Tuesday, May 28, 2013

If you need a word of encouragement in your wilderness

My deepest thanks to Southern Distinction Magazine for listing Give My Love to the Chestnut Trees and me in “Stories of Georgia,” a review of Georgia novelists in their just released current issue. I’m honored to be included.

 A couple of years ago, I wrote here about the summer our family spent zigzagging this country in a borrowed RV. The series called Dream Summer is here.  One of our favorite memories from that time is of visiting the Ingalls family homestead in South Dakota as well as the Mansfield home in Missouri where Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote the Little House books.

The house in Mansfield, Missouri where Laura wrote the Little House books
 In doing research for another project recently, I came upon a quote from her, which I know I’ve read but had forgotten. She wrote, “We had no choice. Sadness was as dangerous as panthers and bears. The wilderness needs your whole attention.”

We face many kinds of wildernesses.

And as we traverse them, we are likely to encounter a plethora of predators.

Change is a wilderness for many. Letting go of the familiar to embrace the unknown can leave us feeling as if we’re heading out over a vast prairie without GPS, much as Laura and her family did. It’s scary. We grieve over what we leave behind, and we tremble over what may lie ahead.

But the wilderness needs our whole attention, for in it lies our future.

In the present upheavals are the building blocks of what is yet to be, and if we allow ourselves to get stuck in our grief, we will miss them.

Laura knew the wilderness.

She’d lived in uncharted land as a child, and then as an adult, she and her husband, Almanzo, faced distressing change, almost losing everything they had except their land to the stock market crash of 1929--a new kind of wilderness. What would they do with Laura in her sixties and Almanzo in his seventies? Through her writing, their daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, became their sole support in a depressed market.

According to one source, the Great Depression, along with the deaths of her mother and sister, may have prompted Laura to put down her memories of growing up on the vast prairie. Laura had established herself as a columnist for a local paper in the Ozarks some years before, but hadn’t written the column in several years. She hoped once more to make a little money through her writing.

In 1932, Harper and Brothers published, Little House in the Big Woods. Laura was 65 years old. Many more books in the series followed, and as we often hear, the rest is history.

Laura faced her new kind of wilderness with the same courage she’d had when teaching alone in a one-room schoolhouse on the prairie far from home. She simply used the gifts and talents she had. As she once wrote, “The real things haven't changed. It is still best to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasures; and have courage when things go wrong.”

I heard the call to write long after many are already established in their careers. Often, I’ve wondered why God waited to clarify this for me, because here I am at a point, when some are closing their laptops and planning European vacations, still hard at work. Still feeling I’m just beginning. Still wondering about a breakthrough. Still praying as Beth Moore says to be smarter than I am, fearing I’ve lost too many brain cells to too much anesthetic in too many surgeries, which now take both hands to count.

I don’t have many answers, but I do have inspiration. Stories like that of Laura Ingalls Wilder keep me hoping through rough times and years of not understanding.  

In my own personal wilderness, Laura’s story is one that helps me fight the beast of discouragement, because her courage gives me courage.

One more quote from Laura, this one from The Long Winter, “Laura felt a warmth inside her. It was very small, but it was strong. It was steady, like a tiny light in the dark, and it burned very low but no winds could make it flicker because it would not give up.”

“Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!” (Hebrews 12:1-3 The Message).


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