Not so long ago Melissa and I drove along a gravel road that was once a railroad track for a logging operation near Townsend, Tennessee. The wooded area surrounding us is called Tremont. Tremont is beautiful with a pristine stream running through it that jumps from one side of the elevated road to the other. Sometimes we will bring a lunch and drop our lawn chairs into the stream and imagine the Great Smoky Mountain National Park is our backyard.
On this day I pulled over the car, paid a dollar and picked up a self-serve auto guide pamphlet that relayed a story that was difficult to believe.
About 100 years ago about two-thirds of the present Great Smoky Mountains National Park was clear cut. The black and yellow photographs of those dark days are stark and unbelievable. Loggers ripped down the trees, great steam machines loaded them on box cars and geared steam engines pushed the cars four or five miles to a sawmill a few hundred yards from our (not five star) motel in Townsend.
Workers and families lived in 12×12 portable shelters that lined the railroad tracks giving rise to names like Stringtown. They rented these metal boxes for one dollar per month. There was a school, a community center and a church all housed in the same structure. Erosion ravaged the picked bare mountainsides and sparks from steam engines ignited forest fires that burned for days or even weeks.
Then one day the area became a national park. The loggers left, the train tracks were abandoned and the hotel closed; the saw-mill cut its last board in 1938. The wealth had been removed and the timber would be used to construct east coast sub-divisions; only the ravaged land remained.
Then came a long slumber and the land was protected and given time to heal. Decade after decade the land; once dismembered and laid bare was re-membered and restored.
Now some seventy-five years later, past desolation can only be verified by photographs and scars barely discernible if you know where to look: A pipe just rising above the ground here; a braided metal wire there buried in a tree with its origin seemingly in a rock. The casual observer would not see these scars, they would see only splendor. These mountains are healed.
I know a lot of Tremont people. They are people with old scars and deep pain who have somehow healed, mended and been redeemed over time. To look at these folks today, their lives would not even offer a hint of their troubled pasts for they have become pristine, beautiful and again made whole.
Healing a person, like healing a mountain requires time, intentionality and loving care. Such healings are a compelling testimony to a loving and restoring God.
That is why our personal stories of restoration and healing must be shared…scars and all.
-Rev. Shane L. Bishop has been the Sr. Pastor at Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois since 1997