For the last thirteen years, we’ve been blessed to own a piece of property in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. After my father died and we were settling his estate, we had a small amount of money to put toward a down payment on a log house outside of Gatlinburg. Terri and I had prayed for twenty years to be able to one day own a place in the mountains (maybe retiring there at some point), and with a small investment, we bought a little log cabin.
For years she had planned, prepared, and saved furniture and other items to use in our mountain retreat if we ever got one. She knows how to decorate and make a place feel like home!
About six years later, when property values were at their peak, we sold that cabin and bought another house, one that we dreamed would be used by our kids and grandkids for years to come as a family get-a-way. We’ve had that home for seven years this month. We’ve invested time, sweat, resources, and energy into updating what Terri affectionately called “the ugliest house on the mountain.”
Terri made that house a labor of love. When we bought it, it was what she called a “blank canvas.” After ten days of working, painting, arranging, and updating that house was transformed from a blank canvas to a home our rental company called one of the most beautifully decorated homes on their program. We wanted people to walk in and feel “at home” like we did.
I can’t tell you how it felt to walk in those doors several times a year. It was my refuge. I had a study area set up downstairs with a desk and computer. The minute I arrived I would get my books and computer out and get ready to work on sermons, books, and other projects.
Terri would spend time straightening up items that had been moved around by those who had rented the property. We spent many mornings watching the sun rise over the mountains. We spent two weeks snowed in there after a sixteen-inch snow blanketed everything in sight. We always enjoyed building a cozy fire (you don’t use your fireplace much in Albany, Georgia) and watching a movie. I had the most comfortable red recliner in the living room—I could fall asleep in ten minutes in that chair.
We’ve enjoyed days there with our friends Roger and Linda Breland and Charles and Penny Lowery. We’ve been there with my first pastor, Charlie and Retta Draper. I’ve had pastor friends who have used the house for a study break. We’ve had fun times with our girls there. As my friend Roger Breland would say, we’ve had some “lovely moments” there.
The house was named Stand in Awe, and the view is awe inspiring. We have an unobstructed view of the Greenbriar Ridge in the National Park. It inspired me in the moments when I was there to retreat, study, and write. I’ve written the major portion of at least three books in that house. I’ve written countless sermons at that old wooden desk. I’ve been able to step back and get a perspective on ministry, trials, and life in general inside that house.
The view of the mountain sky with no lights was breathtaking to me. Far away from the city, there were few manmade lights to interfere with God’s heavenly lights. Seeing the mountains with nothing but a full moon to light the sky is stunning. The sound of storms rumbling across that valley and rolling over those mountains reminded me of the majesty of our Creator.
The serenity that Terri and I felt in that home was unexplainable. Walking in and seeing family heirlooms, a few pieces of my grandparents’ furniture, gave it a warm touch. Over the years, we had probably placed a dozen of Ken Jenkins’ pictures in the house. Plus the game room walls were filled with signed sports memorabilia I had collected through the years. All this was a quick reminder that this was our “get away” in the mountains. It was our home away from home.
We were able to maintain the house because we rented it out when we weren’t using it. Over the years, because God has blessed us with consistent rentals, we’ve been able to make significant improvements, building a stone retaining wall, remodeling the bathrooms, putting stone on the front of the house, and in general watching the house get a “touch” from my very creative wife.
Yesterday, Friday the 13th, 2011, that all changed. I got a call from our rental company yesterday afternoon that our house was on fire. It had apparently been struck by lightning. At this point, we aren’t sure of all the details, but we know that our home is, for all practical purposes, gone. We were originally supposed to be there next week to spend a study week and to relax for a few days before a hectic summer schedule. Now, all that has changed. There is no house to go to. Many of the heirlooms are either gone, or we’ll probably not be able to salvage them. I’m not sure what I’ll find when I drive up on Monday to assess where we stand and what the next step is.
Corrie Ten Boom said something to the effect of, “Be careful how tightly you grip things; the tighter the grip, the harder it hurts when God pries your hands from it.” I know that’s not the exact quote, but it’s what came to mind. The reality is that we’ve always said this house was the Lord’s, and now we’ve been tested on that. It was. It still is.
I’ve got a feeling when I drive up on Monday, my heart is going to be filled with a variety of emotions. I hope I can say, “Lord, I know you know we asked you for this house and this view of the mountain. I’m grateful that you gave us what we asked you for. Uh, Lord, did you know that your house burned down last Friday? It was one of your lightning bolts that hit it. Never mind, Lord, you know all things. Now, Lord, that we are here and in this situation, how do you want me to proceed?” I don’t have to “feel” it. I do, because of my faith, feel I must profess that and confess it.
A few weeks ago, we had a number of people gather at Sherwood to tape a DVD on the life of Ron Dunn. Before we started sharing, we all sat down and watched a DVD of Ron preaching on “Not ‘Why?’ but ‘What Now?’” It kind of defines where I am tonight.
Terri and I are grateful no one was in the house—it could have been disastrous. It could have been so much worse (and I haven’t seen it yet). We could have been there. Terri had knee surgery a week ago and is unable to travel. Months ago I reserved the house for two weeks for us to get away right after Mother’s Day. We could have been in there and possibly trapped.
Someone else could have been there. If I hadn’t reserved it, it could have been rented and someone’s life could have been devastated. There was only one way into and out of that house on the front. One person who called me said when they arrived, the whole front door was engulfed in flames and the firemen had to cut a hole into the roof to try to get into the house to put the fire out.
Ron Dunn famously said, “Good and evil run on parallel tracks, and they normally arrive about the same time.” That’s kind of where I am right now.
When I think of all the families who have lost everything in the recent tornados across the south, I have perspective I might not normally have. What brought me the most perspective was who I was with at the time.
(copyright, Michael Catt)
Michael served as the President of the Large Church Roundtable, the Southern Baptist Convention as an IMB Trustee, President of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Preaching Conference, Vice President of the Georgia Baptist Convention, and President of the 2008 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference. He has spoken at conferences, colleges, seminaries, rallies, camps, NBA and college chapel services, well as The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. Michael is the recipient of The Martin Luther King Award, The MLK Unity Award, and a Georgia Senate Resolution in recognition of his work in the community and in racial reconciliation.
Michael and his wife, Terri, have two grown daughters, Erin and Hayley.