Dani's Niche

Family history. A novel idea.


25 Christmas Cards


Christmas card 1949_use

Dad turned off the light that dangled from a beam in his small darkroom under the house. When he switched on the red light it became a magical place, at least in my little girl’s thinking. It smelled of the chemicals that filled several trays on the table. A string of photographs dried overhead. Dad worked with a machine called an enlarger. He lifted wet sheets of paper in and out of the trays. I peered wide-eyed as images slowly materialized on the paper.

For twenty-five Christmases he decided on a design, took the black and white photos with his 35mm camera and developed the negatives, then cut and pasted, printed and hand tinted our family Christmas cards, all before computers and digital cameras and Photoshop.

Dad must have been dreaming when the second year he pictured us sisters peering through a window framed with snow laden flora. As far as I know California’s central coast has never had a white Christmas.

Our cat Sam made his debut one Christmas and the year he died Dad pictured him with wings flying away from us. Over the years the photos changed as siblings were born or left home to raise their own families. The last cards pictured Mother and Dad alone, one showing them pretending to talk on an old crank telephone, keeping in touch with the kids and grandkids and friends, no matter the distance.

I keep an album of the cards. They are a reminder of Dad’s labor of love and that family is a gift to cherish.


The Blacksmith’s Heart

A Friend in Need

The picture hung on the wall in my parents’ living room. Now it hangs in mine in a less gaudy, more fitting frame. The print is dated 1902 and has no other markings but I believe it is from an old painting titled “A Friend in Need”.

I don’t know where my mother acquired it but I can guess why she loved the picture. Her father and grandfather were blacksmiths and her interest in dolls began at a young age when she hand stitched clothes for her small porcelain doll. Years later Mother accumulated an extensive doll collection.

The picture features a white-haired village blacksmith and a little girl with her doll and broken doll carriage. A road leads to a village where the girl’s story begins. The blacksmith’s tools and the large broken wheel tell of his work but the small wheel on the anvil reveals his heart. In the shop the fire burns and the old man has work waiting yet he puts it aside.

The little girl seeks out the one she trusts to help her.

I am poor and needy; Yet the Lord thinks upon me. (Psalm 40:17a)

Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. (I John 5:14)

The old man is an example of how we should bear others’ burdens.

Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. (Philippians 2:4)

We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves. (Romans 15:1)

It is a sweet scene with a happy ending. On the other hand, what if the girl had no one to go to? What if there was no one to mend the wheels, big or small? What if there was no one who cared?  That is the harsh reality for many today. They do not know there is One who cares. The blacksmith in this picture may also represent the Lord God. Numerous Bible verses remind us of His love and care, His mercy and grace.

Just as a father has compassion on his children, So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust. (Psalm 103:13,14)

The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, And saves such as have a contrite spirit. (Psalm 34:18)

Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you. I Peter 5:7)

How much does God care for you?

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)


Do you recognize this painting? Do you know anything about it, especially the artist’s name?

What story would you write?

Does the picture encourage or inspire you?

Counting my blessings,




Danyce pumpkin patch

My husband and I just returned from a research trip to beautiful Wisconsin where friendly residents helped us find answers to many family history questions. We spent tedious hours looking through documents from the mid-1800s at the Driftless Historium in Mt. Horeb and scrolling through microfilm in the archives at the Wisconsin Historical Society in Madison. It was a pleasure to meet new-found relatives including my third cousin who was born in the Stone House on Thanksgiving day 98 years ago (and the doctor stayed for dinner). We also enjoyed reminiscing about Kenya with missionary friends.

It would be wonderful if next harvest, instead of a pumpkin like this one in a Texas field, I’ll have in my hands book three of the Stone’s Hope Series.

Harvest time causes me to reflect on God’s provision in every aspect of my life. I am blessed!

Then shall the earth yield her increase; and God, even our own God, shall bless us. Psalm 67:6


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When the Circus Came to Town

Clyde Beatty Circus conveyance copy

Clyde Beatty left his family’s farm as a teenager to join the circus where he became a famous lion tamer. Later he formed his own circus which traveled by rail with as many as forty animals and the finest circus performers. Between 1947 and 1956 the Clyde Beatty Circus drew large crowds when it rolled into our small agricultural town in California.

When I was four years old my dad told us the circus that summer would be set up on the playing field of the school where he taught, just one block from our house. It was not the tight rope walkers or aerialists, not the clowns, animal acts or sideshows I remember. It was watching the workers set up the huge tent with the help of the elephants.

circus tent and masts_canvas on ground copy


circus tent going up copy

The crew unrolled and stretched out a huge canvas on the ground, then staked it securely with heavy rope. Four tall center masts topped with American flags were hoisted. Then the elephants were led to their places, harnessed with heavy chain attached to the tent. We watched wide-eyed, except Dad who had his movie camera rolling. As the big animals moved slowly forward, each in a different direction, the huge big top rose high off the ground. It still amazes me when I view the old movies of the amazing circus elephants.

elephant pulling up circus tent copy

One year, during a performance when the tent was packed with a cheering crowd, the wind lifted part of the canvas. A large center pole went up with it. The base swung up and crashed into the bleachers about eight feet from spectators. Parents whisked their children out and refused to take them back no matter how much they begged. One terrified child jumped down the back of the bleachers from about six rows up and dove under the tent, right into a pen with a pack of show dogs. That sent her just as quickly back under the flap where her dad grabbed and scolded her. The show went on, but for many the fun was ruined that year.

Sideshow 1950 with Danyce and Dollie and mother copy

Our town has grown and there are fewer lots on which to locate the smaller circuses which come and go every year. There are no more lion and tiger acts or working elephants but one thing has never changed. Excitement is always in the air when the colorful posters go up announcing that the circus is coming to town.



copyright d. gustafson August 2017

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Great Grandmother’s Sewing Basket: A Writer’s View

Great Grandmother’s sewing basket was the “something old” I was given on my wedding day. It is a Victorian sewing basket with silk tassels, old Chinese coins, colorful beads, and Peking glass rings.

sewing basket2

On my wedding day long
I received Great Grandmother’s basket
so I could sew.

With the notions inside I made quilts and
There were also ones for mending

Sometimes a pattern and sometimes
I pinned and cut and measured
the lot.

After stitching and joining with needle and
Sometimes I ripped, something I

I wanted it right, each piece to
So I took my time with every

The thimble helped to push the
And protect the finger so it is

Yet tears did flow and time seemed
slow but
It wasn’t long till I was attaching a

Buttons and snaps and all kinds of fluff
finished it off and I said,

I don’t sew much as I did in the
But the tools are there for mending

I sat down to work on
my novel
And saw my basket in
a different

For making a dress it holds all the
Like the tools for writing, it’s not just the

With paper and pen I start with a
And a hero who gets in trouble
a lot.

I fit the pieces, the story comes
After cutting and stitching, it starts to

All the work, determination and even
Are finally ended, along with my

When my novel is finished
I’ll start
And say to my self,”It’s not such a

Sewing and writing are much the
Both can be fun though they’ll bring no

If you have the tools and also
Sewing and writing can be great

What notions do you think Great Grandmother kept inside her sewing basket?


copyright d gustafson July 2017


A Great American

Use for Blog

My dad was a great American (though not a famous one), a loyal son, husband, father, and patriot. When the U.S. entered World War II in 1941, he was a 36 year old newlywed. He did not hesitate to enlist in the U.S. army where he rose to the rank of captain.

Until his death at 99, Dad proudly flew the American flag from his front porch every day, not just on holidays. He proudly wore the red, white and blue and sometimes a tie that played the tune “God Bless America.” He respected the flag and honored what it stood for.

On this 4th of July as we celebrate our freedoms, let us remember the words of an unknown author:  It is easy to take liberty for granted, when you have never had it taken from you.

In God we trust!


Summertime travel in our Kenskill

Screen Shot 1957 trailer

In the 1950s and 1960s summer was when we packed the trailer and headed east or north from California. Because Dad was a seventh grade teacher, we were able to spend six to eight weeks on the road which became his summer classroom. Dad made learning fun for us four kids as we stopped at all the landmarks, visited friends and relatives, and camped along the road or in state and national parks.

One of Dad’s hobbies was photography. We got tired of posing but those Kodachrome and Ektachrome slides help us remember the hot summer days when we crisscrossed the United States in our matching red and white station wagon and travel trailer.

One scary incident was when the trailer tire blew and made a big hole in the closet. Shoes and clothes littered the highway until Dad could pull over.

The whole family loved our 21 foot Kenskill because it had a toilet and tiny shower and room for all six of us. It afforded “luxuries” we didn’t have with tent camping or with our previous 16 foot trailer. Kenskills, manufactured from 1946 to the mid 70’s, are now sought after vintage trailers. Over the years my husband and I have enjoyed tent camping but as we age and need a bit more comfort for sleeping and convenient kitchen area, we’re seeking an affordable teardrop type trailer. Hint, hint.

Dad picked a beautiful place to pull over for the photo op showing three of us kids with mom. Our five year old brother is wearing the leather lederhosen and Bavarian hat with feather brought from Germany by our older brother when he cycled Europe.

Happy and safe travels to all who are on the road this summer enjoying the sights of our beautiful country.

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See what you missed

walking stick Phasmatidae jpgI must have walked past the dry leafless branch many times.

A friend happened by and spotted something I’d missed. When he reached with his hand, the “twig” climbed onto it. No longer camouflaged, the “twig” was easily recognizable as a walking stick.

Sometimes it takes other people to show me things about myself and the world around me that I cannot discern on my own.

I remember sitting in the midst of hundreds of African high school students not thinking myself different because I saw their faces, not my own. From their perspective it was easy to pick out the only white face in the crowd. I didn’t blend in at all.

Africa was home for over twenty years, but after one particular stretch of five years I returned to spend time with my family and supporting churches. Probably no one noticed nor could sympathize, but I struggled to feel like I fit in with the culture I’d grown up in.

When I consider this interesting insect many lessons come to mind.




blending in

??? (add your own)

Sometimes I get carried away thinking about God’s creation, learning (not always applying) lessons from what He has revealed in the world around me.

But ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee; and the fowls of the air, and they shall tell thee: Or speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee: and the fishes of the sea shall declare unto thee. Who knoweth not in all these that the hand of the Lord hath wrought this? In whose hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind. Job 12:7-10

Fun facts about the Walking Stick (Phasmatodea):
Their size can be less than and inch to over 1 foot in length.
They can regenerate lost limbs.
They are harmless to humans.

(photo taken in eastern Kenya, years ago)


Bicycling adventurers in the 1800s

variety of cyclesRolling hills with challenging climbs, wildflowers, and moderate climate draw bicyclists from near and far to California’s beautiful Central Coast. Major events include The Great Western Bike Rally, the Central Coast Double Century and Eroica California as well as charity rides and the Tour of California which pass through from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

My husband and I are no strangers to the sport. As I write he is climbing the hills not far from our front door. He rides to work and participates in century and double century events. For years I joined him on weekends and for century rides along the coast and alongside landscapes carpeted with wildflowers. We’ve bike camped and participated in week long supported riding in Idaho and Montana.

I was surprised to learn that cycling has been a popular sport in our area since the late 1800s when bicycles were a fairly new mode of transportation. Several times in 1897 and 1898 a young man named Fred Smith rode his bike from Palo Alto to his home in Paso Robles, about 200 miles, in one day. This is a challenge for anyone, even today with our lightweight bikes with 25 speeds, pneumatic tires on paved roads, as opposed to one speed on solid rubber tires over rough dirt roads.

On November 6, 1897, Eddie Kragness, who was riding a bicycle for the Olympic Club of San Francisco, covered the distance between San Francisco and Los Angeles in a little over two days. Fred Smith joined him at Chualar and rode as guide as far as Paso Robles. They rode the railroad ties for several miles because they found that it was easier than riding on the sandy road. At the lunch stop in King City they ordered one dozen soft boiled eggs for their meal. Fred’s brother, Paul, joined them in Paso after dark and they rode together as far as San Luis Obispo. Kragness finished the ride the next day. His record was not broken until sixty years later with the aid of paved roads and improved gearing.Paul Smith on bike with Clark S. Smith

Fred’s brother, Clark, who owned a bike and gun store in town, took four days to ride his 51-inch big wheel from Oakland to Paso Robles. Not the most comfortable mount for such a long journey. Clark’s most memorable competition took place on the 4th of July 1895 when he raced through town against strong competition, having trained by going without ice cream and pedaling to his dad’s ranch each day. The young man took a late lead to win the three mile race and claim the six-dollar prize.

Leave it to the young men to prove their strength by pedaling up hills, endurance by distance riding and speed by racing. For that, times have not changed, but we notice there are many more gray-haired riders enjoying the sport nowadays. Here’s to the health and happiness of all who enjoy pedaling in our great outdoors.

The top photo shows the B.H. Franklin store in Cambria, California, first used as their high school in 1890. Note the various types of bikes and riders. Bicycling was not only a practical means of getting from place to place before automobiles but soon became a popular sport. 
Paul Smith is shown on bike with his brother Clark S. Smith

Photos courtesy of Gary Smith

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Heart of Roses


A  heart of pink roses stood beside the grave of my mother-in-law. On that cool, windy February day we paid our last respects before the coffin was lowered.

Jim and I had already said our good-byes to Mom weeks earlier, but the graveside brought closure to her earthly life. Her legacy might be summarized as Joy in Jesus. Over the years many, including myself, were influenced by her godly example.

Now also when I am old and grayheaded, O God, forsake me not; until I have showed thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to every one that is to come. (Psalm 71:18)

One generation shall praise thy works to another, and shall declare thy mighty acts. (Psalm 145:4)

Not everyone lives to be old and gray-headed, but every one of us will leave this world one day. The older I get, the more days I have to account for how I have used my time, talents, and possessions.

What will I leave behind? Stuff for loved ones to sort through? I hope they don’t keep “things” just because they were special to me. Certainly photographs and written family histories are important to pass down to future generations.

In light of eternity, my greatest desire is for the ones left here to know Jesus as their Savior and Lord. I am a sinner saved by grace. The Lord is the strength of my life. He is faithful and true. His word never fails. Trust and not be afraid. These and many other truths are embedded even in the fiction stories I write because I want others to know that God’s word is the Word of Life. The grass withers, the flower fades (the beautiful heart of roses has already withered), but the Word of our God stands forever. (Isaiah 40:8)

Jim was reciting Mom’s favorite verse as she passed away. I like to think they would be her last words to us. Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the LORD JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation. (Isaiah 12:2)

If pink roses symbolize gratitude, then to me the heart of pink roses represents gratitude for a blessed life on earth and the promise of eternal life with our Lord.


Winter Music

screen-shot-2016-12-09-at-2-56-16-pmIn the 1880’s, Amos and Mary and their ten children (one of whom was my grandmother) celebrated Christmas in Wisconsin without a lot of fuss. On Christmas Eve while the wind blew cold and the snow deepened outside, the younger children would hang their stockings up against the wall behind the kitchen stove. After they went to bed the older ones popped popcorn to put in each stocking along with a red apple. The two oldest, Charley and Lizzie, always tried to have a small gift for their siblings. Mary usually had a pair of cuffs she had knitted for each of her children. They were so happy for those warm cuffs on days when the temperature dropped well below freezing. Simple gifts given in love.

On Christmas morning the children gathered around Amos as he read the Bible account of the birth of the Savior. Weather permitting, they would pile into the wagon and bundle themselves with warm blankets. At the church they sang the carols and listened to a message about God sending His only begotten son to redeem sinful man.

Winter was a bleak time of year. On days when the twelve were housebound they warmed themselves in front of the kitchen stove or the wood heater in the living room. They read, sewed, discussed the past year and shared their hopes for the year ahead. Being cooped up brought moments of conflict, but these did not last long, especially when Mary began to sing her favorite hymn, “When We’ve Been There A Thousand Years.” Charley and George would bring out their violins and each child given opportunity to choose a hymn for all to sing. One year Amos surprised everyone with a pump organ which they gathered around and sang like a choir in full harmony,

No other season was like winter for it was on those coldest and harshest days of the year, when a storm raged outside, that the family enjoyed the sweetest fellowship, safe and cozy inside their little log house. It was the time of winter music.

As if the family had not suffered enough hardship, Amos faces the greatest challenge to his faith as told in Book Three of the Stone’s Hope Series, “Winter Music.” Looking to publish in 2018 (or sooner). The first two volumes,“Stone’s Hope” and “The Stone House” are available in paperback and e-book at amazon.com.

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The country remained divided in the Fall of 1863. During this troubled time in our history, in a speech written by Secretary of State William H. Seward, President Lincoln proclaimed one day to be set aside each year that the  “gracious gifts of the Most High God … be … gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice…” He spoke of God’s mercy and blessings and called on the American people to repent and pray that God would heal the wounds of the nation and restore peace and harmony.
Thanksgiving is an attitude of the heart in appreciation, a recognizing of the giver. Even when I don’t feel thankful, I am always on the receiving end of the Lord’s bountiful blessings. His love and mercy and grace never cease. Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

Happy Thanksgiving!


Photo: Thanksgiving 1950




Just a Moment

falls-at-koa-copyWe pitched our little tent in a grassy meadow (shared with more than a few rabbits). The sound of rushing water drew us a short distance to a waterfall which cascaded like white threads over a rocky cliff. It splashed into a creek to continue its journey rippling over and around rocks and fallen branches.

Every one of my senses came alive as I took in my surroundings. The scene was picture-perfect, the setting a place of rest and contemplation. I found my camera and took several photos.

How often I try to capture moments of beauty and awe, special places, people, and times. But photos are only fading reminders of these. They cannot bring back the actual moments.

My life on earth is made up of moments. Trying to keep hold of a moment is like trying to catch hold of my breath. It might even be my last breath.

The Bible likens a moment to the “twinkling of an eye.” We are urged in 2 Corinthians 6:2 …now is the day of salvation. Now may be all the time you have (if you haven’t already) to accept God’s gift of life through Jesus Christ.

One more thought: Jesus is with me in each of the moments that make up my life, caring and providing for me. Sitting by a quiet stream may give a sense of peace, for a time, but in the midst of trials and uncertainty (which seem to be increasing by the day), my only true peace is of God. I stand on these promises:

Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee. (Isaiah 26:3)

And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7)

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. (John 14:27)


A fire and a hymn

Coyote Fire 1964jpg

It was a sunny September day. Two weeks before, my parents had left me at a beautiful college in the forested hills of Santa Barbara.  Freshman orientation was underway. Our initiation turned out to be more frightening than any upperclassman could have planned.

When I first saw the smoke it was miles away. Later, standing with other students, I saw that the fire was quickly spreading across the hills. It was no respecter of  persons as it ravished mansions which housed expensive art collections as well as rustic hideaways. The flames moved closer to the school as we waited anxiously for the order to evacuate.

Cars started pulling up to our old timbered dorm. A student opened the trunk of his car. The thought of losing even my few belongings horrified me. I grabbed an armful of clothes on hangars and stuffed them into the car. The student drove my roommates and me to a fancy hotel that offered to house us. We stood in an elevator with a finely dressed woman who owned an estate with a mansion surrounded by manicured gardens. The fire left her with no home. She took refuge in the hotel with her overnight case in hand.

At night we watched from the balcony in horror at the sunset colors on a destructive path across the hills. Would there be a college to return to?

We did return. A small men’s dorm was lost and there was damage to the beautiful grounds but the school survived. There were stories of bravery among the men students who fought off the flames to save their school. One spark landed beside my dorm and lit a tree but someone was there to extinguish it.

The first day back on campus the whole student body came together to praise God. We sang “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” a familiar hymn but now with new meaning. I have never heard it sung, before or since, with such emotion.

Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided —
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!

I learned to not set my heart on material things. Even if those are lost, God is still faithful. His love never ends. He gives me peace and His presence is ever with me to cheer and guide. He gives strength for today, hope for tomorrow. His mercies are new every morning. God does not give me what I deserve. He gives what I don’t deserve. In spite of my sinfulness and shortcomings, He shows compassion. Every day He blesses me in new ways.

Shortly after the Coyote fire, a speaker at morning chapel challenged us to think about what we wanted to do with our lives once we graduated. For me that was still a long four years away, but I signed a card that said I was willing to go and do whatever the Lord wanted me to.

Just before graduation, I received that same card in the mail reminding me of my commitment. I was graduating with a degree in elementary education and I had committed to serving the Lord as a missionary to Africa.

A few months later I boarded a TWA jet that took me to Africa where I served the Lord for 20 years, having to trust Him for all my needs.

Singing the words of that wonderful hymn always fills me with praise and wonder at His leading in my life. Great is His faithfulness!

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee,
Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not,
As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be.

Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above;
Join with all nature in manifold witness,
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside.

Lyrics by Thomas O. Chisholm, 1923
Based on Lamentations 3:23

Referred to as “Five Days of Hell,” the Coyote Fire destroyed more than 100 homes, including many beautiful Montecito estates, and burned over 100 square mile of Los Padres National Forest.

postcard photo by Peter Fisher

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My next historical fiction book coming September 2016!


First reveal of my second book of the Stone’s Hope series to be released September 2016!

The whole cover, front and back together, will show the entire painting by artist Billy Jacobs. His depiction of a stone house symbolizes the heart of the story about a family who leaves a life of poverty in England to homestead in America. Through hardship they learn about building their lives on a foundation of faith.

Follow this website and Facebook at “stoneshopeanovel” for updates regarding the September launch date and to view photos of the real house and setting. Please share with friends and family!


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Convict in the Family

For years I thought it was a poem about friendship. Then I made a stunning discovery.


Oh, the comfort–
The inexpressible comfort of feeling
safe with a person,
Having neither to weigh thoughts,
Nor measure words–but pouring them
All right out–just as they are–
Chaff and grain together–
Certain that a faithful hand will
Take and sift them–
Keep what is worth keeping–
and with a breath of kindness
Blow the rest away.

Sometimes attributed to author George Eliot as a poem about friendship, this quote is from chapter 16 of Dinah Craik’s novel, “A Life for Life,” published in 1859.  Its context was a talk about capital punishment! The discussion took place on a Sunday after the minister had spoken out against the death penalty. In those days a person could be put to death for theft of items valued over a shilling (a fair day’s wage.) The accused could only hope for a compassionate jury or judge.

The character of Ben Stone (a pseudonym) in my historical novel, “Stone’s Hope,” is based on my great great grandfather’s brother who faced such a decision.

It was the winter of 1843. Work was hard to come by for the ailing 30 year old day laborer. His three children and pregnant wife were hungry. Ben once worked for a widow and her son who had sheep. He thought they would not miss one little ewe lamb, so he took it, skinned and gutted it, then brought it home for Zillah to cook. On the last day of the year, the family enjoyed what was to be their last meal together. The next day the constable, and the widow’s son who suspected Ben, came to search the cottage. Mutton parts found in an earthen pot matched a discarded skin. Ben was taken to prison and his family was left to endure a long cold winter and the rest of their lives without him.

The law stated: ‘If any person, after the first day of May, seventeen forty-one, shall feloniously drive away or in any manner feloniously steal any sheep, or shall willfully kill one or more sheep, with intent to steal the whole or any part of the carcasses, the person or persons so offending shall suffer death, without benefit of clergy.’

By law, the judge had every right to punish the convict by death, but it was a common crime, committed under dire circumstances. The judge, believing his judgment to be humane and lenient, mercifully declared Ben guilty then sentenced him to Van Dieman’s Land for fifteen years hard labor. He escaped death, but he was as good as dead to his family.

Four months after sentencing and languishing in a filthy prison cell, he boarded the Maria Somes in London for the 97 day voyage to Tasmania.  Of 262 convicts aboard the vermin infested, overcrowded and filthy convict ship, two died. Those who survived reached Oyster Bay malnourished and disheartened. Treated as slaves they began long years of hard labor in work gangs.
wikimedia commons
Source Pinterest—Van Diemen’s Land Steam Co.

Ben worked a year and nine months probation in the work gang before being assigned to two different farmers over the course of five years without pay or the right to marry or own land.

After seven years, convicts were permitted to marry even though they might have spouses living in England. The Government encouraged marriage between convicts as it was seen as a means of rehabilitation.

He was granted a Ticket of Leave which meant he could not own land, had to report to authorities regularly, worship each Sunday, and be confined to a named area.  In 1853 Ben was granted a Conditional Pardon. He was treated as a free person as long as he remained in the colony.

Transportation of convicts from England to Australia ended in 1857, a year before Ben’s term would have expired.  By then about 40 percent of the English-speaking population of Australia consisted of transported convicts.

I have not found any documentation for Ben after his pardon. Did he marry? Have a family? Think about his fatherless family in England? Did he have a long life? Short life? Did he find peace? Forgiveness?

After learning the context of the quote, its words seem to speak of mercy rather than friendship. The judge sifted the chaff from the grain and showed a breath of kindness, thus saving Ben from death. The widow and her son whose lamb Ben took, however, were not merciful. They could have given the destitute family a Christmas lamb. Instead, their actions tore a family apart.

It reminds me of another Lamb who, in mercy and love, paid with His death for the punishment we deserve. May you be encouraged by these words today.

The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. John 1:29 KJV

For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. 2 Corinthians 5:21 KJV

But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) Ephesians 2:4-5 KJV

Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:16 KJV

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Would You Cross Here?


Getting to a village in Africa usually meant turning off a dirt road and driving through areas of scrub bush, weaving around thorn bushes, boulders, and across sandy, muddy, or swollen rivers. Signposts were trees, a rock outcrop, or a lone mud-walled duka.

With so many thorn trees, punctured tires were common. After a rain my little VW sometimes got stuck in deep, sticky mud or slid across a road of slick, black cotton soil. My biggest fear was getting safely to the other side of a flowing river or muddy stream. If I attempted to cross, would my car and I be swept downstream or swallowed by thick mud?

Was the water flowing fast and high? Had other vehicles like mine safely crossed in the last few minutes? Were there people I could ask? Should I change direction and go another way? If there was no other way, should I wait or return to where I started?

On one occasion a man stood in the river waving me on. My hands gripped the wheel and I focused on my guide who walked ahead on a submerged concrete slab. I did not turn my head to look upstream or downstream at the flowing water. Once I committed there was no turning around. I just kept moving slowly forward, praying my car would not stall or slip off the narrow slab.

God allows us to make choices on the road of life in which there are many crossings. Do we rush into the water without counsel or asking questions? Do we test the waters, then choose to risk what we know is a bad decision? In that case we might begin the crossing, then realize our foolishness but can’t turn back. We must suffer the consequence.

Unlike crossing a river in Africa, in life there is always One who knows what is best. Sometimes we must go through deep waters. The Lord waits to guide us, for us to trust His direction and His promises.

Isaiah 43:2  (KJV) When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee …

James 1:5 (KJV) If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.

Deut 31:8 KJV And the LORD, he it is that doth go before thee; he will be with thee, he will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed.

Proverbs 11:14 KJV Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety.

VW crosses Kenya  river 81

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Beauty in the Darkness

This month my friend Helena Weltz shares a personal story. We met as young, single teachers at a girls’ secondary school in Kenya. Later she moved to a remote desert location where she taught children and adults to read and write. She also held sewing classes for mothers so their children would have clothes to wear in school. Now living in Canada, Helena enjoys crafts, sewing, knitting and writing. Always ready to help and encourage others, she and her husband lead a grief support group. This story is one of many lessons she learned in Africa.

night-blooming flower

It was dark as we walked along the path on our compound. No street lights or yard lights illuminated the footpath, but the starry sky was bright with a nearly full moon. My co-worker, Bertha, experienced and knowledgeable in many aspects of the tropics, had brought her flashlight along with a camera.
Earlier that day Bertha had noticed that the night-blooming shrub, not far from our house, had buds on it; one bud looked ready to come into full bloom. I am not sure whether it was a moon flower plant or an angel’s trumpet. No one seemed to be certain of its name. Now we were on our way to view beauty in the darkness. Bertha shone the bright flashlight in the direction of the plant. Yes, there was the flower – white, large and fragrant. The bloom was perhaps four or five inches across.  We admired its silent, inconspicuous beauty.
The next morning as I walked to class, I stepped over to take another look at this plant. The only sign that there had indeed been a beautiful blossom was a small withered, closed vestige of a flower. It was hard to comprehend that it had been gorgeous and appealing just hours earlier.
I wondered if this plant had wasted its fragrance and its beauty. Quite likely Bertha and I had been the only ones to witness this one-time occurrence of its blossoming. Any of its flowers bloomed only at night and only one night. I began to think that this night-blossoming plant in its quiet, unassuming manner had a lesson to teach us:
First, our God is a God of beauty. Even if none of us had witnessed this plant in full bloom. God, who sees all things and has created the flowers of the field, must surely have enjoyed this delightful sight, His own creation.
Second, God has given us gifts to develop, to stretch and to unfold. My giftedness may not be sensational or spectacular, but just as God asked Moses to use his less than eloquent manner of speaking, he did great things with what God had given to him. I believe God expects me to use my gifts to the best of my ability to serve Him. The wise man, Solomon recorded, whatever your hand finds to do, verily, do it with all your might; (Eccl. 9:10)
We used to sing a little song in Sunday school that encouraged us to do our best even if it is in the darkness:

Jesus bids us shine, with a clear, pure light.
Like a little candle burning in the night;
In this world of darkness we must shine,
You in your small corner and I in mine.


Tattered and stained.

missionary cookbooks

Our neighbor gave us lemons. So, though I don’t bake much anymore (for healthier living), I pulled a cookbook off the shelf for a lemon bar recipe. Tattered and held together with a rubber band, it and two others were mainstays in my kitchen for many years in Africa. They are unique cookbooks because their recipes call for simple, basic ingredients. I depended on them when we had no access to processed or pre-packaged foods I now take for granted. Nowadays I go to them for favorite or international recipes.

When I open these books I see smudges and stains, and like perusing an album of memories, I recall special events, calamities and critters in the kitchen, friends, and much more of my life in Africa.

These cookbooks bring to mind the time when I had to live with less, making do with what we had. Today I have more and must choose to live with less. My neighbor gave me lemons, so now I’m going to get busy making those lemon bars to share.