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Letting Go

In life, when we look to God for answers, sometimes the answers don’t come from our own thoughts but rather are provided for us through other means.

During our weekly hikes, there is always conversation that enlightens and inspires. But yesterday, as our journey led us along the cascading sounds of Hebron Falls, the words of my friend floated into my heart like those whispering echoes of droplets spraying against the rocks below. My hiking buddy Richard, who will turn 86 in just three months, was reflecting on how God was redirecting, changing the course of his life. He then described the feeling of slowly being stripped of all those things that had seemed so important, leaving him with a focus unlike ever before. As he spoke, he described the feeling of riding a horse bare-back – no harness, no saddle, just he and the horse.

Hebron Falls, Boone Fork Trail, BlueRidge Parkway, NC.

In my mind, I could see my daughter so many years ago, riding her pony up the hill on our farm back in Chatham County. She and her steed were flying against the backdrop of the fencing that ran along the driveway. With her arms outstretched, head slightly leaning back, she was free, flying along at the top speed of her pony Sugar. The sight of them momentarily took my breath away – the instincts of a parent, momentarily froze as we say that silent prayer of protection. Together, they imparted into my soul what it was to fully trust and that sense of freedom to which it provided.

Richard’s description yesterday of being freed from all bondage of this world’s distractions, although I’m not certain that he meant distractions but possibly earthly connections, resonated within me something that I wanted to reconsider and perhaps write about. While these thoughts were bouncing around in my head, another one of God’s wonders happened.

This morning when reading as part of my daily devotional, a passage from C.S. Lewis came up. It was as if God had been listening and wanted to chime in and add to our conversation.

To shrink back from all that can be called Nature into negative spirituality is as if we ran away from horses instead of learning to ride. There is in our present pilgrim condition plenty of room (more room than most of us like) for abstinence and renunciation and mortifying our natural desires. But behind all asceticism the thought should be, ‘Who will trust us with the true wealth if we cannot be trusted even with the wealth that perishes?’ Who will trust me with a spiritual body if I cannot control even an earthly body? These small and perishable bodies we now have were given to us as ponies are given to schoolboys. We must learn to manage: not that we may some day be free of horses altogether but that some day we may ride bare-back, confident and rejoicing, those greater mounts, those winged, shining and world- shaking horses which perhaps even now expect us with impatience, pawing and snorting in the King’s stables. Not that the gallop would be of any value unless it were a gallop with the King; but how else— since He has retained His own charger—should we accompany Him?[1]

It seems as if we can never cease to learn that God has intended for us to continually strive to understand and adapt to how we are to better serve him in this life. Learning to intentionally remove, or as in more often is the case, finding that He, through divine intervention, is slowly removing the unnecessary baggage to which we cling, we come to a greater realization of our purpose in this life. Giving it all to God literally can bring the feeling of riding a horse at full-gallop, bare-back, at the mercy of that which we cannot control.

We are saved by God’s grace, not by anything we can do of ourselves. It is through this undeserving grace that we may have eternal life. Our natural tendency is to grab onto things of this world through which we think we find comfort. When we realize that those worldly things are merely false idols, we naturally want to turn away from everything. It is this shrinking away from those things to which we are lured into sin that we must learn to control and willingly, with God’s help, learn to refuse. It is this strength within, this fortitude of character, to which we can then learn to strengthen our soul. By this conditioning of the soul, our spirit becomes enriched so that we become better horsemen, if you will. This preparation is a lifelong endeavor, enabling us to then, when our time on earth has ended, to join our Lord and Savior, at those stables on high, where together, we will ride in spiritual bodies, majestic steeds unlike any we would have known here on earth.

It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.”- 1 Cor.15:44

My friend, as you read this text, my prayer for you is that God will speak into your life and open your eyes to the pathway that leads to life eternal. May you find that the Lord, once you seek Him, and he will begin to change your life. I pray that those things which once occupied all of your time and energy, those negative things to which brought no reward other than their earthly pleasures or momentary satisfaction, will begin to fall away and that in so doing, you find a greater purpose with which to live.

Prayer and supplication are the beginnings of drawing closer to the Lord. Do not make the mistake of turning away from all things spiritual when the going gets difficult. Learn to control your spiritual body so that it will continue to grow and become better horsemen of that figurative pony.

Your heavenly steed patiently awaits.

The King of all kings and his charger are ready to ride. The decision is yours to make.

Thanks be to God.


[1] Miracles: A Preliminary Study. Copyright 1947 C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. Copyright renewed © 1947

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The Last Four Minutes…

Dawn had just awakened in the mountains. Walking down the forest’s path, I paused but for a moment. Turning around, I peered into the darkness broken by shafts of light filtering through the canopy above. A sullen mist hung close to the ground. My breath, visibly seen, became one with the morning dew which clung to the ferns that bountifully lay along the pathway from which I had come. As my eyes followed the trail from the light into the depths of darkness beyond, there was so much to reflect upon.

A couple days ago, I met a young man who went by the name Wallace. It was after the culmination of a tour that I had led at the Trail of Faith that we had time to sit down while breaking bread together. Wallace had been mostly silent during the course of the tour. But now, pulled aside from the crowd, he began to open up and share. Wallace leaned in toward me and asked that I pray for him. “What shall I pray for,” I questioned.

“I want to come closer to God. I can’t get enough of Him,” he said with a grimace. “I want to go to that next level of faith,” Wallace pleaded in all sincerity. He had the look in his eyes of someone that sought after something of which they could not find. As his question settled in my mind like the dust on a gravel road, I thought of how each of us, at least those who are believers, yearn for the same thing. Wallace’s eagerness seemed to paint him as if he were a new believer, someone who had not yet realized that the journey is not a sprint but rather a marathon. “Sanctification lasts a lifetime,” I told him. And I then went to great lengths to comfort his worries, in that he wasn’t alone: With each new day, a believer awakens to the creation of God, becoming more aware of God’s handiwork and able to hear his voice through the written word. With each new day, our mind is opened a little more to the understanding of the veritas (truth). “No one comes to the father but through me, I am the way, the truth, and the light,” Jesus would tell his disciples. As I paused to allow the words to sink in, he exclaimed, “Man, you are so cool.”

“No, no, please, no,” I said shaking my head. “It’s God speaking through me that you are hearing.”

It was then the scripture from John 1 came to mind, as I shared with this young man who sought after God with a passion I had not seen in a long, long time.

“When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”

“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.

Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”

Jesus said, “You believebecause I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” He then added, “Very truly I tell you,youwill see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’the Son of Man.”[1]

The thoughts of Wallace were with me the next day as I climbed the trail to the top of Rough Ridge. Again, the question returned, “How do we get closer to God?” The rocky crags cut deep into my heart, leaving nothing untouched. From up there, the world below seemed so distant, nothing to fear. Sitting on the edge of the earth, the thoughts roll across one’s mind like the clouds across the broad landscape below.

As I stood in front of the washing machine the other night waiting for the spin cycle to end, the time showed four minutes remaining. Then, for some unknown reason, the question arose in my head, “What if you only had four minutes left in your life. What would you think of? What would your final thoughts be about?” I closed my eyes and lifted my head toward heaven and waited. Instantly I was taken back to that old run-down farm house on the edge of New Harmony, Indiana. There, my paternal grandparents had carved out an existence in a life that had been anything but easy. My view was from within the kitchen seated at the head of the table. There on that worn formica countertop my grandparents had seen all manner of life pass. From the earliest times I could remember my grandpa Tron seated in the position of admiration, the head of the table. He was our patriarch. Grandma sat to at his right hand. When grandpa passed, she would move to his seat. It was there in my mind that my journey of what my last four minutes of life began.

You’ve got to be kidding me,” I thought to myself, “The last four minutes and I’m stuck in the old kitchen,” as I chuckled silently. But as I sat there, a feeling of reverence washed over me, calming my anticipation. Time slowed. A flood of memories of a lifetime began to pass before me. In those moments, my grandmother’s soft-spoken manner again, and again, warmed my heart. As she spoke, the words she said emanated from where she lived, in God’s word. It was then I realized why it was here my journey began. The words from Peter told of who she was to our family and why my story could not be told without her as its beginning, “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.”[2]

Before I could finish that thought, I was whisked away and was now standing at the top of Sled Hill, the highest point anyone could find in our flat landscape of southern Indiana. Geologists say that at one time, glaciers pushed the earth ahead of them as they grew into North America. When they retreated, the soil that they left behind became the hills and hollars of exploration of my youth. Those rolling hills, covered in hardwood forests, bordered the Wabash River, creating a utopia for the weary. The rest of the state had been bulldozed flat by those massive goliaths of their time. So, as I stood on this highest vantage point around, my eyes beheld once more the view of our little village from above. Below me, the rooftops and spires of the church’s reached above the trees that lined the streets beyond our little farmhouse that was home. It was then another feeling came over me, one that I had not remembered since the first time my eyes rested upon that scene – The feeling of standing on a mountain struck a chord within my child’s mind. It was as if a light had been turned on. My destiny began at that moment. Little did I know that a calling to return to our ancestry would be driven by the desire to reach for the mountains. None of us knew at that time, but deep within my soul, there was a beckoning to return to a place that I didn’t even know. Even though there overlooking New Harmony, I was barely above the tree-line, the words to the song, “Nearer My God to Thee,” never resonated more.

Likewise, when we accept Christ into our lives, an awakening, a light is turned on and suddenly we find ourselves longing for a home we have never seen –  a place where we can spend eternity in the beautiful, blessed arms of our Savior. When we become Christians, it is then we realize this earth is not our home. We are only passing through.

The last four minutes slowly washed away into a flight like the raptors who soar above in the azure blue skies over those granite peaks. Time, like the tiny rivulets of water that trickle down the pathway after the summer showers, passes without hesitation. We cannot stop it, for if we try, it only dams up into a pool from which we can peer within. Our reflections are all that we see. Letting go, the fluidness continues on as it had before we paused its journey. Onward down the mountain it falls, joining tiny stream after another until they become greater torrents of fluidness. Like the many lives of others, we have met, our experiences becoming one.

The flight continued onward and upward until there was no more ceiling, only heaven above.

Time had expired, but life had not. Once we pass from this world to the next, be it in four minutes, or be it four decades, we will realize that all that we did in this life was a witness to our faith. Whether we realize it or not our journey was seen by those who watched, even when we knew not. If we lived according to God’s word, our life would have been an example, a wonderful testimony, which hopefully would have led another soul to Christ. How great the scene when, “the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.”

Like a new believer, may we seek to draw closer to God every day. To do so, we must not just read the Word, we must become one with it. When we are saved, we leave our old self behind becoming a new person. In the vacuum of the old self departing, we must fill the empty space with God. To become absorbed with the Bible’s knowledge is one thing, but by taking it to heart, we receive its blessing, and with it the Comforter, the Holy Spirit.  

The journey of faith, once we accept Him into our life, takes a lifetime. A diamond is not formed from a lump of coal in a day.

Yet, when we have run the race, and fought the good fight, not yielding to temptations of this world and pressing always toward the mark, we shall have finally been the light to those around us.  It is then we might expect to hear those fateful words, “Well done, good and faithful son, well done.”

Thanks be to God.


[1] John 1:47-51 KJV

[2] 1 Peter 5:2-4 KJV

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A Tree, A River, and the Word…

treebyriver

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

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

There is a peacefulness to the forest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another walk, another trail, and the journey continues.

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

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

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God Be With Us Till We Meet Again…

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes..”-Romans 1:16

They come for many reasons.

Today was another first.trail8272015

On another Sunday, I was called to be at the Trail. Last week, a congregation held their church service inside the Church in the Cave exhibit. Today it was a group from the Concord area coming to tour. Although it was a Sunday visit, it didn’t diminish my feelings for being at the Trail on what is most people’s day of worship. To me, it was another way of honoring God, and so, where two or more or gathered, there He would also be; and so it was.

When the group first booked their reservation, they were within our limits of just one tour guide, but over time, the party grew until it was clear by this morning, that I too would get to lead a tour once again; meaning, we would have two separate groups. Brother Barry, our original guide for the original smaller group, had just returned from the valleys, so I was anxious to hear him lead once more and to provide insight only one having been to that faraway place could divulge. So when we began the introduction, I asked that Barry lead that segment for both groups, which he was glad to do. His introduction was so overwhelming, so complete, my heart questioned if I was going to be able to be up to today’s task in the shadows of such a magnificent guide. Silently, as we moved from the topographical map to the movie room, I lifted up a prayer asking for wisdom and guidance for the right words. God would hear my plea and soon, I would be back in the moment.

As we left the movie room to embark on the Trail, Barry asked the visitors who were some of his good friends from the area along with some of John Bradshaw’s family, the host of “It is Written,” to follow me. My heart leaped with fear and humility. Barry had offered his beloved and esteemed guests to my care, and now the honor was placed on my lap. Again I prayed, “Lord, please be with us and help me to allow your Word to be most evident.” In the blink of an eye, there was a surge of energy pulsing through my mind as all of the history and scripture began to surface in my head. Again, He was listening.

We walked through time, …as time stood still.

Moment by moment, God allowed me to share the history of the people of the valleys, the Vaudois. From my sharing of the possible first encounter with the disciples, while standing in the Barbas College to the singing of hymns in the Church in the Cave, my dedicated group of visitors began to learn about the past and their host. Slowly, monument by monument, my heart poured out to them as the story came alive in my mind and the scriptures continued to intertwine the words from my mouth.

Concerned about the time, I was hesitant to share my testimony once we entered the Ciabas Church, but once more God spoke, and I listened. There my story of faith, realization, and discovery allowed for me to tell the tale of how my own understanding of the Waldensians came to be. There I had to ask the question, “If you were never told of Jesus, as I was never told about being Waldensian as a child through adulthood, how might your world be different today?” Then to carry it a step forward, “How can you go into the world and expect those around you who have never heard of Christ, to act any differently?” It was then I explained how many of my own family had fallen away from their ancestral faith. They had never known of it, so what was there any different in their lives to change them? What did they have to stand for? And yet, they had everything to lose. Would they have been different had they known all along? Would they have made the same decisions in life? Had we been told, at least we could have had a choice. Likewise, those who received the invitation to accept Christ, they also have a choice to make once they are asked. Once our conscious mind is awakened, God gives us the free will to select which path we will take.

It is up to us to choose.

The centuries passed and before we knew it, our tour groups were reunited at the Community Oven. My day began just after sunrise, rekindling the fire in the massive stone structure in preparation for the baking of the bread. As weary as my body was, there was no hint of it in that instance. My wife and son met us at the oven, and together we shared the bread with our guests. My heart leaped with pride as I watched Tron’s carrying on the family tradition, alongside our brother in Christ, Barry, under the shelter of the maple tree near the end of the Trail; a nearly perfect ending to the end of a picture perfect day.

As my dad use to remark on such days, “The sky is blue, the grass is green, and the birds are all singing; …beautiful, just beautiful.”

Yet, there was one more special treat that God had in store.

As the tour came to the conclusion, we all made our way back to the Visitor’s Center. Barry and my family had to leave, but most of our guests remained to eat their lunch. Meanwhile, I stayed off to the side cleaning up and providing support as needed. When they finished, the group came toward the front of the Center to say goodbye.

They all gathered before me, united as together as a family would do before bidding farewell. It was then one of them made the announcement that they all wanted to say goodbye to me. They then began to sing the hymn, “God Be With You Till We Meet Again.” My heart leaped once again. In an instance, I was a small boy once more, back in New Harmony hearing my grandma and my Aunts singing in church, their sweet voices united in one accord. Before I knew it, tears began streaming down my cheeks as they concluded in sweet, blissful acapella harmony. It was another precious gift from God; another first.

The words were gone; I was speechless.

One after another, I shook their hand’s goodbye, trying to apologize through my tear filled eyes.

We concluded with a picture on the front steps, me and my new found family; brothers and sisters in Christ.

Yes, we said goodbye, until we meet again. What a sweet heavenly day that will be.

As one lady reminded me as she left, there are so many without the very thing we are blessed to have because of what Christ has done for us; Hope.

Yes, today I was blessed once more.

There is hope.

Thanks be to God.

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Living Water…

water“On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. 38 He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”-John 7:37-38

To see the water flow from the parched lips of the fountains spout was like a man lost in the desert coming over a dune to find an oasis spread before him; so it was today, another day, another first at the Trail.

In Jesus ministry, it was apparent that the Jews and religious leaders of his time could not fathom the story he was sharing when he said, ““I shall be with you a little while longer, and then I go to Him who sent Me. 34 You will seek Me and not find Me, and where I am you cannot come.” As Jesus tried to unveil the true purpose of his ministry, the concept was beyond their ability to grasp its concept. So, after the feast, he tried to put it in perspective such that they might be able to understand when he spoke about the “Living Water.” In their world, they were starving for a drink from the fountain of the Holy Spirit. Even as badly as Jesus wanted to give them this, he still would not be able to do so until his glorification while on the cross. Thus, the reason Jesus told his disciples to go to Jerusalem and wait for the Holy Spirit to come down before going out to preach to all nations.

In the time of darkness, when the Roman Catholic church tried to extinguish the flame of truth, the true Word of God, it was this “Living Water” that kept flowing through the hearts and minds of those who had received his glory from the beginning. Those who came and drank from His well, his living water, never thirsted again. These were the faithful that carried on in times of darkest persecution, the Waldensians.

Against all odds, against all forces of evil, the truth of the Word prevailed so that today, we can behold his Glory of our own accord, without an intercessory directing our thoughts and prayers. Through the darkest hour, the “Living Water” flowed from the valleys of the Cottien Mountains, serving those whose way had been lost, whose spiritual lips were parched and dying for the refreshment of the life-giving Word.

Today, as never before, there is a growing thirst in our land, a parched body of souls, ever-more growing in number who seek for this life-sustaining sustenance and are looking for a fountain from which to drink.

Today, the fountain which symbolized the gift from King Carlos Alberto to the Waldensian people in 1845, came alive. The water finally began to flow. Today, as we watched the fountain come to life, we recalled the scripture in the book of John. It was at that moment that I wondered if the ancient King understood the significance of his gift. I wondered how much he understood that these people of the valleys, those who made His word their primary goal in life, became that “Living Water,” of which Jesus spoke?

Our world increasingly seeks for an answer to the growing despair and darkness that seems to be unabated. How much more today do we need sources of “Living Water”; like never before? As we walk the Trail of Faith, we can once more reflect back on Jesus’ words and seek Him so that we too may become these fountains from which living waters may flow.

May your heart become a river, this I pray.

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Adventures: The Least Expected Opportunities

This past week seemed to last forever and was suddenly over, all at the same time.

One thing that struck me as profound was how fast life changes and then it’s gone. My children, now young teens, no longer look for the same adventures at the amusement park rides, yet on the open trails of the forests, we are all children once more. I can still keep up with them, and for the most part, still able to go farther and faster, but that too soon will change. Like the manmade technologies in their lives, they understand, master and manipulate all too easily. Meanwhile, the things of life, the real world around us are still perplexing and often beyond comprehension.

I found myself looking at the outside of a tiny radio station when we drove up to WKXV in Knoxville, TN. Knowing radio stations these days can be virtually anywhere, I knew in advance not to expect anything WKXVelaborate with regard to studio size and structure. With the advances in technology, a tiny station like WKXV can broadcast around the world without a transmitting tower anywhere near their station. So it was, when we arrived outside the older brick home, now turned into a radio station, I was reminded of how humble we are and that this was as much or more air time than we should receive in the great big world of media. When we unloaded the van and stepped inside, we found our host and owner, Ted Lowe, greeting us at the door. Shane, the DJ for the afternoon, was already in the middle of a broadcast. The interior of the studio was filled with multiple rooms where live recordings are and evidently have been done quite often; this would be our first.

Ted showed us to what was once a garage area, now turned into what looked like a small church sanctuary. The pulpit was on a raised platform with several folding chairs setting out for the congregational audience to observe while the broadcasts were being aired. This is where my sister and wife sat, while they watched us sing the couple songs we had time to perform following my interview. Later I was painfully reminded, after the show was already taped, that one should always perform a sound check. Unfortunately, the recording taken had the pulpit mic turned way up, making my daughter’s singing much louder than the other mic  which my son and I shared. Regardless of the results, the experience for my family and I was one of unexpected adventure and surprise; this would always be our first live radio broadcast, one we will share for many years to come.

Like the rest of the week, it was the unexpected events that will stick with us the longest.

We took a couple days to go to Dollywood, which we took at a casual pace, enjoying as much of the scenery in the park as we did the rides. Each morning, we would go for a short run, and then head out to the park. Each 2013-07-26 13.56.30day the drive to and from Pigeon Forge was as enjoyable as was the ultimate destination. With each twist and turn in the windy mountain roads, we found more and more to store away in our minds for future visits.

One such destination was to be Cade’s Cove. However, part of our plan was to go bike riding but upon further inspection, we found that the only days this was feasible were not possible, so we had to scrap our biking excursion and go for the hike we had looked forward too. Originally, we were going to drive around Cade’s Cove and hike from the rest stops along the way. When the day came, we had enough driving for the week and wanted to do more hiking, so we chose the Laurel Falls trail, which was on the road that led into Gatlinburg; another destination we had 2013-07-26 14.12.21hoped to achieve on this trip. The trail up to Laurel Falls was 1.3 miles; straight up. The warning signs posted at the entrance warn of potential death from falling and bears. Needless to say, we were fairly warned.

The hike to the top was moderately strenuous. Many times we had to work our way around elderly or handicapped people whom were struggling to reach the summit. The laurelfallseventual trail’s end landed on the falls, where the cold water was more than refreshing. You could almost feel the ions in the air from the 2013-07-26 14.14.23water splashing and cascading down the mountain. We took extra time to enjoy the coolness of the water while my wife headed on back down the mountain, hoping to gain a little distance on us before we too descended. What she didn’t count on was the surprise she found as she rounded one of the curves in the trail; a family of black bears. From what she retold of her adventures, people began to get all crazy with fear when the bears approached, some nearly falling off the trail in their mad rush to escape the approaching beast.

My wife boldly stood her ground.

As the bear approached, grown men crouched behind my wife, taking pictures. Instead of backing away like the rest of the crowd, she stepped forward, becoming the aggressor. The bear soon left the trail and went off into the woods. We knew none of this was going on as we made our descent down the slope; yet as we drew closer, people told us of there still being bears on the trail below. I guess all those years of dealing with my stubbornness, she wasn’t about to let a bear stop her.

Finally, we reached the mile marker where they had told us of the encounter. My wife was nowhere to be found, but the bears were still in the woods nearby, which we were able to observe. The excitement of the moment was brief, but the remainder of the walk down, we made our best blackbear1bear-calls, often causing oncoming hikers to stop and look for bears up or below the trail. Along with our bear sounds, we continued our “Hoop-laaaa” calls from night before, when we took a late night run to Krispy Kreme donuts. We were in that sugar frenzied state and yelling “Hoop-laaaa” out the window only made sense. Some people even began to echo back our crazy calls; it was a blast.

We were a bit tired, but excited from the adventure when we finally reached the base of the mountain. From there, we drove on into Gatlinburg. Famished, we found a quick bite to eat, and then waited for the afternoon storms to pass before we broke out the instruments and did a little buskin’ on the streets. One Asian gentlemen from Georgia wrote us a $25 check right there on the spot; that was another first; buskin’ for checks. We ended the evening with a late supper at Chik-Fil-A on the ride home.

2013-07-26 14.07.00The following day we slept in, resting from the previous day’s adventure and the final planned major event and part of the reason for our trip; the book signing at the B&N in Knoxville.

Like the rest of the week, the book signing was known but the people and stories told and heard during the event were as welcome and unexpected as everything else that had transpired during the week up to that point. On our journey home the following day, we were stopped for two hours on the interstate and had plenty of time to reflect on it all; it was a good feeling and a great journey we had been left with, regardless if we expected it or not. In a way, it made our eventual return home all the more welcome.

Those adventures we most cherish often come from the least expected opportunities; if only we choose to rise to meet them, this is our destiny.

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Physicality of Reality…

[From our recent trip to Stone Mountain State Park NC]

This is us, full of energy as we search for the trail that is supposed to go to the top of the mountain. Eventually we just followed a game trail to the top. We even found bear scat along the way.

This is us, full of energy as we search for the trail that is supposed to go to the top of the mountain. Eventually we just followed a game trail to the top. We even found bear scat along the way.

This morning we awoke to mountain lightly dusted with snow; like powdered sugar atop a muffin. For the most part, it didn’t last long except in those deep dark ravines; there it remained all day as a reminder of winter’s vestiges that refuse to release their icy grip. As we hiked along Widow Creek Falls the snow continued to fall in light flurries. It made it seem all the more dreamlike; the air crisp with little white flakes of angels wings drifting around us as we labored to ascend the summit of some unknown mountaintop. From a distance we could see Stone Mountain with its patches of smooth barren rock. These bare areas made it stand out in the amber light of the morning glow. Those patches shone brightly as their surfaces glistened from the icy moisture that ran in rivulets down their cold granite faces.

Our hill, entirely tree covered, was thick with leaves and dark loamy soil which padded our footsteps; this was ever more appreciated on the downward descent we would later take. Our summit, although tree covered, was seemingly taller than those around us. We gasped the crisp cold air in large gulps as our hearts beat madly in our chests; meanwhile, our eyes beheld a beauty only God could create.

As we sat on a log recovering from our fast pace ascent, I thought of the ancestors, those who had marched out of the Alps in the dead of winter, with -waist deep snow to trudge through while carrying all their belongings. They had been told to leave or die; this was their ultimatum. So they left to become refugees in Germany where they settled a town they called Walldorf. These were our Waldensian ancestors who inspired me to write the book, “Bruecke to Heaven”. They not only had to endure altitudes much higher than what we were experiencing, but they also had to survive a brutal winter march for hundreds of miles. Our hike up this

This is us after the grueling hike, glad that we only had one mountain to climb.

This is us after the grueling hike, glad that we only had one mountain to climb.

unknown mountain was labeled on our park map as six miles. I could tell you it felt like six miles straight up. I could not imagine having to sustain a march like the one we took for fun for hundreds of miles, in harsher weather and climatic conditions. I have to admit, that at times, I had to stop and take a break along with my children. We are all in pretty good shape, so if you know us,

you understand that we had taken a very aggressive patch up this slope. As the pounding of our heartbeats throbbed in our ears and the snowflakes gently fell, I had to amaze again at the sheer magnificence of those people who fought and struggled so heartily to survive. After all, I would not be here today if it weren’t for them.

As somebody said when I told them of our experience, they exclaimed that those ancient people definitely did something miraculous. That of course was nothing compared to what they had already done before their winter march, and for that, I had write the book.

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