In mid-January I received an invite via private message from a sister-in-Christ in Casey, Illinois named Katie Philippi. We’d never met, but she explained that she and some other sisters from her congregation had been benefiting from my program Older Women Likewise and was wondering if I would come and do a talk for them in the spring. Mark and I had purposefully refrained from a lot of reservations in RV parks and such in order to retain as much flexibility as possible to help such congregations out as we travel the country, but “Plan A” was to be in The South during the spring, so as to avoid extreme temperatures as we (and our cat) are living in and out of our van. But since this was the very kind of opportunity that was at the heart of our vision for our Nomad Quest, we opted to go for it, and hoped Illinois would not surprise us with a post-winter freeze over.
To our delight, we learned that this little town of Casey has come up with a pretty ingenious idea to give travelers an incentive to swing through and spend some pocket change. They not only have lots of cute little shops downtown (several of which are owned by church families, including a homemade pretzel shop, a coffee shop, a T-shirt store and gift/plant shop) they also have several Guinness World Record constructions of super-sized items in the form of outdoor sculptures such as a giant rocking chair, mailbox, teeter-totter, pencil, wind chimes, and so on. Roadside oddities are one of my favorite things to explore, so this sweetened the deal, for sure.
Brandon Baston kindly allowed us to plug our Airstream into his place and use his water the five nights we stayed, and his parents Leroy and Laura helped play host to us as well. We learned that the congregation in Casey is a very active congregation. Upon our arrival, they had just completed a singing school with Tim Stevens, and after my Saturday presentation, they were beginning a gospel meeting with John Gentry. The timing of all this worked out well for us because we got to meet John’s wife Stacy and their six lovely children, one of which, was in a circle of friends who had challenged one another to read the Bible through cover to cover in a relatively short amount of time. Another daughter, named Sarah, already hosts her own podcast called Project Virtue (projectvirtue.com) where she inspires other girls to take a stand for Christ and live out their faith. How encouraging!
The Friday night before my presentation, we were invited to Brent & Bobbi Layton's along with some other wonderful families and had great laughs and conversations over a delicious lasagna dinner. I was blown away that night by all the efforts my sisters were investing to make our Ladies’ Day extra special. They’d even designed and printed matching T-shirts for us to wear and created beautiful invitations as well as the printed schedule cards attendees would find on the tables upon their arrival!
What seemed to surface over and over again as we visited with our brothers and sisters in Christ in Casey, Illinois on this first night and the nights that followed, was the sacrificial love they have for one another that came out as they shared all the stories of care and concern they have received during times of another’s strains and losses. In fact, the day we pulled in, the men were having their men’s Bible class at the home of a cancer patient who had recently been born again, so that he could benefit without having to leave his home. Others joked about the reality that once an announcement was made about there being some kind of setback or challenge in someone’s life, food started piling up on their front porch. In fact, much of the reason the aforementioned cancer patient had come to the Lord late in his life was because of witnessing these acts of kindness that freely flow from one heart to another among this church family.
The theme verse my sisters-in-Christ chose for my talk was from Habakkuk 3:17-18 which reads:
“Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will exult in the Lord,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
The Lord God is my strength…”
Weeks before my arrival, as Katie and I put our heads together on how to get the most benefit from our Ladies Day together, we decided the first presentation would deal with what God says we can do the day a devastating, loss-inflicting storm arises, in order make the most of it and ultimately to find comfort in the God of our salvation. The second presentation was also written to be very practical. It was on the topic of what God says we can do, day by day, when our lives are storm-free and “sunny” to strengthen ourselves for the inevitable life-storms ahead. The last presentation of the day was around how we can love each other better by understanding each other better. When all was said and done, I felt my messages were well-received and I believe we left our Ladies’ Day even more bonded to God and one another. So bonded, in fact, that Mark and I had a hard time leaving town. I say that because several times, just before we were to head out of town, we’d get an invitation to dinner, then a few hours later would get another invitation to lunch the next day, until that began to be the running joke that we’d just move to Casey, Illinois and never have to cook another meal for ourselves ever again!
But alas, we did eventually pull out, but before we did, I wanted to swing by my new friend Sarah’s house for one last good-bye. Sarah, the mother of older teenage girls, had recently adopted a couple young daughters, one with such profound medical needs that she was expected to live only three years, but has now passed that estimation. She and her husband, Caleb, had rescued her from a drug house after her mother was arrested. So instead of enjoying the freedoms of a soon-to-be "empty nest”, they now volunteer to, among other things, wake up in the middle of the night to comfort her. Sarah says she is their precious gift and blessing for the little time they’ll have with her, and know that even when her spirit parts her little body, that void in their hearts will make going to heaven all the more desirable.
Yes, there are a lot of “super-sized” landmarks in the city of Casey, Illinois, but I nominate my brothers and sisters there to the Guinness World Records for the most "super-sized" hearts, one and all. They confided in us, fed us, drove us around, hosted us, and inspired us. There is definitely big love in this small town!
Westside church of Christ
102 North Coles St.
Casey, IL 62420