Monthly Archives: May 2020

They Could Not Walk, so I did.

They could not walk, so I did.

WHS Class of 2020

The rain was lightly falling today when I happened upon the display of the 2020 WHS graduating class posted in front of the Boone Post Office. In my mind, I had made a promise that if I found them displayed, that I would go see them one last time. As is often the case, God answered my prayer before I knew I had prayed.

One placard after the other, faces of the students who had become part of my life, now part of this virtual graduation. Part of me wanted to cry, while another wanted to laugh. One after another their smiling, proud photos brought back hundreds of memories. In many of the Professional Developments (PD), they teach and encourage new teachers to get to know the person behind the desk. For me, it was the only way to understand how a child was relating to the material. As a Math teacher, you quickly come to understand that most of your pupils are only there because they are required to take the class. So, for the most part, you must know where they are coming from in order to better reach them, and in that hope, plant the seeds of education for what curriculum you represent. I took it to heart.

In my journey, learning the person behind the face not only became part of my job, it became part of my mission. Each day during the pledge of Allegiance, at the end of the short ceremony, I would breathe the silent prayer, “Lord give me strength, guidance, and wisdom.” Each time, when I would open my eyes, there before me was the purpose behind the path upon which God had placed me.

There were all manner of days to deal with, from the unforgettable, to the horrific. From the jokesters, who at times stretched my patience beyond boundaries I knew existed, to the sweetest personalities that could melt a heart of stone, they were all there. This was not the first class of graduating seniors who had passed through my classroom. But these were the first that seemed like we never got to say goodbye, for more reasons than one. In essence, their moment of shining before all to see had been taken away thanks to an unseen enemy. Now, without them knowing, we were saying goodbye in a one-way tribute.

Sweet Ms. Carol Brown told me before my first day of teaching at Watauga, that I would find a different kind of student on the mountain, any unlike I had met before. She and her late husband Horace had grandchildren up in that area. They were never more right. Ironically, before learning that I would become a Math teacher, I had read the story of Crossnore and how Dr. Sloop and his wife, Dr. Mary Martin Sloop, had struggled with the indigenous peoples, particularly with keeping them in class when they were needed on the farm. The stories Mrs. Sloop recalled gave one an insight into the mind of those mountain families who inhabited the deep hollars of the Blueridge. From their work, the Crossnore Children’s home would come to be. And yes, eventually my life’s pathway would lead through there as well, but another story for another time.

My life’s journey had taken a detour from Watauga before this year’s classes began. God’s plan is never our own. And wherever he says to go, I must follow. So as painful as it was, I was able to tell those who had me on the last semester goodbye in 2019. But today, with the pictures of them in their graduation robes and hats, it seemed more final. Here before me was the entire class of 2020. For a year, I had not seen them, and most were still the same, those faces of innocence only the parent of teens can appreciate. While others had changed so much that it was not until my second pass that I realized who they were. As my feet traveled down the damp sidewalk, it was as if God was allowing me to review those three years, as if to say, “It was all worth it.” There were some who made me laugh out loud, while others made me stop and say, “Thanks be to God, they made it.” There were those who had made an impact on me in ways that were never expected. One day, on my way to the school, a song came on the radio by Casting Crown, “Only Jesus.” In it, the lyrics remind us that our life should not be about us, but rather, should point toward Christ. We shouldn’t strive to leave a legacy about us, but instead, point all we are to Him. From that day forward, my purpose became to have them not remember me, but only Him. So, in all that I did, I tried to be someone that would bring the light into their life, even if they didn’t realize it.

One can only hope that we plant the seeds of hope, and the truth for their generation instead of taking it away. A virus may have ended their “true” senior year before it was allowed to culminate, but my prayer is that they will make something of themselves far beyond what the limitations of this physical world will bring.

Yes, today I walked for them because they could not.

They will forever be in my heart.

Congratulations class of 2020 everywhere.

Thanks be to God.


Filed under Inspirational

The Just and the Unjust

It becomes obvious, as my mind reflects on what to write about this morning, that I have unintentionally surrounded myself in the comfort of rocky, and coarse elements from nature. Sitting in the Retreat and listening to the birds of the morning, my eye wanders to the things that are near. From the roughhewn lumber sawn at the local sawmill to the river rock that encompasses the fireplace in the Retreat, there is a sense of “raw” earth which exudes from this place. The trees were harvested from where the building now sits and were masterfully sawed by Tony Moretz. The rocks were provided by the Gragg family’s section of the John’s River. Through all the harvesting and collection, there was the journey of life and interaction with those that helped to obtain the resources to make it all possible. Each one a story of their own. While the building is not the polished brass or pure, waxed floors of the highest cathedrals, the Retreat is a place of humble submission. In my heart, I like to think that it’s a place not far removed from God’s creation. Here, in this forest abode, there is a deeper connection with the One above, less of the man-made interferences we so often seek. It is in this vein that this story begins to unfold.

The scripture from Matthew struck a chord with me earlier this week, “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.”

A long time ago, in the other life, we were walking through an antique store in Cameron, NC. I overheard some folks cutting up and enjoying one another’s fellowship when they mentioned the scripture from Matthew. It had been a time during a lengthy drought. My pastures were dying and the cattle were beginning to suffer. The garden had nearly all but dried up. It was during a time such as that when the comment struck a chord with me. One man said to the others, “You know the Bible says that it rains on the just and the unjust?” The others murmured their agreement, knowing where this was probably headed, when he continued, “I wish it would JUST rain.” At which point, the others joined in laughing and continuing to have a good time.

As the memories of that dry-spell comment rang in my head, the weather outside was still wet. It was the fourth day in a row of heavy downpours. It was obviously the opposite extreme to that faded memory. Yet, the words of the scripture echoed once more, “It rains on the just and the unjust.” It was then that I stopped and thought about the verse and what it meant to our times under the Quarantine-life of COVID-19. In this time, so many find that their lives have been centered on the things of this world. Their idols, albeit justified in their minds, however, they wish, from sports stars to music entertainers, had all been taken away. Now, in the vacuum, many find their lives empty, void of meaning. All along, they had been living a life of earthly treasures but hadn’t stopped to take notice until now. The suicide hotlines are flooded and reports of suicides during the last four weeks have equaled that of a year’s worth of deaths previously. Sadly, some preachers even go as far to find wisdom in the data of the Corona Virus media reports instead of their Bibles. In so doing, they purposely prevent their parishioners from receiving the very thing that they need most; the Spiritual interactions of fellowship and worship; the very thing people need most at times like this. I could go on speaking of negativity, but the tragedy remains the same, many seek what can never bring them true happiness. The question came to mind, “Do I allow myself to be brought down by the long, cloudy days, or do I make the best of what I have?”

One such day last week fit the bill – pouring rain with dark overcast skies. Through the course of the day, as the hard, driving rain continued to fall outside, inside I continued to work from home at my new-found career. The position at App State is a blessing in and of itself, and in that, there is a testimony that can be shared. But, in addition, there were the peripheral things of the day that made it bright. That day’s evening meal was one of comfort food. Again, like those materials that comprise the structure of the Retreat, the food that brings a sigh to my spirit is that of good ‘ole’ country food. That evening the family and I sat down to a big pot of ham and beans, greens, and cornbread. For dessert, I had also baked oatmeal cookies from scratch. In a sense, I had returned to my roots; the things in life that make us who we are.

I was blessed in life to be raised by depression-era family members. Again, I could dwell on the negativity of my life, but to be able to look back and be thankful for the journey, regardless of how difficult or challenging it might have been, allows me the vision to look ahead with gratitude. Being reared by those who had little gave me the appreciation for those “roughhewn” things of life. While I’ve never had the “Best Things” of this world, I certainly have been blessed beyond measure in other things, those that mean the most; God and family. My faith is not polished and practiced of that of a seminary student, but rather that from which I have gleaned from the pages of the Word itself. Like those cornfields of my youth, when we would walk row after row behind the trailer being pulled by Grandpa’s tractor, gleaning missed cobs, I have studied the Bible for truth. It is in God’s word that one can find comfort and solace even in the lengthiest rain spell, or as now, the longest time of forced isolation known to our generation.

As a farmer, I can tell you that there is a breath of relief, a sigh of thanks that goes up when the rain begins to fall after the fields have been properly dressed with fertilizer, when the rows of corn are safely in the ground. Through the replenishing of the earth’s moisture it as if the farmer’s soul is also renewed. As it says in the 23rd Psalm, “My cup runneth over,” is an expression best displayed by the overflow pipes of a farm pond and the satisfaction within the farmer’s heart. Yes, even when the rain falls, there is a sense of reward and comfort on the farm where others find dread and gloom. It is a mindset that many fail to notice in the modern world. A connection to nature, and to our Creator, has been lost by so many in the pursuit to make life “better.”

Should we sit and dwell on wondering if we are the just or the unjust, or should we press onward as the Apostle Paul would say? In my heart, and my prayer for those in this world who are hurting, is that we would seek to press on. To find God, to bring him close and to find beauty in even those things that matter little to the world. In the coming day, try to spend time with a friend or family member that you haven’t heard from in a while. Reach out to those who continue to find need to self-quarantine. The worst thing we can do is to leave someone alone who might be feeling lost and hopeless when we ourselves have been blessed. Even if our own worlds are nothing but stones and roughhewn logs, we can still be a comfort to those around us if we choose to do so. It is up to each of us to be the light in a dark world.

While our blessings may be worthless by the world’s standards, they are priceless in the kingdom above.

Embrace love to thy neighbor and be thankful for the rain, just or unjust.

Thanks be to God.

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” – Mt, 5:44-45

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Filed under Inspirational