The Tuggles

Episode 10: The Encounter

November 23, 2017
encounter

The high noon sun beat down on the pack string with a blaze of August heat. Nearing the edge of the Redwoods the trees were beginning to scatter farther apart now providing less amounts of shade. Tim’s green, plaid shirt clung to his back in a pool of sweat. The crew looked forward to every patch of shade on one of the hottest days of the California summer. It was the eighth day of the journey and the group had become used to the camping routine, enjoying the brilliant night sky in the middle of the forest near a bubbling brook of water.

In a staggered line, Lynn rode between the two men. Her saddle soreness beginning to wear off, each day her body settled into a comfortable riding regimen a bit quicker than the previous day. The two pack horses on her string ambled along, adjusting to the hefty weight of all the canned goods she had insisted on bringing with them. She glanced over her shoulder at the nearest horse, Toby, his front leg muscles bulging out with every step, convincing herself that he was perfectly fine bearing it up, yet knowing she had probably gone a little overboard.

Amidst the hoof-clopping of the horseshoes on the rocks, a loud, shrill screech came from Tim’s front pants pocket, startling Cher in the saddle beneath him.

“Wow, you have service out here?” Leif hollered up to Tim at the front, digging for his own phone in his saddle bag.

Tim shifted towards his left, arching his back in order to retrieve the small, square phone. “We must be on a high spot right now. It’s been days since I had service,” Tim responded.

After the third ring, he picked up. “Hello?”

“Hi, is this Tim?” said a low, gravelly voice.

“Yes, it is.”

“Hi, Tim, my name is Willy Roberts. I’m a cowboy preacher in Wheatland. I heard you were riding a horse across the country and I’ve got something for you to do. When you get to Fallon, there’s someone I want you to meet.”

Tim stared ahead as they neared the next patch of shade, a trickle of sweat slipping down his temple. He marveled at the familiarity of those words. “Fallon,” Tim repeated back. “Fallon, Nevada?”

Lynn steered her horse to trot up next to her husband, intrigued by the peculiarity of this call.

“Yes, sir,” Willy confirmed. “Her name is Cindy Koepke, and she could really use some encouragement.”

Tim pulled up the saddle bag flap and grabbed his journal and pen to write down her phone number.

“I let her know I was going to be giving you her number and that I think she ought to meet you,” Willy continued.

Ending the call, Tim chuckled in a moment of bewilderment. “That’s the second time somebody told me what we’re supposed to do when we get to Fallon,” he said, looking over at Lynn, brow furrowed with confusion. “That lady we met at the Skunk Train in the Redwoods said that same phrase to us. ‘When you get to Fallon…’”

Tim pondered the feeling rising up in him. The strangeness of the coincidence coalesced with the alignment he could sense in his spirit. There was something poignant about it all, yet without articulation. As if someone was laying out road signs in front of him, yet veiling them with mystery.

He lifted his phone again to punch in Cindy’s number and hit the call button, a surge of curiosity rising within him. Raising it to his ear, it rang four times before going to voicemail. “This is Cindy Koepke, I can’t get to the phone. Please leave a message.” Beep.

“Hi, Cindy. My name is Tim Tuggle and I received a call from Willy Roberts this afternoon to get in touch with you. If you could give me a call back when you have the chance, I’d love to chat with you. Thanks. Bye.”

****

The horsemen set out on the open road, bellies bulging from a delicious lunch. Tim picked up his phone and made his daily call to Cindy Koepke, leaving a voicemail for the seventh day in a row.

“You sure are diligent about making these calls every day,” Lynn acknowledged.

“At first it was just sheer curiosity because of hearing the same phrase twice,” Tim began. “But now that we really are headed straight for Fallon, a town we had no plans to ride through, I know God is up to something. I have to find out what He’s trying to say.”

“But she’s not returning your calls. Isn’t that odd to you?” Lynn inquired.

“It’s a little funny. But I sense the Holy Spirit doing something here and I can’t let up just yet.”

It was an isolating day of riding, the road feeling somewhat deserted with no small towns and few establishments along this lonely stretch of highway. As the day wore on, the group pushed the horses into a long trot, loping for minutes at a time in order to make it to water again.

Into the late afternoon, the crew came upon the first house they had seen in miles, set one hundred yards off the highway with a large pasture out front and a middle-aged woman working a horse. She trotted her young filly over to the fence to greet them, curious at the peculiar sight.

“Hi, there,” she said with a warm smile, her dark, wavy hair blowing in the afternoon breeze.

“Hi,” Lynn smiled back with Leif silent next to her.

“Howdy,” Tim said, removing his cowboy hat.

“You folks look like you know what you’re doing,” she said with a slight chuckle.

“That’s a mighty fine filly you got there,” Tim complimented. “You seem to know a thing or two yourself.”

“Well, thank you,” the woman obliged, stroking the black mane. “I have Wednesdays off so I try to make a habit of working her once a week on these days. You folks look like you’re doing a bit more than casual horseback riding…” she stated with a pause at the end.

“We are missionaries traveling the country on horseback,” Tim said smoothly.

Her eyes widened and a smile of wonder covered her whole face. “Wow! Now that is amazing.” She gawked at them for several more moments, processing the incredulousness of what she heard.

“We are asking people like you to pray for our country and our military,” Tim explained further.

“Wow…” she muttered again under her breath. “Where are you planning on staying tonight?”

“We have no idea. We’re just going.” Tim answered.

“You don’t have a trailer?” she asked.

“No, we don’t have a trailer. We’re riding across the whole country,” Tim continued. “We usually look for rodeo grounds but camping out on the side of the road works for us too.” He flashed her a grin.

She gave a hearty laugh in response, the awe and wonder conjoining with a deep joy that took her off guard. Nothing else on the journey compared to this moment for Tim. That moment of staring into a stranger’s face and blurting out the most bewildering statements that so often offend their daily routine, yet compel them to a higher place; invading their mundane world with a glimmer of higher hope. These were the moments that fulfilled their mission.

“I’ll tell you what—when you get to Fallon just up the road here, you go to the rodeo grounds. I know people there and I’m going to call ahead and pay for your horses’ stay. I’m also going to take care of your dinner tonight.” The woman reached into her denim vest and pulled out a cell phone.

Those infamous words reverberated within him, jolting Tim’s spirit for the third time—When you get to Fallon…

“I would bring it to you myself, but I have an event at six o’clock that I can’t miss.” She made two phone calls and exchanged numbers with the trio before they set off again toward the town, the sun blaring down on their backs. Tim recognized this familiar feeling bubbling up in his spirit like a fountain drink. With all the unpredictability of the past few weeks, a spiritual precedent was taking place that he had come to recognize as a constant—an intensified awareness of Holy-Spirit-movement.

Half an hour later they crossed into the city limits and quickly came upon the rodeo grounds in the heart of the town, directly off the main road. The group broke away from the road at the town’s major intersection and trotted through an open clearing up to the entrance, a chain-linked fence extending a quarter-mile on either side of it. Crossing the gravel parking lot, they came upon a stack of hay just outside the stables. Approaching it, they heard a voice inside the stables, “You folks the traveling missionaries?”

“Indeed, we are,” Tim responded cheerfully.

“That hay was just dropped off for your horses,” the man continued, his face barely visible through the wooden pallets separating them. “You’re welcome to let them feed right there and I can get them set up afterwards for the night in the stables.”

They dismounted and wearily sat down on the bales of hay while the horses ate to their satisfaction. Lynn passed around their last three bottles of water as a rusted, white pickup truck came pulling into the parking lot and backed up in their direction. A man and woman exited the vehicle and approached them.

“Hi, there! I’m Nancy,” she greeted them with a huge grin that showed off her superbly white teeth.

“Hi, Nancy,” Lynn responded warmly. “I’m Lynn Tuggle.” She stood to shake her hand as the man opened the tailgate of the truck and unloaded several sacks of Kentucky Fried Chicken. He introduced himself as Nancy’s husband and the couple pulled up a bale of hay to join them for dinner.

Nancy removed her sunglasses and could not wipe the smile off her face. “Jane called and asked us if we could bring you all some dinner tonight and we just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to meet such incredible people.” She beamed from one of them to the next.

Tim and Leif didn’t hesitate to dig in to the sacks, retrieving the green beans and mashed potatoes along with the collection of fried chicken thighs and legs. They filled their plates and began filling their mouths just as quickly. Nancy explained that she was the pastor of a cowboy church in the area and she begged for every story that they could manage between bites. They took turns explaining to them the beginnings of the stir to sell everything and go on horseback and then described the miraculous healing of Cher’s broken leg. Nancy could barely pick her jaw up off the rocky gravel.

“I just don’t even know what to say,” she gaped. “You know who could stand to hear some of this,” Nancy said looking at her husband. He silently held her gaze for a moment, his cheek filled with chicken. Turning back to Tim and Lynn she continued, “My daughter is on her last leg right now with her relationship with God and she could really use some encouragement and inspirational stories. I think I’m going to call her and see where she is.”

Nancy pulled her phone from her purse and tapped the screen several times, lifting it to her ear. “Honey, where are you?” She paused for several moments and looked out at the main road. “Oh, there you are right there! Wow, you were driving by right when I called. That’s amazing,” she marveled. “Pull in here to the rodeo grounds. I’ve got some people I want you to meet.” She hung up the phone. “That’s my daughter’s truck right there. I can’t believe she was driving by right when I called. What are the chances?” she bemused in greater wonder.

Tim was on to his second helping of mashed potatoes, barreling past the full feeling and relishing every tasty bite. Lynn eyed him in all of his desperately hungry fury as he loaded his plate with another chicken wing before resuming the feast.

A brown Ford pickup truck pulled up next to Nancy’s and the door opened. A young woman around 30 years of age stepped out wearing a black cowboy hat. She approached the group and Nancy stood to introduce them. She put her arm around the girl’s shoulders and said, “Tim, I want you to meet my daughter.”

She extended her hand out towards Tim, “Hi, I’m Cindy Koepke.”

Tim’s hand landed in hers for a handshake and he froze. Lynn and Leif paused their chewing and stared up at her in disbelief.

“Did you say Cindy Koepke?” Tim softly asked after a second.

“Yeah,” she answered curiously.

With a soft smile he held her gaze and her handshake for a moment longer than usual.

“I’m Tim Tuggle.”

Cindy’s eyes widened slightly and she began to blush at the realization.

“When God wants you to meet somebody, Cindy, He’s going to put them in your life no matter how much you ignore the phone calls.”

Tim’s eyes sparkled up at her with a deep, mysterious joy at the profoundly supernatural moment. Lynn’s mouth continued to hang open at the sight of this woman in front of her husband—the one he had been calling every day for the previous seven consecutive days to no avail. Here she was, in the flesh in front of them, unbidden and all by “coincidence.”

“Oh my gosh,” Cindy reacted, letting go of the handshake. “I am so sorry.” Her embarrassment bled through her cherry red cheeks. Tim chuckled his amazement at the encounter and her humility of its sacredness.

“It’s okay. Because here we are. God did all the work.” He laughed again and Lynn laughed with him. The rest of them began laughing too as the contagious joy hanging in the air was too thick to escape.

After learning the basics of their journey and that they were staying at the rodeo grounds that night, Cindy interjected. “You guys can’t stay here,” she contested.

“Oh, we don’t mind it,” Tim replied. “And they already have hay and started feeding.”

“You have to come to my house. I insist. I’ll go get my trailer right now.” She stood with determination and started for her truck without waiting for a response.

Three weeks later, the team said their goodbyes to Cindy and set out on the road out of Fallon. They left her with a newly built set of corrals and a round pen where she could finally teach young kids how to rope—a dream she had always kept close to her heart—and a rejuvenated spirit to see God use her to impact others.

 

 

 

 

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Previous–Episode 9: The Miracle
Beginning–Episode 1: The Funeral

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