Spring Break was a trip I always looked forward to as a kid. There were numerous great memories that I can recall from our annual trek to the Oregon Coast. Kites that wouldn’t fly, stitches at the E.R., hunting for sand dollars, and multiple card games all rank high, but not at the top of my memories. There is one trip that does stand out, and for certain, one experience I will never forget.
Normally we stayed at these great condominiums called Pacific Sands right on the beach. These were perfect for our family, as you spill right out onto the rugged Oregon Coast. Yet for some reason that I don’t recall, the spring break of 1983 we rented a house that sat up on a cliff and looked out over the coastline.
My brother and sister had now outgrown the spring break trips, so it was my mom and dad, my friend Duncan, and I. The days consisted of reading, playing cards, and walking on the beach. The weather was just what a person from Oregon would want at the Oregon coast. It was windy, brisk, overcast, and perfect for taking long walks along the beach. But when you are in high school, you can only take so much of that, right?
Duncan and I decided we needed an adventure. We took my dad’s car and headed out into the Lincoln City sites. We were looking for a variety of things – used music stores, places to buy basketball cards, coffee shops, a good bag of taffy, and of course, girls!
One of the problems with where we were staying was that we didn’t have the luxury of easy places to meet girls – like the hotel recreation room, the pool, or even the coffee shop. In the previous years at Pacific Sands we had the game room which was perfect. Usually after just a few games of Pac Man or ping pong, a couple of girls doing the exact same escape from parents, which stroll through the door.
Duncan and I at some point came up with a pretty good idea. Let’s go to some of the hotels along the coast and visit their recreation rooms. Have ourselves a game of ping pong if you will. We did just that. It was actually pretty fun. There is some form of thrill to feel like you are “getting away with something.” The day was wearing on and we were ready to head back to the house. On the way back we caught view of the Cadillac hotel of Lincoln City – The Inn at Spanish Head.
This hotel was an 11 story luxury high rise. It was built right up alongside a very steep cliff on the coastline. As you drove up you parked on one side of highway 101. You then walked through an underground tunnel and came into the lobby area and restaurant – on the top floor. What a view! We felt like everyone could tell we were not staying at this hotel, but in actuality, no one knew nor cared. We sauntered over to the elevator and pushed “Beach Level.”
The elevator took forever to get from the 11th floor to the 1st. Finally, we arrived and the elevator doors opened and out we went to see our new place of adventure. There was a game room, and a pool, with a great beach front. This hotel also had a hot tub, which was clearly a bonus. We ditched the sweats and went ahead and took full advantage of the hot tub, pool, and even a cool dip in the Pacific Ocean. (Not without a FAST run back to the comforts of the hot tub.) It was a perfect afternoon.
Finally, around 5:00 P.M. we felt it was time to head back to my parents cabin. I am pretty sure we had said we would only be gone for a few hours and it was moving towards 5 or 6 hours that we had been gone. There was just one problem that we encountered. We had wore our sweats over our suits so that we would be ready if we found a pool (which we did), but we did not have a change of clothes and putting the sweats over the wet suit didn’t make a whole lot of sense. We decided to go to the locker room and change there. W e could just wear our sweats home over our birthday suit, as long as we went straight home. We could not, on the other hand, risk wearing wet suits or bottoms for that matter into my dad’s Caprice Classic. He would not be happy with this to be sure.
This is where staying at this hotel would be real helpful. We needed a room key to get us into the Men’s Locker Room. So, we were stuck. We waited and waited. It was as if the entire hotel had gone to dinner. No one was swimming or needing to go to the locker room. If they were, we would have reached for our key at the same time and awaited hearing that great phrase, “I got it,” as they open up the locker room. No one came.
The idea came to me out of no where. As far as I was concerned it was a stroke of genius. You can see the thought process of a fairly intelligent 12th grader – hotel was fairly empty, no one was coming to the change room, we cannot get my dad’s car seats wet, and the elevators were fairly slow going from the 11th to the 1st, so they would clearly be slower going up. My mind was churning and before I could catch myself it came out of my mouth.
“We could change in the elevator!” I exclaimed.
“We could do what?” Duncan asked.
“Listen, it was so slow going down, and now we are going up . . . plus, no one is around. Besides, we can do it fast.” I pleaded.
“Alright, I guess.” Duncan was now committed.
We got into the elevator and placed our thumbs in the waistband of our suits. We left our shoes on, and had the sweats laying “on deck” and ready for a fast switch. The elevator doors closed and off we went. The suit came down really quickly to my ankles, but getting a wet suit over a size 12 shoe was no easy task. I really didn’t make much notice of what stage Duncan was at, as I was too busy trying to start working on the dry clothes coming back on. I was not officially naked, unless you count my shoes, and stood upright to allow some blood flow back into my cranium, as well as just take a breath. Duncan was officially reaching for his sweats as well when we heard the worst possible noise you could hear.
“Ding!” It was the bell that rang to announce that the doors were opening. As fast as my mind thought of all that was happening, it had happened. The doors to the elevator opened and there in front of Duncan and I were three elderly people. Duncan quickly did a 180 and hid as best he could the only place one really could hide. The wall where the buttons were had some room. I didn’t know what to do.
I turned around for a moment and then realized what they were looking at. I turned back around. I stood there in the same stance soccer players use to protect themselves on penalty kicks. This was so embarrassing.
The older man who was with the elderly ladies gasped out, “Push the button! Push the button!” He wanted the doors closed as much as we did. Duncan, reaching behind himself was frantically pushing every button possible. It worked. Something worked anyway. The doors started to close.
This was when I wanted the doors to close like in the movies Star Wars or Star Trek – you know what I am talking about? Doors just “zzzzziiiiiipppppp” and they are closed. I love that. Ours on the other hand was not one of those. I honestly thought they would never close. Ever tried to get maple syrup out of a bottle when there is barely any left? It was agonizing.
Finally they were to the last inches from being closed. All I could see was one last set of eyes from the lady on the left of the threesome. I swear as the doors were nearly shut she actually leaned over seemingly trying to get one last view. What must they have been thinking as they came off the beach from their stroll, heading to the top floor for some afternoon tea? They push the button to await their elevator and they are faced with two naked teenage boys! Maybe their version of the account is in their story.
We spilled out of the elevator somewhere on the 6th floor and were pulling up our sweats and dragging wet suits as we took the stairs the rest of the way. We even broke up so not to appear together and promised to meet at the car. I know I thought that there would be an immediate call to the police and I didn’t need to add to my already most embarrassing moment. We found our adventure, I can tell you that. I can also tell you that we gave the normal teenage answer that night to the question that my parents threw out there as big as life over our clam chowder.
“So did you have fun today in town? Where did you end up going?” My mom inquired.
“Um, it was alright. We just cruised around, you know. Kinda boring really.” I muttered back.
Sometimes I wonder, did that really happen? I mean, I have told this story now so many times as my opening story. Weekend camps, summer camps, school assemblies, sermons, basketball tournaments – it never fails to capture the audiences attention. I can tell you exactly where the first gasp happens, as well as the first roar of laughter as the crowd is all imagining the scene. Over and over I have told this story. I sometimes think, what really did happen that day. The grooves of this story are worn so deep into my memory that it is hard to remember that actual real day in March, 1983. All I know is that God has used that one moment, that one simple image, to help me to capture people’s attention, to open a message, to even build up a some confidence in me as I start out a message when I’m nervous. (You know what they say, share an embarrassing moment to break the ice.)
I blurted out the idea before I realized that it would overflow into the next 30 years of my life. All I knew was I didn’t want my dad’s seats to be wet when I got back into the car that evening. “Let’s change in the elevator.” Words that have had ramifications for the rest of my life, and have given me some good material as I prepare messages. How about this phrase that Peter blurted out to Jesus, “If it’s really you, tell me to come out on the water?”
Jesus answers back a great call, “Come on then!” Peter then steps out, and we all know, walks on the water, even for just a bit. As he threw his first foot over the side of the boat and began to place his weight down on the water. He began to feel the sturdiness of he water. He then picked up his other foot and began to make for Jesus. He probably looked like a baby fawn attempting to walk for the first time. You know that for the rest of his life, Peter sat around many camp fires and in many a fishing boat and relayed this story. “Let me tell you what happened to me one day . . .”
I would even speculate that on days that Peter wondered, is Jesus for real? Is Jesus really the Son of God? Should I really give up my entire life to follow this man who claims to be the Messiah? He thinks back and remembers a moment, a moment that he wonders, did this really happen. This moment indeed spills over and gives him incredible courage later in his life. He remembers the feeling of the water under his feet, he remembers making for Jesus in front of his friends, and he remembers that challenge Jesus shouts back to him from the water, “Come on then!” Maybe this is translated today as, “Bring it!”
God has used this moment in my life over and over and over. It’s quite silly really. Yet, it has been God’s gift as I stand in front of some 2000 students at a school assembly and they are thinking, “Why should I listen to this guy?” This one moment has quickly won over many a crowd, so I can get on with the good stuff. The message of Jesus, the message of leadership, the message of lifestyle discipleship. Funny what moments God pulls out to use in your story.
How about you? What do you use to capture people’s attention? What aspect in your life can you use to show people you are real, to capture people’s attention prior to getting on to the larger point. Being naked in an elevator? Walking on water? I bet that God reminds you that He has been with you along your journey in a variety of ways. What is a defining moment for you? You just tell the first part and you have people’s undivided attention . . .
- Lazarus might start “Did I tell you about when I died?”
- Jairus might say “My daughter has two lives.”
- Balaam could say “My . . . donkey talks.”
- Thomas could say “He walked through the wall.”
- Mary Magdalane might say “I poured the perfume over someone’s feet.
- Peter could also say, “Did I ever tell you about the night I was fishing naked?”
What’s a defining moment for you? God is working you know. He sure is. “For the Father is always at work,” is one of the scriptures that I love to remind people of. How is He working in your life right now? It’s worth thinking about.
For reflection . . .
- Where do you sense God is working in your life?
- What was an experience long ago, that still surfaces, and you smile at how God uses it in your life?
- If Jesus said to you, “Come on then!” What do you think He would be referring to for you today?