She tossed the first trash bag overhead into the dumpster. Pausing for a breath, Nikki clenched her jaw and swatted at a fly buzzing near her ear. She scoffed. As the owner of the restaurant her tasks were typically found indoors, far from the stenches of refuse. Readying her lower back for the second swing, something caught her eye at the end of the drive. She looked up to see what appeared to be a scene from an old Western movie. A pack of horses led by a man and woman in cowboy hats clip-clopped their way towards her in the back alley of her small-town, Tennessee restaurant. Not a sight you see every day. Bewildered at the scene, she called out a simple, “Hey!”
They greeted her cheerfully, relieved at the stop for rest and filling their bellies. After introducing themselves Nikki gawked at them with wonderment.
“Oh my gosh. You guys just stopped what you were doing to come eat here?”
“Well, we have gotten hungry a handful of times the last several years,” Lynn responded in playful sarcasm. “Oh, is that your church on your t-shirt?”
Nikki looked down at the flashy display of airbrushed letters with a tie dyed backdrop—Trinity Assembly of God. A product of a Saturday afternoon youth group event.
“Oh, this is my daughter’s shirt,” she answered quickly, brushing it off nervously and somewhat embarrassed at the incongruence of such a religious announcement being broadcasted on her backslidden self. Nikki scanned the sight of them, overwhelmed and mesmerized at the glory of this worn-out couple.
“If y’all are hungry, tie up your horses to the fence right here and come on in!” She heaved the last trash bag into the dumpster and hurried inside to receive the new patrons with eagerness.
Tim and Lynn entered the front door several minutes later to find Nikki scurrying to wipe an empty table.
“Here! Y’all sit here and I’ll grab some menus.”
They took their seats and relished the soft cushion beneath them. The wondrous smell of homestyle cooking wafted in from the nearby kitchen and the sounds of sizzling meat made their mouths water profusely. They ordered lunch and continued chatting with several of the wait-staff, clearly having been informed by Nikki of their peculiar mode of transportation. By the time the food arrived, Nikki could hardly stay away for more than a minute at a time.
“Am I bothering you?” she asked bluntly. “Am I bothering you? You can say yes.”
“No!” they responded in unison.
“I gotta sit down,” she said, collapsing into the seat next to them and finally giving in to the magnetic force drawing her back over and over.
“Is there anything we can pray for you about?” Tim asked.
The floodgates burst open and Nikki’s whole life story came rushing out with tsunami-invasion. She hardly came up for air. After five straight minutes of talking, she paused a split second.
“Wow, I don’t usually do this!”
The couple laughed. How many times had they heard it? The baffled face and the perplexed tone of an individual that doesn’t recognize herself, regurgitating every detail as though without choice.
The restaurant owner did not leave the table again the rest of the meal. After forty-five minutes and exhausting every offering of dessert, she knew they would be leaving soon and slight panic gripped her at the thought of such a short-lived encounter.
“Y’all have got to come stay at my house tonight,” she stated emphatically.
“Well, we had already arranged a place to stay for the evening,” Tim answered. “But we will pray and see what the Lord tells us to do.”
Nikki rose from the table to give them a minute, secretly hoping the other people wouldn’t call them. She paced in the back of the restaurant, dumbfounded at how intensely her heartstrings were being tugged. The unfamiliarity of this feeling gave her pause. Since when did she want complete strangers coming to stay overnight at her house? She hardly liked people in general these days. The feelings rushed through her with a new kind of hope she hadn’t felt in so long, bursting through the drudgery of her miserable life and evaporating the melted edges of her frozen-solid anger.
At the sound of his “Amen,” Tim looked straight at Lynn.
“Duh,” he declared. “This is a no-brainer here. We need to be there.” He reached for his phone to officially decline their previous proposal.
Nikki’s elation at the acceptance of the offer was quickly met with a forewarning from Tim.
“Now we’ll need a place to keep the horses as well,” he added.
“We got it! It’s done!” she responded without hesitation. “We’ve got a backyard!”
Tim laughed nervously. “You don’t understand—five horses.”
The words hardly fazed her. She didn’t care. They were coming to her house. Nikki called her husband and excitedly relayed the news to him.
“There’s no sense in the backyard, hun,” Randy assured her, “We’ll put the horses at the farm.”
The drive home brought a downpour of emotions, drenching every crevice of Nikki’s heart. Strangely vulnerable and tenderly emotional, she dialed her oldest daughter, Alyssa. The sound of her mother in tears immediately sent Alyssa into a panic.
“What happened? What is it? What is it?!” she worriedly exclaimed. Nikki could barely speak through her heaving sobs, nearly having to stop the vehicle.
“What people, Momma?”
“Alyssa, these people are here and… oh my gosh… I love ‘em! I just love ‘em!”
The windshield completely blurred over and Nikki almost instinctively turned on the wipers, forgetting the torrent was strictly upon her eyeballs.
“Do you know who they are?” Alyssa responded, perplexed.
“No, they just got horses here!” Her voiced cracked for the third time and she let out a grunted huff, frustrated at the uncharacteristic lack of control she was experiencing.
“Okay, I’ll be there in a minute.” Utterly confused, Alyssa climbed into her car and exited her school parking lot in a hurry.
The Keeton family gathered around the Tuggles over afternoon coffee, dinner, and dessert. Their presence brought a tropical atmosphere into the lingering winter of their household. Well into the evening, Tim and Lynn made their Saturday night announcement.
“When we stay, we go to church. Where do you all go to church?”
“Trinity!” Nikki quickly responded without thinking. The room absorbed her answer and her family stared at her, their confusion evident.
They didn’t go to Trinity. Alyssa went to Trinity. Nikki hadn’t darkened a church door in years. And yet the words just slipped through her lips, as if under the influence of someone else’s memory. Alyssa grinned ear to ear and held in an eruption of joyful laughter. She could barely contain her ecstasy at the thought of her whole family finally joining her at church—an answer to a prayer she had prayed more times than one could recount.
“Trinity, it is!” Lynn declared to the smiling faces in the room. A restfulness settled over Nikki, followed by a frantic thought, Do I even own church clothes?
“The baggage that we carry is made up of integral pieces, running deep down inside the body like roots.” The pastor’s voice echoed throughout the sanctuary in between sentences. “You have to pull that root out to get rid of the problem completely. If not, then it will just keep getting buried and everything is going to keep sprouting from it—anger, depression, hopelessness. You have to get rid of that.” The man stood perched at the edge of the platform, hands moving throughout his discourse.
Nikki’s shoulders hunched as she listened, her face contorted in torment. The truth of the preacher’s words slammed into her and all of her pent-up anger and hurt were beginning to crumble beneath its weight. The mounting stress and confusion of the previous months quaked in the bursting light of glory as the power of the Holy Spirit palpably rested upon her. She shifted uncomfortably in her small section of the pew, shaking and trembling as the sermon wore on. An internal battle waged on her psyche as she fought off the embarrassing prod within her to go down to the front.
The message came to a close and the congregation stood for the final worship song. Standing next to Nikki, Tim gripped the wooden pew in front of them. A few minutes into the song the Lord began to speak softly to Tim’s heart about this church body. A word of encouragement about the work of the Holy Spirit in that place and among those people. Moments later, the man directly in front of Tim began to loudly speak in tongues—strange utterances of a language unknown to humanity.
Great, thought Tim. This silly tongues thing is so misused and abused in the church and I am tired of it. Who knows if it’s even still real today.
Just then, the woman directly behind Tim began to interpret the word the man had just spoken, her voice booming just as loudly.
Tim froze, paralyzed. The words she spoke were nearly verbatim what he had just heard in his heart from the Lord. Encouragement oddly specific to this particular body of believers.
Overcome, the gravity of his pride struck him like a punch to the gut. He immediately left the pew and walked briskly down the aisle to the altar, kneeling down and asking the Lord for forgiveness for his prideful arrogance and resentment towards this spiritual gift.
Nikki continued to argue with herself over the insistent prodding of the Holy Spirit. You’re not going up there, you don’t even go to this church. What makes you think you can do that? What right do you have? You don’t even go here. You’ll get looks. Yet the compulsion to go was unshakable, overwhelming.
Moments after Tim’s procession, as if being pushed after him, Nikki’s legs began to move her out of the row and down the aisle. She reached the front of the church with tears streaking her face, collapsing on top of Tim’s bowed posture, weeping and wailing hysterically.
“Lord, save me! Take everything! Lift this unbearable load!”
It was a total release. A radically powerful salvation such as the church had never seen.
And as if a spiritual wall had been broken through, droves from the congregation began swarming the altar. Over the next hour, multiple radical encounters broke out all over the sanctuary.
The Holy Spirit was here. And He was hardly resistible.