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"Shorts, Outtakes and Rants"
Spring sometimes comes reluctantly to east Tennessee. Chattanooga is far enough south that it's not in a snow belt, but every now and then a storm picks up a load of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico, then is raped by a cold air mass moving out of Canada. When it happens in the southern Appalachians, it can sometimes leave a load of snow in places that aren't ready for it. Driving gets treacherous, at least partly because the snow removal equipment isn't exactly world class, and partly because people don't get much experience in driving in four inches of snow.
Noah Whitaker wasn't about to take his fairly new Buick sedan out onto roads like that. There was no point in risking it, but there was a better reason -- it would be the first time in a couple of years that he'd actually been able to use his cross-country skis.
There was no great rush to get where he had to go, anyway. It was a Tuesday, and normally, he didn't spend a lot of time at the Glen Hill Road Baptist Church during the day on Tuesdays. As Youth Pastor, much of his work was in the evenings, working with the various youth groups, counseling the young people of the church, helping them to manage living a Christian existence in the face of all the temptations of the world. On the other hand, he thought, with school cancelled for the day, there was a good chance that some of the young people of the church might show up. Glen Hill was a pretty big church and had some active young Christians as part of its congregation. So, he snapped on the skis, but let temptation get to him a little bit, by going the long way around. Besides, it would give him a chance to think.
Noah was pretty sure that no one in the state of Tennessee had ever heard of a groomed cross-country ski trail, and the sidewalks and pathways he took from his small house to the church were plastered with snow. It was slow going on the skinny skis; the snow was wet and sticky. Still, to get out on them at all was something of a miracle, taking him back a few years, when his own youth pastor, back up there in Michigan, had taken the youth group on a cross-country-ski weekend. It turned out to be something that he enjoyed, as much as he enjoyed a lot of other healthy, outdoor activities in the world that God had made. God had made the world especially pretty today, he thought as he looked at the wet snow hanging on the bushes and trees.
There hadn't been much chance for cross-country skiing, or any other kind, the last few years. It had to have been two years since he'd been on his skis, back when he went to Michigan for Christmas with his aunt and uncle. While he liked his relatives enough, it had been hard to go back. There were still memories there that he'd just as soon not dredge up. His aunt and uncle were good people, strong in the church, and the youth pastor at the church had been a real source of strength to him after his parents had been killed. That was the real reason Noah had followed in his footsteps, attending Tennessee Baptist College, part of the reason he was a youth pastor today -- he was following a clear-cut trail.
Thoughts kept churning through his mind as his body took the skis over the snow, the same thoughts that had been going on for hours. Darn it, should he do it? There were plenty of good reasons, starting with the fact that for four summers, she had been about as good a friend as he'd had, and it would be something different, memorable, nearly unique. On the other hand, there were plenty of reasons against it. And, she needed to know fairly soon. He'd been agonizing about it, praying about it, ever since she'd called late the night before. There was a big part of him that wanted to do it, but he wasn't sure it was the right thing to do.
It was a long struggle up the snow-covered sidewalk to the church, which sat near the top of Glen Hill, with a tremendous view of the valley below. If the snow lasted, it would be a terrific run back downhill home, when he got around to going back to the small house where he lived alone. The odds were, however, that he'd wind up bumming a ride from someone. He schussed across the snow-covered lawn of the church, noting that Pastor Jordan had made it in with his big sport-ute, four wheel drive and all, but it was the only car in the parking lot.
Only a small patch of sidewalk right in front of the doors had been cleared of snow; Noah stopped next to it, unsnapped the skis from his boots, picked them up, and carried them inside. What do you do with a pair of cross-country skis in a Tennessee church, Noah wondered for a minute. Really, he should take them in his office, but they still had some snow on them, and they'd get the carpet wet. There was no point in making more of a mess for the janitors than he needed to.
"That you, Noah?" he heard Pastor Jordan's voice call from his office. "Didn't think I'd see you today."
"I figured I'd better come in," Noah said. "What with school out, we might get some kids using the gym."
"Maybe not," Jordan laughed. "That was quite a drive getting up here. I barely made it up the hill in the Jimmy. It must have been a real adventure for you."
"Oh, no problem," Noah smiled. "You southerners don't know what snow is." He walked over to the door of Jordan's office, still wearing his ski boots, carrying the skis and poles.
"Ah sweah, you Yankees are all outa youah minds," Jordan laughed in an exaggerated southern accent, seeing the cross country ski gear. He dropped the exaggerated accent, and went on in his normal Tennessee drawl, "Coffee's hot, if you're interested."
"Let me go put this stuff in the restroom where it can melt in peace and change my boots," Noah smiled. "Then that coffee is going to sound real good."
"See you in a minute," the big, jovial pastor smiled.
Once in the restroom, with the boots coming off, Noah thought for a moment. Really, he should drop the whole question on Pastor Jordan, at least to get his opinion. He was probably about as good a friend as he had, and had been his spiritual advisor for years, since not long after they'd met on a raft trip when he'd been a raft guide on the Ocoee River, a hundred miles northeast. He'd still have to be the one to make up his mind, but Jordan could still give him some valuable input.
It felt good to have the ski boots off, to have the running shoes on. As a youth pastor, Noah usually dressed fairly casually -- which is to say, no tie -- but considering the weather and the circumstances today, there was no point in messing up good clothes, so he was even more casual than normal. He walked on into Jordan's office, drew a cup of coffee, and sat down. "Nice light snow," he said.
"For you up there in Yankee country, maybe," Jordan snorted with a smile. "It's a potload for down here."
"Four inches does tend to bring everything to a screeching halt around you southern sissies," Noah smiled. "Back where I come from, the schools wouldn't even call a snow day for this. I suppose I'd better figure on doing some shoveling today. I can use the exercise."
"Oh, don't worry, Johnny Johnson said he'd get up here with his Bobcat later today or tomorrow," Pastor Jordan said. "We'll probably have to have a work bee to touch it up before services tomorrow night, but it shouldn't be a big deal."
"If it doesn't melt by then," Noah grinned. "Looks like it might. Mark, have you got anything going right now?"
"No, pretty quiet," Pastor Jordan said.
"Well, I've got a question I need to bounce off you," Noah said. "I had a call last night, from an old friend. She asked me if I'd like to do a wedding."
"Here in the church?" Jordan smiled. "Some one of our members?"
"No, out of state, in Arizona, in fact." Noah said. "Aside from the fact that I'm not clear on the licensing, there are a couple of things bothering me about it. One of the things is that as far as I know, these folks are Christian in name, only."
"That shouldn't bother you," Jordan counseled, "if for no more reason than at least they want to get married in the name of God, rather than in the name of the state. It can be a first step toward becoming better Christians than they are now. Noah, you should know that."
"I know," he said. "But it's a little more complicated. I know the woman's daughter fairly well, we were good friends back when I worked summers as a raft guide. She's a very good person, but I don't think she's seen the inside of a church in years."
"It's her mother getting married, then? A divorcee, or something?"
"Right," Noah said. "It was just finalized the other day, and now they're making wedding plans. I met the woman once. You did, too. Nice lady, nominally Lutheran, I guess, but like her daughter, she probably hasn't seen the inside of a church in a long time."
"You say I've met her?"
"Yeah," Noah said. "You remember the day we met, when you had the youth group on a raft trip?"
"Yes, that was quite a day," Jordan said. "It would be hard to forget."
"You remember the family along with our group? The one that was right ahead of us when we hit Hell Hole?"
"Yes," Jordan frowned. One of the other senior raft guides had her family down visiting for the day, and had tacked them on with the church trip for safety. Jordan had been riding the nose of Noah's raft through the biggest rapids on the river, and had watched in shock as a kayaker had pulled out right in front of the family in the raft in front of them. The girl in the stern, a big, plain-looking woman with big muscles, had done wonders trying to avoid the kayaker, but they were already committed to the line, and ran right over the top of him.
"The woman riding the nose of the raft was Karin, Crystal's mom," Noah explained.
"I vaguely remember her," Jordan said. His mind churned up the image of a small woman, probably late forties, not a bad looking woman for her age. He thought he could possibly picture her husband and son; the younger daughter had been memorable -- a long-haired blonde Jezebel in a string bikini. The older daughter though, the raft guide . . . she'd been something else. "Crystal would be hard to forget. Especially with what happened afterward."
"Yeah," Noah said dryly. A few minutes after the incident at Hell Hole, they'd been taking their rafts out at the takeout, when the kayaker and a buddy came up, pretty well drunk, and attacked Crystal with knives. It was over in an instant: Crystal's fiance had met her at the takeout, and the two of them came close to killing the attackers in only a couple seconds. Noah knew at the time that Crystal had a karate black belt, but he'd only found out later in the summer that Randy, her fiance, didn't have any kind of a martial arts belt -- just lots of training from a guy who had taught unarmed combat to Green Berets for a decade. Mark had watched it happen, too, just like Noah and the rest of the church group, and hadn't had time to move a muscle. But afterwards . . . Jordan had been an EMT for years, and he'd had to be the one to stabilize the two -- with Crystal's help; she was a Wilderness First Responder. There'd been a number of lessons for the church that had come out of that incident.
"Impressive woman," Jordan smiled. "Not one I'd want to get mad at me. Not after seeing what she and her boyfriend did to those two, and how quick they did it."
"Me, either," Noah smiled. "But, you know, for all those two guys had it coming to them, that evening, after it was all over with, I went up to Crystal's camp, and found her and her boyfriend holding on to each other, crying their eyes out because they'd been forced to hurt those two."
"Crying? Those two? I'd have never thought it."
"Like their puppy had just been hit by a truck," Noah said solemnly. "They both know what violence is, but, unlike most people, they know the price that comes with violence."
"Interesting people," Mark said. "I thought that at the time, when I had the chance to think about it. Did they ever get married?"
Noah shook his head. "No. At the time it happened, I thought it was pretty well a done deal, but her boyfriend was ready to settle down, and she wasn't, so he married someone else. Crystal said last night that he asked her permission first, and she gave it to him. In fact, she was one of the bridesmaids. That was, oh, over a year ago they got married, and everybody is still good friends."
"You don't see that very often," Pastor Jordan smirked.
"That's for sure," Noah shook his head. There'd been a fairly bitter family feud among one of the Glen Hill families a few months ago over much the same issue . . . there were some people who still weren't on speaking terms, and the girl who got left out in the cold in the deal had left the church and Chattanooga entirely. "Anyway, we're getting off the topic. This deal is just a little wierd. Crystal wants me to officiate at the wedding of her mother and her father."
"Huh?" Pastor Jordan frowned. "I thought that was her father rafting with us that time."
"She did, too," Noah smirked. Well, it was a little wierd. "It turns out not. It seems Crystal's mother was already pregnant and didn't know it when she married Crystal's, well, stepfather, I guess you'd call him. I don't know the details, but Karin discovered about the time that she filed for her divorce that Crystal's father was now a recent widower. I guess they were both waiting for their true loves to be free again."
"That'll be a different wedding, for sure," Jordan smiled. "But, I don't see why you have a problem with doing the wedding."
"Mostly, because of where it is," Noah said. "You know, I liked being a raft guide. Not long after I came here, Crystal gave me a call, and asked if I'd like to dump this job and come work with her. Mark, as much as I like doing what I'm doing, and think it's where I'm supposed to be, it was a huge temptation. It was hard to turn her down."
"But, you did."
"Yeah, and sometime I still wonder if I did the right thing," Noah admitted. "It's still tremendously tempting, and, on top of that, Crystal isn't a Christian, like what you and I think of a Christian. But, sometimes, I think that she's a good example of what a Christian ought to be. I know I've never met any other woman who comes close to measuring up to her. That bothers me sometimes. Now, here I am, facing the temptation of a woman who was about as good a friend as I had those years I was rafting, spending a couple weeks with her, in a place that could tempt me out of here easily."
"A couple weeks? For a wedding?" Pastor Jordan frowned. "What could take so long?"
"Like I said, where the wedding's going to be," Noah smiled. "At a place called the Baseball Man waterpocket, at the bottom of the Grand Canyon."
Noah smiled as he watched Pastor Jordan's eyes bug out. "That ranks as different, all right," he finally said serenely. "Why there?"
"I guess it's where Crystal's mom and dad fell in love," he said, then added with a smirk, "Maybe more, although Crystal wouldn't say."
"You said Crystal invited you to come and work with her," Jordan said, a faint smile crossing his face. "In the Grand Canyon?"
"Yeah," Noah admitted. "She and her dad are raft guides there, for Canyon Tours. He owns the company. I guess he and Crystal's mom first met on a trip there, years ago. Her mom runs the Canyon Tours office now, and sometimes goes on raft trips. The wedding comes in the middle of a special raft trip, it's going to take something like ten to twelve days. Mark, I think I'm fairly strong in the Lord, but that's a huge temptation to me."
"And, I can see how, under the circumstances, it would be a temptation," Jordan smiled. "Noah, you'd be a fool to do it, but I wonder if you wouldn't be a worse fool to not do it."
"My thinking exactly. It could be that God is testing my faith."
"Or," Jordan smiled, "He may be telling you that there's something else that you should be doing. Look, you know what I'm going to tell you. Pray about it, then follow the Lord's guidance."
"Believe me, I've prayed about it already, and I do wonder if maybe this is a door opening to me, rather than the devil calling me away."
"My gut feeling is to tell you to go," Pastor Jordan said. "I know if it was me, I'd jump at it, but I don't have the outdoor background you have, and I only met the girl that once."
"You could go," Noah smiled. "I told Crystal about my doubts. She said that if I turned her down, I was to ask you to go in my place. She said her mom was pretty impressed with you down on the Ocoee that day."
"Now that," Pastor Jordan laughed. "That is a temptation, all right!"