Tag Archives: North Carolina

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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To Return

“I will never forget thy precepts: for with them thou hast quickened me.” – Psalm 119:93

Rising this morning, the haunting memory of a thought, like that of a vapor upon a distant hillside, shadowed my presence. It was here, knowing that the past week or so has been a struggle not only physically due to an illness but also spiritually. The latter was due to the former, which had put me off of the schedule that had been developing over the summer. This change put me at odds with the ability to walk in the spirit as much as my daily routine had been allowing. It was troubling to feel this way, knowing how easily we are thrown off course. Thankfully, earlier this week, my footsteps began to return somewhat to that familiar path.

Tanawha Trail, Blueridge Mountains, NC.

Preparing to enter the Tanawha Trail, we parked at the trailhead off old 221, a gravel road stretching from Blowing Rock to Foscoe. There next to the parking area, where Black Angus cattle grazing on the lush green hillside. At the time, only the sight of livestock had quickened my heart. All those years raising them on the farm back in Chatham had ingrained in me a special connection to the beast. Here again on hills above us, those summertime hides, “fat and slick,” as Uncle John used to say, glistened in the morning sun. Suddenly, within a moment, it made one feel home again – that it was as if you had walked through that ancient doorway of memory and entered back into the loving fold of family. It was precisely what was needed to rejuvenate the spirit within.

Inspired as only God can do, we are often amiss without him, as we mistakenly feel, but in these times of isolation, we are drawn ever more close. As the cliché says, “Distance makes the heart grow fonder.” So, it seems sometimes we need to be reminded that without him, we are like a ship adrift on the sea with no rudder to guide our way.

It always impresses me how God knows what takes us back to our roots, to the place where we first encountered the world. For some, it’s a unique park or vacation spot. For others, like myself, it is the abundant adventures and experiences of our rural childhood. For me, it was exploring those vast pastures, forests, and lands of the farms of southern Indiana. There in those hills and hollers of the Midwest, God’s creation became part of my life. From those early impressions, when all seems confused and lost, there is a baseline, so to speak, to which God knows my thoughts can be reset too. From there, those formational memories, one can once more journey forth to where their next footsteps will lead. The reference to technology is not mistaken but purposeful.

That pasture’s very imagery, the one in which the Tanawha Trail ran through, its slope, the cattle, and the sunrise shedding its morning glow upon its face, reminded me of that long-ago mountain. So often, when we revisit places of our youth, that object which once seemed so massive now has shrunk in size. Yes, that mountain of my childhood was actually little more than a slight rise in the ground compared with where we now stood – we called it Sled Hill. In those distant recollections, it was a place where you could stand on the edge of that tiny town, New Harmony, and survey the entirety of everything below from the rooftop perspective. There interlaced with rising oaks and sycamore trees were the peaks and steeples of homes and churches. It was the first time that the feeling of standing upon the earth and looking out across the vista below felt closer to God. There, in that shadow of where life’s journey would eventually lead, there was no concept from which to compare that scene. It was forever etched into the mind as what it must be like to stand near the top of the world.

In the moment, surrounded by a host of relatives, we feel like this will be where we spend the rest of our days. In our heart of hearts, we are content with that. For decades it was the way things went. But then times changed. The world we knew changed, and suddenly we found ourselves thrust into the never-ending stream of advances in humanity. We were forced to adapt and overcome a very different lifestyle from the life of our forefathers. Secular society told us that we had to “make something of ourselves,” whatever that was supposed to mean. But those of us raised in Sunday School had heard something else, that alone we can do nothing. Thus began the conflict of interest.

Some take it upon themselves to believe that they alone can make “it” happen. Others realize, some sooner than others, that we can never do it on our own. Some go off to college. Others join the military. Some seek to escape the privation of that quiet way of life, seeking adventure or wealth. Either way, very few remained behind to stay in the place where we all thought we would never leave. Those that remained wonder about the lives of those gone on. Those that had to leave, or chose to leave, never forgot from whence they came. The question always burned within them, “What if I had never left?”

There is a saying that of itself seems trivial, but when it is explored more deeply, its truth resonates through the ages, “Once you leave home, you can never go back.” For what we find, is that even though you might physically be able to return, you are never the same once you leave. Your growth through the sheer experiences of whatever you found on your journey changes you. It is then, once you return, you see with new eyes what one could not explain to you before you left. Painfully, as we feel those around us unable to relate to what has changed us, we seek to find connections where there once was no question about relationships. However, we then discover that what is around us is not all that there is in life.

So we take a break from the reunion, walking out to that familiar landmark, whatever it might be, the beach, that old home place, or for me, the crest of Sled Hill, and pause for a moment and think about all that has transpired since we last stood on this spot. We find that the terrestrial has changed very little. Oh, there might be a fallen tree, a sand dune out of place, or perhaps a new roof on the old home place, but that which was physical remains the same. We suddenly realize it’s not the place that has changed, but us.

In Jesus’ day, he tried to convey to his disciples this same message, that once you turn to serve God in the way in which he asked, you would be forever altered. There would be no going back to who you once were, “And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”[1] Even as they found their understanding of Jesus’ parables and teachings challenging to comprehend, it was even more so for those Pharisees and Chief Priests. Even when Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, met with Jesus, he too could not comprehend what Jesus was saying even though he sought him out, knowing that something about him was calling him to believe. As Jesus explained, “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be? Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.      And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.[2]

They could not begin to wrap their minds around God in the flesh, let alone that Jesus told them that they did not know him or his Father. “Then cried Jesus in the temple as he taught, saying, Ye both know me, and ye know whence I am: and I am not come of myself, but he that sent me is true, whom ye know not.[3]

Like returning home, once we are changed by our travels, there is something likewise that will never be the same to those who have not found Christ in their lives. Until they take that similar path in life, those that stayed behind find it odd that you don’t want to go hang out beneath the bridge, drink beer, and skip rocks across the river. It is difficult, if not impossible, to convey to them that you have changed. You no longer enjoy the things of the flesh but instead find it more desirable to find those who are lost and engage them, striving to bring them closer to the Father.

Since those humble beginnings, God’s plan has led me to stand on the earth and look out upon remarkable vestiges of landscape. From my current home in the Blue Ridge Mountains to the mountains in our western states, to those beautiful, inspiring Waldensians valleys in the Cottien region of the Alps in Europe, God has opened my eyes to more of his creation as time would allow, and likewise, my mind to the understanding of his word. Although time seems to be running out, there are many more mountains to climb and much more to realize. Therefore, each day that there remains of this life, it is with a passion and desire that we should seek God in all of what he has bestowed upon us and to go wherever he calls.

From standing atop Sled Hill to walking up the Tanawha trail, there comes a time when we can feel the connection – how our past has shaped our future. Our walk with the Lord prepares us for what is to come. When you can sense a presence more wondrous than your own, to know that when we reach for that fateful day to finally stand, or rather kneel in his presence, we will then know what it has all been about. It is then we can only hope to hear the words, “Welcome home child, welcome home.”

We shall then gladly say, “Thanks be to God.”


[1] Luke 9:62 KJV

[2] John 3:8-15 KJV

[3] John 7:28 KJV

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Don’t Live to Regret It

by Timothy W. Tron, Dec. 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why do I say this? Allow me to explain.

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

Moses Cone Manor Trail, Dec. 2020

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

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

There would be no usual drive home that night.

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

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

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

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

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

There is no going back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks be to God.


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

[2] Psalm 139:7-10 KJV

[3] Psalm 37:5 KJV

[4] Psalm 37:6-7 KJV

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

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The Weary Road

And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” – Galatians 6:9

This morning I awoke but felt as if there was no purpose in escaping the comfort of the warm covers. When my feet finally hit the chilly floor, my body felt as if it needed another night’s sleep. A weariness of the spirit seemed to weigh me down.

Low Water Bridge, Collettsville, NC. April 14, 2020

Yesterday’s work had been one grueling mental challenge that lasted the entire day, from before sunup to after sundown. It sometimes surprises me how tiring the mind can become, and in so doing, bring the body down with it. In these times of uncertainty and struggle, many are facing the same challenge, feeling their minds reaching a certain level of strain that begins to seem as if their entire world is starting to unwind. Combine that with that the fact that they are held captive in their own homes with people, whom many will call family, that are now beginning to weigh on their patience. Meanwhile, they struggle to find the new norm when attempting to keep the same level of workload with which their jobs demand, working remotely.

For some, the pressure has become more than they can bear.

Yet, in my struggles, there I was once again, striving to do it all on my own. We sometimes push ourselves beyond what we are capable of, both physically and mentally. As I was driving back from the office, having made one of my bi-weekly “Essential Needs” run, my body battled to remain awake. The intellectual demand had literally worn me out. In that solitude, driving down the beautiful mountainside on a sunny April day, it occurred to me the error of my ways. Like those awful storms that had awakened me at 3:00 AM, there was now no sign of them. The five inches of rain that had fallen on the mountain had all but vanished. Yet, when something falls, there is always a price to pay. Down the mountain, in our foothill village of Collettsville, the price was waiting to be paid. When we mess up in life, we must always learn to face the consequences, no matter how hard they are to look upon.

Once again, in my unintentional arrogance, the “I,” had tried to solve the problem alone. Had not the previous summer’s lessons been learned? Was I still ignorant of how God was with me, but it was up to me to ask for his help and guidance? Again, my mind reflected back to those times before of calling upon His name, and how each time, there was an answer. The next morning, again before starting, I prayed for God to forgive me for my previous day’s arrogance, and to give me strength, guidance, and wisdom. I then vowed to never again forget to seek Him in all that I do. To make sure, I pulled up Romans 12:2-3 to help me keep focus, “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.”

Within an hour of starting that morning, the problem had been solved.

There is no better feeling of satisfaction than to know God is with you. The sense of accomplishment on our own is one thing, but to know something happened because of God working in your life is an entirely new level of triumph.

The song, “Victory in Jesus,” comes to mind, and says it best.

I heard about His healing,
Of His cleansing pow’r revealing.
How He made the lame to walk again
And caused the blind to see;
And then I cried, “Dear Jesus,
Come and heal my broken spirit,”
And somehow Jesus came and bro’t
To me the victory.

Chorus
O victory in Jesus,
My Savior, forever.
He sought me and bought me
With His redeeming blood;
He loved me ere I knew Him
And all my love is due Him,
He plunged me to victory,
Beneath the cleansing flood.[1]

Later, I took a walk along the river. The low-water bridge across the John’s River that is my route into Collettsville had been inundated by yesterday’s flash flood. Piled on top of the bridge chest-high in the storm’s wake was all manner of wood, debris, and full-grown trees. Below, in the shadow of the bridge, the water now ran full-throated, clouded and murky from the deluge. Continuing onward, with my walking stick in hand, I carefully climbed to the top of the massive heap of rubble. My mind flashed back to the previous day’s struggle and how the tabs along the top of my page were like those countless limbs and trees now underfoot. One-by-one, they were caught in the fight to flow onward, until they created the gigantic roadblock. Had my struggle continued without stopping and regrouping, and finally seeking God’s divine intervention, I would have never solved the crisis. My attempt to unravel the challenge would have only ended like the massive pile of debris upon which I stood, at an impasse with no way around it.

Thankfully, the words find purpose, “be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” Yes, God doesn’t want our lives to wind up like a useless pile of trash. When we seek him, our lives become filled with a purpose, an intentional reason for being. When we acknowledge that He has paid the price for our sins and that we are redeemed by his blood, we can afford to be plunged beneath the cleansing flood and come up victors.

Yes, there’s victory in Jesus.

Try never to forget, you are not alone.

Seek Him with all your heart and knock and the door shall be opened.

Leave the “I,” behind, and learn to lean upon the everlasting.

Thanks be to God.


[1] Words and Music by E.M. Bartlett
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Are You Blessed?

 “Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed”-John 20:29

We stood in a circle. Our right hands made into fists as our arms were extended into the middle of the circle, like the hub of a human wheel, one placed upon the other as each of us bowed our heads in prayer. The boys like to call the configuration the “popcorn prayer,” a term they coined on their own. With the first of the young men that began, the next would continue the prayer until it came around the circle to the last person.

Crossnore Children’s Home

In the past, we would have had a morning devotional before going to breakfast, followed by a closing prayer. But this day was different, it was late Sunday afternoon. Unlike the times before, today they asked that we all pray together before we said our final goodbyes. In unison, they asked that I close us out by saying the last prayer.

It was one of the most poignant moments of my life, humbling to the core; it was their last request.

I had come to say goodbye, a goodwill gesture that was sincerely from the heart. It had been a tumultuous month, one that had left me more than tired. Several weeks earlier, when I had shared with my supervisor that God was leading my life’s journey away from Crossnore, I also asked that if they needed any extra help, I told him that I would be willing to fill in if needed. He thanked me for that offer.

At Crossnore, there is always a need.

And so, after many sleep-deprived and beleaguered days, my footsteps carried me one last time from one end of the Crossnore campus to the other. Those young men had left an undeniable mark upon my heart. For many of the children at Crossnore, their pasts are much like our own, better left behind. Many are at the home because of no fault of their own, and with that, you immediately seek to find the source of the mindset that acts out in ways that are not normal; because if anything, the trauma through which they have survived are anything but normal. It was because of this and much more that I couldn’t leave without at least letting them know that I would miss them.

Along my path that somber Sunday afternoon, the majestic oaks that had at one time provided comforting shade during the hotter months, had now given way to become barren, twisted towering bones, reaching to the azure blue sky above. They too, showed empathy for my departure, like elders who had seen so many come and go, telling me in their own way that they would forever be with me. The chilly winds blew leaves across my path as I made it to the all teen boy’s cottage. Many would prefer another assignment than to have to deal with young men at their age.

My own experience was quite different.

From the outset, once they realized I wasn’t going to be a push-over, we began to connect. One might wonder if it had been the many years of working with the Scouts that allowed me to understand them? Perhaps you might ask, was it because of the time spent working with the Junior Appalachian Musician program? Or, maybe, you might conjecture, it was teaching High School math to teens their age that helped me cope? Whatever the reason one might attribute my connection to those boys, I believe it was the hand of the Lord who had put me there for that season, as short as it may have been. The reason I felt it was God, was because it wasn’t until I asked to share the devotional with them that I could see something new; a change in their demeanor toward my presence. It was when one of the young men-(the one that had been there the longest, over 6 years to be exact)- opened up to me, that their reactions began to make me take notice. They said that because of his years of tenure at the home, he had become so hardened that he would purposely keep you at bay, knowing that before long, you too would fall by the wayside.

Who could blame him?

He had seen so many come and go. And up to that point, he could have just as well said the same thing about me. But when he would purposely make it a point to greet me or go out of his way to tell me to have a nice day, it became apparent that God had moved him, through me, in spite of who I was. All of these thoughts swirled around in my head like the fallen leaves upon the ground that cold, blustery afternoon.

There had been so much to contemplate. For if the walk had been days, there would have been enough recent memories and experiences to occupy my thoughts the full breadth of the journey.

Recently, one of my new colleagues at the college asked, “How are you today?”

I replied, as I so often do these days, “I am blessed, I hope you are?”

He then later asked what I had meant by the word “Blessed.”

The question stopped me in my tracks.

My mind flashed back to the beginning of the summer and the terrible drought, and trials that my life had encountered. Through the loss of a job, loss of income, loss of medical coverage, to the near-fatal illness, to the days of unanswered prayers. The doubts and troubles piled up like logs against the bridge when the river rises. One by one, their pressure building until they either burst through or until they are swept over the bridge by higher waters. My life had become that bridge, inundated by the flooding trials that seemed to come, one after the other, each one building upon the other. At one point, the bad news had become so common that it became laughable. “Just how much more could one take and still survive,” I began to ask? My life began to feel a little like Job in the struggles, and a lot like Joseph at the bottom of the dry well; there was nowhere to go but up.

Then, like once before in my life when it seemed as if all hope was lost, God answered. I don’t recall the exact day or time, but there was a sense that only a few may know or understand. Like a warm wave cascading over your soul, the feeling of things that are about to change washes over you, and it is then that you know deep in your heart that it is going to be okay. It’s moments like that when Hebrews 11:1 makes perfect sense, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

My sweet co-teacher, Mrs. Rush, said it best last year when she was trying to comfort me about having to leave the school when she said, “God is going to answer your prayers in a way that is going to be far greater than your wildest expectations.” She continued, “The answer won’t come soon, but rather, it will probably be at the last moment when you feel like all hope is gone. It is then that He will finally give you an answer.”

She was as prophetic as anyone I have ever known. Was God speaking through her? I don’t know, but to this day, I have to believe he was.

To answer my colleague, my mind dug through those countless days of anguish and despair, and the words began to form. They had to pass through the filter of that prayer with those boys in the Cottage as we all stood around in the circle and prayed. The memory of what happened during that prayer still lingered in my soul.

From the bottom of my feet, the sensation began. As God poured the words through my lips, the Holy Spirit began to fill my body like a pitcher is filled from the bottom up. The electricity began to rise through my legs, torso, and eventually put my arm into the pile of hands. The words continued to speak as my entire body began to tremble. Attempting to retain my composure, I pressed on, asking God for this moment to never end. “They have to feel this,” my mind reflected while scriptures began to flow from my heart and out my mouth. The warmth of tears streaming down my face began to mix with the emotions in my voice until we finally said, “Amen.”

As I stepped back, wiping the tears from my eyes, the emotional toll was not just my own, for it was apparent in their eyes as well. My head was spinning as I tried to find a way to say goodbye. Once more, there was yet another reason to never forget, as they asked for a hug. In my heart, the pain of saying goodbye was a burden that must have shown. One of the boys raced to his room and brought out one of his most cherished items, a UNC flag. In the spur of the moment, I asked if we could have them all sign it, “As a memento,” I said. They all happily agreed, and each one took great care to make sure their name was visible. In a way, it was as if they wanted to make that indelible mark upon my heart; one, like the permanent marker upon the flag, that would never fade away.

Those multitudes of thoughts swirled around in my head as my colleague must have wondered why it was so difficult to answer a simple question about what I meant by being ‘Blessed.’ It was as Jesus had said to Thomas at that moment when he finally realized that he as standing in the presence of our risen Savoir. After putting his hand through the hole in Jesus’ side, his head suddenly became faint. The room began to spin. Stepping back, trying to regain his balance, he stared in awe at Son of Man, God in the flesh, who had now defeated death. He was speechless. Jesus said to him, “Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”

Yes, blessed are we that have not seen and yet have believed. But this was only one part of being blessed to which Christ spoke The sermon on the mount was full of blessings, enough to know that when we walk with Him, when we realize we have found our path only because He has led us upon it, it is then we truly know that we are blessed.

To my colleague, I finally said that one should be thankful for being in a place to which they had never realized they would be in life, by no cause or fault of their own.

He respectfully nodded in response.

To live or die is gain, and to know Him, Christ, our Savior, is to be blessed beyond measure.

To all things we should be grateful, and most importantly,

Thanks be to God.

And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him:

And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying,

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.

Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.

Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.”-Matthew 5:1-11

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The Tail of a Tale…

Along many trails and paths, I have crossed in my time. Along each trek, there is a special anticipation of what is just around the next bend, a longing to push onward. Someone once said to me that you could only see as far as the next point on the horizon, and once you make it to that point, you can see a little bit farther, to the next point if you will. Some days are like that, finding myself having reached a point that was once a distant speck from that far away vantage point. In that instance, seeing and knowing become one.

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Today, our family cat whom we call “Sky,” journeyed along with me on my walk. Unlike the day before, he was more reluctant than usual. Before we had come to the point of leaving the forest into the first opening of the trail he stopped and decided to stay behind. Knowing I was going at a faster pace than the previous day, I was fine with that and figured since I was returning on the same trail, that I would catch him on the way home.

Overhead, the clouds loomed low obscuring the distant peaks of Grandfather, shrouding him in a blanket of white. All around me, the drops of rain danced on the fallen leaves which abound on the forest floor. My breath was labored, and I soon found that I had not healed from the recent chest cold as my progress slowed to a crawl. It was much later than I had planned by the time I returned to the point Sky and I had parted ways.

He was nowhere to be found.

He’s a cat,” I told myself, “and he will surely find his way back home.”

So I slowly and weakly made my way up the trail and back to the house, sweating and breathing much too heavily for what was my normal routine. Sitting heavily, but thankfully in the porch chair, I began to remove my boots, grateful to be back home. But there was someone missing; Sky was still not home.

He’ll find his way,” again I reassured myself.

My thoughts flashed back to another time on a winter’s day. We had been blasted with a wave of blizzards in the Midwest. The landscape looked like the frozen tundra, not southern Indiana. It became an adventure just to go out and walk the fence rows, and ditch banks, places that were once of little interest took on a whole new image as giant fissures and massive snow banks turned a once boring landscape into a winter play land. On one such day, I took out with the family dog, Missy, on an afternoon exploration. We had gone over a mile along fence rows and ditches, exploring tunnels and all manner of ice formations when we happened upon a bubbling creek. Missy was a beautiful Collie-Shepherd mix that loved to explore as much as her owner, so we were having the time of our lives when suddenly are adventure took a turn for the worse. The snap of the steel on her leg scared me as much as it did her. I hadn’t realized the creek we were wading in was also the trapping line for the local farmer who was also collecting pelts to help subsidize his income. My dog’s screams and yelps tore through my heart as I raced to free her from the pain.

Again, my mind flashed back to another time in my life when I was much younger and caught in a similar predicament. It was the back alley of our little town of New Harmony. I had befriended a stray dog, and I was throwing a ball for him in the alleyway behind my grandparents family diner, The Heritage Trail Restaurant. Suddenly, out of nowhere, the dog began screaming for help. His back leg had gotten caught in the street drain. Unthinking, I reached for him wanting to help pull him out. The dog acted on instinct and reached for anything that he could use to leverage his body from the clutches of steel; my hand. The shredding of my pinky was instantaneous and blinding in pain. The dog bolted around the corner leaving me shaken and scared. Blood immediately began running down my arm as I tried to wrap it up in my sweatshirt. Fearful I would get in trouble for playing with a stray, I never told anyone. I snuck in the back door of the restaurant and cleaned up the wound in the abandoned dish sink. It was late afternoon, and everyone was on break and away from their posts, which is why I wasn’t found out. I was lucky I never contracted rabies or any other disease. God once again watched over me when I needed Him most.

All that flashed through my head as I headed toward Missy trying to soothe her before I reached to her with my hands, even if they were gloved. Fortunately, having learned my lesson, I first reached toward her with a stick. She was nothing like the stray and wanted only for me to help her leg as she stopped and stood still as if she knew what had to be done. Pulling the jaws of steel apart long enough for her to retract her injured limb, it was in the blink of an eye, and she was free. Sadly I watched as she limped on three legs, trying to hold the injured limb above the snow and hop. Knowing we had a long way to get back home, I couldn’t let her go on that way and picked her up. She weighed at least 50lbs. at the time. I wasn’t much more and maybe weighed all of 100lbs myself. Slowly and painfully, I carried that dog until my arms were like lead. We had traveled within 100 yards of the house when I finally collapsed from exhaustion. Missy sat for a minute with me in the snow, me panting and her curious. She licked my face and then much to my amazement, jumped up and ran the rest of the way back to the house ahead of me. There was no sign of any injury or hurt leg after all. I had been hornswoggled by a dog.

This evening, as darkness began to creep up the holler, there was still no Sky back at the house. Others became worried and urged me to please find him.

Fearful that he might not make it home before dark, I headed back down the trail calling for him as I went. The light of day was fading quickly. My path made it all the way to the stables and back, but still no cat. Slowly as I passed our initial point of separation, I began calling and listening. My mind remembered Missy and how I had been humorously tricked before but now it seemed the cat was truly missing. A few more steps and calling I saw the white blur in the darkness before me dash in my direction; it was Sky. My heart warmed at his sight.

He was still not far from where we had been earlier in the day, and he was more than happy to have me pick him up and hold him close.

I carried him all the way back to the house and gladly placed him on top of his little home on our porch.

We were both happy to be back.

I had seen once before and now, knew from the past what to expect. Yes, I had gone farther in many aspects, but knowing from whence we came is just as important. In all that we do, we are never alone; God is with certainly with us, watching and smiling.

As darkness surrounded our little home in the mountains, Sky gladly curled up in his house, and I in mine, safe and sound for another day.

Thanks be to God.

 

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Finding Our Purpose…

20161111_162129And the Lord appeared to him the same night and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham; do not fear, for I am with you. I will bless you and multiply your descendants for My servant Abraham’s sake.” – Genesis 26:24

It began in a land far, far away, in a time long before our existence was ever imagined; our purpose in this life.

On a rare family trip, one sunny November afternoon, we once more found ourselves exploring the beauty of our new home here in the mountains of North Carolina. As our footsteps tread upon the stones interlaced with roots like sinews of a sleeping leviathan, my thoughts wandered back to how wonderfully made was this world in which we live. For the short time we are here on earth, God prepares us each day for our heavenly home if only we stop and listen. Those spectacular, but brief, moments when we taste, see, or hear ecstasy on earth, it is but a moment in time compared to what awaits. For us to understand, is as if we might fathom our purpose here on earth.

The air upon the mountain top often allows for one to contemplate many things, but none so sobering as to why we are, and where we are, in our journey with God. To stand and span the vista surrounding you can easily impress upon you the vastness of all that surrounds us when few look beyond the four walls of their self-induced prison cell of existence.

It has been said to understand the will of God is to be one with God, something very few people ever come close to realizing. It is as if we spend out lifetime searching for that purpose by which we seek. The inspirational speakers of our day demand we set goals, both long term, and short term; yet, when we walk in His presence, these terrestrial benchmarks matter little. If we truly look back at our lives and wonder when we were fully in control of our destiny, we might be fooled into thinking we have been the master’s of our own ship, but that would certainly be, at least in my case, a ship of fools. Exacting our own gifts to do what we are capable of is to ignore our God given abilities, that alone, we are nothing. In our seeking to be independent of our dependence upon our Creator, we are lulled into an imaginary existence of superiority, being an equal to God; a deadly belief if there ever was one. Like a child wanting to be an adult, many think they can satisfy all their own needs by their own hand. Yet, all that they obtain is never enough. So, the cycle of want and desire become and endless loop, pulling the soul into an abyss from which there is no escape. It is as if we yearn to age before our time only to find ourselves seeking ways back to our youth; a never ending cycle of longing and desire for that which we had, but never fully appreciated.

Some stop in time to finally see the futility and ask, “Why?” If they are blessed to have heard and accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior, then the choice is clear.

There is but one true purpose.

When we awaken to that realization, of one true purpose, and that is to serve Him, then everything else pails in comparison. Those flash-in-the-pan inspirational speakers with their sound bites and tips on how to succeed are nothing but the sound of dry bones rattling in Ezekiel’s desert. All those goals and incremental steps to control our future are merely like the mist floating across the river, appearing for a time then vanishing with the wind.

In fact, long before we are born, God has already begun preparing our paths, making the multitude of variables that will seemingly fall into place on the very day you need them to occur, appear as if by some strange circumstance, your dream came true. For many, those prayers answered had begun before their knock was placed upon the door.

We might kid ourselves into thinking we understand our place and our purpose, but in reality, we are merely speculating.  Just when we think we’ve got it figured out, that door, the one that seemed so solid, so true, will close before your next breath and in the blink of an eye, the world you thought you were the master of becomes the past; a lesson learned.

As Isaac struggled to survive the famine and lead his family from one well to the next, God came to him, telling him that his purpose had been established long before he came into being. His very reason for living was already determined, but yet to be realized. Even so, he had to become the man God had intended him to be, regardless of his faults and shortcomings.

Walking back from our long hike in the thin, cool mountain air there was much for us to consider. For what we do is always on display for others to observe. If we are truly walking with Him on our journey, then we need only comprehend, even if we were to say nothing, that our walking along the narrow ledge of that mountain trail would be enough to speak volumes about who we are and for which we stand. When we stumble, He is there to catch us. When we fall, He is there to pick us up. When we allow his light shine for all to see, He is there to glorify all.

In all that we do, may our walk along life’s pathway be one that glorifies our heavenly Father, so that on that final day of visitation, we may pleasing in his eye.

One may never fully understand why God has placed them upon their path or their purpose in life, but if we accept that just our being there, walking that narrow trail, is simply enough, then we can better accept our fate, our lot in life.

Life on the mountain is a blessing each day.

In all that we do, give thanks to God.

Thanks be to God!

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A Tree, A River, and the Word…

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““Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, And whose hope is the Lord. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, Which spreads out its roots by the river, And will not fear when heat comes; But its leaf will be green, And will not be anxious in the year of drought, Nor will cease from yielding fruit.”-Jeremiah 17:7-8

There are the long spells of time when all is well with my soul, and nothing seems to cause me to take pause. But then out of the blue, it’s as if I’ve been woken up from a long sleep, and suddenly there’s the sinking feeling that there is a looming appointment that’s been forgotten; panic and dread begin to well up inside like a cauldron of hopelessness. These anxious moments are my days and nights lately. Like a lone survivor of a shipwreck looking for the matches to light the signal fire, I scramble to find comfort in the Word. The Bible is closer now than ever before and the scriptures more significant. When those days of fighting between despair and trust come to a close, the trails near our new home have become my bastion of solitude.

There is a peacefulness to the forest.

I can recall my youth, growing up amongst the cornfields of Indiana, looking out my window knowing there was another place that beckoned; a place where mountains and dark wooded vistas wrapped themselves around clear flowing brooks. Back then I didn’t understand or know why I felt the calling. All I could see then was a sea of green cornstalks, occasionally broken by a tree line. The flatness was so apparent it now takes my breath away just to think of it. Sullenly, on my last visit for my father’s funeral, my heart ached as I watched the gray, dormant land pass by the windows of the car. There was an endless feeling of loss that panged me then, but it came not just from the loved one dying, but more than that, it was from knowing that I had spent a childhood amongst this. Part of me had known death before it was ever realized. A vast somber landscape that forces one to search for hope, and escape, any way you can to be saved from something so overpoweringly sad that it makes you wonder how you ever survived to this day. In that place, the most insignificant speck of color became the focus; your pleasure was measured by simple things. To that extent, you are made aware of beauty when it is placed before you, and you soaked it in like one drinking from the well for the first time.

From the somber landscape of Indiana to the mountains here in North Carolina, my life has been a journey I could have never imagined. This is my world now; beauty like Eden, so precious and stirring you cannot help to be moved. Yet, like the bends in the river, my life has taken a turn that we never expected once again.

We could dwell on the why, the how, or the what of it all. But like Lott and his family, the angels told them not to look back lest they become pillars of salt. So we force ourselves to go onward, measuring our steps ever so painfully. Again, reaching for the Word can provide comfort when there is none, allowing for the eyes to look up and see the world around instead of looking down and pondering our fate.

Making scripture come alive was something I had found so pleasing in this past year. So with that in mind, I sought the tree mentioned in Jeremiah, the one that stands beside the stream. My strength comes from Him, like the living water through which the tree survives even in the hardest times. Back to the forest and trails that have become my comforter, I returned once more.

On the days when nobody at home wants to go with me, I then seek out my friend and hiking buddy next door, Leroy. Like a child again, I wander up to the door of his house seeking out my brother in Christ. I knock and jokingly greet his wife Annette with, “Can Leroy come out to play?”

“Sure, ‘c’mon in and I’ll get them,” she replies with that big wide Texas grin as she swings the door open. “Yes, he can come out to play,” she laughs.

With a sheepish grin, he emerges around the corner grabbing his walking staff and hat, “Where too,” he quips?

“Wherever the good Lord takes us,” I smile in reply. “Today we have to hurry, I want to catch the river before the light is gone,” I say pointing to my sketchbook in hand. “I’ve got a tree in mind that matches scripture that has been on my mind a lot lately.”

“Great, let’s get going then,” he responds, and with that, we were off to the nearest trailhead as we wave goodbye to Annette.

As our feet find the path below, we quickly jump into the day’s events and happenings. Before we know it, we’re standing on the banks as the golden light of the sunset begins to paint the river a copper glow, as Leroy described it. The trees are standing firm overhead as the shadows start to overwhelm the forest beyond. Over and over again, the scripture from Jeremiah had been resurfacing in my mind as my recent job loss has created a turmoil in my life like never before.

As we scanned the scene before us, we both saw it at the same time and realized, there it is; the one that spreads its roots out by the river, the one that will not fear when the heat comes, the one whose leaves will remain green and not be anxious when the dry weather comes.

Two artists standing in admiration of God’s beauty, and knowing His word was with us, makes me even now feel blessed in so many ways. The Lord puts us in places with people for reasons we cannot fathom or understand. We are asked only to do His will and obey. When we do, we will be rewarded with innumerable sanctifications.

In awe and silence, I quickly sketched and captured as much of the image as possible before the light of day was gone. Leroy and I had shared once more the feeling of the Holy Spirit coming alive as the Word became truth before our eyes. We shall not be anxious in times of drought, for we will find sustenance in Him, and we will continue to be fruitful in all that we do.

Another walk, another trail, and the journey continues.

These are the Words of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

I will lift up my eyes to the hills— From whence comes my help? My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.”-Psalm 121:1-2

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The Dark Road We Travel…

“Who among you fears the Lord? Who obeys the voice of His Servant? Who walks in darkness And has no light? Let him trust in the name of the Lord And rely upon his God.” – Isaiah 50:10

 

The dark clouds loomed over the mountain as I turned onto the back road, taking the one less traveled. As I made the sharp right turn, I could see the storm brewing ahead. The map had indicated a quicker route to my destination, well below the highlands, so I knew in advance that there would be many twists and turns. Initially, it was nothing more than an overcast scenic drive until rain began to fall lightly. As my little car and I traversed farther and deeper down into the depths of the valley, the light above continued to fade until it was nearly night. To add to the deprivation, rain began to fall harder. I crossed over an ancient bridge and then it was as if I had passed through a time warp. The pavement gave way to a dirt road that was quickly turning into a muddy slush. It was then I noticed that the world around me seemed to slow to a crawl. Instinctively I began to look for signs of life, something to show me that my sense of time warp was only that; just a feeling.darkroad

Suddenly, the darkness became more prevalent and thoughts of horrible movies depicting people of this region as monsters began to surface in my head.

No, don’t give in,” I told myself as the path ahead began to grow more tortuous, “Trust in God.” The water was now falling in torrents from the sky, and my wipers were doing all they could to splash a path on my windshield big enough for me to catch glimpses of the deteriorating roadway ahead.

The creek that ran alongside the roadbed was swollen and in places, massive rocks stood protruding out from the wall of the mountain. Dark, sullen trees towered above the walls of boulders, all blanketing the road like a tunnel. For a split second, I looked down at my phone, and it was literally dead, no connection, nothing. “If something were to happen to you, it might be weeks before they would ever find your body,” said the voice in my head as I watched a dilapidated shack pass as my little vehicle and I continued on

Darkness and death surround you. Surely this is the psalmist wrote about,” I mused inwardly.

Around another couple turns it looked as if my sense of time change had been correct. The house that abruptly appeared around the bend seemed to confirm that I had gone back in time several centuries. Its outer shell was weathered, barely clinging to the shards of paint that had one time made it look new; a time long, long ago. Vines and weeds nearly obscured the base of the home from sight making it seem as if it floated in space and time. I carefully made the hairpin turn around the old house and then I noticed her watching. Up in the gable end of the weathered abode was an open window. The rain had abated enough to be able to see the ghostly figure of a person sitting and watching through the thin, threadbare curtain that danced in the breeze. From the whisper of the image of the old woman that sat in the darkness watching me pass I could only imagine the stories that lay hidden; the life left untold. If one were to stop, would they be accepted? If one were to stop, would they ever emerge back into the real world or would they become one with this isolated people? If one were to stop, would their body ever be found? Again and again, darkness kept trying to pull me down, but I fought on.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff comfort me.”

darkhomeAlthough the old house was covered with wooden siding, it caused me think of those stone houses in the pictures of the Cottien Alps. “This could just as easily have been like the valleys from where my ancestors came,” was the next thought. There were places there, like here, where stone structures were tucked back in places where no human would be expected to live, yet there they existed, even today. From there it wasn’t too hard to imagine how those French and Savoy troops marching up into those dark, foreboding valleys to persecute the Waldensians might have felt when they reached gorges and passes deeper and darker than this. The fear that must have run through their minds would have been compounded by the forces who awaited them. God had knowingly put a people in a place where they would be protected. Yet, there I was in the safety of my car but could still sense a hint of fear. How much better would the early settlers of this region of North Carolina and those invaders of the Waldensian valleys, have felt when facing unfriendly natives? Although outnumbered, both those indigenous Alpine mountain people of old and those native Americans would have known their land like the back of their hand granting them a certain advantage. Switchback after switchback, the images only became more and more primitive. It felt as if any moment, I would make one last turn and my headlights would find a solitary figure standing in the middle of the road, waiting for me.

The pathway soon opened up, and I came to a “T” in the road. There was no sign, no GPS, only my memory of the map I had seen earlier. As I paused thinking of which way to turn, my mind again reflected on all the tasks that I had unsettled earlier in the morning before leaving for this trip. There was no way for anyone to get hold of me so if there were a question that needed to be answered, it would have to wait. The whirlwind of duties, tasks, and to-do lists came to a screeching halt.

As the wiper kept time, back and forth, I quietly sat in the car at the empty intersection somewhere in the Blue Ridge Mountains. There was no one coming from behind, no cars passing before me; I was alone in the wilderness. The scriptures tell us when we seek Him, we will find Him, and He will listen. So, as the rain poured down, the rivulets of water washed beneath the tires, I bowed my head and prayed to God.

The raindrops on the rooftop made a calming pitter-patter as my thoughts went to the Lord.

There were so many that needed healing, so many that needed comfort in their hour of loss, and all those things that I had left undone. “God will take care of it all in His time,” I told myself. My prayers were lifted up to Him. Yes, I turned to Him in prayer, seeking Him and found Him and He listened.

I finally closed with an Amen and began to drive off in the direction that felt right, the path that He said to take.

So I listened and obeyed. I vowed to trust in the Lord and to let Him work out all the details.

He’s delaying you on purpose,” I told myself, “slowly, surely, and certainly in His time, it will shall be done.”

As I finally reached a semblance of civilization farther down the mountain, the phone began to reconnect to its communication signals and a flood of updates arrived. One of the updates was about an unsettled problem that I had left undone, the one that I had left it up to God to work out; it had actually been resolved due to a cancellation which allowed my request to be entered. It needed a miracle to happen. In Godly fashion, He prevailed once more.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of our lives and hopefully, yes, hopefully if we listen and choose correctly, someday we shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Thanks be to God

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Graveyard Calling…

It seems a lifetime has passed in the past week.IMG_20160322_193649

Only a week ago today, we had the showing for my father’s funeral.

A gray overcast sky remained above us all day; it fit our mood perfectly. I began my morning long before the sunrise. Through the night rain had fallen, so with trepidation, I faced the coming dawn. Dad had passed Friday and we were there in New Harmony preparing to take his body on its final journey.

The day before, Saturday, had been a long one with my drive beginning in darkness as I headed over the Blue Ridge to meet up with my sister and her family in Lenoir City. Driving over the mountains through the pre-dawn mist I reflected on my dad’s life. In many ways, my mind was like a snowstorm of memories and thoughts all flying about overhead. It was as if I was in a giant snow globe and someone had shaken my world, subsequently scattering all ideas into a blizzard of recollections. All I had to do in order to recall one was simply to stick out my tongue and catch the nearest falling snowflake.

Among the myriad of remembrances, I wondered if he was listening. “God would surely give me a sign if he was,” I thought to myself.

Outside my little car’s windows passed ancient mountain tops who had witnessed countless lives. My passing was nothing more than a blink of an eye in their time. The road descended downward toward the bridge ahead that spanned the deep ravine below, connecting the interstate to the other mountainside. Around me the clouds hung like blankets of silence, the glowing dawn just beginning to bring color to the blue-gray landscape. It was then, just past mile marker 445, a magnificent bald eagle soared over the roadway ahead. I had never seen a bald eagle in the mountains before and as the sun rose behind me, a gentle glow was painting the tops of the peaks before me and like a spotlight, the great raptor was illuminated. He flew from my right to left and soon our ways parted but the memory lingered in my mind.

Was that from him,” I hesitated to believe? “Would that be it?’

Trying not to awaken anyone else in the house, I quietly sipped my bitter brew and studied the scriptures in the dimly lit kitchen I couldn’t help think of the scene from the day before, the eagle so close, so beautiful. We had stayed up late visiting the night before but here I sat. The others were still asleep, which allowed my solitary bleakness to compound upon itself. Alone, the darkness was bigger and our losses tend to be magnified; so it was with me. Outside the warm weather, the week before had been replaced by a bitterly cold rain. The bleakness of missing dad overwhelmed my thoughts again and again until I could only do one thing; go for a walk, regardless of the weather.

I slipped on my jean jacket and gloves then headed out. I wondered if they would be enough, but I had no choice; I had to go. Stepping outside, I was thankful the rain had at least paused for the moment. The air was crisp and fresh. The morning light was just beginning to fill the cloud filled skies above. Lights inside warm, cozy houses greeted me along my path, my destination not yet determined. Something called me toward the old homestead, the remains of the farm we once called home on the edge of town. Through the park where we played as children, the dark, ominous trees stood, vestiges of a time when the park was new; now giants towering above. Past the old farm I walked. It was nothing more than a pasture with the images of the home and outbuildings remaining in my mind, forever etched in place.

I kept heading south, the cold wind at my back.

The graveyard called.

Just past the house that was once Ms. Wolf’s, I heard the rooster crow. The sun had not yet found the horizon and already the cock was crowing. “Would this be my sign today,” I thought, ‘Would this be it?” My mind slipped back to the passages of Peter denying Christ. How painful it must have been for him to realize Christ’s own prophecy was fulfilled by the sound of the rooster crowing at the coming dawn. These were still fresh in my head as I made the turn at the gates of Maple Hill Cemetery.

There before me stood the daunting scene of weathered tombstones scattering the tree covered hillside. The sound of water rushing from the recent rains gurgled by the roadside as I began my ascent up the hill to the top, following the crude graveyard road. At the top, I turned left heading toward our family’s grave sites. All around me massive oaks still dark from their winter slumber stood watch. Their barren branches, like bony fingers reaching for my soul, made an eeriness about this place.  It was then I heard the hoot owls ahead of me, beyond the cemetery boundaries in the direction of the Old Dam.

Was this my sign, was this it,” came the thought again?

Continuing on, I eventually reached the end of the cemetery and soon found myself standing looking down at grandpa and grandma Tron’s headstone; Victor and Mildred Tron. Their lives and memories are a part of who I am and will always be. I gently pulled the weeds away from their dates, then gently wiped off the face of the cold granite stone. Around me, the world was alive with birds of all manner singing the praises of the coming dawn. The hoot owls called again and the rooster crowed once more.

Compelled to spend more time here, I sat down on steps nearby where I could overlook Victor and Mildred. Farther down the hill by the old cedar was my cousin Michael; death called him home too soon. Beyond him was Uncle Bill; a saint to our family. I was there, sitting and reflecting while their souls had been gone for some time. In my solitude, I felt a calming peace come over me.

Then the sound of a woodpecker rang from behind me, over my left shoulder. The rooster and hoot owls called again as if to respond.

Serenity can come in the oddest of places and at the most unexpected times.

As I sat reflecting on the well-being of the rest of the family, my thoughts were interrupted by yet one more woodpecker tapping on a distant tree but in a different pitch than the first. Then oddly enough, the first woodpecker responded. The hoot owls called and the rooster crowed. All around the plethora of birds tweeted and sang. A smile began to creep across my countenance.

As I sat in the lonely graveyard, I listened as woodpecker after woodpecker joined the chorus, each adding their tap at alternating pitches, each as if playing their own notes. It was as if I sat in the middle of a flock of woodpeckers. The tapping began to ring true in my mind as another ringing of a similar sound returned from my childhood.

When I was a young lad, my dad worked in the main telephone office in Booneville, also known as the Central Office (CO). In that day, there was no digital switching equipment; everything was analog. When the phone lines would ring, the relays would chatter, making the sound that would be unique to that line. The chattering of those ancient relays sounded just like the woodpeckers that surrounded me. Phone line after phone line around me began to ring that morning.

It was at that moment I realized, dad was ringing the phones.

A smile came across my face as a tear ran down my cheek while I listened to the miracle taking place.

Yes, there was a calming like I had never known at that moment as the peace of knowing he was still with me. The thought overshadowed even the bitter cold that numbed by fingers.

Walking back to town, into the freezing north wind, I was never farther from being cold while my hands lost their feeling. Deep inside, my heart was overflowing with the warmth and the joy of the life eternal.

In my heart and in my mind, there was finally the answer, “That was it.”

Thanks be to God.

In God is my salvation and my glory; The rock of my strength, And my refuge, is in God.” -Psalm 62:7

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