On Mission to Just Live It

Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good deeds and moral excellence, and [recognize and honor and] glorify your Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 5:16

There are times in our lives that we are drawn into relationship with a person in such a way that a community of such deep and wide love happens that your life is changed forever. I want to spend some time today using a broad brush to share a picture of community that happened because God took a person, her gifts, and spread love all around through her and her family. Here’s the story and the wonderful tapestry that came because of it:

I had been reading about L’Abri and the Schaeffers from the mid-70’s forward. It was not until the late 80’s that I realized that there was such a thing as a L’Abri Conference. Upon learning that such a conference would be happening, Dwight and I made a decision to fly to Texas in 1987 to attend. It was a weekend of lectures and small group discussions by a number of people who had lived and worked and grown by the teaching and lives of Francis and Edith Schaeffer. We were awe-struck because we had never heard the gospel talked about in such a relevant way. I remember Jerram Barrs exploring and examining the idea of just wars, and Mardi Keyes issuing a calling to hospitality. It was a monumental weekend for us. We came away with a desire for other people in our Greensboro and surrounding community to be exposed to that same kind of teaching. We shared that idea with friends. The idea of sponsoring and administrating our own L’Abri Conference came to fruition as Dick Keyes from the Southborough, MA L’abri facilitated by working with us to develop a theme and arrange for speakers. Our first one happened in1990, and some of you were there.

A couple came over from their Fairview community outside of Asheville. Will and Susie had met at English L’Abri years before. They had settled into the small gorge where Susie’s family had lived for many years. Will became a doctor in the community. They grew their family of five children there. We got to know them through that first conference. That was no chance meeting, and the ripples of community and love spreading from that relationship have been profound. Susie left this earthly home of hers last March. I’d like to share some comments made by those whom her life has impacted:

Painting by Elspeth Hamilton Mann (Susie’s daughter)

“I have so many deeply fond memories of Susie and the community she led, and I daresay she has had one of the strongest influenceon me as to who I’ve become and the values I live by, and the activities I cherish. As a kid, starting at the ago of 5, Susie was an elder I loved and trusted and she made sure us kids were surrounded by wonderful adults but remained free to play how we liked. Sometimes I’d show up without calling first because I just knew I’d be safe with Susie (and all her terrific and generous kin). After a day of exploring the farm, jumping in the hayloft, swimming in the pool, and drawing, Susie would always sit me down at the bench by the kitchen window with the other stray kids passing through that day and feed me Oodles of Noodles to make sure I didn’t go hungry from forgetting to eat. Among stacks of books she kept around for us, I remember she once read a stack of Peter Rabbit books with me. I’ll never forget how welcome she made me and my family feel when we came to Fairvew. The Fairview spirit of communal gathering, sharing, singing, praising God and taking care of the land, with unconditional welcoming to whatever comes is so beautiful that I have tried my very best to carry it forward in all my actions …. Susie, I think of you often and I’m filled with tears of joy and gratitude for the truly earnest superwoman you were!”

So my cover picture is one of my favorite memories of Susie. I grew up poor, not unlike some of the children in Oildale, and my birthday is 2 days before Christmas so we were “adopted” by Susie’s family. They made sure we had wonderful memories of Christmas and my favorite things to do was hide at the end of the night in Mr. Clarke’s office under the desk. Susie knew where I was and always made a big production of finding me and I loved it. She taught me how to throw a pot, and because of my insatiable desire to learn, she explained how the kiln worked to make it a usable part of life. I can still smell the fragrances of cooking in the big house kitchen and how Susie and her mother would have each child help with one part of the meal. I got to help with making bread and to this day I can’t help but tear up when I smell bread cooking. I miss you dear Susie, but I know you’re in a place where your mind is whole and your light is radiating so brightly.”

What a beautiful, full life Susie lived. She was by far one of the most influential women I have ever had the pleasure of knowing and learning from. She was a teacher and a leader in everything she did. My favorite lesson she ever taught me was to have an unwavering, unconditional love for your community. She taught me the beauty of baking and sharing bread with those you love. Some of the best days of my life were spent on this farm and I am forever grateful for those hot summer days in the grass and the hay, swimming around in the green lagoon. To know Susie was to love Susie. And that, I always will.”

“I never did get my clay whistle to work, or draw anything that resembled a horse; I did learn how to make bread for a brief period though. But what has stayed me through the years has been the importance of have fun trying new things, family and hard work, the power of music, and loving your neighbor – especially the random foreign ones. I feel blessed to have had Susie as an auntie. I’m not sure she knew how highly I thought of her. I hope she did though… – You are in my thoughts and prayers. I love you all and miss you dearly. Rest in Peace Susie!

“Remembering my mom Susie. She was an exchange student to Japan when she was 16. When my parents moved from England to the US she became an American Field Service (AFS) coordinator which meant she helped students to find host families. We hosted 1-2 exchange students every year of my life. I believe she raised us to be ‘sheltered but cultured.’ When she had children she loved taking us horseback riding and eventually it became a chore – to catch and saddle horses so that we could take guests and visitors on harrowing horse back rides up steep mountains. Mom was always seemingly most content with a baby on her back. Usually while baking bread or making raspberry jam or applesauce. She was a lifelong learner reading Les Miserables unabridged over and over again and devotedly taking violins lessons and practicing diligently up until a year ago. She was an adventurous resilient and tough traveling companion. Everywhere she went we would meet new people, make connections, and try new things. The last big adventure I went on with her was to visit my brother in Argentina – we slept in various and a sundry places including a frigid hostel at the base of Aconcagua. The stories are endless. I will be continuing to reflect and process. I love her. She was a beacon of love and light and I will try to carry on her love.”

One of our missionaries, Alyssa Harrison, grew up in the sheltering love of Susie’s home. We met Alyssa because of Susie. Alyssa was a lonely student at UNC-G looking for mooring, and because of that conference, Susie sent Alyssa to us…. And so the tentacles of a deep and loving community continues to spread.

Who did God make you to be? Be it… through the grace, love and mercy of the One who transforms us into who we were made to be.