Monthly Archives: December 2021

The Silver Bridge in My Life

For a change, this morning, my dear friend and Music Pastor at Faith Community Church, Kyle Canerday, and I decided to meet at his house in Valdese instead of meeting up somewhere on the mountain for our Friday walk and fellowship. Having had had the week off, it was an excellent opportunity to hike a new route and share in my friend’s usually solo trek. It was a cool but pleasant day for December 31st. There was still a bit of morning mist in the air even at 8:30 as we made our way down the hill and around the curve away from his home.

As we continued up the road, we passed the mailbox of the late Emile Jacumin. I had been fortunate to visit Emile and his family before his passing, thanks partly to his daughter, Lillian, whom I had met at Icard Elementary School when visiting for the Trail of Faith. At her father’s home, she shared with me the research she had been doing into the Waldensian connections to Judaism through Spain. Over the course of our visit, she also shared a piece of history with me that gave me an “Ahah” moment. Looking into the living room, she said that there were no curtains on the windows when they bought the house from the previous owners, original Waldensian immigrants. Lillian noted that ancient Waldensians believe that when Jesus returns, he will come back initially as a bolt of lightning bursting across the sky from the east to the west. She was referring to Matthew 24:27, which reads, “For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.”

A few months later, when the opportunity to visit with my Aunt Norma, one of the last elders in my family that had known my paternal great grandfather, I asked her if she noticed anything odd about their home. She replied that she always thought it was strange that they never had curtains over their windows, at least not in the downstairs area, which was all that she could remember. It was then, as before, that the little light came on in my head, and the credibility of a previous statement began to cement itself into my collective beliefs. Again, the connection to scripture was so literal so ingrained, that it was part of who those ancient people were – even in their everyday lives.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “The credibility will depend on the extent to which the doctrine if accepted, can illuminate and integrate that whole mass. It is much less important that the doctrine itself should be fully comprehensible. We believe that the sun is in the sky at midday in summer not because we can clearly see the sun (in fact, we cannot) but because we can see everything else.”[1]

As we continued walking, I began sharing this foundational acceptance with Kyle and how we often take its work in us for granted. To give him an example, I shared this next story with him, which in and of itself could stand alone. But, its telling will share how a minuscule fact buried in time can persist if its points are based on truth, something to which one can be grounded.

It was 1967, my first year at public school. Having been a sickly child, in part due to double pneumonia at one and two years of age, I was lucky to be alive in part due to a miracle drug known as penicillin. That being the case, they, my mother and the authorities, decided it best to hold me back a year, so that little Timmy would be six years old instead of five when beginning Kindergarten at Fairlawn Elementary School in Evansville, Indiana. My first few days were a little rocky because of my excitement just to be with other little children my age. Living on the farm, one was isolated, without anyone with which to play or converse. However, I was finally free to make friends and talk. In fact, one friend, in particular, the only one that I can remember to this day, was a boy named Mark. Mark and I hit it off the moment we first met. I don’t know what it was that gave us such a strong bond, but it must have been significant. The semester was going well, and we were already in December when it was time to say goodbye for the Holidays. When we were asked where we would be spending our Christmas, my little ears heard Mark say something about him and his family going out west. Instantly, pictures of cowboys and Indians, something we all played as children, popped into my head. “Oh, how much fun Mark was going to have,” my tender heart mused.

Everyone was there when we returned from the Christmas break a few weeks later, except for Mark. Nobody knew anything about his whereabouts, so his empty seat stood out like a beacon – “Where was my friend?” A couple of days went by, and our teacher came into the room one morning in a very different attitude than her usual upbeat, perky self. She seemed burdened by something like a weight was on her shoulders that she couldn’t lift. After the regular morning routines were performed, our teacher had us gather around her on the floor. She began telling us that sometimes not everyone makes it back from the holidays. “People move away, or their parents get jobs in other places, or,” her voice cracked, and her head went down to her chest as she dabbed a tissue against her eyes. Another adult was there with us as she had begun speaking. We didn’t know the person, but they seemed to be there to help our teacher. Finally, she lifted up her head, and with tear-brimmed eyes, continued, “Yes, sometimes even children don’t make it back to school.” She smiled at us so sweetly as tears ran down her pretty cheeks. “Mark won’t be coming back to school.” She paused and swallowed. This was very hard for her, but we wanted to cheer her on, even though we didn’t know why. “You see, there was a bridge collapse, and Mark and his family….” She again bowed her head and dabbed at the river that was now flowing from her face. The other adult moved in close to her and put their arm around her as she continued to regain control. The other adult continued in her place by saying, “Mark and his family died when the bridge they were on collapsed into the river below.”

The children sat in silence. The sound of sniffles could be heard. There was a giant pain in my throat, one that I couldn’t swallow away, but for some reason, I couldn’t cry. We watched as the adults in front of us regained their composure and began smiling once again, for our sake, not their own. “Okay, children, we can be thankful that there is a Heaven and that Mark and his family are there today. Let’s all go to our coloring stations get out our crayons. We’ve got some coloring to get done.” And from there, it was back to business as usual. Yet, the moment would haunt me for years to come.

In 2002 there was a movie that came out starring Richard Gere. It was called the “The Mothman Prophecies.”[2] It told the story of multiple sightings of an unusual creature known as the Mothman because of its winglike shape. The being was seen by several eyewitnesses, and each told of the prophetic sayings to which he would allude. Eventually, at the end of the movie, the Silver Bridge in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, collapsed. It was suddenly that the memory of Mark returned. Was this the bridge? But didn’t Mark say he was going out west, or was that what I heard? Did he really mean he was going to West Virginia? All of these questions and more began to resonate in my mind.

Silver Bridge, Point Pleasant, West Virginia, December, 1967.

Not to be undone, I began researching possible bridges that collapsed in 1967. There was only one of significance where there was massive loss of life; it was, unbelievably, the Silver Bridge in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, where 46 people died that day. Looking over the list of casualties, there was no Mark. Unfortunately, I didn’t remember Mark’s last name, nor if he had used his middle name. The names of those who died also had the states they were from listed, but nobody was there from Indiana; all were either from Ohio or West Virginia. Had Mark’s family never changed their residence?

So, although the tale of my long, lost Kindergarten friend was not solved, the answer to the question was enlightened another step closer to its solution. The credibility of my understanding had grown, and the foundation of belief at advanced. So likewise, in our journey of Sanctification, we gain a kernel of knowledge and at first might be hesitant to accept it, for doing so may alter our previous basis of belief. However, upon learning of other concepts which may enrich that previous suspicious kernel of thought, we find a foundation shift in our own theology – a course correction, if you will. With these miniscule understandings of the greater whole, we must accept and carry on. For we will never know all that God is, nor will be, but must receive it as Lewis said, as the noonday sun sits in the sky overhead.

Did I find Mark – sadly, no? But was my understanding further solidified in truth – yes, to some degree.

Will I ever solve the mystery of what happened to my little friend so long ago – we may never know on this side of Heaven. But Lord willing, when we find ourselves some beautiful day in the presence of the Lord, we then will find the answers to all those things on earth that we were never able to fully comprehend.

What a glorious day it will be!

Thanks be to God.

[1] Miracles: A Preliminary Study. Copyright 1947 C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. Copyright renewed © 1947 C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. Revised 1960, restored 1996 C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers. A Year With C.S. Lewis: Daily Readings from His Classic Works. Copyright © 2003 by C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers.


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The Fruits of the Spirit

Ye shall know them by their fruits.  Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?  Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.  A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.  Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.”

– Mt. 7:16-19

As Thanksgiving approaches, we should reflect on the many things we should be thankful for in our lives.  This story is meant to do just that.  Hopefully, it will allow you to step back and think of life through another lens.

Our story begins at the weekly Bible study known as the Men’s Connection.

As brother Richard recently spoke at our morning Bible study, he spoke of what it was to sacrifice, to serve without expectation of receiving.  His dear, beloved Ann had passed earlier in the year, and he was leading us in a study of death and how we should face it.  But more than the discussion of terminal illness, his message invoked the feeling of how we should not be more than we ought to think of ourselves – to be humble, with all gentleness in our servitude.  On this last day of his series, he brought to light the importance of Spiritual Gifts and the Fruit of the Spirit.  Again and again, those in attendance were moved by his message.

As Richard spoke, my mind began to drift to other moments reinforced by his words.

It was the middle of the summer, July 18th, to be exact.  My journal recorded the event because of the profound nature of the encounter.  It was an unseasonably warm day for Boone, which made me yearn for a cup of ice cream.  Sometime in the middle of the afternoon, I took a break and made my way up to King Street to one of my favorite snack shops.  Walking out of the establishment into the bright, sunshine a thought occurred to me, “How are you going to reach others when you came alone?” Usually, I try to find a student or faculty to walk and talk with, but there wasn’t anyone around that could go on this day, so I was alone.  Feeling a bit guilty in my singular pleasure, another thought arose, “Why not head over to the shady spots on the hill?”

So, with these thoughts in play, my feet began walking toward the old, refurbished gathering place in the middle of Boone, The Jones House.  It is a natural oasis in the middle of all the hustle of downtown.  There sitting on a hill, girded by massive Oaks and Ashe trees, overlooking the comings-and-goings of the small town below, sits an old home with a wide front porch littered with rocking chairs that invite you in with welcoming arms.  Usually, it is the headquarters for the Junior Appalachian Musician program, along with other Old-Time music and various music events in the community.  But on that particular day, it was merely the quick stop for visitors looking for a public restroom or just a quiet place to sit and rest.

View from the porch of the historic Jones House on King St., in Boone, NC.

As I found my way up the steep steps from King St., it was there that the realization of my hopes to sit alone on the porch to savor my sweet treat was not going to happen.  For there, in one of the rocking chairs was another person, seemingly well planted, for his belongings were comfortably resting next to him, and his phone was plugged into the outlet by the window charging.  Beside him was an empty rocking chair that beckoned.  The words came back to me as I approached the porch, “How are you going to reach others when you came alone?” Walking up the front steps of the porch, I asked the young man if the other chair was taken, to which he replied, “No.”

Thankful to find the shade of the large porch, I eased back into the weathered wood, that like a glove, embraced my weary soul.  Looking out at the town below, through the whispering breeze that blew the leaves on the trees, we two strangers sat.  For what seemed an eternity, we said nothing but continued to watch the world go by.  Eventually, the calm overtook me, and I had to speak, so I asked, “Beautiful day isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is,” he replied, nodding as he spoke.  His dreadlocks were a bungled flurry of contradiction.  He was not of traditional college age.  His eyes were hidden behind dark sunglasses, so to fully grasp his demeanor was even more difficult.  Trying to think of how to approach one such as himself, I surmised his situation.  He appeared homeless and was using the porch as a temporary abode, but one shouldn’t judge others too quickly.

“I’m sorry, but I didn’t introduce myself.  My name’s Tim.”

“I’m Adrian.’

“Are you from around here,” I probed, not trying to be too personal.

“Yes and no.” He then bent over from his sitting position, reached into his backpack, and pulled out a cheese stick.  As he unwrapped it and began to chew on its sustenance, it became evident to me that my inability to share with him had manifested itself into his own realization of hunger.

Curious to understand what “Yes and no meant,” my questioning continued, like the seasoning on the meal before you begin to eat.  “Have you served in the military?”

“Yes, in the Navy.”

“I was in the Air Force,” I responded, and he shook his head in confirmation.  From there, it was as if a door had been opened.  Adrian shared with me, in broken terminologies, of what the world around him had become.  His life was dark and lonely.  When I asked what he did in the service, he said he couldn’t tell me.  Acknowledging that I understood, he continued on.  He said that the “Eaters” are revealed to him in his dreams.  When I asked for clarification, he pointed to the food we were just finishing.  It was still unclear what he meant, for his mind seemed to drift in and out of consciousness.  It seemed as if the soul in this man was battling demons that no one could see but him.

Thinking of a way to bring faith into the conversation, I asked a pretty bold question, “Do you read the Bible?”

“Do you,” he replied, almost in self-defense.  Granted, I deserved his response, but it made me take a step back about my own attitude.  How self-righteous of me to imply that he should read a book of my faith when in fact, he may belong to another religion entirely.

“Everyday,” was my answer, but now I was feeling almost guilty for putting him on the spot.  Thankfully, he continued.

“I couldn’t go to church for ten years while I was in the Navy,” he answered.  “Now they won’t even let me into their temples because I smell so bad.”

This was the confirmation that I had suspected of Adrian being homeless.  It was then that I realized he hadn’t asked for anything, no food, no money.  He simply needed rest and time to be himself.  It was as if he had allowed me to join him in his home for that brief moment in time.

“You don’t have to go to a church to worship the Lord.”

At this, he looked at me over his sunglasses with a curious glance, then I continued.

“Jesus spoke of the temple of his body, and that after the great temple was destroyed, the new temple is now our own bodies, in which God can dwell if we let him.”

Before I left him, I asked if he had any prayer requests.  He lifted with an outstretched arm, palm down, to the yard before us, as if he were calming the seas.  I didn’t understand the gesture entirely, except to mean that he wanted to pray for everything and everyone beyond where we existed.  Nevertheless, it touched me in a way that I hadn’t expected.

There, on a sunny afternoon, in what seemed like a wasted break from work, my world met someone of the world of those that fall through the cracks of our society.  Their lives are a cloud of confusion and darkness.  Most cannot find adequate help or refuse it for fear of being institutionalized.  Instead, they live off the support of charities and the kindness of strangers.  Me with my cup of self-righteousness, eating in front of a man that probably only got one meal every other day if he is lucky, was like those Pharisees who touted their own religiosity.  In retrospect, it was very humbling.

From what brother Richard taught us, when we are blessed with gifts of the Spirit, we should learn to use them to help those in the world around us.  If we do, we find that the fruits of the Spirit begin to manifest themselves.  Without using those gifts, those fruits, those trees become barren.  It is up to us to recognize those gifts and not let them lie dormant and waste away.

So, it was on that July day, there on the front porch, two strangers met.  A world in chaos met another seeking to help those out of chaos – each wanting to find a way to the other.

Before I left, I asked Adrian if I could pray for him.  He nodded yes.  When we finished praying, God indeed was listening, for something quite unexpected, at least on my part, happened.

Adrian said, “Thank you,”

As we said our goodbyes, the feeling that God had just done something in spite of myself seemed to echo my departing footsteps.

C.S. Lewis said, “A world of nice people, content in their own niceness, looking no further, turned away from God, would be just as desperately in need of salvation as a miserable world—and might even be more difficult to save.”[1]

As we go through our days, let us not miss an opportunity to reach out to someone in need.  It isn’t always the material or the sustenance of organic goods that are needed, but simply the comfort and compassion of a loving heart are all that is required.

As the time of Thanksgiving approaches, once more, let us reflect on our many blessings.  At the same time, seek those who are less fortunate in this world, those who need comfort, or those who just need someone to talk to.  Share those gifts and give someone the fruits of your spirit.

It will make all the difference in the world.

Thanks be to God.

[1] Mere Christianity. Copyright © 1952, C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. Copyright renewed © 1980, C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers. A Year With C.S. Lewis: Daily Readings from His Classic Works. Copyright © 2003 by C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

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A Precious Gift

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.” – Hebrews 11:6

The early supply chains in our country were once little more than ancient Native American paths turned into wagon roads. These became the trade routes where the frontiersman and trappers would traverse, hauling their precious cargo to divergent hubs or government forts. Those hunters and traders not only carried on commerce but provided the necessities to which the American family needed to survive. Today, like then, we rely on individuals that take hardship and danger into their daily lives as they continue the tradition of hauling goods and providing services across our country. This story shares a forgotten legacy of a past we cannot afford to forget. In the rush to deliver and provide, let us not forget the purpose behind what we do in this Holiday season. Christmas was not intended to be a time of hustle and bustle, but rather one to seek something greater than ourselves, the one true God – Jesus Christ.

Pause now for a moment and sip on a cup of your favorite hot beverage as you read the tale below. May your heart be blessed by the journey within.

The ominous clouds hung low over the mountains. To most, it was a warning, but to Arden, it was just another obstacle through which he must push. The dust from the Civil War had yet to settle. It was 1871, and there was still great poverty throughout the South.  The roads which were little more than wagon ruts, were filled with weary travelers seeking a better place. At night, the bandits preyed upon the weak. It was a bleak time.

Arden was finally heading home after another grueling trip to livestock trading posts in North Carolina. There, he had taken some of his family’s Quarter horse colts to sell. The Carolina markets paid much more than those on the edge of the frontier, so it was worth the dangerous journey. Besides, Arden Edwards wasn’t just a horse trader; he was the last of a dying breed – a frontiersman.

The farther west he traveled after turning off the Trading Path route toward the mountains, the darker the sky became. Finally, it was as if the heavens couldn’t withhold their bounty any longer. The snow began fluttering down in large goose-down-sized flakes. It was beautiful and foreboding at the same time. A chill ran across the seasoned trapper’s spine. There were many miles to travel before he could rest. Nothing felt right about this. Storm clouds only meant that his arduous journey would become even more difficult. The rugged mountains slowly being blanketed by a cover of whiteness depicted an eerie peace. Arden’s horse Jeb blew breaths of clouds of labor before him as they climbed the Eastern Divide. All around them, the sound was washed from the air as a calm flowed over Arden’s soul. Something made him pause, looking out over the vastness of the earth, slowly turning white. It was as if he was seeing a place to which he had never known, a distant place beyond the clouds. “Will I ever know something greater than this,” he thought to himself as he gritted his teeth against the biting cold. Flashes of the war coursed through his mind, and he winced at the scenes. Angrily, he nudged his spurs against Jeb’s side, and they pressed onward.

Arden was originally from Orange County, not far from what we know today as Chapel-Hill. But now, his home was in a tiny village in the southern Illinois territory, out on the edge of the prairie. It would someday be known as the village of Maunie. After the war, he headed west like so many survivors. He had met a young woman and settled down near her family on the banks of the Wabash River. There, Arden fell in love with a pretty young maiden; her name was Nellie Jane. They married, and he found himself working horses with her family. Before long, her family chose Arden to take the yearlings east for the market. It was only natural, seeing as he had connections back east and was familiar with the open road. So, with trepidation, he headed off in hopes of returning as quickly as possible. But most importantly, his young bride was with child, so there was an even greater urgency to make it back before Christmas.

As horse and rider pushed through the deepening snow, he thought of his mission. His pouch was full of valuable payment for the stock he had sold. These funds would support his and his wife’s family for many months. Yet, Arden knew that carrying such a rich purse meant he was an even greater target. Bandits and thieves were an ever-present danger, but he was no greenhorn to the perils of traveling the Trading Path trail. At one time in his life, he had carried bundles of hides to Raleigh to trade in some of the more affluent markets in his fur trading days.

That was before the war, before Nellie. It was as if an eternity had passed.

Arden’s horse, Jeb, was a hearty breed from good Quarter Horse stock, one that could make such a journey. His gun, a Colt army model .45 caliber, a relic from the war, was snuggled against his side just inside his thick fur coat. It had served him well through many battles, and he knew how to use it if needed. He realized that if he could just make it through the mountains the most challenging part of the journey would behind him.

However, before Arden had cleared the deep passes of the Blueridge, the gentle flakes had become a howling blizzard. Undeterred, he pressed onward. The warrior fought against the cold and hunger, fearing that he might risk freezing or being robbed if he stopped for the night. So, with unprecedented determination, he fought against all of his instincts to stop. Fording across the French Broad, his feet froze to the stirrups, but still, he pushed onward. By the time he reached the Kentucky territory, his body had lost all feeling. The temperatures continued to plummet. Soon the blinding whiteness consumed man and horse.

Once more, the peace, an unearthly calm, passed over his being, one like never before.

There, only five miles from his new home, they found him and his horse, Jeb. They had fallen into a deep ravine. Arden was trapped beneath the weight of steed. His feet were still locked into the stirrups, still frozen in place. Jeb had died – frozen stiff. But buried beneath his horse, somehow barely breathing, Arden was still alive. They later surmised that the body heat of the dying horse sustained him long enough for them to find him. They took Arden home and nursed him back from the edge of death.

When he finally awoke from his ordeal, he was at last able to see his beloved Nellie once more – his journey complete. Arden was there when his son was born a week later. But, as happy as the story may sound, there was still a price to pay.

As was often the case in those days, because of the exposure, Arden came down with pneumonia. The rattle in his lungs that lingered after his son’s birth became a haunting reminder of his near-death experience. Soon, the cough became a fever that sucked the energy from his very being. Slowly, the hardened frontiersman found himself bedridden. Nellie and her family tried all they could to save him, but there was a distance in Arden’s eyes. He no longer had the fire within but instead seemed to be looking at a distant place beyond the walls of their meager cabin. Nellie sat on the edge of the bed, cradling their newborn son in one arm while reading scripture to Arden as he listened with eyes closed.

In her prayers, Nellie begged God to open her beloved’s eyes, to save his soul before it was too late. Time was not on their side.

The family all whispered the inevitable out of reach of Nellie’s hearing. Deep inside, everyone knew it wouldn’t be long.

But there, confined to his bed, Arden began to realize something that before had only been a distant notion. God had been with him all along. Through those dangerous trading trails, through all of the bloody battles, and even through the freezing blizzard He had been there. Arden had never stopped long enough to really seek Him. But now, as Nellie would read the Bible, he found himself yearning to know Christ more than ever before. From one struggle to the next, all through his life he had pushed his body, not thinking of the soul within. He had never slowed down long enough to think about eternity – not until now as he stood on the edge of life and faced it. Here, now in this time that God had allowed, he was given one more chance to realize what he had never sought but had been there all along for his taking.

Then one evening, before the sunset on the distant horizon, Arden knew he had finally found Jesus. Like the last rays of daylight, his life almost gone; he had found Him before the darkness came. The scene from his recent journey returned to his mind. There standing on the precipice in the mountains, he looked out upon vastness of creation. There before him were no more storms, nor more scenes of horrific battles, but a sea of gentle calmness. Arden’s mind could finally see the world with eyes made new, and he silently whispered to himself,  “There was much more to this life.” In Christ’s arms, he could now rest, knowing that his family would be in God’s hands, not his.

Arden continued to fight the sickness in his lungs, but his life had become like water, slipping through his fingers. With each passing day, he faded away a little further.  Nellie could see him struggling with each breath, and her heart panged to watch him suffer, but there was nothing left to do – nothing but to pray for comfort. Then one night, as the full moon crossed over the river, like a spirit coming to beckon him home, he passed away, lying in the arms of his beloved Nellie Jane.

Arden’s journey was finally complete.

They buried Arden Thomas Edwards on Christmas Eve, in the year of our Lord, 1871.

As the last hymn was sung at the graveside, the snow began to fall once more. There in the anguish of death, Nellie felt a warmth, like a comforting arm wrapping around her. The snowflakes fell onto her eyelashes as her tears melted them into the heartache within. Before her, the casket was soon covered with a blanket of white, as if God had come to tuck Arden into bed for his final rest. Yet, she knew he was long departed of this world, and for a moment, realized that she was not alone. Arden was with the Lord, and the Lord was with her.

As the entourage of mourning departed, the snowflakes continued to fall, and silently, as tender as a feather upon the cheek, all the sound was once more washed from the world – and there was peace on earth.

Whatever obstacles you face this Christmas, don’t let them hinder you from seeking the most important thing in this life – God. For without him, we strive for all the wrong things. As Arden found, he had lived his life only trying to make ends meet. It wasn’t until he was forced to face eternity that he realized there had always been so much more, if only he had just taken time to notice.

In all things, no matter what gifts you did or did not receive this Christmas, realize that the gift of life in eternity with God is the most precious gift of all.

Thanks be to God.

This tale was based on a true story, one taken from my maternal family ancestry. While the dates and names were slightly altered, the account of Arden dying after returning from North Carolina to trade horses was true.

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A Man and his Bibs

The worn stretched to the point of threadbare T-shirt that he wore underneath his faded, denim bib overalls depicted the man. Victor Phillip Tron was a quiet man but labored as a farmer until the day he died. He never complained about his work, other than that last day, when he told Mildred, his endearing wife of 52 years, that he just didn’t feel well. She would later recall how grandpa seemed to drag about that day and that she told Victor couldn’t eat his supper until after he had fed the dogs. Begrudgingly, he obliged and returned to eat his last supper. He would die that night in his sleep.

Victor Phillip Tron, wearing his next favorite shirt, the winter flannel. Taken in the living room of the farm house, on the edge of New Harmony, Indiana. (note, the work boots, taken when he was preparing to head to the milk barn one chilly winter afternoon.)

To know my grandpa Tron, you would have to understand the schedule he kept. As a dairy farmer, working on K.D. Owens expansive farm, managing the milking barn, Victor kept a 4:00pm, and 4:00am milking pattern. This meant, when we saw him first thing in the morning when we children arose at the first light of dawn, Victor had already put in half a day’s work. Often, we sat while grandma prepared the morning meal at the breakfast table, us still in our night clothes, grandpa in his weary old T-shirt and overalls. The smell of bleach from cleaning up after the milking emanated from grandpa. He would always meticulously lather with Comet at the bathroom sink, from his hands up to his elbows. It was the same cleaning agent he would use at the barn where he processed the milk twice a day. The cleanser had soaked into his skin so that his calm demeanor was always acquainted in my mind with Comet. To this day, I cannot open a can of the cleaner without my mind immediately drifting back to that dairy barn and grandpa so many years ago.

The daily schedule, 365 days a year, twice a day, eventually would wear on him. By the time I had come around, grandpa was nearing his late sixties. He had a slight stroke at one point near the end so that his speech was hindered. A voice barely above a whisper, he would sit on the front porch after his afternoon nap in the living room and tell jokes. They still didn’t always seem funny when we could understand him, but it didn’t phase him one bit. He would carry on some tale, and when he got to the punch line, unbeknownst to the rest of us grandkids, he would rear back and slap his leg laughing hysterically while we grinned, trying to enjoy whatever grandpa was reveling in at the time. If nothing else, his jovial aspect of sharing was enough to make you grin ear to ear. But these moments were few and far between, for mostly grandpa Tron sat and listened, smiling or nodding. For this reason, those few times that we saw him joking were the precious jewels in our collective memory.

Doyle Hines (maternal grandfather) and grandson, Timothy W. Tron, 1963, New Harmony, Indiana – Doyle wearing the T-shirt and Overalls mentioned in this story.

When I was a small child, Victor would wear his overalls to church on Saturday morning. Grandpa and Grandma were Seventh Day Adventists and strictly adhered to the Sabbath, starting at sundown on Friday evening to dusk on Saturday. Later in my life, not many years before he passed, someone bought him a light brown suit which he traded in, at the bequest of my grandmother, to be sure, for his comfortable bibs. That was the same suit he would be buried in on December 2nd, 1977. That was the same year we lost my cousin Michael Kaiser to an accident. Michael was electrocuted to death when he, my other cousin David Paul, and his father, my Uncle David, were putting up a new T.V. antenna at my Uncle David’s house. Unfortunately, the antennae hit the power line before the transformer. Being the tallest of any family member, Michael took the lethal portion of the shock. His heart continued to beat all the way to the hospital in Evansville, pumping blood out the ends of his fingers and toes, which had burst because of the impact of the bolt of electricity. There was nothing they could do to stop it.

Grandpa was there to see Michael laid to rest, next to the spot where he and grandma had planned to be the first in Maple Hill Cemetery on the edge of New Harmony – “it wasn’t supposed to be this way,” he would whisper.

Michael was only 21.

Michael and my mother (Rita Hines Tron Wiscaver) in the kitchen of the old farm house on the edge of New Harmony, Indiana.

Michael’s death impacted all of us. Grandpa didn’t talk much after the passing of Michael. We all felt a sense of guilt, none more than Uncle David. But nobody blamed David, or his son, David Paul. But self-imposed blame can be like a cancer. Their lives would be touched with struggles that one has to wonder if they weren’t still carrying that burden all those many years since.

But, there were always fond memories of Grandpa. Like when he taught us how to milk the cows by hand. He would easily squeeze out a gentle handful of rich, creamy froth into the stainless-steel bucket. Occasionally, the odd barn cat sitting behind the cow would catch an unexpected mouthful and, satisfied, walk away, wiping their chin with tongue and paw. Grandpa would chuckle at the sight, and we kids would nearly roll with laughter.

Victor taught us that the cream that settled at the top of the glass jar of milk in the fridge was best when shaken before pouring into our drinking glasses. The Ovaltine was resting at the bottom, waiting to join the frothing liquid to make a treat nearly indescribable in earthly terms.

He would walk with us out into the lane and teach us to call his cattle – his girls, he would say. Grandma swore that he named after all of his old girlfriends. “Suuuuuuuuk-cow,” he would holler with a high tenor shout. His voice would echo off of Sled Hill and back, answered shortly by distant lowing. His girls never missed a beat to come to the milk barn. We would wait for them to wander down the long, tree-lined lane, and one by one, we would follow the parade, in tow behind grandpa. Each cow knew her stall and would go up to the concrete trough to wait for Victor to harness them into place. He would then pour a scoop full of the sweetest smelling feed imaginable in front of their muzzles, which they would instantly begin nuzzling their noses into the rich grain.

Tim at Denton Farm Park, May 2021 – seriously trying to be serious.

Victor was a man of few words, but he loved to whistle. We all knew when he had found the mother-lode of berry patches, though. Back in the day, we would all pile into the back of the pickup truck and head for the fields to pick blackberries. When Victor’s whistling stopped, we knew he had found more blackberries than he could gather. The trick was to find where he was hiding.

But the most cherished memory would be catching him and grandma sitting at the kitchen table before breakfast. There they would read the Bible together, sharing in God’s word, starting their day together in the Lord. It wasn’t something they advertised. It was who they were – people of God.

Not many days go by that I don’t think of those days more and more. Recently one of the students on campus asked me if I could be 20-something again, would I? Of course, my answer was no, thinking that they were attempting to portray me as someone at college, doing all the college things. But truthfully, if I could go back in time, it would be way before then, to those distant days of my youth when all my grandpas and grandmas were still alive. There, I would ask so many more questions. There, I would sit and record as much as was humanly possible for my age. There, I would cherish once more those words of wisdom and wit. There once more, I would ask them to lead me in the ways of the Lord evermore.

But to know all of this is to know that someday soon, I will be able to do just that, but for all of eternity.

And once more, that soul in the worn T-shirt and those bibs will be like an old friend greeting me home.

Thanks be to God.

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Great High Mountain

As my footsteps made their way up the side of the mountain, one could feel the coolness of the night slowly overtaking the day. It had been another unusually pleasant spring-like day in December. The last rays of the setting sun were up ahead. The heartbeat in my chest, the labored breathing, all signs that it had been a while since last making such an ascension. The trail upward was already in the shadows of the setting sun. But up ahead, like a beacon, the light of life called. As I climbed, the old song, “Great High Mountain,” began 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.[1]

Take it one step at a time.

Watch the edges, for there will be danger at every turn. Every decision in life has lasting consequences.

The higher we get to the end of that mountain, the harder it seems to climb. But the water we should be seeking comes from only one source. Jesus said, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.”[2]

Then I heard a sweet voice from the top of this mountain saying, ‘Child put your hand in mine.’” The closer my journey came to the summit, the more the words to the song became real. Giving your life over to Christ is like a child putting their hand into that of their parent, the one that would be there to protect and care for them for the rest of their life. Yet, this was the voice of God, beckoning his child home.

As we pass through this world, we must remind ourselves that we are only here for a moment. The Hebrew writer would say that we are like the “hevel,” a vapor in time. The shadows of the forest pass by, or is it I passing them? To some, hiking up a mountain would seem more strenuous than necessary. “Why not find a flat walkway,” they might ask? But nothing worth having is without a struggle to achieve – so it is in life.

As the Apostle Paul wrote of the importance to face trials to achieve the summit of that high mountain, “Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.[3]

Footsteps push onward, Breath more labored than before. Chasing sunbeams as they slowly depart before me. Then, finally, at the peak, there is the sweet reward. Sunshine fills the trail before me as the last parting rays of the December sky slide below the horizon. “I’m nearing the top and you ought to see the view.”

Pausing for the moment. There is time to think.

The past few days had been a blur. From the preparations for Christmas, the Church events, the school presentations, the logistical nightmares, and the planning of meals, it all encompassed more than one would accept if given the openness of mind. Yet, we do them and then wonder why the end of the year becomes such a time of stress. It is now, here standing on this mountain top, that one can fully appreciate what was the real meaning behind it all. Stopping, allowing my lungs to catch their breath, the mind is cleared of all the turmoil.

The day’s headlines are swept away as the passing clouds.

There is a certain calmness up here as the distant rapids from the river below echo up the canyon. The pain from the loss of loved ones is washed away, soothed beneath God’s loving hands, making it known that we shall join them in His presence some day. There is so much more to this life than we, mankind, have tried to foment. It is in these moments of solitude with our maker that we can come to appreciate what we have and where we are in the journey, giving thanks to God.

We can reach the end, that final destination, and cherish the view, or we can be of the lot that only has regrets. “Oh the water flows freely, there’s enough to make you free.” When we drink freely from that fountain of life, we know that that final mountain top is only the beginning of the next life – life eternal.

So, friend, if you’re thirsty climb this mountain with me.”

Yes, the view is so sweet to see. Come climb this mountain with me.

Thanks be to God.

[1] Written by Ralph Stanley, Great High Mountain, – version from Jack White – Cold Mountain Soundtrack

[2] John 7:37-38 KJV

[3] Philippians 3:8 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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