The girl and I had planned for months to go back to Tennessee. It hugged us close the last time we were there and we needed to feel it again. I drove in the quiet of the morning and captured quick my view as it disappeared behind me. The girl turned on The Great British Baking Show that she’d downloaded onto our tablet the night before and it lulled peaceful in our little car. It was warm that morning but we’d brought a blanket and worn our sweat pants, each of us, because the cabin of our car filled with a cold, frosty wind pouring through the vents and neither of us wanted to turn it warmer. We’d just been graced a new car the week before by people that loved us and people who didn’t even know us, a car with the luxury of air conditioning that we hadn’t had the past three summers before this and we just couldn’t quite get over it. So we bundled up and looked at one another and laughed….being cold was a probem we didn’t want to fix just then.
Just past Louisville we felt hungry. I saw the heralding signs on the highway. “Denny’s ahead. I used to work there when I was just about your age.” The girl wanted to stop and it turned out, Denny’s had dressed itself up as a 50’s diner, all silver like a train car on the outside and black and white checkered floor. She wanted a diner version of a cup of coffee, in a glass mug, no fancy syrups or talls that were smalls. We shuffled in with our hair a mess, no make up on, still wearing what we’d slept in. Didn’t matter; we were together writing adventures on our hearts.
With scrambled eggs and biscuits and gravy devoured right off the plate clean, we tucked ourselves back in our ride and headed south. “Check in any time! The place is ready for you!” My phone dinged the message and made me want to drive a little faster. We’d stayed here before, this cabin on 92 acres of Tennessee heaven, and felt a kinship with the owners and a sense of finding a secret that belonged only to us. When we pulled into the driveway two hours later my girl breathed in and looked at me. “It feels like we’re home.” Our hands and our hearts unpacked and we sat on the porch just to listen.
I breathed in thank yous and breathed out praise. Just a few days ago, it looked like we wouldn’t be able to get here. No car, not enough money to buy one. I’d decided to cancel these plans long held to get our money back and into our hands, clutched with a panic. “No, mama. Wait to see what God does.” The tears welled up humble. He’d wanted us here. My girl had taught me to sit still and watch Him.
Up the road is a tiny little ramshackle looking diner with a big God story. A woman named Marcy Jo had always wanted to have a diner and her brother and his wife saw this little place for sale just down the road from their farm. So they bought it and dusted it off with love and there’s no place on earth you can get cinnamon rolls or fried catfish dinners quite like them.
We walked in the door four months almost to the day that we’d been there last. Rachel had waited on us then and she met us at the door this time with the look that recognizes old friends. “Hey! I remember ya’ll!” She asked us what we wanted and I told her to surprise us. Without hesitation, she wrote up the order and whisked herself off to the kitchen, and minutes later brought us plates of goodness that tasted like grandmother’s cooking. It was close to closing time and she lingered at our table and we talked about life and what she wants out of it. I left with two pieces of cake for my birthday, compliments of Rachel. She’s a friend now and we’ll think of her and whisper her name to the Maker of stories.
We went back that evening to the cabin and turned down the a/c and pulled up the covers and planned our next day’s adventures. I slipped out quiet to the front porch while the girl read and let the cicadas in the trees sing to me as the last light disappeared. “Thank you, Father, for this. For all of this.”
The rest of the week was filled with unexpected finds like a scavenger hunt. Franklin Theater was having an afternoon showing of American Graffitti on the big screen and we bought tickets right then and there and I introduced my girl to a memory from my high school days. I felt a certain wispiness watching the familiar images. We traced the back roads to Leiper’s Fork and sat in Puckett’s Grocery and ate fried bologna sandwiches, the meat cut thick and charred. We bought little bags of herbs and essential oils and trinkets for those back home to let them know we took them with us in our hearts.
It came up quickly, the storm on Saturday late afternoon, a warm and heavy rain, and we ducked into Merridee’s Breadbasket and shook off the wetness in the cozy room with the wooden floors that creak under foot and baskets hanging over our heads. We found a corner table and sat with our soup and sandwiches and read our books that we always carry with us, whichever one we are in the middle of, and the thunder serenaded us. After it let up and the steam rose from the muggy, hot streets we grabbed our things and headed back to the cabin for a quiet night, our last night here. I snapped a picture of the overall clad sign painter as we left. It made me feel like a part of the fabric of this little town to watch him. Signs being painted, bread being baked, families sitting around tables, life stories being lived out.
Sunday dawned foggy and thick. We headed to Marcy Jo’s for a final meal before church and heading back home. We’d worshipped at Crosscountry Cowboy Church last time we were in town and we drove into the parking lot and picked a spot; a man on horseback keeping watch over the cars. That same feeling of finding home washed over us and we stepped inside. We sat in the same seat we had before, like you do when you’ve been going to the same church for a long time. Everyone knows where each other sits and our seats seem to have been waiting on us since last time. The pastor’s wife had become my Facebook friend and she recognized me from my picture and greeted us with a hug, her soft southern drawl sounding like welcoming grace. This church was more of a bigger picture than anyone had ever bargained for just two years ago. A husband and wife had purchased the farm, the same ones who helped start Marcy Jo’s. They wanted a place to raise their family and sing their songs and stay near home. They built a barn they could perform in and dreamed of growing old together and being buried out by the big trees in the field. Along the way, the young wife got sick and and with a trembling heart and aching held out hands they looked up and gave it to God. She went to heaven and her husband stayed here, still looking up.
Today? The farm is still where he lives, he and his little girl. And the barn has become a church. And God has written a story there that no one saw coming. It has been baptized with tears and the doors opened up for others to share in it. My girl and I took in the songs being sung that morning that reminded us of the unexpected turns of our own story, of the goodness found in all of them. “God writes good stories,” sang the author of the song that day, “and He always has.
(begin at 8:40)
We stood out front on the church porch after the service and gathered around a simple, clean cow trough as people stepped in and dunked under the water to wash away a past and grab hold of the Truth. My girl leaned in and whispered how much she liked it here. I was glad that her faith had kept me from losing mine; that we had made the trip after all. We got in our car and drove down the street and stopped one more time at the diner to grab a cold tea to take with us for the ride home. Rachel poured it for us and saw us off at the door. “Ya’ll drive safe and come back!”
God does indeed write good stories. And He always has.