Friday, November 16, 2018

When The Gospel Looks Like A Tent & A Sleeping Bag

"For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also."
James 2:26
Emphasis added

It was cold, dark, and raining and the parking lot was crowded as Zach and I drove closer to the front door of Walmart.  Kevin had gone inside to get a quick head start on shopping for Zach's Christmas and birthday, and I wanted to save him from having to walk back to the car in the rain.  There were a few other cars in front of us, and as we waited I noticed an African American gentleman around 60 to 65 years old approach the car directly in front of us.  After exchanging a few words with the driver, he returned to where he had been standing against the wall next to the door.  Soon Kevin appeared, and as he was on his way to our car, I noticed the gentleman approach him, too. When Kevin got in the car, he told us the man had asked for money, and he had given him the only cash he had—$1.00.  Kevin said he overheard another customer asking the man how much he needed.  The man replied that he was trying to get $14.00 to buy a tent, As Kevin listened, the manager came outside and told the man he needed to stop asking customers for money. 

As we started to pull away, Kevin said something that caused me to apply the brakes and reconsider our decision to shrug off the encounter as yet another random scam attempt.  "He told me he's a Vietnam vet."  Kevin's voice was full of compassion.  He rarely prays a prayer without asking God to bless and look out for our veterans and those who currently serve in the military, who are on the police force, and also the firefighters.  We have a soft spot in our hearts for all of them.  Dad was a veteran who served in the Army in Korea, Kevin's Dad was a WWII Navy vet, and in our opinion, no one deserves kind treatment and support more than our veterans.

I turned to look back at the man one more time, and something about his dejected stance as he hovered under the narrow overhang, unsuccessfully trying to find shelter from the cold, stinging rain melted every excuse I could muster to drive away and leave him standing there like that.  I just couldn't do it.  "So all he needs is a tent?" I asked, then quickly followed with, "Do they only cost $14.00?"  "I don't know, but I don't think you can buy one for that,"  Kevin replied.  My eyes were fixed on the man's reflection in the side mirror of my door, and I felt tears coming to the surface.  The three of us kept discussing his situation, weighing it against our own, and ultimately, compassion won.  $14.00 or whatever the cost, soon, Kevin and Zach were out of the car making their way inside Walmart.  On their way, the man told them he needed a tent, then he said, "No, a sleeping bag would be better.  Just a real cheap sleeping bag—the cheapest they've got."

As I waited, I watched the man closely.  At one point, I saw him reach into both of his pockets at once.  It looked like he was trying to locate a cigarette and a lighter, and I muttered, "Don't tell me he is going to smoke."  Self-righteous frustration came to the surface at the thought of the possibility that he would waste money on cigarettes when his basic needs were so sorely lacking.  As soon as I mumbled those words of judgment, God spoke words of reminder, and I was deeply convicted.  "Don't you know how it feels to be bound?  People become addicted and can't help doing some of the things they do.  It's not for you to judge."  I was put in my place real quick and realized with fresh understanding that it doesn't matter how a person gets into the predicament they're in—the reality is that they are in it, they need help, and it isn't up to us to fix them or force them to do the right thing.  Our job is to extend unconditional love, human kindness, and compassion, just like Jesus would.  I sat there feeling like we should do something to "get the Gospel" to that needy man, and again, the dear Lord spoke.  "The best way you could ever get the Gospel message to that man is to reach out and meet his need." 

I am reminded of the quote, "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care."

It wasn't long until I saw Kevin and Zach emerge and hand the grateful man the best quality sleeping bag they could find in Walmart—one that promised to keep a person warm in up to as extreme cold as 10 degrees—and a three-person sized tent.  The man was overwhelmed.  "Are you sure?" he asked.  Kevin and Zach profusely assured him and let him know how glad they were to help him out.  Zach said, "I'll be praying for you.  What's your name?"  The man answered, "Don.  Please, when you pray tonight, please pray for Don."  

Heart-wrenched, Kevin and Zach returned to our car, and for just one, brief second I made eye contact with that weathered veteran standing against the Walmart wall.  I don't suppose I will ever forget the way he looked at me.  I can't really explain the look—the only way I know to put it into words is it was somewhere between astonishment and disbelief and a need to defend what little dignity he had left.  I smiled a smile that I hope conveyed what I most wanted to say—I care, you are important, you are special, you matter, and don't you ever forget it, as we pulled away.

Some would say we were scammed.  Some would argue that the man probably walked the merchandise back into Walmart to exchange for a gift card.  Maybe he did, but I have to say, I don't think so.  I have a feeling his needs were as legitimate and dire as he conveyed they were, and I'll tell you what, regardless what happened afterward, we drove away with one of the best feelings in the world.  That feeling you get when you know deep inside that you just did something for Jesus.  Didn't He say that is the way it works?  Kevin reminded me of His words as we drove along.

"Then shall the King say unto them on His right hand, Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:  for I was hungry, and ye gave Me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave Me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took Me in:  naked, and ye clothed Me: I was sick, and ye visited Me: I was in prison, and ye came unto Me.  Then shall the righteous answer Him, saying, Lord, when saw we Thee hungry, and fed Thee? Or thirsty, and gave Thee drink?  When saw we Thee a stranger, and took Thee in? or naked, and clothed Thee?  Or when saw we Thee sick, or in prison, and came unto Thee?  And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me."  Matthew 25:34-40

Granted and sadly, there are a lot of wrong-intentioned people in our world who truly do not have our best interests at heart, and a person has to be more guarded and careful than we used to need to be.  Scammers are real, and it is only wisdom to stay close enough to God to hear His still, small voice offering Divine guidance and discernment and then to follow His lead with open hands. 

I don't tell this story to flaunt anything the three of us did last night.  I write it with a heavy heart because this world we live in right now is SO filled with hate, vitriol, and a seemingly ununifiable divide.  I have never, in all my years of life, seen such a spirit of blatant evil unleashed with such unprecedented anger.  As followers of Jesus Christ, it is up to us to make the positive difference our world sorely needs.  Jesus said, "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.  By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples if ye have love one to another."  John 13:34-35

We are the salt and light, and if we don't bring that to our world, who will?
"You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world."  Matthew 5:13,14

Did you ever notice the significance of the correlation between John 3:16 and I John 3:16?  There are no coincidences in God's Word.  Just look at the two verses in consecutive order.  

"For God so loved the world, that he gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life."  John 3:16

"Hereby perceive we the love of God, because He laid down His life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren."  I John 3:16

See how that works?  Jesus laid down His life for us.  In like manner, we are to lay down our lives for each other.  Let's look a bit farther to the very next verse.

"But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?"  I John 3:17

How can we say we love God if we don't love our neighbor?

"We love Him because He first loved us.  If a man says, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from Him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.  Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth Him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of Him.  By this, we know that we love the children of God when we love God and keep His commandments.  For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments: and His commandments are not grievous."
I John 4:19-I John 5:3

If we really love our brother, can we overlook and ignore his need?

No matter what our lot or station in life, we all have something to give.  Sometimes, it has nothing to do with monetary giving.  Sometimes, it is our time that someone needs the most.  Sometimes, it is a smile or a kind touch.  Sometimes, it just means being there.

"Dear Lord, help us to be Your hands and feet.  Help us to really see the needs around us.  Help our hearts to be so concerned that it is impossible for us to turn away.  Fill us to the brim with Your love.  Help us to follow Your example and lay down our lives in service to You and the people around us.  In Jesus' name.  Amen."

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Jesus, If It's You, Bid Me Come

"For we walk by faith, not by sight."
2 Corinthians 5:7

I will never forget an epiphany I had one evening while mowing grass on our riding lawnmower.  Out of the blue, I heard that still, small voice of Jesus ask, "Child, would you be willing to leave here?"  I looked around, and my eyes immediately went to the tan house with the green shutters situated on the front left side of our property.  My heart ached at even the thought of leaving there.  Zach was not even one year old when we had moved into that house all those years ago.  He had grown up running across those two acres with his "pack" of seven dogs.  We had started homeschooling there, spent many a happy hour behind those walls, made beyond precious memories with loved ones, including my dear Mom who had recently gone to be with Jesus, and grown together as a family in countless ways.  How could I even consider the thought of saying yes to the question Jesus had ever so gently whispered?  Yet, it was Him.  I knew it.  And, the realization that I would have to eventually answer Him was not lost to me.

All at once words that were written in red letters in my Bible came rushing into my mind, "And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for My sake, and the gospel's, but he shall receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life."  Mark 10:29,30

The three words that spoke loudest to me in those moments were "For My sake" or in another similar passage in Matthew 19:29, it is worded "for My name's sake."  As I mowed, I looked up to the sky and said, "Lord, I would be willing to leave here only if it's for Your name's sake.  How do I know if it is for Your name's sake?"  I kept asking Him over and over.  I knew deep in my heart that nothing short of doing this for HIM would be able to convince me to let go and leave the beloved place we had called home for so long and launch out into the great unknown.  Somehow, if I knew with 100% certainty that HE wanted us to do this and that it would be for HIS name's sake, then I would be able to bear leaving the place I had lived longer than I had lived anywhere in my whole life.  Only that could overpower my fear of letting go of all that was familiar and what felt safe to me.

As the question swirled for a long time, I asked God over and over if I made that sacrifice and came to a place of willingness, would it really be for His name's sake?  

Recently, about five years after that epiphany, the dear Lord reminded me of something that happened to His disciples and Peter, and as He dealt with my heart, I saw so many similarities to my night on the lawnmower.  "And straightway Jesus constrained His disciples to get into a ship and to go before Him unto the other side, while He sent the multitudes away.  And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, He was there alone.  But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary.  And in the fourth watch of the night, Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea.  And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit, and they cried out for fear.  But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, 'Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.'  And Peter answered Him and said, 'Lord if it be Thou, bid me come unto Thee on the water.'  And He said, 'Come.' And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.  But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, 'Lord, save me.'  And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, 'O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?"  Matthew 14:22-31

Peter had a desperate need to know it was Jesus before he ever even considered the thought of leaving the "safety" of that boat.  Even though it wasn't the safest place to be, violently tossed by the contrary wind, it felt safer than the thoughts of being out on the open water where Jesus was.  As absurd as his question must have seemed to everyone else on the boat, Peter asked it anyway—"Lord, if it is really You, ask me to come to You on the water."  Only after Jesus answered with the affirmation Peter craved did he have the courage to step out and do something that was humanly impossible.  Jesus' invitation to "Come" was what Peter needed.

Somehow, knowing it is "for His name's sake"—knowing it is HIM out there on those tossing waves in that unknown place makes even the most absurd-appearing, human reasoning-defying, radical proposition seem completely rational.  

As time went by, the precious Holy Spirit gently and gradually brought me to a place of willingness and pliability to follow Him away from what was familiar, as He affirmed with complete certainty that any time He asks us to launch out into the deep unknown, it is always "for His name's sake."  Eventually, He brought each member of my little family to the same conclusion, and with total unanimity, we placed our house and land on the market and "stepped out of the boat" in response to Jesus' call.  

Since then, He has, through many circumstances and confirming pieces of evidence thoroughly convinced us that everything He asked us to do has been "for His name's sake."  Tonight, as Kevin, Zach, and I reminisced about all that has changed and taken place in our lives, we realized that the boat we were in—the place I felt "safe" and had unintentionally come to depend upon for my sense of security—-was taking on water, and had we stayed on board, we would have gone under.  Oh, the things we know now that we didn't know then!

Walking forward to follow Jesus into the great unknown is never easy.  It always requires a measure of faith but especially so when everything around you contradicts what He is asking you to do.  We can't go by what we see because our vision can be skewed by our sense of longing to stay in our comfort zone.  What we perceive as being familiar and safe may, in reality, be on the verge of collapse.  If Jesus is calling us out, He is doing so in our best interest.

So, what is He asking you to do, my friend?  What have you heard Him whisper to you lately?  What invitation from Him has caused your heart to pound?  Are you struggling with questions and wondering if it is really Him who is doing the asking?  

Just ask, "Jesus, if it's You, bid me come to You on the water."  When He speaks "Come" you can step out of your boat with a certainty that, regardless how deep or storm-tossed the waters, He is walking beside you, and everything is going to be okay.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Your Next Step

"What time I am afraid, I will trust in Thee."
Psalm 56:3

When I was growing up, my family and I used to go inner tubing on the river.  I look back now and think of how adventurous I was back then.  To this day, I have never learned to swim, and to think of getting in such deep water and floating seven miles on an inner tube now isn’t even within radar-range of what I would consider doing.  Back then, I was young and much more openminded to risk-taking, and even though I remember being scared, at times, somehow the fun must have seemed worth it.  

One of the things I find most concerning about my memories of that river is the fact that you could take a step and think you were on level ground, then the very next step could be several feet deeper, creating a massive drop-off.  You just never knew what the depth would be even one small step in front of you, and you obviously couldn’t see anything when you looked in the water.  So much of it was unknown and mysterious.  Looking through eyes that are much older and more cautious, I find the thought of such far too foolish and daring.  I must truly be getting old, but I certainly prefer that over the alternative.  😊

(As a side note, I found it interesting to find out that there has been a ban on inner tubing in that area dating back to 1965, which is the year before I was born!  Reading that didn't do much to set my mind at ease concerning the dangers of my adventurous younger days, and it was surprising to find that we must have been breaking the law, to boot!) 

As I spent time in prayer this morning, I had a whole list of things I am feeling anxious about concerning our future.  Never has it been more unknown or unfamiliar.  My mind went back to that Miami River and how uncertain it always was to take one more step.  How the “bottom could fall out” at any minute, and just because the ground felt level the last step I took gave no indication whatsoever as to what that next step would feel like.  Where would my foot end up?  Would there be ground beneath it to even step on?  Or would the step plunge me into waters over my head?

Isn't this the way with life?  There isn't one among us who can predict what the next step of their life will look like.  Will it remain steady?  Will today be "business as usual?"  Will tomorrow be a blissfully ordinary day?  I have come to dearly cherish the beauty and steadiness of an ordinary day.  It is beyond precious to me when a day doesn't include any unexpected "drop-offs" and an overall sense of normalcy and "the same" pervades.  Back in 2013, I wrote a post called "An Ordinary Day."  You can read it by clicking here.)

Life never stands still, does it?  It is like a continually-flowing river that moves us onward, no matter how much we may want to stay firmly rooted in place.  We have no promise of what our next step will entail, but we do have a promise that we will never walk alone, and even if the step in front of us calls us into a place of overwhelm, there are three things we should never forget.

1.  Regardless how deep the waters, the arms of God are wide and all-encompassing and are always beneath the lowest point. 

“The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.”  Deuteronomy 33:27

"He will tend His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs in His arms; He will carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are with young."  Isaiah 40:11 (ESV)

"Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor His ear too dull to hear."  Isaiah 59:1 (Berean Study Bible)

"I will steady him with My hand; with My powerful arm I will make him strong."  Psalm 89:21  (NLT)

2.  Regardless how severely wind-tossed the waters, Jesus walks in the midst of the storm, and the waves are always underneath His feet.

"About three o'clock in the morning Jesus came toward them, walking on the water."  Matthew 14:25 (NLT)

"The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of His calling, and what the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of His mighty power, which He wrought in Christ, when He raised him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come:  and hath put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be the head over all things to the church."  Ephesians 1:18-22

3.  Regardless how mysterious and cloudy the waters, God sees clear through and is fully aware of every drop-off and peril that lurks in the darkness, and even though we can't see our next step, He can.

"I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you."  Psalm 34:15  (ESV)

"And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, 'This is the way, walk ye in it,' when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left."  Isaiah 30:21

"The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD."  Psalm 37:23

"He will guard the feet of His faithful ones."  I Samuel 2:9  (ESV)

"The LORD will always guide you; He will satisfy you in a sun-scorched land and strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail."  Isaiah 58:11 (Berean Study Bible)

May God bless each one of you dear readers and guide your every step.  May you always have a strong sense of His guiding presence in your life, and may you rest in the knowledge that He is ever in control.  I am praying for every person who will ever read these words as I type.  May He meet your every need and draw you ever closer to His side!

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Updates on Mom Smith and Barbara Smith

"Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much."
James 5:16

I wanted to post an update for all of you prayer warriors who are so faithfully lifting Mom Smith and Barbara Smith to the throne of grace.
I am so thankful to report that God has intervened and done so much for both of them!
Mom Smith is continuing to improve, after her surgery to open the blood flow to her right leg/foot.
She has regressed some as far as the blood flowing as freely as it did right after surgery, but it is still much improved over what it was before.
Lord willing, we are bringing her home from rehab next week!!!!!
We serve an amazing and awesome GOD who absolutely hears and answers the prayers of His children!  He doesn't put an age limit on healing, and He never sees anyone as too far gone.  We realize Mom Smith's condition remains very fragile, and she is far advanced in years, and still, God is SO gracious to have touched her once again.  As we watch the time of her life on earth edge closer to the moment Jesus calls her home, we deeply cherish every moment we are granted with her. 

The last time I posted an update about Barbara, I mentioned that she was diagnosed with an inoperable glioblastoma brain tumor.  The doctors were planning to send her home without much hope at all.  Between that post and this, the family was able to find a surgeon who was willing to operate on Barbara, and she came through the surgery just fine!  They removed as much of the tumor as they could, and she is doing so much better!  She is out of the hospital and will be undergoing chemo and radiation treatments.  It is just amazing how God has intervened and answered prayer on her behalf.  The family is most grateful for every prayer prayed for her and would so appreciate your continued prayers.  The journey ahead for her is long but filled with hope, praise God!

Dear friend, I don't know what you may be facing today.
I don't know what you are praying for or what you may look ahead and see as hopeless.
I don't know the particulars of what a miracle looks like for you.
The wonderful thing is that I do not need to know.
There is an all-seeing Father in Heaven who already knows what you need, and He is the only One who needs to know because He is the only One who can perform your miracle.
May I encourage you to keep looking to Him, regardless?
No matter what you face, He is enough.

When doctors say there is nothing they can do, 
He is Yahweh-Rapha, the LORD that Healeth.

"And said, If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God, and wilt do that which is right in His sight, and wilt give ear to His commandments and keep all His statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the LORD that healeth thee."  Exodus 15:26

"Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by Whose stripes ye were healed."  I Peter 2:24

"Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:  and the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he has committed sins, they shall be forgiven him."
James 5:14,15

When life is dark and you feel alone and utterly forsaken, 
He is Yahweh-Shammah, the LORD is There.

"Whither shall I go from Thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from Thy presence?  If I ascend up into heaven, Thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, Thou art there.  If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall Thy hand lead me, and Thy right hand shall hold me.  If I say, 'Surely the darkness shall cover me;' even the night shall be light about me.  Yea, the darkness hideth not from Thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to Thee.  For Thou hast possessed my reins: Thou hast covered me in my mother's womb. I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well."
Psalm 139:7-14

"Am I a God at hand, saith the LORD, and not a God afar off?  Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the LORD. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the LORD." 
 Jeremiah 23:23-24

"And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him: but ye know Him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you."  John 14:16-17

When finances are depleted, there is no way to make ends meet, and you don't know how you will survive,
He is Yahweh-Yireh, the LORD will Provide.

"Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means "the LORD will provide"). To this day, people still use that name as a proverb: "On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided."
Genesis 22:14 (NLT)

"But my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus."
Philippians 4:19 

"But seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you."  Matthew 6:33

Whatever you are going through today, remember this—
"And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men, it is impossible, but not with God: for with God, all things are possible."  Mark 10:27

No matter what,
because of who Jesus is, there is always, always hope!

"And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: and there went out a fame of Him through all the region round about.  And He taught in their synagogues, being glorified of all.  And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up: and, as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read.  And there was delivered unto Him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written,The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He hath anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He hath sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised." Luke 4:14-18

Look back over your life, and recall His never-ending faithfulness.
Bring to mind every time He has answered your prayers in the past.
Remember all He has done, and know this—
you, my friend, will see Him do it again!

Sunday, September 30, 2018

The Inner Views of Kelsi Robertson-Harrigill

"I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the LORD, and He heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I and Thou heardest my voice."  Jonah 2:2  (KJV)

It is no secret how much I love the high lonesome sound of bluegrass.  Some of my happiest childhood memories are surrounded by singing and playing music with Mom, Dad, and other family members, as Dad played his five-string banjo.  To this day, bluegrass serves as a bridge to take me back to those precious times—especially when I am missing Mom, Dad, and other loved ones who are now resting in the arms of Jesus.  One of the current groups that so expertly captures that deeply soulful, comforting, authentic bluegrass sound is Flatt Lonesome.  Their tight family harmony and skillful instrumental abilities are a gift to modern bluegrass  My family and I were blessed to recently attend one of their concerts and catch up with them afterward to secure an interview with one of their members.  I am so blessed and grateful to be able to share it with you today!

of Flatt Lonesome Vocalist & Mandolin Player,
Kelsi Robertson-Harrigill

Cheryl:  Please tell us about yourself and the people who make up the band, Flatt Lonesome. 

Kelsi:  Flatt Lonesome is made up of myself (mandolin) along with my siblings, Buddy (guitar) and Charli (fiddle) Robertson. Along with us, we have my husband, Paul (banjo), and our close friends, Michael Stockton (dobro) and Dominic Illingworth (bass). 

We started the band in February of 2011 after my parents had to step away from our family band, Sandy Creek Revival. My dad is a pastor and had to slow down to be with our church.

Cheryl:  We would love to hear your Christian testimony.  When did you become a Christian?  What life events led you to the cross?

Kelsi:  I was saved on November 23, 1999. I was nine years old and I was saved after church on a Sunday night. My dad led me to the Lord.

Cheryl:  What was life like growing up as a preacher's kid?

Kelsi:  Life as a preacher’s kid, for me, was wonderful! You hear horror stories of PK’s and how they grow up with a nonexistent father, or how they’re rebellious, etc. However, my father was very much present. We were his first priority and he made sure we knew that. He did not put us on a pedestal for which other people could compare their children, which saved us from much affliction. I grew up loving church and everything associated with it and I still do.

Cheryl:  Looking back over your life thus far, what do you identify as being a dark season?  How did your faith in God sustain and help you through?

Kelsi:  God has blessed me with a wonderful life, but from about age 22-24, I dealt with crippling anxiety. I went from extrovert to introvert, from confident to stand-off-ish. I woke up every morning dreading the day, scared, worried…I was not myself for a very long time. I prayed and prayed for God to take the anxiety away from me and He never did. It took my dad reminding me that God never told us he would take away our burdens, only that He would carry them with us, for me to realize that I needed help. So, I started on a long journey of self-help, help from a doctor who wasn’t only book smart, but Bible smart. I learned the hard way that you have to be willing to help yourself if you want God to help you too. And He did just that. God kept his promises, as He always does and brought me from the darkest valley in my life. I still deal with anxiety, but the bouts of it are fewer and farther between and I now have the knowledge to get through those times. God is good.

Cheryl:  Please share with us about the span of time your parents, your siblings, and you sang together as the group, "Sandy Creek Revival.”

Kelsi:  Our family sang together as Sandy Creek Revival for 5-6 years, I think. It was mostly churches and family gatherings. It was a great time in our lives, full of great memories!

Cheryl:  Please tell us about your favorite parts of the recording projects of Flatt Lonesome.  

Kelsi:  The best thing about recording as a band is watching how an album came from a mere concept to a full, cohesive album that we put our whole hearts into!

Cheryl:  We have been so blessed by the song you wrote, "In the Heat of the Fire."  Can you tell us the story behind the song?

Kelsi:  I wrote, “In the Heat of the Fire” during the difficult years of anxiety. I would sit on our balcony at our apartment alone, with my Bible and a guitar and read and sing any song that I could think of to give me hope (it’s funny how in times of need, the secular songs don’t seem so great anymore). The doctor who was helping me at the time instructed me to read through the book of Psalms and as I read through that book I underlined every single time God said that he “hears” us, or “heard” us. I NEEDED to know that God was hearing me because at the time I didn’t feel like He was and I was desperate. During these times of reading and singing is when I wrote this song.

In the Heat of the Fire ~ Flatt Lonesome (written by Kelsi Robertson-Harrigill)

Cheryl:  As a songwriter, how do you find inspiration?  Is there a particular place you like to go to write?

Kelsi:  I will write anytime and anywhere, as soon as I think of a lyric. If I don’t I will forget it! However, I find I write best when I am alone.

Cheryl:  Are there other members of Flatt Lonesome who are songwriters?

Kelsi:  As of right now, just Paul and me. 

Cheryl:  How did you and Paul meet?  We would love to hear your love story!

Kelsi:  Paul and I met in Nashville, TN! We actually met for the first time at IBMA (International Bluegrass Music Association) and never spoke again until we saw each other again at SPBGMA (Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America), and then he asked Buddy for my number (how he got it, I’m not sure?!). 

Kelsi, performing with Flatt Lonesome on the Grand Ole Opry

We started talking over the phone and visiting each other when we could (he lived in NC at the time, and I lived in FL). We ended up dating for 6 months before we were engaged. Got married 9 months later and now we have been married for 6 years and have a one-year-old son!

Paul, Carter, & Kelsi

Cheryl:  How has becoming a mother enriched your life?

Kelsi:  Being a mother has shown me just how much you can actually love someone. I love teaching Carter and watching him learn those things! 

Cheryl:  What is life like for you being on the road? 

Kelsi:  One word — NUTS! :)

Cheryl:  What advice would you most like to give to wives and mothers who wear many hats and struggle to find a sense of balance?

Kelsi:  My advice is that you cannot please everyone, but you can please God. So, when life gets hard and you feel like you’re hanging by a thread, choose God first and everything else will fall into place…and when your husband offers for you to go get your nails done — DO IT!!

Kelsi & Carter

Cheryl:  Growing up, who were your strongest musical influences?  

Kelsi:  Alison Krauss, Ricky Skaggs, Merle Haggard, Tony Rice, Danny Roberts

Cheryl:  When did you begin playing the mandolin?  

Kelsi:  I started playing mandolin when I was 15-years-old.

Cheryl:  Who has most influenced you in your walk with Jesus?  Why?  What about this person do you most long to emulate?

Kelsi:  My parents have been my greatest influence in my spiritual life. Although they are not perfect, they have always been the same people behind closed doors as they were in public and that is critical for young people to see. Young people need consistency, spiritually and otherwise. 

My mother is the most godly woman I know. He faith is unwavering and her love for my father and our family is something I can only strive for.

Kelsi with her Mom, Lisa

Cheryl:  What is your personal favorite song to sing on stage?

Kelsi:  I love to sing a song that Paul wrote called, “Make it Through the Day.” He wrote this while we were dating.

Cheryl:  At the end of life, what legacy do you most hope to leave?

Kelsi:  When I am gone, I want to be remembered as a woman who did her best to please God, love her family and serve others.

Cheryl:  How can we pray for you?

Kelsi:  Please pray for both Paul and I as we continue to learn and grow as parents.

Paul, Carter, & Kelsi

A BIG thank you to Kelsi for sharing her heart with us here!
Dear readers, please keep Kelsi, her family, and Flatt Lonesome in your prayers as they travel, minister to others, and keep the spirit of bluegrass alive. 
To purchase their music or learn more about Flatt Lonesome, click HERE
You can also connect with them on their websiteFacebook, and Twitter.

To read previous
click the links below.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Trusting God's Wisdom

"And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose."  
Romans 8:28

I'll be the first to tell you that I truly do not know exactly what God is doing in our lives right now.  I feel perplexed, unsettled, and completely at a loss as to how to figure things out.  In our circumstances, I think often of Joshua 3:3-4. "And they commanded the people, saying, When ye see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, and the priests the Levites bearing it, then ye shall remove from your place, and go after it.  Yet there shall be a space between you and it, about two thousand cubits by measure: come not near unto it, that ye may know the way by which ye must go: for ye have not passed this way heretofore."

We have not passed this way before—not even close.  Life feels very unfamiliar, and as Joshua instructed the children of Israel, my little family and I are trying with all our might to stay "2000 cubits behind the ark," as we lean hard on God for guidance.  We don't want to rush out ahead of Him, nor do we want to lag too far behind Him.  Doing either would mean getting outside the parameters of what it means to stay in the center of His will.

It is a fine line to walk—keeping in that "secret place of the Most High."  Psalm 91:1

As I struggle to "understand His logic," and I repeatedly come to the realization that my thoughts are so far beneath His, and I will never be able to think like He does, I am continually coming back to the same conclusion—"when we can't understand His logic, we must trust His wisdom."

As He calls us out into deeper waters, I am learning that each step forward requires a deeper level of trust.  As the water depth increases, so does the necessity to more fully trust Him.  In the midst of my questions and anxiety over the future and all that is happening, He did something recently that completely arrested my attention.

He always knows when we need extra assurance and confirmation that He is with us, doesn't He?

We had to be away from home for an extended period of time, and on the night before we were to leave to come home, I called our home voicemail to get our messages.  There was a message from our neighbor asking us to call her.  I tried, and when I got her voicemail, I left a message for her.  I didn't hear back, and we left to come home the following morning.  On our way, it hit me that I didn't hear back from her, so I texted her asking if everything was okay.  She texted back saying she needed to talk to me, and I instantly knew something was wrong.  You might know that our cell phone has been having issues, not allowing us to make or receive calls, so I texted her back explaining about the phone and asking her if she could text us instead of talking.  She texted back and told me that she was out of state at the time, but another of our neighbors had called her to tell her that the 3rd-floor french doors that lead from Zach's bedroom to his balcony were standing wide open!  Keep in mind that there are no screens on the doors!  I asked her how long they had been open, and she said for two weeks!  The other neighbor hadn't known for sure that we were out of town, and she didn't know how to reach us.  After such a long time, she called and mentioned it to the neighbor who had contacted us.

Instantly, we began to wonder how the doors came open, and of course, the first thought was concern that someone may have broken in.  But, how?  They would have had to use a very tall ladder, and it just wasn't likely that this had happened.  Then it hit us.  Not long after we left home, Hurricane Florence had passed through our area!  We figured Zach's doors must not have been securely latched, and the hurricane winds had blown them open.  Imagine the scenario.  We were a few hundred miles away from home, in the car, traveling, and this is the news we received.  You can just picture the thoughts going through our minds.  Strong winds, possibly heavy rain, wide open doors for two weeks, etc.  What had blown out of or into Zach's room?  Did excessive rain come in through the open doors and damage the flooring?  If the wind was strong enough to open the doors, had it caused harm to any of Zach's things?  Had birds, insects, or animals made their way in?  Not only Zach's room was exposed but his doors being open had made the whole house vulnerable!

Right there, in the car, the three of us prayed, and we spoke faith into our situation.  We chose to believe that GOD had taken care of everything, in spite of the potential for our home being violated.  I am not going to say it was an easy ride home.  Worry tried to overwhelm time after time as we kept putting it back in God's hands and realizing there was not one thing we could do BUT trust Him and His protection.

(In another post that I will more than likely publish on Biblical Minimalism, I want to elaborate about how thankful I am that we have minimized our lives.  There wasn't anywhere near the fear I would have felt had this happened a few years ago when our lives and home were overloaded with stuff.  Following Jesus into a simple, minimal life has brought about enormously advantageous changes to our perspective.  Never has it been more evident to me than on that ride home.)

I kept thinking how merciful it was of God to NOT let us know there was a problem until the very day we were on our way home.  He wanted to warn us of what was going on before we got home and saw those doors open and panicked, and yet, He withheld the information from us during the time that we could not get away to leave to come home and check things out.  He withheld that information from us until just a few hours before we returned home!

We finally made it home safe, by God's grace, and as we pulled into our parking area, Kevin told me that he and Zach would go in first to assess what was inside.  Bless his dear, kind, thoughtful heart, he wanted to spare me from seeing it first.  As I stood downstairs anxiously staring up at Zach's wide-open doors, I recalled the morning we left, and how, like every other time we get in the car to go anywhere, I had prayed this prayer, "Lord, please protect us, bring the three of us safely home together, protect everything here while we are gone, and let everything be just as we left it when we return."  Leaving home, we had placed everything we had in God's hands, trusting Him to watch over it while we were gone.

As I stood on the ground outside under Zach's room and balcony, what was actually only a few seconds felt like an eternity.  Then my heart rejoiced to hear the reassuring voice of my dear, even-keeled husband say, "Honey, everything is fine.  I don't see anything wrong at all."


All I could do is praise the God who sees—who hears—who knows every, single thing about every, little detail of our lives—who cares more for us than we can ever even imagine.
The relief that flooded over me was enormous.  But, even more than my relief was utter astonishment at what Kevin was telling me.  My mind replayed the whole thing once more—of all times, a hurricane had come through (of course we did not get anywhere near the brunt of the storm, but nevertheless, there had to be some awful strong wind to blow those doors open), who knows how much rain had fallen, etc.  I tell you what, as soon as I could come inside, the three of us prayed together, this time a prayer of wholehearted thanksgiving and praise to the God who loves us with an everlasting love, who hears us when we pray, and who faithfully answers those prayers!  Oh, how we praised Him and continue to praise Him!  There is just no explanation why things were "just as we left them when we returned" other than our dear, loving, faithful God answering the prayer we prayed that morning in the car.
God's providential care should never be underestimated.
It is there when we don't even realize how desperately we are in need of it.

Oh, the lessons He has taught and is steadily teaching us through this!  At the beginning of this post, I mentioned how unfamiliar and uncertain everything feels to us right now.  If God can shield our home from invaders of any kind, from hurricane rain and wind damage, and from all harm when we didn't even know we needed the extra protection, can He not take care of our future?  We don't understand the logic of all that has happened and is happening in our lives, but God is all-wise.  We don't need to understand His logic.  We simply need to trust His wisdom.  We simply need to believe with all our hearts that He never takes His eyes off us and all that affects our lives.

"The LORD will perfect that which concerneth me: Thy mercy, O LORD, endureth for ever."
Psalm 138:8

I know He absolutely allowed those doors to come open and for us to find out they were open for two weeks without us knowing about it just to prove that we do not even need to know what is going on for things to be okay.  The only one who needs to see the whole picture is Him.  He is in control.  We do not have to be.  He takes care of us and what pertains to us even when don't realize we need taken care of.

When we turn our lives over to God and hand Him the reins, we are no longer responsible.  Total surrender to God means letting go—completely.  Turning loose.  No longer worrying about the outcome.  Trusting that whatever comes our way passed through His hand first and only made it to the point of touching our lives after getting His permission. 

We do not need to fear getting out of His will.  He will make things evident to us on a need-to-know basis.  It is all about trusting His wisdom.  He is not going to shine a flashlight several steps in front of us and hand us a schedule of life events, along with the dates they will happen.  If He did that, why would we need faith? 

Romans 8:28 does not say that everything that happens in the life of a Christian will be good.  It says that all things will work together for good—both the good things and the bad things will work, 
hand-in-hand, for good.  

God's ways are far higher than our ways.
"For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts."  Isaiah 55:8-9

"I know it is so of a truth: but how should man be just with God?  If he will contend with Him, he cannot answer Him one of a thousand.  He is wise in heart and mighty in strength: who hath hardened himself against Him, and hath prospered?  Which doeth great things past finding out; yea, and wonders without number.  Job 9:2-4,10

"Behold, God is great, and we know Him not, neither can the number of His years be searched out."
Job 36:26

"O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been His counselor?  Or who hath first given to Him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?  For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to whom be glory forever. Amen."  Romans 11:33-36

Dear friends, I do not know what each one of you is going through.  I don't need to know.  God already does, and none of it surprises Him.  He absolutely has you in the palm of His hand, and you are going to be okay.  It may look like the enemy has the upper hand, but there is no hand higher or more mighty than our God's.  He is in control of every little and big detail of your life.  He is watching out for you when you don't even know you need to be.  If it touches your heart, it touches His.  You are the apple of His eye, and He loves you with an unconditional, unchanging agape love that will never end.  He leads you gently, and He often spares you the worst details.  He will let you know what you need to know when you need to know it.  You don't have to be suspicious of Him because He has no ulterior motives.  He always, always has your best interests at heart.

When you can't understand His logic, trust His wisdom.

In closing, I hope you enjoy a song that encapsulates and expresses my personal testimony right now.
After the song, please scroll down for updates on Mom Smith and Barbara Smith.

Mom Smith is holding her own.  She is adjusting to being in rehab.  Bless her dear heart, she is in a lot of pain, at times, but she seems to be tolerating her daily exercises pretty well.  She is such a little trooper and fighter, and God is seeing her through.

Barb found out that her brain tumor is a glioblastoma and is inoperable.  She had to undergo a biopsy on Thursday, and she and her family will find out the results tomorrow.  

You will never know how much we all appreciate each prayer that is going up for these dear ones.
We so appreciate your continued prayers to the One who is in control and who has never failed one of His trusting children. 
God bless each one of you and meet every need you have.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Please Pray for Barbara Smith

"Behold, the LORD'S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither His ear heavy, that it cannot hear."  
Isaiah 59:1

Dear friends, I come to you again tonight with yet another urgent request for prayer.

Kevin's brother's wife, Barbara Smith, was just diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor.
She was fine on Friday, then began to experience some problems on Saturday and suffered a seizure on her way to the hospital.  Tests revealed that she has a tumor the size of an orange on the front part of her brain.  

Though this comes as a great shock to our family, we know that nothing ever surprises our dear Lord.
Barb has lived for Jesus for many years, and we know He is holding her in the palm of His nail-scarred hands.  He is the Great Physician and "is able to do exceeding abundantly above all we can ask or think." Ephesians 3:20 

"Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."  Matthew 19:26

"The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much."  James 5:16

Please pray for God to lay His healing hand upon Barb and send her a Divine-intervention miracle.
Please pray for peace and comfort for her husband, Phillip, her daughters, Sherry and Sonya and their husbands, her grandchildren, and all other family members, friends, and loved ones who are so concerned for her.

Please share this prayer request with all of your prayer chains, small groups, and every prayer warrior you know.
The family truly appreciates your prayers.

In closing, I wanted to add an update about Mom Smith, as so many of you are praying and have emailed and reached out so sweetly through her trials.  Praise God, she was finally approved to move to rehab late this evening!  She is continuing to suffer from a lot of pain, but she is steadily getting better and becoming stronger.  It is nothing short of witnessing a miracle to see how God is helping her along and bringing her through.  We SO appreciate your prayers and loving support.  

Homespun Devotions readers are some of the kindest, most caring people on earth, and I am so blessed to have so many of you faithful, precious friends and prayer warriors in my life.  I know that many of you are fighting your own battles and going through rough places, and it means the world to me that you so willingly help to carry the burdens I share about here.

Your continued prayers for Mom Smith and for Barb are so, so appreciated.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Update on Barb 9/25/2018 @ 9:43 AM
Barb has been diagnosed with glioblastoma brain cancer.
Please continue to pray!!

Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Inner Views of Paul Wilson

"O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?"
1 Corinthians 15:55

Somewhere around 10 years ago, Kevin was searching on Youtube for a song.
Neither one of us can remember which song it was, but what we do remember is how, on that night, we were introduced to the music of the man I am interviewing today.
It didn't take long for Kevin to call me to come and listen, and soon the music of Blind Pig and The Acorn began to fill our home.
We fell in love with this dear family, began to read their blog, and it felt like I had known them for years.
When Pap died in April of 2016, we felt like we had lost a personal friend.
(Please click HERE to read Tipper's account of that sad day.)
Last year, we were abundantly blessed to get to meet them face to face.
It is a memory we will always cherish.
They are the real deal—as friendly and down-to-earth as they can be and blessed with amazing talent.
So it is with great joy I bring to you—

Blind Pig and The Acorn's, 
Paul Wilson.

Cheryl:  Please tell us about yourself.

Paul:  Well, this may be a little bit literal, but here goes: My name is Paul Wade Wilson, and I was born on January 1st, 1974 in Copperhill, Tennessee.  I have lived my whole life in North Carolina, but we are very close to the Tennessee line, and that’s where my mother’s doctor happened to be. I was the last child born to my parents. I have a sister who is 5 years older than I am and a brother who is 9 years older. My first name comes from one of my Mother’s brothers-in-law that she was very fond of, an Army veteran, and from the Apostle Paul in the Bible. I didn’t know this fact until I was in my 30’s, and once I learned the sources of my name, I liked my first name much better. I should have guessed the second source because my father was an ardent student of the Bible, and Paul was certainly his favorite teacher after Christ. My middle name comes from my father’s father, Wade Earl Wilson, who was a Baptist preacher for many decades. 

I spent the first half of my life obsessed with baseball and was very accomplished as a pitcher. Baseball is the only reason that I went to college, but I am so thankful now that I did because it led me to a better job and easier lifestyle than any of my family members ever enjoyed prior. I earned a bachelor’s degree in literature from UNCA and a master’s in school administration from WCU. Today, I am 44 years old, and I am principal of a small, rural, public school in Western NC, serving grades pre-k through 8. I taught for 10 years and have now been a school administrator for 10 years. Although it’s very difficult and stressful at times, it’s a rewarding, meaningful job that allows me to stay close to my family. I am blessed to work in a wonderful community and with a wonderful staff. In my spare time, I play tennis and make Appalachian and gospel music. I also have a classic muscle car that I restored, which I suppose is my third hobby, although it takes far less of my time than the first two hobbies. 

Cheryl:  What was life like for you growing up in the Appalachian mountains?

Paul:  Growing up in Appalachia was idyllic to me. I was surrounded by the beauty of nature, family, good food, music, love, and most importantly, faith in God. Me, my siblings, my friends, and my cousins could run and play outside all day long, even miles away from home, never worrying about any danger other than bees, snakes, and ticks. In addition to playing baseball, and a little bit of hunting, I spent a lot of time riding bicycles up and down gravel roads. I had a very close friend, and we spent a lot of time together. Dad and I did a lot of fishing together when I was a kid, sometimes joined by my brother and/or sister. In those days, Dad was a truck driver, and he would usually use his one week of vacation to go fishing, mostly in the Hiwassee River, and we would fill our freezer with Catfish and Pike. At around 13, my dad convinced me to borrow records from my Uncle Ray, records of the Louvin Brothers and Reno and Smiley. After hearing the first song, which happened to be “Must You Throw Dirt in My Face?” sung by the Louvins, I was hooked. Up until that time, I listened to things like Rick Springfield and other rock music that was popular in the 80’s. There was something about the sincerity in the singing on those records that was undeniable, and although I hated to admit that Dad was right, I learned what real music is. It wasn’t long until I wanted to play guitar like Dad and his brothers. At around age 14, I learned to play my first songs on the guitar: “Red River Valley” and “Ghost Riders in the Sky.” Like a lot of folks native to our area, the older I got, the more I appreciated my Appalachian Heritage and living in the mountains. 

Cheryl:  Can you tell us about your parents—the two people we have come to lovingly know as "Pap" and "Granny?"

Paul:  Mom and Dad, known to Blind Pig followers as Pap and Granny, married late by standards in our area. Where we live, folks often get hitched at age 18, or sometimes younger. I believe Pap was 26 when he asked Granny to marry him. This means that Granny would have been 23. His uncle Wayne Elliott married a lady who lived across the road from Granny’s family. Wayne played matchmaker by bringing Pap out to his house then walking across the road to invite Granny over. She refused to go meet Pap multiple times on several occasions. Finally, her mother told her, “You better go on over there and meet that boy or folks are going to start thinking that you and Wayne are seeing each other!” She reluctantly went. When she returned, she told her mother, “I believe I just met the nicest, best-looking man in the country." I believe they dated 1-2 years before eloping. They rented for about 10 years and had my brother and sister before dad built our house in Brasstown on land that his uncle Frank (brother to Wayne) bought during WWII by sending home his wages to family and telling them to buy land with it. I mentioned above that I was the youngest child. I learned as an adult that I was unplanned and that the landlady of the house they were renting tried to convince Granny to have an abortion. It’s safe to say that I am thankful that abortion was against my parents’ beliefs! While we kids grew up, Pap and Granny were always working. Pap drove trucks mostly, but he also cut wood, built houses, and used many other God-given talents to provide for the family. Granny worked in dress factories, a factory that made electric motors, and other businesses. They also fed the family by always planting and tending big gardens and canning food for the winters. Neither of them ever made much money. The highest salary I remember Dad having was around $17,000 a year; yet, I never remember wanting or needing anything that I didn’t get, including two used cars and a college education. Like any couple, Pap and Granny had some arguments and hard times over their 52 years of marriage, but they always loved each other dearly, and to my knowledge, the word “divorce” was never mentioned or considered. They took good care of each other. Both were great cooks, and I remember often seeing them make each other laugh heartily while recalling memories or stories about things that happened over the years. 

Jerry "Pap" Wilson

Cheryl:  We would love to hear your Christian testimony.  When did you become a Christian?  What life events led you to make a decision to follow Jesus?  

Paul:  As we Baptists would say it, I was saved around the age of 7. The reverend Hoyt Brown (who also preached Pap’s funeral and Uncle Wayne’s funeral 30+ years later) was the pastor of our church at the time and was preaching. I went up during the altar call that he gave. I asked Jesus to forgive me of my sins. I told Hoyt that I had been saying bad words. The Word of God communicated directly with my conscience and with my spirit. I believed that I had heard the Truth, and that’s what led me to go to the altar and pray. This was the moment that I publicly accepted Christ as my Savior. But the older I get, the less I think of salvation as an act or moment, like a one-time decision. I believe that my salvation is a general state of being in that I believe Jesus was the Son of God come down to earth and that He died to make the unrighteous righteous in God’s eyes. I place my faith in Him. My salvation has very little to do with me and everything to do with God’s Grace. My part is to accept it. 

Cheryl:  How has living for Him enriched and changed your life?

Paul:  Believing in and accepting God’s Grace gives me Hope. I know that atheists would disagree, but if God didn’t create us and the universe, then none of this life makes sense. If God isn’t real and this life is the only life we’ll ever experience, then ultimately nothing matters. My belief in God’s Word enriches my life by helping me understand why I’m here and what God wants for us. Without the Promise of our Lord, things like losing Pap would be unbearable, and I would sink into a depression and waste my life or engage in self-destructive behavior. Because I believe, I can move forward with a positive outlook, and I may be able to help others along the way. I could never say all the ways that God has blessed me. 

Cheryl:  Who has most influenced you in your Christian walk?  Is there a particular mentor who has helped to strengthen your faith?

Paul:  Throughout my life, I’ve been blessed to experience many passionate preachers of God’s Word, but certainly, the biggest influence and mentor for me was Pap. Pap taught Sunday school for probably 50+ years, and he studied the Bible more meticulously than anyone I’ve ever known, including the many accomplished preachers that I’ve known. I’ll share a story that goes back to Pap and Granny’s early days. After they eloped, they lived at Granny’s home for a couple of weeks. One day, when Pap exited the living-room and went outside, Granny’s father looked at her and said, “I’m really worried about that boy.” Granny quickly asked, “Why? What’s wrong with him?” Her father proceeded, “All he does is read that Bible. Every time I look at him, he’s got his nose stuck in it. If he don’t quit, he’s going to lose his mind!” Pap was no doubt searching for understanding and for Truth. I believe that in time, God allowed him to reach a very advanced point of understanding, and he was able to share that knowledge and understanding with many others, including me. Anytime I was confused about something in the Bible or when something seemed to be a contradiction, a conversation with Pap made things clear, and he showed me that God’s Word contains no contradictions, no errors, and no problems, only perfect harmony and deep meaning. He could do this through knowing the Bible in entirety so that he knew everything written about any given topic in various books of the Bible. Truly, he didn’t read the Bible; he studied it. He wasn’t one to take a verse and try to make it support how he thought things ought to be. Instead, he let God’s Word speak. In addition to all that he taught me about God’s Word, Pap taught me through the example of his life and how he lived it. Although he did a lot of good in this world, I never for one second recognized any sort of self-righteous attitude about himself, although I know I am biased. I have faith in God primarily because of God’s Word; however, to be honest, I also believe it's because Pap believed it. I’ve never known him to be wrong about anything ever when it mattered, and so I am placing my faith where he placed his. In the Book of Acts, we are told that a man’s household may be saved because of his belief in God. Although I cannot fully explain it, I think I may be an example of that promise coming true. 

Cheryl:  During your growing up years, who were your strongest musical influences?  

Paul:  In terms of professional musicians, my biggest influences were definitely the Louvin Brothers and Reno & Smiley. Of course, I learned to sing and play from Pap, and Pap is the one who convinced me to listen to the music of the Lovins and R & S, so that makes him the most influential overall. 
Jerry Wilson

Paul & "Pap"

Although these two groups were my favorites, I could never sing or pick like them, so I don’t think I ever tried to copy them but tried to develop my own sound. Trying to be original was something that Pap supported. He wrote around 50 original gospel songs using the above mentioned Biblical knowledge, and he told me once or twice (which was enough) that I should never want to sound like anyone other than myself. I actually worked that concept into the lyrics of a song that I wrote called “Guitar Blues.” I have a recording of me and Pap singing it, and I hope to release it eventually. "Pa

"Pap" & Paul

Cheryl:  Who are some of your favorite singers/musicians to listen to on a regular basis?

Paul:  When I was young and first started listening to music, I would never have imagined that my taste would be as broad as it is today. I listen to a wide range of music regularly, everything from early country/gospel performers like the Browns Ferry Four to independent folk-rock groups like the Fleet Foxes or the Avett Brothers. Basically, I like any type of music as long as it is actual music and is well done. What I mean by that is, that it must be genuine music with a real melody, chords, and rhythm, and it must be authentically made by the musicians and singers. I’m happy for those who like it, but I cannot tolerate modern country music because it seems to be the most artificial and superficial thing ever produced. The vocals are computerized, and the topics and lyrics of the songs are shallow and vain. If I had to choose between listening to heavy metal and listening to modern country music, I would choose the heavy metal because it is less fake than the “music” played on CMT and on radio stations featuring the modern country genre. 

Cheryl:  Please tell us about The Wilson Brothers and their music and how it has helped to shape your musical style. 

Paul:  Pap and his brother Ray sang as a gospel duet for around 40 years, with Ray singing the lead and Pap singing harmony. They both played acoustic guitars, and toward the end of their career together, Ray played the mandolin. They sang some of Pap’s original songs but devoted most of their time to covering songs from the Louvins and Reno & Smiley.

They also sang hymns and songs from other groups, like the Blue Sky Boys. In many magazine articles and press releases, the reporters oddly cited the Stanley Brothers as influences on their music. However, this was very far from the truth because neither Pap nor Ray cared for the Stanley sound. Their younger brother, Henry, played with them early on, using an electric guitar, which he played in the style similar to Chet Atkins’ guitar playing. They sang in countless churches and other venues over the years and never recorded any secular music. They had weekly programs on at least 3 different radio stations over the years. They made their first released album in 1973, called “Words of Life,” which was very well received and is still played on the radio today. They made their last recording (“Today, If You Will Hear His Voice”) in the early 2000’s. All told, they recorded and released around 6 recordings, plus a CD featuring a compilation of live music. They won the NC Folk Heritage Award from the NC Arts Council in 1998, receiving the award and playing on the same stage with Arthur Guitar Boogie Smith (co-writer of “Dueling Banjos”), who also received the award.

When I was around 16, Ray had a recorder capable of overdubbing and producing fairly good audio quality on high bias or metallic cassette tapes. He allowed me to borrow this recorder for over a year. At the time, I had written many songs. The recorder, along with headphones and a mic, allowed me to play guitar (lead and rhythm) on two separate tracks, as well as sing lead and harmony with myself, then mix it all down into a finished recording. Having access to this type of equipment probably advanced my musical ability and understanding within that one year as much as I could have advanced it in five years otherwise. There was no YouTube or even Internet back then from which to learn music. I used Ray’s recorder until it was almost worn out. When I got my first job, I bought him a new one. I learned a lot from them in terms of how to play music, but because I traveled with them from age 17 till my early 30’s, I may have learned even more from them about how to perform in various settings and how to interact with an audience.  

Paul & "Pap"
Cheryl:  Please share with us about the blog, "Blind Pig & The Acorn" and its author, Tipper. 

Paul:  Around 10 years ago, my sister Tipper started a blog called Blind Pig & The Acorn. She realized how much she loves our Appalachian Culture and that she wanted to do her part to preserve it. While she still doesn’t make much money from the blog, the fact that it has readers from all over the world and averages 7,000 hits a day, indicates that she has succeeded in her mission. On the blog, readers learn about Appalachian cooking, folklore, history, geography, music, farming, art, and more. An unexpected outcome from the blog is that we now have around 200 videos of Pap singing and playing music with me and some of his grandchildren. 

These videos are precious to us now that he is gone on to be with the Lord, and if not for the blog, they would never have been filmed. 
The videos appear on the Blind Pig Youtube channel, and to date, some of them have been viewed almost 70,000 times. Much like the blog followers, the people watching and commenting on the videos are from all over the world. It’s really neat to know that people thousands of miles away are able to enjoy the things we did right there in my kitchen.  

Tipper certainly didn’t start out as a tech wizard, but over time, and through a lot of hard work, she learned how to make the blog function as it should to really appeal to and attract readers. I think this shows some of the resolve and ingenuity characteristics of Appalachians. She also discovered and honed her voice as a writer. Many blog followers have contacted her to say that her blog has made a powerful difference in their lives and given them inspiration and hope on a personal level. 

Cheryl:  How did the name "Blind Pig and The Acorn" originate?

Paul:  When Tipper first conceived of the blog, she wanted to name it after a common Appalachian saying. She went through a long list of possibilities and finally settled on “Even a blind pig finds an acorn once in a while.” Her Husband, Matt Pressley, is from Haywood County, NC, and someone from his family suggested this saying as the title for her blog. At the time, I had never even heard the expression, but I’ve heard it and various versions of it since that time. Tipper thought the idea of getting lucky went along well with her attempt to create something new from scratch. The title has proved popular. 

Cheryl:  How has the music of "Blind Pig and The Acorn" evolved over the years?  What is the story of its history?   Please tell us about The Pressley Girls, their music, and their involvement with "Blind Pig and The Acorn."

Paul:  The Blind Pig music has changed over time as the younger generation, The Pressley Girls, began to become more accomplished with their music and to take more of the center focus. After the first few years of filming music in the kitchen, Tipper joined us on bass, which really improved the overall sound of the music. 
Left to Right:  Paul Wilson, Corie Pressley, Katie Pressley, & Jerry "Pap" Wilson

We started out doing mainly music one could describe as “canon” from the world of hymns, classic country, bluegrass, etc. And at times, we would throw in unexpected numbers, like “Memphis” or “El Condor Pasa.” I don’t think that aspect of variety has changed. Katie and Corie have been more heavily influenced by the music of the John C Campbell Folk School than either Pap or I was. This means they have more interest in playing Irish and Scottish music, such as traditional fiddle tunes and ballads. Above, I mentioned that Pap and Ray never recorded any secular music. Now that Pap isn’t physically with us, I only sing his songs when I have the opportunity to sing a solo during one of our concerts. For the most part, I sing harmony with Katie and Corie and back them up on guitar. I try to impart to them the things I learned from the Wilson Brothers. 

The Pressley Girls focus a lot on traditional music; however, they also compose their own songs, both lyrical and instrumental. 
Left to Right:  Corie Pressley, "Pap," & Katie Pressley

In my estimation, their original material is at least on par with the cover material they perform, and I encourage them to avoid the mistake of polishing a lot of cover songs while neglecting their own original compositions. Most weekends, they stay fairly busy. This past weekend, they were booked for and performed 3 separate shows at 3 separate venues. Although they sometimes appear on the Blind Pig channel, they have their own website, ( Visitors to the site can find their performance calendar and how to purchase their music. With the exception of fiddle playing, which they learned from other teachers, the Pressley Girls learned music from Pap. They attended Young Harris College on full-ride music scholarship but decided to change their major to sustainability and interdisciplinary studies. They changed their major because they didn’t like the type of music they were learning and performing at the college. I hoped that they would stick with it and learn about different genres of music and more about reading music. Pap and I only played by ear. Corie and Katie learned to play that way, and I thought if they learned the other method too, it would give them the best of both worlds.

Cheryl:  In the current group that makes up "Blind Pig and The Acorn", which part and instrument do each of you sing and play?  

Paul:  As stated above, Tipper plays the bass, a 4-string acoustic bass that we run through an amp. Katie plays the fiddle. For the most part, Corie plays guitar, but she occasionally picks up the mandolin. In performances, I primarily play guitar. On their first recording, I played a smidgen of harmonica, mandolin, dobro, and keyboard to accompany their singing. The only instrument I recall playing in a public show other than the guitar is the mandolin. For the most part, Katie sings lead and Corie sings high harmony, what Pap always called tenor. On a few songs, Corie sings low harmony underneath Katie, and Corie also sings some lead on the verses of songs. When I sing with them, I sing primarily harmony that could be described as a low tenor or some sort of baritone.  

Left to Right:  Paul Wilson, Katie Pressley, Corie Pressley, & Tipper Pressley

Cheryl:  What are some of your favorite songs to perform, as a family?  What makes them special?

Paul:  We really like doing “Working On The Building” because it is a crowd favorite and also because it’s a song that we sang with Pap as a trio. Katie now sings his part. He sang high lead on the song, and Katie sings low lead. 

We also have a lot of fun on unusual songs like “Give the Dog a Bath,” which they wrote. We love singing “Walking My Lord up Calvary’s Hill,” which we learned one year for Easter. Songs can be special to us for a variety of reasons, but mainly it comes down to shared experience and creating music as a family. 

Cheryl:  Please share with us about recording projects of The Wilson Brothers, Blind Pig and the Acorn, and The Pressley Girls and how we can purchase them. 

Paul:  Some of the Wilson Brother recordings are no longer available, but the ones that are still available can be purchased through Blind Pig and The Acorn. The Pressley Girls' first album can be purchased there and on their website. Pap and I made a recording of some of his original gospel songs that can be purchased through the Blind Pig blog. That recording, called “Shepherd of My Soul” is also available through iTunes, Spotify, CD Baby, and some other digital distribution services. We hope to produce some new recordings for distribution in the coming years, and these will be available in those same places.

Cheryl:  Looking back over the years, what do you identify as being some of your favorite musical memories?

Paul:  I mentioned above that the Wilson Brothers performed on the same stage with Arthur Smith. This was at NC State in Raleigh, NC. This was one of the largest audiences that we ever played for (around 1,500 people), and we were very well paid! We also traveled to a festival in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio around that same time. Between those two shows, we were paid $8,000 total, and Pap and Ray sold 90 recordings. These two shows stand out in my mind not because we did them for the money. We didn’t even care that much about the money, and we put over half of it back into making another gospel recording. They stand out because, in those moments, we felt like we were recognized for our gospel music, almost on a professional level. Most of our performances were for free. We also had some memorable performances in Kentucky, Georgia, and Tennessee. In the summer of 1998, I traveled with Pap to Bell Buckle Tennessee to meet with Charlie Louvin. I brought Charlie a demo recording of around 20 original songs that I wrote, and he was kind enough to give the demo to the manager of Valerie Smith, who was a rising bluegrass star at the time. Although no one ever recorded any of my songs, it was a special day. We ate lunch with Charlie, and Pap and I sang on the local radio station there. I played Charlie’s guitar when we sang. Charlie even added a third-part harmony to a song that we sang back at his museum in Bell Buckle. We declined his invitation to go to the Opry with him that night, but that evening as we drove back to NC, on the radio we heard him dedicate “See the Big Man Cry” to us before he sang it on the Grand Ole Opry. Another favorite musical memory I have is hearing the Marksmen Quartet perform one of dad’s original songs on stage. But my most treasured musical memories will always be those times singing with Pap, times when our harmony seemed so tight, and we would look at each other across the two guitars and smile, even if it was only with our eyes. 

Paul, Tipper, Pap, Katie, & Corie

Cheryl:  If you could accomplish any musical dream going forward, what would it be?

Paul:  In a sense, I have only two musical dreams remaining. Before I die, I hope to record an anniversary CD of the Blind Pig blog, and I hope to record/produce one more gospel CD with the rest of Pap’s original songs, some of which have never been heard outside of our family. This CD may feature 1 or 2 songs that he and Ray recorded, using a different arrangement, but for the most part, they will be songs that have never been published. My dream is to do the songs justice. I have been learning as much I can about recording for digital distribution as the way to reach a much larger audience. My focus has shifted entirely away from selling music. My goal is for as many people as possible to hear his gospel songs, even if it means that the music is completely free.  

Cheryl:  As a Christian living in a culture that is growing increasingly hostile toward God and His Word, how do you stay spiritually encouraged?  Are there certain Scriptures, songs, books, or other resources you turn to in times of discouragement?

Paul:  As a Christian, I know that God’s Kingdom as it relates to me is a spiritual one for now, and I don’t expect this world to improve. There are many verses and songs that greatly encourage me. In today’s American culture, the commonly accepted thing is to lash out through social media toward anyone who has a different opinion, and Christians are portrayed as hate mongers. I am writing a song called “Faith & Facebook” so that I can release some of my emotions and stress about the current state of things. Along those lines, a verse I really like is Proverbs 16:26: “The heart of the righteous studieth to answer, but the mouth of the wicked poureth out evil things.” 

Cheryl:  How can we pray for you, your family, and "Blind Pig and The Acorn?" 

Paul:  I really appreciate you asking. Please pray that we remain blessed with the freedom and opportunity to continue doing what we do musically and in terms of the blog. Granny’s health is declining with age, and she requires more and more care from us. Please pray that we are able to continue providing her with what she needs and that we are able to ensure that her last years on earth are happy ones. 

Left to Right:  Paul Wilson, Jerry "Pap" Wilson, Katie Pressley, Corie Pressley, & Tipper Pressley

A BIG thank you to Paul for sharing his heart and Inner Views with us!
What a blessing it was to get to know him and his family better!

Please take a moment and click HERE to sample and download Paul's song called, "A Wonder",
a gospel song and biographical sketch of Pap.
(You can join CD Baby for free and download the song for .99 cents.)
Also, if you could please take the time to write a review of the song for Paul, he would love to read it and be most grateful!

Please pray for Paul, his family, his dear Mom, Granny, and the prayer requests he mentioned above.
May God always preserve our freedom in this great country so we can all continue to spread the good news of the Gospel!

Thank you so much for reading, and may God bless each one of you dear readers.

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