In God’s wonderful providence, it is fitting that the first two contributions I received for Holy Paths were from families of two of my dearest friends, both recently gone on to heaven. In my timid hesitancy to step out in faith with this new ministry, I heard them cheering me on, even in death. Both always believed in me long before I believed in what God was doing in my own life. ~ Susanne Hassell
ANN OSTRANDER (1933-2006) and JIM GROSS (1951-2002)
Anne Ostrander and I became instant friends when she moved to Knoxville. She was fun and witty and very generous with her time and creative gifts. Most of all, she had an open and honest relationship with Jesus Christ and challenged me to grow in my faith. She wept with me when I struggled and celebrated with me when I discovered light in the darkness.
Her daughter, Wendy Masters, has also been a generous and huge supporter of whatever I undertake. I am deeply grateful for her financial support in honor of Anne, and her genuine gift of hospitality in making Anne’s home available for private and group day retreats.
Jim Gross was a beloved friend for over ten years. He was a gifted teacher and challenged me to think and to ask the hard questions. He had a deep and growing love for Jesus Christ, strengthened by our church, Sequoyah Hills Presbyterian, and the spirituality program at Columbia Theological Seminary. We prayed together many times and shared dreams of how God might be calling us to serve through what we were learning about spiritual formation. Jim lived an exemplary life with purpose, integrity, and love for everyone he knew.
Carol, Kimberly, and Kelsey chose to donate Jim’s memorial gifts to Holy Paths, saying that his vision and mine are much the same. Here is what Jim wrote in his journal a year before he died:
“I have a feeling about a mission of hospitality – a retreat center. A place of peace – holy ground where a warm and comfortable place will be created for weary pilgrims – pilgrims who need prayer, rest, re-energizing….Is this something I should dedicate my life to?”
God’s promise in Isaiah 43:4 is one I have claimed for my own life, as well as for Jim and Anne:
“Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you,
I will give others in exchange for your life.”
My prayer is that God will use Holy Paths to bring weary pilgrims to a new relationship with Him. I have come to understand that WE are the place of retreat, the safe place of shalom for those on the journey. As two of God’s most beloved, this is the memorial Jim and Anne would most desire.