by Connie Vandeman Jeffery—
“I will lift up my eyes to the hills—From whence comes my help? My help comesfrom the Lord” (Psalm 121:1-2, NKJV).
I am reminded of this text when I look at the hills around me. My Camarillo, California, home is surrounded by hills—hills that were scarred by the aptly-named “Hill Fire” last November; hills that have been transformed into lush green landscapes due to the 18-plus inches of rain in the past two months. It looks like I could be in Ireland! How could something so ugly and blackened turn into something so lush? Rain, and more rain! It’s amazing how drought-ridden, fire-scarred hills can transform into something marvelous with moisture from above.
All of this rain and these gorgeous green hills take me back to 1968 and my first road trip with my mom. Just the two of us. There had been countless road trips from my childhood Maryland home with the whole family: driving across the country multiple times; driving to evangelistic meetings and camp meetings all over the East Coast and the South. But never just mom and me. That trip was a first. I was 12 years old.
She had heard of a well-known outdoor pageant that had been running since 1950 in beautiful western North Carolina on the Cherokee Indian Reservation. Set against the backdrop of the Great Smoky Mountains, the drama “Unto These Hills” tells the story of the Cherokee people and their tragedies and triumphs. It is one of the longest-running outdoor dramas in the U.S.
The trip itself was memorable—we were setting off on a great adventure, just my mom and me, driving 530 miles through several states just to see the pageant. Dad was away on an overseas trip, and she thought a mother-daughter road trip was just what we needed. So we set off early in the morning, singing silly songs, playing the usual car games, like “20 Questions,” “I Spy With My Little Eye,” and my personal favorite, “My Father Owns a Grocery Store.” If you haven’t heard of that one, it goes like this: “My father owns a grocery store, and in it he sells something beginning with the letter L.” Then my mom began to guess. “Lentils,” she suggested. “No,” I said. “Licorice? Lima beans? Lollipops?” I giggled and kept saying no. “Lettuce?” she shrieked, and I said “YES!” Then it was her turn. This game can go on for a hundred miles and I’m sure ours did. Halfway there, it started to rain. Not drizzle. POUR! We stopped several times. Mom hated driving in the rain. But we literally laughed and sang and played games the whole way there. We checked into our motel and eagerly awaited the next evening’s pageant.
What was even more memorable than our road trip was sitting in the outdoor arena waiting for dusk and then watching the amazing drama unfold. I will never forget the story, the singing and dancing, and the backdrop of the hills. The show portrays the unique story of the Cherokee from a historical perspective. The play traces the Cherokee people through the ages, from the zenith of their power through the heartbreak of the Trail of Tears. It ends in the present day, where the Cherokee people continue to write their place in the world. Even at the age of 12, I knew I was witnessing something powerful. It was a great gift my mother gave to me—opening my eyes to the wonder of another culture and the magnificence of the hills! I will always remember that night and the road trip that got us there.
Whether it’s the Great Smoky Mountains or the green hills of Camarillo, I will continue to “lift up my eyes to the hills” and remember where my help comes from. It comes from God.
Connie Vandeman Jeffery is the host of All God’s People, a weekly short video series highlighting the people and ministries of the Pacific Union Conference, and has had a long career in media.