When I named the tour "Embrace the Mystery," I simply had no idea. On the very first day...in the very first hour of the very first day, I encountered mystery. Let me tell you all about it...
We began our day in the fellowship hall. Well, we began it loading up the bus, collecting liability release forms, and distributing a few last-minute tshirts, but then we got ready to head to the fellowship hall, where we were trying out a new initiative coordinated by Laura R (you made the TOUR blog!) and supported by the Grow team. They found a sponsor/mentor for each of our youth participants. You'll hear more about that as time goes on, but the first commitment of those mentors was to meet us for breakfast on the day we left.
At 20 minutes before the appointed time, someone came to me and mentioned casually that the cook was not in the kitchen. A couple of harried phone calls confirmed the worst: our breakfast cook would not be cooking today.
Embrace the Mystery.
I gathered my chaperones in the hall way and said, "Guys, we have breakfast in 20 minutes, but we have no breakfast. I will handle the youth and their mentors. Please, somehow, make some kind of breakfast materialize."
I have the best chaperones ever. They provided ample breakfast for the entire crew (and because of what I have to believe is the work of the Spirit, 2 separate groups of chaperones, in a bizarre "misunderstanding," bought food for the youth, which meant the mentors were able to eat as well, as they had been promised!). What I mean is that this morning, in Decatur, Georgia, Jesus fed the 5000, and there were baskets of leftovers.
So it all worked out. The youth met their mentors and got to know each other.
When breakfast was over we headed up to the sanctuary for the 8:45 service, where we were commissioned. Each mentor stood with his/her youth, and when we had the prayer of commissioning, they laid hands on us as they prayed. That's approximately 120 folks at the front of the church either being commissioned or supporting someone who is. If you want to know why we are doing this, ask Dennis Coughlin to tell you about "Sticky Faith."
We hopped on the bus, and we pulled away by 9:10am. That is just 10 minutes after my target time, and given that we had to conjure breakfast out of thin air, I felt pretty good about it. I handed a parent the envelope of itineraries and stepped on the bus. We were away. The youth were in good spirits, and Bill, who has had to stay home, was still able to join us on the bus. You can see him in the picture below. I have a feeling you'll be seeing more of Bill.
Most of the youth still don't know where we are going. Some of them don't want to know. Some of them most definitely do. They're being pretty good sports about the whole thing. It will, of course, become more and more obvious what we're up to as time goes on. For now, though...Layton and Luke want it noted clearly that they were the VERY FIRST to figure out that we are headed to Dallas, Texas. It is so noted.
I don't know if you've met Neil. Right after I took the picture above, I took the picture below. I'm jealous mostly because I wish I could sleep on the bus. Neil's a great guy and a great accompanist. And a sound sleeper.
Embrace the Mystery. Chris set up to play our very first movie: The Sand Lot. I was excited. But then the bus hit a bump, and the picture went out. It came back. It went out. You're killing me, Smalls. It became clear that we would not be watching a movie on the bus today...and indeed we may not be able to watch ANY MOVIES FOR THE ENTIRE TRIP. It should go without saying that this is not great news, as you can see from Beth's expression... I say "Embrace the Mystery" because instead of being horrified by the realization that our preferred bus pastime is possibly out of commission for the duration, I choose to believe if that is the case we will be able to make good use of that and be more present for each other.
MORE MYSTERY. We stopped in Leeds to pick up Drew and take a little break. There was...there was...I can barely type it. There was a line at the men's restroom.
[Editor's note: there was only a line at the men's restroom because the women, frustrated by their own line, commandeered the men's room for their use. Gross.]
We stopped for lunch later than a few wanted to, and I found a Panda Express, which I do love. I also found this bunch of guys there. We had a great conversation about Firefly, Serenity, Battlestar Galactica, and the Matrix. I do love these guys. For the record, Ghostrider could kill all of the above while simultaneously cracking 180 eggs in 3 minutes using a death stare. For more information, see Bennett Brinson, who can explain all of those words.
We headed into Memphis, where we began our time with a side trip to Graceland via Elvis Presley Boulevard. We didn't have time to go in, but we did have time to stop the bus in a turn lane and pile out to take a group picture in front of the Lisa Marie (Elvis's plane). Can you find
Tait's helping me with pictures again this year. So I took a picture of him taking a picture. There's one on every blog, right?
And heeeeeeeeeere's Graceland. I wish I had the space to put the choir in front, but bless my heart I didn't. So I asked Chris to stand in the road so I could take his picture. Way to risk it all for the photo op, Chris. I'm indebted.
After our quick sidetrip to Graceland, we went to our first concert at Trezevant Manor in Memphis. It was a nice room with a nice piano, and it was a really good first concert all the way around. Lots of really good moments, and a lot of good eye contact from the choir (and that will improve with each concert!).
And get used to these kinds of pictures because they are my favorite. Our youth reminding us all that simply being present is a ministry and a mission all its own. I never get tired of watching these interactions...little moments when the background of a harsh world melts away leaving behind compassion and grace.
And as the crowd thins out, we have an opportunity to connect with each other too.
Except for Eliza, who like Beth above, is not real thrilled?
Finally, the Waltons. Always good to see family! Here's a picture of Jerry and Virginia with their grandparents (and Katherine!). Delightful folks!
After a quick wardrobe change we headed over to the Memphis pyramid. It was originally belt as a sports arena, but has been converted to a Bass Pro Shop and hotel. Katherine wondered why it would be a big deal to go to a Bass Pro Shop in Memphis...until we got inside.
...which we did about 10 minutes before closing. The guy at the door asked where we were from, and when we told him "Atlanta," he said, "you know we have these stores in Atlanta too." "Yeah, but the one in Atlanta is closed right now." So we didn't have a lot of time, but it was quality time. This place is HUGE. And it's awesome. And you really should go there.
Wait. What does that sign say?! Oops...
The Memphis Grizzlies play at the FedEx Forum, but it looks like there are still some grizzlies in the old arena...
And while the grizzlies aren't really, this little fella most certainly is. That's a live gator...
This is an elevator up to the observation level of the pyramid. We didn't have time to go up. Bummer.
PULL!!! (Full disclosure: As we were taking this picture, Katherine said, "Is this how you would hold one of these?")
Tait made quite a catch...but he threw them back.
After our brief stint at the Bass Pro Shop-ma-hal, we headed to Beale Street for dinner. This was a chaperone dinner, which was very well-received last year. So the chaperones went with their rooms to different places. There were plenty to choose from.
This was Michele's group. Oysters on the half shell?! No, as it turns out. They were just walking by there. At least that's Michele's story, and she's sticking to it.
Since chaperones were eating with their rooms, Mark (our bus driver who you may remember from last year) and I went to the BBKing place for dinner. I took this selfie old-school, without the benefit of being able to see myself while taking it (but not as old school as it could be...back when I would have had to wait until I had the film developed to see how it turned out). By the way, none of these kids knows what that world was like.
Unfortunately we walked in just as one band was stopping and another setting up, but I did catch a couple of songs before I left. I do love the live music. They take chances you just don't hear on recordings. And that Hammond sounds great when the leslie screams! A pretty good drummer too.
A final note. We did not get to the studios because we didn't have time, but Michele was here not all that long ago, and she got this picture of her singing into the VERY MICROPHONE that Elvis Presley sang into when he recorded. So the picture below is Michele recording a duet with Elvis is basically what I'm saying. Pretty cool.
Then we headed to our hotel, and went to our rooms for the night. All in all a good day.
The whole day was nothing but unexpected for the youth who knew little about what we would be up to (and when they ask what we're doing next, when we're stopping, etc, I answer with "Embrace the mystery!"). But there was a good bit that was unexpected for me as well. It doesn't matter how much we think we know about what is coming next. So often we have no idea. And now I find myself wondering what tomorrow will bring above, beyond, and different from what I am expecting.
PS. Not a great night's sleep...the hotel didn't put a sticky note on my bed that said the covers were cleaned just for me.