Grace and the Angels Sing
I can't really remember much about Uncle Joe but my Mother remembers him well. I have heard the story many times. I feel as though I was there too. From her childhood she recalls Uncle Joe's farm with fond memories.
The story begins with Mother and her cousins cuddling up in homemade quilts in front of the fire on a cold night. Intently they would listen as Uncle Joe told them his "special" story. It was always the same story and never varied in the details. As he began to speak in a kind gentle voice it was obvious that the experience he was about to share had changed his life. Peace and serenity would come over him like a flood while he shared the story with them. Joe gently remembered out loud his experience with angels, singing angels.
Psalm 91 promises us that God will "send His angels to keep charge over us to keep us in all our ways, lest we cast our foot against a stone". Scripture does not tell us exactly how the angels will do that, but we know they do. Uncle Joe had proof, he was living proof. The proof and the story continue through me. Stories like this always should.
Times were hard in the early 1900s. Purchasing a new horse and buggy was like buying a new Cadillac. Joe's father was a farmer who worked hard to make a living and to keep the family farm going. In the spring of 1918 the family purchased a new horse and buggy. It was Joe's privilege to go to town, pick it up and bring it home. The spring of 1918 brought no exception to hard work so 23-year-old Joe was excited to pick up the new rig in town.
The rainy season was fast approaching and some of the farmers were low on supplies. A neighbor had planned a supply trip into town so Uncle Joe hitched a ride into town with him. The plan was for Joe to ride to town with the neighbor and pick up the new rig and bring it back.
Usually it was a 12-mile trip into Cullman, Alabama from Jones Chapel where the farm was. On this day the trip would be longer. The main bridge over the rapid Crooked Creek had been washed out in a recent storm. Clarkston Bridge was notorious for being washed out in the spring which made the main road too dangerous to travel. The bridge was at the bottom of a steep curvy hill and it would be almost impossible to stop on such a grade. The long way around made it a half-day's trip to town but it was the only option with the bridge out over Crooked Creek.
Joe and the neighbor cheerfully left Jones Chapel early that morning and the sun was shining when they departed on their way. They arrived in town about one o'clock in the afternoon with the sun still shining. He picked up the new rig and then stopped into the general store for some needed supplies. This all took a little longer than he had expected. He hitched his horse to the post and loaded all the supplies onto the new buggy. In the store the other farmers were discussing the impending weather. All indications were that there was a strong storm brewing in the west. Knowing that most bad weather comes from the west he contemplated staying the night but thought he could make it home before nightfall.
As he traveled along the road toward home he began to notice that the sky was quickly turning dark. He could smell rain coming as most farmers can. As he topped the hill he could clearly see a serious dark and ominous cloud approaching. The wind began to blow and the horse was frightened. Joe was frightened.
Joe wasn't used to the roads on the long way around. He had only traveled that way with his father on one other occasion.
The storm grew stronger as it closed in on him. The winds began to howl and blow the trees in a circular motion. The rain was so hard he could not see. He realized that he was lost in the storm. The horse was new so he knew he had no help coming from the horse. Joe was afraid he would drive off into the now swelled and raging river. He feared that bridges were washed out on every road. He prayed and asked God to show him the way.
Joe buckled down and trotted the horse a little faster hoping that he was on the right road. The rain was coming in sheets. The thunder and lightning cracked as the wind howled more ferocious around them. He continued to pray. The new horse was resistant and Joe struggled to keep him moving.
He looked for shelter where he could wait out the storm. There were no houses anywhere. No shelter from the storm. The roads were becoming muddy and dangerous. He knew he was probably getting close to the river, known for its rocky edges and rapids after a rain. The further he went, fear consumed him. He could not see a foot in front of him. Stopping in mud and lighting was not an option. Never before had he felt so afraid in a storm. This storm was bad, real bad. Just as it started to hail he faintly thought he heard singing. It sounded like a church congregation singing. Suddenly he heard it clearer and louder. Almost as loud as the wind and hail flailing around him
The horse had been walking slowly without such a strain. As Joe began to hear the singing it seemed as though the horse was following the sound of singing. He continued to trudge through the storm. The singing got louder and clearer. All of a sudden on the far hill he saw a glowing light. Bright the light beamed into the storm unlike anything he had ever seen before. The light seemed to appear suddenly in the dark. Pulling on the reins he directed the horse toward the light.
Joe saw that the light and the singing were coming from a church. The entire hillside was illuminated from what appeared to be lanterns in a church window. Still he saw nothing that he recognized. Remember this was 1918—no electricity. No flood lights, only gas lanterns.
As he approached, the singing was the sweetest he had ever heard. Uncle Joe recognized the song, it was Amazing Grace. The echoes of sound surrounded him as he heard gentle singing "Amazing Grace how sweet the sound". Oh how sweet the sound was to Uncle Joe. Peace washed over him and replaced the fear even though the storm continued to rage around him.
Exhausted, cold, soaked and somewhat confused he was drawn to the church by the brilliant lights and singing of a congregation. The closer he got the faster he reined the horse. The animal had almost given all it had but as though led by a spirit it sprinted as Joe called out commands to giddy-up.
The light was directly ahead, bright lights shining in the dark stormy night. As he got closer he could see clearer. He could now clearly see the church with a lantern burning inside the window and a pot-bellied stove red from the warming fire inside. He recognized the church to be one close to his home, Pilgrim's Rest Baptist Church. He had been there many times but he had never seen it quite like it was that stormy night. Never had he realized how awesomely beautiful the church was. Pilgrim's Rest took on all new meaning for Joe.
As he approached he saw many horses and buggies hitched to the rail. He got close to the other buggies as the rain continued to pelt. A loud clap of thunder rolled in the sky as he hitched his buggy beside the others. Joe felt peace as he realized that he had found his way and had found shelter in the storm. He recognized his surroundings. He recognized the church. Uncle Joe had found his way.
He felt safe that he recognized the church to be Pilgrim's Rest on the banks on Crooked Creek at Clarkston Bridge. If he had gone any further he would have driven off into the rapids of Crooked Creek and would have surely died. Peace, calm and a sense of safety came over him as he knew God had heard and answered his prayers.
As he shook off the rain from his hat he started to get down from his buggy to go inside and get warm. When his foot hit the first step down, in that instant, he was totally alone. Everything went dark and the singing stopped. He turned to look at the buggies and they were all gone. Everything had disappeared and all was quiet except the storm. As mysteriously as the lights and singing appeared, they disappeared. There was no one there. No singing. No people. No light. No buggies there beside his. No lantern in the window. No pot-bellied stove blazing red with fire. Nothing but silence and dark and the sound of the storm. He was totally alone.
Uncle Joe knew that instant he had been graced by the presence and protection of angels sent by God to protect him. It was angels singing. God had sent them to show Uncle Joe the way home. There never was one doubt about that for Uncle Joe.
Many years later Uncle Joe worked with the crew that rebuilt the Clarkston Bridge over Crooked Creek. As Uncle Joe grew older he never forgot the angels singing. The story never changed but the experience changed his life. He always said, "Angels singing is just not something that a person could forget". He told the story many times and each time he would sing the verses to Amazing Grace, singing sweetly and softly with almost a mystery to his voice. His face would light up as he seemed to take himself back to that stormy day in 1918. Through each verse his voice would get louder and more determined as he sang the last verse. "When we've been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun".
Amazing Grace how sweet the sound, especially when angels sing.
This is a true story.