Written by: Barbara Ann Hall
Mosquitoes feasted on my flesh and dripping sweat burned my eyes
as the hot summer sun beat down upon my head. It was getting late in the afternoon and I anxiously awaited the cooler air
the evening promised.
It was nearing the end of the third day of the weeklong expedition hosted by the local museum.
Twelve eager beavers, including myself, signed up to comb the banks of the muddy creek for fossils and any other interesting
artifacts we might find. Which, as of that third day, had found nothing but a variety of biting insects that shared the feast
I couldn’t help but wonder what my purpose was there, why I was encouraged by God to trudge through
ankle deep mud in a hundred degree heat looking for God only knew what! That thought made me laugh, as He was the only one,
at that point in time, that did know what. I prayed with a little humor, “Father, I’m sure whatever the reason
is that you have me here will be well worth the pound of calamine lotion I have used already!”
leader, Mr. Anthony Roberts, who insisted we call him Tony, was a short and stout, ball of energy. Who, at that point in time
had already spent three entire days sprinting his way through the mud and the muck as we all trudged, heavy footed, behind
him. Every once in a while, when someone would sink in the mud or he could hear someone sigh, he would pause and remind us
in his encouraging, jolly way, of what he referred to as creek side manners, laid before us from day number one.
“Manner number one is rule of thumb, Tony said holding his thumbs high up in the air, don’t get discouraged!
From experience, I know that it’s quite possible to dig all week and find nothing until the very last moment of the
very last day.” Everyone sighed, and Tony was quick to repeat manner number one, “again, that manner is,
don’t get discouraged!”
“Manner number two is, stay with your muddy buddy!” Everyone
laughed, as we were all just about covered in mud from head to toe. “These woods can be dangerous if you are lost, and
much more so if you are alone.”
“Manner number three is, Step lightly. If you step lightly, your
feet are less likely to become imbedded in the mud.” As he demonstrated, he looked much like a kangaroo hopping over
And last, but not least, manner number four is, never underestimate any thing! There are lots of situations
and creepy crawlers out here that may look harmless and friendly, but believe you me, looks can be deceiving!”
“Now, if everyone minds their manners, we’re sure to have a muddy good time!” Tony added with an
almost perfectly imitated English accent and a chuckle in his tone.
Night fell fast back at camp. After dinner
everyone separated into smaller groups. Some sat around the fire to talk, others went down to the river to fish, and a few
retired early. I stayed by the fire with Tony the expedition leader and a few others from the group: Michael, a tall, distinguished
man who came on the expedition with his teenage son; Ryan, an elder gentleman who had been on every expedition with the museum
for the past twenty years; And Christi, a college student who joined the expedition with a classmate to meet an understudy
Tony shared with us two of his most challenging experiences from his last expedition, which consisted
of twelve high school drama students. “And believe me when I tell you, there wasn’t a day gone by that was not
filled with some kind of drama! Collectively, the kids managed to challenge all of the manners set before them!” I laughed
to myself, thinking how easily that could be done. As I myself had already sunk, practically up to my eyeballs, in the mud
and by the end of the third long, hot day had most certainly become a little discouraged in finding nothing for our efforts.
Tony told his story with such expression. “On the very first day of the expedition, one of my students was struck
with a brilliant idea! To bury his buddy up to his neck in the mud! Taking my muddy buddy comment way to literally! Which,
in itself would have been bad enough, but think of my horror when I found out that he had laid there for the better part of
the afternoon until the mud hardened around him! Needless to say we all had our first lesson on how to dig out a human sized
“There wasn’t much time to think that the next day would get any better, as I awoke
to twelve kids feeding, petting and talking to a skunk! I should have never told them what it was and what it was capable
of doing, because at the mere escape of a scream, the skunk got spooked and began to run around in circles missing none of
the twelve with a heavy spray of stink!” As Tony continued, he was practically hyperventilating. “Then I had twelve
kids buried up to their necks in the mud, as mud is one of nature’s ways to extract skunk stink. After watering them
for several hours so they wouldn’t harden into fossils, they arose smelling like freshly bloomed roses! It was quite
an ordeal! One I hope to never repeat!”
We all laughed, including Tony, as we told him that it sounded to
us that he and the kids most certainly did have a muddy good time!
The fire began to burn down. It was getting
late, so we decided to call it a night. Tony ended the evening on a sound word of advice. “Sleep tight! Don’t
let the bed bugs bite!”
Back in my room, a single, dim light cast shadows upon the walls. It was quiet;
all I could hear was the faint sound of running water from the creek. It was so peaceful.
The room was small and
smelled strongly of natural wood mixed with a hint of honey suckle. A course netting, to keep the bugs from nibbling at night,
surrounded the bed. My thought was that I needed one of those draped around me during the day! A beautiful oil painting of
an actual scene from our camp hung on the wall over the bed. It was breathtaking! Painted in rich colors with fine detail.
There were two large windows that stretched from floor to ceiling, dressed with floor-length solid white cotton curtains hooked
to what looked like a tree branch attached over the tops of the windows. And there in the mist, I saw myself, my reflection
looking back at me through the pitch-black windowpanes. I couldn’t help but wonder again, why God had sent me on the
I felt urged to kneel by the side of my bed and pray. Something I seldom did, I usually just prayed
wherever I happened to be at the time, but that night I felt encouraged to kneel. “Father, thank you for this day. Thank
you for keeping all of us here in the palm of your hand while we enjoy our time together. Tomorrow, as you know, will be our
fourth day of the expedition. Please continue to keep us safe as we journey though it and please Father, help us find something
of interest. Tony is such a great person, and the others too, it would be such a blessing for us all to find something…
something magnificent!” I lifted my head and smiled upward toward the ceiling, as if God could see me better in that
position. “Thank you also for leading me here Father. I am having a wonderful time! Even through the mud and heat, bugs
and now fear of skunk!” I added with a little humor. “I know you didn’t send me only to enjoy myself,
but I am grateful for you allowing me to do so while I am here. I pray that I am able to do your will well Father, when you
reveal to me my true purpose for being here. Please keep my senses sharp, my heart pure and my eyes uplifted. And please Father;
keep your loving arms around me as I sleep. Amen.”
It seemed as though morning arrived in the blink of an
eye! Everyone met for breakfast at 6:00 a.m. sharp before pairing up with their muddy buddies and heading out for our fourth
day at the creek. My buddy was Cynthia, a middle-aged woman who came on the expedition for time away from her family, her
personal alone time, as she called it. She didn’t talk much, other than occasional small talk, so there wasn’t
too much else I knew about her. She seemed a very pleasant woman, but perhaps a little standoffish I thought. I tried my best
to be friendly and encouraging, but not much seemed to move her daily stance. With no indication of why, I thought that Cynthia
might have been why God sent me on the expedition. However, after much prayer I didn’t get any verification from Him
about it either way. But then again, I didn’t get any verification about anyone else either. So, for the moment, the
It was a beautiful sunny day, but the air was much cooler than the prior days of the expedition
had been. And either I was adjusting well to the situation or the ground didn’t seem quite as soggy and the bugs weren’t
biting near as much. Spirits were high among the group, and everyone seemed confident that we were going to find something
About the third hour into the expedition, we heard a loud commotion in the distance, which
scared us all half to death! Quickly we ran towards the direction of the uproar, to find Michael and Ryan hooping and
hollering and patting each other on the back! Their faces radiating pure joy!
Michael and Ryan were sitting aside
a large, flat rounded stone with what looked like grooves carved into it. “What is it?” we all asked almost simultaneously.
“I’m not sure,” Ryan responded excitedly. “Michael and I found it buried on the bank near the water's
edge. I don’t even know what made us look there! We were digging a few feet away when something told me to dig closer
to the water. As we dug nearer to the river's edge, water began to seep into the area and when I attempted to scoop it
out with my hands my fingertips scraped against the surface of the stone! With a little more digging, Michael and I were able
to lift it out. That’s when I realized it wasn’t just an ordinary stone!”
Tony stepped forward
to examine the stone. As he gently began to remove the mud from it’s grooves, they began to look more like words! “What
does it say?” I heard Cynthia whisper, more to herself than to anyone else. Tony shook his head; “I’ll have
to remove more of the mud before we’ll know.”
After getting most of the mud off the stone’s
surface, Tony began to work more intently to remove the deeply imbedded dirt from its grooves. When he removed as much as
he could by hand, he and Ryan carried the stone down to the creek and let the water gently wash away the remaining debris.
When they lifted it out of the water, we all gasped. With the mud and imbedded dirt washed away, the stone seemed to almost
sparkle with a greenish tinge in the sunlight!
“This is a magnificent find!” Tony exclaimed commending
Ryan and Michael. I’m not exactly sure, but I believe this may be an artifact from the early years following Jesus’
death. It was very popular for Christians to carve messages into large flat stones such as these as they journeyed from place
to place preaching God’s Word. It was a way for them to advertise God, so to speak. This stone is in very good condition
for its age, I believe that may be due to the way it was embedded into the ground.
What does it say? I heard Christi
ask this time. Tony looked back down at the stone and read the words aloud, “WALK IN FAITH, FOR GOD WALKS WITH YOU.
REMAIN HUMBLE BEFORE THE LORD AND DOUBT HIM NOT.”
As everyone stood around in awe of the stone, God put something
in my heart to ask Cynthia. “Cynthia, in simpler terms, what does the stone say?” I asked her. “Excuse me
Barbara?” she responded with surprise. So I asked her again what God had put in my heart to ask her, “In
simpler terms, what does the stone say?” This time, without hesitation, she responded. “It says, don’t
get discouraged, stay with your muddy buddy, step lightly and don’t under estimate anything!”
looked up at her with a look of astonishment on his face, “You’re right! In a way it does say that, doesn’t
it?” We were all quite surprised at the remarkable similarity between God’s message and our very own set of Creek
Tony explained that God had given him those manners many years before, in answer to his prayers
for guidance in the expedition field. “Somehow I felt they would one day hold a more significant meaning than just what
met the eye!” Tony continued, “Over the years of my journey, I have learned to humbly walk before the Lord
and doubt nothing of Him.”
Tony paused for a moment before he continued. “Before I had ever been here, I
use to paint pictures of this camp as God moved me to do so. In one, you will see a group of people standing by a creek holding
a stone, which I believe now to be this creek, this stone, and all of us! Praise God! In fact, Barbara, I think that picture
hangs in your room.” I quickly thought back to the picture hanging over my bed, “you’re right Tony, it does!”
“Ryan, Michael, Everyone...” Tony continued with such love, such emotion. “God has truly blessed
us all with a great gift here today. He has shown us that He holds us all in the palm of His hand and knows always where we
are and where we will be. I do believe this stone will become a great witness to His Word, as will we all.” Just
then, Tony smiled up at me, while announcing to the group. “I also believe that finding this stone has greatly helped
someone else here today in a unique and personal way.” I smiled back at Tony, and he winked at me.
that evening, around our evening campfire, Cynthia explained that God, in allowing her to recognize that the stone’s
message was very similar to Tony’s Creek Side Manners, helped her realize that He is omnipresent in our daily
lives. Even in the little things that seem trivial. “I would have never recognized the connection, had Barbara not encouraged
me.” Cynthia informed the group and then thanked me. But, I was quick to assure everyone that all thanks and praise
was deserved only by God.
Then Cynthia came out of her shell a little, and shared with us that she felt that her
life had become meaningless. She went through the day-to-day motions, but with little connection to herself, her family and
most of all God. That’s why she went on the expedition, to do something different, something that might inspire her
to connect with life again. And she confessed that after the day’s experience, she felt as though God, in a simple,
but miraculous way, had given her a renewed inner strength and a purpose, where before there was none.
by my bedside again that night and praised God for His wisdom that repeatedly proved to be far beyond comparison to any human
understanding. “Thank you also Father for blessing Tony, and Cynthia and all of us today. Thank you for allowing me
to submit to your will. Although, my role hardly seemed significant in comparison to the blessing I received from you. I am
supposed to be your faithful servant, yet I feel that you always give me more than I am able to give you. It is I that owes
you all that I am, for you have already given me everything.” I felt a little as if my purpose in the big picture was
insignificant, as if I let God down. “Was there more I should have done? Did I allow my own excitement to hinder your
full will Father?” As I prayed I longed for some comfort and reassurance, but I continued to praise God. “Father,
I thank you for all of your blessings in my life. Please allow me to be a better servant, a better daughter, a better friend,
and a better person. Please continue to keep me safely in the palm of your hand and please keep your loving arms around me
as I sleep. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen”
As I lay there in my bed admiring Tony’s painting,
God spoke to my heart. “Child, you have not let me down. Sometimes it is the little things in life that help many to
see the big things. Don’t doubt me, by doubting in yourself. Keep walking by faith and know that I am always with you.”
“Thank you Father,” I whispered before dozing peacefully off to sleep.
Perhaps it was the contentment
and joy of my heart that made me dream of being in Tony’s painting with Tony and the others walking alongside the creek’s
bank with Jesus! “See, I am always with you!” Jesus exclaimed, as He held His two thumbs high up towards the Heavens!
“I am always with you!”
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