Thursday, December 24, 2015

A Christmas Blessing in These Mountains

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. –Luke 2:11

I remember like it was yesterday that Thursday morning of March 8th, 1984 when I embraced within my own heart this Christ Child, this Saviour Who gave me the gift of eternal life.
I love the Christmas season so much not only because of the reason we celebrate it but for the wonderful time of family and traditions, and the sharing of gifts as a way of remembering God’s Gift to us so long ago.
I have oft said how very blessed my husband and I are that God planted us up here in Misty Hollow in the foothills of Roan Mountain in Carter County, Tennessee
It did not come as a surprise when this Christmas season brought forth more incredible insight into the kindness of the people who are part of the fabric of our lives up here.
I have the privilege of knowing a special woman named Della Sue Davenport.
Della Sue works as a cook at Captain Jack’s, a local grocery/gas/ fast food store serving country cooking as well as a favorite gathering hole that is known for the best broasted chicken in these parts. This gal Della Sue has a heart of gold and a reputation for being the first to jump in and offer to help when there is a need, any need. She is also loath to take any credit for her labors.
Another precious woman I have come to know is Jennifer Johnson. Jennifer, also known as someone who will give you the shirt off her back, is a real mover and shaker up here in these mountains as well. She, for years, has been the engine of Create-a-Smile, a local organization that seeks out underprivileged children in Carter County to assure they are not forgotten at Christmas.
Jennifer’s annual contact with various principals in the Carter County School System provides a list of needy children, and the organization takes one school each Christmas. Create-a-Smile has served up to 158 children in one year, thanks to Jennifer and her team of dedicated volunteers.
I was unaware that Della Sue and Jennifer were united together in the Create-a-Smile project until I stopped in at Captain Jack’s about three weeks ago. Della Sue walked from behind the ‘hot bar’ where she had been serving up great food and told me she was involved with helping collect money for the project. Would I care to give?
She also told me she would, like always if weather permitted, be delivering the gifts to this year’s chosen school in her wagon pulled by her work horses. Would I like to pile on and help distribute the gifts?
I was heartsick I would be out of town that particular day. Grandfather Don had graciously invited Tony and me to join him on a winter golf trip. Otherwise, I would be on that wagon with bells on.
I left Captain Jack’s that morning though and could not stop thinking of those two women, the rest of the team and the project they were working on. I was touched over how they harnessed their love and drew together in the sacrifice of giving; it was incredible how much they accomplished. I knew they all had families of their own, yet they took this particularly busy time of the year to focus on those needy kids.
As I thought of their sacrifice, I could not help but think of the plight of our world in today’s challenging times and the selflessness of a great God who loved His earthly family so much that He sent His Son as a baby in a manger. One day that same babe so willingly hung on a cross for this helplessly lost and needy world.
While away on my trip I still thought about Create-a-Smile and wondered how it was all coming together for the kids and their big Christmas party coming up. I would wake up in the middle of the night and, coffee in hand, slip out on the back deck of our condo. The first night there I was stunned to be met by an incredible display of shooting stars. There were more in that one night than I had seen in my lifetime.
And I, in awe of the Creator’s light display, began to think of a favorite old Christmas carol, We Three Kings. I hummed the chorus quietly into the darkness… O star of wonder, star of night, Star with royal beauty bright, Westward leading, still proceeding, Guide us to thy perfect Light.

I don’t think I will ever again string those tiny white lights on my Christmas tree that I don’t remember they too have a significant reason. They will remind me of the stars shining that night long ago as a backdrop to The Star I place on top of the tree, all symbolic of how those kings were guided to ‘thy perfect Light.'
The big day of the Christmas party for the kids finally arrived and was held right after school let out for the day. I, still on my golf trip, thought about those kids throughout the day and those blessed to help. After the party was over I called Della Sue; I wanted to hear every detail.
Della Sue said the party was a big success. The kids were served pizza from Captain Jack’s, and there was, of course, a visit from Santa. There were brown paper bags handed out filled with oranges, tangerines, apples, chewing gum and all sorts of ‘ole time candy.'
The children receiving help this year were thrilled and obviously grateful for the generosity of the gifts. Each child received a bicycle, helmet, and games. All were given underwear, shoes, socks, coats, and gloves. Each boy and girl had submitted a ‘wish list’of toys they really liked, and the team had been able to meet those wishes as well. To top it off, each one received a big Christmas stocking filled with toiletries such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, soap, hand sanitizer and other goodies.

It is my understanding this is basically what is given to the children at the chosen school each year, so this fundraiser is no small task; fundraising is usually a year-long event. It speaks well of the generosity of the precious people of Carter County. What a blessing to be living among them.
As I close, I can assure you of this, God willing.
I told Della Sue regarding next year and the Create-a-Smile Christmas project…put me in, coach! I want to work heart-to-heart with this awesome group of people with such generous spirits.
Waking up very early this Christmas morning, I slipped out on the front porch here at Bear Cabin. It was dark, but the property lights showed the fog slowly rolling in at Misty Hollow. I glanced upward, and through the naked trees, I saw glimpses of the sky and patches of clouds. Suddenly there was a break in the clouds and... wait! Is that an unusually large star?! The child within me wanted to believe it was the Star of Bethlehem proclaiming His birth. Regardless, my heart burst forth with a new song…
Joy to the world!
The Lord is come
Let earth receive her King
Let ev'ry heart prepare him room
And heaven and nature sing
And heaven and nature sing
And heaven and nature sing!
I pray each of you, my dear readers, have a blessed and joyful Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Up, Up and Away She Goes!

When life throws you curve balls every now and then, the thing is you gotta know when to swing to get far. -Unknown
 Recently my ‘better half’ and I took a much needed getaway. On his end, the bidding schedule at the office had been relentless for weeks. Me? I had been wrestling with the addition of a new bathroom at Bear Cabin for nearly two months.  With the constant shrill of skill saws, electric nail guns, hammers, little privacy from electricians and plumbers… all the while overseeing the project as ‘straw boss’ (as Tony fondly referred to me), I was as near being put down as the wood tile on that bathroom floor. Permanently.
 So I found us a charming little cabin up in the woods between Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, aptly named ‘Alone at Last’.  Our desires for this trip were simple.
 We wanted to see Dollywood lit up at night as we had heard it was stunning during the Christmas season. It was. I also had to challenge the race tracks at  Pigeon Forge to satisfy my need for speed with my personal goal of getting around each track with the racecar’s pedal to the metal without letting up. As an aside, my sweetheart does not race but says it is worth a million bucks to watch me; he says I look hilariously serious hunched over that little steering wheel. We did get that done. 
 Most of all though, Tony and I wanted to make the gorgeous drive through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park over to Cherokee Village to add to the grandchildren’s growing collection of Indian paraphernalia for our to-be-continued summer study of Cherokee Indians in the 1800’s. -See My Puppies and the Kind Cherokee Indians. 
 When Tony and I left the hustle-bustle of Gatlinburg the morning of the trip to Cherokee, the peace and serenity of entering The Park was overwhelming. The traffic was light, the weather stunning and I settled down for the first time in a long time… deeply exhaling.
 When we reached the pinnacle of the mountain where you start the long descent to our destination, Tony pulled over at a look-out and we hopped out of the car to enjoy the vista. Suddenly I heard the far-away hum of a helicopter.
 Way in the distance I spotted a yellow Bird flying across the mountain tops with what must have been a chain suspended beneath it hauling what could be a cage or whatever with a…OMGoodness!
 “Tony! Look at that! Is that a person in there! That must be a new sightseeing ride Pigeon Forge is showcasing!” I knew they had helicopters that took people up for sightseeing tours- I had been up before; this had to be a new, more daring twist. “I have to check that out when we get back to the cabin!” I’ll try anything once.
 We made it on to Cherokee but when we left a few hours later headed back toward Gatlinburg we missed a wonderful scenic photo shot and Tony had to turn around to back track in the opening of a large scenic turn-out .
 Lo and behold there sat that yellow helicopter and she did not look so tiny up close and personal. She had some men standing near her and my thought was maybe this is the place where the incredible new ride is lifting off.
 Telling Tony I was going to check ‘er out I jumped out of the car and, at a fast clip, started in that direction but found quickly there was a rope with yellow flags across the entrance blocking traffic from entering. Was that for cars only? Surely.
I stepped over the rope and started toward the helicopter that was about seventy-five yards away. One of the men broke away from the group and started walking quickly toward me. He carried with him an engaging grin so when we reached each other I extended my hand, introduced myself and asked him why in the world a helicopter was sitting on top of these mountains. Furthermore, as I had noted by then, why were there huge piles of railroad ties sitting not far from it?
Laughing, he said his name was Sergio and he was with the National Park Service and was part of that crew of men working on a park project. Did I want to come over and see what was going on?
Was he kidding?
Sergio escorted me over and introduced me to the rest of his team… Tobias Miller, Trails Manager for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and Brad Gotte, the helicopter pilot.


 And what I learned then fascinated and gave me a whole new Park perspective.
 No, they were not there to give sightseeing rides over the Smoky Mountains- I blushed after I told them that was my first inclination and then had to endure roars of laughter. They were there to augment the work of trail teams stationed around in those mountains below. Each of those teams were expecting them at various times to air lift and slowly lower, honing in by GPS, the needed ties to carry out a pre-planned trail project!
 That tiny brown spec of what looked from my vantage point earlier like a possible person on a sightseeing ride was actually, close range, a massive bundle of logs (nineteen per bundle to be exact!) And there were probably fifteen more of those bundles already harnessed up and ready to be picked up by that helicopter.
 Just think about that.
 Many of us have had the joy of visiting these awesome mountains. We have hiked and used lean-to’s and overnight cabins, clung to hand cables as we passed over trails so high and steep that without those cables we might have plunged below onto treacherous rock ledges. Also, we have, probably without realizing it, hiked trails that had earlier collapsed and were in danger of being totally erased except a trail team had spotted the damage, came in and pulled the trail back into place...oft times with wooden ties.
We have enjoyed picnics with our loved ones, finding the perfect picnic spot after walking over sturdy bridges as we gazed at the white capped river rushing over boulders below. The list of amenities offered to make our park visit memorable is myriad. Aside from the construction of these wonderful resources, it has been said without aggressive maintenance from The Park Service, whole areas of the Smoky Mountains would be reclaimed by the forest.
 I’d just never given any thought regarding how all of these wonderful facilities happened to get placed there for us.
 As I was wrapping up my unsolicited but kindly welcomed visit with my newfound buddies that day, I told them about my Blog and the fact I would like to write their story if it would be okay; business cards and e-mail addresses were exchanged.
 With a grateful heart and sincere thanks, I walked back to the car knowing I would never again visit and enjoy those majestic mountains and view them through the same eyes.
 After Tony and I pulled out and ran back to snap the photo we had missed earlier, we started again down the mountain toward ‘Alone at Last’.  Suddenly traffic started slowing until it was at a standstill. “TONY!”, I squealed. “I’ll bet it’s a bear and everyone’s stopping to see it!” I have memories of that happening when I was a child driving through with my family.
 I opened the car window to lean out and look. Ahead I could see a man in an orange vest holding up a ‘STOP’ sign, blocking traffic both ways. Nope, no bear. So I once again slid out of the car, grabbing my iPad, figuring we would be going nowhere fast.  I quickly crossed the road to snap a photo of a small but beautiful, cascading waterfall.
 Then I heard it!

Muffled at first but growing louder and clearer, I knew exactly why traffic had been stopped!
 I also knew just exactly where to train my iPad for the video I hoped I would capture. 

Sure enough... UP, UP AND AWAY SHE GOES!
*** With my deepest appreciation to Tobias, Brad and Sergio for your full-time dedication and nurturing of our most pristine and gorgeous Great Smoky Mountains National Park ***