In the still of the night, the word “Serendipity” came to me. There was no reason for the thought. There had not been any text that I had recently read that included the term. My first inclination was to write it down lest I forget. Unfortunately, I had not placed my journal by the bedside before going to sleep. Assuring myself that it would not leave me, I turned over and went back to sleep.
Of course, when morning came, the expression was gone in the midst, like the vapor of a dream.
Silently, the car made its way up the mountain. The turns in the bends, the fog, and the words of scripture which passed through my lips brought comfort in this predawn hour. Forgetting the day, the course of life, only the moment therein was alive. Suddenly, like a flash of light from the distant horizon, the word returned, “Serendipity!” Putting it in my waking consciousness, I vowed to retain it long enough to get it down on paper – and more importantly, to see what it meant.
the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.
“a fortunate stroke of serendipity.”
After reading the meaning, the definition didn’t sit well with my soul. A word within its meaning caused me to wince – “chance.” When we walk in faith, when our journey is fully directed by God, there is no chance. It was here, again as a moment paused in time, that the walk to church last Sunday came to mind.
Rounding the bend in the road, there was the continued reminder of mortality. Someone at some point dumped off a deer carcass in the bushes. Time and weather had aged the remains into a stark, ivory remnant that stood out amongst the gray of winter’s last vestiges. It was not the first time I had seen it. Yet, it remained as a tale of life gone on before, the morbidity of the season – bone against a dreary backdrop of one’s demise.
The thoughts of the journey my life had become began to emanate from those bones, as a subtle suggestion of that likewise, time would end for us all – some sooner than later. Yet, there was the continued push to learn, absorb, and become more than I once was. The season of growth had not just begun but had continued since the long journey began, now six years long.
My eye caught the rushing waters of the river and how they pulsated against the rocks, flowing ever more furious downstream, never stopping, never yielding. As my way continued, my direction was upstream, against the river’s current along which I walked. “So much like the life I live,” were the thoughts that seemed to flow into my head. How much easier my life could be if it weren’t constantly going against the tide. Yet, to serve as I have been called to do, there is no time to waste. There is an impetus to strive for that next hill of knowledge, to seek the wisdom that cometh from God only.
These are the times in which my life’s journey has become.
Then there is the comparison of the natural world, the secularism of man, pursuing itself – washing the multitude of humanity with it downstream to the ocean. We who seek God go against this current. Some can barely stand firm without being washed away, like those rocks wherein the water below crashes violently against. As long as they remain, the water, the worldly current complains in the tempest of thrashing white water. Some give way and are tumbled along, not happy with their displacement, eventually finding footing once more to continue their stance, while others never find a way to resist and are washed away with the multitude.
As my path found its way to the porch of the Collettsville General Store, I discovered that my arrival was greeted by a lonely Blue-Tick Hound, likely a hunting dog that had been lost in the night. He welcomed me as if this was his home and treated me to a gratifying pat upon his neck. Soon, we found ourselves sitting side-by-side on that familiar spot. Once before, two dogs, Barney and Otis, had likewise provided companionship when there was none other. As we sat, watching that tide of humanity rush by, like those frantic waters of the John’s River flowing behind us, we sought the peace of God about us.
Once more, the word pursed its impression upon this reflected scene – “Serendipity.”
May you find the peace of the Lord today, no matter how small the token. Embrace what God hath provided and pause for a moment, giving thanks. As my late father would say of moments like these, “The sun is shining, the sky is blue, and the grass is green. What else could be better?”
“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you…” – John 14:27
The evening sky was muted. A serenity had bequeathed the mountainside below the Cone Manor, a living museum that sits above Blowing Rock, NC., just off the Blueridge Parkway. After having just finished my run, it was the cool-down time. Dusk had fallen, and the last vestiges of the golden rays of sunlight had departed from the distant peaks. Now, the gray sullenness that precedes the nightfall enveloped the stately grounds. Gone were all of the holiday weekend visitors. In their vacuum, a welcome stillness permeated the air.
From where I stood on the front porch steps overlooking the vast forest, falling away unto the breath of the shimmering waters of the lake, a calm overtook me. It was as if the place were all my own.
In my mind, my thoughts wandered back to when the house had been occupied by its original inhabitants. Thinking unto myself as if I were one of them, “How might the evening unfold?” Supper now complete, one was free to walk out upon the front porch and purview one’s holdings. Inside, the muffled sounds of the kitchen staff clearing away the table could be heard. Outside, the calls of the night begin to waft upon the gentle breeze – whippoorwills and nightingales begin their evening symphonies.
It is then, in the moment, that you realize the difference between then and now.
There is no T.V. blaring the eternal, never ceasing sensationalized news story. There is no rampant shrill of amplified cacophony coming from various entertainment devices. There are no people with heads bent in apparent submissive prayer – their blue-lit faces reflecting the stolid control as their eyes glaze over from countless hours of overuse.
No, there is nothing here now but a sense of serenity.
Before all this, there was much more.
An evening stroll after dinner allowed for reflection of the day’s work. There, floating upon the mountain air, were the soft, gentle sounds of a piano. The melody of “Ada Plays – from Cold Mountain” toils in my head – a simpler time, a gentler time. Later, as the light fails from the sky, one shall retire inside. There, sheltered from the chilly night air, a good book from the personal library might carry one until the bedtime hours approach. Perhaps a letter to a distant acquaintance is necessary, so you sit at your desk, under the flickering light of lamp or candle, and begin scribing pen to paper. You pause between dips of your pen’s head into the inkwell and reflect upon the words freshly poured out onto the page. The sullenness of time grips your heart like the dark reaches of the night, which fast approaches.
Outside your window, a hoot owl calls, and you are reminded of a carriage ride up to the top of Flat Top where you and this friend, to whom you now write, watched God paint another beautiful sunset. Your concentration is broken when the sweet, delectable smells of something baking in the kitchen reaches you. Suddenly, your stomach answers as a momentary frill of joy leaps as if to answer. Later, as you sip warm milk as your palette is being sated by the fresh, hot apple pie, you peruse through scriptures. The late evening snack just before bed refreshes your spirit as the words of the Holy Spirit begin to speak to you. The two combine in your soul, and for a moment, there is nothing in this world that could make you feel any closer to heaven. A warmth envelopes your being as if the hand of God has wrapped around you. The Psalmist words come to mind, “He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.” The hoot owl calls once more as if to confirm those seemingly random thoughts. For a moment, you ponder the future and what it might hold for you and your family. As you lay your fork down beside the remaining crumbs on the fine china dessert plate, your eyes grow weary, and you momentarily nod off.
In the fog of a future time, you can see a world in turmoil. It is as if there is no peace in that far distant place. It is as if mankind has given in to all the lusts of the flesh. Your heart quickens, and God speaks to you, “But as for them whose heart walketh after the heart of their detestable things and their abominations, I will recompense their way upon their own heads, saith the Lord God.”
You awaken from the dream with a start. So troubled are you by the vision that you seek to find comfort before trying to resign to sleep for fear of where your thoughts may continue. Opening the book of Ezekiel, you find the rest of the scripture, “And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh: That they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God.” Your heart is calmed, and you close the well-worn pages of the Bible, retiring to your bed-chamber.
Just before falling asleep, you think to yourself, “How could anyone turn away from the Lord so much so that they would become detestable in their own abominations to the point that God would pour out his wrath upon them?” The white linen drapes gently move from the cold night’s air wafting through your open window. You pull the feather comforter up to your chin and exhale a contemplative, but comforting sigh. The warmth of the bedsheets warding off the crisp coolness of the coming fall reminds you of God’s love. “How much greater is He than we shall ever know,” are the last thoughts you whisper to yourself. Eyes heavy with sleep send you off, and you become one with a peaceful eternity.
While we may not live in a time where we can walk away from the bitter influences of mankind’s own self-demising attributes, be they through media, electronics, or the immediate world in which he lives, we can always seek shelter from the storm where we have always been able to go – to God. Seek out the simpler ways in life, and find time to turn off all that noise.
“And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him,…”
The Cone Manor became the backdrop for a peaceful evening that I had not anticipated, yet was a welcome respite from recent times. Too often, we fail to stop and pause in this busy life. It is when we stop and wait for the Lord that we are most often blessed beyond measure.
Yesterday evening, I felt a calling, a still small voice, if you will, to go back up to that porch from whence this tale began and take a picture to go along with the story. The storms had passed, and there was the chance that I might be afforded an unforgettable scene from which to draw. Upon my arrival, lo, there on the porch, I found a young man scribing in a journal next to an open bible. He was seated in a foldable camp chair he had brought along. The Park Service had removed all the rocking chairs from the porch because of COVID. Curious, I asked as to what he was reading. He responded, ‘the Bible.”
“What book and chapter, I asked further?”
“The gospel of Luke,” he replied hesitantly.
“A great book indeed,” and from there, a conversation began. I soon learned that the young man was searching for answers. His faith journey had hit a point where he knew not which way to turn. It was then, I realized why the voice had said to come. Retrieving a camp chair of my own from the car and a snack, we spent the remainder of the evening until dark, sitting there on that antiquated porch. It was as if the previous tale had come to life. The color slowly faded from the sky as clouds waltzed past us, following the contour of the valleys below. There, two men, previously total strangers, became brothers through a shared faith. Questions were asked, and questions were answered. Like the Apostles to their own Disciples, the passing of one’s knowledge of God’s word onto the next generation transpired in a place fitting for its reception.
It was a blessing far more generous than one might envision on an evening such as this.
No matter the noise around you, seek Him, and he will find you.
Walk away into a place where that still small voice can find you once again.
Sitting under the overcast, gray sky, the river rolled past,
heavy from the night’s rain. One could see their breath in the chill of the
air; it was a wet, dampness that encompassed not only the body but the soul as well. Barney and Otis were
my lunch companions, each patiently sitting apart, respectfully waiting without
being imposing. I sat on the aged picnic table facing the Johns River, as it
flowed beneath the bridge in Collettsville.
Once more, my mind sought a rest, something beyond what had
become the daily grind, something that had the
ability to enrich while reaching beyond the surface. Like the turbulent
waters rushing past, time was fleeting. Should we pass from this life to the
next without taking time to appreciate what God has made for us in this life,
we fail to live to the fullness as He intended. Thrusting one’s hand into the
confluence in an attempt to stop its advance was as fruitless as holding water between our fingertips; slipping away
before its sustenance can press upon our parched, dry lips. Rather, it required
an attention of fullness in order to find what it was that would find
its permanence within.
The day before, as the gray light of dawn began to lighten
my bedroom, there was a whisper to my heart about something so seemingly insignificant
and frivolous, that at first, it was dismissed. However, it came again, accompanied
by another likewise meaningless idea; wonder if they would ever get checkers
and hot chocolate down at the general store? The thought caused me to chuckle. It
had been over a week since I had stopped in to visit the store down in
Collettsville. As a matter of fact, it had been at least that long since I had
seen Barney and Otis, my four-legged friends who so loved to simply sit by my
side and be petted; an inspiration in and of itself. It became a point of
destination for my walk later in the morning after a sufficient amount of time had been spent encompassed by my studies
and schoolwork. There I soon learned of two new additions to the store. You
guessed it, checkers and hot chocolate.
The thought of the whisper to my heart returned, and it warmed my being. Too often we try to
explain away the voice of God if we would
The children of Israel had fallen away once again, and
through the prophet Jeremiah, he was speaking out to them, reminding them of
the errors of their ways. He even gave them direct commands to follow, “Thus, saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the
old paths, where is the good way, and
walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein.” Unwilling to listen, they went on their own paths
to destruction, disregarding the former and ignoring the law which God hath given
them through Moses. Again, and again,
they would face the wrath of God because of their own choosing. They pushed on,
proving that there would be no rest for the wicked.
Yet, my journey was guided by His
hands as the scripture tells us, “Trust
in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.In
all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”-Prv3:5-6
Once more, guided by that still small voice, I found myself nestling the head of Otis in my lap as he napped, while Barney sat faithfully at my side while we occupied the bench on the porch of the general store. Content to rest and take in the world passing by, like the waters of the Johns River behind us, my thoughts wandered as aimlessly as the twitching leg in the sleeping dog’s dreams. Our repose was interrupted when the son of the store’s owner pulled up, Garrett. The tall, thin young man looked scholarly in his black-rimmed glasses. He was already quickly becoming a good friend, and today would encourage that bond even further. Walking up, he held an armload of vinyl records.
“What you got there,” I asked while continuing to find Barney’s
favorite spot to be scratched.
“Oh, just some old records I found
at a consignment shop.”
“John Prine,” I read out loud. “Wow,
you like the old stuff?”
Smiling broadly, he began to show me the rest of the collection;
names like Cash, Jennings, Daniels, Miller, Nelson, and so on appeared. It was like
a walk back in time. “I even found a Roger Miller Greatest Hits,” he said
holding up the nearly flawless album. My mind flashed back to that eight-track
player my dad kept in the back of the Prowler that sat in the driveway back in
Booneville. The sounds of that album would play continually as long as the power
was turned on. Us kids would play in the driveway to the sounds of, “Dang me,
Dang me, they outta take a rope and hang me,” blaring no-stop, until the word had
been forever etched into our minds.
“That was one of my dad’s
favorites,” I answered, pointing to the Miller album. “You like vinyl?”
“Yeah,” he answered respectfully, “I’ve
been collecting them since middle school.”
“That wasn’t long ago,” I chuckled.
He laughed at that too.
“Do you have a way to play them
here at the store?”
“Yeah, I’ve got a little turntable
I brought to play them on.”
Our conversation continued on, and
we soon found ourselves stepping inside. Garrett pulled out a little portable record
player, one that was a vintage remake, something he had bought at a
Barnes-and-Noble; quite a sharp little unit.
“Got time for a game of checkers,”
I said pointing to the barrel with the board stretched across the top?
“Sure, he said,”
“Want to play a record we can
listen too while we play,” I asked?
“Yeah,” he said, “I was just
thinking the same thing.”
“Got a particular one you want to
“I’ve never heard that John Prine 71
album you’ve got there,” I answered, “How
bout that one?”
“The only one I know on there is
Paradise. It’s a Bluegrass Classic.”
“Yea, I know how to play that one
too,” my young friend replied.
My thoughts rambled on to how we need to sit down sometime and just pick together. “This young man just continues to impress me the more I get to know him,” were my thoughts at that moment.
Not long after that, we settled into and began playing that ancient board game.
In the background, the hiss and pop of the needle finding the groove in the
record only added to the nostalgia of the moment. It was only fitting. The new
owners had spent countless hours and dollars to remodel the store to resemble
an old fashion country store, complete with hardwood floors, and ship-lap
siding bare wood walls. Our checkerboard sat atop a seasoned antique wooden
barrel, like one that might have held crackers in one of the old Carolina style
general stores. As our play lengthened, we shared stories about places, times,
and events in our lives. It wasn’t so much the game we were intent upon, but
rather, the fellowship through its activity. Like those old days sitting on the
porch at Sharpe’s Store back in Chatham, it wasn’t about why you came, but
rather, what you learned through the fellowship of being there, and pausing
long enough to take in life.
Daily, in my classroom, I watch as children try to keep up with the light-speed pace of the world around them; memes, social media, snapchat, viral videos, ad nauseam; many becoming frustrated and exacerbated by the feeling of being left behind. Their peers challenge them to keep pace, and if not, face ridicule if they don’t. Too few have any idea from whence they came beyond what the textbooks have told them. However, once in a while, you will find an old soul, an outcast of their own choosing; one who finds shelter in the old songs, old traditions, or ways of the past. Their upbringing often reflected in their manners.
The young man that spent time playing
checkers; this past Saturday was just
that, an old soul in a young man’s body. His upbringing has been well done, to
which his parents should be congratulated. But even better, he shared with me
his devout faith. Like a youth after my own heart, he plays music for his
church and shares the gospel through the gifts by which God has endowed upon
him. “If only there were more Garretts in
today’s world,” I thought to myself as I pulled away from the store later
Yes, the whispers of frivolous
things, as they appeared to me at that time, led to greater things than had
been possible to imagine. Hot chocolate and checkers would find a way to
replenish and refresh a weary soul.
“When I was a child my family would travel
Down to Western Kentucky where my parents were born
And there’s a backwards old town
that’s often remembered
So many times that my memories are worn.”
That afternoon, we took time to
step out of the torrent of the day-to-day grind
and paused. There, a young man and an old friend stopped to step back in time,
allowing their souls to rest. Like those moments of repose upon the bench with
my friends Otis and Barney, Garrett and I chose to take the path God had intended,
the old paths, the old ways.
Yes, there is hope for the next
generation. It is up to us to pause long enough to spend time with them to
share where we’ve been, and how God has helped us to get where we are. Like
reaching into the roaring confluence of time, we can’t stop it, but we can grasp
just enough to spill a few drops that may inspire those tender hearts who have
yet to live.
Allow yourself to spend time alone
with God and listen to that still small voice. What you might hear may sound
insignificant and frivolous at first. But if you follow his call, the path you
take may turn into some far more glorious and precious than you could have
imagined. “Faith is the substance of
things hoped for, evidence of things not seen.”-Heb.12:1
One can never look beyond the vantage point afforded by the front porch swing and not feel at peace with the world.
Our front porch swing hangs at the southernmost end of our front porch, which now overlooks the gurgling waterfall of the Koi pond. It has always been my refuge in times of strife and weariness. Early summer mornings can find me slowly sitting and swinging watching the cattle graze in the pasture beyond the front yard and listening to the sounds of the earth come alive. Evenings are often spent watching the gentle sunsets over the hill beyond the tree line as the shadows soften the blaring rays of the hot sun. I’ve often set the swing in motion on such balmy summer evenings and then lay down exhausted, soon finding myself waking up on a still swing. The only thing moving is the sound of water dancing down the rocks of the waterfall before me.
Yes, the porch swing is near and dear to my heart.
As a child, we spent many a long hour rocking ever so gently with Grandma Tron in her swing. A large sycamore provided shade for most of the tiny front porch, giving it an extra sense of coolness on long hot summer days. We would lose the tree in m later years to a direct lightning strike which would be another story for another time. The smell of the bare earth beneath the tree mixed with the distant aroma of coal smoke residue gave the old homestead a smell that I can still recall today. Grandma’s easy going cadence was so slow and careful you could almost fall asleep and not realize you were still rocking. She would often snap beans in her lap while sitting there as she whistled melodies so beautifully you had to wonder where the sound was emanating. From that swing we caught up on family news and heard grandpa spin long tales from his lawn chair across the porch. Once in a while a car or truck would pass by breaking the spell and we might go back to the thread of conversation or turn into a completely different line of thought.
Time moved slowly back then.
When the time came to build my own farm house, I knew I had to have the eight foot wide porches with a swing at the end, just like the one grandpa and grandma had. I didn’t realize the fullness of enjoyment in that swing until my children were born. I found rocking an infant to sleep in your arms in the fresh country air was one of the most rewarding and beautiful things in life. The slow cadence of grandma’s gentle push would return and babies would silently glide into peaceful slumber. Although my children will never remember those days, I can fondly look back to a simpler time when that slow cadence swinging and the whistling of some loving gospel hymn would slowly drift back into my memory and once again, all was right with the world; at least from my front porch swing.