From beaches to barns, we took off for a Tennessee getaway. A local friend recommended a Sunday drive to Leiper’s Fork and I watched contentedly, music singing from our rental, land sprawling for miles, homes peppering countryside and smoke dancing from chimneys. I felt my shoulders relax. My country girl heart was at home.
We pulled into the quaint town and before I noticed the grey wood siding of David Arms’ barn-esque store, a halo of twinkly strands welcomed, in what appeared to be a firefly canopy connecting outstretched branches, lighting a hazy afternoon backdrop with an ethereal glow.
Here’s how you can differentiate a store from an experiential shop. Stores sell products and push receipts into bags. Shops indulge every sense, evident when we walked up the icy path and noted a burning firepit flanked with Adirondack chairs By the front door, a table display offered glass jars holding grahams, marshmallows and chocolates, a simple indulgent invitation for s’mores on a chilly afternoon. All around, firewood and kindling and cozy scents lingered.
The moment I stepped through the front door, I sensed something special about this space. Perhaps it was the music or the kind gentleman dressed in a 3-piece suit. Perhaps it was tables laden with books and quotes and detailed paintings hanging in what felt like one’s living room, but it was the sense of walking into a home after being gone for some time.
Rifling through a corner of prints, my eyes landed on large piece where two birds perched on the upper corners of a traditional 3 hole lined paper, with the verse: “From the lips of children…you have ordained praise.” – Psalm 8:1
On the paper, painted in a child’s script, was this story.
As I read, I wept.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. My eyes saw Things
I had never seen before and
My ears heard sounds I had
Never heard. I saw gardens
So perfect that nothing was wilted or dead, and every
Bloom was glorious. I saw colors that did not exist on earth.
Everything was bright.
Everyone was finally happy and content. We were never
Hungry. The homes were draped with sheer white fabric and The furniture was made of clouds.
I heard hundreds of thousands of angels singing praises to
God. I saw Jesus going through
the crowds hugging everyone.
God sat on a gold and red
throne where we could go hug him and ask him questions.
It was the best day of my life.
Cue tears. How? How had someone taken similar words from a journey I so deeply resonated with? Almost four years ago, my sweet dad passed away, and in the weeks and months following, my dreams were full of similar vibrant images, whispers of heaven, a gift I now call, Godsense, an experience of God found in all senses. How had someone captured such words and emotions on a simple painting?
I approached the dapper fellow at the front. “Do you have this print in a smaller size? I’m afraid it’s too big for the flight home.” He smiled, the warmest knowing smile and came back with a box of letters bearing the same print.
“Do you want to know the story behind the painting?” he asked.
He motioned to the back of the box and I turned them around and found an explanation:
When my oldest daughter was in third grade,
She was given an assignment during creative
Writing class to write about heaven.
The teacher provided the first line
But she was to create the rest.
How refreshing it is to see something so beautiful through the eyes of a child.
So innocent. So pure.
The paper you see is in her handwriting which I then painted, but the image of heaven is completely hers.
And there I stood, heaven stationary in my hands, weeping. In David Arms’ shop.
I walked toward the gentlemen and without saying a word, pushed the cards close to purchase. With my husband at my elbow, the young man leaned close, a sparkle in his eye. “I don’t usually tell people this, but do you know who that girl is? That third grade girl is my future wife.”
And with that, I tucked a piece of heaven under my arm, strolled out into the crisp air, under twinkly halo strands, and held my husband’s hand tight.
Perhaps Sunday afternoon drives take us nowhere. While at other times they take us home. To where a part of our hearts long to be.