Searching to See God in the Psalms

One year ago today I was recuperating from my second heart procedure within a two week period. I wrote the following thoughts four months later when I returned to the hospital for very difficult bladder surgery. My resulting study in the Psalms during the intervening months sent me on the course to launch this blog Grace Journey.

In November of 2018, during the time I was dealing with several heart cath procedures, I began studying the Psalms with the purpose of focusing on God as I read. I wanted to especially key on what the Psalmists reveal about God’s person, character, works, and glory. This has been a very rich study and blessing.

I use the YouVersion Bible app on my iPad as I read. With the use of technology I can compare reliable versions as I study a Psalm each day. The app allows me to highlight verses in various colors. And I highlight in a yellow color any verse that says something specifically about who God is, what He does, how He acts, and especially what He promises.

I use other colors to highlight commands, lessons to be learned, and truths to ponder. But my main focus is on seeing the overriding message of God’s goodness, greatness and glory in each of the Psalms. This approach has been very enriching. I find each day that I have an eagerness to learn more about my God.

This week I reviewed the first 22 Psalms and made a cursory list of things that the text declares about our God. He guards, decrees, protects, delivers, vindicates, makes us safe and secure, leads us to righteousness, gives good favor, hears our appeal for mercy, is just, sovereign, majestic, does amazing deeds, rules, shelters, is faithful, restores, guides, and on and on. These are just some of the revelations of God’s greatness that are spelled out in Psalm after Psalm.

Not all of the Psalms are words of comfort. Some are Psalms of lament, instruction, warnings, and judgment. Many are Psalms of praise, promise and encouragement. But all of the Psalms are rich in theology – the knowledge of God. The Psalms magnify our great God and they reveal the coming Savior. What a privilege to daily ingest these truths and see the greatness of our God in His eternal Word.

Guest Post from Pastor Steve Benedict, entitled: “Lost!”

Gerry Carlson: For many years I dreamed of hiking the famous Appalachian Trail. Well, it is not going to happen. My time for such adventuring is past. But in 2012 Connie and I camped several days at Harper’s Ferry, WV, where the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Headquarters is located. This building and store is considered the half-way point on the 2,200 mile trail that stretches from Georgia to Maine. We enjoyed examining the small museum at the HQ, purchasing a memento ball-cap, and meeting some bona-fide hikers. I’ve always admired those who hike the Trail – whether partially, or completely.

This past year I learned that one of my valued former students from Maranatha Baptist Bible College did a ten-day expedition through the Shenandoah National Park section in Virginia. Steve Benedict had completed 18 years pastoring at a Virginia church and was taking a sabbatical to consider his next steps in ministry. As part of a season of prayer and seeking God’s will he embarked on a solo hike on a segment of the Trail in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.

Below is an excerpt from a personal post that Steve wrote last June on his own blog. I asked Steve if I could reprint a portion of his excellent post on Grace Journey. His words of experience and learning are wise and profitable for us all. Read and be blessed!    

LOST!

Hogwallow Flats Overlook

On the Appalachian Trail there’s a special blaze to indicate a sudden or unexpected twist or turn in the trail. Instead of a single blaze, there’s a double blaze.  This warns the hiker that the trail is about to take an unexpected turn, so pay attention.

Somehow, I either missed that section in the hiking manual or forgot it.  So, as you can imagine, I was in for a rude surprise when I blew past my first double blaze on day two of my hike.  I had just passed Hogwallow Flats and reached the summit of Mount Marshall.  The trail meandered along the ridge of the mountain for maybe a half mile, getting more rugged and narrow all the time.  The views were stunning and there were striking rock formations all around, where ancient movements of the tectonic plates had thrust massive sedimentary rocks into all kinds of crazy angles.  The terrain had an other-worldly look. And then, there came the double blaze.  The trail took a sharp turn down the mountain and I, assuming that there was another scenic overlook just ahead, took a sharp turn up the mountain.

I didn’t notice anything for maybe 10 minutes.  I just kept wandering down what looked like a trail.  Maybe it was, for deer or bear or something.  But there came a point at which I knew I was lost.  Then, I compounded the error.  Since I assumed that the trail had gone up the hill, I headed off at a 90 degree angle to intercept where I thought for sure the trail would be.  It wasn’t.

At this point, there was no retracing my steps.  I stopped, got out my trail map and compass and tried to figure out what went wrong.  What I discovered was, even though I thought I was right, I was headed in the exact opposite direction and had been for a long time.

I charted a new course and headed out over some of the steepest, rockiest terrain imaginable.  It took me a good 45 minutes or more, but I eventually found the trail.  But there were some consequences.  I had blown about 2 ½ hours of time and energy- both valuable commodities for an out of shape hiker like me. And I had also shredded my feet.  The hard angles and rocky surfaces, untamed by a trail, created blisters and a stress fracture that dogged me the rest of the hike.

I learned some valuable lessons that day which carry over well into the journey of life.  Maybe you can benefit from them too.

Lesson 1) When you realize you are off track, STOP and return to where you lost your bearing.  Don’t try to fix it on your own, it only compounds the error. It was self-reliance that got you there in the first place.  The very moment you discover your’e lost, stop and return, God is waiting for you there (2 Chronicles 15:4).

Lesson 2) When you’re lost, everything looks like a trail. Have you ever noticed that?  The woods appear to be full of trails, but most of them lead nowhere.  When I was a kid, I’d walk in the woods near our house and follow supposed “trails,” imagining that they were Indian trails or deer trails, or bear.  Usually, the trail would dissolve into nothingness and leave me standing in the center of a briar patch. We call these rabbit trails.  When we stop relying on the Holy Spirit as our guide and lose our way, we become susceptible to all kinds of worldly rabbit trails. We think these trails will lead to fulfillment, but they never do.  Are you chasing a rabbit trail right now?

Lesson 3) When you’ve lost your way, don’t trust your feelings, trust your instruments. When I finally broke out the compass and map, I had an incredibly difficult time believing that I was headed in the exact opposite direction.  I’m headed east? That can’t be right! I looked at the map and the compass and double and triple checked it. It was really hard to turn around. To do so meant admitting that I had been going in the wrong direction for a long time.  Even in spite of all of the evidence, a part of me still thought, “Maybe if I just go a little farther, I’ll find that trail.”

God’s word and Spirit are the only true north in our lives.  God has given us completely reliable resources, but like Peter walking on the water, the surest way to sink is to get our eyes off Jesus and trust in our own strength and resources.

I learned a lot on the trail that day.  Sometimes people think they are lost but they aren’t, they just need to keep walking. Sometimes people know they’re lost and the battle is to find the humility and courage to turn around. But the absolute worst place to be, is to be lost and not know it.  It’s from that place of arrogance or ignorance that our souls are truly in danger.

Which describes you?

The Ministry of Mentoring

“…able to teach others also.” II Timothy 2:2

This week we had the sad human experience of saying an earthly farewell and remembering the life of Terry Price, our pastor at Maranatha Baptist Church. The striking characteristic of Terry’s life that emerged at his memorial service was his impact on others. As his son Oz declared; his dad’s faithfulness, friendliness and steadfast following of Jesus left a marked influence on their family and a host of individuals he touched.

Pastor Price’s grandsons serve as pallbearers to honor their grandfather.

This was especially seen in his 42 years of teaching and coaching young people in two different Bible colleges. Scores upon scores of students and players have spoken out this week about the significant influence Coach Price had on their lives. Members and friends of Maranatha Baptist Church have also expressed a similar testimony from the three short years Pastor Price led by serving the church ministry here in Sebring, Florida.

It is a distinct privilege to participate in the lives of others through mentoring, discipling, and sharing significant life-building relationships. At the memorial service I was able to reconnect with some of Terry’s football players that I knew from over twenty-five years ago when I served on the administration at Maranatha College. It was a distinct joy to see them going on – enthusiastically serving their Lord.

Pastor Ross Johnson, Coach Malmanger, Pastor John Morlan, and Pastor Rob Cronin.

While serving at the college, I was a big fan of the football team. That was especially influenced by my observation that some of the strongest spiritual leaders on campus, at that time anyway, were the leaders of the football team. This was no doubt due, in large measure, to the emphasis of Coach Price, and supported by his coaching staff. But it was obvious to me that these student athletes were genuinely “team players” and that spirit was exhibited by them in their attitude toward the whole student body.  

The football players were leaders in cheering for the other athletic teams, and they were excellent role models and encouragers for the new recruits on the squad. Football was seen as a realistic metaphor for life – and especially for the struggles and challenges of the Christian life.  

Twenty former players with Coach Mal and Colene Price at the graveside service.

One year a small group of underclassmen became involved in some off campus rule-breaking activity. They accepted the discipline meted to them, and were removed from the team. I reached out to those athletes and invited them to join other students for a Saturday morning prayer time. It was a good learning and growing time for me. And, as it turned out, it became a strategic support for our family because our Marine son was deployed into harm’s way during the period of Gulf War I. Those guys prayed with me and supported our family during a very difficult time.

I learned that the essential elements of mentoring are sharing, listening and encouraging. It is truly a gift flowing from God’s grace to have the privilege of mentoring and ministering in the building up of the body – the body of believers; serving together until Jesus comes for His own.   

IT’S BETTER TO BE IN HEAVEN

On Friday morning our great friend and faithful pastor, Terry Price, entered heaven’s portal and joined those already called home. Terry was diligently serving the Lord as pastor of Maranatha Baptist Church on the very day he was called to heaven. We mourn our loss — but for Pastor Price, or “Coach Price” as he was affectionately known by his Bible college students and football players, it is all gain.

Years ago, as a youth pastor, I wrote the following poem when a dear church member, and father of two kids in my youth group, was very unexpectedly promoted to heaven. It is homespun poetry that was influenced by a youth group camping trip to the awe-inspiring Colorado mountains a few months before.

 It’s better to be in heaven
Than to walk the plains of earth,
For a moment with Christ in glory
Defies any measure of worth.

Sure — I’d like to live on a mountain,
There the world looks majestic and grand;
But life is lived in the valley,
Where sin and disease grips the land.

Heaven must be like a mountain —
Where the struggles of earth seem small;
And the view of eternal values
Obscures the curse of man’ s fall.

Someday I’ll be moving to heaven,
When God has need of me there,
But now I must stay in the valley,
To tell of the Saviour’s care.

For Jesus has given the orders,
To strive with the forces of sin;
And tell the news of Salvation,
That Christ in His mercy might win.

I’d rather go on to heaven
But God has need of me here —
To love a lost world for Jesus,
And dispel men’s doubt and fear.

We sorrow not for our brother,
Who God has called from the strife;
We weep instead for the millions,
Who know no hope past this life.

Declare His Strength & Power

All of my life I have believed that our latter years are to be particularly important. That seems to be a sub-theme in Scripture. Many personages in the Bible made their greatest impact in the seasons of advanced age. Moses, Joshua, David, Paul, John and many others performed significant ministry in their later years. God clearly intends for each one of us to pass on His truth and testimony to the next generations. This thought is certainly expressed in Ps. 71:18.

But our later years are often filled with doctor’s appointments and medical procedures. I had one this week. It seems that we are being relegated to the sidelines more and more. All of these experiences remind us of our waning strength. But they should prompt us to remember that it has been His strength – not ours – that has brought us this far. In Psalm 40 we are reminded that, “Many, O LORD my God, are your wonderful works which you have done; and your thoughts toward us cannot be recounted to you…”

We are left with this challenge, as gray heads, in our most important years of life. We are urged to leave a legacy that trumpets God’s greatness, strength and power to the next generation. We are to tell of His works in a way that points to His greatness and glory, and not just to our exploits and wisdom. Ps. 111 declares “He has caused His wondrous works to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and merciful. He provides food for those who fear him; he remembers his covenant forever.” It is His faithfulness that we are to declare.

The Psalmist then delivers this punch line: “He has shown his people the power of His works…” God has shown His works of power in the pages of Scripture, in the record of history, and in the experiences of our lives. Not that history and experience equal, or validate, Scripture. They don’t. But the Psalmist in Ps. 37 explains “I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread.” Throughout our lives we have witnessed the faithfulness of an all-loving God, and we are to declare that testimony to those who follow.

God is true to His Word. That is what God’s Word tells us. That is what history and our experience confirms to us. The Lord is faithful to His promises. He is faithful to His Word. He cares for his own. We need to declare those truths and exalt the faithfulness of God’s character – His promise keeping character. That is what we need to leave to the generation to come. We need to leave a testimony of His strength and His power.

Mountain Top Journey

On November 25, 2018 I wrote some further reflections about the 1960 camping trip on which Connie and I met. This story is so powerful because it reflects the hand of God in such a definite and providential way.  

One more story from the 1960 Wyoming trip. Somewhere in the middle of the camping experience, one of the teenage young ladies, Sally Ley, developed a serious case of appendicitis. Remember, this is way before cell phones were contemplated. I’m not sure that remote area would even have cell tower accessibility today, even though it is not too far — as the proverbial crow flies — from Buffalo, Wyoming.

Evidently the wrangler who was with us rode down to the ranch with a plea for help. The legendary “Wyoming Jack”, who was the operator of Paradise Ranch, sprang to action. He contacted a pilot who flew his single engine plane to our rescue. That’s right. The pilot landed his plane in the long, narrow meadow, at 8,000 feet, that is identified on official maps as Soldier Park.

Our campsite was probably a half mile up into the woods from where the plane landed. So, the wrangler brought an Army surplus stretcher, and a group of us alternated carrying her over uneven terrain to the plane. She was in pain and the whole ordeal was very intense and scary. But that skillful mountain pilot took off over a bumpy field and got Sally to the hospital and safety.

The heroic pilot points out his flight plan to the legendary “Wyoming Jack” in the white shirt.

Above is a picture of the plane, with the pilot, some of the group and Wyoming Jack, waiting for the stretcher to arrive. Fourth Baptist youth activities seemed to frequently bring adventure and drama into the mix. It was kind of like a modern reality show without the TV cameras.

One of the all day trail rides heading toward Cloud Peak that reached 13,000 ft. at the summit.

As young people we thought this adventure and drama was great stuff. Continental Casualty Insurance Company paid out many claims during those days to Fourth Baptist. No wonder that kind of insurance can’t be obtained anymore to cover medical claims for church youth groups.

I haven’t thought about this experience for many years, but I see it in a different light today. Just three years before that trip our dad was taken to heaven in a single engine plane crash. At that time in my young life the Lord gave me Ps. 91:2 as a life verse. The Psalmist says, “I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust.” That truth and promise has been an assurance and blessing many times since. Here I am as a young Wyoming cowboy in 1960.

Today it occurred to me that verse 11 in that passage may have been in operation during that time on the mountain long ago. It says, “For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.” You see, it was just a few nights after this rescue flight that Connie, under great conviction, trusted Christ as her Saviour at that high mountain campsite. If Sally’s episode had ended in tragedy, could the mood of the whole camp been drastically changed? Instead, it was a true “mountain top” experience.

That is all in God’s hand. There is much that we do not know or understand. We do know that our great God cares for His own. How he does that is His business. 

Remembering the Shepherd

 On November 23, 2018, I wrote the following thoughts and now want to republish them so that they become a permanent part of my Grace Journey memoir. It was during the writing of this article that I determined to launch a blog and to name it Grace Journey. I want to record these thoughts as a part of my legacy.

My recent study in Psalm 23 brought to mind a unique experience we had many years ago with a Shepherd and his flock in the High Country of Wyoming in 1960. This was the time of the Western Camping Trip when Connie and I met. Our group from Fourth Baptist of Minneapolis was camping at about 8,000 ft. in the Cloud Peak Wilderness Area of the Big Horn Mountains, just west of Buffalo, Wyoming.

Youth Pastor Don Nelson chose our campsite because it was near a mountain stream and straddled the trail heading up toward the Cloud Peak glacier. He had obtained the services of a wrangler and a string of horses from the Paradise Ranch where we parked our vehicles. Even though the campsite area was primarily among the pine trees, there was a wide spot on the trail that provided a good place for some tents and a makeshift corral for the horses.

Connie is on the right, with the sunglasses and black cowboy hat.

Each day part of the group would go on a trail ride above the timberline toward Cloud Peak. The rest of the group would stay at the campsite or go hiking, fishing, or creating activities that only teenagers can invent. One day when I was at the campsite we began to hear a strange noise coming up the trail. One of the leaders went to investigate, and learned that a Shepherd, on horseback, was driving a huge herd of sheep right up the trail to higher elevations beyond our campsite.

Our leaders realized we had a big problem! This was a herd of several hundred sheep that would follow one another right through the middle of our camp – trampling tents, equipment and everything in their path. Leaders quickly sprang to action and secured a long rope to a tree off to one side of the trail. Then they extended the rope, held at intervals by campers, to form a skirmish line around the perimeter of the campsite. It worked. The Shepherd, and his sheep dog, kept the sheep from straying too far off course, and the entire herd circumvented the campsite and headed on to their destination.

Later, on one of our trail rides, I saw the Shepherd, and his sheep, in a valley high above our campsite along the trail toward Cloud Peak.

The sheep were grazing all over the expansive lushness of natural grassy pasture land high in the mountains. The stream that ran down from the glacier passed through the middle of the valley. It was a fairly gentle stream, but made some natural twists and turns creating small pools of calmer water that were ideal for sheep to drink.

Here was a Shepherd, in late June – all by himself, except for his dog – tending his sheep for the short mountain summer. This was 1960, and I think he had a long-rifle in a saddle scabbard, and then his trusty dog, to protect and tend his sheep. The “green pastures” and “still waters” of Psalm 23 come to mind as I think of that lone Shepherd tending and guarding his sheep high in the Wyoming mountain range. But there were no human enemies armed with lethal weapons lurking in the trees, or camped in hidden enclaves like the Psalmist faced in his day.

David’s imagery of sheep and shepherd, and enemies and conflict, are used in the 23rd Psalm to direct our attention to the Great Shepherd. He is not a lonely Shepherd, but He is the lone Shepherd that we need. As Dr. Robert Ketcham expounds in his little volume “I Shall Not Want”, the Lord Jesus Christ is all that we need for: Rest, Refreshment, Restoration, Guidance, Courage, Comfort, Supply, Protection, Power, Mercy, and a promise of Forever with Him.

The Lord has been so faithful to us along the trail of life and ministry. I call it our Grace Journey. Dr. Ketcham quotes a little girl from his ministry who recited Psalm 23:1 and then declared, “The Lord is my Shepherd, that’s all I want.” He has truly been all that we need.

Still Restoring My Soul

Ten months ago I was beginning to recuperate from serious heart surgery. At that time the Lord became especially dear to me as I drew sustenance from His Word. The daily restoration of my soul has been an abiding and continuing blessing since that time. I am still regularly mining the depths of the riches of His grace. Today I share one of the meditations that I posted on Facebook at that time.

November 20, 2018

I took great encouragement today from Psalm 4:1, and from some guarded sense of physical strengthening. The Lord is truly restoring my soul. I was able to do some things, including a conference with a willing helper who will take on some Village ministry tasks. Other helpers have already kicked into gear and the reports of their progress make my heart sing.

But it was the time in the Word that was my greatest blessing. Psalm 23 has turned me toward a new and fresh excursion into that precious collection of poetic songs that are drenched in God centered truth. As a boy my dad, when he was a pastor and seminary professor, had a daily five-minute radio broadcast entitled Songs in the Psalms. I wish I could hear his voice of teaching, but I know that I can turn to the same textbook that he taught — God’s Psalms to us.

The verse in the KJV says, “Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness: thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress; have mercy upon me, and hear my prayer.” I sat in Walmart, while Connie was shopping for needed food, and studied on my iPhone. I found the phrase “enlarged me when I was in distress” to literally be “in distress (a narrow space) you make a place large for me.”

Our colloquial expression would be: “You got me out of a tight spot.” Although I like the NKJV better, when it helpfully translates the phrase, “You have relieved me in my distress”.

One commentator said something like this, “After the Lord has faithfully delivered us from distress six times, is he going to say, no, not a seventh time too?” Connie and I rehearsed this morning many times in our lives when God graciously brought us through the periods of distress. The Great Shepherd is faithfully caring for those who trust him. “I shall not want.”

At the White House on 9-11

I wrote this article 18 years ago today, Sept.12, 2001. On that day I just returned home from attending a conference in Washington, D.C. that was shortened by the attack of 9-11-01.

I AM THANKFUL FOR THE LORD’S PROTECTION!  I WAS AT THE WHITE HOUSE WHEN AMERICA WAS ATTACKED!

On Monday morning, Sept. 10, 2001, R.C. Winstead, a board member for the ministry I served, and I drove to Washington D.C., to attend a legislative conference for Christian school leaders.  Little did we realize the extraordinary significance of the conference theme when it was introduced at the opening session on Monday night.  That theme, “For Such A Time As This,” became so prophetic and momentous as the events unfolded over the next twenty-four hours.

Tuesday morning, Sept. 11, after a preliminary meeting, the entire group of about 140 loaded into buses at about 8:45 a.m. to travel from the Holiday Inn on the Hill up Pennsylvania Ave. to the White House complex for a special “White House Briefing.”  The buses dropped us on 15th and E Street, which is on the east side of the White House grounds.  We leisurely walked up the sidewalk to Pennsylvania Ave. on this gorgeous morning.  We were surrounded by numerous tourists and government workers — all enjoying the beauty of that very special place. 

The Holiday Inn on the Hill is on the left. We rode in buses like the one on the right.

Then we walked west in front of the White House to 17th Street where we were to enter into the Old Executive Office Building to be cleared by White House security.  As we arrived at the entrance we were only there a few minutes before a group of employees began to quickly emerge from the building.  Immediately we were told to get away from the building because a plane was heading toward the White House.

The Old Executive Office Building as it is today at 17th & Pennsylvania Ave. NW

I must confess that my first thought was that a small private plane, piloted by a kook, was trying to make some crazed point.  So we obeyed the policemen who began to shout at us and we moved down the street for protection.  At the same time cell phones began to chirp and members of our group received calls from family and staff members in different parts of the country.  Near me was a pastor from Hackensack, New Jersey, who received a call that gave us the shocking news about the first hit to the World Trade Towers. 

In the minutes that followed we began to learn the tragic story.  It also began to dawn on us that we were definitely in harms way.  I remember fear beginning to rush into my mind due to the realization that our nation’s capitol was under terrorist attack.  And here we were — a block away from the seat of America’s power.  Then I remember one of the men saying to three or four of us — “let’s pray!”  There we stood — praying for our safety and for our country.  Then I can say that God’s peace came to my heart.  And all up and down that street groups were calling heaven — asking for God’s strength for us and wisdom for our country’s leaders.  

These are “The Prayer Trees” along the street. We gathered under these trees to pray.

In a few moments another call told us that the Pentagon had been hit.  I did not learn until today that my colleague R.C., and another friend in the group, saw the aircraft circle above us.  Perhaps this occurred while I was in the prayer group — I don’t know.  I do know that God was good to keep me from seeing that plane.  Because of my long time acquaintance with the Washington area, I would have known that this meant something was terribly wrong.  I know that all aircraft are strictly prohibited from leaving a narrow route along the Potomac River on approach to Reagan National Airport.  The Lord not only protected us — He throttled my fear by keeping my mind in the palm of His hand.

This map shows our location about the time the first plane hit in New York City.

Soon our group was urged to move west to 19th Street and then south toward Constitution Ave. to an area where we could maybe meet our buses.  By now the traffic was turning to absolute gridlock as all government workers poured out of the buildings and headed for home.  When we reached Constitution Ave. the sirens began to wail as fire engines, police cruisers, and many unmarked law enforcement vehicles began to emerge from all directions. 

We could see the huge plume of smoke rising from the Pentagon as we walked.

Then we saw the large cloud of dark smoke emerging from the Pentagon — several miles to the southwest.  It was then that the reality really began to set in.  The unthinkable had happened.  Everything had changed.  But the changeless God of the universe was right there with us on Constitution Ave.  And we could sense His protection and peace.

We’ve learned today that the plane made two passes over the White House.  Could it be that God kept that plane from exploding into the White House specifically because 140 Christian leaders were there at the door? We don’t know God’s ways.  I just know that God’s protection was on our lives.  He must have things for us yet to do.  What a challenge!  What a privilege!         

Hurricane Floyd 1999

Twenty years ago we lived through an odd and exhausting experience due to our encounter with the terrible flooding precipitated by Hurricane Floyd. It is fascinating to see the similarities and differences between Floyd in 1999 and Dorian in 2019. Both storms ravaged the islands of the northern Bahamas, and both ran up the Carolina coast. However, Floyd dumped so much rain on Eastern North Carolina that it was declared a “once in 500 years” flood. Here is our story…and journey, as written in 1999.  

We have just lived 24 hours that we will never forget.  It all started with the approach of Hurricane Floyd on Wednesday night.  I had returned that afternoon from Washington, D.C., and Connie had made wonderful preparations for our fifth hurricane experience.  We were becoming veterans − with filled bathtubs to replenish the commode, bottled water for drinking, flashlight and radio batteries, and other survival gear.  Deck furniture was stored and The Weather Channel was dominating our entertainment attentions.  We have learned that you have to “ride out the storm” if you are going to be a Tar Heel.

That night we went to bed and slept rather peacefully because the winds were relatively moderate (only 40-50 mile per hour gusts) and the rain was only steady, not driving and loud.  We awoke at 6:30 to learn the storm had made landfall at Wilmington (about 150 miles away) and was steering to the NE, which meant the eye of this massive storm would travel east of us by about 75 miles.  Hurricane veterans learn that it is best to be on the west side of the eye because the counter-clockwise winds are always strongest on the east side of the storm.

True enough − but, it may also be true that the greatest amount of rain is dumped on the NW corner of the storm area.  This storm was huge and it contained plenty of moisture to dump.  And Rocky Mount, it turned out, was in the dump zone.  But, we thought we were ready!  Oh boy, do hurricanes take the wind out of your humble preparations.  Just like the other storms of life.

The Big Pine Tree Is Beginning to Fall

Connie was at the kitchen window watching the wind and rain when she noticed that a 50 foot pine tree a scant 15 feet from the house was beginning to lean dramatically toward our Dodge Caravan.  She hollered — and I came to attention quickly just like her 4th graders do each day at school.  In a flash I was out the door scooting the van forward and out of harms way.  Then we called our neighbor to urge him to move his BMW from the tree’s wrath to come.  To our horror Dennis couldn’t get his car started and we screamed while he pushed the car backward and the tree careened further forward.

Within minutes the huge tree uprooted completely and came crashing down. It blocked our driveway, the street, and buried its lower trunk halfway into the soft, rain soaked ground.  But we were safe and we thought, “No sweat, we’ve tackled a big tree before.”  Oh, the naive thoughts of a human being. 

Anyway, within the hour friends, and some city workers, came to help us cut the wood and to clear the street and our driveway.  As a result of this great progress we volunteered to go to Ed Peterson’s parents’ home to help clear a large Pecan Tree that had fallen on a pickup truck.  This was a wonderful humanitarian gesture that turned into a near nightmare for us.

City Worker Beginning to Clear the Way

Later in the afternoon we learned that the route we had taken to the Peterson’s was now completely blocked by a seven-foot deep river crossing the freeway.  All the other possible routes were similarly flooded and we were stuck on the wrong side of these new major rivers that seemed to be as wide as the mighty Mississippi.  For the next several hours we tried every possible way within a thirty-mile radius to cross the Tar River.  No luck.  In one place we forded water for a half mile that was at least two feet deep.  It was scary.

We then called our neighbor and learned that the power had returned.  Connie became especially concerned when she realized that we left our house vulnerable because the lights were now on and blinds were wide-open. The house was locked, but still it was a lighted invitation to looters.  Our colleague and friend Eddie sensed our concern and suggested that we could maybe make a long circuitous route home by going south to Wilson, west to Raleigh, north to Louisburg and Roanoke Rapids, and then back south to Rocky Mount.  This would be a four-hour ride, but, he theorized, might avoid the rivers causing the flooding.  We quickly decided to try it − bad decision − but we thought it better than sitting on our hands.  So, a little after 10 pm, we struck out on our adventure.

Over four hours later we gave up, after traveling 150 miles, only finding three impassable rivers and no more options to try.  We wound up at the Police station in Louisburg, NC, feeling very much like we were trying to get Andy Griffith and Barney Fife to help us find our way home.  In the middle of our consultation with Sgt. Sherrill, he and the only other officer on duty were called out hastily on a domestic dispute.  This left Connie and I in charge of the station until they returned.  We truly felt like Andy & Barney!

When the officers returned they kindly told us that it was hopeless.  So we returned to the Louisburg hospital (where we had originally sought help locating the police) and bedded down for a few hours of sleep at the courtesy of some gracious nurses who took pity on us. They gave us a two-bed room (with TV) plus the full kit of supplies they usually provided for patients.

When we awoke the next morning the bright sun led us to retrace our steps all the way back on the roads we had traveled the night before.  This route turned out to be the only way in and out of Rocky Mount.  When we got back to my office area Connie pleaded with a nice police sergeant to let us go across the Falls Road Bridge that was now open to emergency traffic only.

Our Flooded Back Yard

From there it is only a few minutes to home.  When we came in the door Connie fulfilled her pledge to kiss the floor.  But then we also bowed to thank the Lord.  Hopefully this will be the first and final chapter of Gerry & Connie’s Unbelievable Tales from the Soggy South.

On a serious note, Guy Bunn and his wife, one of our Positive Action board members, and Jeff & Camille Diedrich, of our PAFC staff, basically lost everything in the flood.  Guy lost four vehicles, his house, and possessions.  The newlywed Diedrich’s lost all of their possessions except their cars and wedding pictures.  Many others of our church member friends suffered major losses.  The flooding was unbelievable.  Areas that were never considered to be threatened by flooding were totally under water. That was September, 1999.