“Do not ask the Lord to guide your footsteps if you are not willing to move your feet.” Amish Proverb
The lush green pastures along the interstate had Savannah Carmichael in awe as she listened carefully to the directions her Australian accent GPS was giving her. The slow and almost song like
The constant buzz of her phone was distracting, and when she didn’t think she could stand it another minute, she switched it to off and shoved it deep into her purse. The constant reminder that her boss was upset she took her vacation with little notice and Neal calling every hour was rattling her nerves. They both could wait. She would let Neal know she had made it safely once she got to Sarah’s.
Pushing the scan button on the radio her hand fell away when she heard the familiar words to Amazing Grace. In an almost whisper, she mouthed the words to her favorite hymn letting each word bring her back to place she had long forgotten. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been to church or felt God’s presence in her life. There was a time, even before she’d put her feet on the floor in the morning she spent time with the Lord. That was long before she secured her dream job in Charleston and way before she married Neal. Chills collected on her arms as she felt each word of the song penetrate her soul.
Interrupting her quiet moment Aussie instructed her to make a right onto Exit 113, Grove City. Flipping her turning signal on she moved lanes and merged onto the exit and came to a stop at the traffic light. Waiting for the light to change she rolled down her window and turned off the air conditioner. The cool air was a relief to the hot and humid temperatures she’d left in South Carolina. As she turned left on Highway 208, she glanced at her fuel gauge and decided she had plenty of gas to get to Sarah’s. For a second she thought about stopping at the Outlet Mall but decided she was more anxious to get away from the busy exit than she was for a new pair of shoes.
Only a few minutes had passed when Savannah noticed the sounds of the highway had disappeared. The roads of Lawrence County welcomed her with an array of handmade signs and noticeable traces of buggy traffic on the well-worn blacktop. The dry and sandy landscape she was accustomed to in the south was replaced with fields of clover and blankets of dandelions. The fresh air billowing in her window reminded her of the time she’d spent in Ohio four years earlier. The place she had first met Sarah.
She remembered the day like it was yesterday. The rental car she’d been driving broke down at the end of the lane that led to Sarah’s brother-in-law’s horse stables. With no cell phone signal, she was forced to walk to the farmhouse and ask to use a phone. The shocked look on Sarah’s face when she opened the door still made her smile as the memory came back to her.
Bouncing a crying baby on her hip Sarah giggled as she politely told Savannah they didn’t have a phone in the house, but she was more than welcome to use the one in the phone shanty down by the barn. She looked pitiful with blood trickling down her knee from trying to maneuver the gravel driveway in her high heels. Her purse had fallen off her shoulder that she had stuffed her shoes into dumping its contents right at Sarah’s bare feet as she opened the door. But worst of all the silk blouse she was wearing had torn at the sleeve leaving a big gaping tear flapping in the breeze. An expensive reminder to be careful around barbwire. Had she known she was going to rip her favorite blouse she would have left her phone in the pasture after sending it flying when she fell.
Aussie, again keeping her on track, reminded her that she would be taking a left-hand turn onto Mystic Mill Road in five hundred feet. She saw the large white sign at the end of the driveway even before Aussie had told her she had arrived at her destination. The big bold letters spelling BYLER, and the three little signs that hung by chains underneath directed you to BYLERS, Handmade Furniture, Dry Goods Store, and Horse Stables.
Pulling into the driveway, she followed the signs that pointed to the Horse Stables and Dry Goods Store. Passing a large white clapboard farmhouse on her left and the furniture shop on her right she made her way down the long gravel driveway.
It took her past two barns and led to a newer looking house at the end of the lane surrounded by a white picket fence. A hitching post with a yellow topped buggy tied to it and three woman and four children in the front yard captured her attention. She parked far from the horse trying not to spook it as she sat and looked at her surroundings.
A row of pink flowers lined the edge of the garden and shades of blue and black fluttered in the wind on the clothesline at the side of the house. Before long all four children were standing in front of her car like a row of toy soldiers. Their tiny little faces all showed signs of the red licorice sticks they held in tightly in their hands. Just as she opened her car door, she heard Sarah call her name.
Sarah spoke something to the women she didn’t understand as they all climbed into the waiting buggy. Two of the little girls ran to hide behind Sarah’s long skirt as she waved goodbye to the women in the buggy.
Pulling the girls out from behind her she introduced them to Savannah; “I’d like you to meet Tenna and Susan.”
Both girls, at the very same time, held out their licorice sticks offering Savannah a bite.
Kneeling down, so she was eye level with the girls she gladly took a pretend bite from both of their licorice sticks and said. “Yum, red licorice is my favorite.”
Both girls turned to their mother as Sarah repeated what Savannah had said in Pennsylvania Dutch.
“They won’t learn English until they go to school so don’t be alarmed if they don’t answer you until I translate what you’re saying.”
“Let me put the closed sign on the door and then I’ll walk you to the doddi haus so you can rest a bit before supper.”
“Sarah it’s just beautiful here.”
“I do love it here and God willing I’ll get to enjoy Matthew’s family farm for many years. It’s the perfect place to raise our children.”
Sarah led the way to the small cottage across the yard and up the steps to the doddi haus. On its porch hung a hanging basket filled with pink petunias and an old willow rocker sat in the corner. Sarah grabbed the rug off the line that hung over the door and opened the front door as she laid the rug at her feet before she entered the sparsely furnished room.
“I came over and opened the windows first thing this morning so it would be cool in here when you arrived. I put fresh sheets on the bed yesterday, and there is meadow tea in the refrigerator and sugar cookies in the jar on the counter. I’ll leave you so you can rest a while. Plan on walking back down to the house around five. Matthew comes in from the barn about then, and I like to get supper out of the way so we can have all evening to relax.”
“Sarah, I can’t thank you enough for inviting me to come to visit you and the girls.”
“Well you can tell me all about your life in Charleston after supper, but for now you go rest and plan to join us for supper.”
Before Sarah could turn around to walk back to the Dry Goods Store, Savannah hugged her and thanked her again. She knew she wasn’t used to her English ways and hugging may be outside of her comfort zone, but she had no other way to show Sarah how much she appreciated her hospitality.
Savannah carried her suitcase to the bedroom and scanned the room for a closet to hang her clothes in but only found a few hooks hanging by the door, which she quickly filled.
She thought about stretching out on the bed to enjoy a catnap, but the rocker on the front porch looked so inviting. She headed to the kitchen to pour herself a glass of tea and though for an instant she’d pass up the cookies but thought again once she remembered their buttery sweet taste when Sarah had served them to her in Ohio. A glass of tea and with a few cookies in hand she made her way the back to the porch.
Her balcony that overlooked the Ashley River in Charleston was nothing in comparison to the view that lay in front of her. The pasture just beyond the fence had a set of horses grazing, paying her no mind at all. A breeze made the wind chimes come to life that hung in a tree nearby, and a set of doves were feeding on the ground at the birdfeeder under the big maple tree in the side yard. At that very moment there was nowhere else in the world she’d rather be. Even the pungent aroma of the horse barn smelled good in comparison to the marshy mud that lingered in the air when the tide was out in Charleston.
She sighed as she remembered how she had argued with Neal right before she left about him quitting his job and wanting to move closer to his elderly parents in Pittsburgh. The thought of giving up her beautiful condo in Charleston to live in Pittsburgh made her skin crawl.
“How dare he ask me to give up everything I’ve worked so hard for.” She thought.
As she sat on the porch, she was able to watch more buggies come down the lane to visit Sarah’s store and even saw an older gentleman with a straw hat load up a table into the back of a pickup truck at the furniture shop. Far off in the distance, she saw two draft horses being led around the field turning over the dark soil. She wondered if that might be Matthew, Sarah’s husband. The fragrance of freshly cut grass made her lift her nose to get a better smell. She had to stop and laugh at herself when she realized what she had done. A city girl finding fresh grass and manure appealing. What would her friends think?
Could this feeling be what Neal had been trying to explain to her, but she was too bullheaded to listen. When she got the letter from Sarah inviting her to come for a visit Neal didn’t think twice about encouraging her to come
It wasn’t only Neal and their constant arguing that had put her in such a blue mood it was everything around her. Neal kept telling her she needed to find a way to slow down and enjoy life again. It didn’t help that out of the blue; Neal quit his job without even consulting her first. He told her he needed to find purpose in his life again and he wasn’t going to find it working sixty hours a week only to collapse in front of the television all weekend long. She was furious he’d given up his health insurance and 401k with no concrete plans for his future. He was happy with his decision and continued to tell her God would help him work it out.
The Sunday after Neal had dropped the ‘no job’ bomb on her she was awakened by the bells at the church down the street. They had lived in that condo for five years and not once could she remember hearing them so loudly. She remembered pulling the pillow over her head to drown out the sounds. Neal had tried to encourage her to get up and go to church with him, but she just rolled over and drifted back to sleep.
Shaking her head to push the memories aside she turned toward the sound of a woman singing. She moved to the edge of her chair and peered around the tree in the front yard. Once the woman came in view, the woman waved and headed her way.
“You must be Sarah’s friend. She told us you would be visiting this week. I’m Stella, Sarah’s mother-in-law. I brought you a little treat. I picked these berries at Yoder’s this morning and thought you might like an afternoon snack.”
“Oh my, thank you. Do you mind me asking, what was that you were singing? I didn’t understand the words, but the melody certainly sounded like Amazing Grace.”
“It was, it’s my favorite hymn. My grandmother used to sing it to me. She told me every time she sang it she felt closer to God.”
Stella’s words hit a nerve.
“Was that why God has sent me here, to help me feel closer to Him again.” She thought.
Stella noticed the change in the girl’s expression.
“Whatever might be troubling you, for sure and certain you’ll figure it out if you sit in that chair long enough. My husband’s mother used to sit in that very chair and say, God would guide her feet, all she had to do was follow.”
“Well, I best get back to making supper. Jacob will be closing the furniture shop shortly, and he likes his supper on the table promptly at five. Enjoy your stay.”
“Thank you again for the strawberries, they look wonderful.”
Savannah watched as Stella walked away. What a pleasant woman. She hadn’t gotten a chance to know Neal’s mother very well, and she envied Sarah for having her mother-in-law so close. From their shared letters she knew Sarah’s mother had passed away when she was little, just like her’s had. It was one of the reasons they felt a connection with one another.
Just as she finished putting her shoes on, Tenna and Susan came knocking on her door. They didn’t say a word, but each grabbed one of her hands and started to walk her back to Sarah’s house. Savannah knew they wouldn’t understand a word she said so she just enjoyed the feel of their little hands in hers while they guided her across the yard and into their mother’s kitchen.
Pleased with their delivery they quickly turned around and went back outside, slamming the screen door on their way out.
“Denki”, Sarah hollered over her shoulder.
“That was adorable, thank you for sending the girls after me.”
“They were getting underfoot, so I needed to find them something to do for a few minutes. Did you have a good rest?”
“If you mean sitting in your rocker then I sure did. I enjoyed just watching everyone go on about their day.”
“What can I do to help?”
“Would you mind setting the table? Matthew should be walking in at any moment. You’ll find everything you need in the cupboards to the right of the sink.”
Pulling from the cupboard everything she needed to set the table, she couldn’t help but enjoy the smell of yeast and roasted meat that lingered in the air. It made her regret never taking the time to learn how to cook. She was sure Neal would have enjoyed a home cooked meal on occasion.
“Listen to those giggles! What are those two finding so funny?” Savannah asked.
Turning away from the counter and motioning her to look toward the door Sarah said.
“Give them a minute, and you’ll see what they’re up to.”
All of a sudden Matthew pushed open the screen door with each girl slung over each shoulder like a bag of feed. He was holding them around their knees with their dirty little feet kicking as they giggled up a storm.
“They wait for him on the back porch every night so that they can be hauled around like that. They love it.” Sarah stated.
Matthew flipped the girls around and landed them both on their feet as he patted them on the head and pointed to the sink so they could get washed up for dinner.
Hanging his hat on the peg by the back door he turned and faced Savannah.
“It good to finally meet you. Sarah’s talked about you for years. It’s nice to put a face to the name.”
After they all sat, Matthew lowered his head for silent prayer, and all three girls did the same. It took a minute for Savannah to figure out what was going on before she bowed her head and said a silent prayer of thanks to the Lord for bringing her to Sarah’s home. There was something special in the air, and she was determined not to leave until she figured out how she could carry a little bit of Willow Springs back to Charleston with her.
Once they all had their fill, Savannah and Sarah cleaned up the kitchen and Matthew offered to take the girls down to the creek so that they could visit. Making them both a cup of coffee, Sarah invited Savannah to join her on the front porch.
Sitting in the white rocker next to Sarah, Savannah asked.
“What is it about this place, it’s so peaceful here?”
Sarah sat quietly for a long time just pondering Savannah’s question.
“I’m not sure I have an answer for you. I know that most Englishers think we have a secret to living a simple life, but we don’t. We keep God at the center of our lives and let Him take care of us. We rely on our own hands to work the land and take care of our families. What God tells us is to love our neighbor as we would love ourselves and I guess as a community we try to do that best. Now don’t get me wrong we don’t always do a good job at it. But we try hard to put God first, then our family, then our community. Maybe what you’re feeling is just the peace that comes from living in the country far away from lots of noise. I have to admit it is lovely here, but I have to believe you can have it too, all you have to do is look for it. “
“That’s the problem. I’m not sure where to start. I wish I could take this feeling back with me to Charleston.”
“What makes you think you can’t?”
“I haven’t put God or Neal first in a long time. And I wouldn’t know the first thing about loving my neighbors. I don’t think you know how lucky you are to live like this. You have family around you all the time, you have a husband who adores you, two wonderful daughters and you get to enjoy the quietness of this farm every day.”
“Savannah, you have it all wrong. Yes, I do have all of those things and God willing I’ll get to enjoy them for a very long time. However, it’s my faith in God and my willingness to listen to Him that gives me peace. There is no reason you can’t have the same.”
They sat quietly watching a flock of wrens at the bird feeder, as Sarah let Savannah think about what she had said.
“I can’t tell you the last time I just sat and watched birds. We have seagulls and pigeons on the dock outside of our condo, but they make such a mess I always find them such a nuisance. Maybe you’re right I’ve been so wrapped up in my job I haven’t given myself time to enjoy life and put God first in my life. Neal told me last week that I can’t see the flowers through the weeds and I didn’t understand what he was saying, but now I do. I’ve let my job, and my checkbook
“Savannah I believe God does everything for a reason, and there has to be a reason why you came to visit me and why he’s making you feel so peaceful here. He has to be trying to show you something. I learned as a little girl that if I was troubled with something I needed to sit quietly and let God speak to me.”
“So you hear God’s voice?”
“No I don’t hear an audible voice, but thoughts come to my head that could only be put there by God. If I’m quiet enough and sit and listen and give myself time to tune everything else out the answers to my troubles always reveal themselves. Sometimes I don’t always like the answers, but I’ve learned to act on what I hear.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever sat still long enough to give God time to talk to me. Since I was a little girl, I’ve only ever had one person I could count on, and that was myself. Maybe you’re onto something Sarah. Maybe it’s time I let Him guide my footsteps since I’ve not been doing a good job of it myself.”
“It certainly couldn’t hurt could it?” Sarah asked.
Savannah took the last sip of her coffee and sat her cup down on the stand between their chairs and stood up.
“If you don’t mind I think I will call it a day, you’ve given me a lot to think about tonight.”
“If you’re up for it I’m going to pick strawberries in the morning, do you want to come along?”
“I ‘d love that, Savannah said.”
“I’ll be by around eight to get you. “
On her short walk back she couldn’t wait to call Neal and tell him all about Sarah and Matthews farm. She opened the door of the cottage and grabbed her phone and went back to the porch. Out of habit, the first thing she did when she swiped her phone to the on position was clicking to Facebook and scrolling through her feed. She stopped on a video with two yellow top buggies, similar to the ones she’d seen at Sarah’s. The post asked
She turned her phone over, laid it on her lap and closed her eyes. Before she knew it, she was talking to God, something she hadn’t done in a very long time. She poured her heart out to Him and told him how sorry she was she had pushed Him so far from her life. When she opened up her eyes, she sat and waited for something, anything to come to her mind. And there it was.
“Call Neal and tell him you’ll move to Pennsylvania with him.”
With a sense of calmness, she picked up her phone and clicked on Neal’s picture to dial his number. She felt this was the first step to finding peace and bringing God back into her life. Maybe it was time she put God and her family first, even if it meant she’d have to give up her job and her beautiful condo in Charleston. Right now she had to believe God had sent her to Sarah’s to remind her what was really important and it didn’t have anything to do with her how much money she had in her checkbook or what her friends thought of her shoes.
God was guiding her footsteps, all she had to do was follow.
Photo by Jim Fisher