July 27, 2009

Be strong and courageous and get to work. Don’t be frightened by the size of the task, for the Lord my God is with you; He will not forsake you. He will see to it that everything is finished correctly. 1 Chronicles 28:20

I’m going to be the first Artist-in-Residence at Homestead National Monument in Nebraska this fall!

And just what is this unit of the National Park Service about? Why, the Homestead Act of 1862, of course!

Perhaps you don’t really recall much about this important piece of legislation, so let me jog your memory. The Homestead Act was instrumental in opening up the American West, as it offered free land to citizens and intended citizens, including immigrants, single women and African-Americans. Eventually, over 270 million acres in 30 states—10% of the area of the United States—were turned over from the federal government to private owners, especially in the Plains.

The Act, signed into law at the beginning of the Civil War, also was a stroke of genius by Congress and President Lincoln. The rapid expansion of the West by those unlikely to have slaves or vote to become a slave state meant more people on the Union side.

Naturally, the offer of 160 acres came with a few stipulations. A prospective homesteader first paid a filing fee to claim the land, and then had to build a home and grow crops on it, both requirements to “prove up” the claim.  After five years, the pioneer needed to get two neighbors or friends willing to vouch for his improvements, fill out a final form and pay another fee. Only then did he or she receive the deed to the property.

As you might imagine, the lure of free land bumped up against the reality of actually settling it. Tornadoes, blizzards, a scarcity of water, and lack of money to buy equipment and supplies—not to mention people who hadn’t a clue what they were doing—meant that of the two million individual homestead claims filed over the Act’s 123-year history, only about 783,000 (approximately 40%) were successful.

But just think how proud and happy those victorious claimants were! Many framed their deed and hung it prominently in their house. They had survived five long years of sweat and labor, worry and hardship, to achieve the American dream of a place to call their own.

David’s last instructions to the Israelites in 1 Chronicles 28 were to build the Temple. He knew it would be a huge undertaking that his son Solomon would have to oversee after David’s death. But he also knew it could be done, because not only had God commissioned the work, He had promised His help in carrying it out (1 Chronicles 22:7-10).

When the Lord gave me the idea for this blog, I was excited, but soon flooded with a sense of inadequacy. Who am I to set myself up as some sort of authority on national parks and especially the Bible, I thought.  I recalled the verse that says teachers will face stricter accountability (James 3:1) and gulped. I agonize over every post, always wondering whether it’s Biblically sound, coherent enough, too self-indulgent or just plain stupid. I may not be eking out an existence under a broiling Midwestern sun, but I’m sweating over my computer!

I feel strongly that God has given me this mission, and that He’s supplying me with all I need to fulfill the assignment, despite my uncertainties. Fortunately, I still retain that initial enthusiasm for and pleasure in the work I put into researching and writing this blog (and my other writing…well, at least most of the time…), and I pray you’re blessed by the results.

And how about you? What job has God called you to do? Do you feel unequal to the task?

If so, welcome to the club!

Don’t let the hardships deter you. Plunge in and see how God will “prove up” your claim.

There’s victory at the end of the long haul…and a deed hanging on the wall of a heavenly mansion with your name on it (John 14:2, 3).


  1. April Lorier says:

    You’re a writer, I’m a writer. That’s a clue as to what our gift is. Seems like God wouldn’t give us a gift if He didn’t expect us to use it! (Parable of the Talents) But I like that you were asking God to search your heart and reveal any thing that shouldn’t be there, like wrong motivation. That’s very cool and very God-honoring!

  2. Julie says:

    Be encouraging! Yes you are my friend! Thanks for jogging my memory as I thought about homestead rebates and not the real meaning lol. So many brave folk with a purpose in mind of creating a Home-even in the wilderness…yet enduring, believing and faithfully plunging forward just as we must do as Christians-being faithful and working at it. I pray my daughter dare to find her destiny as some people are afraid of the possibilites. Another great blog Penny!

  3. Joanne says:

    I heard a thought provoking message by Ray Pritchard a couple of summers ago on the life of Joseph. It is absolutely amazing how God worked through his life and life circumstances to bring him to a point where God could shine through his life. As you so wonderfully illustrate, God entrusts so much to us. What we otherwise can not do, we are able to do as He works and moves in us.
    I look forward to seeing and hearing about your time in Nebraska. By the way, I need a cup of tea…not bush tea 🙂

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