“I will not leave you orphaned.”
I have worn the same sweatshirt on camping trips since 1995. I remember exactly when I purchased this favorite sweatshirt. Daniel and I have camped in the same tent since 1997.
In anticipation of this weekend’s long-awaited Church Camping Trip at Canyon Lake (53 gathered at the camp this weekend!), I have been camping IN Cabela’s for the past few weeks during the evenings.
It all started two weeks ago when I decided to go to Cabela’s to get replacement tent poles for my tent. The shock cords broke on two of my tent poles a couple of years back and I kept intending to replace the poles.
You can live in Cabela’s. There is an excellent restaurant inside, clothes, more food, entertainment with all the aquariums inside…al the basics in life are under one roof.
I went upstairs to the tent section and met Vernon. I told him I wanted to buy replacement poles for my tent. I had the length of the poles with me. Vernon told me that you have to order such poles from the company that made my tent. He asked what brand of tent I owned. I told him I only use the tent once or twice a year and could not recall the tent name; I had received it as a gift and never picked it out. Had I shopped and selected it, I might recall the name of the tent. Vernon was nice and did not chuckle at me.
I told him I did not have time to order the replacement poles as this church camping trip was coming up quickly. He then told me to bring back the poles and that he had shock rope and he could replace the shock rope himself. The shock ropes hold the poles together and allow you to fold up the poles for backpacking up into the mountains.
I took the poles to Cabela’s the next evening. Vernon was at a Cabela’s manager’s meeting in San Antonio. So I explained to his staff in the tent section of how Vernon said he could replace the shock ropes and make my tent poles as good as new. No one there knew how to do it. But we all tried anyway. The staff was excellent but Vernon was the guy with the experience. An hour later and near closing time, I told them I would leave the poles and just let Vernon replace the poles when he came to work.
Wednesday evening after our Board meeting and kid’s AWANA meeting, I drove to Cabela’s again to pick up my tent poles. Vernon was there and while he was finishing up threading the shock cords through my tent poles, I watched. Vernon was good and knew what he was doing and showed his staff how to do the job. They enjoyed learning.
Nearing closing time, Vernon gave me the newly corded tent poles and told me there was no charge since I had to return a couple of times for the tent poles. I thanked him and headed downstairs.
I really wanted a new open reel fishing rod and had my eye on an inexpensive one. I went to the fishing department, made my final selection, bought the $25 open-reel fishing rod, the Cabela’s staff wound the new line on the new rod, and I went home. Late again. But it was worth it.
Thursday afternoon I was packing the Ranchero for the camping trip and could not find the tent poles. I searched the house and garage and camping tubs through and through. No tent poles.
Then I got ill. I realized I could not remember walking out of Cabela’s with the newly-roped tent poles.
I dressed and attended the Visitation at the funeral home for Carla’s Aunt Elsie. I was going to make it a quick stop and head on to Cabela’s.
Carla wanted to introduce me around to her family. I told her I would be glad to meet them but that I also had another place to go – Cabela’s. She chuckled. She is married to one of those guys also.
Turned out several of her family from out of town met me and Pam and each one would say, “Oh, you are Carla’s preacher. She and Randy talk about their church so much. They love it so much.” And they all wanted to talk about this new ministry called Christ the Redeemer Church. Some wanted to talk about the Letters from Boerdonk book…Carla’s dad kept telling his family they needed to read the book and that he enjoyed it so much.
It was a joy to meet all of Carla’s family that evening. And the clock was ticking. Carla kept saying, “You need to get to Cabela’s.”
I sped to Cabela’s as it neared closing time. I ran into the store and saw Vernon downstairs. He said, “Hi Gary.” He knew my name by now. He asked how the tent poles were doing.
I told him I lost the tent poles. He just looked at me.
I do not have a pure history at Cabela’s. Last October, during the Halloween month, I ran in the store and was hungry. I grabbed a handful of candy corn from a large jar on a table at the entrance of the store, as you recall. Kids at the table with crayons and pencils just stared at me. So did the adults. Turned out the candy corn was a guessing contest. One who guessed accurately how many pieces of candy corn was in the jar would win a prize. I ate the corn and left quickly. Next time I went to Cabela’s the Candy Corn jar was taped shut.
I told him I was so excited on Wednesday evening about buying a new fishing rod that I think I left my tent poles either in the fishing department or in a cart. He put his arm around me and said, “Been there, man. Know what you mean.” He went on to tell me about his new fishing reel. He understood me, man to man.
He went over the intercom and put out an alert to all employees to be on the look out for some tent poles.
A staff member walked up and said he had seen them on Thursday in his department…the fishing department. But we could not find them. Vernon left and went to the front of the store.
He came back grinning from ear to ear. Employees clapped. He had MY poles in his hand, having found them in a bin with extra equipment. But he said, “There is a problem. One of the metal sleeves came off one end of one of the poles. Unusable without the metal sleeve. He told me had four extra ones upstairs.
He told me to stay put and to HOLD ON to the poles. I laughed and so did he.
He came back with the sleeves but none of the four metal sleeves fit. About a millimeter off in inside diameter. Close but no fit. He told me to take them and use sandpaper to reduce the pole end size until the sleeve fit.
I really wanted to make sure that sleeve was not in the store in some drawer. It was near closing time. I asked him if he would look one more time in the bin. He said he would and told me I could not come behind the counter.
He was down on his knees taking out all kinds of boxes and equipment, looking for a small two-inch long metal sleeve just to please a customer. On his knees.
He peered into a shoe box and there it was. Neither of us could believe it. He found the sleeve. He told me to use two-step epoxy glue to glue the sleeve to the pole, saying it would take 24 hours to dry. I told him I did not have time. He said, “Well, don’t lose it.” I used duct tape.
We shook hands and I got home late again that night. Pam is beginning to get suspicious of what is going on at Cabela’s. I have never given her any reason to be suspicious or jealous in our 32 years of marriage until this Cabela fling came along.
When Brenda and Berry adopted Karl at birth, one of his birth parents asked, “Will you raise him to love baseball?” Brenda and Berry did so. Every time I watch Karl make a spectacular play in the field I think of that story and it always moves me. All involved made sure Karl was loved and cared for from birth. He fielded a ball hit on the ground to the outfield last week and threw a 90 mile-per-hour strike to the first baseman to get the runner out, but the ump was so stunned by the play that he called the runner safe because he (the ump) was looking the other way!
I told Sharon and Mike at the camp site on Friday night my Cabela tent pole story and I showed them my metal sleeve. Sharon said she and Mike had never seen one in their lives until just that evening. One was on the ground by their truck. Sharon went to the truck, got it, and gave it to me. It is the exact same size of the one we lost and then found. So now I have TWO of them, one as a back-up.
If Vernon and I looked that hard for a small piece of lost metal to hold a tent together, how much more will God look for us when we are have lost our way in our lives? When we lose our way in life? When we lose our way in our family lives? When we lose our way with Him? When we lose our direction in our jobs? In our journey.
Every one of you has an important part in His Church and in this Church. Like the sleeve, none of it works unless all the pieces are in place. One little sleeve prevents the tent from standing.
Pam would not sleep in the tent with me, opting instead to sleep in the car with a mattress. That worked well until 6 a.m. this morning. She tried to get out of the car quietly to use the campground restroom and she triggered the car alarm and woke up the entire camp at 6 a.m. Everyone showed up to breakfast and communion service on the beach at 8 a.m., having been awake since 6 thanks to Pam. She just said, “Good morning” to everyone who asked what happened!
When I put up my tent on Friday, I studied the brochure closely this time for details. It is a Quest tent. 24 lbs, 13 ounces. 78 inches high at peak. 80 square feet of space. Sleeps five. 11 millimeter tent poles. Now I know its name.
He knows us by name. He made us.
If Vernon got down on his knees to search for this lost sleeve, think of how much more God looks for us when we are lost, even looking for us past Closing Time if that is what it take. “I will never leave you orphaned.”
By GARY L. SMITH
Reverend – Christ the Redeemer Church