February 20, 2005 Newsletter
said, “God is here.” Well, it wasn’t really the rock that
said it, but the sign on the rock. More accurately, someone
had painted GOD IS HERE on the rock, and packed into those
three words I found quite a message.
been three long, hard weeks. Recovering from the flu and
getting back on track during a hectic time at work had taken
its toll. So I responded with mixed emotions to the
invitation from friends to join their hike on Saturday.
Feeling as if I was surviving on my last unfrazzled nerve,
what I really wanted to do was withdraw from everyone and
everything in an effort to preserve the last remaining
vestiges of my sanity. Writing chores had piled up at home,
during the difficult work week, and leaving it to go hiking
felt awfully irresponsible.
mentioned it to my writing mentor, Tom, I expected him to
tell me I needed to keep my nose to the writing grindstone,
but he didn’t hesitate. “I think that’s a good idea,” he
said, urging me to stop dwelling on what I hadn’t finished
and instead focus on all I had accomplished. He made me
feel less guilty about it, and I try to listen to him,
because after ten months of coaching me, he knows me pretty
well. I remembered the first time I spoke with Tom about my
life purpose and his mentoring program.
you want, Rhonda?” Tom had asked.
to save the world.” I answered without hesitation.
know which of us was more surprised by my answer. I hadn’t
realized I knew the answer to that question, until he asked
it. I was overcome with a feeling of peace. Yes, that is
what I want to do. I want to save the world. Quite a tall
order, but it’s true. No wonder I occasionally go through
periods when I feel overwhelmed by all the work I have in
front of me.
not going to find what you’re looking for in
Knoxville.” Tom had answered wryly.
been stumped by his remark. I didn’t know whether to ask
what he meant or to defend the newly adopted hometown in my
native state of
Tennessee. Instead, smiling back at Tom, I had chosen to
I was ten months later, and as I rose early to prepare for
the day on the trail, I reminded myself that I need to take
care of my body, mind and spirit, especially during this
time when I’m trying to juggle my job and writing. After
all, saving the world takes a lot out of you, I surmised, as
I forced myself to be positive about this outing. Maybe God
has orchestrated this opportunity because it’s just the
medicine I need, I thought. Maybe he has something he wants
to show me . . . to tell me . . . to teach me.
on the rocks was terribly out of place. Smack in the
middle of Burnt Mill Bridge Trail in the
area, defacing the landscape in any way was not only
irresponsible but a clear federal offense. My compatriots
reacted vehemently. “What idiot would do this?!” They asked
incredulously, as we all stood there staring at the painted
rock, which I had finally coached them into calling “cabbage
rock,” due to the crinkled veins of iron ore deposits
exposed by erosion of the surrounding materials. Devoted to
the mantra of “leave only footprints; take only
photographs,” they were appalled at the ignorance behind
such an act.
raced as I stood there on the banks of the Clear Fork
River looking at the message painted with bright red and
blue paint on one of the spectacular sandstone rock
formations characteristic of the area. I wondered, “Is this
what you wanted me to see, God?”
I was swept back to my experiences growing up in small
country churches. There was always an altar call at the end
of every service . . . urging sinners to just get out of
their seats and walk down to the altar, because that’s where
God was waiting. I remember in later years thinking, “If
that’s where God really is, then I want to be the first in
line, because I have a few things I want to talk to Him
about!” But it never worked out the way I expected. When I
made it to the altar, the only person waiting for me was the
kind old preacher and a few caring church members. I had
gone through that routine many times in my adolescence and
young adulthood. It seemed as though I had been searching
for God all my life, when, lo and behold, apparently he had
been sitting out in the woods under this sandstone rock
altar waiting for me all along!
to assume that God actually did NOT inspire someone to leave
this marker just for me to eventually come along and
discover. The hand painted sign was simply redundant. This
was one of the most beautiful trails I had ever hiked. The
natural signs of God’s presence were abundant.
out at the antiquated river bridge, held together precariously
by rusted iron girders and a wood-planked surface the color
of an old weathered gray barn, the bridge had long been
closed to automobile traffic. I knew this was going to be
special when we arrived to find a young couple, their
vehicle parked safely on land behind them, walking with
their small child across the bridge to meet the child’s
grandmother who had driven down the other side of the river
gorge. As we crossed the bridge on foot to access the
trail, we peeked curiously through the cracks between the boards
underfoot to the rapids below, just as the young child had
on his way to meet grandma on the other side. How many
people have walked across this bridge before me and for what
purpose? I wondered, as we made our way across. I would
soon realize many surely had done so to experience the
incredible beauty of this place . . .
Immediately after crossing the bridge, the trail turns left
or right to follow the river’s edge. The vibrant, turquoise
water is so clear you can see the rocks resting beneath the
surface. Alternating between rushing rapids, deep,
slow-moving, almost-still pools, and falls that glide over
the smooth boulders like oil, the river is spellbinding.
boulders rise from the water, some towering twenty or thirty
feet above its surface. Even larger chunks of sandstone,
broken free from the bluffs and outcroppings along both
shores, rest at the water’s edge calling to mind lazy summer
days spent soaking up the sun’s warm rays against the
backdrop of the never-ending sound of rushing water.
numerous points along the trail, dripping rock cliffs burst
forth with wet weather springs draining the excess February
ground water into the river with the sound of a soothing
fountain. Only there’s no distraction of an electric motor
powering this fountain. There’s no distracting noise at
all. Far from the traffic, noise, hustle and bustle of the
world, this sanctuary reverberates with only the sound of
the earth’s life energy bursting forth.
landing on the bed of leaves barely make a sound as we walk
awestruck underneath the canopy of towering hemlock trees.
We see footprints of rabbits and the trail of a beaver’s
tail dragging behind him on the sandy river bank. Then we
stumble upon the beaver’s recent handiwork – stumps of young
saplings, neatly chiseled into a point by the beaver’s sharp
teeth and the trail of wood chips to the river’s edge, left
behind when he dragged the tree top into the water.
by the beaver’s precision, we marvel even more at the
waterfall we soon encounter. Nestled just above the trail
in the dense greenery of the rhododendron, laurel, holly,
and ferns that fill the forest’s floor, water pours over the
rock ledge twenty-five feet above us. The white spray
bounces off the stones below then meanders through
moss-covered rocks to the river.
at the edge of the waterfall’s spray, I feel the moisture
washing over my face. I tilt my head back, close my eyes,
and breathe deep, drawing as much of the pure air as I can
into my lungs. The damp air is cool, crisp, and fresh; and
I hold it inside as if it is my first ever precious breath
of real air. I feel refreshed, renewed, and invigorated. I
know for sure, God is here.
back down at the river from the top of the bluff in the
middle of the trail, I was acutely aware of His presence,
even without the benefit of the hand painted sign. In the soft sand
and decaying leaves beneath my feet, I felt God cradling my
every step. I felt His gentle, healing touch in the leaves
of the evergreens – full of life year round – as they
lightly brushed God’s never ending love ever so gently
across my shoulders when I passed by. I beheld God’s
majesty in the towering rock formations and the diverse
flora thriving all along their base. And in the mist of the
many waterfalls, I breathed in God’s pure breath and drank
in His life-giving nectar. No doubt about it. God truly
But what about all the days of my forty-three years leading up
to this special day in February? Where was God then? Was I
out trying to save the cold, cruel world alone, while God
was hidden away out there on the Burnt Mill Bridge Trail?
Walking the last few feet of the trail, with the old bridge
once again in sight up ahead, I thought of what Tom had said
all those months ago. “You won’t find what you’re looking
Knoxville, Rhonda.” I had often looked back on that conversation as
the beginning of a journey . . . one that had led me to
finally live the life of the writer and teacher I was born
But suddenly I realized, standing now on the river bank in
the shadow of the old bridge, what it was God wanted to tell
me here today.
I didn’t just begin the journey ten months ago with Tom. I
had been on a journey my whole life. The last few months as
Tom’s student had only been one leg of my journey.
More importantly, I realized what I had been seeking. I had
been searching high and low for God. And now I had finally
Tom was right. I didn’t find God in
But I didn’t just find God out on the old Burnt Mill Bridge
God was there, just like the sign said. But the sign
painted on the rock was only partly correct.
I did find God.
I found God inside of me.
Funny thing is, He had been there all along.