Squeezing the Essence of Life

The value of the myth is that it takes all the things we know and restores to them the rich significance which has been hidden by “the veil of familiarity”. The child enjoys his gold meat (otherwise dull to him) by pretending it is buffalo, just killed with his own bow and arrow. And the child is wise. The real meat comes back to him more savoury for having been dipped in a story; you might say that only then is it the real meat. If you are tired of the real landscape, look at it in a mirror. By putting bread, gold, horse, apple, or the very roads into a myth, we do not retreat from reality: we rediscover it. As long as the story lingers in our mind, the real things are more themselves.” – C.S. Lewis[1]

Squeezing the essence out of life, clenching between our fists that material by which we are to be enriched, too often we fail to allow room for that which we cannot control by grasp and might to flow as it should. I’ve heard many times of Bible studies, the reading of the entire Bible in ninety days, as more of a corporal punishment than something by which one can be refreshed and filled with the Holy Spirit- rather, it becomes a monotonous lecture of words through which we tire, losing focus on what God is meaning to speak into our lives. We check off the box, saying how much we have accomplished, yet in the grand scheme of things, we’ve only spent time in the Word superficially, leaving the best morsels on the table, thinking that we have bettered ourselves when fooling ourselves was the only success obtained in the struggle.

Finding life in the every day things, the beauty of God’s creation is similar in aspect. When allowed, that which is beyond our comprehension comes into our thoughts as creative decorations, adorning the journal upon the table before us, presenting itself as something more than just a paper and pen, but a pathway into a magical journey through the mystical realm of the mind’s imagination. Squeezing the life of every waking minute of the day shouldn’t be one of tireless pursuit of money or labor to the point we become weary of living. Rather, we should embrace the breath of air in our lungs as another opportunity to find that secret cove beyond the next bend in the forest trail to which we seek – its magical discovery unfolding a world to which we have yet to discover, exhaling the very essence of the Spirit into our soul.

Last night, the dream began with something of a defensive posturing against something unseen, something dark and sinister. We were to dig large holes, much like one might find with a crawdad hole, albeit without the tower of mud, but more like the forty-five-degree angle of the hole in the ground the size that would capture an alligator or animal similar in size. These holes we dug were in water about waste deep. After setting up, we then pulled the craft in which we worked onto shore on a roughly paved landing. It looked like something someone would have done by hand, shaping the pavement in handfuls of tar-covered rocks, then smoothing them with the palm – lumpy, uneven, but useful, in that the traction gained was better than a smooth surface that would become slick with water.

Later, the old general store, or what was left of it, came to mind. From the darkness, I approached a dimly lit counter area. Nothing else was visible, like a beacon on the shoreline, it was all there was. Behind the counter, the shelves stocked with the normal old country store wares. Before the counter, under the shadow of the protruding edge, sat bags of beans and small barrels of smoked fish and crackers. There was a poorly constructed chicken coop built behind and around the counter as if it were the support structure for the loosely wound chicken wire. It appeared it had either been constructed in haste, or by someone ignorant in the methods of building a chicken coop. Predators were a major concern, either by myself or the proprietor in charge. During the day, the chickens were allowed to walk around, in and out the front door, around the store, or wherever they wanted to roam. But when dusk came, we hurriedly sought the poultry to put back into their cage of protection. This anxiety seemed to become the overriding theme of the dream in that when I awoke, there was a feeling of anxiousness – not being able to keep up with mortality induced by foxes, coons, and coyotes.

Knowing that the F3 group would be at Local Lion, which was my initial destination for the day, taking up the majority if not all of the parking spaces, my drive was intentionally slowed by my own intentions, giving the F3 gang time to disperse. Taking my time, the commute was much more enjoyable. Along the way, the concept of allowing the story to dwell within the reality before me added to the beauty of the coming dawn – giving life to those inanimate structures that we see day after day. Their stories allow for richer perceptions to flow, and with that, something greater than the superficial observation begins to surface. As Lewis put it, “the veil of familiarity,” when removed, allows for the richness of the essence of significance something once had to return to its former glory, penetrating through the persistent glaze of rust brought on by daily wear. Finding the will to perceive that concept is not easy. Alone, we are incapable of doing such, or at best, vaguely successful. Some turn to exterior inspiration in a drink or otherworldly narcotics that supposedly enlighten one’s soul. Yet, in the end, their reputation exceeds their benefit causing their partaker to faulter. Had they only found the source of true spiritual rejuvenation, they would have known that the world cannot save them nor provide for them in ways that seem to bring out the creativity they seek. It is only when we find Him, and imbibe of His Spirit, do we truly find the well from within that sates those inspirational draughts, reviving our spirit with His.

As long as the story, so to speak as Lewis wrote, dwells within us, those majestic peaks of that morning drive become even more supernatural. Their heights become legendary, and their impressive veil reflecting the coming sunrise only speak more of what we have in store that awaits, should we continue to keep Him in our heart. The day is young, and the story has yet to unfold; answer when he asks, “Whom shall I send,” with, “Send me,” and so it shall be.

The journey awaits.

[1] On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature. Copyright © 1982, 1966 by C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

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The Painter’s Touch

Blessed be the Lord, who hath not given us as a prey to their teeth. Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers: the snare is broken, and we are escaped. Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” – Psalm 124:6-8

The painter dips the brush into the medium, just enough, so that the paint covers the fine hair to his satisfaction. Minutes before, he carefully mixed the paint to the desired color with which to apply to the painting upon which he works. Then with care, and with an eye to the canvas as a whole, he determines where this stroke will land. With the touch of the Master’s hand, the spirit passes through the arm, the wood of the brush, through the paint, and into the viscosity of life of color before him. There, in the presence of light, the image becomes a living, breathing story, both from the inspiration of the creator and the soul of the one to whom it dwells within. The interaction continues, again and again, a dance of perpetual admiration until the painting is complete. Once finished, the many colors afforded the pallet of life become the vivid conceptualization of the artists love of his Creator – a dedication from the child to the Father.

Free to fly as intended, the spirit becomes one with its Creator, allowing the beauty intended to manifest itself into beautiful replicas of the Master’s loving hand. Freedom of the soul, to escape the bounds of the fowler’s snare, as one being freed from the bondage of sin, allows for the spirit to dwell in peace with the Savior. The two, when walking as one, are more than a light to the world in which the mortal dwells. They become a beacon of hope, through the Son’s sacrificial act, giving of himself, he who knew no sin became sin, so that the world may be saved from theirs, hope is given unto all mankind. It is theirs, those created in His image, to seek should their hearts so desire.

The craving to know something greater than themselves comes as the artist finds that moment in time, that perfect sunset, that alluring snowscape, or the beautiful laugh of a child, to inspire their next work of art. May we each find time today to go out into the world, seeking, searching for that snapshot of flowing ethereal life that plays out before us, capturing it for the moment into our heart, and in that instance, find the inspiration to seek one greater than all, so that we too may know Him.

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The Path of Doubt

Ergos found himself standing at a point in the trail, and at a time, when the light of day was quickly retreating behind the mountain.  There was an urgency to press forward, but a fear of the unknown not being in control of his situation caused him to pause.  He knew from the map that his destination was somewhere ahead, but in the back of his mind, as if something that was to be kept at bay, returned the urge to go back the way he had come.  Under his breath, he prayed to God to help him find his way.  But those divine requests had no more left his lips when, in just a few more steps forward, he stopped and turned around.  Doubts began to flood his mind.  “What would those whom he told God had called him say?  Would he become a joke, a horrible representation of what happens when you become a Jesus freak?  Giving up would be saying that what he thought was his calling was a misunderstanding.  Would this diminish his faith?” Like a torrential cold rain, the thoughts kept flowing until, at last, Ergos gave into that suffocating desire to allow his known path to lure him back.

As he regretfully began to retrace his steps, he quickly became aware of a phenomenon he had not anticipated – the pathway started to close in as if the forest was supernaturally reclaiming his only course of retreat.  Ergos pushed into the oppressive briars and brambles until it became apparent that this was no longer sustainable, and gave up.  He now had no choice but to turn around once more and endure the daunting prospect of entering that dreaded unknown.  As his footsteps led him forward, the intimidating darkness shrouding his pathway found a friend in his realization that there was no going back.  The doors he thought would remain open, his safety net, were now closed, no longer accessible.  When he chose to embark upon this journey, he had never thought he would ever consider giving up, although its prospect was like an arrow in his quiver, there if needed but kept in reserve just in case, but it was now gone, removed against his will.

Suddenly, a greater resolve struck his heart.  That calling that had been there from the beginning returned, the voice now louder than ever before, “Why do you doubt when you know that I will take care of you if you would only give all of yourself to me.” He paused, hands on his hips gathering himself.  As he did, Ergos felt a momentary tingling pulsate from the bottom of his boots, slowing growing like that of a wave washing over the shore until it reached the top of his head.  The sensation of a mighty hand enveloping his being came over him, cradling him in the safety of its palm.  Ergos didn’t believe that faith in the Holy Spirit required something physical, yet there it was, that undeniable sensation of something comforting him.  Then, he realized a change in the forest around him.  The gray darkness began to change as the light began to flow from another source.  His eyes followed the transition from the tip of his boots going forward finding a gentle glow illuminating the pathway ahead as the moon was rising just below the edge of the dark mountain above.  Like a strand of silver ribbon, the way forward beckoned as the hope in a dark world.

No matter the outcome of what the future held, from that moment forward, Ergos never looked back.  In his heart, he knew that God was with him and that through every trial and hardship, no matter how bleak the night became, his Father in Heaven would be there with him.

And I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand.  My Father, who gave them to Me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of My Father’s hand.” – John 10:28-29

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Adrift at Sea

You never know what you will see or hear on campus. As I made my way to the car to drive home, several groups of high-school students made their way to the dining hall. The season of summer camps had begun. Each group, some the first time away from home, clung to their companionships like a drowning man to a remnant of wood that once was the ship from which they had been cast. Afloat now in a vast ocean of unknowns, their only hope was the meager breadth of wood to which they clung – those few people that had traveled with them from their beginning. It is no wonder that as they converse and carry on, they must adhere to something which gives them strength of spirit, an inner encouragement.

So, it was no surprise to hear a small group of young men repeating a saying that would repeat itself ad nauseam if said correctly. Now, I don’t keep up with the latest memes or gaming nuances – they themselves never end. Yet, whatever they were repeating was entertaining enough, and garnering them enough attention, that they loudly spoke as if orating a masterpiece of knowledge.

Passing by and hearing them made me wonder something, which in a sense, was a judgment but not one of intent. Instead, it made my heart sad that such brilliant minds might otherwise have memorized something which the world needed – something which contained a thought or phrase which, if spoken to the passerby, might give them a sense of hope. Yes, what if they had memorized a scripture long enough to challenge their mental faculties yet, spoke a message to the world that as they walked, they professed their belief in God? What if they merely quoted the twenty-third Psalm? Would those whom they randomly encountered be blessed all the more?

As their voices faded into the hum of the campus life, a butterfly drifted past me, landing on a flower, one amongst the many in the landscaped bed. How precious, yet, blessed was the sight, so much so that it caused me to stop and think. Did not those young voices mesmerized by their own abilities not give one a sense of hope. Like that butterfly finding that one flower amongst so many, could not one person reach one in that group, and through that one individual reach the others, giving them something to cling to? Like that piece of driftwood lost at sea, they could find something that would not only keep them afloat but save their life as well. For if one person speaking to one of them, could it not change the minds of more? If they can memorize that useless phrase, what if they someday met someone that gave them a different, uplifting passage that would not only allow them to show off their mental status but, more importantly, give light to the world about them? Have I not encountered the very thing Jesus espoused to his followers, “The fields are white ready to harvest, but the laborers are few?”

Think about those before you today, and speak as if God has given you a platform to share His message, not one of inane repetitiveness, but of truth and light. Be not of this world, but rather, seek Him first, and all else will fall into place.

Thanks be to God.

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Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread

On Saturday, my wife said that she had read on the Cove’s forum that blueberries were ready to pick down at the community garden and asked if I could pick some for her. Wanting to be a good husband and knowing from years of training that the two best words a man can utter are, “Yes, dear,” I replied that Sunday would be a better day to do her bidding.

So, yesterday, when time availed itself, my preparation for the good deed began. Looking for a container with which to retrieve the berries started out with the idea of an old plastic milk jug cut in half, knowing that there probably wouldn’t be many berries remaining. After all, the message had been sent to several hundred people. However, from not finding a suitable cutting tool to having no other small container available, it felt like I was being led to take something larger. Soon, after listening to that still small voice speak, a left-over dry-wall mud bucket was chosen. “Too large, but at least it would be easy to tote since it had a nice handle,” I said to myself.

After washing my new oversized carrying container under the outside hydrant, my journey began. Through the shade of the deep woods, over the trail that wound beside a gentle flowing stream, the pathway led. There was a cool breeze – quite a pleasant surprise, considering we are in the midst of the summer months. The birds were singing melodies quite pleasing to the ear, providing a serenade of peace that made the weary soul rejoice. Before I knew it, the forest gave way to the open field surrounded by the black wooden fencing where the gardens lay.

My suspicions from the initial thoughts of the number of blueberries available to be picked were soon confirmed – pickins’ were far and few between. Yet, knowing that even a couple handfuls would make my beloved happy, I began taking what few drops of heavenly sweetness would afford. After gleaning as many as possible, my large bucket seemed still wholly empty. The breeze wafted, causing the apple trees nearby to catch my eye. There, splendidly arrayed, were several trees with ripe apples of different varieties. “Well, since there’s plenty of room, why not,” the thought came. So, ambling in their direction, my hands eagerly picked some of the delectable choice morsels. “These would be wonderful treats and add a nice touch to my daily smoothies,” the thoughts cascaded into my head.

While I had been picking the bounty of fare, several different groups had arrived, either tending to their own gardens or just stopping by to view the plots therein. As I made my way to the gate to leave, one of those couples hailed me, “Hey, would you like some cucumbers or zucchini? We have plenty.”

“Sure, I would love some,” came my reply. “I work full-time, so I just don’t have time to plant a garden.”

“Well, we’d be happy to share. They’re just on the other side of the fence.”

“Ok, I was just headed that way.”

We met at the exit gate and exchanged greetings, shaking hands, the husband and wife. They looked to be around my age and very fit. Evidently, life had treated them well. We shared where we lived, each not knowing exactly where that was, seeing as the size and scope of the neighborhood.

We talked briefly about gardening as they pointed to the vegetables arrayed on the ground. I shared with them how much we missed growing a garden since leaving the farm back in Chatham County. They handed me one item after another until my bucket was nearly overflowing. It was then I realized what had happened. The Lord had shown again his ability to provide even when there was no thought nor request for sustenance. “Give us this day our daily bread” came to mind as they eagerly shared their hard work and graciousness. Before leaving, I thanked them repeatedly, ending with, “The Lord told me to bring a bigger bucket today. Now I know why.”

They smiled in return, and we said our goodbyes.

As I walked home along the trail of tranquility, the peace of Christ that passes all understanding blanketed my heart with sweet joys. The burning in my arms from carrying the great reward was a blessing, not only because of what was shared but knowing that God had again provided over and above all that was expected.

I was not worthy, yet he sent his Son to take the wrath for my sins on the cross so that a sinner like myself could have eternal life.

Yes, a prayer was answered even when it wasn’t mentioned.

Thanks be to God.

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Don’t Fall in the Ditch

 

There is something peaceful about a good night’s sleep. As we age, those precious occasions seem to grow less frequent. Last night was one of those rare opportunities to catch up on much-needed rest.

This morning, the temptation was there to rush off to the coffee shop to hang out and write. But knowing that it would cut into my morning devotion time and the fact that the last time I went there early on a Friday, a men’s group was just finishing – too large for the tiny establishment. When they concluded it was like a beehive had been struck, the fiery sound of a myriad of discussions ensued, overflowing the peace and calm, killing the intended mood and ambiance for which the location was sought. Agreeable to why they met, it was still a distraction that couldn’t be avoided.

So, withstanding the above encounter, I chose to remain at home this morning and sit listening to my preferred music while typing out these few lines. At least here, I’m saving time and money and still accomplishing some semblance of study and devotion.

One must ask, for if we do not, are we not guilty of assuming we are correct – am I doing all that is possible to draw closer to God? The scripture in Luke 6 warns of such assumptions, “And he spake a parable unto them, Can the blind lead the blind? shall they not both fall into the ditch?” Writing out the devotion, there were certain people I had in mind – those who could truly use those words spoken by our Lord and Savior. Yet, as I now write, it seems that the scripture found in Luke pertains ever more to myself in the aforementioned sense. How shall one be able to lead others if they have not done their homework, so to speak? Are we not susceptible to falling into the ditch, into temptation, into sin when we ourselves have not committed our lives, our every breath to seeking God? It is when we can look in the mirror and make the feeble determination, based on what we have learned to lean not on our own understanding but His that we then can be bold enough, when realizing if we are open to allowing Christ to work in us, then it will be Him that speaks through us. In this final realization, we become those who can guide others, not because of anything we do ourselves, but because He works in and through us. We are His vessels. We are the new temple; through that jar of clay, the Holy Spirit will shine through, speaking life into the dark world.

Do your homework, but don’t hide behind closed doors. Boldly go out into the world and be the light for someone in this dark world, sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Thanks be to God.

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To Er is Human

Er of Pamphylia was a troubled youth in his younger days. His father, Armenios, an honorable Roman citizen, died when Er was only seven years old. It was too soon for Er. His death left a hole in his heart. In his teens, he rebelled at everything, his family, school, and eventually, his friends. Hoping to die a heroic death, he joined the Roman army, eventually becoming part of the 9th Legion. Wars and battles left him empty inside. But something began to dawn on him. Through every bloody combat, every battle scar, every enemy that died beneath his blade, he came to a stark realization – he was still alive.

Yet, with each victory, the triumphs seemed to grow less important. Er remained a hollow shell. Eventually, he wondered to himself, “Is this all that there is to life?”

One day, Er received word that his mother was terminally ill, so he took a leave of absence and returned home to help her until she passed. She died early one spring morning by his side as they sat under the flowering apple trees in their family orchard, marveling at the abundance of bees. Er never forgot, feeling her grip on his hand lessen and release as her soul took flight with the winged creatures floating about them. It was then that he thought he needed a change. All the reasons for rebelling were gone. The hurt he felt as a child had been replaced by battlefield nightmares.

He needed a fresh start.

Er transferred from the 9th to an outpost in Philippi, where he became a guard at the prison. He met a beautiful young woman named Martha, married, and then started a family. It felt good to settle down. As time passed, the officers overseeing the prison from Rome noticed Er to be a reliable, trustworthy man. He quickly rose through the ranks until he reached that of Centurion, the head of the prison. But with each promotion, something still seemed missing in his life.

It was late one evening when Er was making the final rounds before the night shift that there was an enormous disturbance at the prison entrance. He rushed to the sound of an angry mob to find one of his officers, an Optio, who was second in rank to Er, speaking to Jewish leaders and magistrates from the city. Many people were shouting and yelling, some protesting, others screaming obscenities at their captives. It was then he noticed the pair. One was much older than the other, both naked except for their bloodied tunics, and their backs were raw and bleeding from recently beaten. Their legs and arms were already bound with shackles and chains.

Er tried to listen between the commotion as the Pharisees insisted that these men be confined. “The city’s leaders want these men off the street before their presence creates an even bigger problem. They will likely start a riot, and we can’t have that! If the Praetor were to find out that we allowed these men to start a revolution, we all would be dead men. Besides, we are committing them partly for their own safety and not just that of the city.”

“Right,” nodded the officer, unbelieving, slipping a slide glance in Er’s direction and then back to the mob.

“Who beat them,” the Optio questioned. There was a shamed silence as the Jewish leaders looked at one another momentarily, then back at the officer. “Let’s just say it was justified by Jewish law,” one of the elders responded harshly and without feeling. The Pharisee continued, “But let it be known that if these men escape, the Praetor would want the heads of the guards watching over them. This is how important it is that they be incarcerated. Are we clear?”

“Perfectly,” the Optio responded, showing signs of agitation at the ordeal.

Knowing that the two men had been mistreated for some odd Jewish litigation and that the Praetor’s threat held far more weight in his decision, he was forced to take them. Besides, they looked like they had already served their punishment far beyond its intent.

“Centurion, I’m glad you’re here. What should we do? There seems to be some controversy regarding their confinement?”

“Well, we don’t want anything to happen to them, seeing as they’re such threats to the city’s civility,” he said, winking at his second-hand man.

The Er paused, catching the officer’s eye with a formidable stare, “But Optio, for the sake of the gods, we can’t let them escape. It will cost someone their life. Are we clear?”

“Yes sir,” he said, saluting and then returning to the crowd summoning a couple of other soldiers to help him take them from the prison’s entrance. As the other guards took hold of their new prisoners, one turned to the Optio and asked, “Sir, where are we taking them?” He then turned and looked at Er.

Er replied to the soldier, “Since they are of such importance, I’ll lead the way. But, Optio, you stay here with some of the men and secure the entrance. And for the gods’ sake, get these people out of my jail.”

“Sir, yes sir,” the Optio said, saluting Er and returning to the mob.

“We’ll put them in the inner prison for the night,” Er said, turning to the other soldiers who were with him, holding onto the prisoner’s chains. “There’s too much at stake with the temperament of the city’s magistrates and these Jewish leaders.”

Er didn’t say what was really on his mind as the clink of the prisoner’s chains and the shuffle of their sandaled feet followed behind him as he led the way. He had yet to hear them speak. Slowing his pace, he stepped aside until they were beside him then he continued walking with them at their pace. The elder looked as if he had been a soldier once. The edges of his muscular frame seemed aged and worn, yet beneath that aging façade, he could sense something strong and unrelenting. Yet, an aura of peace seemed to envelop his being.

“You men aren’t from around here, are you?”

“No sir, we are not.”

“What’s your name?”

“My name is Paul, an Apostle of Jesus Christ.”

“And who is your friend?”

“His name is Silas. He’s also a brother in Christ.”

“Well, Paul, I would say welcome to you and Silas, but under the circumstances, there isn’t anything welcoming about this place.”

“It’s no problem, but I’m sorry I didn’t catch your name?”

“I’m Er of Pamphylia, the head jailer of Philippi.”

“Well, I’m honored to have met you, Er. God has brought us here for a reason, and with time, we shall know why. Until then, may the good Lord bless you.”

Er nodded in agreement to this last, but curiously he wondered about the other. How could a man who had already been severely beaten say that his god had brought him here to jail? Why were the authorities so adamant about imprisoning these seemingly harmless men? There were just too many inconsistencies.

Finally reaching the innermost holding chambers, Er directed his men to place Paul and his companion in one of the empty cells so that they wouldn’t be bothered by some of the city’s hardened criminals, the ones that really needed to be incarcerated. “Make them as comfortable as possible, but Paul, I must have you shackled and chained to the wall just to be safe. Trust me. It’s more for our mutual benefit. Should something happen to you, it would not only cost you your life, but it would cost me my job and my life as well. Now we wouldn’t want any of those things to happen. Do we?”

“Of course not, Centurion.”

After the soldiers were done, they closed and locked the door behind them. Er glanced back one more time before retreating to the outer reaches of the dungeon. He stopped. What he saw was unlike anything he had seen before. Both men were smiling and talking while seated on the cold dungeon floor, chains draped around them, connecting their iron shackles to the cold stone wall. Their demeanor was no different than if they had been sitting on a veranda enjoying their afternoon tea. Then as much as they were enjoying their conversation, they stopped abruptly and noticed his gaze. Immediately, both men smiled, looked at each other, and whispered something. Then they did something most unusual. Both men bowed their heads. There was no more movement, no more talk. Simple silence. “What was this?” Curious, he had to ask. “Hey, what are you doing? Is something wrong?”

Paul looked up and smiled, “Nothing is wrong, my friend. We are simply saying a prayer for you and your men.”

“But why?”

“We seek to help those who don’t know Jesus Christ to know his love. We pray for you and your men so that your hearts may be opened to that unconditional love of the Father.”

“I’ve heard of this, Jesus. I also know about the uproar he created when they claimed he arose from the grave.”

“That’s right, my friend, he died for the sins of the world, and then three days, he arose from the grave defeating death, and now he sits at the right hand of God the Father.”

“Well, thank you for the prayers. I guess we could all use them.” At this, Er motioned to his men to continue. The dimly lit cell didn’t dampen their voices. As the Centurion and his men distanced themselves through the various passages leading out of the inner dungeon, they could still hear Paul and Silas carrying on as if they had never been beaten or imprisoned. In fact, to Er, it almost felt as if they were just along for the ride and that something or someone else was in charge.

Knowing that he would get little sleep if he were to go home, Er decided to stay the night. He gave his men orders to be on double duty, overlapping their watches so that nobody would fall asleep lest something transpire and the two men escape.

Late into the night, Paul and Silas seemed to become more energized as time wore on. The other prisoners were perplexed at the two men who acted as if they weren’t chained against a dark, dank prison wall; but rather were leading a congregation in worship. Nevertheless, those other inmates’ spirits were lifted with a sense of hope – hope for something they didn’t understand – some force or compelling spirit seemed to invite them to join. The rats even felt the power that kept them hidden in the dark shadows instead of tormenting the convicts. It was nearly midnight when Paul and Silas broke out in song, their voices reaching even the outer reaches of the jail.

Er eventually retired to his office, taking a nap on his bunk in the corner. The distant echoes of voices singing, as crazy as it sounded, seemed to lull him into a sense of peace. Sleep overcame him as the voices began to drift away. Before he knew it, he was standing at the edge of an abyss. The crater was a mile or more deep, with a clear blue pool of water at the bottom. Surrounding the opening was an arid desert wasteland – nothing but sagebrush and the occasional cactus as far as the eye could see. Suddenly, the ground began to shake. Alarmed, he looked behind him to see a herd of cattle stampeding toward him. Their eyes were red, and their nostrils shot out flames of rage. There was no retreat, nowhere to run. He quickly had a decision to make – die beneath the hooves of the demonic beasts or die jumping into the pit.

Closing his eyes, he leaped into the void.

Er continued to feel the vibrations of the thundering herd. Yet, “How could this be,” his mind tried to reason. “He had leaped into the chasm. How could he feel the earth?” The ground  continued to shake violently as Er slowly began to wake up. It was then he realized it was no dream. Sitting up on the edge of his bed, he looked dismayed as the earth beneath him seemed to roll like the waves on a sea. The ceiling creaked as if it would collapse at any minute.

Someone yelled, “Earthquake.” Er rolled out of his bunk, slapped on his sword, and sprinted for the innermost part of the fortress. Door after door of the dimly lit prison was swung open wide. His mind raced. “The two most important inmates would certainly be long gone – this was the end.” Sure enough, as he reached the inner dungeon, still gasping for breath, there before him, the door of Paul and Silas’ cell stood wide open. They were nowhere in sight.

Fearing the worse, there was nothing left to do.

Drawing his sword, Er prepared to end his life. He held the saber with both hands before him, the blade’s tip against his chest, as he closed his eyes. The thought of all the countless battles he had survived flowed past like a river of blood, a life of meaningless struggle, his mother’s death. Then the image of Martha and their children – he would never see them again. Gripping the hilt tighter, he was just about to thrust the sword deep into his heart when he heard the voice of Paul cry out, “Stop….Don’t hurt yourself: we’re all here.”

Shocked to hear Paul’s voice, Er yelled for a light. One of his men rushed to his side with a torch in hand. What he saw next made his heart stop. Grabbing the torch, he swung it wide, scanning around him in a full circle. In the cells opposite Paul and Silas were the other prisoners still seated, all in shock. He turned back to the cell before him and looked with the torchlight; there sat Paul and Silas, happy, smiling. Their chains and shackles lay strewn about as if they had been shards of clay.

Er slowly walked in before them, trembling. He fell to his knees and, in a voice of a man that had just seen his life pass before him, said, “What must I do to be saved?”

Paul and Silas answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” As Er thought about believing in Jesus, a vision appeared to him. He could see a dove in flight that landed in a beautiful flowering apple tree, like those he had shared with his mother on her last day. Suddenly, something inside him changed. There was a sense of peace in his soul unlike anything he had ever felt before. Gone were the worries of death. Gone were the fears of never seeing his family again. Yes, there washed over him a warmth, a love unlike he had ever known. Something inside him wanted to believe.

“Then quickly, we must go…to my house.”

Yelling orders to his men to secure the prison, Er retreated out a hidden back entrance to the jail, escaping, for now, he and his captives were both wanted men. Silently through Philippi’s dark alleys, they made their way until they had quietly, unnoticed, slipped into Er’s home. Once there, Er had his servants bring rags and bowls of hot water. Immediately, he began to cleanse and bandage their wounds himself. After providing them with new clothing, Er had the servants bring out platters of meat and fresh fruits, and then he begged Paul and Silas to continue to share the words that had immediately comforted him in the jail with the rest of his household.

So, as requested, Paul and Silas began to share the story of redemption through Christ Jesus, his persecution, death, resurrection, and ascension to the right hand of the Father. When they were through, not only was Er converted, but his entire household, family, and servants. What had seemed a tragedy became a cause for celebration.

But not before they settled with the Roman magistrates.

Soon, there came a knock at the outer gate of Er’s home. Hesitant to answer, he moved forward, knowing that if he died now, he would be with Jesus in eternity. All fear erased, he still felt somewhat apprehensive as he opened the front gate. Facing him were several of the other sergeants of the prison whom he all knew personally.

“Men, you must know I’m not giving them up without a fight.”

“Sir, we’re not here to fight or take them back into custody. They told us to tell you just to let them go. They are free.”

“What, how can this be?”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, they said to release them immediately!”

“Hold on a minute. I’ll be right back.”

From there, he left the soldiers outside the gate while he returned to share the good news with Paul and Silas.

“The authorities have sent word that you are to be released. You are free,” Er shouted excitedly, hands in the air.

Paul’s face became angry at the news, quite opposite what Er had expected. Er’s countenance quickly fell, as did his arms by his side, seeing his new friend change so drastically.

“They have beaten us openly, not guilty of any crime, being Romans, and have cast us into prison; and now do they thrust us out secretly as if nothing happened? No, not at all, but let them come themselves and take us out themselves.”

Unbelieving, Er returned to his men and conveyed Paul’s message. They left confused but sure of their orders.

“Come now, let us go back to the prison so what is done can be properly undone,” Paul said to Er. They bid the family goodbye as they departed later that morning, heading back to the last place Er would have imagined going, to prison.

As requested, the sergeants told the Jewish leaders and magistrates Paul’s answer to their dismissal, and they quickly made haste back to the prison, where they immediately had Paul and Silas released. Their fear of what Rome would do to them if they discovered they had beaten and imprisoned one of their own surpassed their hatred for Paul.

But before Paul and Silas left Philippi, they went to the house of Lydia. There they spent time comforting others and letting it be known to them and all the other Christians of the city that they were safe and freed by the very hand of God. Later, Er and his family came by to say goodbye before they departed, thanking them for the precious gift of eternal life.

Through it all, Er had discovered there was more to life than living day-to-day. He now knew there was only one true God, and he was his child. Er would be eternally grateful to the two unexpected prisoners who showed up one dark night that changed his life forever. And for that, all he could say was, “Thanks be to God.”

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Buried with Hope

It had all happened so suddenly, without warning. The sound of a mighty force inhaling all the air around you, then with one tremendous breath, exhaling – all that was once became naught. The last thing he remembered was the earth disappearing beneath his snowshoes and then nothing. For a long while, he lay trapped beneath the tomb of white, unaware of what had happened. When he awoke, he suddenly realized he was imprisoned by a force beyond his strength to overcome.

For as long as Benjamin Perrou could remember, he had heard tales of men caught up in avalanches and never seen again. That Alpine region was known for its precarious winter dangers. Snow, as beautiful as it appears, can be just as dangerous. Benjamin had seen the evidence of snow slides firsthand. One of the many gorges up in the Germanesca valley had been destroyed by one. Like a mighty hand, the forest, and everything in its path had been erased. Trees as big around as six men holding hands could reach had been snapped off at the root, like a twig on a branch. The earth, rocks, and timber had become one giant wall of death. The snow that engulfed it all concealed the extent of the damage until the spring thaws came. It was then that everyone saw how powerful, how dangerous the word “Avalanche” could mean. Trees looked like grass mown down and then strewn in patterns that looked like water flowing down the mountain.

Benjamin could feel his arms and legs, but something heavy, if it could be called that, was holding them locked in place. There was a sharp pain in his lower back that felt like fire when he tried to move. A small air pocket, space enough before his face, afforded him time. “Maybe enough air to live until they find me?” But then again, he had left his house in the little village of Balziglia before dawn. His wife, Maria, and newborn son were still asleep. His goal was to reach the upper shepherd’s hut and return home by noon. He and his cousin Markus had to flee the upper pastures because of an early winter storm leaving behind precious rations of food they had stored up over the summer.

Christmas was now past; the winter months were now pressing upon them. It was a new year, 1510, yet it didn’t feel like anything new worth celebrating. The cellar shelves were getting bare. Working with sheep wasn’t keeping his family fed. He desperately needed to travel back to the shepherd’s hut to retrieve the much-needed supplies. When he mentioned the trip to Maria, she only became angry because of the danger of traveling up to the higher elevations during this time of year. She had begged him to go into the lower valleys and maybe find a job in Pinerolo, where her Uncle had a leatherworking shop. During the grazing months, Benjamin and his cousin would go to the higher elevations to graze their herds for weeks on end. It was the family tradition. The separation was painful for Maria – her heart longed for her Benji. She often said she didn’t know what she would do without him. She had no idea he was leaving that morning. So, when Maria awoke to feed the baby, she realized Benjamin had gone – her heart sank. Fearing the worse, she began to wonder if he would ever return.

Meanwhile, Benjamin began to wonder if the life of his ancestors was no longer possible. There were still those from the Waldensian Valleys studying in the Barbi College, going out in pairs across Europe sharing the gospel, and facing death and persecution. But Benjamin had not felt that calling. He had grown lazy. It had been weeks since he sat down and went through the daily practice of putting the Word of God to memory. It felt like God was a distant thought as the fear of his family going hungry began to gnaw at his soul. The urgency to act had hit him in the night, and it was foremost on his mind when the coming dawn was still a distant thought. He was already several miles up the mountain when the sun kissed the edge of Mount Piatasse. The sled tied to his waist had made a curious trail behind him in the freshly fallen snow, weaving in and out of his ski trail. He was alone, save for his faithful traveling companion and sheepdog, Jacques. If anyone knew his whereabouts, it was Jacques. But for all Benjamin knew, he too, was buried alive and dead.

Benjamin’s heart was racing as the thoughts continued out of control, fighting for the remnants of any sanity that was left. He fought the fear to panic, but there it was, on the edge of the precipice, waiting to dive into his soul.

What will it be like to die a slow, painful death – buried alive? Would he ever see Maria and Jacob again?”

“Where is God when you need him?”

It was this last thread of mental torment that finally grabbed his attention. In all his worry and despair, he had failed to notice the one thing that meant the most to him and his family – God. Then he again thought to himself, “But truly, was this God’s will – to bury him alive? Was there anything even He could do?

Feeling the end approaching, he began speaking out loud, “I know that if nothing else, I will go to my grave praying for my dear Maria and my newborn son, Jacob.” Around him, the weight of the snow, rocks, and trees began to creak as it settled farther, sealing his tomb all the tighter. Hearing his fate becoming more profound, Benjamin began to pray to God. “Dear Lord, if it is your will to rescue me, I would be forever grateful. But I’m not afraid to die, for I know in my heart, mind, and soul that you will be with me. There is no place that I don’t carry you, nor is there any place that I can turn that you are not there. Please take care of my family should you call me home. They are so young and helpless. My cousins and neighbors can fulfill their earthly needs, but I fear that their hearts will be forever plagued by my absence. Please fill that void with your love.” Tears began to choke off his words as he paused. “Dear God, I love Maria as I love you….” A loud crack above him and another weight seem to be added to the load already upon his chest. He could barely breathe but continued, “Lord, I don’t make many new year’s resolutions, but this one thing I say, that if I survive this, by some miracle, I will seek to serve you in any capacity, in whatever way you choose. My soul is yours, take it and do as you wish. In Jesus’s name I pray,” and at that, the tears welled up in his throat as the air became nearly too thick to breathe, “Amen.”

The frozen mass around him began to seep into his body, and soon even the pain dissipated. Finally, there was no more feeling in his frame. Numb from the cold, he began to drift off into a peaceful sleep.

Before Benjamin stood a marble staircase gleaming white in a brilliant light. The weight upon his body was so great that he could only crawl, so he did, slowly up, one marble step at a time. Above him, he could see a shadowed translucent figure lit by a brilliant light from behind. Slowly Benjamin approached the shadowy being. The closer he came, the more fearful of the being he became until suddenly, there was a voice like thunder that echoed into his very core, The just shall live by faith! Get up and walk like a man.” Afraid not to do as the angelic being demanded, he tried to stand, but there was a weight upon his body that held him bound.

“I, I can’t get up.”

“The just shall live by faith! You have made your own bondage. The Grace of God that will set you free.”

“But, my body…it is as if I am tied to the earth.” He strained with all his might, yet, he could barely move enough to twitch a toe. “Help me; that’s all I ask. Please, tell God I need Him.”

Somewhere beyond the Angel atop the staircase came the distant sounds of a dog barking. His mind tried to understand as the stairway dissolved into a cascading waterfall surrounded by a crystal clear pool of water at the bottom, into which it plummeted. Summer grasses, rich and succulent, fed the pearl white sheep that surrounded the oasis. From behind the herd came Jacques racing toward him. For a moment, his heart was overjoyed, and a warmth filled his aching soul.

And then there was nothing.

The sound of barking once more. Scratching. Barking.

Benjamin began to cry; the feeling of suffocation overwhelmed him. He realized he might never see his Maria again. Then something warm brushed away the tear. The hand of God?

Again a bark, the brush from the wings of an Angel, a warm tongue across his cheek.

Blinking, unable to focus, Benjamin slowly realized it was Jacques, and it wasn’t a dream. The faithful dog had dug down to where he was trapped and was now trying to free his master. The fresh air felt alive on his face. Jacques kept digging and soon had enough snow and rocks removed that Benjamin’s face was entirely free. He gasped in large mouthfuls of air but realized there was no way alone that Jacques could lift him out of the twisted maze of limbs and ice which entangled his body.

“Go get help, boy,” Benjamin begged of the dog. But he wasn’t leaving his master. The dog sat and stared blankly, ears tilting at the sound of Benjamin’s voice coming from the hole in the snow. He barked in return and would go back to digging and licking Benjamin’s face. But as the day wore on, so did Benjamin’s patience. He realized this was not the answer and that he might still die a slow death.

He again turned to prayer and once more sought God with every fiber of his being. There was nothing God couldn’t do; this he knew in his heart. As he finished in the silence, with Jacques patiently looking on, a cloud passed over, totally obscuring the setting sun, and for a moment, the pair, Benjamin and Jacques, disappeared in its mist. When it cleared, there stood before them a stranger.

“Guten tag.”

Benjamin blinked, “Huh, hello.” At the sound of a voice. From where he lay beneath the snow, he couldn’t see the man. Jacques began to growl, the hair standing up on his neck. He quickly ran and stood between Benjamin and the outsider.

“It’s ok boy, the stranger said.” Benjamin could hear his footsteps crunching in the snow nearby as he approached. Jacques’s protective stance quickly dissipated. There was something about the man the dog trusted. Benjamin knew Jacques well enough to know this was a good sign.

“I see an extreme misfortune you have had.”

“Yes,” Benjamin could barely feel his mouth move. The numbness was growing, and soon, he would no longer be able to speak if something wasn’t done.

“It seems God has me here just in time placed.”

“Thanks be to God,” Benjamin breathed out.

The stranger dropped his pack, removing a small saber, fell to his knees, and quickly began carefully digging around Benjamin. Jacques joined in, and within an hour, they had freed him from his frozen prison. The stranger started a fire and soon began setting Benjamin’s broken legs with wood splints. Afterward, he quickly wrapped him up in a warm blanket with a cup of some hot, dark warm liquid. As he sipped, the feeling began to return to his broken legs, as did the pain. There was a shallow puncture to his back from a stick, but the stranger had wrapped his midsection in cloth to stop the bleeding. As bad as it was, Benjamin knew it could have ended much worse.

“Did you believe God had abandoned you?”

The words brought Benjamin back to the moment. He shook his head, yes, his hand shivering as he slowly lifted the drink to his lips. The bitter brew flowed down his throat, warming his entire being from within, dulling the pain in his legs. A sense of something greater than the moment began to grow inside. He felt it a first like a slight breeze, one that you can ignore if you choose, but he didn’t. Instead, he welcomed it, and it grew. There was also something strange about his liberator. His language seemed foreign, possibly from Germanic regions to the north, but he wasn’t sure. The man before him asked where he was from, and Benjamin pointed to the valley, “There, down below us in the village of Balziglia.”

The man smiled.

“Who are you and where are you, you…. from,” Benjamin replied.

“Oh, not too far from this place,” he smiled. “But I must return to start a new life.”

“Sounds familiar,” Benjamin said, even more curious. “What did you say your name was?”

“I didn’t,” he smiled again.

“I’m Benjamin.”

“Nice you to meet Benjamin, Brother Martin I am, just a simple monk.”

“Where is home, Martin?”

“Oh, over the mountains in the village of Erfurt. I was from my pilgrimage to Rome returning. Many things in my life must now I change. My life’s goal a priest to become was.”

“Oh,” for Benjamin’s family for centuries had been persecuted by the Roman Catholic church, so priests were people that his family tried to avoid. Yet, here he was now, having been literally saved by one. The least he could do was to hear him out.

“What makes you say, ‘was’ to become a priest?”

“Something to me in Rome happened. Something Godly. Let’s just say I now with new eyes can see.”

“What about you, Benjamin? Do you with new eyes see? You were trapped and near death. Surely you had to God prayed?”

Benjamin began to remember the dream and, without thinking, began sharing, “Yes, you can trust I prayed. And yes, I was indeed blessed with a gift from God. Just a few days ago, I felt like my life was nothing, that I was losing my soul to the world. The scripture, “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?[1]kept repeating in my head. Then I was buried in the avalanche and feared I would die. In desperation, I prayed to God. Then an Angel of the Lord spoke to me in a vision while I was climbing a beautiful marble staircase. He said that I needed to stand up, that the just shall live by faith.”

Martin, seated across the fire from Benjamin and Jacques, stood up immediately, dropping his mug of liquid and spilling it across the snow-covered ground. His face, almost in shock at the words, scared Jacques enough that he let out a sharp bark. He looked at Benjamin as if he, too, had seen the Angel of the Lord

“What did you say?”

“Did I say something wrong?”

“No, no,” he paused, hands outstretched as if he was trying to keep from falling, “ What was the last thing you just said, the thing that God said to you?”

“That the just shall live by faith?”

Martin stared blankly, looking at something beyond Benjamin, something he could not see. It was a minute or two before Martin recovered and could speak. Finally, he answered in a grave, measured tone, “You have spoken words that can only be confirmation to my soul. God has indeed spoken.

Benjamin Perrou, I don’t know who you are or what is going on in your life right now, but if it is possible if you will allow God to lead your life, I want you with me back to Erfurt to return. There is something special about you that I must learn more about.”

“But I have a wife and child.”

“Great, then them you must bring. We wonderful schools for your child have, and I will help you to become a man of God, a preacher, or at the very least, an evangelist. This your calling is, brother Benjamin!”

Tears began streaming down Benjamin’s face as he realized this was the answer to his prayer, the one he had made when he realized his life might end. God had answered him, but in a way he never imagined. He didn’t know this Martin, but there was something about him that he trusted, something special that he knew had to be correct. That day, Benjamin felt like David being called from the field by Samuel to be anointed, King.

Later that night, Maria had barely drifted off, having cried herself to sleep when she heard the gentle rapping at the door. Fearful and with much trepidation, she held the lantern in one hand as she peered through the ajar door. There she saw a stranger holding onto a rope tied to a sled upon which lay a man covered in a blanket.

“Are you Frau Perrou,” the stranger asked.

“Ya, yes…,” she said, still too scared to open the door beyond a crack. Then out of the darkness bounded Jacques, barking, tail wagging, bounding at the door. Maria, forgetting her fear, swung the door open as Jacques leaped into her outstretched arms, licking her face uncontrollably.

“Maria?”

The voice came from the blanket as Benjamin realized he was finally home, raised up enough to see Maria’s light.

“Benji,” she screamed and ran to him, dropping the lantern at her side and throwing her arms around his neck.

“Careful,” the stranger beckoned, removing the blanket revealing Benjamin’s broken limbs.

“Benji,” she gasped.

“Yes, I was buried by an avalanche, but God sent a couple of angels to deliver me. Let us go inside, and I will tell you the rest of the story over some hot stew and a good piece of your delicious bread for our guest.”

It was then Maria realized her prayer had been answered – her Benji was alive. She would continue to weep with joy as he would introduce her to his new friend and explain to her how their life had been changed by a prayer made in desperation. From that day forward they never had need or want. Benjamin would take his little family to Erfurt, where he would study with Martin, Eventually. They would return to the valleys of his homeland where he would preach the Word of God.

Martin would go on to make even greater history when he would eventually nail his disagreements with the Roman Catholic Church to the door of the church in Wurms. You know the rest of that story, a little something called the Reformation.

But more importantly, two men, once strangers brought together miraculously, would never forget the words of God that changed their lives forever when He said – “The just shall live by faith.”

For Benjamin’s calling became more than a New Year’s resolution – it became his promise to God.

Thanks be to God.

 

[1] Matthew 16:26 KJV

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An Encounter of Love

The rain was falling in ice-cold sheets. February weather can be the harshest in the mountains; rain so cold it should be snow. The wipers on Derrick’s car could barely keep up. The occasional shower of sleet only made his view worse. The memory of the fight he and his wife Heather had earlier that morning kept running through his mind. Her refusal to match his anger only enraged him more. Church just wasn’t working for him lately; it wasn’t sinking in. The harder he tried to understand the sermons, the greater became his disconnect. Earlier that morning, Heather simply asked if he had time to read his Bible. It felt like she had stabbed him in the back. How could she question his faith?

He slammed the door when he left, the echoes still lingering in his mind. Tormented, he pushed the pedal on the accelerator, throwing himself through the curves of the tortuous backroads until they hurt. He had an interview in Louisville for a lucrative position that could take his career to the next level. He only needed to get there in time for the meeting tomorrow morning. Unable to leave home until later in the day, he figured he would take a shortcut through the mountains. That would give him plenty of time to check in at the hotel and still have time to visit the bar before bedtime. After all, he deserved it!

Darkness descends upon the mountain valleys much faster. In the winter months, one cannot tell 7:00 pm from midnight. So it was, as Derrick’s car wound through those hidden roads deep within the recesses of the Blueridge, his GPS soon lost connectivity. Then, without warning, the dashboard lit up – low air pressure, front passenger tire. Shortly after that, the unmistakable sound of a flat tire began thumping. Barely enough room to pull over, he found himself sitting on the side of a narrow mountain road. Aside from his headlights shining into a sheet of water falling from the sky, there was nothing but pitch-black darkness. Slamming his fist against the dash, he cursed loudly, “God d*#&%it, son-of-a-b*#&h.”

With only a sweatshirt hoodie for protection, he angrily threw open the car door and stepped out into the deluge. “Why God,” he screamed, looking up to the pitch-black sky as water poured onto his face, running down his bearded chin, its icy fingers finding their way into the warm spots along his spine. The news wasn’t any better when he opened the trunk. The donut spare was nearly flat. After several minutes of knuckle-banging, slipping in-mud delays, he had replaced the flat tire with the poor excuse for a spare. Drenched to his core, he was back in the car seat but badly needed to find someplace to stop to get air before he was totally stranded. Inching along, after rounding several hairpin turns, he saw a pale light ahead. The wipers were losing ground rapidly, so he could barely make out the sign as he pulled in front of the ancient wood-shingled building. “R.C. Sharpe’s Store,” the weathered sign read. Next to the front porch, he could barely make out a hose hanging from a hook with the words hand-painted on a sign above it, “air.”

Jumping out of the car and running to the hose, he tested the valve, but nothing. “Damn it.” A dim light shone through the porch’s dusty windows – a faint flicker of hope. Leaping up on the porch, he was finally out of the drenching ice bath. Shaking himself off, he started to open the door but froze. He swore he could hear the faint sound of an ancient stringed instrument playing. From his Appalachian Studies class, he had learned about the autoharp but had never heard one played in person. Slowly, grinning to himself, “Here goes nothing,” he grabbed the cast iron door handle and pushed. The door opened with a creak, and he cautiously stepped inside. Lightning flashed, and for an instant, everything went gray. He blinked, the thunder roared, shaking the earth, and then the color returned to the scene before him. The music immediately stopped. From the back of the store, he could hear a radio click on, and some unknown country song began to play.

Derrick had never been in an actual working country store outside of those tourist stores up in Boone. Immediately he noticed the smell of cheese, tobacco, and wood smoke, the latter coming from the pot belly stove sitting in the middle of the store. The rusty old pipe extended upward through the ceiling, lined with bead board wood. On each side of the store were shelves against each wall, with long wooden counters in front of them, all filled with home goods and an abundance of supplies one might need to run a mountain farm. Antique wires hung down from the ceiling, holding light bulbs that appeared as old as the building itself. The sound of an AM radio station was playing an old song he had never heard, but the melody pleased his mind, “Lord, I hope this day is good. I’m feelin’ empty and misunderstood. I should be thankful, Lord, I know I should. But Lord, I hope this day….”

“Come on in, I’ll be right wit ya,” came a strained voice from the back corner. Derrick looked to see its source. In the far-right corner sat a thin elderly, white-haired gentleman. He was bent over yellowed papers on a desk, lit by a lamp that barely illuminated his writing surface. About him, on the wall hung a calendar, the kind that provided the signs for planting and some feed store ad at the top. Next to it hung a tweed jacket and a matching fedora, neatly placed. He appeared to be doing the books late into the evening.

Derrick moved closer to the warmth of the stove. The heat felt good, radiating into his bones. In the background, the radio continued, “Lord, have you forgotten me. I’ve been prayin’ to you faithfully. I’m not sayin’ I’m a righteous man. But Lord, I hope you understand.”

“Go ahead, take that there jacket off, and hang it on the chair by the stove. You’ll get warm quicker that way.”

Derrick looked back toward the old man, but he hadn’t seen him look up yet from his papers, which he thought was odd since he somehow knew he was soaked. He did as the man had said and laid his hoodie over the back of a straight-back chair sitting nearby. He heard the creak of an old office chair as the old man got up and began shuffling towards him while the singer kept singing, “I don’t need fortune, and I don’t need fame. Send down the thunder, Lord, send down the rain. But when you’re plannin’ just how it will be. Plan a good day for me.” Derrick realized the song was somehow intentional – was it about him? Chill bumps ran up his muscular arms. His thought was interrupted when the old man called, “Howdy, I’d ask how ya’s doing, but I’ve seen bullfrogs drier’n you,” he said, half chuckling to himself. He wore an old ball cap slightly cocked off to one side and wire-rim glasses. One of his clean-shaven cheeks had a slight bulge indicating a chew of tobacco at rest.

“Yea, my car got a flat, and the spare is about flat too. I saw your lights and thought I’d see if you had any air. I tried the hose outside, but it didn’t sound like it was working.”

“Oh yeah, I’ll have to turn the compressor on for ya. It might take a spell, but it’ll do the trick,” he said, grinning broadly. “What’s your name?”

“Derrick, what’s yours?”

“They call me Reno,” he said with another broad smile.

“Reno, like the place out in Nevada?”

“Yeah, something like that,” his head shaking in agreement.

Something warm, something inviting about the old guy, made Derrick feel at ease. He felt it the moment he stepped inside, but at first, it was like that chill; it took time to warm him through. Meanwhile, the song finished in the background softly ending with, “Lord, I hope this day is good. I’m feelin’ empty and misunderstood. I should be thankful, Lord, I know I should. But Lord, I hope this day is good.”

“You travelin’ a long ways are ye,” he said, squinting as he looked at Derrick, starting to chew a little more on his cud.

“Yeah, I’ve got an interview tomorrow,” Derrick went on to tell him all about himself, how he had been climbing the corporate ladder since graduating college. He shared how he made a lot more money each time he left one company and went to another. He was happy to boast about his accomplishments. With each revelation, Reno’s eyebrows would raise, showing his impression. “Hey, making money’s what it’s all about, ain’t it?”

The radio was now playing an old Tom T. Hall song as the lyrics drifted into their conversation, “Ain’t but three things in this world that’s worth a solitary dime, But old dogs and children, and watermelon wine.

Reno didn’t laugh with him but drew up his mouth in a pucker as if he wanted to say something but didn’t. “Well, you know what I mean,” he quickly tried to correct course, “you want to do right by your family so you can provide for them and all.”

Reno nodded but wasn’t smiling broadly, only a slight grimace now shown on his face.

“Derrick, you look like you could use a slice of cheese and a drink. Why don’t you sit in that other chair next to the stove, I’ll get that compressor going, and we chew the fat until you dry out a spell. Sound good to you?”

“Ah, ah, I guess, …but my tire?”

“Oh, we’ll get to that. Don’t you fret.”

The song continued as Reno stepped away, “Old dogs care about you even when you make mistakes. God bless little children while they’re still too young to hate. When he moved away, I found my pen and copied down that line ‘Bout old dogs and children, and watermelon wine.”

The old man came back shortly, took a large circular wooden crate out of the cooler, and sat it on the well-worn counter. He removed the lid, pulled out a block of cheese, and placed it on a cutting wheel. He sliced off a couple chunks, laying each slice on a piece of wax paper, and then handed one to Derrick. “Go over to the cooler yonder and grab yourself a cold drink,” he said as he pointed to the ancient Pepsi cooler on the opposite side of the store. Before long, they were both seated, munching on cheese and drinking ice-cold sodas.

“You ever have a dog long enough for it to grow old,” Reno said, leaning back in his chair and taking another bite of cheese?

“No, not really.”

“It’s a painful thing to have to say goodbye to a good dog,” the old man’s eyes turned downward as he spoke as if he were looking somewhere into the past. “They become like family after a while.” The song’s last lines echoed again into their words, “That night I dreamed in peaceful sleep of shady summertime. Of old dogs and children and watermelon wine.”

Derrick sat feeling the warmth of the stove working on him. It seemed to permeate beyond his core and somehow began numbing the uneasiness and stress from the previous drive. What comforted him, even more was that Reno spoke in a soft-spoken southern drawl that alone kept your attention.

“You got a wife,” he said, pointing to Derrick’s ring?

“Yeah,” he smiled broadly. The ball was back in his court now, and he was more than happy to brag about his beautiful wife, Heather, but before he could start, Reno continued.

“I had a wife once.”

Derrick bit his lip and took another sip of his drink to cover his impertinence.

“Cancer took her too soon,” he turned and looked at a faded black-and-white picture sitting on one of the many shelves nearby.

“If I had just one more day with her, it would be a dream,” he said, still turned as if talking to her through the photo. Then turning back, facing Derrick again, “But I know that where she is, for her to come back here would be akin to Lazarus rising from the dead. You know he didn’t want to leave Heaven, nor would she. It’s selfish to think that way. Sometimes we have to think about life being more than about us.” Reno paused, finishing off his drink, and sat it down. He reached down, grabbed another piece of firewood, opened the stove door, tossed it in, then looked back at the young man and smiled. The AM station had now switched to the evening gospel show, and another unfamiliar tune came drifting into Derrick’s ear, “Shackled by a heavy burden, ‘Neath a load of guilt and shame. Then the hand of Jesus touched me, And now I am no longer the same.”

“You know, the good book tells us, ‘That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love.’ Do you love her, Derrick?”

“Well, hell yeah, of course, I do.” His thoughts quickly darted back to their argument that morning. Deep inside, he wanted to take back his words. But, like so many times, he had a way of saying things that hurt people. He liked to tell himself that he was honest to a fault. The thought began to convict him, joining the other worries in his life. Once again, he felt like he was being crushed. Heather couldn’t understand, but somehow, here with this stranger who seemed to know his thoughts, something was changing. Even the music seemed to be listening.

“Do you know that it also tells us, “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” You know what that means?”

Derrick felt uneasy all of a sudden. It was like Reno could somehow read his thoughts. It was almost as if he knew about the fight that morning. “Yeah, I think so,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck, starting to feel as if there was more than this being just a chance encounter.

“You took that girl away from her family, and you became one flesh. You are now responsible for her, and that face you see in the mirror every day, that person that you show the rest of the world, is how she is seen. You gettin’ what I’m sayin’?”

“Yes, yes,… I’m with you.”

“There is only One who can take away your burdens, my son. There is only one that can make you whole. You gotta quit trying to do it all on your own.”

Derrick’s eyes began to water. His head began to swim. The stove felt like it was glowing red. The hoodie was now steaming, and he could feel something come over him, like a tidal wave, washing against the shore, erasing the clutter, the debris in his life. The Gaithers added the final push with the song’s last lines, “He touched me, Oh He touched me, And oh the joy that floods my soul! Something happened, and now I know He touched me and made me whole.” He was so convicted about that morning that he wanted to scream. Softly, Reno touched him on the shoulder and said, “Give it to God, son. Give it ALL to the LORD!”

He pressed a small piece of paper into Derrick’s hand.

Then, through the tears, he read, “Love – 1st Cor. 13….”

The damn burst and tears ran down his cheeks. Something inside him had changed. He didn’t know how long they sat there with him, crying, sharing, being comforted by Reno’s encouraging and loving words. Time passed. The rain stopped. Before long, there was an orange glow in the windows. “Oh man, I’ve got to get going.” Derrick realized he had let the night slip by.

“What time’s your interview?”

“It’s at nine AM.”

“You’ll be fine; the Lord’s got this.”

About that time, Derrick’s cell phone rang. He answered, and it was the company where he was to interview. Unfortunately, they had something come up and needed to postpone the meeting until that afternoon. They apologized profusely and asked if it wouldn’t be a problem, then they talked further about specifics. When he hung up, he looked up to find Reno already outside. The spare tire had been replaced and put away, and the original tire was back on. It was as if it had never happened.

“What the heck,” Derrick said, not realizing he had not uttered a string of profanities for a change.

“Oh, you just had a nail in it. I pulled it out and plugged her for ya. Nothin’ to it,” he said, smiling again like when they first met. Something about the sunrise made Reno seem younger like he had dropped twenty years in the blink of an eye.

“Well, what do I owe you?”

“You don’t owe me a dime. But you need to run on now and make that meeting. That little lady back home is countin’ on ya. Don’t let her down,” and he paused, but the seriousness returned, “But Derrick, more importantly,”

“Yes, sir.”

“Remember when I said give it ALL to Him?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I meant every word of it. Serve only Him, and he will change your life.”

They shook hands, and for a minute, he felt as if he could hug the old guy. But instead, he stepped in the car and pulled away as he saw Reno waving goodbye sitting on the old school bus bench on the store’s front porch.

Later that morning, a few miles up the road, he found a little country diner. He had ordered his food and the waitress came back to refill his coffee when he began to tell her about the wonderful evening he had spent at R.C. Sharpe’s store. She shook her head, not understanding. “What store is that?”

“The one just a few miles down the road.”

“There’s no store down that way that I know of.”

“Are you from around here?”

“Why sure, but….”

An elderly man in the booth next to him wearing overalls and a ball cap turned slightly around and said, “Son, she don’t know nothing about that old store cause it closed long before she was born. Reno was a fine man, but he’s been dead almost fourteen years.”

Derrick looked at the waitress, and she back at him. He felt his face go white.

“You going to be ok,” the young girl asked with a concerned look on her face?

“Ya, yes…I’ll be ok, ….I think,” he said. He paused, then turned to the booth next to him, “Thank you, sir, for sharing that.”

“No problem,” the old man said and turned back around, shaking his head in a confused manner. Then, feeling as if he had just seen a ghost, Derrick reached into his pocket to ensure he wasn’t losing his mind and pulled out a tear-stained slip of yellowed paper.

“Love – 1st Cor. 13, love, …your friend in Christ, …R.C. Sharpe.”

Just then, he heard the music playing in the diner’s background, and he had to smile. The sound of that ancient instrument, the autoharp, was playing Amazing Grace, and Derrick realized at that moment he was forever changed.

Thanks be to God.

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Strings of Soul

In a corner of the Spiritual Retreat is an instrument wall – a place where my stringed instruments hang from hooks made specifically for each type of instrument. They are kept there for ease of access, for one never knows when the “mood” might strike when that feeling of creativity and inspiration combine into a single thread wanting to intertwine into a melody.

While these pieces of wood and wire are built to make beautiful music, my budget for said devices has never been of the highest priority. That being said, they are worth far more in sentimental value than anything else. One does one’s best to maintain them though, but with time, things age and dry out. So, it was the other day that that “mood” had struck and as the fiddle was taken down it quickly became apparent that the strings had loosened. With a violin, that is to be expected. Of all the instruments, it is held together by opposing forces. The tension of the strings holds up the bridge, which is supported from within by the sound post. If one of these components weakens and gives out, the entire function of the devices is compromised. In this alone, there is a lesson, but for another day.

So, as I looked over the old “Ole Bull” it was quickly discovered to have all but one string was greatly out of tune. Working through the pattern J.W. Parsons taught me so long ago, I began to tighten each of the four strings. When it came to the “G” string, the lowest of the four, the tuning peg made an odd sound as it was being turned. The wooden peg began to crack and disintegrate as it was turned, literally crumbling in my fingertips – it was gone, useless to hold a string taunt. Distraught but not overwhelmed, my original song of inspiration had long ago escaped my thoughts. Now, there was a new challenge. What songs could be played on only three strings? From there, the fiddle and I walked down memory lane discovering what could and could not be found upon the limited number of wire strands. My fingertips were forced to find comforting notes in places they had seldom touched. It wasn’t pretty.

This morning, as my mind reflected back upon yesterday’s encounter, it occurred to me how life and aging emulate the strings on my old violin.

The aging aspect comes from the memory of that entry-level Electrical Engineering class I took back at the University of Florida so many years ago. Dr. O’Malley, a tall, thin white-haired elderly gentleman, then well past retirement age, walked in and began the first day’s intro quite unlike any that I had heard heretofore. “You will start today with 100 points,” he told the class looking over his wire glasses at a lecture hall full of beginning students. “From this point on, you will only lose points, it is up to you how many you lose. You will never gain them back,” he continued. In his eyes, you could almost tell there was more he wanted to say. Something about time, about a life lived. His words really hit hard. It was a thought that was truthful yet profound, and like it, life in the natural world was so much a parallel.

There are many times in this journey that we find we are faced with a potential game-ending dilemma – either give up or adapt. Sometimes these are forces that are not of our doing. Illness, age, or accidents just to name a few can take away our ability to function as we once were capable. Like that fiddle with now only three strings, we learn that if we are to go on, we must learn new ways to play that old song. Those finger positions once foreign we are now forced to learn. A broken arm or hand of your favored limb makes writing almost impossible. But almost always, those who suffer learn to adapt and begin writing, albeit barely legible at first, and overcome their setback.

Likewise, when we step out of our comfort zone in faith, going to places or mission fields that we once thought foreign, test our ability to adapt and grow.  Jesus never told his disciples to stay put in Capernaum and make each other feel good. No, he told them to go out and spread the good news. “and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. He told them: “Take nothing for the journey–no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town.[1] It was painful. Not only were they trying to cope without bringing bedding and food, they also suddenly had to remember what they had, in some cases, only recently learned. Jesus knew this would test them, but in the end, it would force them to grow stronger in their faith. Scripture tells us that through life’s trials we will only become stronger and persevere, “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.”[2] “…But we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope…”[3]

There are those who once they’ve learned to play beautifully on just the three strings suddenly find that another is taken away, leaving only two. It is then, the more challenged we become, the more we must not lean on our own understanding. Many give in to the feeling of being overwhelmed. They never knew Jesus as their Savior, so life, when it becomes unbearable, feels hopelessly lost. They seek answers in the life around them, but there is nothing that can ease that feeling of emptiness and despair that is of this world – no bottle is deep enough, no drug strong enough, and no emotional escape capable of breaking that spiral of death. It is only when the distraught and lost truly seek God is when they find hope.

Eventually, in some cases, those broken strings are restored. After that soul had learned to dance upon the instrument with fewer strings finds that restored octave or more, their appreciation for what once was becomes all the greater. So, it is with those who are reborn in Christ Jesus – their appreciation for things of God’s creation is from a new perspective.  Their soul is restored. They learned in that absence, in that trial, through the fires of tribulation how much more they were capable. Their strength and faith is renewed. They become a new creature. “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”[4] What was once uncomfortable, or unknown becomes possible all because there was something that caused us to have to lean not on our own understanding.

Many return from mission fields, whether abroad or local, and find something about the world around them is not the same. Call it an awakening, or a new awareness. Either way, when we learn to seek Him, we too find these peeling away of layer, after layer of blindness to what we once could not see. We are able to understand something about God a little more. With each step, we learn. With each blunder or mistake, we learn. It is through those painful endeavors that we feel we cannot survive, when we find we grow the most.

When the mood strikes, seek for that thing which allows you to revel in your soul’s ability to thank God. When you find that a string is missing, press on toward the mark and let it not hinder your pursuit of the way, the truth, and the life.

Thanks be to God.

[1] Luke 9 NIV

[2] James 1:2-4 KJV

[3] Romans 5:3-4 KJV

[4] 2 Corinthians 5:17 KJV

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A Christmas Prayer

The small child lay pale and cold beneath the covers. The color all but washed from her face; she brought tears to her father’s eyes as he sat patiently beside the bed holding her tiny little hand. She was the youngest of seven children that he and his dear wife had brought into this world. But this one, little Mary, was more precious than all the others. To see her suffer was almost more than he could bare. A few months earlier, the darkness descended upon his life when he lost his Molly in childbirth. Now, helpless to do anything, he watched the last part of Molly seemingly slipping from his grasp – a feeling of despair unlike any other.

One hand lay upon the infant’s bed, while the other was across the well-worn pages of the family Bible on his lap. Michael could barely read, but the words that his fingers now caressed spoke into his heart, “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.[1]

Outside their meager cabin on the edge of Beech Mountain, the snow continued to fall. Only a couple of days before Christmas, it had been weeks since the temperature had dipped below freezing and remained. Michael Trivette’s livelihood was working the timber. He was a lumberjack by trade, but since the ice had been on the trees, there had been no work. Without income, he was slowly watching the cupboard diminish. The other children, some old enough to help out, were all aware of their father’s broken spirit. Doing their best, they continued the farm chores, but without the primary source of family sustenance, all were beginning to realize something had to be done. Patiently and with as much care as possible, the eldest son, Seth, came to his father’s side. Gently putting his arm around him, he tried rousing him to no avail.

“Pa.” There was no response. The empty green eyes stared back at him. He grabbed both shoulders, gently turning him so he could look into his eyes, and softly shook him as if trying to ease one back from a deep sleep.

“Pa, come back to us,” the eyes blinked once, twice, and then again. Then, finally, a focus slowly returned, and his expression changed. Michael realized his son’s concern and was now thankful that he was aware of his presence.

“I… I’m sorry, son, it’s just that….” The words choked off deep in his throat as moisture gathered in his red, swollen eyes.

“It’s okay. We all understand.”

Michael’s countenance fell, his head bowed down, facing the rough wood floor. By then, a couple more of Seth’s sisters, two of the oldest, joined him by his side, Evelyn and Annabelle. They had their mother’s auburn hair, which fell across their shoulders, one in braids, the other in natural ringlets. They nodded in agreement with their brother, smiling sheepishly, but crossed eyebrows implied a deep concern.

“You need to rest, Pa,” Evelyn said, “We can take care of Mary. You haven’t slept in days. We can’t afford to lose you too.” The last she said as she placed her hand upon his shoulder.

Realizing the gravity of her statement, Michael understood and, with their help, being weak from exhaustion, made it to his bed. The last thing he remembered was seeing his eldest daughter pulling the covers up to his bearded chin and kissing him gently on the forehead. “Sleep well, pa, we love you,” Annabelle said with a voice that beckoned from her mother. Then as he slept, she knelt beside his bed and prayed over him. “Dear God, we are but a poor, humble family. We ain’t got much in this world, but God, we know our momma is up there with you looking down on us all. We miss her more than we could have ever imagined.” There was a pause as the tears began to arise in her throat. Then, as the tiny bits of moisture ran down her rose-colored cheeks, the words continued, “We ask you, Father, to heal our little sister Mary. Pa can’t stand to see her suffer, and we’re afraid he will fall into the grave with her should she die. So, God, please heal her and give us back our pa, for we will all surely die without him.” A hand touched her shoulder, and she looked up to see Seth standing over her, head also bowed in prayer.

“Go on, sis.”

She turned back toward the bed and continued, “In Jesus Holy name we pray,” Their voices spoke in unison, “Amen.”

Later that night, by the light of a full moon, Eustace Sloop was awakened by a loud knock at his cabin door. The howling winds foretold of a coming storm, but the light from the window cast a brilliant blue radiance across the floor. It was not uncommon. Too often, someone with a grave illness would arrive at his door at the most uncommon hours. Eustace and his wife, Mary, had settled in this little mountain village only a year before. Word quickly spread of their welcoming demeanor, serving the community as healers and educators. Their door was always open. The bitter winds that blew outside only spoke of another desperate soul seeking his medical attention. Mary lay sound asleep. The noise had yet to wake her.

The knock came again before he could grab the nearest lantern and make his way to the door.
“I’m on my way,” he spoke softly, hoping not to wake his wife before it was necessary. As the door opened, the yellow lamp light fell upon the bundled-up figure of Seth Trivette, almost unrecognizable if it were not for his radiant red hair that fell from beneath his woodman’s hat.

“Dr. Sloop, we need you badly. Baby Mary is dying.”

“Come in, my boy, come in,” Martin Sloop said, gesturing the boy inside. The wind gusted, almost taking the light with it, as snow blew in, remnants of all which remained on the ground from previous storms. “Step into the kitchen area, and let’s get you a hot cup of coffee.”

As Seth sat at the table, his hands shaking from the freezing temperatures outside, he told of how Mary had started to come down with the chills and then gone into a deep sleep. Listening intently to the boy’s description, it was clear to Doc Sloop that the child needed his immediate care. “And Doc, don’t think we ain’t got the means to pay.” At this, the boy pulled around the pack he had carried in with him and pulled out a bundle. The outer wrappings were burlap tied with cotton string bindings. He opened the package and revealed a beautifully hand-stitched quilt with a note attached that he gently lay upon the kitchen table before them. We ain’t got no money, but this is the most valuable thing my family owns. It was the last quilt my momma sewed. She was going to give it to my pa this Christmas. He don’t know nothing about it cause she died before she could give it to him. So us kids were keeping it a secret for him. But..” His voice trailed off as he choked back emotions. Eustace put his hand on the boy’s shoulder as tears rose in the young man’s eyes.

“Don’t worry, my boy, don’t you worry,” he said as he draped his arm around the lad’s strong, firm shoulders. Already at a young age, Seth was nearly a grown man. The struggles of the mountain folk made them a hard people, and early on, they would be forced into adulthood long before their childhood had ended. “God will surely provide, but first, let’s get you warmed up before we head out.”

Hours later, in the dead of night, the fury of the winter storm was fully upon them. Closing the cabin door behind him, Doc Sloop had done all that was humanly possible. The rest was up to God.

The snow was coming down in sheets as he pulled up his overcoat around his neck. He knew the Elk River would be up, making it difficult, if not treacherous, to cross at this hour. The pale light from the cabin window barely penetrated the wall of white fury before him. To Eustace, Mary’s advanced stage of pneumonia was evident. He had applied the salve, then bound her snuggly in the crib where she lay. At such a tender age, no medicine was available to treat her condition safely. The antiserum was too risky for an infant. As a medically trained physician, he feared the worse. As he tried to prepare to step into the squall, the door opened behind him. Annabelle emerged.

“Doc, we want to thank you for coming out in such dreadful weather. We can’t ever repay you for what you’ve done.”

I haven’t done anything yet,” he thought to himself. The whisper of his fear crept back into his mind. He knew only by God’s will that little Mary would live or die. With all the strength to keep his voice from cracking from the emotion, he responded with, “My child, it is why I’m here.”

“I wanted to pray for you before you leave.”

“Sure,” he paused, removing his wide-brimmed hat.

As Annabelle lifted up Eustace in prayer, the lights from the lantern inside flickered. The wind calmed ever slightly, and as the doctor mounted his horse, barely visible in the gale of blinding whiteness, nobody on this side of Glory knew what would become of the deathly ill babe inside.

Just after midnight, in the wee hours of the morning, Mary Sloop realized Eustace had not come home. Outside in the darkness, the snow was already a foot or more. Bundled up, she made her way by lantern light to the barn to see if the horse was in the stall. To her surprise, the horse was there as she suspected but with Eustace still mounted, sound asleep. His feet were still frozen in the stirrups. He had passed out from exhaustion. Lovingly and with as much care as possible, she freed him from his frozen prison and helped him inside. As she gently helped Eustace into the warm bed, his hand on her shoulder for balance, he whispered in a strained voice, “Mary, please…please pray for the little Trivette baby and the family. It doesn’t look good for the child. But we know it’s all in God’s hands.”

“No worries, my dear, I’ve already done the likes, and for you as well.” He smiled at this, looking into her bright eyes.

“And here, I almost forgot. Get this note to Preacher McCrae as soon as possible. He will know what to do.” Eustace pulled the small slip of folded paper from his shirt pocket, placing it in Mary’s palm.

“Don’t you fret. Now you lay yourself down and get some rest. These mountain folk need their good doctor. It’s your turn to get some pampering. Besides, we got to take care of that frostbite. How will you perform surgery if you don’t have any fingers to work with?”

He grinned broadly at this as she left the room, softly pulling the door behind her. She was so direct sometimes, but her truth was as light to his soul. The last thing he could see as his mind succumbed to the fatigue that overtook his body was the precious face of that tiny baby girl. Her countenance was so pure, so innocent. Eustace then realized it had been as if he had looked upon the face of an angel. The words to his favorite Psalm came to mind as he drifted off, “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth….”[2]

As the gray light of dawn was still finding its way into the deep crevices of the mountains the next day, Christmas morning, Michael Trivette was in a far distant land. The battle raged around him. Helplessly he watched; his brothers-in-arms lay about him. Their corpses lay as logs in the woods, fallen, grey and cold. He was on his knees, his body too weak to continue. The armored warrior stood before him, sword in hand, ready to make the last swing that would sever his head from his body. Just as the demon lifted its blade to make the momentous arc downward, it stopped. With the demon’s helmet shield open, Michael could see the expression of surprise and fear written on his tormentor’s face as the last vestiges of life passed from its lips. As the dark force fell to the ground, he could clearly see who had saved his life – standing before him was the image of his Lord and Savior. His face shone like radiance, too bright to look upon. With his outstretched arms, he beckoned Michael to rise. As he did, he felt a renewed strength surge through his body. A sense of peace so warm, so loving, it made his heart begin to weep.

Michael awoke with tears running down his cheeks as his second youngest, little Micah, tugged at his bed shirt.

“Pa Pa,” she said with a huge smile as her other brothers and sisters stood behind her. “Pa, Pa, come look. Jesus has come.”

Michael rose from the bed. No longer saddened, he felt renewed, even if it was just a dream. The children took him over to the crib of little Mary. There smiling, looking back up at them, was his precious baby girl. Reaching down, he picked her up, still wrapped in the blanket that Doc Sloop had wrapped her in. Crying in the embrace, a note silently slipped, almost unnoticed, from between the folds of the material and fell at Michael’s feet. “Look, Pa, a note fell out of the blanket,” little Micah exclaimed as she reached down, picking it up, and handing it to her pa.

“You got to read it to us, …please?”

“What, what’s this,” Michael said, carrying Mary and the note over to the rocking chair beside the hearth. The fire felt warm already. Seth knelt, feeding more wood into it as he watched his pa pause, looking solemnly at the note.

He began reading “Dearest Michael.” The children watched, their hearts matching their father’s, his lips trembling as he slowly rocked the baby in his arms. Then, looking back at the note, he continued, “I know we don’t have much in this world but each other.” He stopped rocking and looked up at the ceiling. Then after a long pause continued, “I hope this quilt will keep us as warm together as our hearts are for each other until the end of time. Love your dearest, Molly.”

Michael looked up from the note at his young family. Tears streamed down his face, but he didn’t mind. He had suddenly realized the blanket wrapped around his little Mary was a gift around a gift, the beauty therein too precious to behold. The children, then knowing the time was right, gathered around their dear father and embraced as one. For a moment, the ice on the trees, the lack of food on the table, or even the loss of their momma seemed to hurt a little less. They could have remained in that huddle of love forever had it not been interrupted by the sound of a horse whinnying and hoofbeats tearing away.

Seth bounded toward the door, grabbed the rifle, and threw on his coat in almost one motion. He threw open the door and froze. A burst of cold air and snow blew in as he stood staring.

“What is it, son,” Michael said from beside the fireplace, having stood with Mary still in his arms.

For a long moment, he didn’t speak. Then when he could finally bring the words forth, they were cracked and muted with emotion. “There, there’s stuff all over the porch.”

“What stuff, son?” “Snow?”

They all hurried over to the now-ajar door and peeked out.

There, covering the entire porch, were crates and feed bags full of food, preserves, dried beans, pintos, taters, and more. In addition, a sizeable smoked ham hung from a rope around the beam on the porch, with a big red bow tied across it. A note hung from the ham with the words “Merry Christmas” written in big letters.

Michael looked down at Mary, the quilt, then back at the porch. There weren’t words to describe the moment. But he knew in his heart that somehow the Lord had provided. Before closing the door, he looked up to the heavens, smiled, and mouthed a silent, “Thank you, Jesus.”

As the little Trivette family drifted off to a peaceful sleep later that evening, their thoughts would turn to gratitude. None of them would ever forget the Christmas when God answered their prayers and gave them back little Mary and their Pa. Their mother’s quilt would become a treasured family heirloom. After everyone was put to bed, Michael lay just looking up at the ceiling for a long time, but his thoughts were far beyond those rough-hewn rafters. He couldn’t help but think God had been there for them through it all. He thought of dear Molly one more time, and before he slipped into a peaceful slumber, he softly spoke the words, “Thanks be to God.”.

[1] Hebrews 11:6 KJV

[2] Psalm 121:1 KJV

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Just A Pair of Leaves…

by Timothy W. Tron, May 2022

The pair stood on the bridge and watched the clear mountain river flow beneath – one the elder to the other. A chill was in the air, it was still early May, but the night air still lingered in the valleys. As they stood watching, a pair of birch leaves floated past. At first, the leaves stayed side by side, as if walking and talking along a trail or ridgeline. It appeared as if they reflected the demeanor of the two friends that morning. Then, as if time sped up for one, a swifter current navigated past rocks, tiny splashes of white water told of the increased flow, and the one leaf went ahead of the other. Meanwhile, the leaf that stayed behind kept its course, steady and true.

The elder was still talking as the other watched the leaves but didn’t say anything. It felt as if God was telling him something silently so his friend wouldn’t be interrupted by what he was saying. In his mind, he knew that time with his friend would be like the leaves. Their walks and talks together were only for a short while. Before long, his friend, long in the years, would soon leave this world behind. Or was it himself? Whatever the case, each man was well aware of life’s end approaching, but it was something that only came up in conversation when there was little else to ponder. Both knew that the day would come for each of them. Like the current speeding up for one, the Spirit shall quicken within our mortal bodies so that we should then rise from our sleep to meet our creator. It was his pleasure to make us, and when we are reunited in heaven, we shall all be given new, glorified bodies – what a day it will be. “And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.” – Romans 8:17

Yet, as one would become part of eternity, the other would remain behind, steady and true to carry on the faith. It was with this in mind as they found a bench along the river and sat, listening to the songbirds sing of brighter days as the breeze blew the wildflowers that grew in abundance nearby, that the younger of the two mentioned the leaves. After sharing the scene, they both sat for some time. They had found a coffee shack nearby and were both sipping on a hot brew of their choice. It seemed so appropriate. They savored their drinks and, for a moment, sat in silence, relishing in the beauty of God’s creation and discernment.

God created all things for our pleasure. It is up to us to pause long enough to enjoy them. Some moments we wish could last forever, but time flows onward like these mountain streams, and with it, we too will someday pass. It’s not what we leave behind that matters, but hopefully, what others will remember of us will cause them to think of Him, of only Jesus, and for that, we should all proudly say, “Thanks be to God.”

 Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” – Revelation 4:11

But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.” – Romans 8:11

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Rapping At My Chamber Door

by Timothy W. Tron – April, 2022

C.S. Lewis once wrote, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell choose it. Without that self-choice, there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek, find. To those who knock, it is opened.”[1]

A long time ago, in what now seems like another life, I spent the summer of 1976 working in a trim shop in Evansville, Indiana, called Vessels. It was the kind of place where people would bring their cars to get their seat covers repaired or replaced with new ones. They also specialized in vinyl roofs and boat covers. It was my first job off the farm, where I had worked most of my teens. This would be the first job where I didn’t receive payment in cash but instead received a real paycheck. My stepdad was the foreman, which was more than comforting because I always had the feeling that someone was looking out for me. That was important because Vessels employed a pretty rough crowd – from Vietnam vets with PTSD to recovering drug addicts and everything in between.

New hires were paired with more experienced employees, so when they put me with Raphael, I didn’t know what to expect. He was a young black man, probably in his late twenties, shorter than me, but had massive biceps and forearms. Rafael kept his hair cut short, and he had a long scar on the side of his face that ran from his cheek to his jaw bone – its existence of which was never mentioned. Rumor was that he boxed on the side, mostly street, bare-knuckle events, and from the looks of it, could handle himself pretty well. Being just a new kid off the farm, it was a very daunting atmosphere. However, it was there that I learned to listen, imitate, and adapt, a trait that would serve me well for the rest of my life.

Raphael and I worked at a large, very worn table grounded to the concrete floor; he on one side, me on the other. There was no air conditioning, only fans that blew the hot summer air around, making for a sultry, fluorescent, dimly lit ambiance. The atmosphere was intoxicating, with odors of fresh vinyl and glue, both ingredients necessary for the work. Raphael and I used hog ring pliers to staple the new seat covers on the frames of the seats after we had removed the old, nasty, torn covers. It was a tedious job, but we were both thankful to have one for our own reasons, so we kept to ourselves mostly. Yet, as one does with anything that challenges your paradigm of life, you slowly learn about the person in the trench next to you, whether you want to or not.

Off and on, Raphael would slowly share glimpses of himself with me in odd ways. We didn’t speak much at first, mostly because he was always whistling. Those melodies he chose were something to which I could relate; old church hymns, songs that I had known all my young life. Yet, instead of my grandma Tron singing God’s praise through pursed lips, it was a young black man. Looking back, he probably knew those were something I could relate to – an unspoken welcome if you will. But my introduction to the world through Raphael didn’t stop there. He would often go into long recantations of literature. At first, they seemed to be mere ramblings of thought, but the more I listened, the more I realized that they were quotes from works of poetry. It wasn’t simply the words he spoke, but more than that, it amazed me at how much he had seemingly memorized. One day, after reciting another lengthy prose, I finally inquired about the piece he had just mentioned. Something about rapping at a door caught my ear.

“The Raven,” he replied, smiling through his thick shadowed mustache. A single gold tooth gleamed from the broad smile. The sweat glistened off of his dark, chiseled forearms.

“Can you teach it to me?”

“Sure, I guess we got plenty of time.” He finished the seat he had just tightened, sitting it up on the table across from me with a loud thump. “Let me get this in that Chevy out there, and we’ll get started.” He dashed off to the parking lot, returning shortly afterward, smiling more than ever. “Now, where do we begin?”

Raphael spent the remainder of the summer sharing various works of poets he liked to memorize with me, but Edgar Allan Poe was by far his favorite. Over and over again, he would work with me learning, line after line, until we could finally repeat them together. “The Raven” seemed to always be our “go-to” piece.

“Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,

Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore —

While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,

As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.

“ ’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door —

Only this and nothing more.”

To each of us, there was something special about the words we shared. To Raphael, it was the heartache of the man in the tale. The most poignant section of the verse that always stuck with me was the rapping at the door on that bleak, dark night by the raven. In many ways, a broadsword and a door are the same, each having two sides. The blade’s two meanings are as opposing as night and day – one to save lives, the other to take lives.

Similarly, the door has a dual purpose, the inner and the outer. From each side, one can have a different perspective from the one standing on the other side. From whence you stand makes all the difference in the world. Alone, the man in the poem is distraught over his love, and one can surmise that he is slowly drifting into insanity. But who wouldn’t find a knock on the door of one’s house in the middle of the night a bit more compelling than just a curious tap? The same rapping upon the chamber door in the middle of the day is far easier to accept; the other is a sense of impending doom.

Yet, are we not to be prepared for the Lord’s return at any time? As Jesus told his disciples, “For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.”[2] It is this proverbial rapping at our chamber door, deep into the night, which we most dread. For, it is not the known that beckons our fears, but the unknown. Likewise, unless we have the foresight to know who is on the opposite side of that last bastion of barrier between us and the world beyond, we cannot know to whom calls upon us.

Trepidation awaits if we allow it. Yet, when we truly know in our hearts that we can be called upon at any time, therein itself lies a comfort, erasing the mysticism of the unknown. “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.”[3]

But there is the other side, the portion from which we are the ones to be the caller. It is when we seek God that we are requesting permission to enter into his presence. Before Jesus, only certain priests were allowed to enter into the holiest of holies, and then only at specific times of the year. When Christ shed his blood on the cross, the veil that separated the holiest of holies from the world was torn from top to bottom. It was then, if we have requested permission that we were finally allowed to enter into God’s presence; a gift from God to those whom he loved enough to give the life of his only Son. “Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you.13 And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.”[4]

But as clear as the Bible is on seeking Him. But sadly, many will never listen. Their own will, earthly desires, and self-purpose will prove stronger than their desire to know God. Jesus made it perfectly clear when asked about how many will be saved, “Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able. When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are: Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets.27 But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity.28 There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out.[5]

The summer of 76 eventually ended, and with it, my time at the trim shop. School was about to start up my full-time summer job had concluded. I never saw Raphael again. It is sometimes odd to think of God working in us, even when we knew him the least. So often, in times of torment and persecution, when we go to God in prayer, we feel him with us, but oddly enough, it is the times we least expect him that he is with us the most. So, it was in my youth.

Time has passed, and like all memories, one wonders how the other acquaintances in their lives faired. God’s path for us is never expected, and through it, when we look back, was there for a purpose. Such is the case for me. For in the shade of the shop lights, in a hot July summer, a young white kid just off the farm and a street-savvy young black man formed a bond over the most unlikely of poets, sharing the words penned some 100 years before them both. Through it, I learned how others, unlike me in so many ways, had riches to share with me that would enhance my journey through life.

Even a secular poem can remind us to seek God, to knock upon his door. When we enter into His presence, we are then within him and He within us – inside God’s dwelling place. From there, we can then perceive the knock from within – the call to serve. So, when that gentle rapping comes at your door, don’t hesitate to open it. “Many are the called, but few are chosen.” So, when your time comes, be prepared to answer, “Yes, Lord, it is I, take me.”

Live your life so that when your judgment day comes, it won’t be your will that had been done, but rather His.

Yes, then you will know you are finally home.

Thanks be to God.


[1] The Great Divorce. Copyright © 1946, C. S Lewis Pte. Ltd. Copyright renewed 1973 C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers. Words to Live By: A Guide for the Merely Christian. Copyright © 2007 by C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

[2] 1 Thessalonians 5:2 KJV

[3] Revelation 3:30 KJV

[4] Jeremiah 29:12-13 KJV

[5] Luke 13:23-30 KJV

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A Morning of Rejuvenation

The long-awaited time of recompense has begun.

In life, there are seasons.

One must traverse through these one at a time.

Old Blue at the Collettsville General Store

Some may feel like they have entered into the valley of the shadow of death. Others may feel as if they have reached the summit of life’s journey. Through each day, we are seeking a means to an end. For some, their grasp reaches no further than what is just before them. Many people today are self-absorbed in the many distractions of this world so much so, that they think no more about the consequences of their actions than that of a passing of a swift cloud overhead. It is because of the choices of the first humans, Adam and Eve,  that we live in a fallen world – thus, the reason for death and destruction. What we choose today can alter the course of our life for not just this lifetime, but for eternity.

Think about that for a moment!

My own journey has just passed through some very turbulent waters. While they are nothing compared to many people I know, they were at least some of the more challenging in recent years. To that end, my extended passions, art, music, and writing had to take a back seat. It was as if part of me had to be cut off for the whole of me to be fully engaged in receiving, and absorbing the information necessary to make it to the next stage of the journey. In some ways, it was as if the fruits of the spirit were slowly dying on the vine, withering away due to neglect. It was not something that I wanted, but it was the only way to make it through the valley in which I had traversed. Did I think about my choice as to why this was happening? Oh yes, frequently and often. Did it give me solace in knowing that my trials were making the path more difficult? Yes, for when we often are serving God, there are certainly times of trials and struggles, to which the Apostle Paul attested, again and again.

So, it was this morning, as I walked to church that once more, my consciousness was as clear as the air was cold. The trail I was on ran beside the John’s River. The frigid waters were a gray, forbidding froth as the mountain shed the previous night’s rain. The forest is now like a living graveyard, bones of the tree trunks barren and gray offering little comfort in their winter gloom. In the bountiful days of summer, their foliage provides a canopy of shelter from the sun. Yet, as my footsteps carried me forward, the sunlight was my welcome companion. My mind was free to recite scriptures, something else that had been derelict in my daily life, much to my chagrin. But today, as I walked, the words of the Lord flowed from my lips, like the waters cascading over the rocks in the torrent below.

It felt as if my blood was flowing once more.

Even before my journey had made it to my mid-way stopping point, the Collettsville General Store, there was the deep-throated howl of the hunting dog. “Odd,” I thought to myself, “Did I just hear a hound dog wailing this early in the morning?” Sure enough, as my footsteps rounded the bend in the road and the parking lot of the store came into view, there standing near the picnic table was the familiar Blue Tick Hound. We’d met before, and he seemed comfortable with my presence. So much so before, that when we sat together on the porch of the store, he sat next to me, as if we were old friends.

Today was no different, as he seemed to recognize me as much as I did him. I shuffled on over to the weathered picnic table and unloaded my pack and walking staff. Old Blue came over and greeted me, and I him. As I sat down, he continued to check out each car that pulled into the lot, either seeking his owner or a morsel of food. Either way, he kept coming back to me and eventually leaned over my shoulder as if to say, “Hey, how about some attention fella.” Reluctantly, for fear of coming away smelling like an old hound dog, I began patting the back of his head. to which he seemed to smile. He rather enjoyed it all the more, so much so, that it invoked his instinctual voice of glee to erupt into a punctual, “Baaaaroooooooof,” in my ear. It was the unmistakable howl of the bear-dog that I had heard earlier, and it had definitely been from my newfound friend, Old Blue.

It is in these simple moments of respite that one feels life’s vessel beginning to refill. As we sat there, me pouring a cup of coffee to go along with my devotional, and old Blue keeping watch, the morning sun continued to warm us, both inside and out. There are times when man’s best friend, even if he’s not your own, can be one of the best companions; and so it was today.

The traffic to Wilson’s Creek had almost entirely diminished so that the area of repose beside the general store was somewhat peaceful this Sunday morning. Old Blue and I chatted some more before he decided to go check out the visitors at the Ruritan’s Building across the road. I took the opportunity to continue likewise on my journey. But before I left, I thanked God for affording me the time to sit and be rejuvenated from one of his creatures.

Sometimes, it is the simpler things in life that make all the difference.

Thanks be to God.

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You are More Than a Vessel

by Timothy W. Tron, Dec. 2020

For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.”[1]

Across the valley, the distant mountain tops lay shrouded in a soft dusting of white that appears to be cast in gold as the waking dawn cast its rays upon them. Behind them, the darkness trails the night’s passing; with it, the fitful dreams of a mind that searches but cannot find peace. Like those distant peaks, we know they are not really made of gold, and likewise, those dreams of Apocalyptic demise are just as surreal. Yet, around us each day, there seems to be an ever-growing season of discontentment. As voices rise against the mounting darkness, they are silenced before they can become heard. Those who listen can hear those echoes from thronged masses who for so long have relied upon others to stand up for them – in some ways, it seems that soon, there will be none left to stand.

Grandfather Mountain at Sunrise, Timothy W. Tron, Dec. 2020

Each of us was put here on earth for a purpose. While many see their lives as a simple matter of birth, life, and death, there is a greater calling when one awakens to God’s plan for them. As Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, he assured them that God had provided them something special, something greater than themselves – the light that shines within. As the Apostle Paul put it, “The light of knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” When we realize that we are nothing more than a vessel in which our soul inhabits, like a house that one calls home, we soon understand the scriptures that speak of mortality and decay. While these words are not meant to demean or cause despair, but rather, they are intended to make us aware of the impetus to use that with which we have been endowed to serve Him to the fullest. As this earthly body ages and begins to deteriorate, if we are faithful to God’s plan, we are likewise slowly becoming more Christlike. This metamorphosis is what is known as Sanctification.

No matter the century, no matter the evil that stalks our daily lives, we can take comfort in knowing that God is with us. You ask, “How is this possible?” The answer is in the verse, “that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” While we have, as Paul put it, “earthen vessels,” it is not our exterior that gives us strength, but rather, that which is within. Let us not be confused for one second and allow ourselves to imagine that we can contain God within our own being.

That is entirely absurd.

However, it is Him working through us, in spite of ourselves, that makes this statement possible. We are like a fiber optic cable, the glass thread, and God is the light that travels down that hair-thin bead of glass. We could no more contain God’s infinite power than our own solar system’s sun, which easily dwarfs anything of power we can begin to imagine – yet, God is infinitely greater even than our own star, the sun. So it is that as we find God working through us, we begin to know that regardless of what goes on in the world around us, we can take comfort in knowing that regardless of what happens in the next few weeks or months, we are only passing through.

Our preparations, our focus should not be on this world, but the next. As we turn our hope toward the life to come, we can then lay aside the trivial torments of this life. Meanwhile, we can become the light to those around us, and in so doing, lead them to Jesus Christ – the Savior of the World. For there is no greater purpose for every believer than to use all that you have been given to find a way to reach those around you lost in that sea of darkness. Like the tide that goes out before the dawn’s early light, they recede from help before we can reach them, feeling as if their demise will come with the end of this society’s failure. They have tied themselves to all that the world has expected of them, and in so doing, have no other hope than what the media and the world allow them to hear. Their thoughts are infected daily with scenes and stories meant to pull them through one sensational event to the next – each perpetrated only to keep them in bondage to what they are told. A vicious cycle of fear, excitement, and sin creates a sea of unending doom to the viewer. Few even realize how they have been led astray – yes, they have been played.

Through God’s grace, those who have found salvation must be mindful of this universal ongoing deceit when approaching friends and family that have no clue as to what they have been led to believe. Not only are they like the drowning victim, quick to pull under the one who seeks to rescue them, but they are also quick to discredit or dismiss your favor as merely a religious fervor. When we step into those dark waters to begin our life-saving, we must remember it will not be easy. Paul told us that we would experience untold obstacles, but with each one, we should be mindful of how we overcome them, “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed;” And as the Apostle Paul put it, all the while being mindful of our own mortal being. Being conscious that while our earthly vessels are attempting to thwart the heinous throngs of the dark forces of this world, God’s limitless power will provide for us in our time of need.

Time is of the essence. For many, they feel the end is near. We cannot say when Christ will return, but when we are called to the Judgement seat on that final day, it will be too late for many.

We must seek them out.

Find them in those dark places.

Find them in the deep water.

Call them, write to them, but don’t hesitate – the time is short.

We have been called for a time such as this.

Thanks be to God.


[1] 2 Corinthians 4:6-11 KJV

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This Little Light of Mine

by Timothy W. Tron, Dec. 2020

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” – Matthew 5:16

Tonight, as I pray for all those people in my life, both within reach, and those distant, it is as if there is a never-ending list. Yet, as countless as the stars are in the sky, the Lord knows each of them by name. For each soul that finds its way onto my finite list, there are so many more that our Savior knows, and his grace emanates forth like one star shining onto the next until his list to us appears infinite.  And in this manner, we are found like the newborn foal in the dewy morning grass, helpless, ambling into an unknown future. Our ship’s sails may be full, but the rudder, the part with which we steer, seems inadequate for the vessel for which we have been endowed. The greater the berth, the more we are expected to manage – yet, even in the best of times, we can be overwhelmed with the blessings upon which we have been bestowed. The cargo for which we carry is that of being someone to whom others can turn, the light which shineth forth as does the natural world, also attracts that of the spiritual. Those with darkened hearts, those with diminished souls cling to us like a life support. We become the flame to the moth, so to speak. We know deep inside this shell of humanity that we are not worthy, and if we are even more abound in our faith, we know that it is He that worketh through us whom they seek.

Night Sky – by Timothy W. Tron, 2020

On a dark night, over 2,000 years ago, the stars above played an integral part of our Messiah’s birth. As part of our Men’s Connection Bible study, this morning we watched the very well written and presented movie, “The Star of Bethlehem.”[1] As we marveled at the details with which the show’s presenter depicted his case, in the back of my mind, there was a little voice wondering about all the other brilliance and imagery to which he did not mention. While science and mathematics can depict with uncanny accuracy the actual account of how the star of Bethlehem came to be, there is another side of the story where man’s intuition can never reach – that of the un-natural, the spiritual, and the Godly. For as Jesus told the Pharisees, “How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only.[2] There in that night sky, not only was the star of Bethlehem showing the way, but there was another phenomenon taking place. As the shepherds stood with their flocks, there was, as they put it, a multitude of angels that illuminated the sky beyond their ability to describe in human terms. “And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.”[3] As those men in the field would later testify to Luke, not alone, but several eyewitnesses would attest, a luminescence far beyond that of what said star was already providing shone about them. It was so brilliant that it literally wrought their hearts with fear and trembling. We can see this again throughout scripture when man finds himself in the presence of an Almighty being, be it an Angel of the Lord or God himself.  But Luke goes on to reveal how much more these shepherds were afforded that precious night. As if heaven had taken pause and the entirety of heaven ascended to earth to witness the birth of God in the flesh, the multitude of angels filled the sky. “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men. And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven,[4] As those lowly shepherds stook quaking in amidst their flocks, in awe of the presence of something no one before, nor anyone since had ever witnessed, they were given the message of “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.”

If you lived the rest of your life after such an event, that moment, that place in time and those words would surely never leave you. Had those ancient Jews been more mindful of the scriptures and voices of the prophets, they too would have been standing alongside those men in the fields. But alas, as God would intend it to be, their hearts would be hardened, and the image of the Almighty in the form of a helpless child, not the conquering King they had imagined would be the order for all time.

While we often find comfort in science and numerical evidence when it can back up those words that are encased within the covers of the book with the inscription, “Bible,” we must be reminded that this is only a minutia of detail to which we are afforded. The natural order and what man can fully understand are, but an infinitesimal part of all that God can do and provide. When we seek out those stories of old and find the infinite being allowing himself to become finite, the flesh, we for a moment can comprehend what he speaks. But as those Jews of old discovered, there was much more to that earthly mission than what humankind had anticipated.

There amongst those beautiful deep space nebulae from which the Hubble Space Telescope can provide to our vast array of scientific academia, we can find tiny lights that appear to be stars. They are, in fact, billions of other galaxies with billions more stars within them. There seems to be no end to what God’s creation can and will reveal. When we take the time to study the word to which we were given, the Comforter as Jesus told his disciples, we can find traces, vague footprints of angelic beings for which there is no understanding, no mathematical equation that can explain within the scope of human interpretation. It is then, when we realize the limits of our own being that someday our soul may inhabit a place we cannot begin to imagine, that we start to fathom the endless capacity of God. It is then that we understand how faith really works.

He must increase that we may decrease. And when we finally come to understand this, we will then begin to open our eyes to a new realization – we are nothing without Him.

Give thanks for all that you have, my friend, and pray for those whom you know and for those who don’t. From our little lights, we emanate out to others until we eventually become a greater light that makes all the difference in this world. So that someday, we too shall be one with the light of the world.

For we were once darkness, but now we are light, live as children of the light.”[5]

Thanks be to God.


[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6OaVLA27V0s, ITN Movies, 2007, From Producer Stephen   McEveety (The Passion of the Christ)

[2] John 5:44 KJV

[3] Luke 2:9 KJV

[4] Luke 2:13-15 KJV

[5] Eph. 5:8 KJV

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Don’t Live to Regret It

by Timothy W. Tron, Dec. 2020

An old cliché came to me this morning through the words of a song, “You’ll live to regret it…”

Many will look back on 2020 and realize it was more than the year of unprecedented events, but sadly for many, will become a year of regret. Then there is the introspective thought, “How many things have we passed through in this life to only live long enough to regret them?”

Meriam-Webster defines regret as the following: re·​gret | \ ri-ˈgret  \ 1a: to mourn the loss or death of, b: to miss very much,  sorrow aroused by circumstances beyond one’s control or power to repair, an expression of distressing emotion (such as sorrow).[1]

The corner of studio’s past, when God was not the center of my life. – Chatham County Farm circa. 1999

The longer I ponder on this line, the more corollary aspects of it come into play. For it can mean more than not having appreciated someone or something; can it not? Life is a never-ending journey of choices, and with them, we often face missing an opportunity, albeit good or bad. Like a fork in the road, there is always more than one path that we may take. As the saying goes, the one less traveled is often the one that will enrich our soul all the more. I once had a phrase back in my youth when my ambitions were to pursue the lusts of the flesh, that I was the “Unluckiest, lucky man alive.” In other words, God was watching over me even when I wasn’t seeking him. As much as I tried to run from him, I soon found out there was no place to hide. My life was as the psalmist wrote, “Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.”[2]

The studio that God built – no regrets.
Thanks be to God.

Time and time again, when my path should have led to utter destruction, there was another miraculous occurrence that delivered me safely out of the jaws of the lion. In those many narrow escapes of a poor choice, it was as if I could feel the prayers of my family’s spiritual leaders blanketing me when I was woefully unworthy.  They would pray that those early teachings they had sown would someday blossom. Thankfully, those seeds of faith my elders had planted in me took root, and once they began to germinate, God’s plan for me began to come to fruition. But it would take many years and many knocks upon my proverbial door before my hard head would allow him in.

As Christians, is not our pathway more judicious than those who wander like ships tossed upon the sea? “Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass.”[3] While we might ponder those many missed opportunities, we should not live in regret. For there was and always is a purpose in the next step we take. While it may seem as if a choice were a mistake when the longer journey reveals the road traveled, when we look back over the dawn of time, we can almost, if not always, see how that passage through which we endured was one in which there could not have been a more perfect plan provided. These are the moments, when we allow them, that magnify the essence of God. “And he shall bring forth they righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday. Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass.[4]

Take, for instance, just a couple of nights ago, a decision to remain in Boone and run a couple of errands before heading down the mountain cost me in time but could have cost me much more.

Why do I say this? Allow me to explain.

My own “plan,” if you will, was to leave work a little early and run while the snow was still falling. Besides the novelty of running in the snow, there was the hope that I would be able to capture images for future use in devotional postings to social media. The trails that crisscross the Moses Cone Memorial park offer a never-ending vista of God’s creation. With each changing season, so do those familiar spots where the camera’s eye catches one’s attention.

Moses Cone Manor Trail, Dec. 2020

The run was challenging in that the bitterly cold wind bit into my exposed flesh. But as is most often the case, as I continued quoting scriptures, the pain of the outer body diminished until the point it was only a mild nuisance. Thankfully, there were several good scenes from which to choose. The falling snow’s pace was merely a flurry at best by the end of the run, so it didn’t seem unwise to go ahead and stop by a local store to pick up another Christmas gift. While I was in the spirit of getting things done, I also decided to go ahead and run to Lowe’s for a couple of things on my list. While in the store, hunger began to gnaw at my insides. One who has trained long enough or worked in a physical capacity for an extended time knows the difference between a little hunger pang and one of greater magnitude, for that latter one was one that hit me while picking up those supplies. Seeing that there was a greater need than a want, I decided to go ahead and grab an early supper as well. The hot soup and sandwich hit the spot as I sat in the parking lot of Chik-Fil-A and dined alone. Outside the car, the flurries continued as the last vestiges of light faded from the sky. Street lights seemed hazy in the falling snow, but there was nothing at this point that created any sense of dread. The thermometer on the car’s display read 23 degrees.

Driving out of Boone and eventually into Blowing Rock, there was still nothing to indicate that this was nothing more than a beautiful end to a snowy day on the mountain. Christmas lights were already hung in several stores and homes. Their ambiance warming the soul within as my car drove past. Then, as the curve past the last light in Blowing Rock began to fall behind me, there ahead were the seemingly endless line of red tail-lights. An unending line of cars wrapped around the curve ahead and far below the mountain.

There would be no usual drive home that night.

Later, I would find out that a tractor-trailer had jack-knifed one of the icy curves. With it, several cars were also wrecked and maligned across the roadway. So, for the remainder of the evening, for over an hour or so, there I sat.

Looking back, my first thoughts were of regret for having stopped and run those errands. As the evening wore on, sitting there in my little car, thoughts of thanks began to percolate into my head. Earlier that morning, I had stopped for gas; the car was on full. The heater was working well, even though outside it was a frigid 23 degrees; I was warm and dry. My body had forced me to eat supper early, so I was fed. The longer I sat, the more I realized how lucky it was that my drive home was paused in the manner it was, for my fate could have been much different; either crashed or worse, injured – to the point of death.

The night following, Pastor Greer led us through the study of Romans 10 and, in so doing, mentioned the Roman Road to salvation. The term is often used to describe the scriptures in the book of Romans, which are often used to lead someone to Christ. Along this virtual road, one can find eternal salvation if they so choose to make the drive. As some choices in life afford one the ability to know the result ahead of time, and so it is when one takes this route – the Roman road. Eternal life, one in which you would inevitably be able to live long enough to see if there were any regrets, would ironically allow you also to know that there couldn’t have genuinely been any regrets, for the path you took was the one in which God would have planned.

 However, if we live being regretful, is this not as bad or worse than not forgiving?

Worse yet, think of what the utmost regret might be? If you think of life in terms of eternity, then you are on the right track. In this vein of thought, one would have to say that the utmost remorse would undoubtedly be dying without choosing the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ. This choice would culminate after one’s physical life on earth has ended only to only wake up in hell, realizing that, and eternally regretting not having believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

There is no going back.

For in the gospel of Luke, the account of the rich man that died and was suddenly thrust into the midst of hell paints a vivid picture of someone who realized too late that he had made the wrong choices. “There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented…Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.”[5]

While it may not be evident to some, the Lazarus in this story is not the same one that Jesus raised from the dead. Yet, the name “Lazarus” is appropriately used in this passage, for in the Hebrew tongue, it translates to, “God has helped.” As the beggar Lazarus suffered his earthly life, God knew his heart. Those Pharisees to whom Jesus spoke had hearts hardened like the rich man. They knew the writings of Moses, they knew the law, and they knew the prophets’ teachings, yet they could not be persuaded. And the last sentence, as in typical Godly-poetic-justice, Jesus says, “though one rose from the dead.” Here he analogizes the Lazarus I this story with the one to whom he raised from the dead. Though the beggar Lazarus had died, he was alive in eternity, as though he had risen from the dead.

Lazarus had no regrets, for his reward was everlasting life, unlike the rich man who now felt the full weight of his errors. Wanting to prevent his own family from the same fate, he begged for Abraham to send Lazarus, for him to return from the dead and go to his house to warn his brothers not to fall to the same fate. Like him, Abraham responded that they already knew the answers, but they too were hardened to the truth.

Friend, be not so consumed with your own knowledge that you miss the truth of this story. As Jesus told the Pharisees, “Search the scriptures, for in them ye think ye find eternal life. For they are they which speak of me.” In other words, the answer is in Christ. Seek him, and you will find eternal life.

Let the only regrets in your life be those of the past; whereby, you didn’t spend enough time with loved ones, or you didn’t appreciate those who prayed over you, or that you didn’t stop and pause long enough along the journey to appreciate all that God has done for you. Yes, let those regrets be of the past. Going forward, willingly receive Christ in your life and leave all your future regrets behind.

You only have one earthly life to live. Make it count.

Thanks be to God.


[1] Meriam-Webster Dictionary, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/regret

[2] Psalm 139:7-10 KJV

[3] Psalm 37:5 KJV

[4] Psalm 37:6-7 KJV

[5][5] Luke 16:19-31 KJV

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A Gathering to Remember

by Timothy W. Tron, Nov. 2020

As the coming holidays approach, Thanksgiving and Christmas, there seems to be a sense of melancholy that has begun to permeate through the din of the incessant roar of this tumult our society has become. In my mind, there is a desire to reach back in my memories and dwell upon a time when life was simpler when the so-called advances in technology had yet to be developed. Because of the threat of lockdowns restricting these beloved reunions, those distant memories have become even more cherished. One such date that comes to mind coincides with a memory that our family holds dear to their heart.

It was the late 1960’s. Back then, we survived without non-stop news coverage, without updates from our social media accounts, and without the fear of dying from a virus, let alone anything else that existed at the time. It’s not to say there wasn’t death nor dying, for there had yet to be the advances we have today in the fields of heart disease and cancer. Both of these maladies took many lives before their time, and still do today, but not nearly as severely as in those days. No, we feared not because we had a faith that was the bedrock of our existence.

That faith was taught to us through our elders, passed down from one generation to the next – a thread of belief that was built upon an unending truth – Christ is indeed the Savior of the world. So, it is in this vein that once more my heart reaches for a well-worn story that is based on an actual event whose legacy has lasted for many years in our family. It is like the cup of an instant drink, void of the liquid to make it real – once the hot water is added, the story being recalled becomes the sustenance that warms our being. Like that beverage, the Spirit enters into our soul, and we are warmed from within to that which is without. Herein lies the beauty.

Looking back through the shadowy fog of time, those distant memories are like the passing clouds overhead. They are here but for a moment, and then cross over the mountaintops before we realize they are gone. As we near the season of holidays and family gatherings, it seems that those ancient days of yesteryear are ever more treasured. Like the value of a tattered cloth that once was held in the dying grasp of a loved one, its price to most would be nothing, but to those who knew its connection to the soul of the other – it becomes a priceless object.

That year when the snow fell around Christmas would become one such moment in time for me.

The classic event which unfolded is still known to this day, by all that attended, as the Sled Hill Christmas. Of all my childhood holiday experiences, it will forever be the most memorable in my mind. To read the entirety of the original story, you can find it online at https://timothywtron.dreamhosters.com/sled-hill-life-more-abundantly/ But this article looks at that event from a different perspective; one of how the warmth of a loving family and faith carried us through what may have been considered just another dark winter.

Like a revival, a truly epic event can only unfold when it is least expected. So it was that overcast December day so many decades ago. Several of us grandkids were staying at Grandpa and Grandma Tron’s house, there on the outskirts of New Harmony, Indiana. The town itself was in the season of slumber. Farming was still the driving industry, and the fields were now silent in their winter sleep. The hay had all been stored in the barns and the silos were filled to capacity with grains and silage to last until the next growing season began.  A feeling of hibernation overtook one’s soul, making those opportunities to warm by the woodstove or to huddle close around a cup of hot chocolate all the more permanent upon the creature within. Gathering with others was the only natural thing to do in a time such as this – it was who we were, it was what we were. In those precious slices of time, we fellowshipped without knowing that’s what it was called. Visiting with others when the work in the fields slowed was just as natural as splitting your firewood by hand – we all did it.

Tron House, New Harmony, Indiana.

When those first few snowflakes began falling the night before what would become the day to remember, we went to bed not expecting anything more than just a typical Midwest December dusting. When we awoke the next morning to the sounds of someone rattling around downstairs in the kitchen, it was as if Christmas had come early. Jumping from underneath the multiple layers of quilts, which weighed nearly as much as another cousin, we raced down the icy narrow stairs from the unheated upstairs bedrooms down to the kitchen where the pot-belly woodstove in Grandma’s kitchen was already red hot. We shivered and shook the remnants of chill from our bones, as our bare feet fought to find the warmth emanating from the scant linoleum floor by the stove. Excitedly, we peeked through the threadbare kitchen curtains that hung over the sink. The window faced grandma’s kitchen garden. Outside, the world was no longer the muddled gray of winter, but instead, was a brilliant whiteness, even in the pre-dawn, early morning hours.

About the time we had settled down around the table, after getting out of our bedclothes, Grandpa came in from the morning milking. We could hear the creaky old porch door slam behind him as he walked down the long back porch, from the barn end, up to the door of the kitchen, where he paused and took off his boots. The confines of that narrow passage clothed in clear plastic, a feeble attempt to thwart the cold winds of winter. The repurposed material was clouded with age, giving off a soft sheer grayness within the tomb of the veranda’s confines. The oft sound of rippling plastic slapping the screen made thoughts of warm summer nights, fresh tomatoes, and fireflies come to mind. Needless to say, those were but a distant rumor as the snow continued to fall.

With all eyes upon his entry, the vacuum of anticipation cut the air, like the cold wind that followed him inside. Snowflakes fell off his outer coat confirming what we already knew. Before he had time to take note of his unexpected audience, the questions began to roll off our lips.

“How deep is it grandpa?”

“Does it look like more’s coming?

“Where are the sleds?”

“Were the cows cold?”

He turned and smiled, looking toward grandma. Victor Tron never was a man of many words, So, when he replied with, “It looks like it’s gonna be good,” rest assured, that was all we needed to know. Grandma already had his breakfast ready, along with ours, and we sat down for an unusually early start of our day. We all instantly grew silent when grandpa bowed his head and reached his hand over to grandma. She grabbed his outstretched weathered hand with hers and we all joined hands and bowed our heads as grandpa said the blessing for the breakfast meal. In my mind, I can still hear that strained voice, barely above a whisper, thank God for what grandpa said was an abundance of blessings. Before us was a meager meal by worldly standards, but to us, it was Heaven sent. For we knew, even as children that every bit of it was from those two pair of withered hands that grasped one another in a love that never ended, even upon their death.

Victor Tron Sr.

 Grandpa’s first milking was at 3:00 AM and he usually finished up around 5:00 AM. His second milking was at 3:00 PM, every day of his life. He never took a vacation that I could remember. Usually exhausted from rising early, he would routinely drift off to sleep no matter where he sat, so finding time to talk with him was rare. He milked the cows until that night he died peacefully in his sleep, never to milk again. What we didn’t know as children, was how precious those few moments were with him when we were able to visit, especially that snowy morning on a cold December day so many years ago.

As soon as we were able to clear the table and bundle up, we were headed out the door. Eventually, someone asked if we could check out sled hill. An okay was given and like a herd of young calves heading for new pasture, we bolted out the back gate. Past the woodpile where grandpa’s ax and splitting log were shrouded in snow we raced. Heading for the opening to the lane, we quickly found ourselves wading through the knee-deep snow toward the iconic destination; Sled Hill. Past the milking barn, the bullpen, and Ms. Wolf’s house we trudged. Each one of these structures held a plethora of memories and stories that one could sit for hours and share. Like a life of living, their collections, like the holdings of stockpiled hay for the winter, waiting for one to return and use for the giving.

The bushes along the Labyrinth were blanketed in a sweet frosting of white. Our panted breaths billowed before us and were quickly whisked away in the falling snow.  In our rush to find out how well the sledding was going to be, we didn’t realize how hard the snow was continuing to fall. Nor did we realize how deep the snow had already gotten since sunrise. In the overcast grayness of the day, it all seemed like a dream, even when it was live.

Labyrinth, New Harmony, Indiana

As the story, “Sled Hill: Life More Abundantly,” conveys, the rest of the day was a multitude of adventures and excitement. With each passing moment, the tempo of the day’s delight reached a fevered pitch. The enthusiasm of the children soon bubbled over into those of the adults, igniting in them the feelings of youth. Gone were the aches and pains of age. The adrenaline of living purged those boundaries of limitations that had kept them hostage. Soon, parents, Aunts, and Uncles were joining in the merriment of sliding down the hill so aptly named.

As the sky began to darken as night approached, the thrill of the day and the feeling of being one with something greater than ourselves overwhelmed us. Fearing that it would end in darkness, the men created torches on the fly from used old tin cans (which we also used as drinking vessels), nailing them to poles and placing them along the sled run, all the way to the top of the hill. What started out as child’s play quickly turned into a major production. In essence, a cow pasture had turned into our own ski-slope far removed from any mountaintop.

When the last vestiges of daylight gave way to darkness, there along the sled run was a perfect row of home-made flaming lights shedding an ambient glow of warmth. Off to the side, a pile of wood was set afire and a massive bonfire became the gathering spot between runs down the hill. There we regained strength to carry on from food and drink the family had brought in at a moment’s notice. There, the entire family that was able to make it collected. The sentinel image that remains with me to this day was seeing both grandpa and grandma’s faces glowing in the reflection of the firelight. To know that grandpa had a milking coming at 03:00 AM, and yet, he was here foregoing precious sleep, standing alongside us kids around the bonfire said something more that than words could fathom. Even then, the whispers of the children could be heard, “Look, even grandpa and grandma are here.” The statement was a confirmation of the significance of that moment in time, one that made a profound statement on all that were present.

That night, once our bodies had been worn to a frazzle. There was barely enough strength to make it back to the house. As we pulled off our wet, nearly frozen clothing and briefly warmed by the fire, a numbness of exhaustion began to overtake us. The enormous featherbed never looked so welcoming. Shortly thereafter, after our bedtime prayers were said, there was little more than the sweet, “Goodnight children,” from grandma as she tucked us under the pile of quilts before we fell asleep.

For once in a lifetime, there was no sweeter sleep.

As the snow continued to fall outside that night, there was a warmth within that was more than physical – a love that transcends all understanding. There was something created that day that would last forever in the hearts of those who had been privileged to experience it. It became an inexplicable thread of life that would weave its way into our souls which would become part of who we were. The similarity of a feeling such as this can only compare to that of Christ’s disciples.

Like those followers of Jesus who had walked and talked with Christ after his resurrection, they too had a story to share. One that was so inexplicable, so earth-shattering that they would live the rest of their lives pursuing the mission to share it with all that would hear, even unto the point of death. It was who they were.

As we go forward in this holiday season, let us come together as a family, and may the hope of Christ, and Christmas be with you, until the end of time. May it someday become who you are as well.

Thanks be to God.

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A Song of Old – The Return to the Denton Bluegrass Festival 2020

by Timothy W. Tron

While the past few days have been a blur, there were many poignant moments upon which to reflect. Gazing out across the fervent green pastures before the light of dawn, the cattle were making their way across the begotten landscape. It felt almost as if I was back on the farm in Chatham, there with my cattle grazing before me. As I sipped my campfire percolated coffee, there was a peace of mind that passeth all understanding. Perhaps it’s only in the blood of someone raised in the country, or perhaps, it’s just knowing pleasures of a simpler life. While this was not my land, nor my farm, it was still a homecoming in many ways. This was my first real trip back not only to a place, not only to an event but more so to a collection of souls that had been part of my life before I crossed over that great river. When that journey began, there was a song that spoke to me when the challenges seemed to be uphill, no matter where I turned. The tune was called, “Wide River to Cross,” performed by the Bluegrass group Balsam Range who hails from Canton, NC. The song goes like this,

photo by Marty Tew

“There’s a sorrow in the wind
Blowing down the road I’ve been
I can hear it cry while shadows steal the sun
But I cannot look back now
I’ve come too far to turn around
And there’s still a race ahead that I must run

I’m only halfway home
I’ve gotta journey on
To where I’ll find the things I have lost
I’ve come a long, long road
Still I’ve got miles to go
I’ve got a wide, wide river to cross”

Once there was a life that was not well lived. The vessel was hollow, but none could tell from the outside. It wasn’t until that day when the decision was made, to cross that great divide – to serve God in all that I do – that life began to change. While we, my family and I, eventually made it across that great divide, the journey never ends until the day we are laid into that final resting place. In essence, we are only halfway home. While that road we have traveled may seem long, we’ve still many miles to go. Yet, once you make that leap of faith, you are reminded that you’ve come too far to turn back. Each day becomes another opportunity to serve Him in all that you do. There is not a day that the scripture from Colossians does not come to mind, “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.[1]

When we take that leap of faith, there is no turning back. Yet, those who have been left behind seldom know the reason, but only that someone has left the presence of their life, be it good or bad. Meanwhile, life goes on. The clock ticks, the wrinkles grow like furrows in the cornrow as the setting sun casts its shadows. One by one, the soldier’s fall – Randy Shumaker, Dave Murph, and so many more. Yet, these two were special, especially on this return trip to the Denton Bluegrass Festival. God had placed them in my life for a reason. We had met through our shared experiences of camping at Denton. Randy’s fellow band members and their families, along with other campers on that hill by the cow pasture, became my extended family. He was one of the founding members of the Second Chance Bluegrass Band, was always there, first thing in the morning regardless of how bad his cancer had progressed, and would say to me, “Great is the day the Lord hath made.” The first time he said it to me, I could only smile. At the time, I had only heard the scripture quoted, but didn’t know it well enough to respond to the pause he had purposefully extended on my behalf. Later, I would come to welcome his pre-dawn greetings with a, “Let us be glad and rejoice in it,” reply.

David Murph, the founder and former member of The Gospel Plowboys, was with me through the crossing of that river. He became like my lighthouse to the incoming ship. He assured me that God was using me in a mighty way. In their final days, both men impressed upon those whom they left behind a sense of urgency and a clear understanding of what it looks like to serve the Lord to the end. Both men passed too early for our earthly understanding, but are now with Jesus in that far brighter land. Each of my dear friends are healed and waiting for the day we can walk along God’s golden shores together, laughing and singing as in days of old. God had allowed them a time and place for which the seeds had been planted for many more. From a distance, we hear of their passing, but from that distant home, we can only know that they are waiting for us for that ultimate day of rejoicing.

My time in Denton this past weekend was not without quiet moments. Though the bed be weary, there was a bequeathing of the solstice in the sounds of raindrops falling upon the tarp above my tent. Warm and dry, the night passed into slumber as strains of stringed music wafted across the hollar. As campers hunkered down under canopies from the formidable precipitation, it failed to dampen their spirits. From one hilltop to the next, like waves of promise buoyed upon the breezes of jubilant voices soothed the weary soul. Like sunshine breaking through the storm, there was a rekindling of a consciousness of life. Like the traveler returning from a long, extended journey, my welcome home had been more abundantly received than ever imagined. It was heart-warming, and impactful at the same time, as one after another of my long-lost friends greeted me like a brother. Like, true friends, we picked up where we left off as if there had never been a separation in time. Some had only heard of my return and stopped by to see if it were so. Like a ghostly figure, we too are only a vapor in the midst of time. So with respect to the admiration of one another, there were some things left unsaid – those that had parted this world for the next, for one, were those often silent moments where words had no place. Randy’s daughter, Jessica, stopped by during one of our jam sessions and sought to say hello. There was so much that I wanted to ask and say to her, but at the moment it didn’t seem right. Instead, as she spoke briefly about her life, my thoughts returned to when I could hear her singing along with her daddy, Randy, at those late-night jam sessions. Later, I regretted not stopping and pulling her aside and just taking the time to sit and dwell in the moment. While she said at one point, “I have never missed a festival for the past 14 years, and I’m not going to start now.” In that defiant voice, there was the sound of her father’s tone ringing true. When she said that, my mind could hear Randy say the same thing, and emotion welled up in my throat. Quietly, I choked back what would have sounded contrite in comparison. Too soon, she would move on, but the memory she had invoked would tarry like the sweet aroma of a freshly baked apple pie sitting on the window sill cooling.

Here and there little children would be riding their bicycles past the campsites and the memories of my own children, and those of my friends would return. Their happy, garish voices would echo back in time. Their joy came not like ours but just living in the freedom of the moment, riding on their own up to the country store to buy another soda and slice of hoop-cheese, or wandering down to the pond to go fishing. The safety of the festival’s confines provided them an opportunity to step back into another time, akin to our own. To grow up in a sleepy little town, like New Harmony, where our only limitations were how many bottles you could collect in order to buy a bag of candy from the five-and-dime. Our energy seemed boundless. We never stopped. We were either running in play across fertile green pastures or riding a bicycle around our little village from sun up to sundown. When the evening baths were complete, there was no sleeplessness. As soon as your head hit the pillow, you were waking up to a new day.

As the gray light of dawn found its way into the corners of my tent, the raindrops could not silence the lowing of the cattle. Some had stopped their music only a short while before. Many would not rise until long after the sun’s arc had reached midday. It was this time of day, the predawn, that made the recollections of previous festivals drift back into one’s mind. Like Randy’s early morning greetings, there were other familiar sounds, but less obvious. Intently, if one listened, the coffee grumbling at the heat from the fire could be heard, shortly before the burp of percolation began. The crackling fire, like the last vestiges of the whippoorwill, united with the sounds of water still dripping from the trees. Here and there another acorn would fall from the many oak trees that shaded our camping site. There were no more sounds of singing or instruments being played – this was the morning after. Like that return across the river, once you have been to the other side, there is an appreciation for all things now.

While you will never be the same, there is a certain contentment in seeing or hearing how some things will never change; albeit, some may be less industrious than others. While our instruments of choice are the same used by our ancestors’ centuries before, our campsites are lined with tents and RV’s which would have made the cover of Popular Science at one time. Yet, there are still the fires to warm the chilly hands and feet when the darkness of night falls.

It is there, in that moment of time, where the past meets the present; when we are afforded the opportunity to return to a place we once knew, to show others that it can be done – to wade across that wide river and find that far distant shore. There is an inspiration of choice, to which each person is offered. It is when we make that journey, we are changed, and when we are allowed to return, as Moses came down from the Mount, the radiance of his being was too great for those to see – likewise, we are changed. Our light can become that for all to see.

As Delmar, in the movie “Oh Brother Where Art Thou,” waded back from his Baptism to tell the others, “Step into the water boys, there’s plenty of salvation to be had for all.” Let your sins be washed away, and someday, you too can reach that far distant shore. There weren’t just two men who lived their lives serving until the bitter end, but three. Jesus led the way and was an example to all – by the blood of Christ, we are all washed clean of our sins. Randy and Dave would have wanted you to know that this was their calling. Someday, it maybe yours too.

As the campfire fades, the time slips away and soon, it is time to say goodbye once more. But this time, unlike before, it is, “until we meet again.” Whether here on this earth, or on God’s golden shore, we shall meet again, and what a day of rejoicing it will be.

Thanks be to God.


[1] Colossians 3:23-24 KJV

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An Evening from the Porch

The evening sky was muted. A serenity had bequeathed the mountainside below the Cone Manor, a living museum that sits above Blowing Rock, NC., just off the Blueridge Parkway. After having just finished my run, it was the cool-down time. Dusk had fallen, and the last vestiges of the golden rays of sunlight had departed from the distant peaks. Now, the gray sullenness that precedes the nightfall enveloped the stately grounds. Gone were all of the holiday weekend visitors. In their vacuum, a welcome stillness permeated the air.

From where I stood on the front porch steps overlooking the vast forest, falling away unto the breath of the shimmering waters of the lake, a calm overtook me. It was as if the place were all my own.

In my mind, my thoughts wandered back to when the house had been occupied by its original inhabitants. Thinking unto myself as if I were one of them, “How might the evening unfold?” Supper now complete, one was free to walk out upon the front porch and purview one’s holdings. Inside, the muffled sounds of the kitchen staff clearing away the table could be heard. Outside, the calls of the night begin to waft upon the gentle breeze – whippoorwills and nightingales begin their evening symphonies.

It is then, in the moment, that you realize the difference between then and now.

There is no T.V. blaring the eternal, never ceasing sensationalized news story. There is no rampant shrill of amplified cacophony coming from various entertainment devices. There are no people with heads bent in apparent submissive prayer – their blue-lit faces reflecting the stolid control as their eyes glaze over from countless hours of overuse.

No, there is nothing here now but a sense of serenity.

Before all this, there was much more.

An evening stroll after dinner allowed for reflection of the day’s work. There, floating upon the mountain air, were the soft, gentle sounds of a piano. The melody of “Ada Plays – from Cold Mountain[1] toils in my head – a simpler time, a gentler time. Later, as the light fails from the sky, one shall retire inside. There, sheltered from the chilly night air, a good book from the personal library might carry one until the bedtime hours approach. Perhaps a letter to a distant acquaintance is necessary, so you sit at your desk, under the flickering light of lamp or candle, and begin scribing pen to paper. You pause between dips of your pen’s head into the inkwell and reflect upon the words freshly poured out onto the page. The sullenness of time grips your heart like the dark reaches of the night, which fast approaches.

Outside your window, a hoot owl calls, and you are reminded of a carriage ride up to the top of Flat Top where you and this friend, to whom you now write, watched God paint another beautiful sunset. Your concentration is broken when the sweet, delectable smells of something baking in the kitchen reaches you. Suddenly, your stomach answers as a momentary frill of joy leaps as if to answer. Later, as you sip warm milk as your palette is being sated by the fresh, hot apple pie, you peruse through scriptures. The late evening snack just before bed refreshes your spirit as the words of the Holy Spirit begin to speak to you. The two combine in your soul, and for a moment, there is nothing in this world that could make you feel any closer to heaven. A warmth envelopes your being as if the hand of God has wrapped around you. The Psalmist words come to mind, “He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.” The hoot owl calls once more as if to confirm those seemingly random thoughts. For a moment, you ponder the future and what it might hold for you and your family. As you lay your fork down beside the remaining crumbs on the fine china dessert plate, your eyes grow weary, and you momentarily nod off.

In the fog of a future time, you can see a world in turmoil. It is as if there is no peace in that far distant place. It is as if mankind has given in to all the lusts of the flesh. Your heart quickens, and God speaks to you, “But as for them whose heart walketh after the heart of their detestable things and their abominations, I will recompense their way upon their own heads, saith the Lord God.”

You awaken from the dream with a start. So troubled are you by the vision that you seek to find comfort before trying to resign to sleep for fear of where your thoughts may continue. Opening the book of Ezekiel, you find the rest of the scripture, “And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh: That they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God.”[2] Your heart is calmed, and you close the well-worn pages of the Bible, retiring to your bed-chamber.

Just before falling asleep, you think to yourself, “How could anyone turn away from the Lord so much so that they would become detestable in their own abominations to the point that God would pour out his wrath upon them?” The white linen drapes gently move from the cold night’s air wafting through your open window. You pull the feather comforter up to your chin and exhale a contemplative, but comforting sigh. The warmth of the bedsheets warding off the crisp coolness of the coming fall reminds you of God’s love. “How much greater is He than we shall ever know,” are the last thoughts you whisper to yourself. Eyes heavy with sleep send you off, and you become one with a peaceful eternity.

While we may not live in a time where we can walk away from the bitter influences of mankind’s own self-demising attributes, be they through media, electronics, or the immediate world in which he lives, we can always seek shelter from the storm where we have always been able to go – to God. Seek out the simpler ways in life, and find time to turn off all that noise.

And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him,…”[3]

The Cone Manor became the backdrop for a peaceful evening that I had not anticipated, yet was a welcome respite from recent times. Too often, we fail to stop and pause in this busy life. It is when we stop and wait for the Lord that we are most often blessed beyond measure.

Yesterday evening, I felt a calling, a still small voice, if you will, to go back up to that porch from whence this tale began and take a picture to go along with the story. The storms had passed, and there was the chance that I might be afforded an unforgettable scene from which to draw. Upon my arrival, lo, there on the porch, I found a young man scribing in a journal next to an open bible. He was seated in a foldable camp chair he had brought along. The Park Service had removed all the rocking chairs from the porch because of COVID. Curious, I asked as to what he was reading. He responded, ‘the Bible.”

“What book and chapter, I asked further?”

“The gospel of Luke,” he replied hesitantly.

“A great book indeed,” and from there, a conversation began. I soon learned that the young man was searching for answers. His faith journey had hit a point where he knew not which way to turn. It was then, I realized why the voice had said to come. Retrieving a camp chair of my own from the car and a snack, we spent the remainder of the evening until dark, sitting there on that antiquated porch. It was as if the previous tale had come to life. The color slowly faded from the sky as clouds waltzed past us, following the contour of the valleys below. There, two men, previously total strangers, became brothers through a shared faith. Questions were asked, and questions were answered. Like the Apostles to their own Disciples, the passing of one’s knowledge of God’s word onto the next generation transpired in a place fitting for its reception.

It was a blessing far more generous than one might envision on an evening such as this.

No matter the noise around you, seek Him, and he will find you.

Walk away into a place where that still small voice can find you once again.

Thanks be to God.


[1] “Ada Plays”, Gabriel Yared, from the movie Cold Mountain: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Q94_xysbTQ

[2] Ezekiel 11:20-21 KJV

[3] 1 King 19:11-13 KJV

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The Cup of Faith

Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample.”- Phil 3:17

It was an early Sunday morning. The air had the feeling as if it could snow at any minute. In an uncustomary manner, my morning devotional was actually upon the steps just outside the front door of our church, Rock Springs Baptist. There, I opened my Bible, journal, and thermos, pouring a hot cup of coffee to accompany my communion with the Lord. Before beginning, the steam from the coffee caught my attention. Swirling from the depths of my cup, the vapor rose, swirling as it ascended, like a spirit rising to meet our maker. On my walk, the bone-chilling air had eventually found its way into my very core. Taking a sip of the hot, bitter brew, I could feel the warmth invade my body, slowly recapturing that which had been nearly frozen.

It was then the similarity hit me; the steam; the Spirit, warmth of my body; us accepting Christ into our hearts.

A car passed and broke my focus for a moment. Taking another sip, I closed my eyes and prayed. The sound of the vehicle dissipated, and soon, the voice of the John’s river began to speak, which lay just beyond our church’s parking lot. The soothing sound and the warmth of my coffee began to erase all the toils, and struggles of the week as the hand of the Lord wrapped his arms around my being. As I exhaled, my breath made another pathway of steam into the air. It was then the thought of how much better coffee tasted when you were partaking of it out in the open, especially on a cold, winter morning. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more everything seemed to taste better when eaten or drank in the outdoors, where all that was man-made was removed, and you were one with the elements; purity begets purity.

Then my mind turned toward the devotionals on my Sunday morning hikes to church and how they always seemed more powerful, more meaningful than those of which I partook every morning before heading up the mountain while sitting in my home. It was as if the materials of man’s creation removed, allowing for a purer experience, a cleaner connection to the Almighty if you will.

There, I had done it; allowed myself to find something of God in merely drinking a hot cup of java on the front steps of the church.

Then my mind took a quantum leap, back, many years to my youth.

The ground was covered in snow. It was the dead of winter in Indiana, a place where Boy Scout Troops wouldn’t cancel a camping trip for the weather, regardless of the conditions. Fortunately, the camporee was at a camp where our tents were the heavy canvas permanent type built on wooden floors; surplus from a not so distant war. It was Friday night when we arrived. The routine was that we were to build a fire and then cook our supper while we made camp. From experience, we knew that in this weather, the fire was the key to everything; warmth, food, survival. Yet, everywhere we looked the snow had covered everything; not one stick of firewood was left untouched. Everything was either frozen or soaked with water. Knowing that we might face a challenge for which we may not fair too well, we began to build our wood in preparation for a valiant attempt, nonetheless. By good fortune, one of our patrol members found an old mouse nest in a hole in one of our tents’ floor. Thankfully, we shoved the dry tender in amongst all the other shoots of Sassafras, Cherry, and Pine, knowing that once the moisture burnt off, we would have the start of a roaring fire. One of the patrol leaders went to the cook box to find matches. When he returned, he held open the small cardboard box, with the little drawer, pulled out. The look on his face said it all. With a look of shock and dismay, we all quickly realized, there was just one match left. We gathered round, each of our young faces had a look of fear and anguish. One of the new scouts almost began to cry, “Oh no, we’re going to starve,” he stammered as tears welled up in his eyes.

“No, we’re not,” I bit back, the steam from my mouth shot into the air like a blowtorch. “You have to have faith. We’ve been through tough times before, and if anyone can make a fire with one match, it’s this patrol.” Ricky, the Scout Master’s son, who was also my good friend, stuck up for me at that moment, and reiterated what I had just conveyed.


“You gotta trust us man, if anyone can get a fire going, we can make it happen. We’re going to show them all, with one match, we’ll keep this fire going all weekend.”


There, he had done it; Ricky had unknowingly made the vow that we would all gladly have given our last breath to uphold. It was an unspoken word of truth and honor, nearly as revered as the Scout Law.

Delicately, like marooned sailors on a deserted island, we made all the preparations and double-checked each other’s work to make sure that the one match would work. Then, with a shaky hand, someone struck the match. The smell of sulfur and warmth filled the space before us. Immediately, we all gathered around, holding our hands as a shield to prevent any breeze from extinguishing our flame before it could take. Slowly, the flame touched the old mouse bed, and steaming smoke began to spread through our pile of tender.

“Nobody breath,” Ricky commanded.

We all stood, feet in shivering in the snowbank that we had created digging out the fire pit so that it would be clear of any moisture, and watched as the smoke seemed to almost disappear. The skeptical scout almost began to whimper once more. “Have faith,” I breathed again.

Then, as if prayers had been answered in unison, a flame nearly 12 inches tall leaped from the center of our woodpile. Smiles spread across our faces as we older scouts looked and nodded at one another. The younger scouts then realized they were with someone who would take care of them.

That weekend happened to get so cold, below zero, that they made us stay in the chow hall one night, for fear we might freeze to death in our cots. Meanwhile, we had stoked and prepared our fire, so that no matter how long we were gone, it would continue to keep a hot coal bed. We needn’t fear that the fire would spread since the ground was covered in almost a foot of snow. So, unlike other times when we would have to put out a fire when leaving our campsite, that particular weekend we were allowed to keep it going. Memory also recalls that the other patrols had not been so lucky when trying to strike their fires. More than one patrol visited us that weekend to warm themselves because of their own inabilities to keep a fire going. We learned a lot about ourselves in the process, not only that we had possessed a knowledge which provided for our own, but that we were able to pass on this to others while sharing with our neighbors.

I don’t remember anything else about that weekend, other than our parents came to stay with us the night we stayed in the chow hall. But the one thing I do recall, even to this day, was that by the time to pack up Sunday evening to head home, we had a fire that had never gone out. Meanwhile, other patrols had problems just getting theirs started, let alone able to keep them going.

We had struggled through adversity, but already in our young lives, having experienced hardship campouts before the one just mentioned had allowed us to have faith. It is the same in our walk with Christ. Those who are new to the faith struggle with knowing that the Father is with them always. By providing them examples of our own steadfast faith, we can give them the courage to face the struggles in their own walk.

The Apostle Paul had faced many trials and difficulties in his life once he turned to serving God instead of persecuting Christians. He was an encourager to others in the faith, and with confidence, not arrogance, as brother David said this morning, he told his disciples to ““Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ[1] He had faith enough to know that if they were to become believers, that they would have to have faith in what he said and to know that through believing him, they too would come to know Christ.

Once they had faith, they would find the love of Christ working in them, warming them, imbuing them with the Holy Spirit, lighting the flame within and starting the fire. Like that hot cup of coffee and a cold winter day, God envelopes you with His Spirit and warms your very soul.

Each day, as I begin to climb the mountain, either figuratively or physically, I ask the Lord to help me find my way. Each day, he answers me in the most unexpected ways.

Nearby, the river speaks to me, and a song begins to play in my head:

“Once I stood at the foot of a great high mountain
That I wanted so much to climb
And on top of this mountain was a beautiful fountain
That flows with the water of life

I fell down on my knees at the foot of this mountain
I cried, “O Lord what must I do?
I want to climb this mountain, I want to drink from this fountain
That flows so clear in my view.”

Then I heard a sweet voice from the top of this mountain
Saying, “Child put your hand in mine.”
I started climbing slowly, “Watch your steps at the edges
And take one step at a time.”

I started climbing upward taking one step at a time
The higher I got the harder I climbed

I’m still climbing upward and my journey’s almost ended
I’m nearing the top and you ought to see the view
Oh the water flows freely, there’s enough to make you free
So friend, if you’re thirsty climb this mountain with me.”[2]

In the gospel of John, Jesus said on the last day of the feast, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.”[3]

While these may or may not be my last days, the harder I climb, the more beautiful things I see and reveal, seeing with eyes anew. From walking in faith, although I will never achieve the level of the Apostle Paul, I can, with deep conviction share with others that with faith, all things are possible. In sharing that belief, may it light a spark within their own soul, one that will make within them a desire to seek Him.

With one spark, a fire can be built, and with it, the light of life can begin

That particular campout of which I shared earlier was one where our parents were invited to come spend a night camping with us. It was one of only two times that a parent of mine came to a campout. My mom, of all people, came to stay Saturday night. She, along with the other parents, stayed in the chow hall with the rest of our troop. Looking back, I wish I had done more to interact with her, but it was a treat just to hear her voice talking to the other adults and to know that someone who loved me was present. Now that she is gone, those few glimpses of the past are ever more precious.

She, along with the other parents, more than likely had no idea of our fire struggles, but rather, took it in stride that we had learned how to survive and were doing well enough. I don’t remember anything else about that weekend, but the one thing I do recall, even to this day, was that by the time to pack up Sunday evening to head home, we had a fire that had never gone out.

From all of this, we can surmise that we are a constant work in faith. We may never achieve the level of faith of an Apostle Paul, but we can share our testimony with others, and with that, provide them the knowledge that they are not alone. Through our faith, shall we lift up others, and in the end, give them hope of the Father.

Like steam from the coffee cup, the Holy Spirit will warm us through and through, and our walk of faith will continue to grow as we climb that final mountain and drink from the eternal fountain.

Thanks be to God.


[1] 1 Corinthians 11:1 KJV

[2] Ralph Stanley, Great High Mountain, lyrics © Bug Music, Z77ss, Z77ss Music

[3] John 7:37 KJV

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The Forest Before Me

 

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 12:1-2

The air is fresh and clean, but a welcoming blanket of humidity greets us today. The thunderstorms that rolled through the area overnight left in their wake an overcast dawn. Outside, the forest before me likewise slowly awakens, reminding me of my home in the holler of the enchanted wood back in North Carolina. Unlike there, the chorus of birds here only before me, not surrounding me as in my wooded home. Here, it is as if a stage is set before me in some grand theater as I sit on the edge of the woods. Birds of all varieties perform their best songs, every one of them a perfect rendition of the voice their creator bestowed upon them. Here and there, in the sings of this great state, domesticated avian crow their morning greetings – the reminder that this performance hall sits amongst a conflicted countryside, torn between the bucolic world it once was to that of the coal mines and growing suburban retreats, each a necessity of the other. A gentle breeze passes by, caressing the hair on my arm, causing my writing to pause and allowing one the momentary respite – acknowledging again God’s refreshing reminder that we are not alone.

Going out each day, seeking those with whom we can share God’s word, should be as purposeful as setting significant goals in our life – those that affect our long-term existence on earth, for we are continually surrounded by, as Hebrews tells us, a great cloud of witnesses. The challenge is to find them that are willing to allow us into their personal space. It isn’t easy to talk to a total stranger regarding breaking through without inciting some sort of defensive barrier. In order to make such a connection, one has to be portrayed as someone that exudes a personality of a loving, compassionate soul. To this end, when we walk in our faith, not promoting self-righteousness, but rather a humble, kind humility, we can then bridge those gaps of suspicion, allowing the stranger to open up and bare their innermost thoughts.

However, it is never easy to walk as Christ, emanating that radiant light from within. There are burdens in our life that are often difficult to overcome – the weight of life that besets us. They become our stumbling blocks, so much so that they become excuses we easily fall back on when the challenge before us causes us to hesitate. This is the enemy’s desire that we should falter in our effort to reach others. Interjecting our love of self, the one that is the very thing we are warned about, we become fearful of tarnishing that self-image. Our pride then overwhelms our purpose, the sin that clings so closely, and we cave into the feeling of either embarrassment or, worse, the belief we are incapable of acting in such an honorable manner. But as Paul writes in Hebrews, we must run this race with endurance. Our work toward perfecting our life’s mission is neither easy nor a sprint. The sanctification is a marathon – lasting the rest of your life. There will be hills and valleys. There will be challenges and setbacks. But through it all, we are to place our eye upon the prize, Christ – the perfecter and finisher of our faith.

Today looks to be a very full day – my plate is full. Yet, even on such busy times as this, we should pray that the Lord gives us the discernment to know when to pause, and drink it all in, allowing us to set this moment in time into one’s collective memory. For someday, it will be that place to which your mind returns, to once more be comforted through God’s grace. Yes, step out into the forest, and welcome the song of the woods, for each gentle breeze is a story in life’s journey. Make today one that lasts for that lifetime.

Thanks be to God.

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Seek the White Stone…

Outside, the rain falls – a gray overcast day, perfect weather for sitting inside the coffee shop. Around us, brick walls bring the outdoors inside, giving a sense of rustic behavior among the amenities of one’s home. Here, among the public, one can catch the occasional glimpse of a writer, an artist, or just someone surfing the internet researching their next vacation. One can find motivation from those around you; it’s where the community comes into play. Yet, with regard to worship, being with others in the community isn’t only for the inspiration of seeing someone else seeking God; it’s the fact that together, we are united in our quest to call out to Abba, the Father, inviting the Holy Spirit to join. As Jesus told us, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”[1]

As my journey here in southern Indiana continues, I’m finding a perspective that’s probably more common than what I usually encounter. More and more I find those who are living life without any direction regarding their spiritual well-being. Unlike a college campus, their direction isn’t temporary; it’s long-term. Most people, but not all, go through the motions, living life day-to-day. For some, this struggle is real. Chronic ailments increase with age. There are doctor visits, medical concerns, and a host of other self-care requirements necessary just to make it through the day. The battle is real. Often, they feel that their prayers are the key to their spiritual health, disregarding studying and applying God’s word. They’ve read enough to believe in some greater power yet, seldom apply those concepts to more than just their own well-being. Trapped in their sole existence, they find little time or opportunity to share Christ with more than just a handful of people. They might as well be on a deserted island. Their world slowly closes in around them until the last. There, they come to that final rerun of their life’s journey, which left little trace showing the path to salvation. It is as if they never existed.

Then there are some, healthy, robust, living their life as if there would be an eternity to deal with those things of the spirit – putting off today what one can do tomorrow. Procrastination, Satan’s desire for each of us, lures one into a false sense of security. He [Satan] tries to keep our eye off those things of eternity, living for tomorrow instead of today. For if one were to live for the present, they would find eternity through Christ, which, if you think about it, is quite the irony.

Those baby steps of being pulled away from our focus on God become layers of distractions that build one upon another until one becomes buried beneath their burdens. C.S. Lewis wrote in the Screwtape Letters, “Finally, from the corner of the room, a small whisper came. It was one of the younger demons. Hesitantly, he suggested, “You’ve missed our most effective strategy… Just tell them they have all the time in the world to decide. Tell them it’s not that important. Tell them to wait another day…” Before you know it, you’re in the hospital facing mortality with little to nothing to show for all those years of working toward that worthless goal. You are overwhelmed with the reality that you spent your life chasing after silly treasures that do nothing more than collect dust on the shelf in your earthly home, the one you will soon be leaving. Meanwhile, your future home, if you have even chosen to go to that next place, is barren, the rooms empty – a hollow chamber of empty souls.

Although life can be busy, we must make a concerted effort to reach out to those around us, not just when we are on vacation. Daily, there is a battle going on in the world around us. It’s that person sitting next to you at the stop light. It’s that person at the other table in the coffee shop. It’s that stranger that opened the door for you at the library. They surround you every day of your life. The challenge is to find a way inside their world, to gain a foothold, to share something more than what the world has to feed them. This is where we must work the hardest –finding opportunities to share, for it is here in the chance encounter of life that we build the guest list for the Kingdom of God. The names written in the Lamb’s Book of Life become our neighbors in life eternal. “To him that overcometh, I will give a white stone, and in the stone, a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.”

May you find someone today to share the Good News of Jesus, and in so doing, find the white stone with your new name in life eternal.

Thanks be to God.

[1] Matthew 18:20 KJV

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The Good Life

“The idea of reaching “a good life” without Christ is based on a double error. Firstly, we cannot do it; and secondly, in setting up “a good life” as our final goal, we have missed the very point of our existence. Morality is a mountain that we cannot climb by our own efforts, and if we could, we should only perish in the ice and unbreathable air of the summit, lacking those wings with which the rest of the journey has to be accomplished, for it is from there that the real ascent begins. The ropes and axes are “done away,” and the rest is a matter of flying.”[1]

 

After reading Lewis’s writings this morning, the idea of the “good life” hit home. It is on this vacation of mine that many revelations of the past have come to life – some enlightening, while many are heartbreaking.

Visiting family, one encounters both extremes of the socioeconomic spectrum. From one end to the other, there is a common thread that is ever present – the impact of their choices in life or their own family’s choices, all impacting their ever-present position. To see the wealth of some, a portrayal of success for this world, only to hear of their tortuous relationships and loss of love begs the question, “Have they gained the world and lost their souls?” Some have succumbed under the weight of caring for others to the point that they are smothering beneath the daily load of supporting family beyond their own – piles upon piles of debris and belongings strewn about to the point there are few places to sit. Then some are so debilitated by health that they can barely function. Those who for years lived as if the poison they injected into their bodies was of no concern, only to, in the end, succumb to its dark, sinister destruction, cancer, and other diseases enriched by those foods containing unhealthy ingredients.

David Paul, one of my first cousins who had the nickname Deep, was probably the hardest one of the family to visit. In his youth, he was a rebellious, soul-searching hellion, always finding ways to provoke the world in which he lived. He eventually married and fathered a child with a woman much like him, yet one that seemed to tame his wild side. Her name was Suzi. She would eventually die of lung cancer, but not before Deep would take out a second mortgage on his home to pay for the experimental cancer treatments in Franklin, Tennessee. Before starting them, she was in a wheelchair and told she had maybe a year to live. After the stem cell treatments, Suzi went on to walk again and live another twelve years. For the last two, she was bedridden.

However, by then, Deep’s own throat cancer had cost him his ability to work full-time, and he was forced to stay home. The struggle became a blessing, as he told me that he was then able to spend the last two years at home with his dying bride. Through all of his pain and suffering, he found himself closer to God. Suzi’s ashes sit under the T.V. in a wooden box with a hummingbird carved on the outside. Deep now speaks through a throat tube because of his larynx being removed in order to save his life. He proudly told me he had been cancer free for over two years. When I offered to take him anywhere he wanted to go, he responded, “I don’t go anywhere.” What he was saying, without saying it, was that he struggled to go out in public with what he’s been reduced to. One can only imagine what embarrassment it is to have such a disability, yet, through it all, there is a testimony. His life has now changed to the point he knows that God is in him and that he longs for heaven. Yet, no one will ever know his story. For him to share, speaking as he does, would be painful not only for the audience but for him as well. What he doesn’t realize is that in their pain to hear, they would also be opened up to the understanding of how one, through their suffering, can be consoled even more by God. Sadly, it would take a miracle in itself to get him to share his testimony.

Deep’s hesitancy to share with the world is much like how we are likewise hesitant to speak about the Good News of Christ to those around us, whether they be family, friends, or acquaintances. Are we not just as guilty? What keeps us from doing such is as much as what’s wrong with our society as what’s right – our self-consciousness, defeating the fear of being embarrassed, thus, protecting the sensibilities of our self-image. Why is self so important? Why do we fear opening up ourselves to allowing the world to see who we are? Is it our insecurities? And what drives these? The answer is the fear of people seeing who we really are, hiding the sin we bear within ourselves. The solution to this problem is to seek the cleansing that can only come from receiving Christ into our lives. When we come to realize that when Christ is in us, we have nothing to hide, our lives become the light in a dark world, and our inhibitions fall away, allowing us to become a testimony to others.

As you go about your day today, consider your juxtaposition with God. Are you close enough to Him that everything else falls away? Can you overlook your inhibitions to become a beacon of hope to others? Try to put those things of this world behind you and let the light of Christ shine through you in all you do. And lastly, always say, “Thanks be to God.”

[1] God in the Dock. Copyright © 1970 by The Trustees of the Estate of C. S. Lewis. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers. A Mind Awake: An Anthology of C. S. Lewis. Copyright © 1968 by C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

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