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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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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 Small World…

And he sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all.” -Mark 9:35

The cold rain fell from the dark sky. It wasn’t nightfall, but it might as well have been. As I pulled within eyesight of the Ruritan’s

building, I could see the line extended out past the overhang of the entrance. People were literally standing in the rain. I had seen the signs earlier that morning for the Chicken Dumpling Dinner starting at 4:30, but here it was only 4:38, and there was already a line out the door. I nearly turned around but something said to just buy some time, so I pulled into the General Store. I needed to drop off some newspapers anyhow so it wouldn’t be that far off of my to-do list.

Barney and Otis were at their usual spots, Otis by the bench and Barney curled up in the flower pot by the door. The store’s overhang protected the dogs as they passed the dreary day in stride. There was lots of activity for the little town. “More than usual,” I thought to myself.

I stepped inside and placed the April copy of the Blueridge Christian News in the place where papers were to go; they had run out of the previous month, a blessing for sure. Trina, the store’s proprietor, was busy with several customers, so I didn’t want to bother her. Instead, I walked over to the wall where there were several old-timey photos of Collettsville back in the hay days, before the flood that nearly erased all existence from the valley back in 40. As I scanned the images, I started looking at the huge map that covered most of the wall. There were the names and places that the elders of the church often spoke about, Edgemont, Mortimer. Then I started to notice all the schools listed, most with a “col.” after the name. There seemed to be more schools than churches. Then I tried to find the name of the roads on which they sat and realized there was no Hwy. 321. Confused, I looked for a key for the map, and then it dawned on me, the date of its publication was 1931. This map was from the pre-flood days of antiquity.

Another item of interest I must return to someday,” I mused as I looked out the window to see if the line had dissipated; it had not. As the customers began to leave the store, I was finally afforded the chance to speak to Trina about the papers being in the right spot. She assured me that they were fine and that they had run out.

“Several folks have been in picking them up,” she reported with a smile.

“That’s great,” I replied, then continued, “I thought I’d drop them off while I wait for the line to go down.”

“Oh wow,” she responded, “We were lucky, and somebody brought us ours,” she said pointing at the styrofoam to-go containers behind the counter.

“Good for you.” I looked out the window again to see if I could get in now without having to wait in the rain.

“They’re having a fundraiser for the little girl with cancer.”

At the sound of her answer to the question I had not asked, my heart sank.

“There’s probably a lot of folks coming from out of town that normally don’t come which is why it’s so busy.”

All I could do was shake my head yes. I thought of little Sam Holt back in Goldston and how I had come to know his family through the JAM program. When he was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor, many thought we’d never see him grow to become a young man, but the community of Goldston came together, not only in fundraising but as a community of believers in prayer.

Sam is still with us today, thanks be to God.

“Looks like I can make it now without getting too wet. Have a blessed evening I called back,” as I headed out the door.

“You too,” she said, waving.

The parking lot was full, so I parked over by the old medical center and walked. The front door of the Ruritan building was open with a few more people still filing out the door, but at least now the line was well within the shelter of the porch roof. Back in the day in Goldston, I would have already seen or spoken with several people I would have known, but now, in this new place, I rarely know anyone. So I stood, scanning all the faces within, thinking of all the stories and testimonies that awaited to be told. There was nary an empty seat.

At this point, I still didn’t know who the little girl was we were raising money to help. The thing that stood out was the number of people wanting to come to her aid. Not only were there people there to eat, but there was the army of volunteers working to provide the food, serve the tables, clean up, and to take the money. As the door swung open wider to allow guests to leave, a familiar face appeared who happened to be standing in the line; finally, someone I knew. It was one of my Facebook friends that had come out of a connection back to Chatham County, through his cousin Sam Cooper; John Fletcher Church and his good friend, Anna.

The first and last time we had met in person was when they came to the last Lay Speaking engagement I had given in Sugar Grove, NC. There we formally introduced ourselves and John told me that most of his friends just call him “Fletch.” It was an honor to know someone that I had only seen on Facebook had shown up to hear me speak. But when I find myself thinking in those terms, I try to remind myself, that it is God writing through me, and that it would be God speaking through me that they come to hear. In all that we do, we should always know that when we truly serve the Lord, we do all for him and not for self. Thus, when I decided to give every family a copy of my book, “Bruecke to Heaven,” as part of my presentation that day, it was almost amusing when I ran out before I got to my new friend.  We both laughed. In my mind, I knew it was God’s way of saying, “You’ll be seeing him again.” It was then I said, “I guess I owe you a book.”

So, when we shook hands in our brief reunion of sorts nearly standing in the rain in front of the Ruritan building in Collettsville, the first thing I said was, “Great to see you and yes, I’ve got your book.”

As we made our way to our seats, it was heartening to find some of the members of the church I attend, Rocky Springs Baptist Church, seated and enjoying their meal. Their patriarch, Ray was there, a man that had been diagnosed a year ago with stage four lung cancer. His story alone is one of faith, miracles, and the healing power of prayer. We spoke briefly, as we often do at these type of functions, and then I moved on to try to catch back up with Fletch who was now also trying to find empty seats.

Once we were finally seated and squeezed around the table, Fletch’s friend Anna asked the rest of the table if they wouldn’t mind if we said grace. They all were more than happy to oblige. From the corner of my eye, I could see hands reaching out to hold others. It was then I began to see the world of connections open for my new friends. It seemed that nearly everyone in the place had been part of their lives at one point, yet they had never lived in Collettsville, which made it all the more surreal.

It all began innocently enough when Anna asked the lady across from her if she used to drive Brownies to a camp in a station wagon. The lady was still chewing her Chicken and Dumplings when Anna asked, so it took her a minute to swallow. You could almost see the wheels turning in her mind as she thought back through the many years. “Well, actually I drove Girl Scouts, she finally said, and that would have been when I was at Zion U.C.C.”

“Are you, Mrs. Lloyd,” Anna continued.

“Yes, I am.”

“Oh, my goodness,” Anna replied almost dropping her fork. She was immediately transported back in time to when she was a young girl in 2nd grade. Mrs. Lloyd had only driven her once to a day camp for Girl Scouts, but they had brought Brownies along for the experience. You could see them both connect back to a time when their lives were much different. The elderly lady explained how she would drive them to camps in that old station wagon. From that point on, there were so many things to catch up with, children to share, and a lifetime of living.

As people passed by, either Fletch or Anna would wave to people they hadn’t seen or spoken too in years, each barely recognizing one another.

As Anna was sharing with Mrs. Lloyd, the lady next to her spoke up that she thought she remembered Anna from somewhere. It wasn’t long before Fletch’s friend had rediscovered Mrs. Eunice Watson, a former EC teacher at Patterson Elementary School. The myriad of tiny one-room schoolhouses came to mind on the map that I had seen earlier in the store as they continued to recall their shared work experiences. It was as if God had given me a glimpse of what was to come.

Then a lady, who was obviously related to the elderly lady Anna had made the connection too, sat down next to me. Her plate had been there for some time, untouched. She began to eat as she shared with Mrs. Lloyd how she had done all she could do to help.

At this point, I noticed Fletch intensely gazing at the lady that had sat next to me. He finally broke his silence when he called to her, “Mary?”

She looked up, again almost as stunned as Mrs. Lloyd had been when Anna had reconnected with her.

“Yes,” she paused.

“Well, my apologies for seeming like I was staring, but I thought I knew you.”

“John,” she replied, smiling broadly.

“That I am,” he grinned from ear to ear.

“I thought I knew who you were, but I wasn’t sure,” she said laughing. Later I would learn that it had been two years since they had worked together and not seen each other since.

Meanwhile, Anna, Mrs. Watson, and Mrs. Lloyd were still racing through the years of life.

Again, my mind drifted off to Goldston and all the families lives that were connected either through their church, their school, or their neighborhoods. Then in my new world, the school at which I teach, and how when we come together as one, we make all the more difference, not just in one life that might need help, but in all of those that become part of the greater being.

Mary and John went on to share with me their work at the LEOS in Lenoir, where homeless people were being taken in and the ministry they serve in that mission. They told me of the early days and how they had met while working the night shift for LEOS in the old high school gym and all the trials through which they had struggled. Mary went on to tell me about the problems they now face, most homeless either being addicts or alcoholics. “We still try to help those that really need the help, especially families that are in need.”

About that time another couple women sat our table, Jennifer, and Ginny, and once again, they called out to John; more connections, more people who knew each other in a community that went beyond the four walls of the Ruritan’s building.

Fletch turned to me at one point and said, “A small world,” he said, half chuckling, “That would be another great story.”

I nodded, “Yes, it would.”

At that point, the room became a buzz of conversations and fellowship. Each story that was told had a connection to another, and with time, a shared memory was created, all for a cause that would ease the medical burdens of a young girl’s family. We may not know Johanna, or we may not know her family; we may not know the stranger who we give a warm bed on a bitterly cold night, or we may not know the child that receives the gift box in a time of need, but in the end, when we come together as a family of faith, we become greater than we might ever know individually.

Jesus had taught his disciples that we cannot stand alone, but our calling is to serve those around us, to be the least of these. “Tend my sheep,” he told Peter upon his last response to being loved. Then Jesus went on to help them to understand their position in His ministry as it was written in the gospel of Mark, “And he sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all.”

When we put ourselves last, we put Him first, and in the end, serving as Christ is all that we should endeavor in this life. For this earth, God’s creation, it but a tiny existence in all of the heavens unto which we are born. In the massive scale of the universe, we are but a tiny speck; yes, a small world. For, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.”

Tonight, we dined for a cause, to serve another. In essence, tonight, we broke bread with one another, and in so doing, shared the body of Christ.

Yes, we might live in a small world, but we serve a great God.

Thanks be to God.

For more information on donations for Johanna Hayes Cancer Fund, please contact Craig Styron, Principal of Collettsville School, at (828) 754-6913, or email at cstryon@caldwellschools.com You can also follow her story on Jo’s Journey Facebook page.

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A Mind Numbing Run…

It’s funny how when you are running, the thoughts of past runs or events of those times come back to mind. As it was this evening, as the faint light of winter played through the barren canopy overhead, my thoughts rambled back to another winter, another time. Then, the John’s river wasn’t flowing along my pathway as it was tonight, but rather the busy four-lane road going into Milton Florida.

I had been blessed by the company I worked for, to be able to work remotely for a couple weeks while I stayed with my mother who was in the final stages of terminal cancer. Although my job consisted of working nights, it was a time that gave me moments to sit with her when either I had come in from those long, brutal 3rd shift hours or was preparing to head off for another night. The in-between times, when there was strength, I would go for runs, for no other reason than to clear my head and think. In between runs, we spent her waking moments talking, working on her mailbox (the last project we ever worked on together), and watching Hallmark movies. It was bittersweet. The shell of the vibrant woman I had known all my life was nearly gone, her body withered to almost nothing, the skeletal remains were apparent, but within her the desire to live another day kept her going; that and her unending faith.

Seeing her like that made me want to work on my own physical being, as much as my spiritual. So, when she was sleeping, and I had enough sleep of my own, I would go for a run.

Many years before, when my life was at a different stage, I was allowed to train as a walk-on with the UF Cross Country team. Their training regimen was far more intense than I eventually could manage as a full-time engineering student and part-time lightning research technician. However, those few months that I was afforded the opportunity, I learned and experienced many new things; one of which was the cold bath treatment following those brutal speed workouts. After beating your body to a pulp, when the legs were like lead weights, you went into the bath or sauna room. There large pools of either hot or cold water awaited. The medical intent was to slow the hemorrhaging of your muscles so that they could heal more quickly after being torn to shreds; thus, allowing the recovery to ensue more quickly. This method of alternating between hot and cold pools was an amazing natural treatment.

Yet, in the real world, we rarely, if ever, find such an oasis of specific working out apparatus. At my mother’s home, there was only the winterized swimming pool, which was not heated. However, that winter, my mind was sometimes as numb as my legs following those runs. Again, they weren’t to train for any race or goal, they became my way to cope with what I was witnessing; seeing a parent leave you, one breath at a time. Yet, while it was surely a blessing to be with my mother as she prepared to pass from this life to the next, it was hard, and as such, the pain became the motivation to push my body harder during the runs. Afterward, shattered, tired and worn, I would wade into the nearly frozen pool and relive those college days of the cold tub; the body below my waist would chill to the point I could no longer feel anything. It was as if that part of my body had died, but was still with me. It was then that God was speaking to me, even though I didn’t realize it at the time, that he was telling me this was where I was headed; the separation of the previous life.

In scripture, we find Jesus telling his disciples, over and over again, that to truly follow him, we must leave everything behind. Paul reminded us of this fact when he said that we must die to our former selves, become numb to that previous life. “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”-2 Corinthians 5:17 After we have repented and received Him, we find things begin to change in our lives. As we progress in the faith, we find that things of this world begin to lose their splendor. The feel, touch, and senses begin to need less. Our desire to satisfy the flesh no longer drives who we are, rather, we are driven by the Holy Spirit within, the one that beckons us to a new life.

If we were to wade into a nearly frozen river, the sting of the icy water around our flesh would at first present our physical being with a shock, but with time, the flesh would numb to the touch, and we would no longer feel the world in which we stood. Much like our walk in faith, as we find our sanctification through Christ, we learn to experience the world in the same manner. The sensual feelings are still there, but they no longer drive us, they no longer determine our path, but rather, our path is determined by Him. We can enjoy those earthly pleasures, but only to the point that we appreciate them being God’s blessing to us, for they are only momentary glimpses of what is to come. C.S Lewis described God’s natural blessings, the world around us, as mere snowdrops of miracles when compared to all that would and could occur in our Christian walk, knowing that someday, we will experience Heaven. In comparing, he wrote about Jesus walking on the water being of the New Creation, “That momentary glimpse was a snowdrop of a miracle. The snowdrops show that we have turned the corner of the year. Summer is coming. But it is a long way off, and snowdrops do not last long.”[1]

Mother is gone now, no longer with us here on earth. Her new home is that of the New Creation, Heaven above, a place where walking on water is allowed, and the senses are awakened to another reality we have yet to know.

My life changed dramatically following that winter. I too would leave everything behind to follow Him. Those nearly frozen, numb legs would be the beginning of my awakening. Eventually, all of me would feel that sensation of no longer needing the satisfaction of this world as my walk with Christ would become a way of life. There would be journeys to places I had never envisioned, experiences that only God could create, and new comprehensions of an ever-changing journey upon which I have chosen. Eventually, my full immersion would occur in that river along which I ran tonight, as I was Baptized in the faith. The circle had been made complete.

It’s odd how running can take you so many places when you really only set out to run just a couple of miles, and you wind up traveling much, much more; through time.

The river continues to flow, as time continues to march on. Each day we are one heartbeat closer to eternity. The questions I must ask, “Are you ready?” “Have you accepted Christ as your Savior?” To find that New Creation, that eternal home on high, we must, “Repent, Receive, and Regenerate into a new being,” as George Whitefield so famously preached, regarding being born again.

It’s not too late, do not wait another day. You never know when today may be your last.

Run while you can, life is short, and eternity with Him awaits.

Thanks be to God.

Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”-Romans 6:4

[1] C.S. Lewis, “Miracles”, A Preliminary Study, 1947, Harper Collins.

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In Memory: Mom, RDHW

The gray, overcast sky hung close to the mountain. The air held a damp chill that threatened to sink into one’s bones, yet he didn’t let it bother him. He stood off to the side, away from the crowd, away from the rest of his team members. The sound of the announcer introducing various dignitaries for the day’s event, the first annual High Country Run/Walk for Breast Cancer, was a distant echo. Like that of when you are about to fall asleep when all the world around you begins to fade. His mind was deep in prayer, for the reason he was really there was more personal than anyone knew.

The vision in his mind was as clear as the sunrise he had seen just minutes before. Her long golden hair floated in the breeze as she walked in the vast garden of vibrant yellow roses, her hands skimming their tops, like floating on the wind. She wore a white linen dress that flowed down to her bare feet; feet that barely touched the pathway upon which she danced. It was his mother in her youth, once again alive and vibrant. The chill in the air wisped across his bare neck, but inside, her warmth made him whole once more.

He remembered those last days, how she insisted they get her mailbox painted. He worked with her on just the right font and color of lettering to use, to the point she made him look through books of fonts she had set aside in some type of craft, but they never found them. He eventually sketched it out for her, and she was satisfied with the result. Then the last thing was to paint a yellow rose, her favorite, on each side. It would be the last thing they would ever do together before she passed. There was that feeling of being alone again, which he tried to push away. Yet, in a way, it felt like she was there.

He didn’t mean for the day to become this.

Moments earlier, inside the hosting facility, all manner of bright pink ribbons, balloons, and decorations brightened the gathering space. Cancer survivors and those participating in the day’s fundraiser warmly and graciously greeted one another. Understanding the nature of the event, he tried to elude the grasp of the thinking of her again, at least not here. As he turned to leave the room before emotion could grab him, there it was, the very thing he was trying to avoid. Near the exit was a wall where someone had placed a small hand-written sign, “In Memory Of.” Without thinking, he grabbed the fluorescent pink sticky note and wrote, “Mom, RDHW,” then peeled it free from the stack and stuck it to the wall. Stepping back and looking at those around it, his eyes couldn’t focus on anything but the one before him. Hurriedly, he walked out, trying not to make eye contact and soon found himself on that distant corner.

Although she had been gone nearly five years, it still seemed like yesterday.

As he sighed Amen in closing, he looked up to the floating pink archway covering the starting line. It had been over 25 years since he last stood at a race starting line. In fact, the year of that last race was the same year his mother had been first diagnosed with her cancer. Countless miles of water under the many bridges had passed since that day.  He thought of how it would feel once more, now that he was no longer the athlete he once was. In truth, he wasn’t really here to race. The real reason he thought he had come was to support the team from his High School, for the courageous fellow-teacher, whom with three children of her own, had been diagnosed with cancer just the year before, Elaine Bishop. The news of her story had struck him so hard, he found himself avoiding the empathy he so often could provide to others. It was someplace he couldn’t go, not yet. Elaine had become a survivor and an encourager to so many. The day she returned to school during their monthly faculty meeting and entered the auditorium he had fought back the tears of emotion; the sting of pain went to the core of his being; yet, here he was.

Moments later, the crowd had amassed at the starting line, and before he knew it, they were off. Before starting, one thing was apparent, he would be running this race for Mom.

Every time the pain becomes too great,” he thought to himself, “remember the struggles she had endured for the twenty years she fought the disease.

When that knot in your stomach from that hill gets to be too great, remember the tumor that grew inside her, pushing aside her organs until the pain became too great to bear,” his mind recalled.

Again, and again, he pulled all that she had suffered into his mind to push away the aching of the moment. He had never raced up a mountain before today. The sting of his lungs pushed his mind to grasp again and again of those final days; the feeling of her slipping away before she had gone, but then she would battle until the end. Before long, he was numb and in agony at the same time.

As he struggled up the last hill toward the finish line, he could hear the screams of those encouraging the runners. The young lad that had passed him in the last half mile was within reach, but there was no sense in catching him. It wasn’t why he was here. In the blink of an eye, the scene of the pink floating balloons passed overhead, and he was done. Body bent double, he gasped for breath as his lungs burnt. “It wasn’t enough, she suffered far more, so much more,” he told himself as he stood there still reeling from the pain.

Gently, as a bird calls from the morning window sill, there was a whisper of voice from beyond, and he looked up to see who spoke. There ahead of him, on the edge of a manicured garden, amongst the myriad of greenery stood a single yellow rose.

For a moment, the warmth of a mother’s love washed over him.

He smiled and thanked the Lord. She had run a good race, she had fought the good fight, and now, her journey’s end was complete; and so was his.

Thanks be to God.

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Sevenfold and the Vehicle…

But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” -Acts 20:24

Singularly I matter not.

Swirling over the rocks, like the eddies within a swollen river, we smash against all that prevails before our paths; blinding, racing fury, hurling down the mountainside. Alone, we are but a single drop of fluid but combined as one, we become a force to which incredulous powers are bestowed.

At times, my life feels like it has become one with the mountains.

There is no scene before the eyes from which I look anew each day that does not thrill within my heart. For if it were not one cascading tributary, then it shall be yet another, each providing inspiration, a renewal of spirit, an encouragement to the being within. Like the sweet strains of the melodic voice echoing from the fiddle string, uniting with one in the chorus of the evening calls of yonder whippoorwill. Below us, the sun sets in a spectacular display of God’s handiwork, painting the heavens in colors too numerous, too capricious for one to espouse. The tongues of fire leap from hidden shadows to dance in the sky above, as eyes follow the enchantment until bluebird pastels darken into a Prussian blue chasm, deep dark depths of the void above us, where distant stars twinkle like the frost covering the ground on a chilly sunrise.

Everywhere, the crisp new green leaves of spring sing their sweet songs. Whispers of ancient tones, while stem, bark, and root below seek the heart of a mountain beneath. Through the crevices of granite strands, rich forest loams, one after another savoring the earthen riches within until their sap is nourished and sent once more to rejuvenate those so far away, so close to the outer limits, yet, so reliant upon those below.

We are nothing alone, living in solitary remorse, we cannot be what we have been created to be; our purpose unfulfilled. Only when we come to the awareness of life, can we begin to understand all that there is and how thankful we must be for what we have been given. It is then, perhaps for some too late, that we finally find our purpose, our calling. It is then many come to the solemn conclusion, the race has yet begun. At that moment, in that awakening of the soul, we ultimately realize that we have been put where we are for more than one reason.

Often, when there seems to be an obstacle facing what lies in my path of everyday life, it is then I am aware that struggle is merely the vehicle to get me where God wants me to be, for a purpose unbeknownst to myself or anyone else. Sometimes it is made clear once that vehicle has reached its terminal point, what the purpose was; sometimes we may never know why. But when we do suddenly fathom the thought, “This is not the real reason I’m here, but that this issue is merely the means to get me to this point,” it is in that moment that we suddenly reach a new level of communication with our Heavenly Father, if only for an instant, we reach into the complexity of all that surrounds us. It is then that we, in the blink of an eye, find the Holy Spirit among us and then we can fully appreciate with open eyes, and arms, that which is about to happen.

Thus, was my recent experience.

One cannot begin to comprehend the magnitude of all that had transpired to lead up to the point that I heard myself exclaim out loud, “This is not the real reason I’m here. This is just the vehicle. Something else is about to happen. I don’t know what it is, but I can feel it; no, this is just the vehicle to get me here.”

To understand the complexity of the problem would require more than this article could stand.  Yet, it cannot go without saying that the depth to which the problem prevented me from going forward was as if a granite boulder had been placed upon my shoulders and my legs had been set in chains. I had mentally struggled, made numerous phone calls, and spoke with multiple people who might be able to help; all were unable to find a solution. It was then, I knew something greater than myself was needed.

Coming down the mountain on my daily drive home, I literally called upon His name, and asked Him to take the steering wheel of my life, for it was beyond me to figure out. At that moment, there was silence; no radio, no words, just the sound of the car slipping down the winding road. Outside my window, the blue-green vista beckoned as the sun began its slow decent below the distant peaks.

Sevenfold,” came the voice.

I instantly knew what He meant.

Yes, there was comfort in knowing where He wanted me to go. Melanie’s store located in downtown Lenoir, named “Sevenfold,” is a place that makes you feel more than good when you walk through the doors. While she may not have a bustling tourist icon in one of those fancy mountain town locations, her humble store has a feel much more special; God is there.

I should swing by the bank, get my address changed, then if there is time, I’ll swing by Sevenfold,” I thought back to myself, keeping in mind what He had said.

Sevenfold,” came the voice once more.

Yes, yes,” I thought, shaking my head, “Yes, of course, I’ll go. For certain, yes, I’ll go.”

At the bank, I tried to use my own intellect to figure out the problem once more, and once more, He stopped me cold.

Sevenfold.”

Guess I’m still going to Sevenfold after all,” I thought to myself.

Moments later, as I walked through those old Walgreen’s glass and metal door, I was instantly filled with warmth. The home within the office building grew on you. One after another, tiny treasures lay about the store, including some of my own work. Combined, it made for a jewel in the rough, some place yet to be discovered by the world; a littles piece of heaven. Melanie was in the back of the store at the lunch counter holding court with two older black men, debating details about grass, or so I heard, when I walked up.

“Do you know that grass that they spray along the steep banks to keep the dirt from washing away. I think it starts with an “S,”” she said, squinting and smiling at me at the same time. I had met Melanie when she first showed us the house we now live in. She was a realtor back then. I don’t know if she had already begun her calling when we met, or if it was something that came later. All I know is that she was now fully upon her journey, and like so many of us was finding the fury of the wind in her face. In that, we knew she was on the right path.

“Centipede,” I answered, in more of a question than an answer?

“No, it’s not that,” she said, smiling.

“I said it was bluegrass,” said the younger of the two men, his name was Craig Perkins, the son of the Councilman, Ike Perkins. He seemed older when I first looked at him, but later found out he was about my own age. He skin was weathered, but his eyes were bright. I would also learn later that he too was an artist, and dabbled in various forms of mediums.

Once we got past the grass situation, I began to share my conundrum with the group. Melanie began to shake her head yes, “I’ve got this,” she answered. About that time, customers came walking in the front door. She scooted off to them while Craig said, “I’ve got an idea,” so he and I slipped out the door and across the street to track down someone he knew. We came back shortly afterward without success. When we walked back in, the thought hit me, “God wants you in the store, and in this, you will find that something else awaits; this issue is just the vehicle to get you here.”

“Thank you,” I said to Craig, “I appreciate your help, but I now know why I’m here. This is just the vehicle to get me here. Something else is about to happen.”

I actually had the nerve to say it out loud,” I mused within my aching head. The toll of the day’s mental struggle was building to a crescendo, and the pain was becoming a gentle throb at the base of my skull.

About that time, Melanie called us to the back of the store to the lunch counter. “I’ve got somebody coming that will take care of everything.”

“Wow,” I said shaking my head. I then began to share with her my revelation of the vehicle.

“She’ll be here in about twenty minutes.”

“Not a problem, unless you have to be somewhere,” I answered back.

“No, we’re here as long as it takes.” She and Craig smiled back. We then began talking about what all had been going on and what was happening in her world. Her father had been in the hospital. It was then the phone rang. It was her daddy on the other side of the line. “He’s coming home from the hospital,” she whispered while holding the phone away from her mouth as she spoke, smiling gleefully.

“That’s great news,” Craig replied, “Tell him I said hello,” he followed up.

“Okay,” she assured him.

About that time, a lady came racing through the front doors holding various implements of writing and office materials; my angel had arrived. We quickly went through the details, which she knew every answer, every angle to cover, and in the blink of an eye, the problem that had seemed impossible to solve was done.

Yes, in the blink of an eye, the unsolvable was wiped away.

Then came the real reason we were there.

I don’t recall how, I don’t know why, but for some reason, the lady mentioned that her mother was an artist also. “Yea, she painted the mural on the bridge abutment at the park in Collettsville.”

“You mother is Mary Lou?”

“Yes.”

“And Ray your father has cancer?”

I paused. As the solemnness of the moment hit me. It hadn’t been that long ago that my own mother succumbed to her disease after a twenty-year battle. Ray’s battle was something I didn’t take lightly and here stood a daughter whom I never met. My mind was full of questions, but this was not the time.

“I pray for him and your mother almost every day,” I said to her, as I looked her in the eyes. I could sense she wanted to say more, but was holding something back; an emotion, a feeling that couldn’t be spoken.

“Thank you,” she responded. Her shoulders seem to sink a little as a shadow passed over her countenance; there was a hidden pain within.

I could feel the emotion welling up inside myself as well. From the corner of my eye, I could see Melanie was also becoming affected by what was transpiring. I knew at that moment that the lady before me did not go to church with her own mother and father. I had never seen her before, even on Easter Sunday. It was then I realized the vehicle’s purpose and why I was there.

“God put me here for a reason today…to meet you.”

As she smiled, not sure of what to say, I walked over and hugged her, “I’ll continue to pray for them and you,” I said.

From that point on, it was a blur.

There was something about a painting of a horse, whom the lady had owned, and a painting that Melanie had owned for a long time, but suddenly felt God telling her to give it to the lady. There was such a flurry of emotion it was all difficult to keep up with and understand. It was as if a tsunami of the Holy Spirit had flooded the store and we were awash in his glory.

Our heads were buzzing with thoughts, emotions, and joy.

After she and Melanie had gone outside to say goodbye, I sat on the stool looking at Craig who sat at the other end of the counter. I felt drained like I had just been through a boxing match; a fight with myself mostly, and had won. The headache was gone, and the weight had been lifted.

Craig sat there looking back at me. “God put us here for a reason Craig, he put us here for a reason,” I said in half sigh of relief.

“Amen,” he smiled, “Amen.”

Alone we are nothing, but with Him, we can do all things.

Thanks be to God.

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The Crack in our Armor…

They come for many reasons.

Some feel called, others feel led.

They come for many reasons.

She and her daughter had traveled from New Jersey. The pamphlet told of the Trail and something spoke to them to go. They showed upimagesKK89TV6O on a chilly Friday evening, just mother and daughter. They guided themselves, taking care at each exhibit, each step of the way, savoring every morsel of the ancient history.

We stood at the oven preparing for the next day’s guided tours as they came closer, working their way through centuries of persecution, centuries of Waldensians dying for their faith.

I carefully placed the log upon the splitting block and looked for the weakest section, one that had a hairline crack; something the maul’s edge could use to begin the split. The tiniest of line running from the center out along the years of growth showed me the spot where I had to aim. Lifting the maul, I arched my back and swung in the movement learned from years of manually splitting firewood, arching the back as I rose to my toes, then with the force of momentum on my side, began the downward arc of the ax.

The solid crack of the log confirmed my aim had been true; the fissure had begun.

Something about splitting firewood for the oven made be think how this activity and the church had something in common.

In today’s society, many churches are like the log to be split. Satan seeks the tiniest of crevice wherein he can find an avenue to slip in. Once the opening begins, he brings the force of the depths of hell upon the smallest of hairline splits until evil has blown open a fracture in the church so deep and wide it can destroy the very institution that once could have easily withstood the demonic onslaught. The tiniest opening was all that was needed.

The guests were now rounding the corner of the Refour house and walked up to the oven where we worked. We introduced ourselves and began to share with them what we were doing and the story behind the community oven. Something we said about sharing the bread of Christ and modern day miracles triggered an emotion with them that began to bring out the mother’s testimony; something I knew I would have to save if only to remember for another day, another time.

She began with how there was a movie that she badly wanted to see back home, back in New Jersey. Yet, every time she tried to go see it, the movie was sold out. When she arrived in Charlotte, where her daughter lives, she tried once more and was finally able to get in; the miracle began. She continued on about her home church and how it had burnt down. She felt called by the Lord to start a building drive to raise money to rebuild. She asked God, “Are you sure, this is me you are talking to. I can’t do something like that.” She told how she tried to reason with God but every time she spoke against it, God told her he wasn’t going to take no for an answer. Finally, she conceded and accepted that she had no choice. She was one month into her ministry, having already visited neighboring churches to try to ask for their help when her doctor called.

Emotions began to well up in her eyes as she sat down on the knee wall and continued.

She shared how the doctor told her that her cervical cancer had returned and that she would require more surgery.

“Why, God,” she cried out, “why would you do this to me after I finally accepted your call?”

The thought came to mind when I hear of bad things happening to good people. “You must be doing something right with regard to God when Satan steps in and tries to bring you down.”

So she had to tell the churches she had already visited that she would be back after her cancer surgery if it were the Lord’s will.

Three months passed and once she recovered she returned to the ministry. Their visit to the Trail was part of that recovery. Not only did she have to find her strength physically, but spiritually as well. She found power in the story of perseverance and standing strong through the countless centuries of persecution. “Yes,” she said, “We were more than a blessing to her, we were confirmation.” She then went on to tell us about the rest of the miracle. That very morning before they came to the Trail with her daughter, she received a text message. There had finally been a significant donation, one that would allow them to begin construction on the church; a single private donation of over one-hundred thousand dollars. The tears rolled down her cheeks as the breeze drifted tiny flower petals down about us. The Holy Spirit was moving down my spine as she spoke.

“Thanks be to God,” I replied as I felt the lump in my throat grow. “We serve an awesome God.”

Satan had tried to stop her, there was a crack in her armor, but the will of the Lord prevailed. The abyss of darkness wasn’t able to consume her light as she continues on.

They left shortly afterward knowing that we had received their testimony. Their visit, while only brief, will remain with me as a reminder.

Part of me wondered as they drove away if the knew the Lord. To say it was obvious wasn’t satisfying the question that arose. “Whey didn’t I ask,” I thought to myself?

Sometimes the crack that opens up isn’t for us to fill, isn’t for us to use. No, sometimes that crevice that appears is just merely for us to see a glimpse into the world of someone else’s walk with God if only we will listen and pay attention.

That evening as I put the ax away, I realized there was another precious memory for us to savor. Something to pull out on one of those days when nothing seems to go right; something that we can sit back and embrace when our time on earth nears its end and we seek to walk the journey one last time.

Yes, another day and another box of sweetness the Lord has provided.

Thanks be to God.

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For Randy…

Fifty-three.

Those were the years that spanned my friend’s life.12573029_10156478826155083_6433158367040704776_n

Too soon he left us, too soon we had to say our final farewell; at least on this side of heaven.

We have only the moment now in which to live. None of us are guaranteed a tomorrow.

As I reflect back on the few times that I was blessed to be in Randy’s presence, I can recall the joy he shared and how you came away feeling better, no matter the circumstance.

It was very evident early on, Randy was a brother in Christ.

I first met Randall “Randy” Lee Shumaker at the Denton Bluegrass Festival one blustery May. He welcomed me into a circle of pickers and from there our friendship continued to grow. We often sat during late evenings around the campfire sharing stories, or around the table sharing meals; fellowship like none other. I learned that he had been diagnosed with cancer in 2008 and had only been given a few months to live. It seems from that point on, Randy chose to live each day as if it were his last.

It is not uncommon at bluegrass festivals to hear a jam session last until the sun begins to rise. Randy jammed long and hard the first few years at the festival, long past my bedtime. I would rise early and find Randy up ahead of me, trying to catch the first rays of the sunrise coming up over a nearby pond. Sometimes, I’d awake to find him already returning from the fishing hole or up and gone, never wasting a minute of his day. I was also aware as time progressed, so did his cancer and so did his fervent attempt to ward off the inevitable.

Randy and I kept in touch off and on apart from the bluegrass festival. He was a devoted father and grandfather. He was part of the Second Chance Bluegrass Band and had written a beautiful song, Bend in the Road, which had been inspired by another band member that had died of cancer and a book of the same name by Dr. David Jeremiah. Randy and the band performed it at a contest held at the festival one year and one first place. As I watched the video once more after his passing, I couldn’t help feel that Randy knew that someday, we’d be watching him sing about himself. During that day’s performance, they also sang a inspiring version of, “There is a God.” As I sat and listened again and again, part of me felt Randy was already there watching and smiling in acknowledgment; yes, there certainly is.

God gives gifts to some of us; some more than others. What we choose to do with those are up to us, but sometimes you find someone that shares them and themselves so openly, so warmly that you can’t help feel good about knowing them; this was by brother in Christ.

I remember vividly one bright morning at the festival. Randy had been through a rough night. Sleep was difficult, even in his own bed at home, but the camper bed was making life miserable. However, he chose not to dwell on the negative but rather pushed on, through the pain. When I met him that morning, he was up early, demanding more of what might be his last trip. He greeted me cheerfully with a “Great is the day the Lord hath made,” to which we both replied, “Let us be glad and rejoice in it.” We both laughed and shook hands.

He shared with me that he had debated coming that year but knew there might not be another.

Sadly, my family and I weren’t able to return this past year. Sadly, I didn’t get to see my friend one last time, at least not on this side of Glory.

From a distance, I watched as time progressed and he began to weaken. The final days were hardest of all to watch. There was a poignant moment when a post arrived on FB. His son Caleb was sworn in by the local Police department, in Randy’s own home complete with the mayor and police chief in attendance, something that obviously took a lot of planning and change of procedures, but then again, this was for a man that touched so many lives in a positive way that it was not unimaginable; this was the Randy I knew. This was just more confirmation of what so many already had realized.

Randy taught me many things but one thing he shared most of all, live each day to its fullest in your walk with God.

Too soon my friend, too soon.

Warm up the band, get that mansion for Ms. Kelly ready, for someday we’ll meet you just inside the Eastern gate.

Love you brother.

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Power of Prayer…

 

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.” –Psalm 19:14

Prayer connects us to God in ways we as mere mortals beings may never understand.

Each day I find God only tests us with what he knows we can handle; this week was no different.prayer

First thing Monday morning we had our first visitors, a walk-in family of four who were there or a self-guided tour. As I began introducing them to the Trail, I felt led to share with them more than the basic story and soon found myself sharing my testimony. Their children were very attentive and extremely well educated in Christianity; knowing more scriptures than many adults I’ve met. Later we would find that they were home schooled which explained their advanced Biblical knowledge. I specifically recalled the point where it hit me that this was another “God Moment,” as I’ve been calling them lately. That moment came after they had watched our introduction movie and had turned around to ask questions. For some reason, I can’t recall the details, they mentioned something about being from Durham. Perhaps I had shared with them the farm and the fact that we hadn’t yet sold ours back in Chatham County and then they said how they were looking to get out of Durham and move out into the country. It was then the image of God smiling, looking down on us all came to mind. I know God has a sense of humor; knowing all the struggles, showings and lack of getting our house to move at all. Could this be the family that only He could have found and sent to us to start the ball rolling?

As I took them on more of a guided tour than a self-guided tour while I was able, as long as another guest didn’t arrive we can spend more time with our guests, I was able to share with them in more detail the whole story. When we give tours, we can often tell when the Holy Spirit begins to work in our visitors and this particular morning, He was definitely with us. I learned that the mother’s maiden name was “Barba,” as the name of those who taught and led the student’s at the college in the valleys. I encouraged her to seek out more of her family tree, especially since she knew she was of Italian ancestry. Although I don’t need a miracle to believe, there are some who do and what another amazing story it would be if this was the family.

Oddly enough, when we tried to show them our farm that was for sale on the MLS listing, it hit me, that we had taken it off the market temporarily and that it wasn’t available to show them. Instead, we gave them contact information for our realtor and the address, just in case. It was almost as if we weren’t allowed to go too far that day, but just enough.

In God’s time, we shall see.

Then, as if we needed another gear switched, we had a totally different perspective arrive on Wednesday when Ron Long and his wife Donell arrived from New Mexico. For Ron’s birthday, Donell arranged to bring him to Valdese to visit the town from where his grandfather had come. Before finding us at the Trail, they had already gone to the museum downtown. They had also studied the Waldensians somewhat so that I was able to jump right into my testimony and share with them my own spiritual journey. As I did, we soon found our ancestral ties, since Ron’s family tree also included Trons. As their self-guided tour turned into a guided tour, while I was once again able, we found so many connections and similarities in our own journey that we literally could not find enough words to share the moment. Family reunions like this, set apart by centuries of time, require nearly an eternity to allow us all the time needed to pass from one to the other the stories of who, what, where and why. I can only imagine that day when Christ returns and we shall all be called to that eternal heavenly home, to share with all our family gone on before. Eternity awaits, for it will be needed in order to hear every last word of every last tale that each of us has to share.

Ron and Donell felt such a strong desire to be part of the journey that they openly expressed how they wished that God might find a way to move them here someday. I offered them my prayers that it might come to pass.

Before Ron and Donell left, we shared our contact information and let the know about the evening meal at the Waldensian Church later that evening. We hugged goodbye not knowing if we would ever meet again. As fate would have it, we met them at the Church dinner later. They were there along with Marilynn from the museum, who had given them their tour earlier in the day enjoying the wonderful Wednesday evening meal. We had another great visit and soon found ourselves hugging goodbye more than once; family whom you know you might never see again is very hard to see go away, especially after you’ve just met. God only knows!

As if the week hadn’t already been moving enough, then came Thursday.

An older couple came walking in later that Thursday morning. I began the introduction to the Trail for their self-guided tour and it was during that brief intro that I felt something speak to me, to tell me to go on, so I did. As I gave my testimony, I felt myself being drawn closer to God in a way that I had never felt before. Before I knew it, the lady to whom I was speaking began to cry and then said to me that she had cancer. I could feel her need for fervent prayer and I opened my arms, embracing her and her husband at the same time, praying over them, asking God for healing and strength; it was a first for me here at the Trail. It was then that I shared with her how my own mother had fought and battled cancer for over 20 years before passing a couple years ago, and that with faith, anything was possible. From that point on, until I could go no further due to other arriving guests, I stayed with them and felt a connection unlike any other. We didn’t have to be blood relatives to feel a bond, we were brothers and sisters in Christ. Later when they came back in, we hugged goodbye and I prayed a silent prayer for them as they drove away. We may never meet again on this side of Glory, but oh what a glorious day it will be when we do.

And then came Friday.

Suffice it to say, we had our challenges but our staff and volunteers worked like seasoned professionals, meeting every obstacle with undaunted determination. In the end, we served nearly 100 guests who were all able to hear our story, our testimony, smell the wood being cut on the sawmill, taste the fresh baked bread and even allowed to roll a few bocci balls. Yes, Friday was as beautiful as it was blessed, with its azure blue skies and crisp fall air.

We had made it through one of our best weeks to date and survived. My 4:30 AM start date that Friday morning wore on me pretty hard by the time 11:00 PM rolled around at the youth center, but I was quite thankful to be able to go home and have a wonderful night’s sleep.

Prayers had been answered more than once, and some we may never know.

Later that weekend my sister called to let me know my brother-in-law had found a job. I shared with her that after the last time we spoke, about a month earlier, I began making a conscious effort to pray for him to find a job. That had been nearly three weeks ago. I asked her when he found the job, she then paused and said, “It was about three weeks ago.” He had been about to take a job far, far away where he might have to move to temporarily and work making an extreme hardship on him and the family but suddenly before he packed to leave, another company called an offered him a job locally, for more money. That was the job he now had. It was then that we thanked God for prayers answered on both ends of the phone.

As Allen King, the pastor of River of Life Church, continues the prayer revival, we too return to prayer more and more. As we do, amazing Godly things begin to transpire, transforming our reality into answered prayers.

All we have to do is believe, and pray.

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