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As the essence of Creek Side Manners portrays... Long before we where formed in our mother's womb, God knew us. He knew what our name would be and the number of hairs He would place upon our head. He knew the exact moment we would be born and where we would be at every given moment in our lives. He created us with a purpose, a purpose set in place from the foundation of the world. 

It is a gift to recognize one's purpose... and whether we ourselves view that purpose as significant or insignificant, in God's eyes, its worth is beyond measure! For His understanding is far beyond any human understanding and His ways are not our own. 

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When I sit to write a story, I start with nothing more than a title... I never know who or what the story will be about until the moment I start to write. Paragraph by paragraph the story takes form and in the end, it is a gift from God, not only to other readers, but also to myself. God is indeed the author of great and mysterious works!

Titles "pop out at me" everywhere! However, this particular title "popped out" at my... then husband, now friend, Tony... to which I was very pleasantly surprised with the outcome it held! Rightfully so, the story of Creek Side Manners is dedicated to Tony, who was often my biggest fan and greatest encourager in life and in the Lord, and whom I will always love as a very special friend.

The picture below was taken of Tony in Chatanooga, TN in September 2007. As always, he was such a good sport... posing with "thumbs up" to portray the character of Tony in Creek Side Manners


Written by: Barbara Ann Hall

Mosquitoes feasted on my flesh and dripping sweat burned my eyes as the hot summer sun beat down upon my head. It was getting late in the afternoon and I anxiously awaited the cooler air the evening promised.

It was nearing the end of the third day of the weeklong expedition hosted by the local museum. Twelve eager beavers, including myself, signed up to comb the banks of the muddy creek for fossils and any other interesting artifacts we might find. Which, as of that third day, had found nothing but a variety of biting insects that shared the feast among us!

I couldn’t help but wonder what my purpose was there, why I was encouraged by God to trudge through ankle deep mud in a hundred degree heat looking for God only knew what! That thought made me laugh, as He was the only one, at that point in time, that did know what. I prayed with a little humor, “Father, I’m sure whatever the reason is that you have me here will be well worth the pound of calamine lotion I have used already!”

Our expedition leader, Mr. Anthony Roberts, who insisted we call him Tony, was a short and stout, ball of energy. Who, at that point in time had already spent three entire days sprinting his way through the mud and the muck as we all trudged, heavy footed, behind him. Every once in a while, when someone would sink in the mud or he could hear someone sigh, he would pause and remind us in his encouraging, jolly way, of what he referred to as creek side manners, laid before us from day number one.

“Manner number one is rule of thumb, Tony said holding his thumbs high up in the air, don’t get discouraged! From experience, I know that it’s quite possible to dig all week and find nothing until the very last moment of the very last day.”  Everyone sighed, and Tony was quick to repeat manner number one, “again, that manner is, don’t get discouraged!”

 “Manner number two is, stay with your muddy buddy!” Everyone laughed, as we were all just about covered in mud from head to toe. “These woods can be dangerous if you are lost, and much more so if you are alone.”

 “Manner number three is, Step lightly. If you step lightly, your feet are less likely to become imbedded in the mud.” As he demonstrated, he looked much like a kangaroo hopping over hot coals!

And last, but not least, manner number four is, never underestimate any thing! There are lots of situations and creepy crawlers out here that may look harmless and friendly, but believe you me, looks can be deceiving!”

 “Now, if everyone minds their manners, we’re sure to have a muddy good time!” Tony added with an almost perfectly imitated English accent and a chuckle in his tone.

Night fell fast back at camp. After dinner everyone separated into smaller groups. Some sat around the fire to talk, others went down to the river to fish, and a few retired early. I stayed by the fire with Tony the expedition leader and a few others from the group: Michael, a tall, distinguished man who came on the expedition with his teenage son; Ryan, an elder gentleman who had been on every expedition with the museum for the past twenty years; And Christi, a college student who joined the expedition with a classmate to meet an understudy requirement.

Tony shared with us two of his most challenging experiences from his last expedition, which consisted of twelve high school drama students. “And believe me when I tell you, there wasn’t a day gone by that was not filled with some kind of drama! Collectively, the kids managed to challenge all of the manners set before them!” I laughed to myself, thinking how easily that could be done. As I myself had already sunk, practically up to my eyeballs, in the mud and by the end of the third long, hot day had most certainly become a little discouraged in finding nothing for our efforts.

Tony told his story with such expression. “On the very first day of the expedition, one of my students was struck with a brilliant idea! To bury his buddy up to his neck in the mud! Taking my muddy buddy comment way to literally! Which, in itself would have been bad enough, but think of my horror when I found out that he had laid there for the better part of the afternoon until the mud hardened around him! Needless to say we all had our first lesson on how to dig out a human sized fossil!”

“There wasn’t much time to think that the next day would get any better, as I awoke to twelve kids feeding, petting and talking to a skunk! I should have never told them what it was and what it was capable of doing, because at the mere escape of a scream, the skunk got spooked and began to run around in circles missing none of the twelve with a heavy spray of stink!” As Tony continued, he was practically hyperventilating. “Then I had twelve kids buried up to their necks in the mud, as mud is one of nature’s ways to extract skunk stink. After watering them for several hours so they wouldn’t harden into fossils, they arose smelling like freshly bloomed roses! It was quite an ordeal! One I hope to never repeat!”

We all laughed, including Tony, as we told him that it sounded to us that he and the kids most certainly did have a muddy good time!

The fire began to burn down. It was getting late, so we decided to call it a night. Tony ended the evening on a sound word of advice. “Sleep tight! Don’t let the bed bugs bite!”

Back in my room, a single, dim light cast shadows upon the walls. It was quiet; all I could hear was the faint sound of running water from the creek. It was so peaceful.

The room was small and smelled strongly of natural wood mixed with a hint of honey suckle. A course netting, to keep the bugs from nibbling at night, surrounded the bed. My thought was that I needed one of those draped around me during the day! A beautiful oil painting of an actual scene from our camp hung on the wall over the bed. It was breathtaking! Painted in rich colors with fine detail. There were two large windows that stretched from floor to ceiling, dressed with floor-length solid white cotton curtains hooked to what looked like a tree branch attached over the tops of the windows. And there in the mist, I saw myself, my reflection looking back at me through the pitch-black windowpanes. I couldn’t help but wonder again, why God had sent me on the expedition.

I felt urged to kneel by the side of my bed and pray. Something I seldom did, I usually just prayed wherever I happened to be at the time, but that night I felt encouraged to kneel. “Father, thank you for this day. Thank you for keeping all of us here in the palm of your hand while we enjoy our time together. Tomorrow, as you know, will be our fourth day of the expedition. Please continue to keep us safe as we journey though it and please Father, help us find something of interest. Tony is such a great person, and the others too, it would be such a blessing for us all to find something… something magnificent!” I lifted my head and smiled upward toward the ceiling, as if God could see me better in that position. “Thank you also for leading me here Father. I am having a wonderful time! Even through the mud and heat, bugs and now fear of skunk!” I added with a little humor. “I know you didn’t send me only to enjoy myself, but I am grateful for you allowing me to do so while I am here. I pray that I am able to do your will well Father, when you reveal to me my true purpose for being here. Please keep my senses sharp, my heart pure and my eyes uplifted. And please Father; keep your loving arms around me as I sleep. Amen.”

It seemed as though morning arrived in the blink of an eye! Everyone met for breakfast at 6:00 a.m. sharp before pairing up with their muddy buddies and heading out for our fourth day at the creek. My buddy was Cynthia, a middle-aged woman who came on the expedition for time away from her family, her personal alone time, as she called it. She didn’t talk much, other than occasional small talk, so there wasn’t too much else I knew about her. She seemed a very pleasant woman, but perhaps a little standoffish I thought. I tried my best to be friendly and encouraging, but not much seemed to move her daily stance. With no indication of why, I thought that Cynthia might have been why God sent me on the expedition. However, after much prayer I didn’t get any verification from Him about it either way. But then again, I didn’t get any verification about anyone else either. So, for the moment, the mystery remained.

It was a beautiful sunny day, but the air was much cooler than the prior days of the expedition had been. And either I was adjusting well to the situation or the ground didn’t seem quite as soggy and the bugs weren’t biting near as much. Spirits were high among the group, and everyone seemed confident that we were going to find something big!
About the third hour into the expedition, we heard a loud commotion in the distance, which scared us all half to death! Quickly we ran towards the direction of the uproar, to find Michael and Ryan hooping and hollering and patting each other on the back! Their faces radiating pure joy!

Michael and Ryan were sitting aside a large, flat rounded stone with what looked like grooves carved into it. “What is it?” we all asked almost simultaneously. “I’m not sure,” Ryan responded excitedly. “Michael and I found it buried on the bank near the water's edge. I don’t even know what made us look there! We were digging a few feet away when something told me to dig closer to the water. As we dug nearer to the river's edge, water began to seep into the area and when I attempted to scoop it out with my hands my fingertips scraped against the surface of the stone! With a little more digging, Michael and I were able to lift it out. That’s when I realized it wasn’t just an ordinary stone!”

Tony stepped forward to examine the stone. As he gently began to remove the mud from it’s grooves, they began to look more like words! “What does it say?” I heard Cynthia whisper, more to herself than to anyone else. Tony shook his head; “I’ll have to remove more of the mud before we’ll know.”

After getting most of the mud off the stone’s surface, Tony began to work more intently to remove the deeply imbedded dirt from its grooves. When he removed as much as he could by hand, he and Ryan carried the stone down to the creek and let the water gently wash away the remaining debris. When they lifted it out of the water, we all gasped. With the mud and imbedded dirt washed away, the stone seemed to almost sparkle with a greenish tinge in the sunlight!

“This is a magnificent find!” Tony exclaimed commending Ryan and Michael. I’m not exactly sure, but I believe this may be an artifact from the early years following Jesus’ death. It was very popular for Christians to carve messages into large flat stones such as these as they journeyed from place to place preaching God’s Word. It was a way for them to advertise God, so to speak. This stone is in very good condition for its age, I believe that may be due to the way it was embedded into the ground.

What does it say? I heard Christi ask this time. Tony looked back down at the stone and read the words aloud, “WALK IN FAITH, FOR GOD WALKS WITH YOU. REMAIN HUMBLE BEFORE THE LORD AND DOUBT HIM NOT.”

As everyone stood around in awe of the stone, God put something in my heart to ask Cynthia. “Cynthia, in simpler terms, what does the stone say?” I asked her. “Excuse me Barbara?” she responded with surprise.  So I asked her again what God had put in my heart to ask her, “In simpler terms, what does the stone say?” This time, without hesitation, she responded.  “It says, don’t get discouraged, stay with your muddy buddy, step lightly and don’t under estimate anything!”

Tony looked up at her with a look of astonishment on his face, “You’re right! In a way it does say that, doesn’t it?” We were all quite surprised at the remarkable similarity between God’s message and our very own set of Creek Side Manners!

Tony explained that God had given him those manners many years before, in answer to his prayers for guidance in the expedition field. “Somehow I felt they would one day hold a more significant meaning than just what met the eye!” Tony continued, “Over the years of my journey, I have learned to humbly walk before the Lord and doubt nothing of Him.”
Tony paused for a moment before he continued. “Before I had ever been here, I use to paint pictures of this camp as God moved me to do so. In one, you will see a group of people standing by a creek holding a stone, which I believe now to be this creek, this stone, and all of us! Praise God! In fact, Barbara, I think that picture hangs in your room.” I quickly thought back to the picture hanging over my bed, “you’re right Tony, it does!”

“Ryan, Michael, Everyone...” Tony continued with such love, such emotion. “God has truly blessed us all with a great gift here today. He has shown us that He holds us all in the palm of His hand and knows always where we are and where we will be.  I do believe this stone will become a great witness to His Word, as will we all.” Just then, Tony smiled up at me, while announcing to the group. “I also believe that finding this stone has greatly helped someone else here today in a unique and personal way.” I smiled back at Tony, and he winked at me.

Later that evening, around our evening campfire, Cynthia explained that God, in allowing her to recognize that the stone’s message was very similar to Tony’s Creek Side Manners, helped her realize that He is omnipresent  in our daily lives. Even in the little things that seem trivial. “I would have never recognized the connection, had Barbara not encouraged me.” Cynthia informed the group and then thanked me. But, I was quick to assure everyone that all thanks and praise was deserved only by God.

Then Cynthia came out of her shell a little, and shared with us that she felt that her life had become meaningless. She went through the day-to-day motions, but with little connection to herself, her family and most of all God. That’s why she went on the expedition, to do something different, something that might inspire her to connect with life again. And she confessed that after the day’s experience, she felt as though God, in a simple, but miraculous way, had given her a renewed inner strength and a purpose, where before there was none.

I knelt by my bedside again that night and praised God for His wisdom that repeatedly proved to be far beyond comparison to any human understanding. “Thank you also Father for blessing Tony, and Cynthia and all of us today. Thank you for allowing me to submit to your will. Although, my role hardly seemed significant in comparison to the blessing I received from you. I am supposed to be your faithful servant, yet I feel that you always give me more than I am able to give you. It is I that owes you all that I am, for you have already given me everything.” I felt a little as if my purpose in the big picture was insignificant, as if I let God down. “Was there more I should have done? Did I allow my own excitement to hinder your full will Father?” As I prayed I longed for some comfort and reassurance, but I continued to praise God. “Father, I thank you for all of your blessings in my life. Please allow me to be a better servant, a better daughter, a better friend, and a better person. Please continue to keep me safely in the palm of your hand and please keep your loving arms around me as I sleep. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen”

 As I lay there in my bed admiring Tony’s painting, God spoke to my heart. “Child, you have not let me down. Sometimes it is the little things in life that help many to see the big things. Don’t doubt me, by doubting in yourself. Keep walking by faith and know that I am always with you.” “Thank you Father,” I whispered before dozing peacefully off to sleep.

Perhaps it was the contentment and joy of my heart that made me dream of being in Tony’s painting with Tony and the others walking alongside the creek’s bank with Jesus! “See, I am always with you!” Jesus exclaimed, as He held His two thumbs high up towards the Heavens! “I am always with you!”