• 39°

The mystery church in the Valley

Occasionally, I find myself believing I can do anything regardless of ability or talent. So, in other words, I probably think too highly of myself. My brain is sometimes fooled by lofty dreams.

Every few years, my mind wants to believe I am an artist. My friend, Gerri, is an artist, and so was Van Gogh. When I view authentic art, my eyes remind me I should just stick to painting by number with crayons. But because I am stubborn, I again pulled out the old paintbrushes and pretended to be someone other than who I am.

My friend, Deborah, and I love old country churches. When I travel to where I was born in Tennessee, there is an overlook off the side of a curvy mountain road, which always beckons me to stop. No matter how many times I view the bucolic scene below, joy fills my soul.

A white church is nestled among hardwood trees and farmland. Its distinctive spire topped with a simple cross, reaches toward heaven. As my eyes span over the valley, I can almost hear the old hymn “Peace in the Valley” echo in the hills to calm weary souls. I have viewed this vista in all seasons, and even when the green hills turn to gray, it is still beautiful.

For some unknown reason, this year I decided to try painting old churches. I found a Christmas card showcasing a country church, which I attempted to replicate on little wooden plaques to give a few friends. They are purposely small, so my pals could hide them when their guests arrive and put them away after the holidays.

Soon, Deborah believed she too could paint churches.

“Come on over, and we can do this together! Look on the internet to find a church you like and copy it.” I happily declared.

She walked through my back door with her idea and a printed copy of the church she wished to paint.

It looked familiar with its aged siding, arched windows and bell tower below a simple cross. By the end of the day, Deborah’s brain healed itself of foolish dreams, and she pronounced, “I am no painter! What was I thinking?” With a wave of her hand, the unfinished attempt at painting the old church was left for me to complete because I still possessed silly illusions of artistic grandeur. I was not yet healed of such madness.

I examined her unfinished church and oddly decided to turn it into a Christmas scene. I added snow, wreaths and red bows on the adjoining fences. The print showed a lamb standing in front of the church, and after I painted him, he was perfect. However, I was somewhat sane enough to acknowledge I was still living in some self-imposed sugar plum land. Lucky Deborah had escaped.

Once it was finished, I returned the Christmas painting to Deborah and wished her a Merry Christmas. She loved it, and so did my husband, but the scene haunted me. Why did I turn it into Christmas art, and why did the lamb seem perfect and easy to paint?

A few days later, Deborah and I were shopping.

“Oh, my goodness, Lynn, come here!”

As I approached her, she held up a box of Christmas cards. It was the same scene I drew with snow and wreaths and bows on fences. There were two lambs instead of one, and the caption was “A Christmas Prayer.”

A few days later, I began to decorate my tree. Each ornament was wrapped in tissue paper to protect them year after year. I picked up a large round one, and when I did, its price tag fell out of the tissue. I must have bought it at the end of the season last year and packed it away. When I carefully removed the paper to see what it was, chills crept up my spine. The ornament depicted the church Deborah had copied, the one I finished as a Christmas scene and was now on Christmas cards. I have no idea where I bought it or why.

However, I know that this mystery church reminds me of the church I love in a Tennessee valley. It is not a dream that the lamb is perfect because he is.

The scene turned to Christmas because the lamb came to us, offering peace.

And an old hymn continues to echo its way into my heart and hopefully into yours.

“There will be peace in the valley for me, someday. There will be peace in the valley for me, oh Lord, I pray. There’ll be no sadness, no sorrow, no trouble I see. There will be peace in the valley for me.”