A Dollywood Miracle

My friends and family will tell you that I hate crowds. I don’t mean that I don’t like crowds – I think that I can say with a high degree of certainty that I really hate crowds. In fact, I am sure that there are many things that I could have done in my life that I chose not to do because of the number of people who would be attending. Another thing – I don’t like waiting in lines – and long lines usually come with crowds.

So when Kirstin’s kids’ fall break happened to come at the same time that I was supposed to be in Knoxville, we decided to take a happy van trip (that’s what we call these excursions) and left Carmel on Friday to drive south. At first, we were thinking of Asheville and visiting the Biltmore estate, but frankly, that’s about all there is to do in Asheville and with three kids – ten, eight and six – it didn’t seem like a prudent destination. Another thing – Asheville is three hours further from Indy, a total of 9 hours or so, and that meant that we would have had an additional 6 hours of driving (3 hours each way) past my Knoxville destination.

We modified our plan and settled on the Gatlinburg, TN area. Now I like Gatlinburg as much as the next guy, but talk about crowds – it’s brutal. We were here 3 years ago when Andrew got married and the traffic was horrendous. It’s become much busier since we were here when Kristin was small. In fact, she caught her first trout in Gatlinburg when she was around 5 years old. And many years before that, Gatlinburg was the family destination when I was a little guy, and years before that, my parents had their honeymoon here; in what was then a small, sleepy town in the Smokies.

Ben, a friend of mine who worked in the Orvis store here in Tennessee and now runs the Carmel store used to live in Sevierville, north of Gatlinburg, so he gave us tips on how to avoid traffic and get around. I know he had good intentions, but let’s face it – there’s traffic everywhere. And then I found out that Kristin and Janet have always wanted to visit Dollywood – you know, the theme park that bears Dolly Parton’s name and likeness on every corner. I am sure that you can see the perfect storm brewing here.

A hugely crowded city, with an incredibly popular theme park, three small kids and a grandfather who hates crowds. Oh, and  I forgot to mention. All the hotels are booked solid – I thought it was because of the fall foliage turning in this part of the country. Nope – wrong again – apparently Alabama was playing Tennessee on Saturday evening and the stadium in Knoxville seats 108,000 fans – second only to Michigan. And as one guy in the hotel told me on Saturday morning, it’s a late game so fans for both teams have plenty of time to get liquored up… That’s all I need – in addition to everything else, 108,000 fans running around the town before and after the game. And to think that I had to be in Knoxville tonight.

You can probably tell that I wasn’t entirely calm. I actually woke up Friday night worrying about the crowds, Dollywood, the kids and everything else connected to the sea of human flesh that I was about to experience. I was awake quite a while and decided to pray that God would send a miracle and spare me what was sure to be a challenging day. So after breakfast, we loaded everyone into the car and off we went, using my friend’s directions. Sure enough, we zoomed right to Dollywood, with almost no traffic. I couldn’t believe it. Then, into the parking lot, onto the tram, to the front gate, through the admissions turnstile, and into the park, with maybe a ten minute delay getting on the tram in the parking lot.

Even though it was just after 11:00 am, there were almost no crowds. We went through Dolly’s personal tour bus with a five minute wait, walked from one end of the park to the other, and didn’t encounter lines anywhere – even the roller coasters and rides didn’t have crowds. It’s as if everyone in Tennessee was getting ready for the big game and they must have all been at the grocery stores stocking up for Saturday evening. Because they weren’t at Dollywood – thank God…

Mind you, I was prepared for a pretty tough experience – but God sent me a miracle. In addition to the time with the kids, the weather was perfect. Clear skies, 64 degrees, beautiful fall colors – all of it was terrific. We had a great day, saw Dollywood from one end to the other, even visited the local Orvis store where my friend used to work, had apple cider with the kids at a local barn and then had dinner at Fuddrucker’s – a bonus for our family. We just love eating there, but we didn’t know Gatlinburg had one.

The verse for tonight comes from the Psalms – one of my favorite Psalms. It was written by David when he was anxious and worried. He wakes up and communes with God in the middle of the night – and David is delivered. In Ps. 63:6-8, David writes, “On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night. Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.” Thank you, Lord.

My encouragement this evening is that God loves to surprise us – in fact, He probably has a surprise waiting for you. My prayer is that when you are anxious you will petition the Father and ask Him to deliver you – even if it is in the middle of the night. In fact, sometimes that’s the best time to speak with God – He probably has your undivided attention when the rest of your family is asleep. It worked for David, it worked for me and it can work for you as well. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…


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