I am delighted to welcome Mitzi Neely onto the blog today. Sometimes our travels don’t turn out as expected, but usually these are when we learn about and feel God’s presence the most. You’ll enjoy stepping into Mitzi’s week away with her husband and discovering what she learned.

I like to travel. I’m more of a day trip or weekend excursion kind of gal, but I do enjoy the week long trip if the time frame works and it’s a place I’m excited about.

I’ve learned over the course of my marriage that my sweet husband and I don’t always enjoy the same type of trips. He doesn’t care for flying and he’s definitely not a city guy. He loves the wilderness, the less frequented towns, and finding cool places to eat.

The circumstances were not what we expected, but God honored all that we had planned. His provision gave us everything we needed. He provided protection and safety and He gave us much needed time together.

So when we had the chance last November to head to the Smoky Mountains for a week of uninterrupted time together, it was a date. We combined the Mountain Top Conference Retreat with a late celebration of our 35th anniversary. There was nothing exotic about the trip and certainly no beach within reach, but it was more about our time together.

Along the way we admired and thanked God for the beauty of His creation. The trees, rivers, rock configurations, and mountains were breathtaking. We had kept up with the weather and knew that in late November it would be cool, and yes, even a bit of rain would make its appearance. But never fear, we were set to deal with anything.

But on the first day of exploring Pigeon Forge, shopping here and there, a fog-like smoke set in directly to the area. Business owners told us there was a fire in the mountains just beyond Gatlinburg. Authorities from both cities were watching it closely and personnel from the region were working the situation.

As the conference opened that first evening we were briefed with a few details and prayed over both communities and those who were potentially fleeing their homes. But as we neared the end of the night, the situation changed quickly.

The main highway to Gatlinburg was closed and the residents in the mountains were fleeing their homes. Families were leaving everything they owned to get to safety.

People were shuffled from hotel to hotel, meetings were tentatively moved, a central shelter opened, and we were praying for God’s protection.

Conference organizers considered sending our group home, but the city and the Tourism Bureau worked to accommodate our needs and moved us to the opposite end of town. It’s amazing what thoughtful, believing people can do when plans change. No complaining or negativity involved, just a team of individuals working together for good. Spirits remained high in the midst of serious adversity.

In the meantime, we received some much needed rain during the wee hours of that first night. God’s provision brought some relief and allowed firefighters to slow the fire down, if only for a little bit. The communities continued bracing for the worst.

Our conference resumed the next day and with heavy hearts we prayed. Thankfully the rain continued. We also contributed to the Red Cross to meet some of the immediate needs.

Despite the seriousness of the situation our group did our best to focus on God’s Word and the messages about the birth of Jesus, the blessings of the Christmas season, and the impact on us today. We made new friends from across the country, shared stories, and enjoyed fellowship together.

By the end of the third day, the highway to Gatlinburg was reopened and we were relocated back to the original conference site, but the fires were still being fought with all of the man power and resources the state of Tennessee could muster.

The news media reports were 24/7 and the devastation kept mounting. Fourteen people perished and over 2400 homes and structures were either damaged or lost, but further destruction to the area was spared. I have tears welling in my eyes as I reflect on our time there and all that was lost. But I know God was at every turn.

God’s word tells us in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9,

“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” (NIV)

There had not been a fire of this magnitude in over a century. But in the midst of this tragedy God showed His omnipotent strength and power. He reunited families, contributions poured in from all over to assist those who had been impacted, and finding loved ones safe became the sweet side of reality.

The circumstances were not what we expected, but God honored all that we had planned. His provision gave us everything we needed. He provided protection and safety and He gave us much needed time together.

Philippians 4:12-13 says,

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (NIV)

Mitzi Neely is an inspiring motivational speaker who encourages women of all ages through her experiences and shortcomings. She has been blessed with a passion and love for people that stretches across the generations. Her heart is to lighten your load, while conveying her message that nobody’s perfect. So often God places certain people in your life at just the right moment; whether the reason is to help teach you, help you grow in your walk with Him, or to simply love and lift up others. Whatever your struggle or need, you will find encouragement through her words as she refreshes your heart and renews your joy. Follow Mitzi at www.peacefullyimperfect.net

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Linking up with Natalie Venegas at Salt & Light, Susan B. Mead at #DanceWithJesus, Arabah Joy at Grace & Truth

  • Wow, Mitzi! I didn’t know you were there then! What a blessing to witness God at work even in the midst of a tragedy! XO

  • Wow – what an experience, Mitzi – and thank you for making this post possible, Rachel.

    I’m particularly struck by your last paragraph: “The circumstances were not what we expected, but God honored all that we had planned. His provision gave us everything we needed. He provided protection and safety and He gave us much needed time together.”

    Robert and I have been RV-ing full time for a while now, and boy-oh-boy have we experienced God’s hand at every turn. There’s nothing like being on the road to feel God’s blessings despite all the issues that can show up. We read about those fires and had a serious discussion on what our choices would be should be in/traveling through such an area with our RV. Bottom line? Trusting in God is our only choice, no matter where we live because He does provide all we need.

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