Monday, August 3, 2009


Recently, our family of eleven (6 adults and 5 children) went on a vacation together in eastern Tennessee. The first part of our trip was a three-day retreat in the mountains with other missionaries with whom we served in Bangladesh some 23 years ago. It was a time to catch up with each other’s lives, hear recent updates from the mission field and just enjoy a time of worship and fellowship with those we claim as family, as well. Additionally, it gave our grandchildren contact with folks that they hear about from time to time, to help them glean a little of their parents’ early experiences as Missionary Kids.

After the retreat, we drove a short distance to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, where we planned to take in some of the local claims to fame. One such place we spotted seemed to invite the whole group’s interest, so we spent the better part of an afternoon being “chilled and thrilled” with the advertized 101 “mind boggling” mysteries of what was called WONDERWORKS.

As you can see, our minds were “hooked” already by the unique structure which housed the mysteries. It literally was an upside down experience for this family, especially me! There were every kind of mind confusing electronics you could imagine. For instance, the “tunnel” hallway to access the main displays was a simulated “bridge” through what appeared to be a seven foot pipe, completely darkened except for the constant spiraling ribbon of blue light. The affect on the eyes was so dramatic that though you knew the bridge was stationary, your mind told you that your whole body was revolving. I get a sensation of vertigo just recalling it. After this were encounters with every kind of mind teaser, including some very physical activities such as rock climbing,

lying on a bed of actual nails
and making enormous bubbles with 3 foot hoops dipped in vats of soapy water.

One mind messing “ride” I was challenged to take with son-in-law Kirk was a two-seater closed capsule in which we were completed strapped. In front of us was a screen on which a very psychedelic “roller coaster ride” was imaged while the capsule was put on “spin” to simulate the ride’s swerves and turns. I felt as though I’d been on the worst roller coaster I could ever image. When we climbed out of the capsule my legs, my body, everything, felt a wash of exhausted sensation that took 30 minutes to finally pass. I recognized with the immediate concern of my family, I should have left that experience unexperienced and vowed to do so in the future. I recognized the “going where no man has gone before” was not all that great. Fortunately, my taste has had no lasting affect on me. (By the way, if you are interested in checking out WONDERWORKS as a possible family activity, check their website and the UTubes available for viewing.)

The next day’s activity was a visit to the famed DOLLYWOOD, where the family was delighted to find a well-laid out theme park of rides, music shows and craft shops of every kind. Something for the whole family. If this sounds like a travel log, it kind of is, but I do have a point I will make before I close, so stay with me.

I enjoyed the time with family and watching the faces of my grands and their parents as they took in the variety of experiences. Having learned my lesson somewhat from the WONDER of the day before, I was less prone to push the proverbial envelope too far on rides, so I enjoyed watching those that did and getting a few pictures. I did take in what was advertized as their version of the “log chute” drench, and was properly soaked for the experience.

It was here at DOLLYWOOD that I began to think about the things that makeup the day- to-day passion of man generally. All about me I saw, and experienced to a degree, the seeking of things to “chill and thrill” the body and mind. My grands would go on a ride, scream through its particularly mind-blowing parts, emerge and plead to go stand in line for a repeated chill. That day we arrived to open the park, and they were still pleading for just one more thrill ride before the park closed, which it did as we left.

It caused me to think of man’s constant cycle of search for the meaning of life. Literally, a MERRY.GO.ROUND, ever seeking a new thrill, and he finds that each one is short-lived, and so like the rides of a theme park, come back to the place where it started with the result, a memory that will begin to fade as he steps out of the vehicle that took him through the experience, and a pocket with less than the price of admission to it. His cycle of life will have nought but that fading memory and sensation, and so, he will proverbially stand in line to repeat it again and again, or find a new thrill to replace it, resulting in the same scenario.

As I have said it before in describing my mental gymnastics of comparing such thrill seeking to life in general, I am not opposed to having the fun offered by such as is found in these mind bogglers, and I only cite the examples to bring our thoughts to an important truth about man’s real “thrill” possibilities. But before I do, let me take you one day further in our family’s vacation experience.

Before turning our sights toward home, we left Pigeon Forge and heading southwest toward Chattanooga, Tennessee. Our target for experience was Ruby Falls and Rock City. The first, a cave down into a mountain, where we would have seen a waterfall so named, and the latter, a natural formation of rocks said to be a great adventure of walking and climbing. The cave’s combination of descent and necessary ascent was ruled out for the already weary group, and the heavy downpour of rain that threatened to continue as we arrived in the city put a “damp-er” on the Rock. Needing to head east before too late, we discovered an in-door activity we’d not been aware of before arriving. The Tennessee Aquarium on the river, and downtown, was a likely experience all would enjoy. Well, we did not know the half of it.

The two huge modern buildings which housed both fresh water and salt water life were magnificent in their construction and display of the underwater life of our planet. As we “wandered” and “wondered” through the 3-story sloping halls filled with enormous tanks of water, fauna and fish, we were put in visual, and sometimes in touch, with creatures beyond our imagination.

Let me pause to plug this place of experience. If you ever are considering a trip through or near Chattanooga, don’t miss taking time to take the self-guided tour through this facility. Young and “older” will enjoy, as we can testify. Check out their website – you’ll catch a little glimpse of what I mean.

Now, back to our experience there. One of the things that immediately impressed me and began to set my mind in reflective motion once more, was the section of the aquarium labeled Seahorses. On walking into this area, I expected to see very small creatures with their typical “horsehead” structure which gives them their name. I was not prepared for the size nor the wide array of variety in this animal’s kingdom. One that caught my attention most was called the “Leafy Seadragon” which I picture below.

Leafy Seadragon Photo by Todd Stailey
At first, I thought it was merely some of the vegetation floating in the water. On closer look, I saw the head and body in the midst of its leafy camouflage. My immediate thought was that God had certainly provided for the protection and propagation of this species. It could hide in its environment and thus elude would be predators very well. After all, it had initially fooled me.
While “wandering and wondering” the halls with our family, I was made aware of the fact that one of our grands, Keaton, had his notebook out and was writing down a lot of information about what he saw. His mother then began taking pictures of many things to save him the time and effort, relating that he had a great passion for all that the aquarium was showing him, and he wanted to keep the experience in his mind as long as possible. Needless to say, I was duly impressed with his desire.

This experience brings me to the point of this family vacation blog.

I have related to you, the reader, what consumed my mind as I thought about the “chill and thrill” rides of both WONDERWORKS and DOLLYWOOD, and how they spoke to me about the cycle of man’s passionate search for meaning in life. Now I have related an experience found at TENNESSEE AQUARIUM, where my grandson discovered something that for him would have more lasting memory and value. This same boy that enjoyed the rides and with the others, wanted just ONE MORE RIDE BEFORE THE PARK CLOSED, now was expressing something of more lasting value than the chill of a moment. I don’t know what Keaton will do with his knowledge gained. He may someday be one who uses such to build his own unique work of lasting value to him and others.

My point is this. Man’s search for meaning often misses the mark because he seeks that of the world’s short-term thrills and chills of experience. On the darker side of experience, the drug and addiction culture that is so rampant today is a very obvious example of the short-term thrill to escape an otherwise hopeless and helpless existence. The cycle which takes man on a roller coaster ride of thrill will not ever progress past the point of its beginning fix, will always push for a little more chill the next time around, and with a drive and passion that JUST HAS TO HAVE ONE MORE RIDE BEFORE THE PARK CLOSES. And what is true in this particular culture is also true in those who seek the experience of gaining the world of riches, which ever tempts them to give up everything to possess its claim on lives. It, too, has a thrill which is short-lived. One who gains and million wants to gain two, and so on it goes.

The lesson that Keaton shows me in his seeking of knowledge about life under the sea, is how much more is to be gained by growing in knowledge, and knowledge to pursue, to gain, to grow in one’s understanding of his world. Spiritually, man’s seeking after God is the really true passion that has an experience that lasts, growing daily in understanding one’s understanding of his purpose in life. It is here that peace of mind, joy in the journey, hope for the future, and love for God and man’s neighbor can be the thrill that lasts beyond the PARK’S CLOSING HOUR. It doesn’t just bring you back where you started, but take you on to greater thrills of the heart and mind than can ever be won by a roller coaster to nowhere.

Consider these scriptures that take us on a journey of growth, and be encouraged!

John 14:27 “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
John 15:4a, 7, 10a, 11 “Abide in me, and I in you…If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you…If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love…These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.”
Matthew 6:33 “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”


Mich said...

I enjoyed the trip, Dad! thanks for everything. Love you!

Amber said...

Such a fun trip!!!!!!!!!!

Keaton is still talking about that aquarium. That kid...gotta love him.

Ray Edwards said...

Great analogy. There is only one letter different between the noun "life," and the verb "live." But that one letter makes a lot of difference. Life is not life unless you live it...really live it. You can talk about life, think about it, observe it in others, but real life is a gift from God, and it must be lived. ...From the time the doors open until they close here on earth and open for us in eternity. I believe the Scripture refers to it as "Eternal Life." Not just a quanity, but a quality of existence.