Farmers, hippies, sister and Walmart — to the rescue!

Bonnaroo. The place where music fans’ dreams come true. Where all your favorite bands gather in one weekend and play for you and your 99,999 closest friends. The smell of summer bliss floats through the air (among other unnecessary-to-be-mentioned aromas). Freedom has a whole new meaning when you step on the grounds (as does debauchery, but I won’t go there during this story).

It was the summer of 2011. Our last college summer before graduation and grown-up life would slowly begin to rob us of our youth. We. MUST. Go. So me and my college roommate and best pal Kelsey made a pact that Christmas that when tickets to the festival went on sale in January, we would be purchasing them and scratching “attend Bonnaroo” off the bucket list.

I picked up some extra shifts at the restaurant I was working at to rake in the $300 I needed in one weekend. And, alas, a dream was birthed. Kelsey and I were going to the ‘Roo. 

Fast forward to this week two years ago. It was Wednesday, the night before the festival started. The eve of the weekend I’d romanticized for years. We packed up the car with all the essentials: coolers full of food & drinks. Tent. Sleeping bags. Frisbees and other games. Lawn chairs. Sun screen. Wet wipes (who wants to pay for a shower!?). Enough water to hydrate a small army (which is ironic considering the way this story will end).

We rendezvoused with a group of friends in Nashville where we would make the rest of the trek to the Bonnaroo farm in Manchester, Tenn., together. We started driving into the night,  and I felt the most free I’d ever felt. Windows down. Best friends. Music of all the bands we’d be seeing all weekend blaring. Laughter. 

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About half way there, we finally reached festival traffic on I-24. Thousands of cars, waiting to get into Manchester. We literally parked on the side of the interstate in a line that seemed like it went on forever. At one point I just rode on top of the car to get some fresh air. There were people throwing frisbees and hula hooping. It was hysterical. For the first hour or so, anyway.

Six hours later we made it. I had just pulled an all-nighter in the car, and at 5:30 a.m., as the sun came up, we pulled into our camping spot and set up. Now, let me paint a picture of what a “camp site” looks like at Bonnaroo. You pull in bumper-to-bumper to other cars, and you camp in the 10 square feet behind your car. So no one leaves until everybody else does. If you have even a hint of claustrophobia, just don’t ever do it. And this was the first year the festival had ever sold out. 100,000 people. Yikes.

Here’s a visual of the entire farm for you:

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So the open area in the top of the photo is where the festival happens, and the rest is camp ground. This back corner at the bottom right of the photo — that’s where we were.

Well we slept about 4 hours, got up at like 9 and went exploring. I felt a little woozy but I thought it was probably just grogginess from lack of sleep and I’d shake it off. I tried drinking water all day long to get past it, but I just kept feeling worse and worse. I’m sure the 100 degree heat on top of the 100,000 people didn’t help much.

I remember going to see Best Coast play that night and trying to pretend I didn’t want to pass out the entire time, but I was finally reaching a point of misery. The next day, things just got worse. I couldn’t keep food down. I was dizzy. I had visited the First Aid tent where they told me I was dehydrated (gee thanks guys, couldn’t tell) and needed to keep drinking lots of water.

So into the evening, I was just frustrated. I wasn’t enjoying the shows. I felt awful. I was hot. I was holding my friends back. But the problem was, I was trapped. The only way out was in the car I’d rode in with Kelsey, and it wasn’t going anywhere until this thing shut down in two and a half more days. 

Luckily, my sister lived in Knoxville at the time. I had just enough phone battery and cell service to get out a broken-up phone call with her, where she told me if I could wait until the next morning, she would come get me. 

Well that sounded great, but I was going to have to get off the farm and into town if she was ever going to find me. I spent the rest of the evening figuring out how to do that. Since we were in the back corner of the camp grounds, we backed up to another farm, where the farmers had set up showers, food and shuttles in to Walmart for people to pay for. I went and talked to the nice man in charge about the shuttles, and he told me it’s $10 round trip. I told him I only needed to get out, not back in. He looked at me like I had three heads.

Whatever. Ten dollars it is. I had to get out of there. I was not going to die in a tent on a farm in Manchester, Tennessee. That, I knew, was not my portion.

So I got what little sleep I could for one more night in that horrendous, hot tent. In the morning I packed up my stuff and walked up the road to the kind farmer I’d met the day before. Kelsey and my now brother-in-law, Logan, walked me up there. So the shuttle arrives, and of course it’s an old beat up pick-up. $10 to hop in the back with the crowd of hippies standing there with me.

I’ll admit this was a terrible experience, and I would have to have a VIP pass and an RV for camping if I was ever going to do it again, but my only regret from the entire thing is that no one took a picture of me in that truck with all those dudes. Kelsey and Logan had a look of “Well, this is goodbye. Wonder if we’ll ever see her again,” on their faces.

I waved goodbye and off we went. Fifteen minutes of “what the heck is my life right now” later, we arrived at Walmart. I kindly told the driver he didn’t need to wait for me, I wouldn’t be coming back, and I walked inside. 

There was a Subway inside, and I thought I should probably try to eat something. Fail. Couldn’t get a sandwich down. I still felt awful. Meanwhile, my phone was dying, and I had to find a place to plug it in so my sister could find me when she got there an hour and a half later. So I’m looking around, in somewhat of a panic because my phone is blinking “low battery” at me.

Ah ha! There it was. Out the window, in the part of Walmart before you actually get inside, where the grocery carts, Red Box and those weird claw games are. Those have to be plugged in to something.

Yep, I did it. I still am not sure what I unplugged, but I think it may have been the little horse ride. I plugged my phone in, threw my bag down and sat on it, and waited. 

Not let’s remember that I’m ghostly white because I’m so sick, I haven’t showered in three days and I’ve been sleeping outside in June, and my feet look like I’m wearing dirt socks. And as I sat there for over an hour, watching people walk in and out, I thought, “Wow. So this is what homelessness feels like. I’m really doing this.”

The only person that talked to me was a teenager who asked if I would buy her beer. I politely declined.

Finally my sister came, and after stopping to point and laugh at how awful I looked, she was comforting and sweet and drove me all the way back to Nashville where my car was. I am forever indebted to her for that — it was like a seven hour day round-trip for her to go from Knoxville to Manchester to Nashville and then back to Knoxville. Thanks Steph. 🙂

Well I got back to where my car was at a friend’s house, and I took the most glorious shower of my whole life. I finally got some food and gatorade down. I should have stayed the night there, but I was so ready to get to my own bed that I drove myself four hours back to Jonesboro.

I’ve spent the last two years trying to figure out what God was teaching me in that experience, but I’m still not really sure what it was besides that it’s a perfect example of my expectations being completely different from the actual outcome. And it was terrible and I missed all the best bands of the weekend that I’d been looking forward to for months. But something about the story that came out of it and the fact that at least I went, at least I did what I’d dreamed of doing for years even though it was completely different from expected, made it somewhat worth it. Sometimes the risk and the cost doesn’t pay off completely, but the experience makes it valuable in some way anyway.

And those are the things in life you have to learn to laugh off and learn from. I think that trip did a lot in me as I had to swallow my pride and just get out of there. 

I learned about handling my failures. Those times that you get ahead of yourself and then circumstances knock you right on your face, and all of a sudden the farmers and the hippies and your big sister have to come to the rescue. And it’s OK. 

 

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I don’t get it.

Last week Noland and I traveled to Little Rock to be with is family and go to his grandfather’s funeral. It was a strange interruption to the blissful feeling of the beginning of spring — an interruption of all things being made new to feel the sting and reality of death. At the same time, it was oddly timely for it to happen during the week of Easter. It got me reminiscing and re-living a lot of things, because this wasn’t the first time I was experiencing a convergence of death and resurrection in my life.

In fact, exactly six years ago today I experienced a tragedy I’ll never forget. It was the loss of a close family friend, he was my best friend’s dad and my dad’s best friend. I’ll never forget my mom telling me what had happened that Monday afternoon after school. I’ll never forget the somber drive from Nashville to San Antonio two days later, and I’ll never forget sitting through his funeral on Good Friday that year, trying to hold on to the truth that He’s good no matter what, all the while asking that same one-word question over and over in my head.

Why?

I was seventeen years old and for the first time I was feeling the unparalleled pain of the death of a loved one — a pain that, in the beginning, it was never intended by God for us to feel.

And somehow the kindness of God showed up in the timing of it all. Because on Easter Sunday two days later, we celebrated the resurrected one who died so that we could live forever. It didn’t take away any of the pain. If I’m honest, I still ask that same one word question sometimes when I think about it to this day. But it reminded me that Jesus already defeated death so that we don’t have to be defeated by it. We can’t escape it, but it isn’t our end either.

But I still don’t get it. And I never will.

Two months ago, a guy I went to high school with committed suicide. That’s the kind of death that will make you question all sorts of things about eternity you never questioned before. I had so many friends that were hurting so badly, and my heart broke for them. It still breaks for them. And that same night, as all of this was weighing so heavily on me, Noland and I went to the college worship service at our church. It happened to be a night of worship and baptism.

As the service went on, people who hadn’t been saved started giving their lives to Jesus left and right, and spontaneous baptism broke out and all of a sudden there were 25 people standing on stage who had just been baptized. Buried with Him in death. Raised to walk in newness of life.

And I stood there on the second row, not knowing a single person on that stage yet weeping at the beauty of what was happening. In that moment God spoke, “You came here mourning the loss of one. You’re leaving celebrating the resurrection of twenty-five.”

And just like on Easter Sunday in 2007, the pain didn’t go away. But I felt the presence of God draw so near, and the only thing I can resolve from this mystery is this: I can not escape the sting of death on this side of Heaven. But the goodness of God will always outweigh it — and not just a little bit, but 25 and 50 and 100 fold.

Sometimes God’s mysteries are fun, like a treasure hunt. And sometimes they hurt. But no matter which side of the spectrum, they are always humbling. The mysteries of God always remind me of how small I am. They always remind me of how much I need him. I was reminded of that this weekend as I felt so small standing with Noland over his grandfather’s coffin. 

“I just don’t get it. I don’t get death,” he said.

“That’s because you were never meant to,” I told him.

And we stood there silently in the mystery. There are so many things we don’t get. I don’t get why I still watch a family I love grieve a lost father, six years after he’s been gone. I don’t get why people take their own lives, and I wonder how God handles it.

I don’t get how God will make all things work together for my good, but it says in his word that he will. I don’t get how every promise he’s spoken will be fulfilled, but I know he’s not a liar. I don’t get how Noland’s dreams and mine will be woven together into something more beautiful than we could have imagined, but I know God said he would show us things we wouldn’t believe, even if we were told.

And the trade off is that even though I don’t understand the hurt, I also don’t understand the love. It’s endless. We’ll never reach the end of it. There’s always more. It’s unfathomable, and it reminds me that living in the unfathomable is worth it.

When I don’t know anything else, I always know He’s good.

A beautiful inheritance.

I have been so rocked by the realization and revelation of my spiritual heritage and inheritance lately.

What is an inheritance? A wealth that my parents built to pass on to me — so that I could start my life at a higher standard than them. It was absolutely nothing that I worked for or earned.

Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”

When one generation is given revelation, it is intended that the next generation carry it on and build upon it. My parents have laid down their lives so that what they built is actually my foundation. I start building my floor on their ceiling.

I started thinking a few weeks ago about what this means for me. I grew up with my dad on Young Life staff, watching my parents disciple high school kids my entire life. I spent more Monday nights than I can count lying in the back of an old skating rink, listening to Dad preach the gospel to hundreds of high school kids. I bet if we could somehow trace the lives my parents have impacted and the lives those people have impacted over the last two decades, there would be a sea of people lined up.

Then I started thinking about my grandparents, who in their retirement became missionaries to Honduras and founded a program that’s now providing an education and discipleship for 800 kids across the country. They’re literally raising up the next generation of a nation to break the bondage of poverty.

And these are the people of my bloodline. This is the legacy I’ve been left to carry. Not to mention my spiritual parents — people in my life who have discipled me and poured into my life over the years. I truly have a rich, rich inheritance.

Just this weekend Noland was leading worship for a Young Life training weekend in Dallas, and I went to introduce myself to one of the speakers who my mom had told me I needed to meet. When I told him who my parents were the first thing he said was, “You have an amazing family. You’ve got a big legacy to carry on.”

There was a holy heaviness that fell on my shoulders when he said that. He was right. And it’s humbling and encouraging to think about the fact that my sisters and I have been set up for greater heights in ministry simply because of two generations of our family that have gone before us. They’ve broken through territory that we now get to breeze through so that we can break into the next land that needs to be trail blazed.

And it isn’t enough to simply maintain what we’ve been given in our inheritance from them. We’re called to build upon it. Our job is to keep running.

So I feel compelled to honor those who have gone before me and just say thank you. Grandma, Papa, Mom, Dad — you’ve left a legacy of giving your life to the advancement of the Kingdom so that Jesus will come back, and it’s an honor to say that I get to carry on what you’ve started.

And to the spiritual parents who have gone before me and imparted different pieces of the character and mission of God on my life — you’re just as worthy of honor and thanks. Eve Sarrett, Adrienne Barclay, Annie Thomas, Ellie Holcomb — wouldn’t be walking with Jesus the way I am today without you.

I don’t know where Noland and I are going from here, or when we’re going from here, but I know that our call all the days of our lives is to go and make disciples, and we have a beautiful inheritance in that calling.

So often I feel like when I ask God, “What do you want me to do?” He answers with, “This is who you are.”

…and who I am begins with the people who have gone before me. I am eternally grateful and unbelievably humbled by the selflessness of those people. It makes our mission so much bigger than our tiny dream of planting a church. It puts into perspective the power of all of God’s people working together for one purpose. And quite honestly, it makes me want to spend a week on my face and just say, “God, whatever you want for us, the answer is yes.”

So parents, grandparents, and spiritual parents — thank you. For laying down your lives for the sake of the Kingdom coming, and for setting me up to see even greater moves of God than you have. I’m honored to say I come from you. I’m challenged by the lives you live. I’m expectant for the adventure that lies ahead of me and my children because of who you are.