Archive for August, 2015

Home Is Everywhere.

Story and photos by Skyler Cumbia.

Not often do we think about what home means. It means different things to different people, I suppose. To some, it is the house they grew up in. To others, it is the state they are from. And yet to others, it is wherever their shoes reside.

During the past year or so, I’ve struggled with defining “home” for myself. Whenever I returned to the States from being in another country, I would have so many mixed emotions. Only now have I begun to sort through those feelings. Even so, it is still hard.

Home Is EverywhereI almost feel I have done a disservice to people by telling them my at-the-time feelings. It’s hard to relate deep-down feelings associated with a trip; nor is it easy to simply share your soul with everyone you pass in the hall at church. Had I not truly learned valuable lessons, it would have been easy to relate every feeling and facet of my trips, but because of incredible and personal things God showed me, it was difficult to do them justice.

We are similar to trees. Their trunks, along with every branch and twig, are visible to the observer, but the most important part of the tree is underground, unseen. Like trees, as we grow spiritually, our roots grow. To share some of those spiritual lessons and personal experiences is like exposing your roots for all to see – vulnerable and uncomfortable, even painful.

Home Is EverywhereMany have asked me to recount the most memorable moments of my time abroad. I tell them some cool stories or list some pretty wacky foods that I ingested, but who am I to say that one thing I did was more important than another? No act of service is seen as greater than any other, in God’s eyes at least. But in man’s eyes there is no lack of praise for one like me – world traveler, teacher, missionary, etc. People are quick and ready to pat me on the back and wish me well, but what I’ve found to be true over the past year is that I am no better than the smallest GA giving her 25 cents to the missions offering. In the grand scheme of things, God doesn’t care about how many countries I’ve been to, what crazy foods I’ve eaten, or how many people I’ve prayed for. He cares about the motives behind my actions. As stated in 1 Corinthians 13, “If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” God only cares about the love for Him and for others that I demonstrate every day. I can travel all over the world and do all of these things, but if I don’t truly love God and love others, I will never be effective.

Here are some important things I discovered while abroad.

Home Is Everywhere1. We can never pray enough. We have a tendency to become “regulars” at the drive-thru of prayer. We expect God to know our order and then we just leave. He wants to have a strong and hearty relationship with us, not one based on sides and sauces. One way to build this type of relationship is to ask God questions. Unlike humans, God does not get tired of our endless questions. He wants to have in-depth conversations with us. In my experience, life becomes clearer and more meaningful when I talk to God often. Sometimes I don’t even say “amen” because I feel like it allows the conversation to continue throughout the day. “Amen” seems so final.

2. Love appears in ways we do not expect. I learned that love isn’t always as it appears. In my blog, I described an experience I had with a child in Haiti. In that story I related the amazing ability of God to completely change my view of that little boy. I learned love can be found anywhere. And often it’s not the act that defines it, but the absence of action. When we are called to love those who are hard to love, it is nearly impossible to turn straight to love. First we have to stop being annoyed by them. We have to create the absence of that emotion before we can put anything else in its place. We’re often overwhelmed with God’s commands and don’t know where to start obeying. Well, that is one place to start.

3. Peace can exist anywhere, and in any situation. We can be surrounded by agitating events and still be at peace. In the same way, we can be in a relaxed environment and not feel at peace. Peace is a state in which we are aware of life’s difficulties, but are also keenly aware of God’s presence and we intentionally trust our past, present and future to Him.

So, one last thought.

We would do well to remember where our true home lies. Sometimes I think we put too much stock in our physical environment. Our setting often dictates our attitudes toward others and life in general. If we allow God to control our response to our surroundings, we can feel at home anywhere. In the process of discovering this, I struggled with knowing where my true home was. I knew where I was from, but these countries had also become such a part of me. I finally had to realize that none of these places is my true home. Heaven is my home. My true and final resting place.

But while I am still roaming this earth, home, to me, is anywhere my feet and my family – biological or spiritual – reside. Home is where God is. Which is, well … everywhere.

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Story by Jeannie Dortch.
Photos by Jeannie Dortch and Allen Cumbia. Video by Allen Cumbia and Sean Cook.

Blackwell honoredIn December of 2012, with former governor Douglas Wilder at his side, Stuart Blackwell received the Unsung Heroes Award for Excellence in Virginia Government for his 50 years of service to the Virginia State Capitol. His selfless public service in preserving Virginia’s living history and his bright attitude were noted as examples to emulate. In his home, I read letters written to Stuart by many Virginia notables and saw photographs of him and his wife, Isabelle, with George Allen, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barak Obama.

Stuart Blackwell’s name may not be familiar to First Baptist Church members, but it certainly should be! Most take for granted the importance of a Grounds Supervisor who maintains the land that surrounds FBC’s prestigious edifice. While Len Morrow is remembered for his stewardship of FBC’s beautiful gardens, Stuart has been in charge of enhancing what hems in those flower beds for over 40 years.

It's not work if you love it.A humble but highly motivated man, Stuart grew up in Brunswick County. He enjoyed horticulture classes in high school as well as working on the family farm. But like many young men, he itched to seek work in the big city, so in 1963, at the age of 20, he moved to Richmond. Even after he got his first job at the state capitol laying pipe under the 13 acres of ground surrounding the buildings, he continued taking horticulture classes at night in Henrico County. One of his classmates was Len Morrow. During this time, he also met Anne B. Taliaferro, not only an educator and principal in Henrico but also an FBC member for whom he did yard work for 20 years. Through these connections, he became acquainted with FBC.

As Stuart’s expertise with plants became recognized downtown, he moved from laborer to foreman, and eventually from foreman to supervisor of a 19-member crew that helped him groom the Capitol grounds. In 1973, when Paul Moss, FBC’s Building Supervisor, was looking for a landscaper, he hired Stuart sight unseen to take care of the grounds because his reputation had preceded him. With the help of his wife and three men he hired, Stuart began his tenure at FBC.

Over the years, Stuart has been asked to work at many other churches, but the only one he has ever agreed to help has been FBC. His friendship with associate pastor Phil Cumbia, another Brunswick County native, grew, as it did with others in the congregation. “I thank God and the members of FBC for letting me work for them. I love what I do and I love people appreciating what I do.” To emphasize, Stuart recalled, “During the early 1980s, I mentioned that an illness made pruning several American Holly trees on the property too unwieldy. Frank Glover, Building Supervisor at the time, arranged to have the trees removed.”

When asked how he was able to juggle both the Capitol and FBC jobs at the same time, Stuart continued, “Better equipment and good people working for me in both places.”

Mr. and Mrs. Blackwell

Mr. and Mrs. Blackwell

As he was approaching 70, Stuart considered retiring completely, but in a conversation with Jim Somerville, FBC’s Senior Pastor, Stuart was flattered when Jim told him, “There are over 3,000 people who do not want to see you go.” He reconsidered and now works his own hours but still keeps FBC’s grounds beautiful year round. An early riser, he always arrives in his red pickup before the building opens. Quietly working among the greenery, Stuart may be hard to spot by FBC members and neighbors, but “when they see me, they always have nice things to say about my work.”

The neighborhood also profits from Stuart’s work. Jim mentioned that it is a wonderful example of FBC’s intentional efforts to contribute to our neighborhood and develop relationships with other Fan residents.

What Stuart loved became his life’s work and for that work he is loved and appreciated.

Watch a video about Stuart Blackwell produced by Allen Cumbia and Sean Cook.

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