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Cold Rain on the Mountain

by Timothy W. Tron, Oct. 2020

It was no surprise. The forecast had been for 100% rain for the next twenty-four hours. The pitter-patter of raindrops in the darkness on my bedroom window as I awoke confirmed what had already been known – today’s long run would be a test of faith and perseverance. All through the drive up the mountain in those predawn minutes there was ample time to ponder what one was doing out in this weather. The windshield wipers struggled to keep up with the downpour while the car fought to find traction through the countless areas of standing water on the roadway. There was no doubt that this would not be one of those morning where the butterflies flitted about through the dancing rays of sunbeams peeking over the mountain as the sun slowly rose in the morning sky.

As my car pulled into the parking lot of Moses Cone Manor Memorial Park, my suspicions were confirmed – I was either the only insane person here or the only one committed to my beliefs enough to endure this dreadful weather. Golden Sycamore and Poplar leaves covered the pavement to the point, it was nearly impossible to discern where the marked spaces to park were located. Even in the torrential downpour, there was a melancholy beauty in that gray light of dawn. Turning of the engine, the sound of raindrops on the roof of the car seemed to lessen. The storm had finally lightened up and was now a residual heavy mist – “God was surely smiling down on me,” my thoughts reflected as the car door shut behind me and I made my way down to the start of the trail. “Think of yourself as a little boy again splashing your way through the puddles,” my heart mused.

All was fine with that until the trail came to the underpass beneath the Blueridge Parkway. There before me ran a small river several inches deep that flowed beneath the stone archway above. Like a window into some distant time, I ran toward the light. Passing beneath the roadway above that would wind through countless forest of color and beauty, my path was merely to find a way up and down an ancient carriage trail – it’s peak landing upon the summit of Rich Mountain. Almost beyond the tiny river, my last footstep went up to my ankle in water as the splash fully emersed my lower body in a very awakening spray of bone, chilling coldness.

Later that same morning, unbeknownst to me, our preacher would talk about what motivates people. He used an illustration of Michael Jordan as shown in the documentary, “The Last Dance.” Jordan would find insignificant incidents in his life that others wouldn’t know to bring forth an ire in his mind that he would then use to drive me to greater heights. Likewise, the Apostle Paul used his detriments in life not to dissuade him from his ministry, but rather, to find silver linings in even the most horrific circumstances.

Likewise, before having heard the sermon that would come later, I too found inspiration in something that may have stopped some and caused them to turn around. A wet foot at the beginning of a very long run, especially up a mountain, was something less than ideal. Yet, the incident neither discouraged nor stopped my progress, but rather, gave me just the motivation I needed to push me onward. Like a cold slap in the face, it reminded me that nothing worth having in life was easy – and so I pushed onward.

Usually on this particular run, my challenge to quote scripture begins when I cross over the bridge that lies on the dam at the end of Trout Lake. However, today was anything but typical, so instead of waiting, I began working on the lines to the farthest passages that were yet to be fully burnt into my mind – those in John 5. As my mind began to weakly recall those verses, the most amazing things began to occur. Slowly, the rain began to diminish. The puddles no longer danced with reflections of precipitation. In time, the bitter cold numbness of that initial onslaught of icy water would begin to subside. The sky brightened ever so slightly and soon; the cattle were my only companions as my journey passed through their pastures along the upper reaches of Rich Mountain. What had seemed what might be one of the most dreadful morning runs in quite some time, had finally turned out to be one of a soulful rejuvenation.

The rain-soaked pastures stretch out across those upper tables of mountainside like blankets of comforting greenery. It is a time of ease for these herds. Even with the rain, it is a time when there are pastures of plenty. Soon, the season will change. Running past the grazing cattle, the aroma of their wet hides drifted into my awareness – a pungent richness only a farmer can appreciate. By then, my voice called out the beginning passages of the Gospel of John as the cows eyed me with little care. Calves would stop their nursing and move to the opposite side of momma, eyeing me with curiosity as I passed. Just then a gust of chilly wind reminded me that this was the mountains and weather was forever changing. Before long, these pathways will be covered in blankets of snow.

A young Hereford calf stood just beyond my path and the herds of my maternal grandfather’s memory returned. It had been a harsh winter and he had taken me along in the truck to check the cattle that morning. The snow was deep enough across the pastures that there wasn’t a blade of grass showing. We drove to where the cattle were gathered and soon found a calf that had not made it through the night. Evidently it was a newborn, and as is often the case, the cow had given birth during the night in the midst of the storm. It always seemed that they would calve in the worst weather, and so it was that specific morning. The frozen body of that little baby cow forever stayed with me.

Image provided by AllTrails.com

Soon, these highlands will be likewise buffeted with the harsh, cold winter winds and with them, the blankets of snow will cover the plethora of green grass that they now enjoy. But do the cattle worry? Do they stress about what is tomorrow? Even with the most severe weather, their births occur, and yes, even sometimes a death happens, but they push on through the storms of life. This reminder of my youth and of cattle was only possible because of the events that transpired to this point of this morning. Had I stopped at the underpass in the cold pool of water, these things may have never found their way into my thoughts.

Unlike previous jaunts up this mountain, this morning I was all alone. It was as if God had reserved the property just for me. In so doing, it gave me plenty of time to study His word and to reflect upon so many things in my life. While time passes, we seldom take the time to spend it giving thanks to all that our Creator had done for us in this life. Praying as I ran, the many people whom he had placed into my life came to mind. One by one, their needs were lifted, and one by one, my voice asked God to watch out for them and to help them in their times of need. As my journey soon found the downward pathways easier, the strain became less and ever so slowly, the pains began to fall away.

The words of Jesus from the Gospel of John, chapter 5, seemed to return to me when he spoke to the impotent man at the pool in Bethesda, “Wilt thou be made whole?”

As my journey in this story has shown, when we persevere, pressing on toward the mark, as Paul would say, we often find God is with us. Through it all, He reminds us that we are not alone. If we stay true to our faith, He will eventually take those things which seem insurmountable, those things which might feel like they are going to end your relationships, those things that seem like they will never heal, and he finds a way to brighten that sky and stop the rain. God can make you whole even if your entire life has been an infirmity.

Don’t give up, for He is with you always, even to the end of time.

Thanks be to God.

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The Just and the Unjust

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks be to God.

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

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To Vance my Buddy, Regardless…

So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.”-Psalm 90:12

Outside the Retreat, the pitter-patter of raindrops falls gently upon the rooftop. The sound is soothing to one’s soul and adds a sense of tranquility to the ambiance within. Inside, the fire warms my body, removing the damp chill from the outside. Reflectively, I sip on the hot drink while peering into the red-hot coals. The flames dance around in their anguished throttled roar while the occasional pop and hiss remind you that the scene before you is real. My mind drifts, like the puffs of smoke up the chimney, thinking of friends and colleagues of my former days.

Many faces come and go in the swirl of steam up the chimney, like their lives, several now gone, passed on. Each individual remains with me, each with their own story, each with a remnant of who they were left behind with my own being.  My good friend, Vance Dunn, who recently passed, came to mind, as he so often does. He would have dearly loved the opportunity to sit with me by the fire and discuss the many thoughts that would bounce into our heads as we supped on our warm brews. On one particular road trip, whereby we were headed to training as part of our Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM) affiliation, we spent the several hour drive to the mountains doing just that; talking in-depth about everything and anything that popped into the stream of our conscious thought. One specific conversation that returned to me this morning was our animated discussion about vocabulary and the word “regardless” versus “irregardless.”

Vance loved to latch onto something and then to pull it back into the conversation, again and again. His observation, and probably the meaning behind the reason for which the word that percolated to the top of our discussion that day, was how many in the world of academia often try to sound more important than they are by the use of grammar that is either incorrect or absurdly unnecessary; thus, the word “irregardless.”  Many scholars maintain there is no such word as irregardless because regardless already means “without regard.”[1] Vance had an extreme disdain for professors or teachers who spoke down to their students.

The Apostle Paul would write, “For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.[2] Paul’s intention was to say more simply, “Don’t try to pretend to be something you’re not.”

Now Vance had every right with which to speak in such terms. Having been a scientist at NASA, he dealt with and helped train many of their engineers and researchers over the years. He had worked with many a person that felt their position in life was enough to warrant them respect simply by their title. Yet, he would share with me that those who walked humbly in that regard had far more impact on those with whom they dealt than the former. Vance’s intellect was far beyond what I could hope to ever achieve. In essence, he was, at least to me, a true genius. He never tried to be superior when we talked, but rather, would humor me in meaningful terms so that we would traverse life from one end of the spectrum to the other, regardless of who was listening. Once we started, when time allowed, we would literally carry on with our own geekish comical relief, much to the disdain of those that were within earshot, for hours. He conveyed to me on this day how “irregardless” wasn’t really a real word, but rather something people would utter when they wanted to sound more intellectual. So, in our effectual dialogue, we would carry on with statements like “Regardless of how irregardless something truly is, you still can’t say irregardless unless you’re holding something up to be something it isn’t, regardless of its actual meaning,” and then we would roll with laughter until tears would fill our eyes.

Paul would go on to write, “But let every man prove his own work and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another.”[3]

Vance proved his merit by serving his country both in the Army and then working for the Aeronautical Space Agency. He would spend his career working for NASA and eventually retire with his family to Chatham County, North Carolina, where he and I would eventually meet. He often substitute taught in the school system, filling in for those roles many would pass. Vance’s favorite predicament was walking into a High School Calculus class and picking up wherever the teacher left off. Mind you, this was years after he had touched a mathematical formula. He would always tell me, “You can always solve anything if you work it back to the root.” After studying for and eventually passing the NC High School Math Praxis myself, his words would come back to me, again and again, regardless if we hadn’t seen each other in years.

During our conversations of faith, I never quite understood where Vance stood exactly. As with most intellects, he preferred to remain aloof about his belief in God. Yet, when it came down to it, I had the sense that he honestly believed but was more skeptical of religion as a whole. As Ravi Zacharias put it, “We are not Christians because of the abominations or denominations we belong to, but whether you know Jesus Christ in your heart.” It was in these theological interactions that I sometimes felt as if Vance was questioning me not only for something to pursue intellectually but that he was actually becoming aware of seeing someone moved by the Holy Spirit. In our walk of faith, we should never fear witnessing to anyone regardless of their station in life. As Paul would convey, “Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things.”[4]

A few months ago, before the wheels fell off my life, I was to speak at a church back in Chatham County. It was a wonderful blessing in and of itself, to be asked to share a sermon with the Cumnock Union Church, but was equally rewarding in seeing so many brother and sisters in Christ once more. It was during this trip that God spoke to me and said that I should stop by and see my friend Vance and his family before heading home.  So, after sharing fellowship with the brethren at Cumnock, I then turned off the highway and found myself winding through the little streets of Goldston, and eventually pulling into the driveway of Vance’s family’s farm. There, one last time I sat with my old friend and shared in past experiences. Denise, his daughter, brought him out to the couch to sit and visit with me and it was then that I was struck with the reality of what time and illness had done to my friend. He had suffered in his last years from advancing Dementia and Alzheimer’s diseases. We tried to revive a minuscule portion of days gone by, but in the end, faith in God was all that remained, for my dear friend was not the man he once was. The horrific disease had taken a brilliant mind away from the shell of the man that sat before me. Inside, my heart was sobbing, but outwardly, I was thanking God for this short time together. We said goodbye, and part of me realized that this may be the last.

There had been plans to return for some other possible speaking engagements, but once the trials and afflictions began, there was nothing to do but try to survive, and as such, those events fell by the wayside.

Not long ago, I saw Denise’s post of Vance’s passing, and with it, my heart dropped. Gone was the last chance to say one more goodbye. Gone was that last chance to jokingly poke fun of so many that held themselves in such high regard, regardless if they deserved it or not. But in the end, I know that Vance found God as inspiring as he had hoped, for in the end, when he crossed into that eternal home, he found intellect beyond his own and enough time to laugh and share with those minds that would match his own.

Tonight, I am thankful for all the lives that have crossed my path in life, and especially people like my friend Vance. May we never forget them and let us pray that we carry their legacy with us, sharing with all a part of who they were for others to carry on.

Thanks be to God.

If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.”-James 1:5


[1]https://www.dictionary.com  is-irregardless-a-word

[2] Galations 6:3

[3] Galations 6:4

[4] Galations 6:5

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Learning to Lean

For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.”- 2 Cor.4:17-18

The afternoon storms brought blinding rain, blowing in gales of white sheets of water, tossing the canopy of the forest like waves upon the ocean. From my vantage point on the porch, the sounds of drops of water from that storm still find their path to the forest floor, one leaf after another; a continuous soothing sound of liquid falling in soft echoes. The remnants of the storm that had preceded this evenings chorus, the tumult long ago swept away by the currents in the sky, now are only a mere shadow of its former self. The fearful tempest had given way to the calming collections of water cascading from the treetops in a never-ending cycle of life. What once was a frightening scene had given way to one of peace.

Our lives can be much like this very scene; the incomprehensible tempest that eventually gives way to a calm in its wake. We try to wrap our minds around how out of control our lives can seem at one moment, and then within a few hours or days, it is as if nothing ever happened.

This past couple of weeks, my life has been very much like today’s thunderstorm; a physically debilitating illness so severe that there was no leaving the bed for several days for the sake of the pain. Then afterward, a slow, wayward climb back to normalcy; a calming effect of what life had once been; the new norm.

Sometimes our afflictions seem anything but light.

 The fever that began a couple Saturdays ago was unusual in that there were no other signs of infection; no lymph nodes swollen, no rashes, nothing to indicate a cause. Everyone suggested Rocky Mountain Spotted fever, or even perhaps Lyme Disease. The doctors searched, one blood test after another; nothing gave any indications other than the obvious facts of white blood cell counts falling daily, and blood platelets disappearing faster than my weary body could produce them. Finally, the Oncologists provided insight as he stood before me with a medical chart in hand. Before he began, my thoughts flashed to my friend and brother in Christ, and the battle he still fights daily. Not long ago, that friend sat in an office much like the one I was in at the time and heard the heart-wrenching news of finding out he had Leukemia. He and his wife are always in my prayers, and Leukemia was something that had definitely been on my mind. So, as I sat there listening, the doctor was nearly giddy with the news, as he conveyed that my results did not indicate cancer. We both smiled. The bad news was that the illness was pointing to some type of insect-borne disease; the results of tests that would identify the source wouldn’t be available for several more weeks. What friends and family had suggested had yet to be ruled out. So, finally, with a prescription for an antibiotic, I went home and began to recover within 24 hours of the first dose. It had been a mere precaution from the Oncologists but proved to be precisely what was needed; as the Oncologist would say later, there definitely been some type of infection.

Tonight, as the calming sounds of the raindrops comfort my weary body, the thought of the verse in Corinthians makes more sense. The light afflictions of our daily lives, unlike those that Christ suffered for our sake, are mere stepping stones to what our Savior has waiting for us in eternity. Even the extreme fevers, which may only be for a moment in time, when compared with the extent of our earthly life, are just another trial through which we persevere. Sometimes we survive the tempest to reach the evening that follows of complicit temperatures and pleasant sounds of soothing raindrops softly falling in the forest. When we battle through the spiritual wars in our life, much like the ferocity of thunderstorms, we are left wondering if our boat will capsize and all will be lost. It is in these tempests that we learn to lean on Him.

Day after day, we must remind ourselves that we are not alone, nor does He want us to go it alone. As Paul wrote, “When I am weakest, it is then He, my God, is the strongest.” For myself, the most difficult part is remembering to lean on Him. So often we allow our human nature to take over, and we strive to “make it happen.” I hear friends tell me that they sometimes don’t think they can go another day, that their job is just too demanding, that the workload is more than they can bear. It is then that I ask, “Have you asked Him for help? Are you leaning on your Savior, or are you trying to do it all alone?” I know from my own perspective, I’m guilty of forgetting to ask Him for help and then finding out I’m once again trying to do it on my own.

The old gospel song, “Learning to Lean,” is a perfect example of how we must remind ourselves that we are not alone, and it is our Savior’s desire that we reach out to him and ask for help. What parent has not had their heart melt when a child reaches up to them with open and arms and asks, “Can you help me?” God, our Father, is the same; loving each of us unconditionally, regardless of our faults, our sins, and our past. We are forgiven. All we have to do is confess our sins and ask Him to come into our lives. With childlike faith, we must have a heart that is willing to lean on Him. We battle against powers, principalities, and dark forces that are not of this world, so why would you think you can do it by yourself?

Leaning trees on the John’s River, near Collettsville, NC. in the Blueridge Mountains.

As a teacher, you spend countless hours during the course of the school year, foregoing sleep, family, and often personal time for yourself. It is during the few weeks of the summer that teachers can catch up and find time for themselves. Unlike what I might have wanted or envisioned, this summer has been anything but relaxing. I’m not complaining, for it has been a season of growth; finding my walk with God becoming closer than ever before. It has been a time of finding a level of patience that heretofore I didn’t know existed. In the waiting, searching for the next door to open, I found a sense of peace within that was only possible because of the grace that God had provided.

Were there moments when the thought of no medical insurance, no job, and no hint of future employment would crash into my mind and mentally take my breath away?

Yes, of course.

Did I allow those thoughts to drown me in depression and sorrow, feeling pity for myself?

No, I didn’t.

Each time those fears surfaced, I remembered what the Word had taught me, and I would take a deep breath and feel the hand of God upon me. He builds a hedge of protection before and behind us in all that we do. The scripture says, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” When we truly walk with our Savior each and every day, we learn to think of him being by our side. It is then that I have found that we find we are never alone. People look at the Retreat and are often impressed by the magnitude of a simple little building built by me; me a mere whisper of a man, barely 150lbs soaking wet. It is then that I remind them that I haven’t done it alone. Other than the occasional help from friends and my son, the majority of it was accomplished by just the two of us; God and me.

Now I know, and often when I say this, I can see the skeptical look of most people arise, as you might be thinking at this point. But let me give you just one moment when I learned early on that He was with me.

The floor of the foundation was covered with the first layer of plywood, and I had begun to put up the outer walls. Before starting to build them, I first engineered a system of cables, and pulleys such that I could use my tractor to help raise the enormous weight of a wall. At this point, I can most assuredly tell you that God had given me the insight on how to do this because alone, I would have never figured it out. But that’s not the testimony I wanted to share; that is yet to come.

Once everything was in place, I boldly built the first wall. It consisted of ten-foot-tall 2×6’s complete with a front door and two windows, all consisting of full headers above each. The headers alone probably weighed 300 lbs. When it was time to lift the wall, I attempted to wedge a crowbar under the top plate in order to put the chain around it. There was no budging it. Feeling defeated, I sat down on the far corner and viewed the monstrosity of workmanship.

“Would it have to be taken apart and done one piece at a time,” my mind questioned.

Then I remembered the most important part of all that I was doing: “I hadn’t asked God for help.”

At that moment, I went to Him in prayer, thanking him for all that we had done up to this point. There had been so many other times when He gave me strength, wisdom, and encouragement. Like never before, I needed him now. As my prayer was lifted up, there was that feeling of energy flowing through my weary limbs, as I had felt so many times before. I said “Amen,” and stood up, walked over to the wall and jammed the crowbar underneath the top plate, as I had attempted to do before, but now was successful. Quickly, I snaked the log chain around the top plate and then connected its hook around the other part of the chain.

It was ready to lift.

Once more, knowing what had just transpired, I asked God for his help in this, and that he help me get the wall standing before the end of the day.

A few minutes later, the twenty-foot long wall was standing at a 45-degree angle. It spanned the entire length of the front of the building. As I had learned in construction many years ago, I had placed braces to keep it up, even though the chain held it, but in my excitement, I had missed that the block and tackle had jammed into the chain at the top. There was no more the tractor and cable system could do. Now it was up to me to inch the wall up vertically using the two braces, each held in place by a single nail. It was at this point that with every breath I prayed. Every inch, the wall began to rise. Because the block and tackle were preventing the wall from going any further up, it had to be disconnected. Now, not only was there nearly a ton of wall looming over my head, but there was nothing to keep it from crashing down on me; nothing but the hand of God. Feverishly I worked, praying, sweating, and putting all that my small frame could humanly muster, all the while, the power of the Holy Spirit flowed through my veins.

Suddenly, before I knew it, she was standing tall.

I stepped back and looked. There before me, the entire twenty-foot wall stood perfectly in place, perfectly erect. The two braces were holding tight. To make sure it was finished, I walked over and took the level to make sure it was right.

It was perfectly level.

I leaned the level against the wall and stepped back.

“Amazing,” I breathed, “I can’t believe I did that,” I thought to myself.

Did you hear it? Did you hear when I once more allowed the natural man within, that fleshly part of our being that wants to take all the credit? It’s so easy to forget. But there is always an answer in the word for our stumbling blocks. James wrote, “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.”

Yet, for a split second, the natural man resurfaced and entered the self-gratification he so often seeks. In my haste, not only had I forgotten that “I” hadn’t done anything, but rather, God had done it through me. The verse, “I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me,” never rang so true at that moment. In my exuberance, the thrill of seeing what we had done together, I had forgotten to nail the braces to the floor to keep the wall from going any farther in the direction I had been pushing it.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, a breeze stirred the top of the trees. My sweat-stained shirt felt the coolness, which was a relief in the autumn heat. The leaves swirled slightly at the foot of the building and then in horror, I watched as the wall eerily, like a slow-motion film, began to tilt the opposite direction. It quickly picked up the speed until it became a crescendo of crashing lumber falling off the front of the building, crashing into the tractor and support structures below.

The once impressive display of engineering was now a broken pile of wood and nails.

In that brief instant, I realized what the error of my ways. In my moment of self-elation, I had merely thought that it was “I” that had done something, rather than giving God the credit. In the blink of an eye, it was all taken away. The testimony at that moment was no longer about the success of the project, but rather, now it was about my failure; yes, my affliction.

How many times has something gone wrong in your life that you’ve had to start over? How many times has what seemed a disaster eventually became a blessing? Time and time again, what seemed to be a failure only allowed another door to open, and with it, something more precious and valuable arose. It is then the line in the verse, “our light affliction, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,” comes into focus.

It took three days, and two more men to help me correct the disaster and to redo what God and I had done in just a few minutes. By reaching out to those other men for help, it allowed them to become part of the Retreat construction, and in so doing, also gave them the opportunity to feel God with us. From that point forward, the sharing of the labor of love began to grow, and many more would eventually come to help when time allowed.

In the end, what seemed a momentary affliction worked a greater glory, one that wasn’t visible from the start, but in the end, was something that would go deeper than the temporal; an eternal blessing. Once more, I learned to lean a little more on my Savior.

When the storms of this world crash into your life, hold on tight and pray. Yes, my friend, pray that God is with you. No matter how dark the night, no matter how painful the fever, there is always a dawning of a new day, and with it, the opportunity to rise from the ashes. There is no sin too great that God cannot forgive. Christ died for all men, even those who knew him not, so that we all, yes, all of us could have the hope of eternal salvation.

The tiny droplets continue to fall; one precious leaf after another until their weight gently caresses the forest floor. The mist begins to cover the lower reaches of the valleys below. From the mountain, the vastness of God’s creation exceeds our ability to comprehend, but for a moment, we can inhale the beauty for which we have been created.

Let not the evil of this world encircle you so tightly that there is no light from which you can reach too for help. The pain will pass, the storm will give way, and in its wake, a peaceful assurance will be waiting; your confirmation that God is with you, for now, and evermore.

Thanks be to God.

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The Last Dragon

Here in the woods, the pain seems distant.

All around are the sounds of the gentle hush of raindrops falling on the multitude of leaves. Each tiny patter whispers a secret to its hearer. It is as if God is soothing the recent sharp edges of life that have cut to my very soul; tween bone and marrow. Only He knows the passionate struggles with which the past months had presented themselves. It is not lightly nor without conviction that these memories now torment the heart of one who gave his all to hold onto the belief that this was his calling.

There were choices; there always are.

Like the tale of two roads diverging in the yellow wood, as Frost would write, “I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

There is not one day, no not one – even those that made you wonder why you ever chose to teach- that I would give back. Their pain made the creases in our soul; etchings of love emblazoned upon our inner being, never gone, never forgotten.

Yes, it is only from the heart that I write this story.

Each day that we walk in faith, we know not where the path will lead. That first day that those keys turned the lock in the door, it felt as if I had entered the den of a sleeping dragon. There was the overwhelming feeling of a darkness present. As the door opened, the emptiness of room 3212 would echo silent cries; a foreboding of things to come. Eventually, that room would become the classroom from which many stories would unfold, both good and bad. I could never imagine how it would have ended. As we are only human, we can never fully comprehend what God has in store for us. When we walk in that journey in which He hath prepared, we are refined by the fires of trials and tribulations. When the love that we share is genuine, it becomes even more painful when a door closes.

The sound of the swollen creek reverberates the feeling of how my cup had runneth over these past few weeks; the culmination of seeds planted long ago had come to fruition; some still waiting; some may never grow; yet, in all, the thoughts of the students left behind return. The image of the expansive whiteboard in room 3212 returns. On it, in its entirety, drawn with dry-erase markers, from one end to the other, is the picture of a red dragon breathing fire on a sword inscribed with one word, “Mathematics.”

It will be the last dragon.

Each semester, from the first to this one, God gave me the message of sharing my gifts through the telling my students of the parallels of the dragon and their fear of Math, the class that I would be called to teach. The first few days of each semester would find the dragon begin, always with the eye. From there, the image would slowly, during the course of the entire semester, grow into the final piece of artwork. To think of this as simply the entirety of this story would diminish the truth from all that there is to convey. It is more than just a picture, but a story of heartache, struggle, and a multitude of life’s blessings to which one may never fully know.

Behind the scenes, Satan would attack, lying in wait ready to strike another blow. When it seemed there couldn’t be any more things that could pummel my life further into the ground, there would be another twist that would sink my life into deeper darkness. Each time, from my knees, my cries would resonate to heaven; each time, God would give me renewed strength to carry on. Each time I drew closer to Him.

Just as I told my students not to fear Math (the dragon), so must we not fear the devil; for whom shall we fear if we have God? Yet, we should not be ignorant of his power and deceitful nature. “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”-Eph. 5:12

Whenever there was doubt about the effectiveness of the light within, God would send a confirmation. These would be the moments that will be cherished.

One of the many beautiful memories was when one of my students finished his end of semester review package we called, Dragon Flippers. The purpose was to tie in all the units of the semester into a flip-review package and to also allow students who might not have been as mathematically inclined to shine through their artwork, which was required on the cover. It was part of our end of semester review. Before the student handed his in, he pulled me aside to tell me something that will forever be with me. He told of how he had struggled with his own demons, and that through the light God had allowed to shine through me, he found a new purpose, a new reason to live. If you had known this young man, you would have never guessed that he would have such inner turmoil. He was the model student; always on time with his work, an “A” student, and as gracious as they come.

He then handed me his project. As I fought to regain my composure, I looked upon the picture of a young man facing a mirror. In the reflection was an angry dragon looking back. Inside the package, he showed a pictorial description of Ephesians 6:14-17, and how he had used the armor of God to battle this demon. He then continued. He said that he would not be returning to High School but would finish his studies at home since his family felt the public school environment was not healthy for his wellbeing. He went on to share how he had read many of my devotionals and that because of those writings, he knew that God wanted him to do in life. “Mr. Tron, I want to thank you for helping me to see the demon within me and to show me how to defeat him. You have been the best teacher I have ever known.” The flood gates opened as I watched him leave room 3212 through tear stained eyes, never to return.

The reason God sent me to Watauga High School would never leave my thoughts. Each day, after the pledge of allegiance, I would pray to God for guidance, strength, and wisdom. Behind me, a legion of His angels was there to protect and comfort me. For if it were not true, I would have never made it. Today, as the rains fall all around, it is as if those same angels were crying, knowing that the place to which I had been called has found a way to push me out. In their mourning, my soul is once again warmed; their compassion, a representation of God’s unending love, soothes the rough edges of my broken heart. No longer will I be able to stand before all those troubled teens to convey to them God’s love, through my own, by trying to help them in their life’s journey.

Early before school began during the last week of school when the morning sky had yet to awaken, another touching moment occurred. One of our EC teachers pulled me aside and shared what one of my students had said to her when he had heard the news of my leaving Watauga. In his words, she said, he couldn’t understand why they would be getting rid of Mr. Tron, when I was the only reason, he (the student) made it through Math 2. She continued to tell me that the young man was considering dropping out of school. But once he began to do well in Math, he realized that if he could do that, then he could handle anything else that was required to graduate. She then said what touched her the most, when he said, “We need more teachers like Mr. Tron,” he told her in a very solemn tone. Once more, the tears began to flow as my heart knew the struggles the young man had faced, both in the classroom and at home.

Stories like this one and the countless others made the door closing all the more painful. We are but of the flesh, and with that, we are weak. To know that our Savior has prepared for us a new path is comforting, but it doesn’t make it hurt any less. When a door slams on your finger, the momentary pain is almost blinding; when a door slams on your heart, it bemoans your spirit to the core, driving you to your knees. It is from there, kneeling on the floor that we must seek Him most.

Like those dry-erase markers with which the dragon had been drawn, the image could have easily been erased. So too are we here for a short time, as a mere wisp of smoke, here for a moment in time and then gone. “Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.”-James 4:14. To those we encounter we have but one chance to share with them the purpose for which we are called. Many times, we are unaware of the role or the effect we’ve had, as God is working through us, such that on the rare occasion we are told of these influences, then we too know of how much we are needed in this dark world.

Another heart-wrenching moment was when the students were saying goodbye after I had shared with them the rest of the story behind the dragon; how that I was sent there by God and that God was now leading me on. The young man told of how he had been in a deep dark pit, and because of what I had said to him, beyond the limitations of the state’s standards for Math, he had been saved. Quickly I reminded him that it wasn’t me, but rather, God speaking through me.

I remember the day of which he spoke vividly.

He was one of those students who had extreme anxiety for courses in which he struggled; Math was the worst. On one of the days in which not only was Math causing him to question himself, he had also been going through a spiritual battle. When my co-teacher came to the room and beckoned me to the hallway, I was more than a little concerned. She then shared with me how he had called for me and how he had told her he was lost without hope. As my footsteps carried me to the room where he lay, I prayed to God to give me the words to speak; there was no manual, there was no guidance for this sort of thing; yet, all I could think was simply to rely on God, His Holy Word, and that He would speak through me. As those prayers were lifted, a surge of what felt like electrical energy pulsated from my head to my toes.

Looking back, I know in my heart that the Holy Spirit was with us that day.

When I opened the door, the young man was lying in the fetal position. His cheeks were stained from tears. As I walked in, he slowly sat up and thanked me for coming. I don’t remember the words that were said, I don’t know all that God had worked through me, all I know is that from that day forward, there was an obvious change in the young man’s demeanor in my classroom. From that day forward, it was as if he had been born again.

It was just one of many stories that transpired over the past three years.

One cannot look back and move forward.

In the end, the dragon stood for more than a parallel to Math. As we learn in Revelations 12, the red dragon represents Satan, who chases the woman (the church), who has a child (Jesus). The dragon tried to kill the woman and her child, but the earth protected her. God becomes our protector in all things should we choose to believe. “And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child. And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent. And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood.And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast out of his mouth. And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.”-Rev. 12:13-17

For many of my students, they realized that the dragon also stood for their ability to conquer any fear, including that of Satan. Their belief or unbelief was never questioned, rather, the light was present for all to see. In our walk, we can either to simply follow the law, or we can provide more than being the shell of a being living in a world of flesh; we can choose to be the light.

So it is, with this journey upon which I trod, answering His call to march onward, seeking that new shore. Yes, this may be the last dragon, but the story doesn’t end. When this path began nearly five years ago, those fateful words continue to ring in my ears today, “Wherever you say to go, Lord, I will follow.”

When it is your time to answer the call, choose your words carefully, for God will surely lead you to places you never dreamed and because of Him working through you, you will achieve things you never imagine. It will not be easy. There will be moments of incomprehensible pain, just as there will be times of unspeakable joy.

“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, evidence of things unseen,” and in that, we will always find comfort.

Let us not dwell on things of the past any more than with which to inspire us toward a better path in the future.

Keep all those in prayer who have had their journey’s door close and now are awaiting the next one to open; for in the waiting, there will be learning and hope.

Thanks be to God. riority

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Take Up Thy Bed and Walk…

Tonight, as I rested by the waterfall listening to God, the world around me began to weep. The raindrops fell upon the canopy high above where I sat. There was such serenity in that place, communing with God that I couldn’t leave. As the storms clouds gathered and the thunder began to roll, it was apparent that I should return home, but I couldn’t make myself go. Jesus’s love had surrounded me, wrapping me in His arms, that omnipotent, all-knowing, unconditional love like no other. A brilliant light lit the sky above, and the sound of the thunderbolt striking nearby rattled the rocks upon which I sat. It was then that it felt as if our time together would be ended.

There was a flashback to the days when my father would drive me back to my mother’s house. They had been separated since my first Birthday, so it was nothing new. Yet, each time when we rolled into that driveway, a sick, feeling of despair would flood over my soul. As my earthly father and I would say our goodbyes, I would try not to look at him for fear that I would see the teardrops in his eyes, and then I too would begin to cry.

It never got any easier.

The years passed by and we drifted apart, both my earthly father and my heavenly Father. Neither stopped loving me, no matter how far I strayed.

He lay upon the hospital bed, weary and nearly gone. Miraculously he had rebounded the day before when we had received the phone call to all of the family to gather one last time. It was our last goodbye, one last chance to say to my father on this side of glory what we could. He had come to know the Lord in tremendous ways the last two years of his life. God had given him a second chance. That in itself is a story alone. But that day, as he lay there nearly motionless, trying to fight with every ounce of his being to stay awake one more minute, I knew in my heart that he would be with God soon. So, when it was time to leave, we didn’t turn into that driveway like so many times before. Instead, I bent over with tears in my eyes, and whispered in his ear, “I know that someday will meet on that far distant shore. If you get there before I do, give them all a hug for me. When it’s my time, I’ll meet you at the Eastern Gate. Know that when I walk out of here, I can never look back, but know that I will love you forever and ever.”

I slowly kissed him on the forehead goodbye, and then stood up, turned and walked out, not looking back for fear that I wouldn’t be able to leave.

Tonight, that was the feeling that had returned once more.

At that moment, it was as if heavens Angels began to weep. As each tiny droplet eventually rolled off of the leaf it first landed upon, it then cascaded down finally reaching the forest floor below. The sound of them falling, caressing the woods made a gentle, soothing sound. Before me the pool of water below the falls was silent, its deep shadows showing no sign of life. Then, one raindrop fell into the crystal, clear water, and it was stirred, as if by the toe of some angelic being.

At that moment, it was as if God had spoken and the scripture of the impotent man lying by the pool burst into my mind. The Greek word for “impotent” is akratés,  which means lacking self-control, powerless, inclined to excess. Our fleshly bodies are so often consumed by the earthly desires that we are made powerless by them. We become obsessed to the point, we fall away from God’s graces; yet, He never loves us less. When we finally awaken to this fact, it is as if we have risen from a deep slumber, we are groggy and unsure of our next step. When we accept Christ into our lives, we are made anew, dying to our former selves, and those lusts of this world begin to lose their flavor, as salt loses its taste. We cast aside those addictions and soon find that we, like the man by the pool, are told to, “Rise, take up thy bed and walk.” When we stand, we realize that we are made whole. It is up to use to walk in His way, in His light from that point forward. Suddenly, the cobwebs are cleared from our heads and like never before, we can see more clearly.

The awakening has begun.

We have been spiritually healed. As Jesus said to the man by the pool, “Wilt thou be made whole?”

With each day, though we may never reach full sanctification, we can seek him. With each new day, when we fill ourselves with God, dying to our former selves, we find new tastes, brighter colors, and voices in the world around us we never heard before. It is those miniature glimpses of the new world in which we will be made one with God, heaven on earth, we find a new love for Him. We become so enamored with His love that we desire it. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

As the deluge fell from the sky above, I begrudgingly made my way back home, leaving that place where God had enveloped me in his love. Unlike before, there was not a final farewell. For someday, when we are all called home, it shall be not a day of sorrow, but a day of glorious rejoicing. It is this, the greatest commandment, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.”

The raindrops fell upon the pathway before me as I waded past the deep undergrowth of ferns. The cool, dampness upon my shirt did not dissuade me the least. My lungs drank in the rich, moist air with one lungful after another as the Holy Spirit soared within my soul. The rain was merely teardrops of ecstasy as the Angels in heaven rejoiced.

His love for us all is cause for celebration, on earth as in heaven.

Seek Him with all your heart, your mind, and soul, and you will be filled with his eternal love.

Thanks be to God.

The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me. Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk. And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the Sabbath.”-John 5:7-9

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Our Labor, His Will…

The ice cold, gray rain fell in sheets. Water gathered in pools forming tiny rivulets of motion on theimagesZ6SJD673 black tar of the parking lot that reflected the gray skies above. I continued to work, my hands wet and numb now, my breath visible in the chill of the air. My jacket had long ago soaked through, but at least, my feet were still dry. Inside me, there burnt a drive to finally put this seemingly endless task away; dismantling the Christmas lights and storing them for the year.

I had never intended to work in the rain but merely to get as much done before the storms came this early Friday morning. So, when the first few drops began to fall, I was taking apart the towers and thought, “I’ll just finish this and stop before it becomes a downpour.” As I finished taking apart the last tower, there was just one more thing, then one more and before I knew it, the sky opened up and I continued on.

There was a fire within that drove me onward; to labor in His will.

A distant memory bounced into my head about that time, another memory from the long forgotten past bubbled up, another wet, soggy day like this, only much warmer.

My step-mother always enjoyed buying matching outfits for everyone in the family, whether we were going on vacation, to my father’s work picnic, or just for a special occasion, she liked all our clothing to be the same, including mine. It had to be some inner desire of hers to hear someone exclaim when they noticed, “Hey, look, they’re all dressed the same. They must be a family!”

So one overcast, balmy afternoon following one of those such occasions, we showed up at one of my dad’s friend’s house to visit. We had been somewhere else and had “Dressed” for the occasion, all of us in white shorts with matching button up shirts. One thing led to another, and we soon found ourselves fishing in the friend’s stocked ponds. My family never missed an opportunity to go fishing. Before heading out with fishing poles and tackle in hand, I can still hear my step-mother’s last words, “Don’t get those shorts dirty.”

Yeah right!

We had just barely got our lines cast into the dark, mysterious deep when the rain began. We might have stopped had it not been for a quick hit or two. Once my father got a nibble on his line, we could rest assure we wouldn’t leave until we had a fish in hand, and so it was this particular day. At first, it was a light, touching rain, one that you could easily ignore for the sake of watching your bobber. However, this rain soon began a deluge that began to create streams of water that found the curvature of your spine and then followed it down, down, down into places you’d rather not find cold water running.

The longer we fought the urge to run for cover, the wetter we became. There reaches a point in life when you are so consumed by the heat of the moment that the world around you doesn’t matter; it’s as if your body is put on hold. Soaked to the bone, we were helplessly giddy with our moment under the falling skies. Meanwhile, the banks of the lake had become slick and that’s when we began to fall, one after another. First one of my sisters slid on her bottom while reaching for a hung line, then myself then pretty soon there wasn’t one of us that had not smeared mud, fish entrails, worm guts or grass stains on those pretty white shorts. To make matters worse, we were soaked through and through, from head to toe; nothing was spared of moisture.

I don’t recall how we were received other than the fact it was not a happy reunion when we got back to the house.

So when my friend Heather pulled up and tentatively rolled her window down, squinting against the pouring rain, I realized I had worked past a point of normalcy. It hadn’t hit me until I paused to talk to her just how cold my legs had become. My knees were as numb as my hands, and to stand still while talking made them feel as if they would lock up at any time. In order to keep from falling down I had to shift back and forth to try to regain some sense of circulation in my lower extremities.

After she left, I could see the light at the end of the tunnel with regard to being finished.

Should I stop or go on,” I thought to myself?

If you quit now, you’ll go inside and realize how cold, wet and tired you are and you won’t get anything else done the rest of the day,” I answered. So, I pushed onward.

Later, another friend, Dwayne, arrived just as I was struggling with some of the larger pieces; his timing was impeccable. He jumped out of his dry truck and dug right in. I explained to him how I hadn’t intended on working in the rain, but that I was close to finishing. Now, I had someone to talk with as we worked; the time flew by more quickly as the rain continued to fall.

It’s funny how moments in time appear in your thoughts when you are going through difficult times; flashbacks of your own history, times not forgotten.

Yes, there was another cold rainy day, but for some reason, the one from my past seemed much colder.

We were building our first home in Chatham County. We wanted to get as much wired pulled as we could one particular day when it began to pour a cold, hard rain. We worked through the chill as our clothing became soaked. Unfortunately, I didn’t have adequate shoes of jacket that day and my feet were as numb as my hands; I was frozen down to my core. When we finally stopped, I could literally force water to gush out of my clothes as they were wrung out when we reached the safety of the tiny cabin. There we lay our soaked outer garments on the woodstove. The air was filled with the hiss of instant steam as the clothes boiled at the touch of the red hot stove. The radiant heat from the fire, the steam and the beans cooking on the stove made a special ambiance one cannot appropriately describe; it was special coziness to that tiny abode that felt ancient and good. We sat on the bed, loft and few chairs warming ourselves and eating ham and beans that had awaited us on the cooktop, warming us back up, reinvigorating our bodies and souls.

Yes, my stomach was starting to remind me the pre-dawn breakfast was long gone.

We pushed as far as hunger pangs and freezing cold would allow. Later, from the shelter inside the visitor center, I could look out the windows and see with satisfaction how much that had been accomplished this frigid, raw morning. It would have been easy to write it off and postpone the work until another day; yet, now the task was almost complete.

The temperature outside had been barely 38 degrees for the high and the rain lasted the remainder of the day.

The sense of accomplishment inside overshadowed the bluish hue of my nearly frozen skin. After changing into some dry clothing and eating lunch, the warmth and fullness allowed exhaustion to finally reach me.

I know there are harder days ahead, but knowing from where we’ve come can sometimes make what we are going through more bearable, if nothing else, just by the sheer knowing, “If we could live through that, then we can do this too.’

So, it goes. Another day passes and another unthinkable challenge has passed, with success and with having learned a little more about ourselves. Our labor can be His will, and in that we can rejoice.

I know that nothing is better for them than to rejoice, and to do good in their lives, 13 and also that every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor—it is the gift of God.

14 I know that whatever God does, It shall be forever. Nothing can be added to it, And nothing taken from it. God does it, that men should fear before Him. 15 That which is has already been, And what is to be has already been; And God requires an account of what is past.” Eccl. 3:12-15

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One Raindrop Fell Into the River…

The circle of life spins around us, our world never ceasing to exist, yet we remain unaware until we are shaken from our slumber.

Rain pelted the pavement outside in cold sheets as we sat inside looking out at the gray blanket that covered our world. It had rained for days already, so what was one more. As I sat visiting with Jeannette and Ray, the little silver car pulled up quickly into the parking lot and two ladies hurriedly made their way into the visitor’s center out of the unwelcome atmosphere outside. I welcomed them and as I began checking them in for a self-guided tour, I heard the words, “Walldorf Germany” and knew we were going to have an interesting visit.

As we edged our way over to the map, I began to hear more familiar words; Posey county, southern Indiana and again, Walldorf. It was then I began to realize our visitors were more than people who happened off the street, more than the occasional curious passerby; these people had a vested interest in being here, like my own. Little did I know I was about to come face-to-face with someone that had made my journey to this point possible by something she had done nearly forty years earlier. Standing before me was the descendant of the Jourdan family, members related to my own, people that had survived some of the same ordeals and trials as my own family, yet like me, they had yet to hear the rest of the story.

The name Jourdan was more than a familiarity to me. It had been the name of one of the major characters in my book, taking the name of Albert Jourdan. Not only had these people been part of my families history in reality, but the name had also lived with me in the fictional world. Now, standing there in front of the map of the Cottien Alps, was another family member waiting to hear the rest of the story, the one we had never known or been told.

Like our lives in that quiet end-of-the-world place known as southern Indiana, we had lived in total obscurity to how and why we were even alive; survivors of a holocaust most will never know. Yet, we had been drawn to a place by the same power, the same faith to which we held dear. Now, far, far away from the Midwestern place, we were once again together, again drawn by that same presence, force and story. As I shared with them, I kept finding us being drawn from the history into the story of our own lives, each intertwined with the threads of finding out who and what we were. Each time, we kept pulling ourselves back to the story of the Trail, each time digressing into another thread of what and how we had learned of the truth.

Time passed without us knowing it. As we shared our story, we went to the beginning, the genealogy research that Barbara had started when she was a tender-aged thirteen years. I later found she lost her father when he passed from this world, far too young, at 46 years of age. I had to wonder later if that what drove her to research the family history at such a young age. Regardless, her high-school aged trip to Walldorf in the late seventies proved to be a valuable asset to the research that Jeanne Miller would later create, the same work from which my Aunt June would draw in order to create the genealogy gift she would later give me in 1995, the same one that would lead me to start my own journey to Walldorf Germany, totally unaware of what or who it was to be called, “Waldensian”. There on page 79 of Jeanne’s self-published, invaluable work read the words that gave credit to Barbara Norman (of the Jourdan family) and noting her valuable contribution to Jeanne’s own research. I had read this volume many times and never realized of the additional contributor, nor did I even realize there had been someone to Walldorf, from Posey county prior to Jeanne’s own trip. Yet, here she was, standing with me, showing me the exact pages, turning to them as if she knew exactly where they were to be found, which she did.

Looking back at the pictures we quickly snapped, I didn’t realize the tears of joy that had been shed. I knew myself, more than once, I had to fight back emotions as I shared with them the stories of the journey of our people and my own.

There are few rewards in one’s life greater than the fulfillment of finding others that have unknowing joined your cause, your mission or your journey. Who am I to not think that it may just have been as rewarding for her to realize that someone was so influenced by her work that they followed a calling from the history she too helped write. In other words, the beauty of the story can be seen from both sides of the river of life. The view from one shore to the other can be the same, the reflections in the water are of the same mountain peaks beyond, the only difference is the people we see on the opposite shore.

Again and again, we found confirmation in growing up not knowing, but yet sensing there was another influence in our lives greater than our own. We both sensed a gravity of faith so profound, so solid, so real that we honestly felt our elders had a belief grounded somewhere beyond what our communities around us would allow; yet we knew nothing. Growing up feeling these emotions yet unable to confirm them led us to want to go beyond the horizon, searching “what else”, “what for” and “why” far beyond those comfortable confines of our little towns.

I don’t know if we will ever meet again. I felt as if in one single morning I found a new family, yet ancient family, one that I could easily revisit and explore for a much longer time than today’s short visit allowed. Before she left, I asked her to search for a couple of key things; The village from where we came and why, yes, why we were never told that we were Waldensian. She replied the former would be possible, the latter she doubted. We both knew that for all we had learned, there was yet something we might never know.

God often prepares us and sends things into our lives for which we are not expecting; today was no exception. I don’t know if we will ever know the “why” but we can come closer to the where today. What does it all mean, if anything? I don’t know.

This journey began with the question as to, “Why?”

Sometimes, we have to succumb to the realization that there are some things that we may never fully understand with concrete proof; these are the things for which we have to have faith. In many instances, the statement, “Our Faith is All We Had,” is never more true. Today, faith in knowing from where we came, faith in who we are and faith is what brought us to this point is all that we know.

I yearn to return to Jakob, Arktos, Jean Paul, Marik, Kristoff and many others. The world in which they live is one that seems to grow closer to mine with each passing day. Their struggles are much greater than those I face, yet through them, I can see with eyes that would otherwise know nothing about how it would feel to suffer to that extent. I don’t say this in hopes to feel that level of pain, rather, I say this for the simple fact that this helps me to learn, to grow and to prepare for what may lie ahead.

Outside, the rain continues to fall in the darkness as night has fallen.

Each day I pray for strength, guidance and God’s will to work in our lives; today was no different.

Each day, the Lord shows me another way and another path I had never envisioned.

As a raindrop falls from the sky, it doesn’t know where it will land, yet it has no other recourse than to fall, pulled by the gravity of the earth, a force known only to God. When the drop of moisture finally impacts the surface below, its force alone is negligible, yet with time, many others falling upon the same location can become a factor so great, so mighty that mountains can literally be moved, oceans created and entire populations erased. The same can be said for our lives and how we choose to use them in this world. We can be that tiny droplet, landing harmlessly and evaporating before it has a chance to be followed by others, causing no change other than the tell-tale sign of moisture, or we can be an impact on something greater than ourselves, falling where those who have gone before, creating at first, a trickle of truth that slowly turns into a flowing stream which continues to grow with time until it becomes a raging torrent rushing headlong to the sea, an ocean of change for which we have combined with the forces before us until we are something to be reckoned.

This is who we must be, regarding our past as something more than an oddity to be admired with precipitous contempt, but rather, learn and grow adding to the flow so that those lives given for the cause are not lost, give up in vain as the lone droplet, but rather, as those culminated drops of precipitation that combine repeatedly until there is something unmistakably greater than anything anyone being could have ever imagined.

This is why I continue on, without knowing …why.

“Thus says the Lord: “Behold, waters rise out of the north, And shall be an overflowing flood; They shall overflow the land and all that is in it, The city and those who dwell within; Then the men shall cry, And all the inhabitants of the land shall wail.” -Jeremiah 47:2

 

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Springtime on the Farm

 

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Springtime on the Farm: A view from the porch

The air is alive with the sounds of life, the smells of blossoms and the motion of the living earth all around us on our farm. The earth has exploded from its winter slumber and it seems as if every living being is fervently making up for lost time. The hum of activity is broken by the sound of rolling thunder in the distance as dark clouds loom over the horizon, just over the tree line of the barn, the direction of most summertime storms. Soon, lightning flashes and large drops of rain began to splash playfully into the Koi pond just off the front porch. Not long after the rumbling stops, the heavens open up and the sky and terrestrial world become one. Moisture rolls in waves as water wash layers of yellow pollen down tiny tributaries of happy colors, flowing, rollicking along as birds dance in their wake.

The cherry blossoms hang heavy with the thankful moisture, like gluttonous bulbs of lust, burgeoning from their drink, their weight pulling tiny limbs downward appearing as if they might break at any moment from their toil. In the distance, geese shout for joy at the top of their lungs from the farm ponds as their watery playground is enveloped in the storm. The water splashing about them as their wings and waves unite in the ballet of the tempest refrain.

Frogs begin to join in the chorus, their syncopated melody unites with the drops of water and my soul is refreshed through and through. There is such unity in this rhythm, such a multitude of complex interaction that moves as a melody, it can only come from God. Happenchance circumstance could not have created this beautiful orchestra that wafts about me, a full 360, all angles of dimensions become as one and we are made whole.

Our earthly existence is only a blink of an eye in the grand scheme of things. What has been, shall be long after our life meets its end, but we can rest assured if we have prepared properly, our heavenly home will be all this and more, if only we ask, we shall receive Him. The momentary glimpses of these surreptitious moments are just a prelude to life eternal.

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His Glory, in the Glory as of the only begotten of the father, full of grace and truth.” – John 1:14

We can be saved by this Grace if in Him we believe. Amen.

To learn more about owning this beautiful homestead, click here.

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Epiphany Through the Fog of Time…

rainydayThe air hung heavy overhead like a cloud enveloping my mind. As I left work, I knew that I was but a whispered breath away from passing out from exhaustion, but this was my Friday, the last night’s work for the week so I would celebrate with a hot breakfast for the ride home. I had stayed longer at work that morning than was expected due to the strange feeling I had of needing to hang around and talk. When I left the building to go to my car, rain was falling in a thick mist adding to the chill of the gray morning air; sleep would come easily, but I first had to make it home safely.

By the time I had left the drive-thru with my warm breakfast in hand, the rain had subsided, but the overcast sky was dull and foreboding. To visit my favorite drive-thru meant taking the two lane road home; a dangerous option, but one that I took with the understanding my senses had to stay alert. There on the windy two-lane highway of 751 that threaded its way from one major highway to the next past farms and Jordan Lake, the scenery itself was enough to help keep your mind awake if not provide for a reminder of the seasonal world in which we live. I had just turned onto 751 when a log truck pulled out in front of me stabbing my waning energy with the likelihood of being stuck behind a slow moving vehicle. To someone who was well into the throes of sleep deprivation, getting stuck behind a slow moving object is like putting an anchor on your back and running a marathon. However, today was my lucky day, or so I thought for the truck quickly accelerated and I soon found myself losing ground to the heavy footed driver; for that I was thankful. I regained focus on the warm meal and melded with the music that was thumping along as the fields and forests passed by.

I was suddenly and quickly awakened from my trance by the red lights of the logging truck just ahead that had slowed. Not giving it much thought, I figured he or the car just ahead of him was taking a left and we’d soon be on our way; but we didn’t.

We came to a complete stop.

The rain had picked back up, and my windows were slightly fogged as was my mind. I could see the images ahead but like something unexpected when you emerge from a deep sleep, their juxtaposition and shapes don’t make sense, so they don’t register. I sat for a moment taking in the scene before me looking at dark shapes, objects blocking the road where there should be open lanes. Pools of liquid oozed from one pile of metal as fumes escaped. Nearby, the large dark object was still not making any sense. A man walked out, snapped a picture on his phone and returned from wherever he had come. It then dawned on me, the large dark object had wheels, and I was actually looking at the underneath side of a large transfer truck. Then like the slow dawn of a morning sunrise, the gravity of the situation hit me. I felt a pit in my stomach. There before me was a horrific car wreck, and from what I could see ahead of the logging truck in front of me, there was little chance the person that had been in the heap of metal still lying in the middle of the had survived. Something was odd about it all, for I didn’t see anyone walking around other than the lone photographer. I sat unthinking, feeling as sullen as the skies above. The rain pelted my window.  I turned the wipers back on to see cars beginning to turn around; we weren’t going home this way anytime soon. I felt the tug of exhaustion mixed with another feeling I couldn’t describe. I knew I had to turn around and take another route if I were going to make it home this day.

As I drove off, the farther the distance between me and the accident grew, so did the realization of what I had just witnessed. Emergency vehicles began to pass me going the opposite direction on their way to the scene. Totally unaware at the time, I soon realized, I had been one of the first people to arrive.  There hadn’t been anyone walking around because it had just happened.  That feeling I couldn’t recall earlier returned and a sensation of crushing despair flooded my soul.

My mind flashed back to the fateful night in New Harmony when a woman drove past the DOT barricades blocking the road that was a dead end which stopped on the banks of the Wabash river overlooking a small cliff. At that time, as a kid, we looked at it like the woman was just lost and had panicked; thus, flying off the end of the road and landing in the swollen river, where she and her car load of children drowned. It wasn’t until a recent reflection upon the event that I was profoundly struck with the realization that it was more than a possibility that she meant to do what she did. This would be years before another woman in South Carolina would do the same thing and attract national attention, when she climbed to safety from the sunken car leaving her own children behind to drown.

However, like the epiphany of the past in New Harmony where the truth pierces through the fog of time, so did the conclusion I could’ve possibly helped. Yet, I was in no shape with myself being on the verge of passing out at any moment. Then another burst of realization hit me, “Had I not stayed at work as long as I did, that pile of smoldering metal could have been me.” Once again, God had placed his hand upon my life, directing me, guiding my pathway for my journey was not yet complete. I said a prayer for the person or people who might have passed, for something inside told me a soul had departed from us back there on that rainy roadway.

The grayness of the day had now become one with the emotional landscape through which I drove. My mind floated from one past event to the next knowing a moment in time can make the difference between living and dying. God gave us free will, yet when we give our lives to him, we allow his presence to define who we are and how we live. I can’t help to believe that with this faith, we also allow his heavenly hand to reach down and direct our daily paths.

That night I had a dream.

littlechurchI had found a small country church, empty and abandoned. It was nothing fancy on the inside with an interior of pine paneling for walls and the typical red carpet underneath the modest wooden pews. I sat near a window and waited. Soon, as if I had expected them, there came a crowd of people dressed in what first appeared to be robes. As they drew nearer, I could see that they all had extremely pale complexions and snow white hair. Each of them wore suits of fine white linen. All but one were young men; the other being a stunningly beautiful young woman wearing a flowing white gown.. As they filed passed, I inquired to one of them as to where they were going. They told me they were going to a funeral, but they would return for me when they were finished. Something I don’t remember happened when they returned because I tried to speak in my dream, which caused me to shout out in my sleep, waking my wife who would have thrown me out of the bed if she were physically capable.  I don’t remember any more of the dream past that point.

The next morning I was still somewhat bothered by not only the accident but the dream as well. So, I decided that maybe it would help my catharsis if I sketched down what I could recall; the scene in my mind that would not go away.

751crash_sketchAs I began to draw the accident from the day before, another accident scene from my childhood came to mind. I could see the bus over the fiery figure underneath. The high school boy, Scott Knapp was his name, had pulled out on his motorcycle and crashed into the bus, getting trapped underneath. The bus was moved away from the flames, but the boy and his bike remained in the fireball on the road. We all watched from across the road, unaware at the time, there was a kid in that blazing inferno. After what seemed like an eternity, Mr. McKinney came running out of the school with an army blanket and ran to the fire, throwing the blanket on an object and pulling it free; it was the badly burned body Scott. I recall how he survived for a few days but eventually the 3rd degree burns were too much to overcome, and he died. I often wondered after that day if I had known he was still in the fire if I could have or would have done anything different.

I finished the sketch and realized I had drawn the perspective of standing in front of the logging truck that had blocked my view. I figured it was just my imagination, and left it at that. Days later, I spoke to another coworker about that morning, and we found the crash online. Just as I had feared, there had been a fatality. Mr. Harold Sugg of Pittsboro had died at the scene. Then, along with the description of the accident was the photograph. There in the 751crashnews photo was a picture exactly the same angle and direction from my drawing, the one I had done from memory.

I don’t know what all of this means, I don’t know what God is trying to say, but all I know is that I’m thankful to have had another day to hug my children and breathe a breath of fresh glorious air on this side of the green grass.

May your journey’s be fruitful and your travels safe, God Bless.

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