There is a calm, quiet river that flows past an old green-roofed chapel outside the town of Abingdon. An ancient tree grows from the bank, extending far over the cool waters – an excellent place for someone to climb out, relax, and ponder the day. Maybe cast a line in, see what you can catch. Little fishies gather beneath the outreached branches, scrambling for the tiny bugs that fall from the leaves, while the larger fish swim in the deep. The sun hits the water, the trees provide a cooling shade, and the occasional gnat buzzes in your ear. It’s a beautiful, natural, pleasant scene.
The white chapel, practically a century old, sits upon a slight hill, it’s empty bell-tower reaching into the summer sky. The quiet, calm river flows softly by. Examining the tree that reaches out over the waters and you’ll see evidence of many feet that have climbed out onto its trunk, full of excitement, preparing to leap out, falling through the air, splashing into the waters below.
Summer came this year – but the rain didn’t. The river, day by day, grew smaller and smaller. And as the waters flowed away and the heat evaporated it into the sky and refused to return it, the large river grew shallow. The flowing waters became slower and shallow, nearing stagnancy.
So yesterday was “Independence Day”. (WOO!!! ‘MERICA!!!!) It seems like we’ve been in Harlan for a while now, and though this is a relatively small town in eastern Kentucky, there are surprisingly a lot of people that live around here. There is only one local radio station (Country. Who would’ve thought!?) and as we cruised around Harlan for the past few weeks, from place to place, Connor and I would always hear the same radio ad – Don’s Carwash was throwing some huge firework spectacle for the fourth of July. Cool.
I feel like I’ve moved a lot of places in my life. But above all, without a doubt, my favorite place to live was 204 Wildwood Court. Too many memories there to even begin. 3 bedroom, 2 bath. 6 people + 3 more = 9. You just have to love your family (biological or not – shout out to Dustin, Sam, and George) to come out alive after living for years in a tiny house with that many people. Like I said, above all, without a doubt, my favorite home. Mother’s Day one year my dad decided he was going to plant some roses bushes for my mom. The Saturday morning before Mother’s Day, he recruited me and my brother Logan to go outside and build a flower bed beside the front porch. Then after we built in, we’d fill it with soil and plant 3-4 rose bushes there for my mother. How nice.
This summer we haven’t had much rain at all. The river beside that white chapel has gotten really low. Jumping from the tree wouldn’t be the brightest idea. But beyond that, the lack of rain has clearly revealed something that has long laid deep beneath the murky waters. A massive pile of bricks. Where they came from? No idea (the chapel isn’t made out of brick). They have obviously laid there underneath the waters for a long time, and someone put them there. They don’t belong. It isn’t natural – it isn’t a part of the river.
When I came home from Harlan for a couple days, the weekend before the fourth, I was voluntold by my parents that I needed to hop down into the river and “pitch out all those bricks.” No problem, I actually was kind of looking forward to it. If you’ve heard me tell many stories about my childhood, I adored (and still do) creeks. I loved working in creeks. Building, digging, redirecting, and just imagining. Creeks were my favorite spot to be. To work. To dream. The river has become so low that now it is just an oversized creek. So I was truly looking forward to getting into it.
There is something about those bricks being there. They weren’t natural. They were hidden beneath layers and layers of mud and silt, yet you could still see their form. They were a pile of unnatural squared-off shapes, hidden underneath the bottom of the river. They were hiding, trying to blend in – but those bricks didn’t belong. They needed to be thrown out.
I had this idea a couple weeks ago that Connor and I should go take water bottles to some event going on in Harlan and pass them out for free. We’d attach some kind of label or card with information about the church and just invite people to come to Harlan – plus give them a little something to find relief from the humid heat that suffocates everything that moves in Harlan. In my mind I had the almost too-cheesy notion of doing a play on “here’s water, but come to Harlan church of Christ to find the life giving water!” Eh? Yeah, Connor wasn’t impressed either.
Yesterday was Don’s Carwash firework extravaganza. Hundreds, if not thousands of people all across Harlan county lined the streets, packed the parking lots, and filled the sidewalks to watch the sky as bright lights exploded and booms shook the car windows. Before and during the show, Connor and I hiked around passing out those free waters with a church of Christ postcard attached. Amazing how receptive and grateful people were to the call of “free water!”
Lee, the minister/elder here in Harlan has had a rough year or so. He’s broken a lot of things – like bones. And his heart, his love for this church, has been hurt a little bit too. But, he’s still a lively old man with a passion for this place. He still gets around a lot and has an active lifestyle. He asked me and Connor to do him a favor this morning – he had gotten three new rose bushes and really wanted to plant them in his yard. Considering his age, it was wise for him to ask us to complete the task for him. This morning Connor and I dug three holes, removed dozens of rocks (both large and small) planted three rose bushes, watered them, and then left with hopes that they would grow. Lee was given the bushes, then he asked us to plant them, with a hope that they would grow, blossom, and become beautiful.
Now, I’m going to give you the moral of the story.
Bricks don’t belong in rivers. You have to pitch them out.
People like free water. Go give it to them. They need it.
If you’ve got a rose bush then all you can do is plant, water, and hope that it will grow.
Therefore, having thrown out all falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. And let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be removed from you, along with all malice. Again, remove and throw out all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.- Ephesians 4:25/4:31/1 Peter 2:1/James 1:21
You’ve gotta pitch out those bricks. They don’t belong.
The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.“Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” – Revelation 22:17/John 4:13-14/John 7:38
People like free water. Go give it to them.
“What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.” – 1 Corinthians 3:5-9
All you can do is plant, water, and hope. God will give the increase.
Remove the bricks from your life, they don’t belong. Give people free water, they need it. Plant, water, and pray; God will give the increase.
That was a long blog post.