“Excuse Me, Miss?” Mark & Rachel Jessup

“Excuse me, miss.” Rachel turned, startled, at the man’s voice. “Your father will meet you in the hallway,” he said, bowing slightly before disappearing.

Nodding to the empty room, Rachel smoothed her dress for the twelfth time. She took another glance in the wide mirror before heading for the door, pausing before the threshold.

She thought of the boy who used to visit the Wagon Works Grille at Silver Dollar City, where she worked through the summer over three years before.

“Excuse me, miss!” he would call out, seating himself at the same table every afternoon. “Excuse me, the ice machine is out of ice!” he said with a smile.

He would often find any excuse to talk to her, usually by bringing up anything in the restaurant that required her attention.

“Well would you like to help me fill it back up?” she playfully responded. Small moments like these quickly became the highlights of their day.

“Well, you see,” he would say, smiling back, “I don’t have a very good memory. I was hoping you could help me out.”

That was the summer of 2011, when Rachel joined the Navigators in Branson, Missouri.

For her last summer in college, Rachel had planned to work at an elementary camp out

west, but so had several other students. The camp was fully staffed by March and could not offer a position until the following year. Rachel made plans to stay in Tennessee for the summer, but that soon changed after she drove her friend Callie to Nashville to meet visiting family.

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Cue The Wedding Bells: Ben Finch Photography Captures A Fairytale Wedding at The Tennessee Theater

The birds are singing sweet melodies, vibrant flowers are blooming, and the coolness of winter is fading into the welcomed warmth of spring. For most of us these familiar sights and sounds mean spring is finally here, but for photographers it means it is time to cue the wedding bells – wedding season has officially begun.McMinn County native, Ben Finch, is an expert professional photographer that captures all of the heartfelt emotions that surround the most important day of a person’s life. Over the years, Finch has covered many weddings, but there are some that seem to stand apart from the rest. One of Finch’s most breathtaking weddings was actually shot indoors at the Tennessee Theater. WBIR Channel 10 news anchor and McMinn County native, Beth Haynes, was married to Seth Grossman at the beautifully renovated theater.Ben Finch says, “It was a beautiful wedding. Bill Schneider played the great wulitzer, and Russell Biven announced them to the congregation and did a scripture reading.“ Every shot from the wedding captured the stunning beauty of the day. From the wedding preparations to the ceremony and reception, every intricate detail was represented throughout the photography. Finch was also able to scope out a perfectly lit alley across from the Tennessee Theater for a few outdoor shots as well.As a photographer, Finch takes great inspiration from the JFK era.  His personal style reflects timeless, classic, and nostalgic beauty. “25 years down the road, I want my photos to be as relevant then as they are now. I try to focus on things that inspire me most.” Viewers truly feel as if they have stepped into a real life fairytale with every detail perfectly in place. The Haynes wedding was truly a spectacle to behold of special, magical moments captured in time.

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Military Boys: United in Friendship and in Service to Our Country

As we recently celebrated Memorial Day, we took time to remember those who fearlessly and sacrificially serve our country both in the present and in the past. While we rightfully honor these individuals, sometimes it is easy to forget each person in the military brings their own unique story. They often have a family who loves them, ambition to pursue their dreams, and friendships that are unbreakable, yet they often give up the things they love most to preserve the many freedoms we enjoy as Americans.The story of Elisha Moser, John Ray Roberts, and Gary Cagle is a story of three Monroe County boys who were all best friends from childhood through adulthood. As they entered high school Cody Moses would also join this strong bond of friends. All four friends currently serve or are going to serve our country in the military when they are deployed.Their story is one told by their mothers looking back on their childhood and teenage years as they grew up together. John Ray Roberts and Gary Cagle met when they were young. John Ray’s mother, Robin, babysat Gary Cagle and his brother; however, it was in fifth grade that John Ray, Gary, and Elisha started developing an unbreakable friendship. Scarlett Moser, Elisha’s mom states, “They just clicked from the very beginning and were the best of friends.”Throughout their school years they always played sports together. The boys played both baseball and football together, and not only were they athletic, but they were also very creative and funny too. John Ray’s mother, Robin, states, “Baseball is what really brought the boys together, but as they got older they loved to make their own movies, and they were so dumb,” she laughs. “I remember a few of the movies they made in high school. They did a Godzilla movie where they were ninjas; they made a Romeo and Juliet movie, and a Bigfoot movie where they spent the entire video trying not to laugh. They were hilarious!”The boys were always very creative and extraverts. Robin remembers during timeouts while playing travel baseball, the boys would dance and sing on the field to the music playing over the loud speaker.Elisha and John Ray loved theatre, and were in the school’s “Snoopy” production one year. They even made their own costumes for the performance. Robin states, “They were always a mess – always into something!”In high school, they did other things together as well. They worked together at the local A & W, and they served as leaders at Sequoyah High School. John Ray was President, Gary was Vice President, and Elisha was Treasurer. They also were great friends with Cody Moses. The four boys spent a lot of time together in high school. Gary recalls they “loved the outdoors, bonfires, and simply spending time in the mountains together.”As their time in high school drew to a close, they all four felt led in a similar direction. They all wanted to serve in the military in some capacity. Gary remembers always thinking about the military when he was younger.Belinda Cagle, Gary’s mother, says, “Gary always loved his country and the flag. Every morning at school, he would raise and lower the American flag at Sequoyah High School. He always had a love for his country, so it wasn’t a surprise to me the path he has chosen. His grandfather was also a POW in the Army. One thing is for sure – I definitely listen to the news a lot more and pay more attention to what is going on in the world.”It was after attending the American Legion Boys State that Gary decided he wanted to be an officer in the military and be equipped to lead soldiers.  He decided he wanted to go into the military the beginning of his senior year. When John Ray discovered that Gary was going, he wanted more information as well. They both ended up attending and graduating from the Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina.Gary states, “It meant so much to have John Ray with me. It was nice having a familiar face helping you along while you are there.” While they were at The Citadel, Elisha took a different route and went to Berea College on a baseball scholarship. He graduated from Berea College in Kentucky and is now on active duty with the Marines. Their high school buddy, Cody Moses, enlisted in the Air Force right after high school. John Ray is getting ready to attend Southern Seminary working to be a Chaplain in the Army after he graduates.Today, the boys still keep in touch and are wonderful friends. John Ray Roberts was married over Memorial Day weekend and Elisha, Gary, and Cody were all groomsmen. They continue to keep in touch with one another and share the laughter, memories, and stories that will be with them for a lifetime.Elisha Moser is currently on active duty serving as a Lance Corporal in the Marine Corp. John Ray is a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army, but is not active while he is attending Seminary. Gary Cagle is on active duty and is also a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army and a Platoon Leader of the 690th Medical Company (Ground Ambulance), and Cody Moses is a Staff Sergeant in the Air Force on active duty.As these four friends who have shared life together continue on different paths, they are united in their friendship, their memories, and their desire to sacrificially serve our great nation.

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Comforting Canines Provide Compassionate Ministry

The Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry™ is a national non-profit ministry utilizing the unique skills of dogs, specifically Golden Retrievers, to open opportunities to touch those who are hurting or in need with mercy and compassion. These Comfort Dogs are trained working animals prepared to interact with people in ways that provide a bridge for compassionate ministry to take place.

This ministry was begun by Lutheran Church Charities in February 2008, following the tragic shootings of four students at Northern Illinois University. When LCC saw the students flocking to the Comfort Dogs for emotional therapy, sometimes preferring the animals over university counselors, they decided to expand the ministry nationally.

Today there are over 70 trained golden retriever Comfort Dogs placed in churches across the country, bringing a calming influence and emotional healing to a great number of people at special events, schools, nursing homes, hospitals and disaster response situations. These compassionate canines have been used to spread comfort to those who have suffered traumatic situations all over the country, including those in Newtown, Connecticut, the Boston Marathon, and most recently after the earthquakes in Napa, California.

The ministry only goes where invited–it never intrudes. When they arrive at the place to which they’ve been invited, they set up off to the side, so people don’t feel pressured to approach. The dogs are effective comforters because they make people feel safe, allowing them to open up about their traumas. The handlers don’t talk, but rather let the dogs do the primary work of listening. Each dog has a sign that says “Please pet me,” which encourages people to relax enough to talk about their distress.

Christ Our Savior Lutheran Church in Loudon will be the first congregation in Tennessee to offer this ministry. A Comfort Dog named Jewel officially began her ministry on September 7th with a “Passing of the Leash” ceremony, celebrating the transition of the Comfort Dog into service. Jewel is a 14-month old purebred golden retriever who has undergone 3,000 hours of training. She responds to 40 commands and has been taught to be gentle and passive when working with the public. Part of her training period was spent providing comfort to tornado victims in Washington, Illinois and rural Arkansas.

Jewel even has her own Facebook page (Facebook.com/Jewel Comfort Dog), Twitter account(delete Twitter account) and email address (Jewel@K9Comfort.org), as well as a business card printed with her photo and Bible verse that gets handed out whenever she’s working. To inquire about Jewel and possible visits, contact Christ Our Savior Lutheran Church at 865-459-9407. And, if you see Jewel out and about the community, remember, she loves to be petted!

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A Voice for the Defenseless: CASA Monroe Brings Hope to Neglected Children

CASA Monroe is a local non-profit organization in Monroe County that serves as a voice for abused and neglected children in the court system. CASA is an acronym for Court Appointed Special Advocates (For Children). The goal of the organization is to support court appointed volunteers to represent children who find themselves in the court system because of abuse or neglect from their parents or guardians.A CASA volunteer, or simply “CASA,” gathers critical information from the child’s life to be used by the court when deciding the best home for a child where they can thrive and live in safety without fear. CASA is the only non-profit that doesn’t charge a fee to parents or families for their services.Often times a child represented by CASA Monroe has suffered one or multiple forms of abuse. They are taken from their home situation, and while they are away, the goal of a CASA volunteer is to gather as much information as they can from the lives of the children and write a report for the judge.A CASA will experience many aspects of a child’s life. They will interact with their foster parents or guardians, go to their school, talk to teachers, grandparents, family members, therapists, doctors, and anyone who may be in the circle of influence in that particular child’s life in order to supply a wealth of information to the judge that the court wouldn’t normally receive.Children are often taken out of their homes and placed in several different homes before their case is closed. Many times, a CASA will be the only constant person a child has in their life when everything around them is changing. A CASA will remain with the same child until their court case has been closed out. CASAs love to visit their children, and enjoy bringing them an occasional special treat when they visit. They typically stay for an hour with a child in their current home and go back every three to six weeks to ensure everything is going well. In addition, a CASA also helps support the family currently caring for the child by doing things such as helping families apply for TennCare or food stamps.CASAs are unlike volunteers at other organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters, because the overall goal is to be an advocate for the child in court; however, that doesn’t mean there aren’t amazing relationships and bonds created through the process. The stories volunteers tell about their children are incredibly moving. The following is just one example of a typical case involving two children represented by CASA Monroe:Five-year-old, Sarah, and three-year-old, Ashley, were removed from the custody of their father who was a raging alcoholic. One day, a Monroe County Sheriff pulled the father’s car over after noticing the car was weaving and going over the middle line – both children were in the back seat.   It was then the Sheriff called the Department of Children’s Services, which then took the girls out of their father’s care. The location of the mother was unknown, as she had left the children right after Ashley, the youngest, was born.  The children were placed with their paternal grandmother, and CASA was ordered by the Juvenile Court judge to advocate for the children. When the grandmother had to go to the hospital because of a heart attack, the children were sent away to an aunt near the Tennessee-Kentucky border.  CASA was also there.  After several months, the aunt felt it was too emotionally stressful for her to keep the young girls, and so they were placed in foster care.  During this time, the father refused to attend drug and alcohol rehabilitation. The stress of moving from place to place was showing in the girls’ behavior. When Ashley bit one of the foster parents’ children, they asked that the girls be moved.  On Christmas Eve day, they were placed in their fourth home since being removed from their father.  They cried and cried, and the new foster parents felt they were disrupting their own children’s enjoyment of Christmas, so that night they were moved to a fifth home. All during this time, the children’s CASA followed them.  She brought them Christmas gifts, and when she arrived at their newest foster home, which was out in the country, Sarah said, “We’re so glad you’re here!  How did you find us way out here?”  Her CASA said, “Honey, I’ll find you wherever you are.  Don’t ever worry about that!” The CASA visited the children every few weeks, always bringing them a coloring book or puzzle or some little gift.  Each time, the girls would run outside, squealing with delight to see her. By this time, the father was in jail for violation of probation, and the foster family was getting very attached to the girls. In fact, they decided they wanted to adopt them.  The father, who somehow knew he was not going to sober up, gave up his parental rights, and through the successful work of the Department of Children’s Services, the children were free to be adopted.  Their CASA was invited to a celebration luncheon when the adoption papers were final and the girls, who once lived in great danger and deplorable conditions, were running and skipping in the yard of their new parents.  The girls ran to their CASA, jumped in her lap and said, “You’ll still be coming to visit us, won’t you?”  And, in fact, she still does.The impact a CASA makes is immeasurable in a child’s life. Children who have endured heart-wrenching abuse and neglect receive a voice – someone who cares for them – in the courtroom.CASA Monroe is always looking for caring advocates that love children. Requirements to be a CASA include being at least 21-years-old, passing a background check, and approximately 30 hours of training. CASA volunteers are simply ordinary citizens with extraordinary hearts.On November 14 & 15, CASA Monroe will be holding its breathtaking, Festival of Trees, at the Tellico West Conference Center. Please mark your calendars to come out and support this wonderful organization. CASA Monroe is dependent upon the generous financial support of private individual, community, and church donors, as well as state funding. If you would like more information on how you can best support CASA Monroe, contact: Jodi Swiderek at Jodi.swiderek@casamonroe.org or call 423-442-2750.

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Patsy Carson’s Valentine’s Day Dinner

Charitable donations can take many forms, from money to time spent helping those in need. For several years now, Patsy Carson has chosen to donate both her time and resources to provide a delightful Valentine’s Dinner to a lucky group of auction winners.

It all begins at the annual Boys & Girls Club of the Monroe Area Gala, where invitations to the dinner are auctioned off, usually to a group of around eight or so people. Proceeds for the auction benefit this very worthy organization, which provides a safe and supportive environment for the children and youth of the Monroe County area.

The winners of the auction are in for a treat thanks to Patsy’s graciousness and skill as both host and cook. She decorates for the occasion, offering up an elegantly-appointed table with festively pink and red flowers and traditional table settings. Candles adorn the table, setting the mood for a romantic evening and delectable meal shared with loved ones and friends.

Though typically held on Valentine’s Day, the dates can be flexible, as can the meal served. The feast usually includes medallions of pork or beef, a vegetable, sometimes a sorbet between the salad and main course and the dessert. However, due to dietary restrictions of a couple in the last group of winners, Patsy also served a succulent salmon. Dr. Jim Dash, Treasurer of the local Boys & Girls Club, has been on the “insider end” of this event for the past three or four years, and he says he’s never been disappointed. According to Dr. Dash, “Patsy’s a marvelous cook, and her presentation’s just simply wonderful.”

Patsy’s dedication to providing a lovely environment for her guests is unmistakable, yet she remains humble about her contributions. The true spirit of the event lies in the charity it benefits – the Boys & Girls Club. Keep an eye out for dates for the 2015 Gala; perhaps you could be the next lucky winner of this Valentine’s Day feast!

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It’s Wedding Time in Tennessee

Cherish and Robby Lowe were married in the spring but that didn’t stop them from having a UT football themed wedding. Matter of fact it helped continue the football season they both love.
After their engagement, they started planning their wedding. Robby had the idea to separately write down three things they both enjoy doing together. Attending UT’s football games was the one item that matched. Their wedding theme then came easy and after that everything fell into place. They were fortunate to have their engagement pictures taken at Neyland Stadium. The colors of choice were obviously orange and white but they needed a venue. They had attended two weddings at Black Fox Farms in Cleveland and liked what they had to offer, which was a barn or a site by a pond. What surprised them was when owner, Joe Washington, suggested that he mark off a miniature football field including the checkerboard end field, goal posts, and the famous “T” mid-field.
Not every groom actively participates in the wedding planning, but Robby was on board from the beginning. Cherish wanted to make sure it was pretty and classy but they were able to combine that with Robby’s ideas.
The invitations were modeled after the football ticket. The pastor dressed like a referee and the guests formed a “T” while “Rocky Top” played after the new Mr. and Mrs. Lowe said their vows.
The reception was in the barn where the theme continued. The dinner tables were named after famous UT football players. Of course the Peyton Manning table was reserved for the bride and groom. Tailgate food was served buffet and enjoyed by all.
I’m sure from now on at every UT game Cherish and Robby attend they will remember their wedding vows.

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A Birds-Eye View on the Cherohala

British Author, George Eliot, writes “Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.” The thought of being a bird flying carefree above the vibrantly-colored trees in autumn is exhilarating, but you don’t have to be a bird to experience the breathtaking view and wondrous sights autumn has to offer – all you really need to do is go for a scenic drive up the Cherohala Skyway.
The Cherohala Skyway winds through the Cherokee National Forest and Nantahala National Forest, giving it the combined name “Cherohala.” This 40-mile stretch of highway connects Tellico Plains, Tennessee with Robbinsville, North Carolina, and in the fall it is brilliantly colored with vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows from the gorgeous trees displaying the artistry of the Creator.
From early September in the higher elevations to mid-November in the lower elevations, you can view the magnificent colors of autumn. Those travelers with a sense of adventure may want to enjoy the crisp fall air by trekking up a mountain, cycling through wooded trails, or camping in the great outdoors. It is the perfect time to enjoy God’s beautiful masterpiece when rainfall is minimal and temperatures are cool and pleasant.
Before traversing on your journey across the Skyway, stop by the gift shop owned by Monroe County to shop for local souvenirs and gifts or to enjoy a family picnic. You can call the toll free number for the fall color hotline at 1-800-204-6366 for daily updates or you can call the Cherohala Skyway Visitor Center at 423-253-8010 for any information you may need, or simply stop in for your map of the Skyway. Don’t miss your opportunity to experience one of the most incredible and unforgettable sights of this gorgeous fall season.

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