From Hollywood to Dollywood

Last weekend we were in Pigeon Forge, TN with some of my closest college friends and their families.  It was such a nice retreat in the mountains and wonderful to catch up with some who hold a dear spot in my heart.  We all split the cost of a nice cabin, but it was definitely a splurge for us.  So, we tried to make the trip as economical as possible because of a tight budget.

One day we decided that we wanted to go up the road to Gatlinburg and visit where David asked me to be his girlfriend almost eight years ago.  If you’ve ever been to Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg you know there’s a bounty of stopped traffic.  We decided that rather than waste gasoline; we would ride the trolley for 75 cents a piece to the Gatlinburg Welcome station and then another 50 cents each to the heart of the town.

As we were preparing to board the trolley, an older man who appeared well weathered from life joined the line directly behind us.  We chatted about the crazy weather changes that had occurred over the last few days and while it was in the upper 60’s at that moment, we had driven through snow just two days prior.  This sparked the whole conversation.  He asked where we were from. When we told him of our town in Virginia, he remarked, “Well, isn’t there a big church there?” Surprised, we answered with a yes and shared that David was also a Professor at the University it is affiliated with.  “I tell you, I sure love this place. There are so many Godly people in this town.  You don’t find that as much where I came from,” he said.

We boarded and he sat right by us.  After introducing ourselves, we learned that his name was also David.  As the bus driver pulled out, we listened to his story with wide eyes.   He grew up three doors down from Columbia Pictures in Hollywood.  As a boy, he met John Wayne, Gregory Peck, and many others.  He worked for many years as a social worker.  At some point in his adult life, he accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior and was baptized at a Southern Baptist Church in California.  He indicated that he had some struggles after that point that moved him further away from the Lord than he would have preferred, though.

Seven years ago, after retiring, he decided he wanted to get out of the busy life of Los Angeles and move to the Smokies.  I quipped, “Well, you picked the wrong place to live if you wanted to escape hustle and bustle!” He laughed and said that he had no idea what the area was really like until he actually moved here.  He had moved to Townsend, TN, which is in the mountains just outside of Pigeon Forge/Sevierville.   Familiar with the area from a previous river-tubing trip with my David, I remarked about what a pretty place it was.

It was then that he began to share about the experience that has led him to truly trust Jesus for E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G.

Not too long ago, in October of 2012, he was away for the weekend.  When he returned home to his condo in Townsend, it was not there anymore. Neither were his truck and all of his belongings.  The only things present were the fire department and ashes.  He had lost all of his worldly possessions.  He asked the fireman, “But what about my clothes?” They were gone.  He had hit rock bottom.  The only way to go was up, but his energy was scarce after being broadsided with his new reality. He was weak.

Thankfully, he had made some friends who were fellow believers prior to this.  Little by little, his spirit was renewed as they surrounded him with encouragement.  Their cheers helped him cross one hurdle after the next.  They would offer words like, “You’re going to make it through this,” “God’s going to get you through this,” and “God will provide,” that fueled his soul no matter how simple the sentiment.  When you’re running on empty, the smallest drop of encouragement can make all the difference in the choice to quite or keep going.

When I see homeless people, I don’t often expect them to be profound or wise.  I frequently have thought through the years, “Well, why don’t they just go get a job?” That’s a terrible prejudice that God is working on tearing down in my heart.  I’ve learned through many experiences that it’s not nearly as simple as that for many of the people we see living under a bridge or whatever makeshift place they’ve wound up in.  Even most recently with our car episode in West Virginia, I can really see how a bad situation can go to a desperate, nearly hopeless situation.

David proved my prejudices wrong once again.  He shared stories of God’s faithfulness to provide and not abandon him.  Such as a friend who is on a clean up crew at a group of cabins who gave him leftovers that travelers had left behind.  “I just couldn’t believe it when he showed up with the food folks left! Whole cantaloupes…and bacon,” he marveled.

He mentioned he was looking for a good church to get involved in and had visited several.  Knowing that First Baptist Sevierville was a good church, I asked if he had tried that one.  He lit up with excitement.  “Why, yes! I was actually there last Sunday [Easter].  They were so kind to me.  They heard my story and when they learned I had lost all of my clothes in the fire, they gave me a voucher for a thrift store they partner with and I was able to get three pairs of pants, three shirts, some shoes, and this great [Tennessee] jacket! I don’t need much.   Just a few clothes.”

After hearing of the generosity of those believers, he told us that the lady at the little Mom & Pop motel he has been renting has also been so good to work with him on his monthly payments. If his Social Security Check is running late, she knows he is good for it and doesn’t kick him out like many other places would.

With excitement, he told us that he had never owned a cell phone before very recently.  With a big grin on his face that beamed with pride, he pulled a little flip phone out of his pocket and shared that he had been learning all about it recently.  He had made groups on there that included a special one called, “Christian Friends.”

I asked him if he had thought about picking up a little part time job anywhere and he said he had put out dozens of applications and was eagerly awaiting hearing back, but unfortunately at the mom and pop motel he was staying at, they don’t always answer the phone.  This cell phone was a new tool for him to have in his quest for some extra income.  Dollywood, he told us, was his dream place to work.  I don’t much blame him.  I think that would be the best place in Pigeon Forge to work as well.  From all I hear, they’re awfully kind to their employees.  I know Dolly Parton has sure given back to her hometown and state for that matter.

After hearing David’s story and chewing on it for a little bit, I briefly shared about my David’s layoff and also about losing my dad to cancer.  I decided to share something that God has reminded me of over and over through those difficult experiences…a quote from Corrie Ten Boom.   “You may never know that Jesus is all you NEED until Jesus is all you HAVE.”

“Yes! Yes!” he exclaimed with an empathetic heart after hearing these words.  With a glisten in his eyes he remarked, “I was there.  I was there.”

The kind old man shared how he had struggled so much this winter because he felt trapped in his motel room due to the cold weather outside.  He wanted to get out and see other people, but he couldn’t because he did not have warm enough clothes. “I watched every single commercial on television,” he said.  Soon he began to experience anxiety attacks.  But Jesus reached in and started overcoming his panic with peace.

Soon the conversation turned more lighthearted.  I told him that we really missed our little doggy, Oscar, even though we knew he was in good hands.  I told him the story of how I had wanted a dachshund and David had wanted a lab but we always had wanted to name our dog, Oscar, since our last name was Meyer, and when we found him we knew he was the dog for us.  With a raised eyebrow and huge smile, he said, “My last name is WayMEYER.”

David Waymeyer.  David Meyer.  My literary mind had a hey day with this.  I know it was no mistake that we met.  David Waymeyer was a parallel character to my David Wayne Meyer.  We could have very easily been in the same sort of spot he was in because of the job loss that we experienced three years ago.  But for some reason, we weren’t. Both Davids were given the opportunity by God to learn the same lesson, though.

He didn’t ask us for a thing. He just shared the gift of his story.

“I think God lets us go through these things sometimes to see how we handle adversity,” David Waymeyer said.  “It isn’t about anything we can do. It’s not about our works.  It’s all about His grace.”

That it is.  I know we’ve had moments of spinning our wheels through times of adversity, trying to get ourselves out of the adversity we’re in.  It never works, though.  The only way out is through His grace.

And with grace, there’s always a way out.

My David wonders if David Waymeyer was an angel. Maybe. But if nothing else, he was an extraordinary character sent into the story the Author of all creation is writing with our lives.


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