Isaac and Jesse Elder watched proudly as a group of shaggy men approached the guest desk at the newest family adventure, The Coincidental Inn, Mt. Rainier. The youngest of ten children born and raised on a Missouri farm in a small town called Laughlin, they had copied their parents original Coincidental Inn as closely as possible in two other locations. The first had been near Aspen CO, with the help of Sharon and Doug Brewster, who lived there and had been special guests at the Missouri inn the first year it opened.
This third family inn premiered about eighteen months ago in Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington. It competed against the two other park inns by marketing to serve the local employees and their families. They aimed their prices and ad campaign at locals and mountaineers across the world.
It was July, as the bearded group approached their desk. Jesse glanced down at the reservation calendar and guessed this was the Mt. Rainier Guide party. Six men who had worked for decades as guides and climbing pros in this, and a few other, national parks. They were shoving and jostling their way across the lobby, laughing at the insults they were hurling at one another.
“Get on up there and check us in, Jake, for Christ’s sake,” one of the men urged, pushing the laughing Jake forward.
“Knock off the cussing, Bruno,” Jake chided his friend, “you know this place. Be respectful.”
The brother’s faith and manners created this response from many people. It was not something they asked for, and always told people not to worry about it. They figured if the speaker was okay saying something in front of God, who were they to judge? But it didn’t matter; people who came to know them, over time wanted to show them respect. Their form of loving-kindness and gentle conversation, coupled with their professional standards of serving the public from the heart, echoed in most people’s minds. Izzy and Jesse, for all their clowning and wise cracking, made a lot of humans nostalgic for a softer and kinder world.
There was an aura of divine love about the inns this family ran. It was their “brand”.
“Welcome back, Mr. Gypsum,” Jesse smiled up at Jake.
“Jake, son,” he replied, reaching for his wallet.
“You’re fine,” Jesse told him with a nod, “unless you want to change the credit card holding the rooms.”
“Nope,” Jake answered, pushing his wallet back into his rear pocket with a grin. What a place, that they did not need to see your ID after the initial visit. “Just put all the rooms on that card, they will settle up with me when we leave.”
“Done,” Jesse announced. He handed them their key cards for the three double rooms they had reserved. “Dinner is at six, as you might remember. Bright Dove is your housekeeper this week and Stanley will join Isaac and myself as your outdoor assistance. I believe you have brought your own equipment, yes?”
The men all nodded, holding up various satchels packed with ropes, pitons and cleats.
“Once you are settled,” Jesse continued, “we can put those in lockers in the horse barn, if you like.”
“Still got the same chef?” a man named Stu wanted to know, a strangely interested look on his face.
At that moment, Isaac walked up and, chuckling, answered him.
“You bet. As I recall you loved her gravy and biscuits…and maybe her pretty red hair, too, eh?” He was grinning evilly at Stu, but his tone was all in fun.
The other men elbowed Stu, wolf whistling and causing him various embarrassments.
“Lucy is a pretty one,” Jesse agreed. “Most of us are in love with her, at some point. Especially in the middle of one of her quiches.”
The men laughed and stomped off one at a time for the stairs to find their room and relax a bit before going out to walk the grounds together. They worked long, hard hours during their tours. Guiding too many weekend warriors up cliffs and over mountains, sometimes having to haul them back hurt. One of them, Dirk, had lost a young man last year who would not tie off as instructed and played games, to his eventual demise. It was Dirk’s need for some rest and encouragement that had caused this outing.
Back in the lobby, the brothers were coordinating outings, new reservations, and staff needs through emails. Neither twin could stand being indoors for long periods. They sighed in unison.
“Cut it out,” Jesse laughed at their twin-timing again.
“You cut it out,” Izzy made scissor motions and stressed each word, trying to irritate his unflappable brother.
“Hope Lucy doesn’t mind the flirtatious Stu,” Jesse changed the subject.
“She knows how to handle herself,” Izzy snickered, remembering her dry sarcasm when he had flirted with her a little during the construction of the inn. “And I think Stu is honestly infatuated with her. He has to be at least seven or eight years her elder.” “Did Jake tell you what happened to that kid on Dirk’s climb last year?” Jesse asked.
“I overheard some of it when you took the call,” Izzy replied, finishing up the file he had been working on. “This is his first time here. Should we make a point of getting to know him?”
Jesse’s eyes went unfocused a bit and, instead of answering, he stood there gazing off into the distance. When Jesse’s green eyes came back into focus, as he answered his identical twin:
“Yeah, let’s do it together sometime. Get him alone after they have been here a few days. They are all staying through Sunday, so seven days,” he said glancing at the calendar again.
“OK, we will look for a time when we are with him together and offer to take him on a special horse ride,” Izzy suggested.
The week passed quietly. Stu did find time to ask Lucy out, and everyone was pleased when she agreed to go to a movie and dinner Wednesday night. The others would go their separate ways that afternoon, before a dinner served by Izzy, the back up cook.
At four, when Stu and Lucy drove off for their date, Jesse and Isaac found Dirk out with Stanley, who was teaching him to whittle. The four of them spoke easily of this and that, joking with Dirk about his progress on the wooden squirrel’s head. When Stan’s break was over, Jesse and Iz turned to Dirk as though they were puppets on strings, moving in unison.
“How about a special ride?” Izzy asked him.
“We have an amazing trail we save for special occasions and good riders – it goes up pretty high to a great view,” Jesse explained nonchalantly.
“I have just enough time to get up there and back, if you two will unsaddle and rub down my horse so I can start dinner,” Izzy said.
“We can do that,” Dirk agreed readily.
The day was still bright, staying light out till after nine at this time of year. It was in the mid-fifties, sunny and the wildflowers were beginning to go crazy across the meadows. It smelled fresh and wild, with a piney undertone. After thirty minutes, they came to a meadow that overlooked the inn, and to their right, Mt Rainier, crowned in snow, ice patches glinting like jewels in the sunshine.
“So, Dirk,” Jesse began, “do you know the story of the original Coincidental Inn my parents started in Missouri?”
Dirk grunted out a No, as he stiffly got down from the saddle, starting to feel his fifty-six years.
“Would you like to hear it?” Izzy asked him.
“I would,” Dirk replied as he followed the younger men over to some fallen trees.
Seating themselves, Jesse nodded slightly to his brother, encouraging him to start.
“OK,” Izzy said as he wiggled into a comfortable position. “Let’s see. Out of their ten kids, Jesse and I and one sister were the only ones still finishing up college, but it was clear none of us would be coming home to farm with our parents. They were facing getting older, needing more help and there were some big corporation-owned mega-farms in the area, with which they could not compete.”
“They just did not know what to do,” Jesse took up. “Selling the acreage, maybe even the farmhouse was becoming a consideration.”
“They are people of prayer,” Izzy smiled warmly. “Dad had always taught us that God’s answer to prayer would confirm scripture, and usually come in quiet ways. You had to pay attention to “hear” His answer. That made sense to us on many different levels.”
“But,” Jesse interrupted, “that is not how He answered this prayer. On an April evening after dinner, mom answered the door to a couple of young men she had never laid eyes on. They begin asking if she had a room for rent, because someone had told them earlier in the day what great food she served at this little inn, just outside of Laughlin MO.”
“Mom was wondering what they meant,” Izzy hopped back in, “when dad walked up behind her. He asked what they wanted and when mom told him ‘A room for the night’, he started to tell them to get lost.” Here he and Jesse looked at each other with thoughts of how their dad might have handled these visitors if they had not interrupted him. Izzy continued:
“One of the men said that they could not tell if they had vacancies or not, because their sign was blown down.”
“Dad knows the way mom is,” Jesse interjected, “but he was surprised by what happened next. She takes the strangers by the elbow and declares she has ten rooms for them to choose from. She asks dad to park their little car and bring in their suitcases, like he had been her bell hop for decades. To this day, mom claims that it was their agreeing to pay $125 a night, for two rooms, that made her jump in there before he could throw them out on their keesters!”
“They were facing another installment on college loans soon,” Izzy explained, “and $250 was almost the exact amount they needed. This miracle was flustering our parents in a way nothing ever does.”
Dirk had been following and enjoying this tale, but now he poked in a comment of his own:
Jesse and Izzy exchanged a look, speaking without words about how to go forward.
“Well,” Izzy went on, “what I haven’t told you about is the sign.”
“The sign one of them talked about being ‘blown down’,” Jesse informed him.
“Yeah,” Izzy continued, “dad’s new pup, Oggie, tailing him to get the luggage, started sniffing around this huge sign where dad knew there was no sign. As he tells it, ‘I’d lived there for over five decades, probably would have seen a sign by then, don’t you think?’”
Dirk shivered suddenly as the hairs on his neck raised.
“Dad goes over to the downed sign,” Jesse picked up the story, “and struggles to pull it up. When he does, the posts of the sign slip into holes already dug for them. But who dug the holes? he was wondering. He knew he hadn’t. His three dogs would have set up a ruckus, if any of his cronies would have pulled this prank while they ate.”
“What was on the sign?” Dirk was intrigued to know, though he did not believe a word of this part of the story.
“‘Welcome to Coincidental Inn, Where Wanderers Find a Welcome’.” Jesse intoned solemnly.
Everyone was holding their breath. When they all three let it slowly out, it made them crack up.
“You’re pulling my leg,” Dirk said, slapping said leg as if to make them stop.
Both boys immediately sobered up. Their eyes became a bit unfocused as they shot an SOS for the Holy Spirit to do His part, and plant this seed deep, for this man’s healing.
Jesse resurfaced first, saying:
“Dirk, we are asking you to trust as we have come to trust our parents. It took months of them turning our home into an inn, guests coming and going, them sticking by their story no matter who tried to lever them out of it, to convince us.”
“I think,” Izzy joined the conversation, “it was watching how God moved on the guests when they stayed there. The peace and joy we took for granted, had a visible impact on every single person who came to them. One of those first families, the Brewsters, were going through a horrible family ordeal at the time, and kept coming back over and over through the following year. He came to faith in Christ there, making fast friends us. All of that coming to a terrible end the next July.”
“That whole story is for another time.” Jesse offered, “The upshot is, some mobsters had killed Sharon Brewster’s brother and kidnapped her folks. The Brewsters had smuggled in some counterfeit plates for the crooks, had a change of heart and hid them in a car they gave the Brewsters. The man was sent to retrieve them while the Brewsters were at our inn; they were there to lure him into a trap set by the FBI! He was trying to sneak up on the car, when he came upon mom praying in a garden. Oggie was out there with her and sensing the man’s threatening presence, he bayed and attacked. The man started shooting, hitting mom, but killing poor little Oggie.”
“What?” Dirk yelled out. He was horrified at this sudden turn of events in what had so far been an amazing story.
“Yep,” Jesse said, nodding vigorously, “just like that, our sweet dog was dead and mom almost was.”
Jesse stopped, tearing up one more time at the memory of his mom lying in a pool of blood in the July moonlight.
“The FBI were quick to arrest the guy.” Izzy finished. “Seeing Oggie was dead, an agent examined mom and called for an ambulance. It took three weeks for her to come out of the coma and start a slow recovery. It almost killed my dad, too. He grieved for a long time.”
“Is that why you moved the inn to Washington state?” Dirk guessed.
The boys looked at each other quickly with puzzled expressions. Seeing that, Dirk added:
“Well, surely they closed down the first Coincidental inn…” his words faded away.
“No!” the twins cried out.
“That’s what dad wanted to do,” Izzy admitted. “But mom would have none of it. When she woke up and dad started saying something to that effect, she stopped him cold. She told him to trust her; that they were not done being innkeepers, just yet.”
“Wow,” Dirk commented, his own pain reasserting itself, “I could never do that.” He had told himself when he went home, he would give his resignation to White Pine Guides.
“But that’s just it,” Izzy said. “Mom did not tell him the rest of what happened that night in the maze.”
“Instead, she told the whole family, at Thanksgiving,” Jesse explained. “As she looked around the table, giving thanks for a year’s worth of “stuff”, she thanked God that when Oggie began going nutso, barking and leaping past her and attacking Adder, He opened her eyes to a burst of light as she heard a loud bang! It was just a few seconds in length, but the flare lit up the maze like noonday. Hanging above her was the dark-haired boy from the April evening when the inn began. He was pointing a sword at where Oggie had disappeared. He looked terrifying, not like the handsome boy she remembered, but it was him. Their eyes met for a split second, then he disappeared. The man was firing rounds off wildly as Oggie chewed his thigh. He stopped firing when the dog dropped down dead, but the FBI and everyone in the inn were all rushing up by then.”
Silence ensued between the men, each deep in their own thoughts. Izzy stood finally, stretching and saying he had to get down to the kitchen.
“Why did you tell me this?” Dirk asked Jesse, who stayed by their guest. “Is any of this true? Why tell me, why not all of us around the camp fire one night?”
Jesse inched a little closer to where Dirk was standing, looking upset and confused.
“Dirk, the Lord loves you and has a plan for your life.” He said simply. “Obeying God caused misunderstandings when they told people, honestly, of the visitors and the mysterious sign. Their obedience in year one ended in such pain and suffering.”
“Our inns are run by prayer, Dirk,” Jesse told him as he, too, began to get his horse and follow Izzy back down the trail. “When we prayed for you, we only knew to tell our story. Our family’s truth about running these inns. Which is our life’s work, now – like our parents.”
Dirk smiled wearily at Jesse and rose up on his own bay, turning her head towards home and their dinners. The rest of the ride was silent, they were both worn out from their time on the mountain. Down they went, curving their way through cedars, firs, white pines and the smell of wildflowers over pine resin. As he went, Dirk lifted up his heart to a God he did not know, but was willing to hear.
He didn’t know what would come next, but for now, the gnawing pain was gone. And a peace that passed what he was able to understand began to lay hold of him.
He trotted across the barnyard to help stable the horses, wondering if Izzy’s kabobs would be tasty. Smiling, he decided to trust Him with that, too.