Core scripture: “For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” (Isaiah 55:12)
Message: I rolled out of bed around 5:15 am Wednesday morning last week. Don’t feel sorry for me. As a matter of fact, some might even envy this moment considering my surroundings. Stumbling around my suitcase and tiptoeing through the darkened hotel kitchen, I started my coffee, snagged a granola bar, and poked my head out to the balcony. There it was. The Tennessee Smoky Mountains were illuminated by consistent flashes of lightning. Thunder rolled through the skies. I sat down on the balcony chair sipping my coffee, talking quietly with my God in prayer. Just me and Him. Nobody else.
There was no other place I would have rather been right then and there. When you talk to God in an intimate setting such as that, watching His brilliance before your very eyes, it draws you closer. I quieted my heart. I listened. God spoke in rhythm with the forces of nature around me. We just talked. For an hour or so. The clouds soon dissipated into nothing, moving on as the morning sun rose over the horizon. It bathed the hills of the golf course below me in a brilliance I had never seen before. I couldn’t help but snapping a picture of the moment. Yes, the same picture you see above. I smiled. This was going to be an amazing day.
It doesn’t matter which weather app you are looking at. The Smoky Mountains do with the weather as they please throughout the day. You can see a blob of angry red and orange floating your way on your smartphone screen, but the skies will be deep sea blue above you. The weather played with us all morning, keeping us guessing, but one thing was for sure. My son and I, not to mention seven other members of our family, were going white water rafting no matter what. The hour-long car ride took us to the base of the mountains. Gazing at the easy-flowing river, inhaling the beauty of the towering trees, we readied ourselves for the float trip.
It was there while preparing to board the large raft that I had an idea. Do you ever inherit the accent of the people around you? That sweet Southern drawl of the Tennessee accent was all too appealing to me. I played around with it, chatting up my family in my best Southern twang. It was then and there that I decided to take bets on how long I could keep the accent up with our river guide. My nephew guessed two sentences. His wife predicted five minutes. My other nephew thought a half hour. My brother-in-law and niece just started laughing. My son looked at me with wide eyes. His innocent eyes stared me down with question.
“Dada, you’re from Kansas,” he declared.
I knelt next to him and whispered in his ear, talking in my normal Midwestern accent, “Well, today, just for fun, Daddy is going to pretend he is from Tennessee. Can you keep that secret?”
My six-year-old smiled. “Okay, Dada.”
Our family name was called. They split the nine of us, five and four, into two rafts. Our river guide, a 30-something local with a Duck Dynasty-esque beard, greeted us with enthusiastic high fives. Game on!
“Wassup, guys!” He sounded like a California surfer. “My name’s Party Paul, but the locals around here like to call me … Brother Nature!!!”
This was going to be awesome! You could tell this guy loved his job. I mean, what person wouldn’t? Floating down a picturesque river four or five times a day, drinking in the beauties around you … are you kidding me? My brother-in-law and nephew rounded out our group of four with my son and I. Before we knew it, Brother Nature was steering us down the river. It was surreal. Peaceful. The route we chose was the easy one. Would I have preferred the more dangerous, rougher-water route? Probably. But when you are rafting with a timid six-year-old that is not too sure about the whole experience, the calmer path is the way to go.
Brother Nature was the man! I loved the guy. His passion. His authenticity. His philosophy on life was grip it and rip it. Grab the bull by the horns. Live life to the fullest. Carpe diem! There was a spiritual aura to him that showed appreciation for nature. With a nickname like Brother Nature, how could you not? Pointing out the surroundings, he steered us around rocks, under bridges, and through the white water. Whenever we came to those rougher spots, he called for the crew to paddle three times forward, propelling us into the rapids full throttle. The raft would smash into the water, spraying whoever was closest to the side.
“Splash zone!” I called out in my best excited Southerner accent.
I sold the accent like a pro. He was buying every bit of it, and for some reason, it made the trip even more fun. Brother Nature probably thought it was odd that only one of us had that Tennessee accent, but the dude rolled with it. I was in the zone. Throwing in phrases like “goll-dang” and “doggone” sold it even more. I was not a rookie rafter from Kansas. I was a Tennessee local. A white water juggernaut. Heck, you could have given me an Olympic rafting course, and I would have shoved Brother Nature to the side, taking over his job with pizazz and bravado. I done luved evra secon’ of dat trip down da rivah. Amen?
Brother Nature informed us that our trip was coming to a close. Per his command, we raised our oars in the air together and bellowed out a barbaric Braveheart shout that echoed through the mountains louder than the morning thunder. As we were docking our raft on the bank of the river, I decided it was time to come clean. After all, he had thought I was a Tennessee local for nearly an hour and a half now.
“Hey, Bruddah Natchah!” I smiled up at him. “I jus wull letcha know bout sumthin’. Ya know, I’m a Bible-believin’ Christian, an one of ma favorite scriptures is Proverbs 12:22 which says, ‘Da Lord detests lyin’ lips, but He delights in dose who tell da truth.’ Well, I jus gotta tell ya, bruddah … I done been lyin’ to ya dis whole time (insert normal Midwestern accent) because I have been faking this accent the entire trip.”
His blank, confused smile told all. “Duuuuuuude! You had me, man!” We climbed to shore, and I embraced him in a memorable bro hug. We had to get a group picture, and Brother Nature didn’t fail to deliver here. In one last iconic moment, we posed around him, flexing our muscles. We were giants of the river, immortal warriors pounding our chests like conquerors (see picture below). Brother Nature trotted off to his next group, and we packed our gear to depart back to the hotel.
Now that we are home, it is back to reality. Life in the suburbs of Olathe, Kansas is not quite the same as life in the Smoky Mountains, but we can still discover God’s beauties here. We just have to open our eyes to the wonders He gives us on a daily basis. Some of these I have become numb to considering they are the norm here, but I wonder … I wonder what Brother Nature would say about our town. Would he stare in awe at a sunset above the country horizon out south? Would he gaze at the serene waters of Lake Olathe and grin? Maybe it is time you and I discover these wonders the way foreign eyes would in amazement and wonder. Who knows. God might even show us something we have never seen before.
Challenge: Find time to get away and appreciate a different setting. It doesn’t have to be extravagant or even a vacation. You can find God’s beauties anywhere. Local parks. The right sunset over the country horizon. Even in your own backyard. Soak in the beauty, praising God for His majesty.
Song application: “Shoulders” by For King and Country
I look up to the mountains
Does my strength come from the mountains?
No, my strength comes from God
Who made heaven, and earth, and the mountains
Video application: I found this short video clip of a Rocky Mountain thunderstorm. No, it is not the Smokies, but it still works. Its peaceful sound has the possibility of taking you there, even if only for a brief moment.
Journal/Accountability: While inhaling the beauty of God’s creation, take some time to journal or enjoy conversation there with a trusted Christian friend.
Quote: “Nature always wears the colors of the spirit.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
Bible story: Search through the Psalms. Try to find a passage about nature or creation. If you need a suggestion, try reading Psalm 95. What mood does this passage bring you? How does it show God’s omnipotence and goodness? How can you better appreciate His glories around you?
Prayer: Father, thank you for the beauties You placed around us. Do not let me take any of them for granted. Amen.