Monday, January 18, 2010

Of Peacock Feathers and Lost Boys

Have you ever been lost? I'm not talking about making a wrong turn in a strange town, or taking the wrong exit on the interstate. Those mistakes can be easily remedied by turning around and back tracking, or looking at a map and making the necessary course corrections. The kind of lost I am talking about is the helpless kind of lost - the Hansel and Gretel - birds ate your breadcrumbs - lost in the deep woods kind of lost.

If you have, you know how frightening it is. The sense of loneliness is overwhelming. The amazing thing is that you don't have to be in the deep, dark woods to be lost. In fact, it's entirely possible to be in the midst of a crowd of people and still be like a lost ball in the high weeds. Let me give you a personal example.

As I remember it, I was probably about 8 or 9 years old, so it must have been around 1959. My Grandfather, Jerry Stidham, who lived in the coal mining country of Logan County, WV decided to make a trip to Kentucky to look up some of his relatives. Papaw had been born in Breathitt County, KY (Bloody Breathitt as it was called back then) in 1909. Shortly thereafter, his father, Asbury Stidham, relocated from the mountains of eastern Kentucky to the mountains of West Virginia. An old photograph showed Asbury to be a rather severe looking fellow who sported a handlebar moustasche. He was a blacksmith by trade. I don't know exactly why he moved, but I remember my grandmother saying that there had been some kind of "incident" in "Bloody Breathitt" which resulted in the move. I can only imagine what might have happened to cause Asbury to take his wife and son, and make such a sudden and distant exit.

All of the Stidhams in America are said to be the descendants of a Swedish doctor named Timen Steddem, who immigrated to what is now Wilmington, Delaware in the late 1600's. You won't find a lot of Stidhams in the phone book, and, since he had no close relatives in West Virginia, my grandfather was always interested learning more about his family, and doing whatever he could to meet his kinfolk. Over the years he had located some cousins in Perry, Powell, Morgan, and Montgomery counties in Kentucky. On this particular occasion he took a week of his vacation to visit some of those Stidhams of Kentucky. Dad was in a remodeling project at our house and it was a good time for Mom to take the two boys and go along with Mamaw and Papaw on the trip. So we did.

Cincinnati was the farthest place from home that I had ever been, and that area of Kentucky was entirely foreign to me. Places like Stanton, West Liberty, and Mount Sterling might as well have been Timbuktu to this nine year old. We were a long way from home, and for me, the trip was a real adventure. Our home base for the week in the Commonwealth, was at the home of Chester Stidham, which was either in Montgomery or Powell County. I confess, I am not sure which at this point in my life (after all, I was young then, and it WAS 50 years ago). Chester was a member of the Kentucky General Assembly and Papaw had served a few terms in West Virginia's House of Delegates so these two were political (Democrat) blood brothers as well as cousins.

Well, so much for all that. Let me get back to the story about being lost.

One of the events Chester took us to was a Fish Fry. I don't remember the exact location, but looking back, it seems that it must have been at a county fair ground. It must have been the biggest event in the county because there seemed to be hundreds of people there. I had never before been to a Fish Fry, so this event was just as curious to me as the foreign territory we were in, and the unfamiliar folks who attended the event. In all this multitude, in this unknown place, you would have thought I would have stuck close to the only four folks whom I knew, but my curiosity got the best of me.

Kids were everywhere, running in and out of the groups of adults who stood around, drinking RC colas and talking about what was going on in the world and who all had died recently. A number of the kids carried Peacock feathers in their hands. I had seen pictures of peacocks in full display, but I had never seen one of the beautiful, colorful feathers up close. Now don't ask me why they had peacock feathers. I have no idea. But I do know I wanted one - in the worst way. Oblivious to the crowd, and temporarily forgetting about my family who were engaged in deep conversation with some of Chester's friends, I trailed off after a couple of the kids to see if I could find the source of the peacock feathers.

I never did find out where the kids were getting the feathers, nor did I see any plucked peacocks running around. I did, however, soon realize that I was lost. Mamaw and Papaw and Mom and Bruce had disappeared in the huge crowd, and I was alone. All around me were large groups of strange men in straw hats and unfamiliar ladies in summer dresses, yet I was more alone than I had ever been in my life. Desperately alone, far from home, and scared. I wandered all over the grounds frantically searching for a familiar face but found none. Searching through the area where people were eating at scores of picnic tables, I found no one I knew. Eventually I came to the area where they were actually frying the fish. The people who were doing the actual frying were midgets.

Midgets - frying fish! I had never seen a real midget in my life, and now here were half a dozen of them. Frying fish... and I didn't even like fish!

The whole episode just seemed surreal, and the growing waves of fear and despair kept sweeping over me. As tears rolled down my face, I wondered if I would ever see home again. When things seemed the most hopeless, I heard my Mother's voice. She was calling my name and I ran to her as fast as my little legs could carry me. Little did I know at the time, but she was probably more frightened that I had been. Her son was lost. I didn't know it at the time, but the whole Stidham entourage had been looking for me!

I believe it was Dr. Chuck Kelley who I heard say, "The only worse thing than being lost, is being lost, with no one looking for you."

There are a lot of lost people out there today. Like the little boy at the fish fry, they are surrounded by people, yet lost, scared, and alone. Many are searching for something, but they don't know what. They are looking for it in bottles, powder, needles, pornography, gambling, and loveless relationships. They're "looking for love in all the wrong places" and finding only emptiness. They are seeking something to fill what is actually a God shaped void in their lives that nothing else can satisfy.

They're lost.

Jesus said, He came "to seek and to save, that which was lost".

He told three stories in Luke chapter 3 about a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son. He described both the desperate state, of that which was lost, and the urgent motivation of the seeker. He also told of the joyful reaction (on earth and in Heaven) when the lost item or person was found.

There are lost people all around us today. Some may not yet realize it. They're still allured by the peacock feathers of life, but that quest leads them farther and farther from the one who loves them, and actually gave His own life to bring them home. They need to be found, before the despair sets in, or worse yet, before they are beyond hope of ever being found.

We must help! How? We can point them to Jesus. He is looking for them, and only He can take them safely home.


Brittany said...

I love this story about the feathers and midgets!! It is so funny when you tell it!!

Anonymous said...

This is a good one. CJ, you really should publish some of these childhood stories. I'm sure you could come up with a good title. If I didn't know you better I would never believe them. Never had heard the sunday dinner story though. I love how people recall their childhood experiences and find it interesting how some block things like this out of their mind and never think or speak of it again.