Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Ready Soul Part V: Here I am

After several minutes exchanging stories, Summer turned and mentioned to Tekoa that her work crew (teenage girls she mentors in an internship job setting) was cancelled due to the storms so she alone had to prepare several rooms for a convention arriving that evening. Tekoa offered her help to strip (take sheets off, empty trash bags) and flip (clean and supply fresh linens, etc) the rooms that were needed at the Camp of the Rising Son. Tekoa's work crew for the thrift store was also cancelled. My ears perked up immediately, and I inquired about their problem, trying not to sound obvious. I knew: This is why we're here. I was inwardly praying, "Lord if this is where you want us and what you want us to do, please let them say yes." I said something to them like, "I don't know if you guys need it or not, but do you want some help? We can make beds, dust, clean toilets, do whatever you need to be
done!" They just sort of looked at us for a few moments, wide eyed. I don't know if they initially took us seriously. But I knew that we were there for the express purpose of lending a hand. We discussed it back and forth with them and they warned us that it wasn't fun work, to which we replied, "We are two of six daughters. We are not afraid of work - our dad made up for not having sons!" Before long we were walking outside - where the rain had stopped - and piling into a van to roll up our sleeves and get to work!

We got a delightful narrated driving tour of the academy campus as we made our way to the camp facilities, thanks to Tekoa. It is this picturesque little campus with a bunch of quaint old houses and buildings. The camp lodge is positioned overlooking Lake Anne with several cabins surrounding it. Our assignment was to prepare several rooms in a guest-house with the girls. After instructing us on how to make a bed with hospital corners (ahem, which I am still incapable of - thank you Jordan - I will never again complain about your insistence in doing this at home!) we set to work for the next several hours. And we had a blast getting to know Tekoa and Summer while we worked! They are truly more kindred spirits than we ever anticipated. After preparing the rooms for the convention attendees, we took a few minutes to play around. The dock over Lake Anne was submerged a few inches due to the excessive rainfall they'd had that day. Summer suggested we get pictures of each other "Walking on Water", so we headed down to the little beach. The clouds were clearing out of the sky and the setting sun was stunning over the water. I snapped pictures while the girls walked out across the water, submerged only to their ankles.

We continued our adventures with Tekoa and Summer by cleaning a boys bathhouse that'd been closed all winter.
Stories were told and we talked as we worked. I can't remember when I've had a more enjoyable afternoon. They ordered dinner for us from the only cafe' in town. We picked up our dinner that Tekoa graciously paid for, then made our way back to her apartment. Can I tell you their roast beef sandwich (on the locally made bread) rivaled anything you'd find in New Orleans? And that's a serious compliment! For the next several hours we hung out talking and sharing our hearts with these girls. Each of us shared various things the Lord has done in our lives, and things He was currently teaching us. I was convicted and encouraged, provoked to love and good works.
With our bellies full, and hearts brimming, they offered us a room in the lodge for the night. We gladly accepted the opportunity to take hot showers and sleep in a bed. Our gratitude even now is unceasing. God provided for our needs so bountifully in those 24 hours. We trusted Him, and he gave us abundantly more than we could ever ask for or imagine. We would've been happy to pitch our tent on the campgrounds that night, but the Lord showed His hand so much mightier than that. He showered us with good gifts, and we must give Him all glory.

Jordan and I both plan on writing about how this affected us on a deeper level spiritually - and how it was a specific answer to specific prayers we'd prayed during the week.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Ready Soul Part IV: Kindred Spirits

Slowly the hail receded, followed by heavy rain. We waited it out for a little while and Melody got calls from next door giving her updates on the storm. She decided to take us there when the rain became a heavy drizzle. My car was parked between the two buildings and we were relieved to see that the all glass was still intact, not even appearing to be damaged. Dazed, we stepped inside the next building, assaulted with the smell of fresh bread. People of all ages milled about. I asked where we were, if this was a bakery. Someone explained that the building had multiple purposes as a bakery, French Camp Visitors Center and I don’t remember what else. Judging from the “LSU” logos emblazoned on our sweatshirts, everyone immediately surmised where we were from and that we’d been travelling the Trace.We were introduced to a young lady named Summer whose smile and relaxed manner instantly made me feel at ease. The receptionist made a call to the Park Service Ranger to get
the status of the storm system. In the meantime we introduced ourselves to a Canadian
couple who were RV-ing down the Trace on their way to New Orleans. The receptionist got off the phone only to tell us that there was a Tornado Watch on until 6PM that evening and parts of the Trace were likely closed due to the weather. They advised that we detour to the nearest interstate (some 20 miles away) and find a place to stay before continuing our journey. The Canadian
couple liked this idea, and left as soon as the rain let up. Jordan and I stood there looking at each other, wondering what in the world to do. Our campsite in northeast Mississippi was already paid for. We didn't particularly want to detour so far off the Trace, and we were fairly certain the Bed and Breakfast in town was out of our price range. We hung around for a bit, waiting at least for the rain to stop before making a decision. In the meantime we were introduced to the locals who'd taken shelter in the Visitor Center.

A dark haired twenty-something girl took it upon herself to answer our questions about the city and it's inhabitants. She introduced herself as Tekoa (Teck-oh-uh) and I immediately commented about her unique name when she cheerily informed me, "It's the name of Hebrew town where the prophet Amos is from." I thought to myself, "Well this girls parents certainly know their bible!" In a short amount of time we learned that the little town of French Camp (pop. approx 350) is home to a Christian Academy/boarding school of sorts for children and young people from broken homes. I was intrigued, and asked Tekoa several questions about the academy and how she was involved in it. She runs the local thrift store owned by the academy. Summer joined us while we talked and slowly the Visitor Center emptied of the people who'd taken shelter there. It became apparent these girls worked together for this organization. They dropped hints about their passion for working with teen girls. I felt a tug on my spirit, sensing they were of kindred heart and mind, so I spoke up and said, "I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume that you girls love Jesus a whole lot. Otherwise I don't think you'd be doing this out here. Am I right?" Smiles spread across their faces as they affirmed this and Tekoa started sharing openly of her passion to show the girls she works with what walking with Jesus looks like in a practical, every day setting. She spoke of how she strives to set an example for them in purity, that there is contentment in singleness. Tears pricked my eyes. She was speaking our language. We learned that Summer ran the Bed and Breakfast and oversaw the Hospitality portion of the Camp. They briefly shared their testimonies of how they ended up serving the Lord in tiny French Camp, Mississippi - a place we'd never heard of until then. Summer asked about our testimonies, and I began to cry, overcome by the providence of being stranded in this town with these people. It was becoming more apparent with every passing minute that God planted us there for a purpose. We'd asked Him to guide us and we knew we were in the very palm of His hands... but it was about to become so much sweeter...

Continued... (I know, but I assure you it gets better.)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Ready Soul Part III: Refuge

Only moments passed before we identified the screeching noise. The tornado siren turned on its post in our direction, temporarily drowning out the sound of hail hitting every hard surface surrounding us. I’d only heard that sound on “Twister”.
Where we live the most we ever hear is a muffled voice declaring, “This is a test, and only a test” once a month. Adrenaline surged into my veins and I suddenly didn’t care about my car, or our trip, or anything but finding shelter for the two of us. I spotted the tiny post office in town – a cinder block building with only one window. The siren post was directly behind the post office and turned its din on us as I motioned frantically, yelling at Jordan to park next door under a small crepe myrtle. As soon as the car was parked the hail began to strike the glass roof with deafening blows. We grabbed our cell phones, pulled the hoods up on our sweatshirts, and dashed inside.

The postal clerk invited us inside the back room of the building and showed us where she’d cleared a space under a steel table in case the three of us needed to hunker down there. The next 15 minutes were a blur. We found out we were in French Camp, Mississippi. This was the third time that day the tornado sirens sounded. She informed us this was the first hail they'd had that day, and it was the major indicator of a tornado about to strike. We were shaking, laughing and nervously explaining where we were from and that we didn’t know what to do. The radio played gospel music in the background, interrupted frequently by weather updates and warnings to stay away from windows and find shelter, describing the damage the storm was doing and the predicted path of the tornado. Melody, the postal clerk, offered us the use of the phone to call our parents and let them know where we were in case power or phone lines went down later, leaving us unable to reach the outside world. I left a voicemail for my dad and Jordan sent text messages requesting prayer. Hail continued to pound the roof, and I had no way of knowing the damage it might be doing to my car, possibly ending any travel we would be doing for days.


Read Part I, and Part II.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Ready Soul Part II: He is our Shield

The Trace was beautiful. Spring was out in full force. Red clover bloomed endlessly, hugging the roadside with burgundy fur. Bright green leaves clothed the trees in fresh spring finery. The rain moved just ahead of us leaving the air damp and cool, and turning the road into a mirror of green and grey shadows. It curved in perfect time with “The Last of the Mohicans” soundtrack. At a visitor area we learned that we were following a string of severe storms causing tornados all over the area. We’d been driving with the sunroof open for over an hour, and again we marveled at our simple answered prayers.
We continued in this fashion for over 170 miles. We’d just decided on an exit 10 miles ahead to get gas when the heavy grey clouds started to drop dime-sized hail. It took us a few seconds to identify this since I was 10 years old the last time I’d seen it. Jordan remarked that it looked like manna. We knew we were in trouble when the first piece hit the windshield resounding like a gunshot. I immediately began to worry. The entire top panel of my Scion tC is glass. I closed the sunroof/moon roof covers, and started to pray. We prayed in the spirit, and with understanding. The hail at this point was pouring. We were in an unusual stretch of the Trace with no overhanging trees, no shoulder to pull off, no shelter whatsoever. Pieces of Psalms came to my mind as we prayed out loud and I just repeated them, “Lord you are our strong tower, our refuge in time of trouble, our protector, our provider, you are our shelter in the storm, you are sheltering us, you are protecting this vehicle, your angels are surrounding us, you are our shield…” over and over I prayed… wondering as the hail picked up and we continued to drive scanning the horizon for any kind of shelter. We drove for 2 full miles this way at 40mph. Mathematically speaking the faster you drive in any storm the more precipitation hits your vehicle, which is why you can turn your wipers down at a stoplight. At the rate we were going and the rate of hailstones falling, we should’ve been hit countless times. Yet, I can count on one hand the number of hailstones that hit my vehicle during that stretch. Five. Five pieces of ice hit us. I saw hail headed straight for my windshield land softly as snow, exploding into liquid on impact, while each piece on the road was bouncing all over the place. This was nothing short of miraculous. I don’t know how the Lord protected us, but He did.

After two miles with no place to pull off, we came to a tiny Mississippi Highway crossing the Trace. We followed a truck a quarter mile into this tiny little town, with the hail still falling. As soon as we neared buildings I began looking around for some sort of mill or metal shop because I heard this eerie screeching noise that reminded me of my dad’s table saw slicing through a particularly tough piece of wood. The hail was growing larger – the size of golf balls. There was no gas station or overhanging shelter to pull my car into. Still I was praying, “Lord, help us. Protect us.”


Monday, April 18, 2011

The Ready Soul Part I: Adventure Begins

My little sister Jordan and I began planning this adventure weeks in advance. Our destination: Nashville – where one of our lovely sisters lives with her Army-Special-Forces-has-a-million-world-traveling-stories man. A few weeks before our spring break trip it was suggested to me that we drive up the Natchez Trace from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee. It’s a 444 mile scenic federal parkway with no commercialism on it whatsoever (no gas stations, restaurants, signs, 18 wheelers, etc.) meaning it’s the perfect route to drive with the sunroof open and music blaring. Prior to the trip we were cautioned endlessly to be careful when our friends and loved ones learned we intended to camp by ourselves. They warned us of bears and snakes and raccoons, and strangers. We took their advice to heart, and promised to be supremely alert and careful. I reserved a primitive campsite in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains just off the Trace for two nights, packed up my little car, and we set off.

For some reason despite all the warnings and worries people had, peace settled over my heart before this trip. I knew we would be safe. I didn’t know how. Our only defense was common sense and a little tube of mace. Somehow I knew that Gods hand was in this.

Two hours away from home we pulled away from a Natchez gas station as rain started to pour in sheets. I couldn't see the lines on the road much less any signs, which is particularly disconcerting when you’re in a strange town being directed by GPS. We took that as our cue to start praying, asking the Lord to use us however He deemed on this trip. We asked Him to give us His eyes to see and hear Him, to speak His words, be His hands and feet. And almost as an afterthought I decided to ask that He roll away the rain clouds that Friday. I’d looked up the forecast for the route we were taking that day. It predicted showers and severe thunderstorms the entire way. But I know that my heavenly Father denies His children no good thing, so I asked for this creature comfort. Before we’d even gotten through Natchez the deluge became a misty drizzle and blue sky was peeking through the clouds. I needed no further proof that my Daddy delights in giving good gifts to His children. We soon opened the sunroof, marveling at His faithfulness. This was becoming the adventure we’d dreamed of.
We were painfully naïve of the paths set before us.
Continued tomorrow…

Read Part II, Part III, Part IV, and part V