Two of our dearest friends from back home in Tennessee, met us at the airport in Bismarck, North Dakota. Our long time pastor, Gene Mims and his lovely wife, Ann, journeyed to the north country specifically to see the places about which I wrote in my book, “Runaway Horse.”

When we visited their church for the first time fourteen years ago, it wasn’t two weeks later that we were sitting at their dinner table with two other new couples who had visited the church. This is standard procedure for them, and with that, we knew this church was the right place for us. They are loving hosts and caring ministers. It was very clear to us, that to them, we mattered.

We’ve never joined a church for the music, although we enjoy Judson Baptist Church because I can play my cello in the orchestra each Sunday. Our new pastor, Jeff Mims is a dynamic teacher and steady hand for our congregation (Yes, he’s their son). Pam teaches a Life Group class of women ages 40 to 60. We don’t want to be anonymous members but to give, serve and be invested in the people…and be family. There are so many needs in our community, our country and the world. There’s no shortage of work to do

Gene is originally from Texas, but at age 14 moved to Appomattox, Virginia. Ann is from a small, but difficult to pronounce town outside of Jackson, Mississippi. She is the consummate purveyor of hospitality and the epitome of “southern grace.”Gene has referred to himself many times as a “chicken eatin’ preacher”…but in reality, he is a brilliant speaker, teacher, author, a former executive at LifeWay Christian Resources and an amazing leader. He’s ADD, and so we communicate perfectly!!!!

Our two days were spent re-counting Pam’s and my home places, favorite haunts and a trip through the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and the Medora Musical. Got to get together with friend and Medora impresario, Bill Sorenson, in his last year starring in the musical and as speaker at the Medora Gospel brunch. We were also thrilled see and meet with the amazingly talented cast member, Taylor Leet, who along with her parents, Jon and Jennifer, are very close family friends.

On our way home the next day, we stopped at Fort Lincoln State Park In Mandan, North Dakota. It is home to the On-A-Slant Indian Village which thrived for 200 years. The Mandan were hunters and gardeners who lived in these permanent villages. The home in another part of the park is that of General George Armstrong Custer and his wife Libby. Also featured in the park are some reconstructed military lookout towers.

Our last stop was to the capitol. This building has great meaning to me because my father served as State Superintendent of Construction. Two weeks before my daughter, Sarah was born, he walked to the capitol from his home two blocks away, sat down for a morning coffee in the cafeteria and fell over dead of a heart attack. I was numb, he was 56.

Dad just loved side pork. He fixed it all the time. He’d suffered a heart attack when he was 30, but he couldn’t let go of that side pork. So when people ask me how my father died, I tell them he died of side pork.

Gene said in a sermon to us, “Death runs in my family.” He’s right. My dad’s passing came way too soon for our family…but in God’s perfect time. I understood that…but still…there was so much that he missed, and that we missed with him.

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