gathered together in three large cardboard boxes and  stored at the Arab World Ministries UK HQ in Loughborough.  At peace that “her work was completed,” she felt liberated to leave her beloved Algeria and return to England to join her husband and eventually serve, together, in a new location in North Africa.

The six hours we spent together in London will be etched forever in my heart.  This tiny but resilient soul in her early-8o’s, battled her way to the city whose transportation system was crippled by a 24 hour tube strike – with subsequent overload of buses and taxis.  We sat in the tearoom at Selfridges for 4 hours and listened to her stories – and told her ours.  Finally, we waited with her for two hours as one bus after another passed by, filled with passengers!   (It would be another 2 1/2 hours before she made it back to her apartment the opposite  end of London!)

Before leaving, she reached into a shopping bag and presented me with a smaller bag.  I unwrapped the tissue and lifted from it an exquisite rock formation.  “It’s called a ‘desert rose.’  They are found  in certain arid desert regions of Algeria, made of sand and minerals (often gypsum) and shaped by sand and wind and water into lovely formations.  I see it as a parable of our lives:  to use the dry and hard things of life to create something beautiful.”

I looked at this beautiful woman, weathered with age and shaped by life experience:  a desert rose.  I felt the honor and privilege to be in her company, to be considered a friend, and to have collaborated with her (unbeknownst to either of us at the time) in the effort to preserve and present Lilias’s legacy of faith and beauty.  And I thought of Lilias who had fallen in love with the people of this particular region – the Souf villages of hidden palms and beehive dwellings, the desert roses lining the roadsides, walls and underlying the sand of this district, and lovely “maidens” (wrapped in their indigo cotton drapery) “full of grace” and “frank sweetness.”  “It wins our heartstrings in our rare visits, and it keeps them.”  Little wonder that Lilias dreamed of ending her days amongst the Souf people.  As one last gift to herself, before leaving the district in 1895, she took desert roses, fresh and sweet out of the ground, “. . . a pledge of the blossoming that is coming to the desert when the Lord is king.”

So I have my bit of Algeria on a shelf, above my computer, at our home in Florida.  It reminds me of Eva, of course, and Lilias.  And it speaks to me of all the Evas and Liliases of this world who, like them, have spilled out their lives in service for God – in far away lands and at home  – simply being faithful to God and obedient to His bidding.  Missionaries and ministers, yes, but teachers and plumbers and nurses and business owners and workers, mothers and fathers.  In short, all people who radiate the love of God and convey it to those whose lives they touch – intentionally or inadvertently.  People for whom there will be no “honorable mention” (at least in this world), no books nor films to highlight their good works.  But for whom God can say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

We all can be “desert roses” – shaped by the hard and difficult things of life into something beautiful for God!

Posted in beauty, faithfulness, nature, service | Tagged , , , , , , | 12 Comments