October 2004 — The last two weekends have found wife Sara Faye and myself, by choice and by planning, far from our Houston home. Two weekends ago we indulged a perennial craving for Autumn color — a treat the eyes miss here on the Texas Gulf Coast — by flying on Thursday to Nashville, Tennessee then driving for the weekend to Asheville, North Carolina. There in the forest-covered Appalachians we toured the Biltmore Estate, the 250-room mansion and grounds built in the 1890’s by George W. Vanderbilt and now visited by approximately one million people each year. Along the way we spent a day and night in beautiful Franklin, Tennessee where Sara Faye grew up and where we both expect one day to be buried. The leaves were brighter in Carolina than in Tennessee but we remain firm in our conviction that for Fall brilliance even New England has little if anything to offer more than has dear Middle Tennessee.
This past weekend we flew the other direction to California, where our nephew Aaron Fudge was taking himself a wife in an eloquent ceremony at which his father, my brother Benjamin, gave the sermon. The service was in Dana Point, down toward San Diego, and the west wall of the Baptist church in which it was held (and where Aaron is college minister) consisted of windows overlooking the Pacific Ocean. We spent nights with Benjamin and Susan in Upland, California east of Los Angeles, where all one has to do to pluck fresh lemons, oranges, tangerines, avocados, pears and blackberries is to step into the back yard. Two mornings I enjoyed brisk 7:30 walks up picturesque, tree-lined Euclid Avenue toward the snow-capped San Bernardino mountains, with temperatures in the 50’s. (To appreciate that, realize that the thermometer in Houston read 95 degrees throughout last week.)
We arrived safely home in Houston on Sunday night where Monday brought welcomed rain and a much-awaited cool front. A good plane ride, someone has quipped, is one from which you walk away at its conclusion. Indeed, we did and do thank God for “travel mercies” both weekends in the form of safe trips. But we also give thanks for “travel mercies” in the grace of visual beauties in God’s creation — the mountains and forests of North Carolina, the hills of Tennessee, the oceans and orchards of Southern California and the year-around greenery and flowers of our own Texas Gulf Coast.
My little mind can scarcely contain it all and my heart longs to enjoy it all, all at once and all the time. The intense satisfaction and almost transcendent joy such scenery evokes bears witness, I think, to a desire for beauties this world will never fully satisfy. That is the joy awaiting us in the new heavens and new earth where, in God’s immediate presence, we will see him face to face and experience ultimate happiness forevermore.