I wanted to write about my last week! I took a trip.... destination Chattanooga, Tennessee!
About twice a year, I go to Hamilton, Alabama for conferences at The Ramp.
The Ramp is an incredible ministry where I have made some of my closest friends, had undescribable experiences in some ways, and absolutely hilarious experiences in other ways. I could probably dedicate many blog posts to my experiences of looking for Starbucks in a town of 6,000, driving through gardens, and taking 3 1/2 hours to go what should have been an hour and a half. It's a very special place to me!
Anyway, one of the conferences I went to in 2009 was Winter Ramp, which is the 29th through 31st. I wanted to go again this year, but it was very last minute whether or not I was going to be able to. Between my medical tests, work, and some other stuff, it just wasn't an easy trip to plan. But toward the end of October, I decided to register just in case I was able to go. But.... oops! Registration was full! Now, normally this isn't a problem. Whenever I go, I volunteer. So I get in without registering. But I wasn't able to get ahold of anybody about volunteering. So I wrote one of my friends who is down there to see if she could help me contact them. I didn't immediately hear back. But then I got a text..... with a big secret and big news! The Ramp was being held in Chattanooga to accomodate more people! Instead of 1,000, we'd be able to have 8,000! But I was initially sworn to secrecy. I found myself telling my two friends who had wanted to go but couldn't get in either "Register just in case.... but I can't tell you why. But I have a feeling something will open up!" They accused me of being secretive.
So I booked a hotel room for Chattanooga, Tennessee, really not knowing what was going to happen. All the other difficulties (work, health, etc.) were still there. But I figured I would figure that all out when the time came. And if not, I would cancel the room! Then (after what felt like ages because I hate keeping secrets) it became officially open that the Ramp had been moved for this one conference and my two friends were on board.
Fast forward through some planning, convincing of my boss, working things out with my friend who could drive (it was even more amazing that she could go), one friend backing out then back in then back out then back in then back out, and a ten hour drive that turned into a twelve hour drive and WE WERE THERE! We went straight to the convention center to register. Okay, first of all, Chattanooga is NO Hamilton! There's traffic and stuff! So it wasn't the relaxing event getting there usually is. Also, since we went straight there, I was looking like I had just travelled 12 hours on 1.5 hours of sleep and was wearing sweats and no makeup. Not the way I would usually want to greet my friends I rarely see, but I was so happy to be there that I really didn't care.
After registering, we found our hotel. Let's just say, I quickly figured out where the "Micro" part of "Microtel" comes from! So small! But we were not there for the room or the hotel. So I quickly showered and we got ready for evening service.
The atmosphere was pretty crazy. It was different than a "normal" Ramp, but incredible just the same. At that point, there were around 7,000 people jammed into a room with 1,500 chairs and lots of floor space. That many people being there was great for a lot of reasons but also kind of distracting. I don't really know how to explain it; there was just a lot more distraction than usual. But still, wonderful time of worship. The message by Damon Thompson was really good as well. Really, the first night is kind of blurry in my mind; I'm going to have to watch the DVD of the service to remember more clearly. I had to leave for a part of it because of my terrible cough (I needed fresh air and felt I was distracting those around me with how packed in there we were). While outside the auditorium, I caught up with a few friends, but then went back in for the sermon and just stayed near the wall. My time with many friends there was like that all week - a few minutes here, a few minutes there, etc. That's one thing I love about that group of friends. We don't have tons of time together, but there is a connection where it almost doesn't matter. A few minutes to reconnect is great but we are all there for the same purpose, and it's really not seeing each other. After service, it was time to go back to the hotel and SLEEP!!!!!
The next day, the first service was at 10:00. We got there early, and I was able to spend a few more minutes with a few more friends (and some of the same ones from the night before). Then, another incredible service. If I'm remembering correctly, worship was led by Eddie James and his ministry group. He is one of my very favorite worship leaders, very powerful ministry. Then Damon spoke again.
That afternoon for lunch, we took Chattanooga's electric shuttle (Chattanooga is a very neat city and I love their public transportation!) to Panera for lunch. Then it was back for another service. Rick Pino and his band led worship, followed by Perry Stone preaching. Rick Pino is another incredible worship leader. Perry Stone honestly got a little long for me and I tend to have trouble with speakers who don't stay as focused on what they're saying, so I really didn't get quite as much out of him, but I know others did and that's okay.
During the dinner break, we went to our hotel to pick up two other friends, quickly change clothes (oh wait, that was just me), and eat a quick dinner of food we had bought at Walmart the night before! Then we went back for what was truly an indescribable night. The Ramp Worship Band led worship, and then Lou Engle spoke. Between the two, I was locked out of the gathering. I don't really know what happened during that time. I think offering was part of it. But the moral of the story is be careful when you choose your bathroom break (I was trying to avoid having to leave during the message!) If you don't know who Lou Engle is, he leads a ministry called The Call. In different cities at different times, there will be large prayer and worship gatherings for our nation. His message was truly life-changing. I'm going to have to listen to the DVD/CD for this one too! There is just too much to grasp in one sitting! The night ended with lots of prayer. Service went so late that morning service for the next day was cancelled!
So the next morning after sleeping in a little (glorious!), we headed downtown to get lunch before heading to service at 1. We ate at the weirdest restaurant called "The Pickle Barrel." It was....... interesting. And dirty. And graffiti-covered. Yeah, if I ever go back to Chattanooga, I will not be going there! But then afternoon service consisted of ministry by Chosen, Rick Pino, and then Dutch Sheets speaking! Dutch Sheets is another speaker that I could listen to all day!
Dinner break was at Applebees. Then we shuttled back for service. Oh my word..... craziness. By this point, the event was filled to over-capacity. As in, more than 8,000 people. To get in, in addition to your wristband, you had to be one of the first 8,000 there. After that, they had to turn people away. If you left to use the restroom, you had to get a mark on your hand to be allowed back in. Yet, even with that, some people from an 80s dance party being held in another part of the convention center were able to join us! Reaching other people..... another great part of the gathering!
The last service really was beyond words. Chosen ministered some more, there was worship by all three groups (I think), Damon spoke, there was more prayer...... it just kept going and going. It was so wonderful. It's really the best way to ring in the new year! Being charged by Dutch Sheets followed by a countdown by Damon Thompson! Surrounded by prayer, worship, friends, and 8,000 people in worship! Afterwards, leaving was craziness. You had the 8,000 excited people from our gathering mingling with those inebriated ones from the 80s party in the hallway. There was a lot of noise. :) Lots of shouting going on for all different reasons.
We went across the street for a quick bite to eat. Jody and I split a gigantic piece of cake. :) Then we had to go back through the convention center to get to our car. Teardown was well underway. I have to say, those in the Ramp community (of which I'm an honorary, long-distance member!) did a wonderful job all conference. They set it up in one day and tore it down in several hours. Insanity. Glorious insanity! :)
Next day before heading home, we did some sight-seeing in rainy Chattanooga. There's a lot more to write about that, but maybe another day. Art district, shopping, etc. Good times. Then a ten hour drive home. It actually only took 10 hours! Woohoo!
Now on to today....
Have you ever had one of those days? Where you are feeling way too many feelings to put into words? That's me today.... I'm happy, sad, hurt, confused, tired, etc. Maybe the tired and sick part is really the key to the whole thing. Or maybe it's something for another blog. Right now, I'm just.... confused. But writing about my trip has cheered me up. It was a really great trip. :)