Six Gainesville friends were together on a Caribbean cruise in May 1996. When the ship returned to port, three stayed for another day to tour Miami.
Those who were flying back immediately boarded fateful ValuJet Flight 592, which crashed into the Everglades minutes after takeoff, killing all 110 aboard. It was the day before Mother's Day.
The Gainesville travelers who weren't on the flight were devastated, of course, and tried to think of how to minister to the victims' family and friends back home. Martha Carter thought of the good times they had had on the trip together. She wished for some photos, but one of the victims had been taking all the pictures, and her camera went down with the plane.
However, weeks later, Judson Wolfe, son of Ruth Wolfe, who had carried her camera on the cruise, called to tell Martha that his mother's purse with her camera still intact had been recovered from the wreckage. Remarkably, when the film was developed, prints could be made of the photos Mrs. Wolfe had taken and were mailed to each of the affected families.
The cruise had ended in tragedy, even for those friends who weren't on the flight. But a record had been made of the happy times aboard the ship, and family and friends could treasure the good memories they had made.
That's one of the stories Gloria Cassity Stargel includes in her latest book, "My Anchor Holds; The Difference Jesus Makes." An award-winning author, the Gainesville writer says, "This is not just another compilation in which I happen to have a story or two. This is my life's work, all rolled into one volume."
There are familiar stories in the book, such as her family's faith when Gloria's husband, Joe, overcame cancer after being told he had only months to live. She based her popular inspirational book, "The Healing; One Family's Victorious Struggle with Cancer," on that courageous battle.
And there's the story of Gene Beckstein, who grew up in the rough streets of New York City, but persevered to become an educator and found Good News at Noon, which ministers to the underprivileged and needy.
But mostly there are fresh untold stories about faith and what could be considered miracles. Even in the better-known stories, her interviews reveal details offered by those whose spiritual experiences she is telling.
Through Gloria, Karen Peck tells how she began singing at age 3, eventually dreaming of ministering to people through her own musical group. After she married her hairdresser, some told her that her singing career would falter because she couldn't raise a family and be on the road constantly. Instead, her husband decided to join her, and they formed the famously successful Karen Peck and New River.
Another story is that of the Rev. Fred Breed, whose church had prepared a Christmas party for about 40 people in a poor section of town. When about 200 people lined up, Breed and his helpers knew they would run out of food. But miraculously, just as the Bible story of Jesus feeding the multitudes with two fishes and five loaves of bread, the pots of food seemed to be bottomless. Nobody left hungry, and there were leftovers to carry home.
Many remember the gripping story of 2-year-old Naomi Whidden, who strayed from a family hike in the Lumpkin County woods on a cold November day. Hundreds searched for hours, almost giving up hope before she was found barely alive the next day. A doctor who had heard about the search almost left the scene before she was found, but saw that she got to a local hospital before being transferred to Egleston Children's Hospital in Atlanta for more intensive care. A few days later, she was able to return home with her family.
There are many other stories, such as Gainesvillian Marinel Wood's comeback from life-threatening injuries in a car wreck, and lovable Walter Ashworth's saga when he and his wife lost their 2-year-old, Billy Bob, to pneumonia only weeks after they arrived in their new Alaskan home.
Fifty-seven stories fill the book, all of them inspiring and worth holding onto as an anchor for moments when things aren't going quite your way. Besides local book outlets, it can be ordered through www.Jesusmyanchor.com or www.Amazon.com.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times and can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle N.E., Gainesville, GA 30501; phone, 770-532-2326. His column appears Sundays and on gainesvilletimes.com.