It’s only happened a few times in my life but each time it has happened the memory has lasted my lifetime. I can remember the first time I felt that hand and it was my grandfathers hand. It was a hand that was hard and almost unshakable because of the size of the fingers and the hardened blisters that turn the skin to granite. It was a working mans hands. Hands that aren’t afraid of a hard days work and raising a God fearing Christian family. Hands that are full of love and faith.
I only knew James for a short period of my life but the first time I met Mr. Kelly and shook his hand I felt that old familiar feeling in that hand shake. He probably thought I was weird because it took me so long to let go of his hand as we talked but I was savoring every moment and I felt it all. Man, I felt it all. I felt the hard work, the kindness, the understanding, the knowledge and above all else, the faith. James quoted scripture and told me stories from the bible which related to our conversations just about every Sunday morning before church. James used to ask me every week, “How many fish did you catch this week”? After I would give him a number he would take a long pause and nod. It took me a while but I think James pondered if that number of fish could be turned into the number of men I could bring to Christ every week. I honestly think he was thinking that every week when he asked me that question, and he asked me that same question every week. We talked about many things during our short friendship but just having a conversation and a laugh or two with James was one of the many reasons I love our little church and church family.
Loss is a bitter sweet fact of life and we’re all going to miss James Kelly but Jesus has a special place in Heaven for James Kelly and when I get there I’m sure I’ll hear that beautiful voice once again and James and I will be able to catch up with those fish numbers. James was laid to rest in a little meadow behind our little church this past weekend so we can visit with him often.
Most folks didn’t know this till now but a few years back Lisa and I were contemplating finding a church. We are both Christians and both brought up going to small churches. In our conversations Lisa suggested we both pray on it and we’ll get our answer. Lisa’s daughter Callie and her friends drove by this beautiful little church nestled on a hill along the banks of the Etowah River and they just loved the church surrounded by horse pastures and meadows along the river. Callie was engaged to be married and thought that the little church in the country would be a great place to be married so Lisa contacted the church and we made plans for a spring wedding at the church. When spring came we had the wedding there and it was beautiful. It was a great cermony and we couldn’t have asked for a better backdrop for a wedding.
After the wedding Lisa and I had discussed going to the little church some Sunday for their Sunday service although it was a pretty long drive for us. We never acted on it until late in the year when I got an invite to do a podcast from my friend Danny who was starting up a fishing podcast called “Fish North Georgia” and he and his friend Josh wanted me to come out one evening for an on air interview. I agreed and he gave me the address to the building where they did there podcast on a Thursday evening. When the evening came I wanted Lisa to drive me because it was raining and dark which makes it hard for me to navigate with bad eyes. Lisa agreed and off we went out to the country for the podcast appointment. Lisa was driving and I was navigating as we went. Lisa said, “remember the church where Callie got married”? I said yes and she replied “Well, I think it’s around that area. As we approached the address the rain was really coming down and when the gps lit up it said “You have reached your destination” just as the lights from my truck lit up the whole church. James Kelly had a big metal building behind the church and Danny and Josh were members of the church and had their podcast in James Kelly’s metal building every week. It took me a bit but the odds of landing back at the little church out in the country so far from home twice in a short period of time when Lisa and I were praying for an answer, well, it’s pretty astronomical in my view so Lisa and I had our answer and we have been attending our little church ever since.
On a final note, today is a very special day for me as it was one year ago today I was baptized in the Etowah River right next to our little church. It was a beautiful fall day and we all walked down to the river after the service, and I was baptized. It’s a sweet memory for me and I’m very happy that James Kelly was there. It was his and Linda’s land that led to that little spot on the river where I was baptized.