My husband and I took a little trip this past weekend over the mountain to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. I say, “over the mountain” because the Blue Ridge Mountains blend into the Smokies, so in reality, we went over a LOT of mountains, taking the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway from Asheville.
While in Gatlinburg, we took a lesser-known hike that runs along the Little Pigeon River and leads to a hundred-fifty-year-old Appalachian barn and homeplace. Over four hundred families lived up in this area of the mountains, a community of people, their houses based with fieldstone and creek rocks, their walls built with hand-hewn logs. Fences of rocks marked homesteads, now mounds of rubble.
It was a beautiful hike. The welcome babble of the river followed us along most of the walk as we climbed deeper into the woods. No phone service for over an hour or two.
Off this path, upon a little knoll surrounded by trees and brush, a blast of color and stone caught our attention. Upon investigation, we found a small, mountain cemetery of about 20 to 25 graves, mostly of infants and young children, almost all dying around the years 1909-1910. Flowers still decorated the graves, as if these little lives were not forgotten by time and distance. Only two gravestones were made with smooth, store-bought granite, the rest were etched hand-carved rock. Some had names – Lillian, Hettie, Ruth, Jessie, Rosalia – and some had been so worn away with time, the names no longer showed, but the size from headstone to footstone showed a small grave.
Stories breathed on the mountain breeze. Untold. Waiting.
When we returned to the bed and breakfast we were staying in nearby, the owner (a native) told us that the area was hit with a horrible epidemic of scarlet fever around that time – and likely those graves are from that time.
Some people may ask “Where was God in this moment? For these families?”
The answer? As present as the mountain breeze, the sound of the cascading river, or the lilt of birdsong.
Our world is a broken one, filled with unimaginable pain, shattering heartbreak, and deep longing. It has been broken for a long time because of human hearts.
And where is God?
He offers a perfect and future hope, but not only that, he is with us now. He came into this world and KNEW the unimaginable pain, the shattering heartbreak, and the deep longing so that we can be comforted by a God how not only knows but understands.
Our hearts are made for another world. They always have been.
Some of us recognize the otherness, see it in glimpses, in rays of light, or a baby’s laughter.
Our vision, though fogged by the grief of this world, knows that beyond the darkened horizon lies a better world, one where tears are no more, longings are fulfilled, and the broken hearts are mended.
Our stories matter to him – whether they are decorated with simple flowers on the edge of a mountain path or going through the everydayness of life. Our stories are not forgotten, lost, or unimportant.
They matter, every single breath, ache, or joy, because they belong to HIS story