Grace Center, Franklin, TN

I have let this go for far too long.

Last Sunday, I attended church with Kelly and Tim – they attend the Grace Center in Franklin, TN. It actually received the “church of the week” award on national television for the way the center helped a sister church by donating over $200,000 to them after their church burnt down. And as they said, “This isn’t a reflection of the wealth of our church, but a reflection of God’s desire for extravagance. He is an extravagant God, and he calls for us to give extravagantly of ourselves.”

It is sentiments like that which have opened my heart back up to the Lord, and completely re-awakened my heart. As the song went today – “I’m falling madly in love with you.” – it feels amazing to fall in love again, and this time with God.

Last week was simply mind-blowing, and it was fascinating to see how different last week’s service was compared to today’s. Kelly assured me that every week is different, and completely dictated by the will of God and what He wishes to accomplish, both with us and through us.

At 9 AM, before the actual church service, there is a time where people can attend the “soaking room” where… well, I’ve never experienced anything like it. It’s in a small room, which can hold about 50 people or so, tightly squeezed in there. There are about 30 seats, but beyond that some people lay on the floor, some against the wall; others stand. And what it is…. is… a place… where the Holy Spirit is allowed to come and sit with us, stir us… and create music. There are a few musicians who sit up in the front, and a couple singers, and what happens is a completely improvised music session, led by the Holy Spirit.

If you think that sounds strange, it gets better.

Some people shout out random things like “Amen” or call out to “Jesus!,” while others are moved strongly enough to dance around, or wave streamers/flags. The emotion and presence of Him in the room causes many people to cry, while others laugh out loud, or even start giggling – filled with Joy. It is really fascinating, sometimes overwhelming… always beautiful.

Last week was intense – Kelly told me that it was usually never like that. It got so loud in that room that she almost had to leave, but for me, since it was brand new and I was entering with absolutely no expectations, I was extremely moved. The room was packed, so we sat on the floor, and I was surrounded by interpretative dancers and music and people and I just sat there and my eyes were filled with tears and my heart was filled with God – a feeling I had been without for years now.

Today was more relaxed and much more calm than last week, but it was still intense and beautiful. It was Father’s Day, so some people occasionally spoke into the microphone (and even their words sounded like music) and talked about fathers. One woman came up and almost broke my heart. She started crying at one point, talking about how she was going to “give herself back to God – give herself all over again” – and that would be her gift to Him on Father’s Day. It definitely started my tears – her talking about how God has never lied to her, or taken advantage of her, or hurt her. “You are always faithful to me; you are such a good daddy.” – oh my gosh that almost destroyed me.

The woman who sings in these sessions is named Laura Rhinehart. She has a CD out entitled “The Soaking Room” so I guess she knows what she’s doing. ๐Ÿ™‚ Anyways, she has this gorgeous voice, and then the words she speaks inbetween the music are just lovely. Today she said:

“All the things that you long for… are a breath to Him.”

I could go on for hours. And I hope to one day write a beautiful story about my entire experience being part of this church for the last two weeks. But the end of the story is this: I am in love with God, again. I hope to keep this in my heart forever this time. Kelly and Tim have taken me into their home for the past ten days, and they have been like family to me; I am honored to know them. Their goodness simply emanates from them, while at the same time they exude a naturalness and a simplicity that makes them very human. Kelly knew from the beginning that she was supposed to take me into her home, and she trusted that feeling, and in doing so has given me a safe haven where I have been able to explore my faith again.

I have been on this road trip journey for over six weeks, and I am finally in a place where I can begin to handle all these questions and emotions I have.

A few weeks ago, I talked about how yoga almost caused me to have a breakdown – and eventually I did break down, in the front seat of my car at five in the morning, panda clutched desperately to my chest. Three weeks ago yoga was too much for me to handle, since I had so much pain residing in my soul and my heart… I had soul pain that took away my breath. Yet one week ago, I sat in that soaking room and was enveloped by the Holy Spirit, and yes I felt pain and yes I felt intensity, but mostly I felt peace, and joy, and completion.

Just to know how far I have come in a few weeks is so encouraging to me. This trip truly is restoring my spirit – and more than that, it is opening up doors for me that I can walk through for the rest of my life.

And as Laura said today:

“Jesus came to take us to the Father.

Jesus is the door.

Thank you, Jesus, for being the door.”

http://gracecenter.us/index.php#home

Franklin, Tennessee

So the craziest thing that’s happened to me this entire trip happened the other day, in Franklin, Tennessee. Franklin is a quaint, artsy, economically flourishing town about an hour outside of Nashville. I went into town with Kelly, to have lunch with her husband on their 21st wedding anniversary (woot woot for staying together!). So we had this amazing picnic that Kelly made, sitting on the grass at Forth Granger, an old army fort that was used during the civil war.

Afterwards, Kelly and I went to The Factory, which is an old factory building that was fixed up and now houses lots of local artists’ work, as well as cute artsy stores and restaurants. It’s a pretty amazing place, and there were so many things I wanted. We went to visit a friend of Kelly’s who is a painter/artist there, but her old location was now being vacated by Native American artists with some beautiful pieces of jewelry, etc. So as Kelly talked with her friend at her new store location, I wandered back to the Native American work, where I was drawn eventually to the flutes they had there (ever since I almost bought that flute in Cherokee, I’ve wondered whether I made the right choice by passing it up).

Well, I was looking at the flute, and noticed a familiar symbol – the wolf’s paw located at the towards the end of the flute. I look at the woman, and ask if the flute was one of Mr. Barfoot’s, to which she replied, “Yeah, Mark’s just down the hall making a phone call.”

He was there. I turned and saw a row of other flutes on a stand, and there she was: my mulberry flute with sleeping beauty turquoise. I couldn’t believe it.

I had traveled for two weeks and hundreds of miles since Cherokee, North Carolina, and yet here was the flute I had left behind and thought about every day since. In a random town in central Tennessee.

Needless to say, the flute is now mine. ๐Ÿ™‚


Ozone Falls, TN

I haven’t told you about Ozone Falls! It was a place off of Interstate 40 that Scott told me I should check out on my way over to Nashville. It’s right off the highway; however, it’s tucked away in some foliage and sandstone, so it makes you feel like you’re far away from reality. The crazy thing is you can walk directly up to the falls. As in, you are standing at the point where the stream falls 110 feet over the rock into a deep blue, rock-strewn pool. A ‘rugged ยพ-mile trail begins along the bluff near the falls and then descends into the gorge passing a small rock house called Gamblers Den. The trail follows Fall Creek to the confluence with Renfro Creek where hikers must backtrack to return to the trailhead’. That sound fancy, but I copied it from a website.

‘Ozone Falls is situated on the eastern edge of the Crab Orchard Mountains on the Cumberland Plateau. Legend has it that the area was named โ€œOzoneโ€ because of the โ€œstimulating quality of the airโ€ created by the mist that is generated after the long plunge of the water. In the 1800โ€™s, grist and sawmills had been built above the falls. The last one was washed over the falls during a spring flood in 1900.’

Haha, that’s kind of hilarious – the stimulating quality of the air, not sawmills being washed over the falls. That’s scary. Sort of like how I was literally laying over the edge of the falls, staring over a hundred feet down to my death.

But that wasn’t the point of this story – to just share the scary-ass part of it. What was crazy was the moment I shared, by myself. I lay there, shaking with anxiety, and I forced myself to lay upon the sandstone, with it’s slightly downwards tilt, and stare out over the falls. The water was falling over the rocks about an arms length away from me, on my left. And I was part of the landscape; it was almost impossible to believe that I wasn’t going to slide right off the cliff like the water was, and it took all my strength to force myself to stay there for a while.

It seemed like minutes, but it was probably about 45 seconds before I allowed myself to move away from the edge. The way I saw it, who knew when I was going to have an opportunity like that again – to be hanging on a precipice, safe but somehow in such an extreme position, completely alone, and enveloped by the landscape.

It was basically a spiritual experience. And it rocked. ๐Ÿ™‚

The Charms of East Tennessee

Today was just wonderful wonderful wonderful. ๐Ÿ™‚ I woke up, in a strange house, after numerous strange, trippy dreams, and I was slightly concerned that it was a bad omen for things to come. So when I finally emerged from my bedroom, I was a little wary, but before I knew it I was chatting away with Scott, eating cheerios with soy milk, and planning our day.

An hour later, we were all (Scott, Laura and I) on our way out the door to take a boat ride. We drove about 10 minutes away, put the boat in the lake, and took a delightful trip. The first thing we did was rescue a a guy on his dead skeedo, which was fun, and he was very much a redneck. I even got called “a damn yankee” for the first time in my life, so that was fun.

The boat ride was amazing, and wonderfully relaxing. We went down a side river that never gets any traffic for some reason, and saw turtles and birds and old civil war bridges, and life was ridiculously good. I adored the feeling of my hand trailing in the water, my eyes closed, and the wind against my face and body. Yum yum.

Afterwards, we relaxed at home for a while, then went over to Scott’s friends’ property, about 45 minutes away in the mountains. There, I got to take pictures, and we took a walk around the mountain property, with it’s random cabin and outhouse and porch. We had brought the four little dogs they own with us, and they were ridiculously cute. Afterwards, two of Scott’s friends showed up, and we all sat around on the porch of the little cabin they had built with their own hands, had a few beers, and talked about everything and nothing. It was ridiculously simple, and absolutely amazing. If I could explain it, I guess it would only take away it’s beauty, but let me tell you… all in all, one of the best days I’ve ever had. ๐Ÿ™‚

Smoky Mountain National Park

Today was a wonderful driving day. Occasionally it became haphazard and awkward, but overall I really enjoyed my time by myself, in my car. It had been a while (about 9 days) since I had been on the road, so it was long enough that I could appreciate it again.

I said my goodbyes to Doug and Lisa this morning (okay fine early afternoon) and it was really bittersweet, because on one hand I was really happy and honored to have gotten to know them so well, but on the other hand I literally had to tear myself away. But it was time – time to move on, time to meet new people and see new things.

So in the spirit of seeing new things, apparently, I drove directly back the way I had came a week earlier, heading back to Cherokee. Haha – oh well, it was still a beautiful drive. I was actually really happy to drive it again. In fact, my favorite part of the day was very unexpected, and completely based on a whim. I was driving all the curvy roads, when I saw this abandoned farm-like place on the side of the road. I remember seeing it on my way to Georgia, and wishing I had stopped to take a picture. Well, this time I did exactly that, in abundance. I pulled over on a side street, walked down into the property, and took about 300 pictures (in fact, in total today I took around 800 photos!). The location was just so inspiring – everything was deserted, there was broken glass and boxes in one building, and bird’s nests and farm equipment in another… it was really a photography heaven. I’m hoping to get the chance to edit some of the pictures tomorrow and post them; I’m really excited about that.

Of course, that threw me off course by about an hour, so by the time I arrive in Cherokee, I was well behind schedule. I entered the Smoky Mountain National Forest, and before I knew it I had to start pulling over to take pictures, since everything was breath-takingly gorgeous. I stopped at the old Mill, and at a couple of the lookouts, and then did the hike up to Clingman’s Dome, where I stayed until the sun set.

Which, naturally, threw me more off course (that, and the adorable baby bear that was on the side of the road), and all that made me even later to arrive at my final destination .

Which is where I am now – in Knoxville, Tennessee.

On my way here, I drove through Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, which were ghastly, haha. But more than that – it was the unbelievable way you enter into Gatlinburg. One moment I’m driving through beautiful bendy roads of light and trees and tunnels, and the next I’m bombarded with neon lights and fast-food restaurants. It was the STRANGEST thing – at first I was sure I was hallucinating, but alas, it was real. It was a like a mini, hick-filled Vegas. Oddest thing. And the worst part is I felt this incredible, morbid fascination with the entire place. In fact, I almost pulled over and decided to spend the night, but I kept myself strong and kept driving. But I’m telling you, I want to go back – the perversion of it all, the bright lights and tacky storefronts… oh man, it was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t believe that this was Tennessee.

But here I am now, in Knoxville, with Scott and his wife. I arrived later than anticipated (around 10:30), but Scott welcomed me so kindly; in fact, they both did, and we instantly started having fantastic conversation. Scott and I spent the last couple hours talking, about this and that, and it was great. I think, so far, my favorite part of this trip has been the fantastic conversations. How I have longed for profound, intelligent, humorous conversation -with people who are passionate and inspired and open-minded, and poets at heart. ๐Ÿ™‚ It’s been wonderful. And I’ve had a beautiful fill of such conversations, and such people lately.

Which reminds me – as I was driving the last stretch of road into Knoxville, I had serious heart-pangs about leaving Ellijay. More than anything, I wanted to be sitting in my bed there, on my computer, listening to doo-wop and drinking sweet tea, and knowing in the morning Lisa and Doug and the deer would be there… but alas, I had to move forward. Regardless, it was bittersweet to miss something so acutely. It’s been a long time since something was that wonderful enough to miss.

Tomorrow? Well, I guess it involves a little boat, and traveling to the Gulf of Mexico.

But Scott might have been joking about that.