Tuesday, June 28, 2016

A Real Swamp Adventure.

This week while on vacation, I've been reading Of Moose and Men by Torry Martin and Doug Peterson. It's an account of Torry's adventures while in Alaska. Torry has been a writer for Focus on the Family's Adventures in Odyssey and is one of the funniest people on the planet. I've read several of the chapters outloud to Jerry, and at times we could hardly stop laughing. I've never had a  reindeer trapped in my kitchen, but the book made me think of my own wilderness adventure. So, here from the archives is "A Real Swamp Adventure."

My friend, Billie, writes charming stories about people who live in a fictional place called Bug Swamp.

This is not that kind of story. This is a real story, with real characters.

This account is so real, in fact, that I’m changing the names. The characters are Terry Barnalo, Baron Barnalo, and Tim Beunier.

I am married to Terry Barnalo, and Baron Barnalo is my son. Tim Beunier is a family friend.

Here’s how  it all began:

“I want to show you the swamp,” my husband, Terry, said when we arrived for a short stay at a low country hunting preserve a few days ago. He and Baron had been coming here for many years and enjoyed its unique beauty. I’d been here in the distant past, but Terry wanted to give me a tour of what it looked like today.

So, we loaded into the trailblazer, our friend Tim, Terry, Baron, and me.

As the sun slid to the west, we drove down what seemed a maze of dirt roads through cypress-kneed swamps, and around lily pad filled ponds all under the canopy of moss draped oaks, many of which had stood for generations.

Incredible views.

“Take this road,” someone said. And we did. “And this one.” We turned again. We’d been gone about forty-five minutes, and I had no idea how deep we were in the swamp or how far away from our cabin.

We rounded a corner, and the road filled with green water. Not passable. In fact, I wasn’t even sure it was a road.

“Back up here,” we told Terry, who was driving, as we spotted a clearing behind us. For some reason he didn’t. He pulled forward.

That’s when we heard the sickening thud. The front right tire had sunk into a hole. Shifting into reverse only produced spinning.

When we exited the car to investigate the problem, we found ourselves firmly stuck, unable to move in any direction.

The sun continued its descent. There was talk of removing the bumper or jacking the car up, but we wound up trying several other maneuvers. All failed.

“We’re going to have to walk,” someone said.

I grabbed my purse from the car. I didn’t want to leave it behind because it was the best buy I’d ever gotten at TJMaxx. I was thankful I’d taken off the heels I had on earlier in the day, but I was by no means dressed for the Lewis and Clarke Expedition.

We didn’t have a gun, a whistle, a compass, or even a flashlight. I had a tiny little LED light on my key chain. Useless. We had about twenty flashlights at home, all without batteries. 

“Do we need this map,” I asked picking up a laminated chart of the land.

“No, we’re fine.”

I grabbed it.

“This way,” Tim pointed, and we set out.

Let me share at this point that the property we were on measures twenty two thousand acres. I’ll write that out with the zeroes for you. 2-2-0-0-0. About one-third the size of the county I live in. And we were at least thirty miles from any cell phone reception.

I wondered if this was some cruel initiation ritual. I’d heard of things like this.

All I could hear was Jerry, oh excuse me, Terry saying a hundred times before when he told the stories of the place, “You don’t want to be in the swamp after dark.”

We were and it was. Can you say alligator?

Now, I’m a planner. I like lists, calendars, and schedules. My idea of an outing in the country is to go in the backyard and pull a chair up under the pear tree. And the only place I ever want to see alligator skin is in a pair of shoes.

We walked down a “road” to a point where it just disappeared, and looked around us.

 We then set off across a firebreak hoping it would lead us to a “real” road.

I heard a growl coming from the brush right beside me and jumped.

“What was that?” I said, sure it was one of those big wild Russian boars which populated the area. We’d just seen several a few miles back. Those boars have tusks the size of the Florida peninsula.

“Quail,” Tim said.

“Didn’t sound like quail. It sounded like a pig.”

“Nah, just quail.”

I kept on the lookout just in case.

Someone, I thankfully don’t remember who, had the idea to take off through a briar patch that any self respecting jackrabbit would have shunned.

Sun disappearing behind trees and we still hadn’t even found the road.

I can’t remember whether it was before the briar patch or after that I had a mini meltdown.  I’m embarrassed to say it was replete with tears.

That number again. 22,000.

I could see the headlines in the local paper, “SEARCH STILL ON FOR FOUR LOST IN SWAMP, Only clue found in disappearance is yellow purse.” I knew I might have to cast my yellow purse aside on this trek. It’d be just like the people on the Oregon Trail who had to throw out the family silver in order to cross the Rockies. I didn’t want them to find me dehydrated, briar scratched and alligator bit clutching a yellow bag, out of my head,  and mumbling something about final clearance at TJMaxx.

On this journey, my companions reassured me numerous times that we were in no danger and that they knew exactly where we were. I knew where I was, too. The United States of America. That didn’t help too much in the present circumstances, however.

The only person I really trusted on this expedition was my son Baron, because I knew his memory was sharp and he might remember something. The rest of us could barely remember what we had for breakfast.

The sun completely disappeared as we stepped from the briar patch onto a semblance of a road. There was some discussion as to where we were, but we kept marching.

Of course, I was trailing trying to keep everyone’s backs in my view. Only starlight now.

“Watch out for the mud,” Tim shouted back to me.

“Look out for that stump,” Baron said.

“Don’t’ stumble over the rock.” Terry stopped to help me dodge it.

I simmered about having to trudge miles back to our lodging in the pitch black. That is if we ever made it. If Terry had only listened to us when we said back up.

I started picking up some of the giant pinecones I’d been kicking aside.

“What are you doing?” Terry asked.

“I ought to have something to show for this little adventure,” I said.

I was aggravated.

Then I heard a whisper in my spirit.

“Look up,” the whisper said.

How can I look up? I’ll fall in one of these ruts.

“Look up,” the whisper came again.

I stopped a moment and stared into the night sky. Miles and miles away from city lights, stars I hadn’t seen in years became visible. Where had they been? This was not the celestial dome of my neighborhood. This was something else entirely.

Oh, Lord, did you drag me out here and let us get lost in the swamp, so I’d see the stars again?

I didn’t get an answer to that one, but I may have heard a little laugh.
Every few steps I’d pause a moment and gaze heavenward.

“How much farther?” I asked.

“Maybe a mile or two.”

I was told that on at least two different occasions.

When I finally saw a lone light in the distance, I wanted to sing the Doxology.

We stumbled into camp and told the other men staying there about the vehicle being stuck. You would have thought we’d thrown a hungry dog a bone.

One of them grabbed a chain, and six of them loaded into four-wheel drive vehicles and set out through the inky swamp.

I told Terry, “I was scared. You always said not to be in the swamp after dark.”

“We weren’t in the swamp. We were on the hill.”


Let me show you the picture again.
Does that look like a hill? I didn’t think so. As my mother used to say, that land was “flatter than a flitter.”

I was mad, but I knew I wasn’t going to stay mad. Here’s why. I can only be mad at Terry for a few minutes, because he has the best pitiful face of anybody I’ve ever known. He used to be called Ted for teddy bear in high school. All he has to do is turn those sad brown eyes to me, and I melt like Jell-O on a Fourth of July picnic.

He’s not even a good apologizer. He’ll break something of mine, and make some comment about someone shouldn’t have left it in such a precarious place. I still can’t stay mad.

I’m really pathetic in that way, and I probably need some sort of help for it. I have many friends who are psychotherapists. Are any of you reading this?

When I get home, I’m going to buy everyone in my family a compass, a whistle, put batteries in the flashlights, and string them all on my family's key chains.

I’m going to have my shoes bronzed, and then I’m writing Lands End a letter and tell them about how I stomped through a swamp with their suede moccasins on. I figure they’ll put me in a catalog or something.

I'm also thankful for the cashmere socks I had on, though I may never get all the briars out of them.

A couple of nights after we returned home, I awoke from a sound sleep calling out, “I don’t know where I am. I don’t know where I am.”

Terry kissed me, held me close in his arms, and whispered in my ear, “You’re home.”

And that my friends, is a perfect example of why I can never stay mad at the man.

In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps (Proverbs 16:9).

He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name (Psalm 147:4).

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

First moments in Yellowstone and High Places, our own National Park 100th anniversary remembrance

A few days ago, I picked up a Wall Street Journal and saw an article about Yellowstone and the National Parks celebrating their 100th anniversary. "Hey, I have my own version of that story," I said to Jerry who was sitting across from me at breakfast. One summer our family embarked on what would become a 7,000 mile adventure across our land often following the trail of Lewis and Clarke's journey west. I chronicled it in a series here called Dream Summer. In fact, a producer from World Magazine Radio saw it and asked me to record a segment for one of their shows.  You can listen to it HERE.  When I listened to it again this week, I cried, because the memories of  those days are so wonder filled. Today, I've gone deep in the archives combining and editing two pieces  from that series about Yellowstone Park, as well as adding additional content to join in the celebration of one of our nation's beautiful treasures.

A horse sidled up beside me and the cowboy riding it tipped his hat in a way that said, “Howdy, Ma’am.” On our way over the Big Horn Mountains to Yellowstone, we’d been caught in a cattle drive. A first for me. I recently heard a woman share about her struggle to adjust to country life after a move from a metropolitan area. She said, “I’m mostly city and cement.”  


Though it’d been a day or so since we’d had an historical encounter with Lewis and Clark, we found they indirectly named these mountains. They’d given the Bighorn River its moniker on their return from the Pacific. The mountains were named for the river that runs through them.

There’s no hurrying a cattle drive, so we inched along on our way to Yellowstone surrounded by cows the color of dark chocolate.  

Once we passed the cattle drive, I couldn’t keep my eyes off the altimeter my dad had installed in the van we borrowed from him. Yes, altimeter. An Air Force veteran, he liked aeronautical gadgets. We’d begun at about 4,650 feet at Buffalo. At 8,000 feet, we stopped at Ten Sleep Creek and took some pictures. Then we crested the mountain. 

I’ve never understood the meaning of the word “switchback” until we crossed the Bighorns. I do now. Switchbacks are the only way engineers can cut roads across some of these mountains.  

The elevation is high. 

The drop offs sheer. 

 Be still my heart. 

We weren’t quite up to speed on how to take these mountains, and we began to smell brakes. We needed to pull over and let them cool a bit, and the place we chose turned out to be a Youth Camp in the town of Ten Sleep. As we waited, we went inside the chapel there and hanging on the wall was what would be one of my next Vacation Bible School projects. Composed of foam sheets made by individual children, they were woven together to make this wonderful wall hanging. I loved it and had such joy in remembering its origin later when I helped the children at our church create the same thing.  

When we finally made it to Yellowstone, just inside the east gate, we saw a crowd of people stopped along the road forming what we later learned was a “bear jam.” We stopped to see what was happening. 

About fifty yards away, a grizzly ambled toward us (left middle ground in the above picture) . Astounding. People come to Yellowstone for years and never see a grizzly and here we were only minutes inside the park. We felt safe enough at first, but when he started moving in our direction, we headed for the car. In the next few miles, we’d see both bull elk and buffalo.  

Both my children kept journals on this journey as part of a home school assignment. Aaron had made hardly any notations in his up until this point. But these wildlife sightings ignited his creative energy. He grabbed his journal and tried to record all he saw. 

I recently came across this journal.

"I just saw a GRIZZLY bear!!!" he writes. "Two minutes later. I just saw two BUFFALO!"

As I held it in my hand and thought of his bedroom walls full of wildlife prints, I wondered how much those first few minutes in Yellowstone helped move him toward  his goal of becoming a wildlife biologist.

I don’t know, but I’ll never forget those precious days of discovery we had together as a family. And I believe maybe God who cares about all the details of our lives sent those animals along that day just to make my little son's heart glad. 

Our family spent its first camping night ever in Yellowstone Park. Somehow, that didn't seem right. It felt like we should have worked up to this privilege somehow.

The next day, we visited what every visitor has to see in Yellowstone, Old Faithful.

We waited awhile before it spewed its hot fountain into the air, awed by its predictability and beauty. Then afterwards, while standing in line at a restaurant across from the geyser, we got in line behind someone who  looked familiar. Turned out to be our son's YMCA soccer coach from back home in Georgia. Go figure.

I love the National Park Service. I really do. In fact, I’m thinking of becoming a park ranger when I grow up. Not only do I love the uniform but can’t think of any occupation that would be more fun. But I have a few questions I’d like to ask someone in authority.

In some parks, there are guardrails on walkways and roads to keep you from falling off a log. In Yellowstone at the time of our visit, one walked on boardwalks across hot boiling water and along precipices of undetermined depth with not a handrail in sight. Why is this? The signs simply said something like, “Please don’t jump off these walkways or you could die.”

Really. Scary.

 note the Dangerous sign to the right

At the lower falls of the Yellowstone, it seemed we stood on just a few rocks thrown together on the side of the canyon walls. I peered over a small ledge and gasped. It had to be a drop of a least 50,000 feet. But, I forgot my fear as I gazed at the thundering falls-- awesome, powerful, and astoundingly beautiful. An incredible work of God and one of the many high places we visited.


“Mommy, you’re hurting my hand,” Bethany said. I loosened my grip a bit to give her relief, but continued to hold it. My seven-year old had already proved herself untrustworthy by jumping off the walkway at Mammoth Hot springs to inspect a little hole in the ground. Thankfully, her landing spot was solid earth and not molten lava.

On our exodus toward the North Gate of Yellowstone, meadows and wildlife surrounded us, and I began to feel as if I knew what to expect, when we went through a pass in the mountains and literally glided on to nothing. I didn’t know we’d been in a hanging valley and the road at this point was supported at times not by good solid earth, but simply suspended over the canyon by I don’t know what.

When the road did lie on terra firma, I felt the wheels of our converted van barely made traction along the top of the sheer cliffs. I’d look out the window at the drop and feel my stomach leave me. I understood then, why my Dad’s wife had gone to the back of the van to lie down when they made this trip.

But how often does one actually get to ride through the air on four wheels? Another high place.

As far as high places go, nothing could prepare us for the spiritual heights to which God was about to take us. We were headed to a family camp high in the Montana mountains.

It was here, not far from the timberline, that God confirmed in my heart the dream of writing a book.

“Beverly,” I heard the worship leader say one evening as I was leaving a meeting. He approached me, “I feel like God is saying that you’re afraid to go after what He is telling you. I believe he’s encouraging you to ‘Do it afraid.’ And that he will confirm whatever this is to you.

That night in a dream, I saw a book, and the title was from Matthew 7:7, "Ask, and it shall be given you."

"Do it afraid,” I’ve repeated often through the years as I’ve come up against the old relentless enemy of self-doubt, and when fear reared its ugly head.

Just like Peter wanted to put up shelters on the mount of transfiguration, I wanted to stay on this mountain, but I’d learned in the high places, that if we want to get to the beauty, we have to face our fear.

So, when we left the camp on Friday, we were making a descent in more than one way. Oswald Chambers says, “We have all had times on the mount, when we have seen things from God’s standpoint and have wanted to stay there; but God will never allow us to stay there. The test of our spiritual life is the power to descend; if we have power to rise only, something is wrong. It is a great thing to be on the mount with God, but a man only gets there in order that afterwards he may get down among the devil-possessed and lift them up. We are not built for the mountains and the dawns and aesthetic affinities; those are for moments of inspiration. That is all. We are built for the valley, for the ordinary stuff we are in, and that is where we have to prove our mettle”(My Utmost for His Highest).

In the weeks after our return home in that summer of 2001, it would definitely feel like a valley. The situation with my mother's health would spiral downward. We’d begin a yearlong fight against cancer for a dear friend, face a difficult ministry situation, and of course wrestle with the fallout from the tragic event we’ve come to call 911.

But I remembered in my pain, and sadness, and grief that God had called my name one Wednesday night on a Montana mountain. I remembered that I’d seen the rare beauty of the wild earth God had created. I remembered, and I prayed that I’d be able to give away the hope God had planted in my heart in the high places.

Again, please read more here at Dream Summer (you have to scroll down to get to the beginning) and listen to the World Magazine Broadcast here.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Wise words from a wee one, at just the right time

I point to the picture drawn from the vantage point of the man peeking through the branches. “And if this man in the tree is Zacchaeus, who is this?”

I gesture toward another figure below Zacchaeus, who beckons for Zacchaeus to come down.

A commotion starts as the three, four, and five year olds discuss the possibilities. Finally, out of the din to my left, one small voice says, “God on the ground.”

I wheel around in my chair to the child, blown away by the profound implications of those four words. Now, this little fellow had played a wise man in our Christmas play, and I wondered if his casting had been more on point than I realized.

I study the wee one's sincere face. “Yes, Austin, that is God on the ground. Thank you so much.”

On Saturday, we lost a friend way too young after a valiant fight against cancer. She leaves two children not out of high school and college. Then on Sunday morning, the news coming out of Orlando left us stunned.

Amidst what can seem almost overwhelming grief and heartache in this life, we might lose sight of my little student’s insight. Jesus was God on the ground come to say God loves us. He cares.

And he didn’t have to be. When he got the invite to the “We’re having a save the world party,” he could have sent in his RSVP― thanks, but no thanks. The idea of leaving heaven and suffering for the sins of the whole world might not have had the greatest appeal. It wouldn’t be what the cool kids on earth were doing.

But from the foundation of the world, Jesus was destined to be God on the ground, to walk where we walk, to feel what we feel, to suffer as we suffer, because once more, He loves us.

Though he has ascended into heaven, he has left us the Holy Spirit to be our comforter, our guide, our teacher. So God on the ground has become God in the center of our being. Indwelling us with His very presence.

So as we read the newspapers, and watch the news coverage of the Florida attacks, the general reporting becomes more specific as faces and stories emerge. Heartbreaking. But we take comfort that for these families, God is present, suffering alongside.

So, thank you my wise little friend, Austin, for the reminder. God on the ground means God loves us even in our suffering.

 “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Hebrews 1:3).

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Hanging out with the stars

The first time I met a very special group of writers, the East Metro Atlanta Christian Writers (EMACW), they hosted an event with legendary author, Elizabeth Sherrill, who along with her husband John has written many of my favorite books including God’s Smuggler with Brother Andrew, The Hiding Place with Corrie Ten Boom, and The Cross and the Switchblade with David Wilkerson. We even used Elizabeth’s books while homeschooling, so going to meet her was a no brainer.

Jerry and I with Elizabeth Sherrill


Through the years, I’ve had opportunity to meet other literary luminaries while with these folks―like writing instructor Cecil Murphy, author of 90 Minutes in Heaven, and Amy Award winner, Rusty Wright.

I even won the deal for my first book, Give My Love to the Chestnut Trees, through a contest with EMACW.

I’m especially excited about going back to speak again this Saturday to these inspiring writers are who are the EMACW.

They encourage me with their perseverance, their dedication to their craft, and their sacrificial service. I suppose that may be in large part to the example of their founders Joyce Fincher and Colleen Jackson. Colleen Jackson has guest posted here for us at One Ringing Bell She is a first place in religion award winner in the Georgia Press Awards.

And speaking of literary luminaries, Colleen is definitely a bright light. She sets a standard of excellence in everything she does.

And in the vein of sacrificial service, award winning writer and teacher, Lisa Hetzel, current Director of the EMACW has recently donated a kidney to her cousin and now writes and advocates for kidney donation.

Though the folks at EMACW have asked me to be the presenter, I have no doubt I'll leave the meeting this Saturday with far more than I’ve shared.

I guess that’s just what happens when you hang out with stars like them.

“Men and women who have lived wisely and well will shine brilliantly, like the cloudless, star-strewn night skies. And those who put others on the right path to life will glow like stars forever” (Daniel 12:3 The Message).

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