Stareka

My dad grew up in Greenville, MS. Every summer we returned to visit my Mimi. As we traveled from our home in northeast Mississippi, I could always sense the approach of the delta by the change in landscape. All curves and hills disappeared being replaced by miles and miles of flatland. Highways were bordered by rows of crops in all directions. Daddy quizzed us along the way, “soybeans or cotton?”.

I envision my Dad’s childhood dwelling just as clear as day. Little white house, green shutters, front porch, creaky wooden floors, and white fringed spreads dressing all the beds.The aroma of fried chicken and all the fixins wafting through, and sounds of glee from cousins reunited.

Of all the wonderful memories, one of my favorites was going to the Stareka, the neighborhood grocery store. Mimi never learned how to drive so her primary means of transportation was a three wheeled bike with an oversized basket fastened on the back. My sisters and I took turns pedaling there. I remember every crack, imperfection, and hand print on the sidewalk we traveled. It wasn't necessarily the Stareka that was so exciting as much as it was the journey there.

Often we are in such a hurry to get to our destinations we miss all the journey has to offer. We are anxious for the weekend, we want our children to be less dependent, we want the pounds to be gone already, we want to get to the prize. The Bible is full of examples of journeys. Early in the Bible the book of Deuteronomy(1:29-33) teaches us GOD goes before HIS people, HE fights for us, HE carries us and HE shows us the way we should go.

We see in Acts 9 Paul was on the road to Damascus when a light from heaven flashed all around him. This was the  pivotal moment in his life. Paul was actually headed to take any followers of CHRIST, “whether men or women” as prisoners. Yet on the road there he met JESUS who changed his life forever. Paul became a believer, a disciple, and one of the most influential Christians the world has ever known. By interrupting the journey GOD changed the direction of Paul's life. Interruptions aren't always a bad thing. Instead of frustration try embracing the detour.

John 4 tells us the story of the Samaritan woman who went to the well to draw water around the sixth hour. …”and JESUS tired from the journey, sat down by the well (vs 6)”. The sixth hour by Jewish time would have been at noon, the hottest part of the day. The woman was strategic about the time of her journey because she didn't want to go when others would be at the well. JESUS, however, was strategic about HIS timing too. HE knew she would be there and HE knew her lifestyle choices. HE met her there at that precise moment even though she was trying to avoid interaction. Once again a crucial moment in the journey. It not only changed the Samaritan woman's life but also,  “many of the Samaritans in that town believed in HIM because of this woman's testimony (vs 39)”. GOD’s plan and time is perfect. We can try to avoid HIM but HE will show up. It would be to our benefit to slow down and listen. We might learn something that could change our life and in turn change many others as well.

JESUS of course, made the ultimate journey to the cross so that we might experience salvation. It is comforting to see that even the CHRIST himself cried out “my GOD my GOD why have you forsaken me”! HE was honest in HIS frailty  and felt the pain of being separated from the FATHER as HE took on the sin of the world. We must recognize if we are overwhelmed on our journey deliverance comes from the FATHER. In our weakest moments we must be honest and cry out to HIM. HE will go before us. HE will fight for us, HE will carry us, HE will show is the way we should go!

I hadn't been to Greenville in almost twenty years when GOD led me back by means of prison ministry, of all things. I went in March for a prison retreat and April to lead a women's conference. I needed to deliver devotion books there this summer, so Dad and I decided to take a day trip. I could still sense the delta’s approach by the change in landscape and my daddy continued to test my ability to recognize the crops. That was about all that had remained the same, though. As the years changed so had my Mimi’s neighborhood. My aunts, uncles and cousins moved away and Mimi had been laid to rest.

We decided to drive by the Stareka. I was shocked to see all that was left of the old grocery were the front stairs and the concrete slab. It was such an eerie feeling to see things so different. Yet there was a peace and gratitude in my heart for that part of my journey. It had been a beginning. A “foundation”, if you will,  of personal history. A seed planted for a connection and fondness of the city when the opportunity for prison ministry arose all these years later.

We ventured on to the cemetery to visit the graves of my Mimi, my grandfather, and my uncle. All were people who played a major part in my journey. However, I noticed amongst all of these beloved relatives was a gravestone for a person I didn't recognize. Apparently, she was a great aunt of mine. Why is this significant you ask? On the previous April trip to Greenville I visited the cemetery in search of our family gravesite. Unfortunately, I was unable to locate it. I was disappointed because I thought the LORD had led me there. I prayed HE would present a name for the devotion book I was presently delivering and was convinced it would somehow be revealed at my Mimi’s grave. Because, I didn't find the gravesite or a title for the devotion book that day, I concluded it had been a wasted journey. Later, I resolved to name the devotion book Stone Stories. I had been inspired by Joshua 4:21-24 which says, “He said to the Israelites, in the future when your descendants ask their parents what do these stones mean? tell them Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground. For the LORD your GOD did to the Jordan what HE had done to the Red Sea when HE dried it up before us until we had crossed over. HE did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the LORD is powerful.”  The stories in the book are a collection of stones of remembrance. They are a reminder of all the LORD has brought the authors through. A good title and concept I deduced, but I really desired confirmation.

Back to the present, I am now at the gravesite, with my dad, and low and behold, the name of the aunt I discovered amongst my family was Mary L Stone! After realizing Stone was actually a family name I was somewhat convinced GOD had given me the title just as I had hoped HE would. I then noticed the dates on my aunts gravestone. Mary L Stone shared the same birthday as my mom and the day Mary L Stone went to heaven was my Mimi’s birthday! In view of the fact, I named the devotion before I actually knew Mary L Stone ever existed, I embraced the assurance GOD most definitely had given me the title. Just as we are reminded through the book of Joshua “HE did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the LORD is powerful”! HE led me on a path that I might clearly see HIS dominion!

HE has designed this journey and leads with all authority and wisdom! I confess there are days I don't understand and instances I feel lost. I can't see what HE is doing so I might question the path. Even so, GOD remains steadfast. “JESUS is the same yesterday, today, and forever” Hebrews 13:8.

Today I encourage you to trust GOD and the journey HE has fashioned especially for you!

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