The Tuggles

Episode 3: The Ministry

November 4, 2017

A few days after that historical Sunday, I nervously wrote to Tim and Lynn. Reluctant to wholly accept the calling God had placed on me and secretly hoping they would shoot it down, Tim called. I paced in my kitchen as he spoke of the previous times they had someone join them for a short period.

“I always learn so much when someone is traveling with us,” he said.

“From the first time I met you,” I began, “I knew God’s power was resting on you in a way I had never personally witnessed. I know that if I come with you and Lynn,” I paused a brief second, still anxious to fully commit, “I want to come under the covering of your ministry and learn from your relationship with God.”

I explained to him the predicament of my finances. I was graduating with my Master’s in one month and I had student loan payments along with a credit card I was still trying to pay off. How could I just leave for who-knows-how long without a job and without any plan in place?

“Here is my one piece of advice for you, Christie. Don’t focus on your doubts. Doubts will come and go. Focus on your faith. When Abraham obeyed the Lord, he just went. He didn’t know where, he just knew to go. God may not deliver you from all your doubts, but that’s not the point. He is always after the increase of your faith. Let that be your focus and your prayer. More faith.”

I leaned up against my kitchen stove, clutching my phone to my chest after the call had ended. The reality washed over me.

I knew I was going. But how?

Over the next two months, I graduated with my Master’s degree, quit my full-time job, moved out of my house, and received a sum of money from a credit to my school account that was oddly perfect to pay off the small credit card debt. With the unsolicited support of several generous friends, I had enough money to stay afloat in student loan payments for roughly six months. It felt like I was inadvertently standing on a street corner, bags packed and waiting to be picked up.

In mid-August, I sat in a Lowe’s parking lot and called Tim.

“So I’m thinking I will travel with you guys for maybe six months or so,” I began the conversation.

Tim laughed. “Sweetheart, I have learned to just not even tell God what my plans are.”

Staring straight ahead through the windshield, I froze at the boundlessness of his exhortation. I suddenly became more aware of the vastly different realm of consciousness in which this couple operated. What in the world was I about to get myself into?

On Wednesday, October 1, 2014 I set out with Tim and Lynn Tuggle with a backpack and a voice recorder, fully expecting to be roughing it out in the vast unknown. Sleeping on a fold-out table in a horse trailer half the time and who-knows-where else the other half. It was a step up from their horseback-camping lifestyle, yet a drastic step down from the norm of the average American. Resolved and surrendered, I embraced the unknown.

We arrived in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee around midnight of our first day of traveling.

“This is the Super 8 we told you about,” Tim said. “We told you that story already, right?”

“Yeah, I think so,” I said, rubbing my eyes after napping in the back of the truck. Lynn and I carried a couple of bags into the lobby while Tim and Chico, their Red Heeler, let the horses out for a few minutes. We walked towards the elevator and Lynn handed me a key.

“This is your room,” she said.

I took it from her, still groggy from having slept the last hour. “My room?”

“Yes. You get your own Jacuzzi suite.” We stepped onto the elevator.

I looked at her, unsure if she was joking. She chuckled at my confusion.

“This is the Super 8!” she exclaimed. “The one where we never pay for a room?” She waited for me to acknowledge that I knew this already.

“Yeah, but two? And a Jacuzzi suite?” I shot back, reinforcing the validity of my perplexity.

“They don’t let the Tuggles pay,” she reminded again. “You are with the Tuggles. So yes, you get your own Jacuzzi suite.”

Stepping into my hotel room, I clutched my backpack and stared at the hot tub in the corner, grappling to properly allocate the incongruence of the situation. This was a slightly different image of what I was expecting on this trip when we left Indiana that morning.

As I sprawled out on the bed, a fuller recognition came into clear view. At face value Tim and Lynn’s lifestyle seemed minimalistic, sacrificial, and in a general sense, uncomfortable. Yet the irony of a free Jacuzzi suite begs a depth of dimension unseen on the surface. The Tuggles served as paupers, but carried the favor of kings. The magnitude of which remained still mostly unforeseen on this first night.

The first four days were packed from start to finish. We made it to Shelby, North Carolina Saturday evening after spending the day out in the sun at a cowboy round-up event. After another full day of unpredictable interruptions, I scrutinized Tim and Lynn for signs of emotional fatigue. While they ended each day with physical exhaustion, they never seemed to waver from the appearance of continual, fresh desire with each ministry opportunity. Virtually every stop we made—Lowe’s, Wal-Mart, Tractor Supply Company—we lingered, constantly sharing with a curious passerby as though we had all the time in the world. They never overlooked an opportunity to testify of God’s goodness in the most practical ways. They were never too urgent to get away, too tired to share, or too depleted to listen. By the end of Saturday, I was bewildered. And I was tired.

“Okay,” I announced resolutely from the backseat of the truck. “When do you guys get tired?”

“Tired?” Lynn asked.

“Yeah. Like you guys never seem to crack. It’s like you don’t get tired of stopping for people.” Lynn laughed. My confusion was apparent. Hopefully my borderline frustration wasn’t.

“Nope,” she assured. “The Lord truly fills us. It’s not like we start the day with a full tank and by the end of it we’re on empty and need refilled again before we can stop for someone. There is no ‘me time’ at the end of the day where we find our rest. And yet we find that He constantly gives us that rest when we aren’t even looking for it. Even still, it is a constant refilling. When we pour out, He pours in. I don’t even know what empty feels like to be honest with you. I mean, I get tired like anybody else, but I don’t know what burnout is.”

I don’t mean to be sacrilegious here, but it sounded like bull.

Who doesn’t need me-time? Isn’t that just human? I do know what burnout is. I’ve seen it. So what was the difference?

Exhausted from the constant of meeting new people and the unpredictability and newness of every hour, I closed the door of Bob and Sandy Melton’s guestroom and sat on the bed, reeling and unsettled. The reality of this new lifestyle was starting to sink in. Having absolutely no control over any aspect of my life was a larger hurdle to overcome than I had expected. Having a pastor as a father, my whole life had been in the throes of ministry and leadership. I was well-accustomed to the forefront of service on behalf of those with great needs. In the last four days, though, I realized just how compartmentalized my mindset of ministry had been. I realized that I had been doing much more ministry out of my flesh—my own human strength—than I had been relying on the Holy Spirit.

“Jesus,” I began praying, “I feel like I am up against a wall. I don’t even fully understand what wall this is, but I desperately need a breakthrough. I don’t think I can move forward unless You start refilling me in a different way than I am used to. God, I need a shift. I need You to carry me into a new way of leveraging this load. I don’t even have the words for what I am asking for, but You know. Please give me this breakthrough. I’m afraid I can’t go on trying to do this without it.”

After that night, it was like shifting from third gear into fourth. God performed a breakthrough for me that is inexplicable in natural terms. A wall came down in my mindset, and what had formerly been laborious and draining became effortless and light. It sounds too easy. But it was real.

Physically, nothing changed. I didn’t grow some superhuman strength where I never became tired or worn out. But spiritually, everything changed. I suddenly began seeing with new eyes and feeling much less tension in my spirit.

I was no longer trying, I was simply being. And the thing I was being was someone entirely surrendered to the interruptions of ministry. Someone who faded in the background and let the Holy Spirit lead in every interaction. Where the person in front of me became the most important thing—more important than my schedule or my plan.

And after 26 years of life in “ministry,” I began to taste the purest form of it for the first time.

At the Cowboy Round-Up.

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