“The bird a nest, the spider a web, man friendship.” William Blake

I walk a parish called White Oak, which inconspicuously “becomes” after a simple bend off Fines Creek. We have a community center; a church with a bell that rings “Welcome!” three times a week; a cemetery where people remember; and years ago, there was a country store. Only the steps remain.

Fine folks live in White Oak. Phil Hunter repairs small engines. Margaret Bennett, recently widowed, offers reading tutoring. Carla Palmer, who’s blind in one eye from a brother’s BB, loves photography. Dewey and Renee Gidcumb raise foster children, as well as sheep, rabbits and chickens. William Duckett grows pumpkins to sell, though he allows us to take whatever we want, so long as we bring an apple for his donkey. Larry Phillips always wears overalls and used to bush hog our hay in exchange for fodder. Joe Jenkins never married and lived with his mother until her recent passing. Rhonda Griffin is very crafty. Her daughter Haley married our nephew Josh in a simple ceremony by our pond. Ken and Beth Brown, who live next door, grew up, like us, in Ohio — Beth’s childhood home a mere fifteen minutes from mine. Martha Denney’s siblings George and Mary Ellen have been part of my local church family, Vine of the Mountains. Sue McMahan is raising her three grandchildren. Joel Aills is a Vietnam veteran.

Bill and I moved here with our two young boys in 2002. Since, we’ve lost one daughter, adopted another and have watched our children grow. I realized recently that I’ve now made more memories in this home than in any other. If recollections were captured in walls and ceiling, ours have been added to many others’ over the years. 

The original part of our house was built in the late 1920s by Messers. The other day one of the kin drove slowly by, and Bill met his truck out at the road — his elderly mom sitting beside him. She suffers with Alzheimer’s, and he was showing her the home where she’d once lived as a young bride and mother. Pointing up to our son Jacob’s window, he said, “Remember, Momma? That was my room.” 

Bill has offered medical assistance to several neighbors. With Ken Brown, he keeps bees and harvests honey. I’ve taught VBS at White Oak Baptist. Allie attends their children’s Wednesday night program while we participate in our online small group. Like The Vine, folks from White Oak come down one Sunday in summer after morning service and hold a baptism — singing hymns, the pastor wearing a long white robe. Several times a year, we enter the community building to vote. Though political leanings vary, we pass one another peacefully — saying hello, offering hugs.  Tiny Phillips asks each person to state their name and address, though she knows everyone by heart. And on the first Monday of November, the church hosts a potluck honoring veterans. Although a variety of churches are represented, we meet in White Oak’s simple fellowship hall. Men (and a few women) stand humbly, allowing us to thank them for their service. After, they’re served pie.

But more than what we’ve done or been part of as we’ve walked White Oak, it’s what’s been done for us as we’ve shared life in this community. Mia Gidcumb taught me how to make goat’s milk soap. Her mom Renee was both Ian and Allie’s first grade teacher. Her dad Dewey once gently reprimanded one of our sons for how he was driving. Martha Denney’s daughter Rachel defended Ian on the school bus when a misguided boy called him a hurtful name. Carla Palmer delivers a Christmas basket of homemade gifts most years, and her husband Stephen coached Ian in football. Their son Jacob is one of our boys’ best friends. William Duckett reports to us when one of our animals is out, and Ken Brown once brought home our wayward dog. 

White Oak isn’t the only parish we walk, but it’s unique because it’s where we live. Life in this fishbowl encourages us to swim in the broader ocean of community beyond — in our children’s schools, vocations and, most importantly, with our church family. And it’s with them, our Vine brothers and sisters, that we are strengthened to take Life back to White Oak, where we dwell with some who’ve not yet perhaps found freedom in Christ.

For over sixteen years, this country community has been a place where we’ve nested — both learning names and being learned. Where we, along with many, much more established others, are — by proximity — part of a web, networking together for growth and provision. 

Mostly, we’ve discovered lasting friendship. And for that, we’re eternally grateful. 

So, where are you walking? 


(For more info and to watch the wonderful short film “Godspeed” — http://www.livegodspeed.org/)