Spiritual Roots That Last

At an abandoned church in the Great Smokey Mountains, you can still sense God's presence.

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Posted in , Mar 19, 2015

An abandoned church in Cades Cove, TN.

My family was enjoying a summer day at Cades Cove, a beautiful valley deep in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee.

The gorgeous sunny weather, a delicious picnic by a babbling stream, and some of my favorite people in the world led to a day filled with fun and laughter–so I certainly didn’t expect to wipe away tears later that afternoon, but that’s exactly what happened.

We’d started out early that morning, filling the picnic basket and cooler with some of our favorite foods. The drive from our house to Cades Cove takes a couple of hours, much of it on curvy roads through the mountains, but it’s enjoyable because of the mountain scenery.

We talked and laughed while we rode, glad to have a restful day and a chance to spend some time together.

A church and cemetery in Cades Cove, TN.Cades Cove was once home to settlers back in pioneer days. They’re long-gone now but they left behind traces of the past in rustic log cabins, cemeteries with crumbling tombstones, and quaint old churches. 

Tourists can take the loop road that meanders through the cove, enjoying stunning mountain vistas and fields full of hay or colorful wildflowers. They can stop along the way to walk through the old cabins, imagining what life must have been like back then, imagining the stories that could be told if those logs could share their memories.

It’s an awesome place to hike, with trails through peaceful woods, waterfalls and icy-cold streams filled with mountain trout.

And if one is extra fortunate, there just might be a sighting of wild turkeys, graceful white-tailed deer and mama bears out with their cubs enjoying the day. Um, fortunate that is, if one is a safe distance away from mama bear.

I always take time to walk through the cemetery while we’re at Cades Cove, fascinated by how the simple words engraved on the weathered tombstones share so much about the individuals and yet leave so many unanswered questions.

As I look at the ages of men and women whose lives ended way too early, I wonder if the harsh conditions were too much for them or if they died from smallpox or diphtheria.

And I’m always amazed at how many babies and young children died before they’d had time to dip their toes into the creek or to play in the fields making memories with their parents and siblings.

I noticed several families who had buried multiple babies and toddlers. I can’t even imagine how awful that must have been for them. It’s always a reminder to stop and thank God for the doctors and medical treatments that are available now for our children    

I especially love walking through the old churches. With their simple interiors, rough hand-hewn pulpits and worn pews, they serve as tangible reminders that our ancestors loved God and passed those values down to their children and future generations.

It was one of those moments in the white country church at Cades Cove that moved me to tears. The other tourists had just left the sanctuary, and I was the only one in the building. I walked up to the pulpit, running my hands along the wood, imagining the strains of Amazing Grace and the stirring sermons that once echoed through the church.

And then I noticed the Bibles that folks had left on the pulpit, some of them with worn and yellowed pages. As I looked through them, I noticed that visitors had written notes in some of the Bibles.

The one that made me cry was from a woman who asked people to pray that her family would get back in church. You see, even though it had been years since those pioneers had sat in the pews for their services, you could still sense God’s presence there, as if He still enjoyed hanging around His house.

Simply walking through the doors of that church had brought conviction to that young mom.

I couldn’t help but wonder what roots had been planted in that woman. Had she gone to church as a child with her parents? Had they taught her Bible verses, planting God’s Word in her little heart? Did she grow up with a praying grandmother or a grandfather who told her stories about Jesus?

I stood there that day and prayed for that mom, that God would use her visit to that little mountain church to bring her family back to Him.

Her story is a great reminder to all of us. Moms and dads, are you planting spiritual roots in your children?

Grandparents, are you living Jesus in front of those little lives? Are you praying for them each day? I can’t think of a better inheritance to leave behind than giving them roots that last.

One generation shall praise Your works to another, And shall praise Your mighty acts. (Psalm 145:4)

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