Homesick!

by Rebecca D. Higgins

(It was on April 17, 2000, that my father–Verdon D. Higgins–went home to be with the Lord. Not many days have gone by since then that I don’t miss him. Not many days have gone by that I don’t feel a little homesick.)

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“Yuck! I can’t believe Miss Woodring is makin’ us do a poetry notebook. I hate poetry!” was the response of some of my third-grade classmates. I didn’t join in those complaints, however, because, you see, I loved poetry. It has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Perhaps that’s because I had a grandmother who used to quote and even write a few poems herself, and she kept a scrapbook of the poems her son wrote–her son who later became my father.

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I still remember how my sister and I would sit side by side in the old red chair in my father’s office at our house and beg him to read or tell us a story. Oh, in the earliest years, I’m sure we heard the regular stories like “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” and the “Three Little Pigs” and “Little Red Riding Hood,” but those aren’t the ones that stand out in my memory. Around Mt. Carmel where he taught and served as principal, my father was famous for performing his imaginary tale about Herman, his pet lion. “Tell it again, Daddy!” my sister and I would beg at home and giggle in anticipation of his funny voices.

Daddy’s repertoire also dipped into the poetry genre as well. He didn’t dwell in Mother Goose rhymes. Instead we sat wide-eyed as he recited “Little Orphant Annie” or “The Bear Story” by James Whitcomb Riley. I learned Longfellow’s “The Children’s Hour” and “A Psalm of Life” and a number of my dad’s other favorites. His love for nature and the outdoors that he instilled in me came through when he quoted Joyce Kilmer’s lines, “I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree.” Sometimes he would tell us stories of growing up on the farm in Wisconsin and talk of the old farmhouse where he came into the world after a difficult birth and was not expected to live. And sometimes when he’d talk, he’d get a faraway reflective look in his blue eyes as he quoted Edgar Guest’s immortalized words:

“It takes a heap o’ livin’ in a house t’ make it home,
A heap o’ sun an’ shadder, an’ ye sometimes have t’ roam
Afore ye really ‘preciate the things ye lef’ behind,
An hunger fer ‘em somehow, with ‘em allus on yer mind.”

Funny, now that I think about it–Daddy never owned a house. A long time ago he followed Robert Frost’s advice and took “the less traveled road”–and that indeed “made all the difference.” When classmates were rushing down the road to pursue wealth and making a name for themselves, my father chose to follow God and honor His name. That decision led him to a life of faith–literally. He felt God’s call to serve in the Kentucky mountains, and in the fall of 1949 he arrived as a new teacher at a place he’d heard a lot about but never personally visited before–Mt. Carmel High School. Like the other workers, he didn’t receive a salary, but followed a pattern like that of George Mueller who went to God with his needs and trusted Him to supply–and He did.

Ten years later he married my mom, and my sister entered their hearts and home a year after that. I completed our family unit when I arrived with a bang on the Fourth of July four years later and almost immediately declared my determined and willful independence! But it was my dad who in love very early let me know that there were things about which I wasn’t quite ready to make my own decisions. I needed to eat some vegetables! I needed to be respectful to my parents and other elders. I needed discipline–not to break my will, but to train it. And did I ever get that discipline every time I loudly rebelled against my parents’ requests! (How hard is it really to eat some vegetables?!!) Some present-day psychologists would try to suggest that since my dad spanked me, I was an abused child. I know better. I can honestly say that never once do I remember my father’s spankings being done in anger–really! My father was firm but loving, and always, always told and showed that he loved me even when the spankings occurred.

In spite of the fact that my dad was the primary disciplinarian of our home, he was also very nurturing. I loved to be with him. Every summer he shed his suits and ties of the office and classroom for workpants and short-sleeved shirts and became the school’s gardener. I loved it–except for the sweating part. He sweat buckets! His clothes looked like he’d been hosed down! He started preparing for the garden weeks in advance by growing seeds in cups and trays along the windowsills of our house, but every spring also meant a trip to Keck. I always looked forward to riding along. Keck was really no more than a wide space in the road with a sign that proclaimed that it was Keck, Kentucky. But there were greenhouses there where Daddy would buy pepper plants and other things for the garden. To this day the tangy aroma of a vegetable greenhouse takes me back to those days when we would wind around the narrow mountain roads, the Kentucky mountains beginning to show the splash of color from the Divine Artist’s paintbrush–a touch of purplish pink here and there as the redbud trees began to bloom, a patch of white among the spring green leaves indicating the dogwood.

Daddy at Mill Creek

Spring and fall were times of wonderful walks together with my dad on Sunday afternoons. Oh, we had to observe “Quiet Hour” first, but then I’d come and say, “Daddy, let’s go for a walk,” and we’d head down the hill behind our house. Sometimes we’d sit on the large gray rock by the creek and marvel at how through the years the water had carved perfect circles in its base. As we sat in hushed silence, we listened to the music of the water as it rippled across the rocks on the creek bed. The birds sang sweetly in the trees, and Daddy would identify them by their song.

As summer rolled around all of us on the Mt. Carmel campus worked hard; but if I could have had my preference, I would have rather been out in the garden with my dad rather than in a stuffy house cooking or cleaning. The hot Kentucky sun would bronze Daddy’s face and arms, leaving him with the proverbial “farmer’s tan.” At night I would climb into bed with the windows open and be lulled to sleep by the symphony of the night– frogs, crickets, katydids, cicadas. I heard them last night. I almost missed it because of the hum of the window air conditioners trying to keep the temperature in my upstairs apartment tolerable, but when I went into the back room to rummage through my memories stored in boxes, the sound beckoned me to listen. I turned off the motorized noise, stepped outside onto the porch into the blackness of midnight and listened as the sounds took me home again.

But when was it that I had learned that “home” for me wasn’t so much a place but a person? I had moved away, but my carefully laid plans hit some detours within the first few months at college. Now what? I called home–I called to talk to Daddy and to hear him pray for me over the phone.

During those college years, anytime I drove back to Kentucky for a visit, my father would be watching out his home office windows for the car to pull into the yard, and then he would come to greet me with a warm welcome as I pushed open the car door.

After graduation, I worked at my church’s international headquarters for several years until one day I heard about an open door of ministry in the former Soviet Union and felt God’s call to go. On one of my visits with my parents, while sitting at their kitchen table, I shared with Mom and Dad that I felt God wanted me to go to Russia as a volunteer with CoMission. My dad’s response was what I expected. His chin began to quiver, his voice broke, and tears gathered in his eyes. “Becky, if God wants you in Russia, there’s no place I would rather have you be. It’s far away, but I would never stand in your way for anything.”

As I went through training in Kankakee, Illinois just prior to my departure for my first year with CoMission, I received the call from home that the doctors had discovered that Daddy had an abdominal aortic aneurysm. I was frightened and anxious. My dad knew that and did everything he could to reassure me. On their way to my Commissioning Service, he experienced chest pains which forced him to the emergency room in Lexington, Kentucky. Daddy announced to the doctor, however, that he had to be released because his daughter was being commissioned to go to Russia. He needed to be at my commissioning. He was! He and I both knew that our limited time together was precious. Early one morning before I had to go to my required training sessions, we walked the campus of Olivet Nazarene University, ultimately finding our way to the prayer chapel. There we shared our love for each other and had a beautiful time of prayer together. Always concerned about how his problems would affect others, he told me about his prayers to God about his situation. “Now, Lord, my daughter’s going to Russia. She doesn’t need to be worrying about her old dad back home. She’s just had to say goodbye to my brother, her uncle that she loves who’s dying of pancreatic cancer. And now the doctors tell me I have an aortic aneurysm. My family doesn’t need this right now. I’ve got to have victory here!” He then confidently shared with me, “Becky, God has given me the assurance that I’ll be here when you get home.”

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He and I both clung to that promise when a month after I arrived in Russia, I received the news that my dad’s brother had passed away. We clung to that promise five months later when my sister called me to inform me that my dad’s aneurysm had grown requiring immediate surgery. We clung to that promise a few weeks later when he underwent another emergency surgery to remove a gangrenous gall bladder that had almost killed him. Then when my year was over, we realized the fulfillment of the promise. As I drove up on the campus in a borrowed car and into my parents’ yard, my dad was watching from his office window. Before I could get the car door open and make it to the house, he had come to meet me. Tears glistened in our eyes. The embrace was what we both had been waiting and longing for throughout our year of separation.

God led me back to Russia two more years as a volunteer with CoMission, and my father became my most devoted and faithful supporter. He wanted to know everything. No detail was too small for him. He wanted to know the names of the people in the photos, what their stories were, and if they had come to faith in Christ. His prayers seemed to have a direct link to the Father’s throne and with me in Russia, bridging the distance between us.

When God directed me to return to Russia as a missionary with my denomination, my father never once questioned that decision or stood in my way. I knew it was hard for him to think of my being so far away in his years of deteriorating health, but all he ever wanted was for me to do God’s will.

On January 19, 1999, I was scheduled to depart from the Indianapolis airport. My parents had come to see me off.

I had probably had less than three hours of sleep in the preceding three days as I packed up and moved out of my temporary apartment, packed for going overseas, and took care of final logistics and business. I had literally moved the last of my things out of my apartment into storage that very morning, wading through crusted snow to carry things for storage to the garages of friends, then rushing back to shower and dress for my long trip. My parents’ car was piled with items they were taking back to Kentucky for me. My trunks packed for Russia were loaded into a minivan owned by Global Partners. Daddy rode along with me to headquarters, and then he got into the car with Mom to head to the airport. A mission administrator drove the van with my luggage and me to the airport, making one final stop at the bank on the way. We had sent my parents on ahead with Mom driving (Daddy no longer drove because of his Parkinson’s), telling them to meet us at the airline check-in. Unfortunately, when I arrived at the airport, there was no sign of Mom and Dad, and we had no cell phones back then with which to communicate with them. Mom had missed her exit and gotten a bit lost. They finally showed up, but by the time we were able to sit down at my departure gate (pre 9-11 security rules), I had only about 45 minutes before the boarding call for my flight.

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Anyone who knew my dad knows that the first priority when we sat down was to have prayer together. The minutes flew by all too quickly. My flight was announced, and it was time to say goodbye. A final lingering hug . . . tears . . . “I love you!” I then was walking down the retractable hallway to find my window seat in the Northwest airplane.

For some reason, my flight stayed at the gate for a while. Exhaustion brought from my hectic schedule of the preceding days took over and I fell asleep. When the plane finally began to back away from the gate, I woke up. As the plane backed around so that my window seat was parallel with the terminal, I could see my dad’s backlit silhouette in the window with my mom patting his shoulder. I did not have to see his face distinctly to know that his emotions were doubtless causing his chin to quiver and his blue eyes to glisten with moisture. I looked and waved until that cherished silhouette was no longer visible.

A few days after I returned to Russia in January 1999 for my 3-year term with Global Partners, my father sent a card in which he wrote in a shaky Parkinson’s-affected script: “Well, you are back in Russia again, and three years seems like a long time. However, as long as Russia is God’s will, then it is mine, too. I’m so glad I can say that from the depths of my heart. I am so glad you are our daughter. You have brought joy and God isn’t finished. I love you very much, Becky. A part of me is there in Russia with you. Let us hear from you. God bless you. I’ll be praying often. Lots of love, Dad”

Every time I talked to him on the phone, he would pray for me about the struggles, the burdens, the responsibilities that I carried at the Bible college and the Russian students that I taught. The last time was on Sunday, April 9, 2000. He and my mom had been in an accident a month before–an accident that had totaled their car and had left my mom with seven broken ribs and my dad bruised and sore. My sister had taken them to recuperate at her home in North Carolina.

Eight days after that April 9 phone call, I was awakened in the middle of the night the Monday after Palm Sunday to the shrill ringing of the telephone. When I picked up the receiver and heard my sister’s voice on the other end, I was immediately wide awake preparing myself for the bad news I didn’t want to hear. As she shared with me that Daddy had gone to heaven after suffering an apparent heart attack, I selfishly wished that I could have seen him just one more time, could have felt his embrace one more time, could have heard his matter-of-fact prayers one more time. But I knew how happy he was that he was finally home. As I knew that night was descending on my family in North Carolina, I watched as the first rays of dawn broke the horizon in Russia. I was reminded that what seems the darkest night for us here is daylight “over there.” And just as we were in the midst of commemorating Passion Week, the power of Easter brought with it the hope of the resurrection. I remembered how my father–who was not a world traveler (he’d only crossed the border into Canada)–had said that if he could travel anywhere in the world he’d love to visit the Holy Land. He once told me, “Oh, what a thrill it would be to see the empty tomb!” As we began that Easter week, I rejoiced for my father through my own tears and personal sense of loss that he was finally seeing– not the empty tomb– but the Risen Christ himself! He was experiencing the greatest thrill of all!

God answered prayer and got me on a flight a little over 24 hours after my sister called. On that long, lonely flight, I remembered my father’s promise the first year I went to Russia: “Becky, I’ll be here when you get home.” I turned my face to the window as tears welled in my eyes and rolled down my cheeks. He wouldn’t be at the gate as the airplane landed in Cincinnati. Instead, my cousin who lived in Indianapolis would be picking me up to drive me down through the eastern Kentucky mountains that were coming alive with the colors of spring–splashes of green, the white of the dogwood, and purplish pink of the redbud trees. He wouldn’t be there to push open the screen door of his office and come to embrace me as the car drove into the yard. He wouldn’t be there to welcome me home. But then I heard it–the words whispered gently again in my heart: “Becky, Becky! I’ll be here when you get HOME!” And then I realized what it was Daddy had been teaching me all along: This isn’t home! We’re not home yet. This life of serving is just a journey to where we really belong. No, this isn’t really home, because home is where the Father is! And that’s what my earthly Daddy taught me.

Becky at Mill Creek after funeral

A trip by myself to the creek after my dad’s memorial service.

Daddy in Colorado (2)

A photo of my dad, Verdon Higgins, enjoying the beauty of Redstone, Colorado in 1991. Photo was taken by my cousin Brad Higgins.

In memory and celebration of my father, my teacher, my friend,

Verdon D. Higgins (June 29, 1922 – April 17, 2000)

DADDY IN THE CLASSROOM

One of the final photos of my dad taken in a Mt. Carmel classroom. Photo courtesy of Eldon Neihof.

Christmas Memories: A Book for Christmas

by Rebecca D. Higgins

We didn’t have a television in our home as I was growing up.  Now, before you exclaim about all of the shows we missed, let me be quick to say, we didn’t have time for TV.  Who has time for TV when there are swings to swing, trees to climb, creeks to wade, bicycles to ride, a whole campus where my parents worked to roam, hide-and-seek to play, leaf forts to build in the fall, plays to create with your friends and perform for your parents, softball and basketball to play, hills to sled in the winter, and more?  And, of course, we had our books. Curling up in the corner of the couch or under the covers with a flashlight at night to “just finish the chapter” . . . er. . . book, was an integral part of my early development. I devoured the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boy books and the Marguerite Henry series of horse stories, but quickly I graduated to much more developed plots and characters, starting at a young age to read books that often are categorized as “classics.”

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That early love for reading and literature greatly influenced my choice of a college major–English education. During the semesters that I had a course load that included three lit classes, it’s a good thing that I loved reading!

Following my college graduation, I worked for several years at the international headquarters of The Wesleyan Church as an editor in the Local Church Education Department. Besides my full-time work, my out-of-work activities seemed to revolve around the church—choir, Bible studies/fellowships, Sunday school. One day it registered that I needed to be involved intentionally in the community and not just my church. When I saw the advertisement “Literacy Tutors Needed” that was put out by the Greater Indianapolis Literacy League, I knew I had found my niche. I filled out the application and headed to the Central Public Library for the required training sessions. Once I had completed those, I eagerly waited to receive the name of the tutee selected as my match.

Kassidy (not her real name) was a tall, beautiful, soft-spoken African-American young woman. She had graduated from high school and had even attended some college (since she played basketball), but she could read only on a very low level. The truth is, she had learning disabilities that had never been diagnosed or addressed.

As a literacy tutor I had certain things that were expected of me within the Greater Indianapolis Literacy League’s course of study. Helping the students to increase their reading and writing skills was our main focus, but along with that I found that real-life skills including math became a part of our study. Besides the workbooks provided by the Literacy League, I incorporated other sources as part of our curriculum that fit in with Kassidy’s needs and wants. Learning to understand written instructions on her job was a major incentive for Kassidy. She worked with machines and needed to understand measurements, so that became a focus. I found a workbook that had written exercises with practice in using various measuring tools. The same workbook also had real-life forms such as sample bank statements that we could use so that Kassidy could develop those skills as well. I learned that she hated going out to restaurants because she couldn’t read the menu and order for herself.

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One day I stopped by the local Cracker Barrel and approached the hostess. “Do you let people take copies of your menu with them?” I asked. “You see, I’m a tutor with the Literacy League, and I would like to use your menu as a teaching tool with my student.”

“That’s wonderful!” she exclaimed.  “If they can be used to help other students, take all of these!” She handed me a stack of a dozen or more menus.

Kassidy and I met for our twice-weekly sessions at a local public library that was located most conveniently for her. After several lessons with the menu as our curriculum, I arrived one night with a surprise. “Kassidy, we’re going to leave your car here, and I’m going to take you out to eat. We’re going to Cracker Barrel. The dinner’s on me—my treat, but you’re going to do your own ordering!” As I drove to the Cracker Barrel, Kassidy started to show signs of nervousness. All of the old apprehensions were coming back. What if she blundered, made a mistake in reading the menu, and embarrassed herself? I assured her that she would not do that . . . that she was ready, and that she was safe with me. I would not put her in a position that would humiliate or embarrass her.

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At the restaurant, Kassidy told me that she’d always liked Cracker Barrel, and I did what I could to put her at ease and to feel confident in being able to read and order from the menu.  Once the ordering was done, we relaxed and just enjoyed our meal together. As we left the restaurant, Kassidy had a shy smile of accomplishment on her face. She’d done it!  Her pride in herself warmed my heart and brought an even bigger smile to my face.

I found in working with Kassidy, that we accomplished more if she had input in determining her own goals and if I selected reading sources that would pique her interest.  The newspaper became part of our curriculum—particularly the sports section!

As Christmas approached, I asked Kassidy if there were any Christmas-related readings that she especially liked. She told me that she had always wished that she could read “The Night Before Christmas” to her nieces on Christmas Eve. “Okay, Kassidy!  Let’s make that our goal!” I printed out the classic poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” penned by Clement Clarke Moore so many years ago. When we first started on our Christmas project, Kassidy struggled greatly with the words and the poetic word sequence. I had to try several different methods to help her learn to read it smoothly. Now you may be wondering if Kassidy was reading the familiar poem or if in repeating it so many times, she memorized it. One of Kassidy’s learning issues was that memorization was very difficult for her, so I can answer that question without hesitation:  she was reading!

As Christmas drew near, I visited the local bookstore in the mall. (I just realized that all of the malls near me no longer have bookstores in them. Sad indeed!  Those were the stores that I regularly frequented when I was growing up. Now kids seem to be drawn to the electronics and trendy clothing stores instead.)  Just before Christmas, Waldenbooks had put their Christmas-themed books on sale. I found a beautiful hard-backed edition of “The Night Before Christmas.” The colorful illustrations were masterfully drawn and would capture the attention and imagination of children.

At our last tutoring session before Christmas, I handed Kassidy my gift-wrapped present. I knew she would appreciate it as she read to her nieces, but I didn’t quite expect her reaction. When she saw what it was, her eyes got big. She caressed the book as though it were something very precious, carefully turning the pages and smoothing them as she thanked me and said, “People don’t give me books as gifts. I love it!”

One more time we went over the poem, reading it this time from her new book; and Kassidy read it well. I spent the final moments of our session playing the role of cheerleader—praising her, encouraging her, expressing confidence that I knew that she could read the story well to her nieces. I gave her a hug in parting.

Christmas with my family that year brought the good news that I was going to be an aunt! I found myself thanking God for the gift of being able to read. When MY niece put in her appearance, I could read her all kinds of stories with no struggle. I thought of Kassidy and wondered how her Christmas Eve story-reading had gone.  I couldn’t wait to see her again and get a report.

At our first tutoring session after the holidays, the smile on Kassidy’s face as she entered our tutoring room at the library said it all:  SUCCESS!

A few months later, I received a notice from the Literacy League about a written essay contest for literacy students. Kassidy wasn’t sure at first if she wanted to participate, but I encouraged her that it would help her to develop her writing skills further.

I will admit that the writing part of our sessions was a bit hard for me. In my regular job I worked as an editor. I got paid to mark up manuscripts! With our tutees, however, we were told NEVER to do that. Instead, we were simply to be encouragers of self-expression in written form. For the essay contest we were not to correct their writing, grammar, punctuation or spelling but help them to make the corrections themselves. My way of literacybookresizedhelping Kassidy learn to write more clearly was to ask her questions:  “What are the details of an event? What did you see? What did you hear? What did you feel? Is that a question or a statement? What punctuation should go at the end of that sentence? Now write down what you just told me.” After several different rewrites of her story, she was finally ready to submit it. The theme of the contest?  “My Favorite Gift!”

Later, the Literacy League decided to print some of the writings of the literacy students (with their permission) into a booklet form under various categories. The writings were taken from the essay contest or from a student survey that was conducted. I still have that booklet in my files. All these years later, it still warms my heart when I read Kassidy’s essay. It’s not the most polished essay ever written, but I know the work it represents and it makes me smile. Here it is in Kassidy’s own words:

My Favorite Gift

By Kassidy _____ (name changed)

     The best gift I have gotten was to be able to read the Christmas story, “The Night Before Christmas.”  About a month before Christmas, my tutor asked, “Kassidy, what is your favorite Christmas story?” I told her “The Night Before Christmas.” She asked me if I would like to read it.  I said yes.  I would like to read the story to my nieces on Christmas Eve.

     We met on Mondays and Wednesdays.  First she would read the story.  I would follow along.  Then I read. I did an awful job. I stumbled over a lot of words.  I tried sounding them out.  Sometimes it worked. She asked, “Kassidy, would it help if I made a tape of me reading the story?”  I would listen to the tape and read one paragraph at a time. Then I would read along with the tape. I worked hard. I didn’t want to miss one single word. I got where I was reading the story very well. I couldn’t believe my ears!

     Then the final evening came to meet with my tutor a few days before Christmas Eve. I read the story the last time with her. She was very proud of me I could tell.  I was proud of myself.  I exchanged gifts. She gave me the hardback book of “The Night Before Christmas.”

On Christmas Eve, my brothers and sisters and their family met at our parents’ house.  I reminded the kids that I was going to read the story to them at 9:00 p.m.  One of my nieces was very excited.  She couldn’t wait to hear the story. Nine o’clock came!  I got the kids together upstairs. At first I felt scared. As I started reading I was no longer scared. My mother overheard me reading. She told the rest of the family. They came upstairs to listen. After I finished the story my family hugged and kissed me.  My mother was especially proud of me. She knew how hard I worked on the story. She told me that all the meetings and hard work finally paid off. It was a good feeling to be able to read the Christmas story to my nieces and the rest of the family. That was my favorite Christmas gift. That’s something I will always remember.

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Even though many years have passed, I have to say as Kassidy’s tutor that it is one of my favorite gifts as well. I have found that there is more joy in giving a portion of myself for the benefit of someone else than all of the gifts I could ever receive.

May your Christmas be filled with that kind of JOY!  . . . .  After all, that is the kind of giving that Christmas is all about. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son. . . .” (John 3:16a NIV). “The Word became flesh” (John 1:14a NIV).

 

Welcome to A Look Through My Lens

Featured

by Rebecca D. Higgins

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This website says my name is Rebecca D. Higgins, and it is my official name. However, most people just call me Becky. I’ve always loved stories and pictures. Sometimes the pictures are painted with words and sometimes the stories are found in pictures. Here you’ll find that I dabble a bit in both.

I once read a quote by photographer Dorothea Lange that resonated with me: “The camera is an instrument that teaches people to see without a camera.” Whether I’m looking through the viewfinder of my camera or just looking around, I have become an observer of the world around me, and I like to capture my observations in words and in pictures. My camera has indeed helped me to see the world through new eyes . . . to observe beauty in the ordinary . . . to stop to appreciate and capture moments that in our busyness we too often ignore or simply fail to see. I’ve come to value such moments—moments that remind me of God’s grace and care whether it’s while hiking woodland trails or sitting in quiet on mountain ridges or beside the ripples of creeks. In those moments I’ve come to appreciate the creative design in the delicate beauty of a butterfly’s wings, to savor the warm glow of a sunset, to enjoy the morning fog as it lifts off of the river. While those scenes and places are my preferred haunts, I have also learned to walk with eyes and heart open on crowded city streets where homeless huddle in doorways, in busy shopping malls where harried mothers try to corral cranky children, and in retirement homes where blank stares mask a person’s memories. Whispered through all of those moments has been the reminder to take the time to “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10a). What is God doing in that moment? What is He teaching? How is His grace at work? And how does He want me to be His hands and feet to extend the grace I have received to others? I guess you could say that the filter on my lens through which I see and write is my faith in Jesus Christ.

I invite you to come along and take A Look Through My Lens at what I see and what God is teaching me about His grace in my own life and in the lives of others.

If you would like to see more of my photos, you can follow my Instagram account (rdh_photo) and purchase some selected prints at rebeccadhiggins.pixels.com

In Remembrance

by Rebecca D. Higgins

Study Scripture: Mark 14:10-26

It was just family and a few long-time family friends who stood on the knoll to commit my grandmother’s body to the ground. My minister uncle conducted the graveside service and invited any of us who so desired to describe our special memories of Grandma. Those moments were intensely meaningful and sacred to our family as one by one we began to share: “I remember . . . .”

As I stood there surrounded by my loving family, my mind moved backward over the preceding days to the night she died. As ten of the family members circled her hospital bed and sang her into heaven, I intentionally burned the memory on my mind—who was there, the positioning of each person in the circle, the songs we sang, the moment we knew she had slipped from earth’s ties into the presence of her Lord. Why go to such lengths to imprint those moments on my mind? I wanted to remember.

In His final night with His disciples Jesus must have wanted them to do much the same thing. As He gathered the Twelve around Him to observe the final Passover meal with them, He no doubt gazed around the circle, peering intently at the countenances of the group and thought of their development over the three years of being with Him and of how far they yet had to go. He knew that before the night was over their bravado would falter and all would forsake Him and flee. So in those final moments before His Passion, He impressed on them the urgency of remembering that night.

I hesitate to compare the importance of remembering the Last Supper with my memories of my grandmother, because that final meal had such sacred significance—not for nostalgic sentiment, but as a means of grace. But one thing they have in common is the aspect of remembering.

There are places I cannot go without thinking of my grandmother. There are certain activities in which I participate to keep her memory strong.

And that is somewhat the idea represented behind observing the Lord’s Supper. It is to be done to help us to remember. What did Jesus mean when He said, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19c)? Just what are we supposed to remember?

 

Protestant Communion Elements

1. REMEMBER THAT THE LORD’S SUPPER REPRESENTS CHRIST’S ATONING SACRIFICE FOR OUR SINS.

The broken bread and poured-out wine is a strong visual symbol of the broken body and shed blood of our Lord. He was broken so that we might be made whole. His blood flowed freely so that we could be set free from the bondage of sin. “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

Paul wrote to the Corinthians that it was possible to eat and drink the Lord’s Supper unworthily—that is, to participate in the ceremony commemorating Christ’s death without fully participating in the life of Christ that frees us from the entanglement of sin.

2. REMEMBER THAT THE LORD’S SUPPER REPRESENTS THE FELLOWSHIP BETWEEN THE BELIEVER AND THE LORD.

Communions to me are among the most intimate moments in my relationship with the Lord. They are times to contemplate His overwhelming love for me that sent Him to the Cross. They are times to bow humbly before Him and thank Him that because of His willingness to go to the Cross, I can now go before God himself. They are times when I look back and ponder on His provision and presence in recent months and throughout my life.

3. REMEMBER THAT THE LORD’S SUPPER REPRESENTS THE ALL-SUFFICIENCY OF CHRIST.

Scripture records that during Jesus’ earthly ministry, He was faced with the seemingly impossible task of feeding the multitudes. But on both of the occasions recorded, He was more than enough to meet the need. He did it by breaking the bread and fish and distributing it to the hungry crowds until all were satisfied.

Evangelist Jimmy Johnson told of a time many years ago when he took a group of teens to a little church in northern California to minister in special meetings during Easter week. God moved in a powerful way as they visited in the community, passed out literature, and held preaching services each evening. By Friday night something incredible had happened. The teens had won the pool hall owner and his wife to the Lord, and true revival had swept the community.

On that Friday night before Easter, the group gathered at the church to have a communion service. They arrived to find the place packed. Some of the teens sat on the floor so the community people could have seats, but even then, there were still some individuals who had to stand. As the ministers began serving the bread and the juice, they were horrified when they quickly ran out of the elements. They did not have enough to serve the entire crowd. What could they do? Instead of allowing the circumstances to defeat the sweet spirit in the church, they were able to use the situation to highlight the sufficiency of Christ. He never runs out! He’s always enough! He’s there even when you’re not aware of His presence! He’s all we need! The elements of communion might not be enough, but Jesus Christ is!

4. REMEMBER THAT THE LORD’S SUPPER REPRESENTS A TIME OF UNSELFISHLY SERVING AND SHARING WITH OTHERS IN THE BODY OF BELIEVERS.

Some of the most memorable and meaningful communion services don’t always take place in stately cathedrals as Dr. Rich Eckley so aptly illustrates. On a church canoeing expedition with a group of men and young boys, Rich had taken along the elements to serve communion at one point on their trip. However, as so easily happens on canoe trips, the supplies in the boat got wet and the bread was ruined.

When it was time to observe communion around the campfire, the only thing they had to use was one hamburger bun. Rich shared with the group from Paul’s epistles about the body of Christ and how young men and older men can learn from each other. Each person has a part to play in building and edifying others in the body. Rich then took the hamburger roll and broke it symbolically to represent the broken body of our Lord. But as he looked around the circle of approximately 35 men and boys, he realized that one hamburger bun really wasn’t enough, so he said, “Listen, guys, I want to caution you—don’t take very much. Make sure everyone gets a piece.” He then handed over the two halves of the roll to be passed around the circle.

When everyone had broken off a piece of bread and Rich had collected the halves, they appeared to be almost as large as at the beginning. Rich looked around the campfire and noticed that each person was holding a tiny crumb of bread in his hand. The lesson to be learned from that hamburger roll was this: each individual around that fire had thought about the person to whom he was going to pass the bread, and each person wanted to make sure that his neighbor had a piece. Rather than breaking off a large chunk, they all had thought of others first.

That is the way it is to be in the body of believers for whom Christ died.

5. REMEMBER THAT THE LORD’S SUPPER REPRESENTS THE UNIVERSALITY OF CHRIST’S LOVE.

I have two specific communions that stand out in my memory for similar reasons.
The first was at an international women’s convention for my denomination. For several days those of us in attendance had been stirred and challenged through workshops and special evening rallies. The convention culminated in a Sunday morning worship service to be concluded with the observance of the Lord’s Supper. As I waited to partake of the elements, I looked around at the diverse races and cultures represented in the gathering. When the minister gave us the cue, the entire group partook of the elements in unison as one body. Suddenly, I felt hands behind me embrace my shoulders as someone whispered in my ear, “I’m so glad you’re my sister in Christ.” I turned to look into the beautiful face of a lady from Guyana. Though the color of our skin was different, and we hailed from different countries and cultures, we were united because of the sacrifice of Calvary. We were both part of the family of God.

The other communion that comes to mind took place in a football stadium with thousands in attendance. It, too, was an international denominational gathering. However, it was not my denomination. As I celebrated the Lord’s Supper with my fellow believers, I was reminded that it is humans who get hung up by barriers of gender, race, culture, and denomination, but Christ “is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier” (Ephesians 2:14a), and “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

6. REMEMBER THAT THE LORD’S SUPPER COMMEMORATES NOT A DEAD JESUS, BUT A CRUCIFIED AND RISEN SAVIOR.

There is a country cemetery just outside of Baraboo, Wisconsin, that contains the gravestone for my grandmother. I could go there and know that the piece of granite marks the site of her earthly remains. But I can’t do the same with my Lord. While the Scriptures record that there most certainly was a grave, they also proclaim the wonderful news that it is empty! When I observe communion, however, I don’t just think of an empty tomb. I visualize a rough, blood-spattered cross on which Jesus gave His life for me. For without the Cross, there would be no Easter; but without Easter, the Cross would be meaningless.

What do you remember when you observe communion? Take some time today to reflect on the Lord’s Supper and commit to live your life in such a way that it clearly proclaims, “Lord, I remember.”

(This article first appeared in Teacher Helps, Spring 2000, Volume 8, No. 3, Published by Wesleyan Publishing House, P. O. Box 50434, Indianapolis, Indiana 46250-0434.)

Carry Me

by Rebecca D. Higgins

“To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; in you I trust, O my God” (Psalm 15:1-2a NIV).

 

“CARRY ME!” I looked at the trusting eyes and outstretched arms of my two-year-old second cousin Michelle; and without hesitation, I did what she asked. When I saw the frailty of Michelle’s leukemia-ridden body, there wasn’t anything that I wouldn’t have done for her.

It was summer 1975, and my family was in South Carolina for a few days of vacation with relatives. On this particular day, we had taken Michelle and her grandmother to visit a distant cousin. While the adults chatted inside the house, my sister and I entertained Michelle with a game of hide-and-seek in the yard. But Michelle’s weakened state caused her to tire easily and prompted her request to be carried.

Suffer the Children resizedLater, in the car, as Michelle’s childish voice sang the words, “Little ones to Him belong, they are weak but He is strong,” I thought how true it was for Michelle.

It was then that it dawned on me what Christ meant when He said, “Unless you become as little children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” He wants us all to have the simple trust of a child that recognizes her own weakness and who relies solely on a greater strength.

I haven’t forgotten that lesson in trust, and so I often whisper, “Lord, I’m weak, but You’re strong, so . . . please, carry me!” I rest assured knowing that I am sheltered in His loving arms.

Thought for the day: Trust is surrendering ourselves completely into God’s arms without trying to get down and walk on our own strength.

(This devotional first appeared in Light from the Word, Fall 1989, Vol. 38, No. 1., published by Wesleyan Publishing House, P.O. Box 50434, Indianapolis, Indiana 46250.)

Instruments of Christ’s Peace

by Rebecca D. Higgins

Charity Toys for Christmas

Sometimes when your own heart hurts, volunteering to help others brings with it a sense of peace and healing. Yesterday afternoon after one of the shopping sessions at Lexington, Kentucky’s Faith and Community Christmas Store, one of the volunteer personal shoppers came back with her empty cart to the starting point. She was in tears. When asked about it, she shared that the woman she had just helped find gifts for her children was celebrating being clean and sober. For the first time in three years she was going to be spending Christmas with her children. Stories like that are what make ministries like the Christmas Store worthwhile.

At the end of the shift, I was thanking volunteers for coming and giving their time and love. As this woman started to leave, I commented on the story she had shared earlier and thanked her for being a blessing to that mother. We talked about the busload of middle school kids who had helped during that shift, and she remarked on how important it was that they learn to share with others. “I took my son a number of years ago to help at something like this,” she told me. “When we got home, he wanted to clean out his closet and toys and donate them.”

“That’s wonderful!” I exclaimed. “Allowing children to be a part of these kinds of ministries helps them develop a greater appreciation for what they have and a generous heart to share with those in need. You’re a good mom for teaching your son that.”

Suddenly, her voice broke and tears gathered in her eyes. “My son passed away a few years ago.”

“I am so sorry!” I exclaimed as I instinctively wrapped her in a hug. We talked for a few more moments before she went on her way, and I oriented the new set of volunteer personal shoppers for the next shift.

Last night I replayed that conversation when I got home. I found myself praying for two mothers. One mother was grieving the loss of her son and not being able to spend any more Christmases with him. Even though there was an empty place in her heart, she didn’t hesitate to share the joy of another mother who, after the messiness of her life, was finally being reunited with her children for Christmas. Somehow I believe that sharing that other mother’s joy was healing and a good way to remember and honor her own son’s generous spirit.

No matter what problems or pain we may be experiencing this Christmas season, may we find healing and joy in allowing ourselves to be instruments of Christ’s peace for others who are hurting.

The Problem with Fair-weather Fans and Friendships

by Rebecca D. Higgins

“How was your weekend?” The typical Monday morning question floated over the office cubicle partitions as I prepped my computer programs for work on my first day back from vacation.

The co-worker to whom the question had been directed answered tersely: “Terrible!”

“Oh, I’m so sorry! What happened?” Concern poured from the voice of the questioner.

Crowd on the stadium

A halfhearted chuckle accompanied the explanation from my co-worker. “Oh, it was just the game!” [The University of Kentucky vs. Georgia football game] She went on to say, “I am so through with them!”– a sentiment I frequently hear voiced in regards to the UK football team. While known for its storied basketball program, UK is not known to be a football powerhouse. Many “fans” who are accustomed to cheering for a highly ranked, winning team when it comes to basketball just don’t seem to have patience with the football program. I call them fair-weather fans! They’re fans just as long as the team gives them what they want . . . wins! It’s all about what’s in it for them. After a loss they have nothing good to say about the players, coaching staff, or the officials. They don’t realize that just maybe the team needs their support even when they’re not doing well. I’ll be perfectly honest! I don’t have much patience for fair-weather fans!

You see, that’s just not the way I was raised! My father taught me by example that you don’t just cheer for a team when it is winning; you support it when it struggles. In fact, that may be the time when it needs the most support. My dad was a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan . . . need I say more?!!! If he were still around to listen to the call of their games on the radio (which is what he did his whole life since he didn’t get the TV broadcasts), he would have been pleased with how far they went this year. He never let their lengthy losing streak deter him from pulling for them and believing that they were worth his support.

It’s not hard to understand that since my dad had no toleration for fair-weather fans that he also taught that fair-weather friends really weren’t friends at all. We all know the type. They’re your declared “friends for life” as long as you meet their expectations, as long as you do what they want, as long as you are successful, as long as you are winning. But when you no longer measure up to what they expect, when you don’t give them what they want, when you experience setbacks and failures, they seem to disappear. Perhaps they think your failures might be contagious, and they certainly wouldn’t want to experience that in their own personal lives. They don’t seem to realize that friendship isn’t just about getting, but it’s also about giving. It’s about being there for the other person . . .even when that person fails, even when the person doesn’t meet expectations, even when the person is at his or her very lowest.

My dad was my high school principal at the private Christian boarding school where I grew up. He spent his whole life investing in young people. He understood that sometimes high school kids (and adults too) can make a mess of things at times. One thing that not all students of my father understood was just how much he cared about them even when his position and role required that he follow through with consequences for their actions. Just because a student failed to measure up to expectations, my dad still believed in second chances even when others may have given up hope. Several specific instances come to mind.

One young man was sent home for some infractions of the rules, but he had a change of heart at home and wrote asking that he be given a second chance and be allowed to come back. While some had reservations, my dad said “yes.” That young man proved that his change of heart was real. He became a pastor.

Another young man left the school and got involved with the wrong crowd. His choices landed him in serious trouble with the law that resulted in a conviction and prison sentence. My dad refused to write him off, however. Instead, he wrote him . . .literally! The whole time this young man was in prison, my dad regularly sent handwritten letters of encouragement expressing his belief that this young man could turn his life around if he’d let God have control. I honestly don’t know what became of him. Even though he responded to my dad’s letters while he was in prison, once he got out, to my knowledge my dad never heard from him again.

What’s my point? Don’t give up on people when they’re at their lowest. That may be when they need someone the most, someone who can look past what they are at present to what they can become through the grace of God. After all, that’s what Jesus did! We were LOSERS, with a capital “L”! We were sinners, but that’s exactly when Jesus stepped forward on our behalf.

“When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us WHILE WE WERE STILL SINNERS [emphasis mine]. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God” (Romans 5:6-11 NLT).

That, my friends, is no fair-weather friendship! And as Jesus stated at the conclusion of His parable about the Good Samaritan, we are to “go and do the same” (Luke 10:37b NLT), extending true friendship, mercy, and grace to others even when they don’t meet our expectations, even when they fail, even when they are at their lowest. After all, that’s when grace is needed the most!

Heaven’s Light

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During a Smoky Mountain getaway in the fall of 2015, I rushed up the mountain one evening in an attempt to make it to the Clingman’s Dome parking lot in time to photograph the sunset. However, this image and a couple more were the only ones I was able to capture before the fog completely obliterated the view, but for a few brief moments it seemed that heaven’s light was shining through.

Promises to Keep: You Will Never Be Forgotten

by Rebecca D. Higgins

On Sunday night of Memorial Day weekend 2011, I paused to sit down and watch the National Memorial Concert from Washington, DC on my local PBS station. As the stories of brave men and women were told interspersed with musical numbers, I found myself reaching frequently for the box of Kleenexes sitting on the coffee table nearby. Outside my living room window the gentle snap of my flag as it caught the evening breeze served as a reminder that I am still able to fly that symbol of freedom proudly as a result of the sacrifice of so many brave men and women throughout the years.

As I went to bed that night to sleep peacefully, I said some prayers for those families who have paid the ultimate sacrifice so that I can enjoy the freedoms this country holds dear.

The next day I had several at-home projects that kept me busy and away from the official Memorial Day observances, but later in the afternoon, I needed to get out of the house. I headed the few miles down the road to Camp Nelson National Cemetery, deciding to have my own quiet moments to remember the price paid for freedom. I drove my car back as far as I could in the cemetery, parked, and began to make my way quietly and respectfully along the rows of white markers and American flags that adorned each grave for the Memorial Day. A few other families were also visiting the final resting place of loved ones and friends.

Mike Tarter bugleSuddenly the plaintive notes of a lone bugle interrupted the hushed quiet of that sacred place as the familiar strains of Taps floated over the rows of markers and flags. I swallowed hard over the lump that formed immediately in my throat and wiped the moisture from the corners of my eyes. “Where were the notes coming from?” I wondered as my eyes scanned the cemetery. Then I saw them–two figures some distance away from me. Even though I had to squint to see and their backs were towards me, I recognized that they were wearing some type of uniform. As the notes of Taps died away, the arms of the taller of the two figures lowered the bugle to his side, and then his free right arm performed a slow, deliberate salute.

I had started moving in their direction as soon as I had determined the source of the music. I wanted to thank them for their service and for that poignant Memorial Day observance to which I had been a witness. Someone else who had witnessed the tribute reached them first, and I waited respectfully as a veteran from the Vietnam era talked about places and shared experiences that the bugler had also known. When I had opportunity, I shook the hands of the husband and wife duo and thanked them. I then heard their story.

Mike and Gerry Tarter are from Goshen, Ohio, where they both serve as VFW local honor guards at military observances and funerals. Mike served in the army as a helicopter gunner in Vietnam. While he is thankful to have made it home, seven of his high school buddies from Goshen did not. Their lives were cut short when they were still in their teens and early twenties while serving in the military. For over 40 years Mike has kept a promise that they would not be forgotten. After his stint in the army, he served in the Air Force for the rest of his career. Since he retired in 1990, every Memorial Day, he and his wife Gerry make a pilgrimage. Following their participation in their local Goshen Memorial Day observances, they head out in their truck, making stops at national cemeteries in Kentucky and on down the road to Tennessee where Mike’s buddies have been laid to rest. At each of their graves he plays Taps, salutes, and spends a few moments talking to his friends, always reiterating the promise that they will not be forgotten and that he will be back next year. They had two soldiers to honor at Camp Nelson and I listened as they pointed out the trees that helped pinpoint the location of the second soldier’s marker. And again I was moved as Mike performed his ritual–Taps and a salute and a wipe of the eyes to dab away the tears.

As I talked to the couple, Gerry (Mike’s wife) asked me if I had seen his truck. “It’s one of a kind,” she told me. As they headed to where they had parked it, I tagged along so that I could see the pictorial tribute on wheels they had created to remember those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice and to honor all veterans who have served. Even though it was around 5:00 p.m. when I encountered them at Camp Nelson National Cemetery, their day was far from over. They still had miles to go and more heroes to honor before they closed their eyes in sleep.

Mike and Gerry Tarter 1

As I watched their truck pull out of the cemetery and head south on state road 27, Robert Frost’s words appropriately came to mind as they continued their long Memorial Day journey:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
(from “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost)

They are keeping the promise that those who have served and paid the ultimate sacrifice will not be forgotten.

Many years before them, one of our nation’s greatest presidents also stood in a cemetery that had been the site of a bloody battlefield. At Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln eloquently urged the nation to remember:

 Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. 

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom— and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. (“The Gettysburg Address” by Abraham Lincoln).

So I have come to learn that on these national days of remembrance and throughout the year it is important to take the time to acknowledge that freedom isn’t free and be one who makes the promise to ensure that freedom will continue to ring–not only from sea to shining sea, but in the hearts of all those who humbly bow before Almighty God, the true giver of all freedom.

****************

Postscript:  On March 3, 2016, I received a message from the daughter of Mike Tarter informing me that her dad was in his final battle with cancer. A few days later I heard the news that after a lifetime of keeping his promise, Mike’s journey had come to an end. On March 15, 2016, I traveled to Goshen, Ohio, to attend Mike’s memorial service. As I told his family, it was the least I could do to pay my respects to someone who had traveled thousands upon thousands of miles over the years to honor the memory of others. Mike, you will not be forgotten!

Mike Tarter's flag resized

Mike Tarter’s wife Gerry receives the flag presented in Mike’s honor.

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Back Road Musings

by Rebecca D. Higgins

The Kentucky Tourism Board announced earlier this week that the governor had proclaimed today “Road Trip Day” to encourage people to get out and explore Kentucky’s scenic back roads. I guess I got in on the action a week early.

Last Saturday I found myself wanting to get out of the house but yet not wander too far afield. Cleaning out Mom and Dad’s house and sorting through retro things lately has caused me to wander through peddler’s malls and antique stores to see what some of those things are worth. So I decided to head to the premier antique store in our area, a place called Irish Acres. It’s a good destination for someone with a solidly Irish surname like Higgins! But road trips often are just as much about the journey as they are the destination, and last Saturday’s jaunt was no exception to that. There’s something peaceful about riding the country back roads that causes the worries and cares to recede. Perhaps the demand to drive more slowly around the twisting turns connects with our psyche and causes us to slow down emotionally from the mental rat race and worries and to concentrate on the unfolding scenery instead. My camera always accompanies me on these road trips, and frequently I will pull over to record an image that catches my attention. Last Saturday’s narrow, winding road didn’t allow for sudden pull-offs; so as I drove I found myself mentally taking pictures, forming descriptive words and phrases in my head rather than capturing them through the camera lens.

So, if you’re not going to take a road trip today down one of Kentucky’s beautiful byways (or wherever you happen to be), I invite you to come with me in your mind to a place called Nonesuch—honestly, that’s the name of the community seemingly out in the middle of Nowhere—where Irish Acres is located a mere 20-minute drive (or longer depending on how fast you choose to drive) from Wilmore, Kentucky.

After a quick errand in Nicholasville, I headed over to Harrodsburg Road to start my journey.

It was a lazy, quiet kind of Saturday—the calm before the storm—literally, as weather forecasters predicted a tempestuous Sunday. I rounded the curve on Highway 68 instead of exiting where I always do to go into Wilmore and mentally settled in to enjoy the journey. You can never go very far in this part of Kentucky without seeing horses grazing in a picturesque setting. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch them as they gallop across the field with the wind in their manes as though stirred with an inner desire to fly like the birds . Today, however, the ones close to the highway merely nodded at me as I passed, and I gave them a friendly Kentucky, “Howdy, y’all!”

Stars of the Bluegrass

I noticed the owners of the Potter’s Inn B&B were out doing trim work next to their roadside sign, their 200-year-old log home in the background beckoning travelers to come aside and rest awhile in a cozy environment that takes a person back to a quieter time and place. I haven’t seen anything but the outside of the Potter’s Inn cabin. The owners actually live there and have a couple of rooms with private entrances for guests. The main part of their Potter’s Inn B&B is a restored Victorian farmhouse located near Wilmore’s downtown green. If you like to hear train whistles, sit on wide veranda porches, curl up with a good book in a bright sun room, and sleep in a comfortable room decorated tastefully with antiques and the ambiance of original fireplaces, check Potter’s Inn out if you’re ever in the area. No, they’re not paying me for the commercial! Just thought I’d throw that out there in support of the local economy!

Back to the journey. I exited Highway 68 onto even more narrow and winding roads. The twists and turns took me past a herd of cattle lazily lying in the shade and a variety of quilted barns displaying the designs created so long ago by skilled needle workers and kept alive today by quilting circles and the creative quilted barn project. I caught the flash of iridescent blue and noted the indigo bunting perched on the top of a barbed wire fence. Inwardly, I thanked my dad—a lifelong bird lover—that I knew the difference between a bluebird and an indigo bunting.

I passed fields of soybeans and tobacco, and fields of cornstalks marching in perfect alignment across the wide open space. My mind drifted back to summer days of long ago when “corn days” at Mt. Carmel brought a community together. The pickers started early before the hot Kentucky sun made the task even more difficult. Then everyone else–from the old to the young—gathered behind the dining hall, pulling up chairs and turning over crates on which to sit while we husked and silked the corn. Laughter and stories abounded, and sometimes we accompanied our work with 4-part harmony as we sang fun folk songs or old hymns and gospel songs—sweet memories AND sweet, sweet corn!

I continued the journey to Irish Acres by following the clearly marked arrows that pointed out the twists and turns. I passed distinctive stone fences, some of them in need of repair, stones piled together waiting for the stone masons to arrange them like pieces of an intricate puzzle and to put them in order again. My literary background recalled Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall,” and I thought of the philosophical differences that sometimes separate people as in the poem. The poet opens with the words: “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” He goes on to describe the springtime ritual he and his neighbor have of setting loose stones back in place in the wall between their properties. His neighbor simply says, “Good fences make good neighbors.” Frost’s written reply to that is articulated in the following memorable lines:

Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
“Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.

But his neighbor continues repairing the wall:

He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

My journey continued, the roadsides decorated with nature’s bouquet of blue and white–a mix of Queen Anne’s lace and blue chicory.

I passed signs with memorable names like the Clover Bottom Baptist Church that was apparently decorating for some big event—a wedding perhaps? I could just imagine having that on a wedding invitation! I passed the Knotmuch Farm, and thought of two other uniquely named farms on the road between Wilmore and historic High Bridge. One is the Seldom Rest Farm; and just down the road, its near neighbor is the Seldom Work Farm. Yep! Here in Kentucky people can be creative in naming things!

Before I could think about it much I had arrived in the community of Nonesuch! I knew I had arrived when I saw the one-stop shop –the Nonesuch Grocery and Hardware with a couple of gas pumps out front.

Nonesuch

Just down the road I reached my destination of Irish Acres. An old school building has been transformed into what has come to be known in the area as the premier antique gallery that draws the rich and famous down these country byways when they make trips to Lexington and Keeneland. Irish Acres sits across the road from a cornfield and a house with a porch swing and a simple fundamental-style country church. When I pulled into the driveway, an old dog was lying in the front yard by the flower beds, obviously kept there as a trusty friend and not as a guard dog.

When I exited the building quite some time later (words aren’t enough to describe the interior of Irish Acres. It’s another story completely!), it seemed that the old dog hadn’t moved much but still sprawled in the shade enjoying a lazy summer afternoon. I decided to follow his example of enjoyment of the day by stretching my drive a bit further.

I headed on down the road toward Versailles. Now, if you’re not from these parts, you probably think that word is pronounced Ver-SIGH–like the palace/art museum in France. But around here, the pronunciation is Ver-SALES! Obviously, my computerized voice that gives navigational instructions in my smartphone isn’t from Kentucky! I chuckle every time “She” talks about Ver-SIGH.

As I rolled out of Nonesuch, I pulled up behind a large tractor with a baler attached moving at a cumbersome pace down the highway. On the narrow road, we quickly created a mini traffic jam as other cars lined up behind me. Knowing his farm machinery was difficult to see and maneuver around, the farmer driving the tractor became the traffic cop, motioning cars to pass when from his high perch he could see that the oncoming lane was clear. We exchanged friendly waves as I followed his direction.

Country Sky

As I rolled along, I passed fields where the hay had already been baled in big round wheels waiting to be picked up and hauled to the barns. I passed wineries and stables.

I came to the crossroads where Highway 33 and Highway 1267 meet. Strategically, very close to that intersection of ways stands the historic Troy Presbyterian Church that has ministered to the community for well over 100 years. I’m sure that long ago when a location was chosen for the church that a prime factor was that intersection where the church spire could serve as a beacon to travelers approaching from all directions. Isn’t that what churches should do, after all? Shouldn’t they stand in those places where people are at a crossroads and point people toward Christ?

I continued my musings and observations as I rolled on down the road past Misty Morning Farm—a name I love for its alliteration as well as the picture it creates.

The curves in the road wound through a wooded area that provided deep shade on all sides. I breathed deeply and enjoyed the shelter of the trees.

I continued on over the overpass for the Bluegrass Parkway and on into historic Ver-SIGH itself. No, Kentucky isn’t the location for the Versailles Palace; BUT Versailles, Kentucky DOES have its very own castle. Really! Castle Post is a medieval-looking construction with stone walls and turrets and huge gates, and they tell me (since I’ve never actually been inside the place) that it has opulence fit for a king. Oh, the last I heard it was up for sale. If you have a mere 30 million dollars burning a hole in your pocket, you can have your very own castle right smack dab in the middle of Kentucky horse country!

I digress! . . . But isn’t that what journeys down country byways are all about? Leaving the main road temporarily, getting sidetracked and wandering wherever the road takes you and taking time to enjoy the journey?

I drove on through the heart of historic Versailles, which has been an established point on the map since 1792, on to the quaint picturesque town of Midway, appropriately named because it was located at the midway point between Lexington and Frankfort on the railroad line when it was first incorporated as a town. A drive through Midway is like passing back to another era when two-story houses with flower boxes at the windows and big front porches were the norm. I was happy to see that most of those porches also had a porch swing. I could almost hear the rhythmic creak of the chains as I rolled by. Porch swings are for slowing down, taking time to smell the rosebushes that are hopefully growing somewhere nearby, and visiting with your family and neighbors. They’re for taking naps or reading a good book, or just for swinging—not the pump-up-as-high-as-you-can-go kind of swinging (that I confess my cousins and I sometimes tried to do on my Grandma Higgins’s little porch when we were kids)– but for the steady, rhythmic back-and-forth swinging that’s accomplished with a gentle toe tap. Somehow the steady creak of the chains and the gentle back-and-forth rhythm has a way of getting the body, mind, and soul in rhythm and quieting a restless spirit.

After a stop in Georgetown, I decided my wanderings had gone far enough for the day, and it was time to head back home. I could have taken the main highways and reached home much quicker, but I turned around and again wandered down the back roads. At one point in the journey, I noted once again the tiny little sign tucked by a mailbox on Highway 33—a sign that always whispers into my heart when I pass it. I wonder how often the owners ever think about the fact that the naming of their farm or the placement of that sign beside the highway can and does serve as a ministry to weary hearts as they pass by. “Grace Filled Farm” it reads. Who of us doesn’t need grace? The free, undeserved bestowal of kindness and favor. Perhaps that’s why we turn off of busy highways filled with impatient motorists in a hurry to get somewhere; with cars filled with angry, care-laden people who will flip off other drivers if they impede their journey in the slightest way. Instead, we look for a friendly wave, a shared appreciation for the beauty around us, a quieting of heart and soul. We go in search of grace—favor, kindness, benevolence—undeserved and unearned. May those back road wanderings lead us to the crossroads where we find the One whose grace has been freely given when He opened His arms wide upon a cross and proclaimed, “For God so loved . . . whosoever will.” Truly, there’s “none such” like it!

Grace and peace for your journey, my friends!