Open Range 2024 | All HTL Outdoor Event

Concrete Bridges and Pickles

The thick concrete bridge holds hundreds of thousands of cars, trucks, busses and other vehicles each week as they pass through the center of the city. Many of the drivers are listening to the radio, talking on their phones, conversing with other passengers or adrift in thought. To most of those passing by the bridge is unnoticed, except maybe the slight bump when it starts and when it finishes. But it is under that very bridge that the miracles happen, some subtle, some life changing right then and there.

Brother Duane was the Spirit lead leader of the drifting and seemingly unwanted crowd that gathered here. He came to this spot in the cool mornings of spring, the sweltering days of summer, the freezing winters, rain or shine. He was called to the people here. Where a father goes so goes his family and Duane ‘s wife and kids often came along. They prayed with the lonely, they handed out sandwiches, they sang and cried, laughed and listened. It was an amazing time.

Then came the day Duane heard a new calling and moved his family to the country. It was a drastic change but exciting and it seemed a much needed time for rest and rejuvenation. His fifth child on the way and ideas for spending time with the little ones in a new, still, quiet place seemed perfect.

There was still lingering business and needs in the big city and trips back and forth were just a requirement. One day after completing the city tasks, Duane was driving back to the country when something went wrong. He was killed in a single vehicle accident.

The oldest of the five is precious Esalem. A petite, small blond girl with a infinite smile. She is energetic to a fault and like most young girls has more words to share than can be released in a day. Her father had been talking to her about the things that made living in the country fun. One of the ideas was hunting. He had promised to take her soon and as a young girl she build a world around the expectation and time to come with her daddy. They would never be able to take the adventure together.


I met Esalem just a few weeks after her daddy died. Her mom had heard of KOZ (Kids Outdoor Zone) and that we had a hunting trip for girls planned soon. Esalem was added to the list and was waiting on our porch early as we loaded the gear for the hunt. All the girls were excited as we made our way to the ranch. Esalem’s mom had warned me to not allow her to only eat pickles, that she would if we let her, and during the drive we decided that would be her nickname, Pickles.

Each night, after the hunting, hiking, shooting and fun there were still quiet moments when I talked with the girls. Broken dreams, broken families and wounded hearts poured out in the safe confines of the ranch house. Pickles shared her heart. She told how just weeks before her daddy had promised to take her hunting and she would never get to go with him. Another girl shared with Pickles that she too had lost her dad in a similar way and how she makes it, sometimes, day by day.

It’s been several years now since that first outing and  Pickles has become a dear addition to our growing girls ministry. A couple weeks ago we went back for our third annual trip to the ranch where we spent that first weekend. Again, her heart was tender and open. We talked long into the night about how she felt and how sometimes, lots of times, it still hurts. She was especially emotional this trip. My heart cried.

Not far from the concrete bridge where Pickles’ daddy once shared the kindness of our loving Father is a small ministry coffee shop that is open to anyone who needs a break, rest, prayer or a meal.  Some of the same people who had gathered under the bridge frequent the coffee shop. On Easter I was invited there to serve ice cream and food for a few hours. Pickles was there. I watch in amazement as she moved about the volunteers and itinerant. She told me stories about some of the homeless who were there, their character traits, joyful and scary antics and quirks. She knew the people, the place was comfortable to her. The spirit about her was one of joy.

We are blessed to mentor a lot of kids in our ministry. So many kids today are considered unwanted burdens. The crisis of  the fatherless is growing each day and those without the adult male role model are fighting odds that are not in their favor. Dropping out of school, pregnancy, jail, drugs and more are almost inevitable when there is no father or male mentor in the lives of a child. The temporary or live-in boyfriends make things worse.

Even though Pickles’ daddy wasn’t there in body at the coffee house on Easter, I could see him clear as day. His legacy in his precious towheaded daughter brought joy and happiness to those she interacted with. His work ethic, his love of the Lord and his ear for the Holy Spirit when He is present are gifts Pickles has embraced and understands at a level beyond her years.

As Jesus was preparing His disciples for His departure He told them in John 14: 25-27, “All this I have spoken while still with you.26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

So many kids never get the blessing of a Godly father’s legacy. Although it is going to be tough, Pickles daddy left her gifts beyond measure here on earth. She is a good kid. No, she is an amazing kid and I am blessed by her every time I get to come alongside her and hear her heart, laugh with her, pray with her, teach her about hunting and fishing. I have probably let her eat to many pickles and talk me into letting her stay up just a tad bit later at the camps. The other day I let her order the Extra Long Chili Cheese Dog at Dairy Queen, it was almost as big as she is tall. She ate every bite of it and ice cream to boot. A joyful indulgence for one of God’ s lambs and my little angels. Reach out – change a life, help someone else, love on your family. Email Carla at Packed for Life ( to help at the coffee shop, info on Church Under The Bridge or donate.

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