And there we went, traipsing down the highway and out of the storm, ungraciously stuffed into Joanna’s van and laughing all the way, a bunch of girls and some young-at heart women seeking for more, brimming with anxious expectation.
Our first stop was for lunch at McDonalds.
Since I was paired with two of our oldest girls, I told them it would be easier if they just told the cashier what they wanted themselves. The following conversation ensued after we approached the counter…
“I’ll take your number seven meal, only make my drink a small chocolate chip frappe,” I turned to Katie, “You can go ahead and order.”
“Alright, Aubrey and I” (she motioned at Aubrey, indicating that she was ordering for both of them), “Aubrey and I will take two medium fries and fifty chicken nuggets.”
The woman at the counter looked up from the screen and I turned quickly from my conversation with Carole.
“Did you say fifty nuggets?” She said and I looked from the surprised face of the clerk to Katie who seemed completely unphased by her order.
“Katie, what are you talking about? You will never eat fifty nuggets!” Now the clerk was uncertainly looking from me to Katie.
“Aubrey and I will eat them; we’re starving!” Katie was still unphased, as though she had done this before. I, on the other hand, had never heard anyone order fifty chicken nuggets for two people.
The clerk turns to her manager. The line of waiting customers was gathering behind us, and I could tell she was feeling a little exasperated. “This girl wants fifty nuggets. How do you ring that up?”
“Katie, you cannot get fifty nuggets! You will never eat fifty nuggets.” I felt aggravated but couldn’t help laughing. Fifty nuggets?
The manager, grinning as though he thought this fiasco was quite hilarious, told the clerk to ring up an order of ten nuggets five times. With a sigh, she turned back to Katie, “So, fifty nuggets?”
Katie and I spoke in unison. “Yes” she said at the same time I said, “No, thirty.”
Fifty nuggets and a whole bunch of fries, frappes, and sandwiches later we piled back into our van and set off again for Lancaster. The girls, full of food, were sleepy and the rest of us were hoping the next three hours would pass uneventfully when the packed-to-the-gills van vigorously shuddered and something popped loudly.
There was a chorus of “What was that?” and Joanna and I looked at each other, anxiously grim. What was that? Whatever it was had to do with our van and it didn’t sound good. The van lurched a couple of times, sputtered loudly and as we pulled off to the side of the highway we could hear something dragging beneath the floor of the vehicle.
“I think it’s the muffler… or a tire. But it sounds like the muffler.” We pulled to a complete stop and Joanna parked the van so we could check it out.
A thorough investigation by Carole and Joanna revealed that the muffler had indeed come partially unattached from the floor of the van and was hanging precariously, dragging on the pavement. While Carole and Joanna debriefed and strategized I poked my head into the van and filled Sherry and the girls in on what had happened. Sherry, the prayer warrior, immediately began praying with the girls and I climbed back outside.
I know that mature people who bring van loads of girls five hours away to a retreat are probably not supposed to stand on the side of the road laughing because the muffler of a twelve passenger van has partially detached itself from the vehicle, but that’s exactly what I did.
I couldn’t help myself. By now, after a speaker having an adrenal breakdown, one of our girls backing out, a workshop leader getting sick and being unable to come, leaving anxiously in the worst snowstorm of the year…after all this plus the one thousand other small ways that we had experienced discouragement, been attacked by the enemy, and battled defeat, it felt like a broken muffler system was laughable.
I felt this insane confidence rise in my heart as I smiled behind my camera and snapped pictures of Carole reattaching the muffler to the floor of the van with a bungee strap. A broken muffler system is nothing to an Almighty God.We climbed back into the van, our muffler precariously hoisted by one lone bungee and drove into the nearest town to find a mechanic. The shop we pulled into looked like little more than a grease pit, but we cheered. There in the window hung a sign boasting this:
Joanna reappeared from the office of the one-car garage. “They won’t fix it. They said they are too busy. There’s another shop here in town so I guess we’ll try there.”
Discouragement settled heavy as we drove down the street to the other garage. “Something has to work,” I said, and Sherry the faithful one started praying with the girls.
The next shop was just as busy as the first but one of the workers kindly took some time to look at the muffler. “Well, whoever hoisted this up did a pretty good job,” He said. “I’ll use another strap and secure it more tightly. You should look into a garage in Lancaster and get it properly fixed before you head home, but this will get you the rest of the way there safely.”
He refused any payment for his time and we roared the final two-and-a-half hours to downtown Lancaster…safely and uneventfully. Broken muffler systems are nothing to an Almighty God.
It was crazy chaos that first night of retreat…registering, choosing workshops, eating supper, finding our dorms, getting to know new people. I had three bites of food before I had to lead worship and my hands were shaking, my body overwhelmed with feelings of apprehension and sudden panic. My secret paralyzing fear of talking and leading in front of a group of people crept over me. I willed my hands to touch the keys and my voice shook as I began to lead the girls in song. In my head I was saying it over and over again, Your grace is sufficient for me, Your strength is made perfect in my weakness.
Wild grace that night. Belkis Salyer sharing her testimony, one beautiful woman with a story to tell and that challenge, You can follow Jesus in the city! A room full of city girls boldly singing those words, Light of the world, you stepped down into darkness, opened my eyes, let me see.
Wild, wild grace.
Grace to worship in weakness and inadequacy. Grace to open hands and release fears and surrender expectations. The grace to discover His grace in other people. The grace of His blessing on a dream.
Grace that took us beyond broken mufflers, cancellations, financial need, and the weather, far-surpassing our largest expectations
The more than enough grace of the King of Kings.