Here is my house up on the hill. Take it and use it anyway you can.
I have always loved those words not so much for their flow or their historical value, but for the message of hope that they contain. They were spoken by a woman, who no one gives a second thought to today. But she was the one person God chose to use to save a small Christian college from closing.
In the early 1900’s, structural fires were common. Most everyone knew this, but the thought of this did not stop Richard and Evelyn Forrest who had purchased an old inn close to Toccoa Falls in northeast Georgia. Haddock Inn became the perfect setting for a school that would be used to educate mountain youth. In those days, people who lived in parts of Appalachia rarely had a formal education. They worked in their father’s fields and could not imagine life outside of their tiny communities.
The Forrests brought change with this school, but the early years were difficult. The old rambling three-story inn was drafty, and fires burned constantly in it’s large fireplaces. As enrollment increased so did activity. People were coming and going.
There always seemed to be an abundance of joy at Toccoa Falls. Music was hammered out on the various donated pianos located throughout the inn. This is because Richard and Evelyn loved music and trained those who attended the school to play and sing in their churches. Years later a niece told how there was “always music” in their home. Always.
Then one day tragedy struck.
Sarah Staley, a woman who had come to teach at the school from Nyack College in New York, was walking down the wooded pathway from her home on the hill to the inn where she was scheduled to teach a morning class. What she saw took her breath away. It brought her to her knees; and shaking, she fell down and cried out with unbelief and agony. The roof of Haddock Inn was on fire and all that she loved and held dear was within its walls.
Days a day later as the survivors went through the rubble that was left of the school, Sarah particularly watched Richard Forrest. He was overcome with grief and emotion. Evelyn Forrest stood at a distance and watched her husband battling feelings that were simply not true—feelings of both doubt and fear.
It seemed there was little anyone could do to lift up courage within Richard’s heart. He was young and his dreams for the future lay at his feet in a pile of smoldering ashes.
Three things happened on that day or maybe within the span of a couple of days that changed the course of what was to be. These three things are what each one of us need right now.
First, God gave Richard a promise as he stood looking at what was left of his study books. It came from a portion of Scripture that literally was used to reset the course of his life. It is found in Isaiah 61:3, “To provide for them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified!”
Second, Sarah Staley realized the need and was unafraid. She told Richard, “There is my house on the hill; take it and use it anyway you want. Only let the school continue.” She answered God’s call: Who will go for us? She said, “Here am I send me!” (Isaiah 6:8) Today, are you willing to be used fully by God?
Third, as Richard walked inside Sarah’s home, he noticed a briar hook beside the back door. It was a common tool used to clear away a small amount of brush. As he ran his hands over the tool with its leather binding, something clicked inside of him. He wasn’t ready to quit or move on to another place. Giving up and giving in was not in his vocabulary. The task truly seemed too great for him and his wife but not for God.
Suddenly, he thought of the hill across Toccoa Creek. It was higher ground and already had a board shack located there. Not much for a new beginning but between Sarah’s house and the board shack, it would do . . . for now.
Pulling the briar hook off the peg beside the back doorway he headed for the top of the hill where he began to clear land for a new building and the continuation of what became Toccoa Falls College.
When the Storms of life hit—
You may be facing some extreme tragedy—a fire storm has overtaken your life and left you facing a pile of smoldering ashes. Everything you held dear seems gone, but God hears your cries. He knows—the hurt you are facing—and He promises you “beauty for ashes” through faith in his Son Jesus Christ.
Or you may be looking at the crumbling world around you and wonder: What can I do? I have very little to offer. You may have something like Sarah to give, share, and support that would keep the fires of God burning in this darkened world. So, are you willing to pray: “Here am I, Lord, send me!?”
Angela Ramage Pathways© 2020