I was ready. Four hundred forty-four miles of winding, commercialism-free road lay ahead of us. My tiny car was packed for camping along the Natchez Trace Parkway, spanning the distance between Natchez, Mississippi and Nashville, Tennessee.
Two hours into the trip, with rain pouring in sheets, my sister and I realized we forgot something vital – prayer. So we stopped and prayed that God’s will be done on this trip. That we would be His hands and feet to all we encountered. For protection. And almost as an afterthought – that He roll away the rain clouds. Within minutes I was able to open the sunroof, marveling at the love of my Heavenly Father.
We drove this way for 170 miles until heavy grey clouds began to drop hail onto the road ahead. It took me several seconds to identify this form of precipitation since I’d rarely seen it as a child. There was no mistake when the first piece hit the windshield, sounding like a gunshot. We began to pray, out loud. I wasn’t sure how the glass roof panel of my car would hold up. The hail picked up in speed and size as we continued to drive, scanning the horizon for any kind of shelter. We drove for 2 full miles this way. 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. In my eyes we were experiencing a miracle. I don’t know how the Lord protected us, I only know He did.
Finally, we reached a crossroads and followed a truck into a tiny town. The hail was reaching golf-ball size. Immediately we were aware of a deafening screech that took me only seconds to identify where I’d heard the sound before. Twister. The tornado siren turned its din on us, making my heart rate increase two fold. We needed shelter and we needed it fast. My sister pulled up to the French Camp, Mississippi post office where we dashed inside the small cinder block building.
The postal clerk invited us into the back of the building and showed us where she’d cleared space underneath a steel table if we needed to hunker down there. A radio blared gospel music, frequently interrupted with foreboding weather updates. We made nervous small-talk with the Postal Clerk while we tried to reach family and friends to let them know where we were. When the hail finally gave way to rain, we all trooped next door to the French Camp Visitors Center to wait out the rest of the storm. People of all ages milled about. Judging from the “LSU” logos emblazoned across our sweatshirts everyone immediately surmised where we were from and that we’d been traveling the Natchez Trace.
We were introduced to a couple of young ladies with “French Camp Academy” nametags who began filling us in on the day’s events. Tekoa – who is named after the hometown of the Hebrew prophet Amos – informed us that we’d landed in a town with a population of 350 that was home to a Christian boarding school for young people from broken homes. She and Summer told us about the work they did with the Academy and the teenage girls they mentored. I felt a tug on my heart, sensing they were of kindred spirit so I said, “I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume 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. They affirmed my suspicions and began openly sharing their passion for being examples of purity to the young girls in their lives.
Tears pricked my eyes. They were speaking our language. After several minutes exchanging testimonies and stories I was overcome by the providence of being stranded in this town with these people. It was apparent with every passing moment that God planted us there for a purpose.
By the early afternoon the storms passed and sun was peeking out. Summer and Tekoa began making plans to go back to work, preparing for a conference that evening. It was apparent from their discussion they were shorthanded. My sister and I looked at each other. We knew. This was why we were here. Our campsite in Northeast Mississippi could wait. I nervously offered our services to the girls, telling them we were available to help in whatever necessary capacity – making beds, cleaning toilets, mopping floors, or whatever else they needed. Sure, we sounded crazy. But I also knew with every beat of my heart that this is where God wanted us.
So we went to work! We shared stories while we made beds and marveled at the hand of God so obvious in each of our lives. That night Tekoa invited us back to her apartment for dinner where we shared heartbreaks and healing. My sister and I were both convicted and encouraged. We felt Jesus Christ in the flesh when they offered us hot showers and put us up for the night. The next morning we were speechless as we drove past swaths of tornado damaged trees within a mile of where we’d taken shelter. God truly protected us.
|French Camp, MS at Sunrise|
Prior to the trip I’d been meditating on this quote by Oswald Chambers, “Be ready for the sudden surprise visits of God. A ready person never needs to get ready. Think of the time we waste trying to get ready when God has called! The burning bush is a symbol of everything that surrounds the ready soul, it is ablaze with the presence of God.” For one day my soul was ready – ready for God to interrupt with anything. He filled that day with miracles and divine appointments. Remembering this trip always makes me wonder; if the Lord can do so much with a ready soul surrendered for one day, what can he do with a ready soul surrendered to Him for a lifetime?