Prologue

God’s grace is freely given, who we are as faithful followers of Christ are the result of the work God does in us. We are His workmanship.

My most humbling discovery was to come to know that I have nothing to do with how I obtain faith. Faith is a gift that is freely given to us. We often speak of growing our faith… actually faith grows us!

Henri Whitfield

pexels-photo-257360.jpegMy journey of faith is a unique story of how circumstances, good and evil, are used to establish me in faith. Faith carries me through the consequences of my failures, the grind of my challenges, and the loftiness of my successes. My most humbling discovery was to come to know that I have nothing to do with how I obtain faith.

Faith is freely given in the quietness of our hearts, and it is perfected by the storms that we endure in life. Like the snow that blankets a rough terrain, faith covers our blemishes, freezes our fears, and ultimately it waters and replenishes our souls. Our souls are rejuvenated as the icy disappointments of life melt away in the warmth of redemptive, liberating, powerful experiances in our lives.

 “…for by grace have ye, been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, that no man should glory. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared, that we should walk in them.”[1] (Ephesians 2:8-9)

[1] American Standard Version (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1995), Eph 2:8–10.

Idyllic Beginnings

It was as if angels attended to each of us as we started our day. The morning sun gently touched our faces with warm soothing fingertips awakening us to the sounds of birds chirping, hummingbirds hovering over the honeysuckle vines, and bumblebees flying from flowers and plants in the garden around the houses, and the surrounding fields.

Henri Whitfield

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          As children we see life in vivid colors and soothing sounds that have a way of stamping good memories on our hearts and minds. Even when life is not as good as it seems the place I remember most about my childhood is not the historic town of Savannah, Georgia where I spent most of my childhood, but Morristown, Tennessee. Morristown ,the place I have found to be most memorable, is an idyllic town in the hill county of east Tennessee.

The weather is always perfect there. The mornings seem to burst open with a rainbow of bright colors. The wooden fences that separated my grandmother’s house from the steeply sloping hill that led to wild blackberry trails and the woods behind the house were covered with violet, white, and pink honeysuckles hanging from emerald-green vines. The fields cascading down from the edge of the summit of the hill ignited in the spring with, deep yellow sunflowers, vibrant blue wildflowers, pink, yellow, and orange dandelions that yawned and basked in the warm rays of the sun. On windy days the tall grass would bend with each gentle breeze casting dandelion seedlings all over the land. We spent days hunting for beetles, butterflies, and moths just to watch them as they flew around throughout the day. We sought after chances to hold friendly ladybugs, and when we finished, we lifted them up above our heads watching them fly into the wind. The Lillies grew wild and they made significant gifts to grandmother, mom and our aunt.

“…See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.” (Matthew 6:28)

It was as if angels attended to each of us as we started our day. The morning sun gently touched our faces with its warm, soothing fingertips awakening us to the sounds of birds chirping, hummingbirds hovering over the honeysuckle vines, and bumblebees flying from flowers and plants in the garden, around the houses, and the surrounding fields. We all busied ourselves tending to the garden with our grandmother. After completing our chores, the meadows, the properties surrounding the houses were our playground. Each day we played until time for dinner. Chasing June bugs during the late afternoons and in the evenings during the warm summer months was our favorite pastime. Capturing fireflies in jars and sitting in the dark each night, fascinated by their illuminating ability to light up a dark room was most soothing and intriguing.

      Winters were indoors near Uncle Robert’s enchanted fireplace, or at grandmother’s gas space heater waiting for hot chocolate, made with powdered chocolate and fresh milk. The atmosphere of our existence atop that hill on the street named Branner Street at grandmother’s house was serene. It was a winter haven for our family, a summertime retreat from the storms of life, and a place we went to rejuvenate from exhausting troubles of life.

How great is Your goodness, Which You have stored up for those who fear You,               Which You have wrought for those who take refuge in You, before the sons of men!          You hide them in the secret place of Your presence from the conspiracies of man; You        keep them secretly in a shelter from the strife from the strife of tongues. Blessed be          the LORD, For He has made marvelous His lovingkindness to me.

Psalm 31:19-21

     When the snow came it either crept in during the silence of night or as a blistering noisey winter storm. No matter how it happened, the effects were always the same.  It lay a thick, soft blanket of pure white snow over the houses and the meadow. Every blemish on the landscape became a perfect ice menagerie. The old houses turned into warm, cozy lodges. The broken down “outhouse” became a place of nostalgic beauty. The rusted car hidden behind my uncle’s house became a perfect remodeled ice mobile. The scrap wood piles, the rugged rocky hillside and everything that was unsightly became beautiful. It was smooth, pure white, glistening and reflecting the light of God. It was a glorious redemptive sight that transformed our existence into an even more perfect paradise. However, when the sun raised the temperatures, it converted the snow and ice into nutrient-laden water that nourished the land and made the garden grow. The surplus of water that came from the melted snow replenished the ponds, streams, and the local Mayes Lake reservoir. This place, is the place of my beginnings, it was here that I caame to know tranquil peace. I learned to appreciate the beauty of nature…the tall grass, mustard greens, wild blackberries and strawberries, small animals, insects snd the beautiful night sky which seemed within reach on clear fall nights. 

 

Returning Home

Unless the LORD builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; Unless the LORD guards the city, The watchman keeps awake in vain.    (Psalm 127:1)

Branner Street

My mom had been married for six or seven years now and to my suprise we were headed to Morristown, Tennessee. It was a sad time for us because unlike other occasions we were returning to Morristown to attend a funeral….Grandmother’s funeral. Despite the reason for our return the ride up Branner street was always the same.

Looking through the front window from the back seat of my mom’s car during the steep drive up Branner street seemed as if the road led straight up to heaven. All I could see was a cloudless clear blue sky. As a child, I would sit anxious and silent until we neared the crest of the hill where the ground leveled out. As soon as we hit the level ground, I was boiling over with excitement. To the left of the car… there it set… grandmother’s house! It was a light brown brick colonial style house with different dark speckled brown shingles that fit perfectly on the roof. Next to it was my Aunt Irene and Uncle Robert’s house nestled under a dense green canopy of giant maple trees. The tree line casts a shadow of security over the homes while creating a natural boundary that separated my family’s property from the meadow that flowed upwards to the summit of the hill.

The beauty of this place will always be etched in my heart. It was the one place in my world that true love really existed. Grandmother, Mom, Aunt Iren and Uncle Robert were the guardians of my soul. Whatever I came to believe that the world was, was always based on my experiences in Morristown, Tennessee. Little did I know that my life would forever change after this trip to my family’s homestead. God had given me a life with a foundation of security and love.

The smells, sights, and sounds, of Morristown were different this time. As I made my way into the house I ran from room to room looking for grandmother…but she was not there. Grandmother had died! Although I had been told that Grandmother had passed I was hoping that somehow I would get a different outcome. At that moment, all that was stable in my life suddenly became unstable. I quickly understood, with the selfishness of a child, that there would no longer be hot chocolate on the cold winter nights, no more special birthday cards, and no more trips to the garden to pick tomatoes and fresh vegetables. At that moment I wondered what would trips be like visiting Morristown with Grandmother gone. The visits to Grandmother’s house came to an abrupt halt. Once that reality set in my life changed.

With Grandmother’s death the fabric of our family was torn and for a season we drifted apart from each other. However, we soon realized that we were not bound by Grandmother but by faith which superseded her and her legacy. Faith, the fabric of our life is the story of how hope in an unseen, antiquated yet relevant God cultivated our lives by His unparallel grace.  The words of the Psalmist are true, “Unless the LORD builds the house, They labor in vain who build it…”