The Tuggles

Episode 5: The Favor

November 8, 2017
favor

The February snow flurries were turning into thick flakes as we pulled the truck and trailer underneath the gas station overhead covering. We were passing through Missouri on our way to Illinois, and the sky was already dark even though the evening hour had barely set in.

Lynn returned from the bathroom and climbed into the truck’s passenger seat.

“I’m buying dinner!” a woman announced outside the truck. “You tell him I’m buying dinner!” I looked out my backseat window to see a woman with dark, wavy hair and a fluffy winter headband standing next to Tim by the gas pump, pointing her finger inside at Lynn across the seats with determination and intensity in her tone. It sounded more like a scolding than a generous offer.

I looked at Lynn, waiting for her reaction to this strange outburst. She gave a sheepish grin and glanced back at me before looking at her once more. “Okay,” she said in surrender. “I guess she is buying dinner.” Lynn let out a soft giggle.

Filled with confusion, I waited for Lynn to explain who this woman was. She clearly spoke with familiarity, so I naturally assumed they simply hadn’t informed me yet that a friend in the area would be joining us for dinner perhaps. It wouldn’t be the first time.

“You know her, right?” I said to Lynn as we reached for our door handles.

“Nope,” she said.

Rounding the truck, I joined Lynn on the walk to the doors of the adjoining fast food restaurant.

“I just met her inside in line for the bathroom,” she said to me quietly. We walked through the doors together and the woman turned to me like we were old friends. “So you’re writing a book?”

I stared at her for a moment, perplexed by the amount of knowledge she had apparently acquired in our first five minutes at this gas station.

“Yes, I am,” I replied after a pause. In my head I added, And you will be in it.

We went through the line at Church’s Chicken and she and Tim argued over who would be paying. After winning that argument, she forced us to take the four sacks of food with us as we followed her home. I still hadn’t even learned this woman’s name.

Climbing into the truck, Lynn recounted to me all that had taken place in the few minutes she had been inside.

 

“Look at that dog,” a man commented to her as she had cleared the front doorway. “You’ve really got that dog trained well.” Chico was lying next to the front door as was always the custom at any stop we made. His perfect obedience to be left unattended for hours at a time was a continually astounding sight to every onlooker.

“Well, thank you. We think he’s pretty special too,” Lynn responded, joining the line for the restroom. “That dog walked across America so he knows a thing or two about obeying his master,” she added.

The woman in front of her whipped around, joining the conversation.

“Walked across America?” she asked.

“Yep. My husband and I traveled across America on horseback and our dog Chico walked with us.”

Her eyes lit up like stars. “Wow! Talk about saddle-sore. I’m a horseman too so I know all about that. We have horses in our back pasture.” She carried on for a moment about her experience with horses and her ultimate ideal of teaching kids how to ride. “My name is Stacey Elliott,” she said, grabbing Lynn’s hand for a handshake.

“I’m Lynn Tuggle. We have three horses in that trailer out there and my husband and I are missionaries.” Lynn handed the woman their card. “It took us nearly four years to complete the journey and we ministered in the streets along the way.”

The woman stared down at the card for a moment before looking back up at Lynn, wheels turning. “What did you do when you were ministering?” she asked in wonderment.

“We just encouraged people to pray for our military and our government and we just loved on one another.” The simplicity of Lynn’s response brought tears to Stacey’s eyes.

Suddenly, the woman abruptly and urgently asked, “Do you need a place to stay tonight?” grabbing firmly onto Lynn’s arm.

“Well, we were sort of thinking about just finding a Wal-Mart and parking the trailer there overnight.”

“Oh, the weather is going to get so bad,” Stacey urged. “You need to come to my house.”

“You need to go talk to my husband,” Lynn informed. Stacey read off the mental list she had formed in that split second.

“We can get hay for the horses, and we can move my horses over to another section of the pasture to make room for yours…” Her voice trailed off into all sorts of strategic planning. When she took a breath, Lynn cut in again.

“You need to go talk to my husband.” Stacey didn’t miss a beat and continued thinking aloud. Lynn’s head was spinning at all the plans.

“See that man right out there?” Lynn asked, pointing out the window at Tim next to the pump. “You need to go out there and ask him.”

Finally realizing, Stacey left the restroom line and headed straight outside.

“Tim?” she called out.

He looked up from the receipt in his hands to see an unfamiliar woman a few feet away.

“Yes, ma’am?” he replied.

“I was talking to your wife inside and I have a place and I have horses, and I want you guys to come and stay with us.” She spoke quickly as though she was under a time limit.

“Really,” Tim responded, sounding like a statement.

She continued, “It’s really going to get bad tonight. It’s getting colder and you can see the cars are icing up. You really need to come and stay with us.”

“Okay,” Tim said, cheerily resolute. He chuckled at the persistence of the eccentric stranger.

“Have you eaten?” Tim asked.

“No, I was picking up dinner here,” she said.

“Let us buy dinner,” he insisted. “You are going to house us and the horses, so let us buy dinner.”

“Oh no, no, no, no, no. I am buying dinner.” She was emphatic.

 

We barely made it up the icy incline on the road to her house as it quickly iced over from the scattered freezing rain.

“Christie,” Tim said, the truck bouncing along the uneven pavement. “They have one extra bed in their house. Lynn and I can sleep in the trailer and you can have that bedroom.”

“Okay, that’s fine,” I replied without a further thought, the suggestion had grown so familiar.

“Unless you don’t feel comfortable with that,” he added, making eye contact through the rearview mirror.

The reality of the moment hit me.

This was not an already established connection made on their horseback journey. Every other time Tim and Lynn were graced with a stranger’s hospitality, I knew it turned out well because I already knew the ending. The unknown of the current story’s outcome gave me a slight anxiety spike in my pulse.

This time, I was living it. I didn’t know the ending yet. I didn’t know if these people would be weirdos or scary axe murderers.

“Yeah, I’ll let you know once we get there if I’m not comfortable with that,” I said.

It was a very human moment. I saw what it was like to actively place my trust in God, believing that He was going to take care of me. This time I wasn’t only hearing about it—I was getting to do it. Getting to decide if I, too, would take the plunge into an unknown.

We pulled up to the house down a secluded drive at the top of a hill, rounding the circle drive where we parked the trailer. Working together, we helped move Stacey’s horses to a different section of her stable and then brought Cher, Breeze, and Shade out from the trailer. The snow had stopped and the ground was tightly packed from a previous snow. We made our way out of the frigid temperatures and into the house for the fried chicken dinner awaiting us.

The full measure of chicken, mashed potatoes, and green beans was heartily consumed while Tim gave a brief summary of their ministry to Stacey’s husband and teenage son. As he wound down his description, Stacey looked at me across the table.

“Are your feet cold? Do you want house shoes?” she asked urgently, each question like a slingshot.

I smiled at her and snickered at such a specific offering. “Oh, I’m fine, thanks.”

“Lynn?” she extended it to her. “Do you want house shoes?” Lynn declined as well.

“Do you want the wifi password? Get her the wifi password, Sam.” Her son moved from the table without a word.

“Do you want to take a shower?”

“Yes!” I quickly pounced on that question. The thought of a hot shower sounded about as good as a weeklong vacation by the beach. Stacey walked me to the bathroom, showing me everything in there—shampoo, conditioner, soap, towels, and rattling off ninety questions in sixty seconds, stopping for no answers and no breaths, it seemed.

“Do you want deodorant? Do you need a razor? What about a hair dryer? Do you need a toothbrush?”

All I could do was giggle. Who does this? Who does this to total strangers? She offered me deodorant. Besides slightly questioning if I should feel insulted at the insinuation that I might not carry a toothbrush, her urgent thoughtfulness of unusual specifics floored me for the pure hospitality that it was.

It was the best shower I had had in weeks; I could have been at a spa. Silky, soft, Dove soap on my skin. Steamy hot water. I felt a thousand times refreshed and I smelled amazing. It was barely 8:30 and I was ready to crash.

Tim and Lynn took the extra bedroom belonging to their oldest son away at college. I took the den—a large, extra room with literally one couch in it and a side table. She brought in an industrial-sized space heater to warm it up for me.

“Will you show her how to work it?” she asked her son.

He turned to me and said plainly, “You just turn it on and off.”

I laughed, knowing I would have no problem figuring it out. I don’t know whether she was truly just very helpful and thoughtful, or if she just thought we were plain stupid. Either way, we were well-cared for.

The next morning, coffee and donuts were waiting for us out on the kitchen counter. I slipped in through the back door of the kitchen to get my coffee and then quietly retreated back to the den to enjoy my morning Bible-reading in solitude.

After some time, Stacey walked past the French doors, peeking in through the glass at me. She opened the door and made a comment before looking down at my clothes spilling out of a torn, plastic Wal-Mart bag.

“Is that mine?” she asked, her eyes wide with confusion.

“No, that’s mine,” I said.

“Oh, honey,” she said in a tone of total unacceptance. “You are talking to the bag lady.” Strong emphasis on “bag.”

Without another word, she left the doorway. I stifled another strong giggle and smiled through pursed lips.

For the next half hour, no one saw Stacey except for her comings and goings in and out of doors at the back section of the house. She finally entered the kitchen and spread several boxes across the table. Lynn’s eyes lit up at the open box of Vera Bradley purses and wallets.

“Oh! People in the streets will love these!” Lynn exclaimed, reaching to feel the fabric of one of them.

Stacey’s face contorted in disapproval.

“Uh, no, I just meant for you to pick one,” she said directly. Looking back down at them, she started to smile again. “Pick one or two.”

“Oh. Alright then,” Lynn resolved graciously.

Lynn fingered through them as Stacey began spreading out several pairs of extra shoes and boots along the floor at the edge of the table. I entered the room to find the beginnings of a yard sale selection.

“Here, try these on,” Stacey said to me, holding out a pair of winter snow boots. I reluctantly sat down, catching Lynn’s eye in search of her current thought process at the latest of Stacey’s antics. She returned my reluctance with one of assurance to humor her relentlessness. We both knew we didn’t need any of this stuff. We both wondered where else we could put it in the 139 square feet shared between three adults. Nevertheless, the eccentric, persistent kindness of this new friend could not be outright denied.

As we sorted through the box of bags, Stacey suggested two different kinds to me.

“Oh I like this pattern here,” I said, pointing to a larger bag most likely for a laptop computer.

“Great, this wallet matches it!” she said cheerfully, placing the wallet next to the bag.

“Oh I don’t really need another wallet right now,” I said, overlooking it.

“Pick another one too,” she said, ignoring my comment. I found another with a matching pattern and stacked it on top of the computer bag.

“Thank you so much!” I smiled at her and looked down at the new gifts. Unable to help herself, she picked up the wallet and placed it on top of them. I bit my lip to keep down a burst of laughter.

Stacey looked back down at the exhibition and after a moment of thoughtful hesitation, turned to Lynn.

“Okay, you can have the box of purses for the streets.”

We walked out of there with more than we could carry in a single trip. New house shoes, boots, and bags. When she wasn’t looking I gave Tim and Lynn a pleading, wide-eyed look for help so that she wouldn’t give us one single item more. Their expressions were just as humorously helpless.

Her persistent giving didn’t stop there. After loading the horses, we added two extra saddles, two bridles, and two halters from Stacey’s barn. I am convinced that she would have given us a horse if we had had the room.

Pulling out of the drive, I wondered if we would find an empty lot if we came back here in the future. The last sixteen hours seemed surreal and unbelievable, like she might have been an angel. One of the funnier angels, no doubt.

I glanced back at the house on the hill as we cleared that circle drive, and the weight of it all rested on me with stark clarity. The rarity of this kind of incessant giving was an every-day occurrence for the Tuggles. Never had I seen anything like that in all my life. This was their norm.

Stacey Elliott never mentioned that she was a believer in Jesus. She wasn’t overly infatuated with our ministry. She was simply intent and obsessed with giving to us and meeting our needs–the blatant demonstration of how God moved on this couple’s behalf for three years, nine months, and eighteen days on horseback.

Favor upon favor, falling like rain. So much favor that there is literally no room to receive it.

 

 

READ MORE:

Previous–Episode 4: The Hitchhiker
Beginning–Episode 1: The Funeral

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