Story, Value, and Becoming More Real
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A Letter for Leslie ~ Present Tense

April 14, 2023

Lancia E. Smith

Leslie Anne Bustard has graced the pages of Cultivating since January of 2020, ever a joy within our fellowship of makers. Vivacious, kind, wildly generous, faithful, and the most passionate person I have ever known with the love of art, a true champion of those who make it. Leslie embodies the life of a cultivator ~ one who chooses life and cultivates it even at cost, for herself and for others. She makes beauty out of suffering, and merriment out of the ordinary. Leslie won victory over her battle with cancer this morning and, just before dawn, crossed the threshold into the presence of I AM, there to receive her promised reward & rest.

The following is my letter to Leslie before she journeyed Home. 


Beloved Leslie,

There are things I wish I would have said sooner and more openly to you when we had some opportunity to talk. We were going to talk more after you got through the Ordinary Saints Conference and had a little more energy. I wanted to tell you how much I love you, how grateful I am for your good company, your fierce generosity, your buoyancy, your kindness, and your courage. I wanted to tell you how important you are to Cultivating, and to The Cultivating Project. I wanted to tell you about a book project idea I have for us and tell you how much I love the way “Cultivating the Sacred Ordinary” turned out and how glad I am that you pressed on for that to be done. Thank you. Mostly though, I wanted to tell you how proud I am of you and how in awe.   

Do you remember when I said, “Leslie, you really are one of the most glittering of twinkles. So much more than you know. There are few people in this world who just the thought of makes me smile. You are one of them.” 

You are such a gloriously defiant soul. You are like the hound of Heaven, hunting out beauty and finding it, then heralding it in the streets. A broad seeder throwing out seeds of glory far & near, passing no judgement on where those seeds land. Kind to all, faithful, brave, and true. More than anyone, you remind me of Sarah Smith in The Great Divorce. Everyone who meets you is in some way bettered. It is perhaps your truest superpower. That, your extraordinary capacity to care, and your irresistible, effervescent laugh. 

When we first started writing to each other three and a half years ago, right after you joined The Cultivating Project, you wrote me saying, 

“I have been not feeling brave but weary. I have so many people praying and encouraging me. The other day Annie was checking on me and sharing things, and then Corey and I were sharing prayers and struggles – you, Annie, he, and Kris, and then so many people at home and abroad are praying and giving me such kind words. That is keeping me going. But recently when I get quiet I get overwhelmed by what is in me and what a fight I have ahead. And so many have shared my faith is an encouragement to them. I am grateful but I don’t always feel strong or filled with faith. Sometimes I feel rather hallow. But I know this is all going to be a journey with ups and downs. God does keep breaking in and pointing me to Himself.”

Later you wrote me,

“Thank you for your good words today. I needed to be reminded why I am part of Cultivating because I feel so empty right now. I have no creative energy or head space and everything that makes me ‘me’ in what I do is gone, and even if it wasn’t, I wouldn’t be able to steward it because I feel so tired. Today I woke afraid I would feel this way forever – or at least for the next year while I fight cancer. I do have a germ of a thought that everything right now is being stripped away from me and hopefully what will be left is me finding Jesus to really be my all and all – to be satisfied by His love and presence in my life in ways I never have. That being His child will define me and nothing else.”

Oh, dear heart. When you cross the threshold and take up your residence in the everlasting, you will still be you, but all of you. You will have shed your chrysalis. No layers of earth’s ragged marks hindering, no sins weighing down your buoyant spirit, no worn out body bearing illness and evidence of the curse. You will be you, completely, wholly, beautifully you, laughing your glorious laugh. You will twinkle all the more twinkly, crowned in glory. You will be fully and truly present tense. I  will not speak or write about you ever in past tense, because in Christ, you live. In Christ, you are, not were. For Peter and myself in our own practices, we will continue to speak of you in present tense. You are not – not – simply because you have slipped the ‘surly bonds of earth’ and we cannot see you. You have left all kinds of breadcrumbs for all of us to follow, and a bounty of Beauty as proof of God’s holy goodness. Art is your torch, Leslie, and you have blessed it as you have passed it along to us to carry onward.  

Remember when I told you this?

It is a certain light in the eyes that is the telltale mark of a Cultivator. 

Your eyes always belie the truth of what you know ~ they sparkle with a secret knowing of glorious realms, and perhaps somewhere deep inside you knew that you would get Home to them sooner than some of rest of us. That secret merriment in your eyes reminds me of beloved others where I have seen that twinkle – Michael Ward always looks to me to know a merry secret and knows not to take this world too seriously. Malcolm Guite’s eyes sparkle without veil or apology, glinting with hint and evidence of his fierce and wild knowing of the wider world to which we are going. With pen as sword, in mild mannered disguise he soldiers on to remind us, and bear witness. Diana Glyer’s eyes glimmer with that light, through a gossamer veil of sorrow and wisdom. Ned’s eyes~ brave, wise, and kind, dance looking beyond the veil and seeing the Great Morning rising there. Like a voice or an accent in a certain language, I see that telltale twinkle in the eyes of every Cultivator. Each one individual and each the same. Kindred. Yours sparkle not only with knowing, but also in reflection, seeing it too in the eyes of  your kindred sparkling back to you. We each bear that mark of Light. We carry yours with us now, cherishing it like a brilliantly lit candle held bravely against the dark.

It is courage, love, and hope. 

You named your book of poetry after Psalm 27.13. That verse has been shelter and anchor to me for fifty years. When I saw the title, it reflected how very kindred we really are. What could be more personal than our clinging to these words?

[What, what would have become of me] had I not believed that I would see the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living! 

Ah, the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Now there is mystery, isn’t it? Right now what our lives are is all wrong. The world as we see it today is just terribly wrong. You have brain cancer that medicine cannot cure and will see Heaven before I do though I am the elder of us. So little about our two stories is right for all the reasons that we know. Grief is compounded upon grief. Sorrow upon sorrow. It is not just a convenient theological explanation to say we live in broken bodies in a fallen world. We are living in the conditions of that full-fleshed reality every day. Your friend Karen Fletcher Smith said rightly – Cancer is a thief. Yes, some days are worse than others, but even the most beautiful, the days that seem less tinged with the curse that covers creation, even those sweet days are fragile and incomplete. There are shadows and stains. Anxiety and fear stir on the borderlands of our minds. Unforgiveness lurks in the background of our whole host of relationships. At any moment any of our lives could be completely shattered a thousand different ways. What courage it takes to believe we will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! 

I know that David meant this world while he was in mortal flesh when he wrote those words – the land of the living. But in truth the land of our real living is beyond the far horizon of this world. You prayed the prayer of Hekiziah asking for more time on earth. I prayed for that with you hoping for it to be made so. But I prayed it for mostly selfish reasons because I wanted you to stay. I wanted you to stay before I could accept how much better The Lord’s plans for you are. The Lord God Almighty Who loves you so profoundly and listens so intently to our prayers, has said in His infinite tenderness, “I will give you more life and better life, infinitely more glorious and beautiful life.” And through the great tears in His eyes, Leslie, there is also that wild triumphant merriment, the same in fact that I see in yours. Why? Because, dear heart, He knows this is not the end. 

Now we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who are asleep, so that you may not grieve like the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Yeshua died and rose again, so with Him God will also bring those who have fallen asleep in Yeshua.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14, TLV

Yet, here is what we both know. How could it have ever been said truer than this? Haven’t we both always known it somehow, saw the glimpses of it in all the things we love, but know the glimpse is but the glimmer of Light we have yet to enter? Have not all of our lives been a learning to expand the boundaries of our understanding of both goodness and the land of the living? Even of Love itself? In our best moments, or those of deepest need, we catch glimpses of what ought to be amidst the presence of all that should not.

“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthy pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. … I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and help others to do the same.” C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Besides that telltale twinkle in our eyes, two things ever mark us as cultivators. Hope and the bone-deep courage that follows it. Truly, Leslie, we are people of hope, even when our hearts are breaking. We are Cultivators. No strangers to sorrows and griefs are we. We will weep in your absence from earth, and I suspect for a long time. How can we not? But part of our calling and part of our healing rests in our picking up elements of your twinkle and, like lit-torches, carry those elements onward for ourselves, and for each other. We will read this and, whether loud or in a whisper, repeat it as our reminder,

“And the ship went out into the High Sea and passed on into the West, until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.” J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings – Book VI Chapter 9 – “The Grey Havens”

Rest well, Leslie Anne, my sweet twinkle, and may you rise in great glory. This is not the end. It is only the beginning of the best chapter! We will see you again at Home in our true country, a far green country under a swift sunrise. I love you so. 

The featured image of Leslie Anne Bustard is courtesy of Lancia E. Smith and used with her glad permission for Cultivating. 

It was made May 28, 2022 at dinner together in the Black Forest, Colorado celebrating Lancia’s 67th birthday. It was a gloriously happy time! 

This is a poem I have always loved and is fitting for Leslie. You can find a wealth of Poetry at the Poetry Foundation

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds,—and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of—wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air ….
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark nor ever eagle flew—
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

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  1. Kris Camealy says:

    Oh my heart! These words, and the vision I have in my imagination of Leslie reading them over my shoulder, brings tears. She left her mark on our hearts, and we are the better for it.

  2. Kris, thank you my sweet friend. It is for us now to carry some measure of Leslie’s beauty forward along with our own. I find myself thinking more this morning about Colossians 3.2-4 ~ “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” How might we be mindful to love better and each be the more ready to reach out to one another? And I do hope Leslie is able to read over your shoulder! You both are so loved!

  3. Lori Tischler says:

    Beautiful, Lancia.
    Yes, she still is.

  4. Thank you, Lori. 🙂

  5. Emily says:

    I am just so sad for all of you who are missing your beloved friend ❤️.
    I pick up her words trusting that God will continue to pour into all of you Cultivators the hope and beauty that you all, like Leslie, so generously offer to us.

  6. Emily, thank you with all my heart. You are truly such a blessing to all of us. I consider you “a fellow cultivator serving in the wild!” So much love to you, dear heart!

  7. Laura Brown says:

    Thank you for letting those of us who never met her (but may have interacted online) to get to know her better, and for the Scripture reference in your response to Kris. Yes.

  8. Thank you, Laura, for your kind comment and taking the time to leave it. I am grateful for your presence here.

  9. Yvonne Reitsma says:

    Dear Lancia,
    My heart goes out to you. Have been touched by your deep grief, sincerity, letter to Leslie. Thank you! The Lord has led me somehow to ‘Cultivating’. You are the gifted founder. Leslie therein one of the gifted Cultivators inspiring, sowing seeds, bringing hope, encouragement, witness, growth. This place, a place to think, drink deep, be richly blessed, challenged, pray over and for each. The Cultivating Project, the people therein, truly beautiful, truly to the glory of God. Thank you! May He strengthen you through these times, continue to grant you wisdom, health for the journey in which He placed each of us. I remain in awe of your work, the Cultivators themselves, listening, seeing the good, beautiful and true.

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