WE’RE CRUISING ACROSS TEXAS as this post formulates underneath my fingers. It’s unanimous: This is the most unique scenery we have ever traveled through on our tours. The flat, parched earth, black shrub trees, and coarse grass is a total contrast to the swampy, forested fields of Minnesota. Some of us like it, others do not.
This Texas adventure will probably end up in a post later, but now, I’m thinking about Florida. Nearly a month has passed since we said farewell to the sunshine state, but our experiences and the lessons they taught carry on with us today. Each trip has a share of stress and trial, but our 26 days to Florida and back were unlike any other.
For one thing, tours normally do not start with a funeral.
Four days before our departure, we stood around our grandfather’s casket, utterly broken with pain and grief. It was January 28, Ben’s birthday—the last “shared” with our beloved grandpa who tried to celebrate each of his grandkids’ birthdays with them.
It was a sorrow different from any we had encountered before. Jayme often says, “I know people think, ‘Oh, they just lost a grandpa, a dad’—but he wasn’t just a grandpa.” Grandpa Pete was more: our closest friend, our biggest fan, and the one person we spent the most time with over the past seven years. He was a—oh dear, I’m crying now: I can’t stand writing about Grandpa in past tense. Off come my silly computer glasses to wipe these teary eyes.
We said goodbye (truly, only a “see you later,” for we know he is with his precious Savior) to Grandpa a few short days before we left for Florida. The heaviness that blanketed our home as we packed was like trying to survive a terrible dream. We were surrounded by memories of Grandpa: the chair he last sat in (with his little white hairs still stuck in the material), the games he loved to play, his New Year cookies that he taught us to make, and especially, while we practiced, the songs Grandpa loved dearly.
We felt so empty, and couldn’t envision ministering when we had nothing to give. The thought of cancelling the whole tour crossed our minds, entered even our conversations.
For, on top of our deep grief, an awful virus began its cruel rounds in our family. The evening we left on our tour, Ben and Leesha were curled up on the motorhome couch, tired bodies racked with fevers. Caleb could barely talk, much less sing. It was unimaginable to think we had to sing the next day.
Never before had we been at such a low.
Since the month we set aside for practice and rejuvenation was spent loving on Grandpa in his final days, our music and voices felt at their weakest. New songs were left at home: last year’s program had to suffice. (That was, if we had healthy voices to carry it.)
When we arrived at our first date, Bar None Cowboy Church in Newton, Iowa, we were dejected and irritable. Though we knew we were among great friends, we felt like failures even before the sound equipment was loaded in.
But God had a different plan.
Every mile of our journey to Florida carried this single theme: God had a different plan. Our plans had been shattered since the beginning of 2017, so we clung to God’s sovereignty. We didn’t understand His plans, but literally went step by step relying on Him for guidance, for we did not where we were going. We couldn’t have, and in some ways, wouldn’t have arranged the details of our month like God did. But God had outlined a plan for His glory and His good.
That night at Bar None was exactly what we needed. It had seemed like the most logical date to cancel if we’d cancel anything, but God purposed that evening to uplift us for the journey ahead.
Each song, though shaky with our weary voices, was met with cheer by our friends. Mom shared the story of our final season with Grandpa and sang “Look for Me” while we stood behind her with tears streaming down our faces. Afterwards, many of our friends shared hugs and sympathy, encouraging us to go on and fulfill our ministry. Pastor Dave took time to pray with us; his message that evening—on that familiar, but so pertinent theme of trusting the Lord—set the focus for the trip ahead.
And so we went forth, bolstered by the family of God to continue on.
Our next stop was in Bowling Green, Kentucky. (No, we didn’t find any signs of the great massacre there!) Because Ben, Leesha, and Caleb’s voices were at their most compromised point, our program was a challenge to orchestrate. But we were able to rearrange the songs and pulled together as a team to get through the concert.
The familiar smell of burning brakes greeted us when arrived at the church. We chose to spend the night in the parking lot until we knew it was safe to proceed. After poking around the rig the next day (with a chance to play basketball!) and listening to the advice of some church members, we continued down the road.
Many long hours were spent watching the United States fly by. And playing the house game. (Ask us about it sometime!)
We made it to Florida on a Tuesday evening—just in time for the scare of the year. We settled the rig at a campground in Perry and were just about ready to eat walking tacos when our phones started beeping—loudly. Alerts flashed on our screens, and we couldn’t believe our eyes: Immediate Threat Extreme Tornado Warning. A TORNADO—in FEBRUARY?! Clouds had piled up in the west, so we thought a normal storm would pass over during the night…but a tornado?! The Nautilus started rocking—not from wind gusts, but from everyone running around and grabbing belongings.
We tracked the storm and were horrified to see it bearing down on Perry. Since the Nautilus isn’t exactly a stable place to wait out a tornado, we trooped to the campground’s shower houses, some lugging bags of personal belongings. For the next 45 minutes, we holed up in the humid men’s room, asking for prayer from family and friends and chatting with the other campers. The storm pounded the shower house with high winds and torrential rain, but eventually, the storm lessened and people drifted back to their motorhomes. We made our way around the ankle-deep puddles (well, some decided to go straight through them, but I won’t name names) to find the Nautilus intact—hallelujah! Later we learned the tornado touched land seven miles south of us—which, though completely too close for comfort, was perfectly fine with us.
Thus ended our Florida tornado experience. 🙂
We left Perry on Thursday, ready to sing again!
This is the boys’ superhero poses. I’ll spare you their other poses. 🙂
We three girls wanted a photo together. Simple task, right? You would think we could get a snapshot without any disturbances…
But no: Someone had to parade by swinging Spanish moss on a stick! (No worries, we sisters did find this humorous. 🙂 )
Best friends forever. 🙂
We were so excited to return to First Baptist Church in Oxford, Florida! Such sweet, sweet people! It was joy to catch up with these friends! By this time, though, Sam had lost his voice. He, and everyone who had compromised voices, did an amazing job enduring each concert.
These three loved looking at old pictures. 🙂
Concert four was at First Baptist Church in Zephyrhills, Florida! It was our first time there, and what a great evening we had! Dad had picked up the virus and he couldn’t speak above a whisper. He courageously managed to still emcee the concert, though!
Jayme provided another hilarious memory from the night: the man she chose to talk to before the concert turned out to be legendary Dr. Jerry Goff. She noticed he spoke with knowledge about Southern Gospel music, but since she didn’t recognize him, she asked, “I take it you are a Southern Gospel fan?” He replied with a slight smile, “Well, sort of.” We laughed so hard after the concert when she said that she asked Jerry Goff if he was a Southern Gospel fan!
A typical before-concert scenario. 🙂
It is always a privilege to be with the congregation of Faith Baptist in Sarasota! Pastor Dave’s sermons are so edifying, and we love these special people! We pulled in the night before to set up our equipment and enjoyed time to run through a couple songs.
After Sunday morning at Faith Baptist, we caught a Blackwood Brothers Quartet concert that night. What a blessing. There are almost no words to describe how much these four men ministered to our hearts. All the stresses and griefs of the past month were released as we cried through their songs and listened to their testimonies. It had been ages since we were so blessed at someone else’s concert. One of the last CDs we listened to with our grandpa was a Blackwood Brothers’ project, so the evening was doubly special to our family.
A quick shot with Billy Blackwood and Michael Helwig.
To our surprise, Duane Nicholson of the Couriers and his wife Jean Ann were also in the audience! We met Duane and Neil Enloe a couple years ago in Pennsylvania, so it was fun to reconnect with him! Also, it was a honor to meet the sweet Mae Rambo as well.
We could have listened to their stories all night!
After our eventful day, we pulled into a Walmart in Arcadia, ready to eat pizza rolls (our favorite splurge) and hit the sack. Dad parked the Nautilus, looked across way and said, “Guys, there’s a bus across from us that says The Inspirations on it.”
We couldn’t believe it.
Minnesota is a wasteland for Southern Gospel; a few groups trek to the northland only once a year. And they are usually just passing through anyway. You never see group busses parked at Walmarts in Minnesota.
We stared at that bus like we had never seen a bus before.
“We should go and meet them.” Ben broke the silence. His suggestion was immediately struck down. Sure, we all wanted to meet The Inspirations, but we knew what it’s like to hear a knock on the door in a Walmart parking lot (not fun). Someone suggested that they might be in Walmart picking up groceries. Guards were stationed by the front door to watch the Walmart entrance to see if any “inspirational” people would walk out. But Mom noticed activity out the windshield. “There are guys coming from a hotel…I bet that’s them!” We crowded in the cab and peered out. Sure enough, there were enough men walking across the parking lot to make a quartet—and they were heading for the bus.
Steeling our nerves with a now-or-never attitude, we
beelined shuffled out of the Nautilus. By the time we got close, most of the guys had boarded the bus. Ben led the way to the last member outside, who turned out to be their bus driver Harold (aka Wheels). We chatted with him for a little bit, and then Wheels asked, “Do you want to meet the guys?” We looked at each other and said “Yes!” “Well, I’ll see if I can get them out,” he said. He hurried to the bus, threw open the door and called out, “Hey y’all!” Then the door closed.
The bus door reopened and out came The Inspirations.
What followed were several hours of fun conversations, swapping songs, and eating oranges out in that parking lot. Our smiles felt near to bursting as we listened to The Inspirations’ awesome quartet harmonies in a mini-concert! It was such an uplifting time together. No pun intended, we were incredibly inspired after meeting them; the fellowship we shared was probably the number one highlight our trip.
Since Caleb sings “The Wonder of Wonders”—a song they originally introduced—The Inspirations asked to hear it and recorded this video:
After our “inspirational” night in Arcadia, we located a quiet campground in Sebring to stay for the next three days. After settling the Nautilus, we learned the campground was actually an adult community—and some residents were not happy with the presence of young folks.
But, the next day, we discovered the overall community was incredibly friendly; they gladly taught us how to play “Holey Board” (a version of bean bag toss, but played with large metal washers) and we enjoyed conversing with our fellow campers. We invited folks to an outdoor practice session and many came and we even braved a brief rain storm together! It was a sad parting on Thursday as we waved goodbye to new friends who gathered to see us off
Look! Bamboo! (At least we were pretty sure this was bamboo…)
A “fierce” shuffleboard competition.
Our sixth concert was at Amazing Grace Lutheran in Oxford, and it was the first concert where we finally regained our voices! Because of the crazy stoplight system on Highway 27, we were extremely late and raced to set up our equipment in time. (Never again will we travel Florida’s Highway 27!) The evening was very special and the people so kind and encouraging. The congregation did an impressive job of organizing the concert and handling the parking situation.
We were supposed to sing on Friday night, but the church canceled because another concert was happening 20 miles away. We didn’t have anything else to do, so we trekked over to the concert that displaced ours—since it did happen to be The Kingdom Heirs (one of Caleb’s favorite groups) and The Guardians! It was night of fantastic quartet music and our hands felt swollen from clapping so much.
The last concert was held at Peace Lutheran Church in Okeechobee, and we loved being with this kind congregation and their visitors. Three of Mom’s classmates happened to be in the area and attended the service, so Mom had a mini class reunion afterwards!
We hauled our equipment in the night before and appreciated the time to practice—and have a little fun!
Listening to Dad’s suggestions for an arrangement.
Sam, our dependable drummer!
“How Great Thou Art” was a new addition to our program this year. Grandpa had asked us to sing it for his funeral, so we created a basic arrangement that we have come to love dearly. What a beautiful hymn of worship!
That Sunday evening we made one final stop: Lake Gibson Church of the Nazarene in Lakeland. When at home, we love to make popcorn and watch their live-streamed concerts. Last year we saw the Mark Trammell Quartet there and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Since we heard that Pastor Kirby was retiring, we decided to drop by one more time to say goodbye—and be blessed by The Perrys as well.
What we didn’t intend to do was open the program that night!
Pastor Kirby asked us to sing an a cappella song, to which at first we said “No, we came to be blessed!” But he, Marlin Nichols (the church’s piano player), and others in the congregation persisted. So, before the program, we followed Pastor Kirby up on the stage, sang “Come Unto Me” (despite being unable to hear ourselves well because of the sound situation!), and then got off. It was an amazingly fun experience.
It was so neat to visit with Libbi and Tracy Stuffle—what genuine people with such hearts for the Lord! We were very blessed by The Perrys’ ministry!
We had to get a picture with Pastor Kirby and his sweet wife Bess!
After so many (amazing) adventures in Florida, we more than eager to get home. 80 miles into our return journey on Monday, though, the naughty Nautilus broke down. 🙁 It was a huge bummer for our road-weary family.
For three days we were stuck at a repair shop in Dade City, searching and waiting for a replacement part. During that time, Jayme came down with another virus that was circulating around Florida. And it didn’t just stop with her either. The majority of us were stricken with fevers, colds, and, subsequently, laryngitis when we were able to travel again.
At the end of the trip, the weight of our trials crashed down on us, threatening to hide the ways God had indeed worked for and on us so faithfully. We had to chose either to shake our fists in frustration at God, or to let go and allow Him to work His plan. Admittedly, some days we were beyond discouraged—others we took a deep breath and said, “Not our will, but Yours.”
God revealed that we needed to trust Him on a deeper level, to accept our circumstances with gratitude. It’s not easy to do! But there is peace when we release our expectations and remember that God is in control.
It was a joyous occasion when we finally arrived home—there was even snow on the ground to greet us! We were so thankful to recuperate a couple days before our concert touring resumed in March.
Well! I’ve written nearly 3,000 words in this post! Summarizing 26 days took longer than I expected. 🙂 We hope you enjoy these peeks into our road life here on the blog—which has been silent for too long! We also truly look forward to the chance we can meet you! Please visit our schedule and see if we’ll be in your area—we would be honored to share our music and the hope of the Gospel with you!
God bless you all, and thank you for being part of this journey!
Taylor for TGF