There are four main restaurants at the Hilton in Orlando. For fine dining, you would go to the steakhouse. The Bistro offers a nice menu as well, at a more affordable price. The Grille is more like your basic bar/restaurant menu. And the Marketplace is a gourmet coffee shop with prepackaged sandwiches, fancy bags of potato chips, and other important-looking snacks. When mom and I first arrived on Friday afternoon, we went to the Bistro for lunch. I enjoyed a delicious orange-crusted salmon with sweet potato puree. Things were looking up.
The TGC conference schedule was very ambitious. We had 4 sessions before dinner, and 2 scheduled after. Before our two-hour dinner break, Tim Keller spoke on Exodus 19. I didn’t realize that when God gave the Israelites the ten commandments at Sinai, he had actually taken them further from the promised land of Canaan than Egypt was. It was also a worse land than Egypt—the desert. Keller pointed out that sometimes it seems like God is taking us away from what he wants to give us. He boldly told us that the way to the promised land is through the desert.
When they dismissed us for dinner, a mass of 3,800 women were all scrambling for food. Mom and I were craving salads since we had a bigger lunch. It seemed the best place to get one at that time was the Grille. Well, the Grille was getting clobbered with hungry women. One of the hotel service guys suggested we sit in the piano lounge, and just get take out from the Grille. That sounded genius to us, because the lounge was an inviting, cozy atmosphere. So I scored a great table and ordered us a couple of drinks while mom ordered some take-out spinach salads and an appetizer to share. They said they would have it ready in 20 minutes or so, so we joyfully sat in the lounge, talking away, listening to the piano.
Long story short: 20 minutes turned into 40, and then 10 more, and then an hour and a half went by before the waiter at the bar said that he kept trying to get our order and the cooks were just not making it. At this point we were getting kind of hungry, and the waitress at the lounge who brought us our drinks thought she could do something about the craziness. The cooks told her they would not be able to fill the order. Huh? Why not? Everyone else around us was eating. She tried to bring out the restaurant manager, and he would not come talk to us. It was all like a bad dream. Our waitress apologetically said that they were completely disorganized (apparently the computer system was down briefly and some orders were not recovered). With our conference resuming very shortly, she said the only way we could get food was to buy some pre-made sandwiches from the Marketplace. That did not sound appealing at all. We were just left high and dry in the desert.
I thought a situation like this needed to be brought to the attention of the hotel manager. So we nicely explained how we were basically refused service after whatever mistake had been made. Waiting because of a mistake was one thing. Refusing service to two, nice ladies who have already paid and been patient with them went beyond bad customer service. The hotel manager agreed and brought in the manager of all the hotel restaurants, Chris. This man knew about redemption. He apologetically had us pick out some of those (now day-old) pre-made sandwiches and chips to make our conference on time. Then he made reservations for us at the steak house for the next day to try and redeem the situation.
Did he ever. When mom and I entered the steak restaurant on Saturday, we received the royal treatment. Our chairs were pulled out for us, bottles of sparkling water provided… wine was offered, lobster something-or-other on bruschetta was brought to enjoy while ordering. I had one of my favorites—seared ahi tuna. Everything was lavishly delicious, and our two waiters checked on us continually, pouring our sparkling water for us as we ran low. Chris came in himself to check on us twice during the meal.
Have you ever seen the Straight Talk smartphone commercial where the woman on the phone is arguing about Cornish game hens and the pronunciation of the word “endive” while trying to get into the wrong car? It’s the “I think I drive the same car as a hip hop music mogul because I’m feeling richer effect.” That’s how we were beginning to feel as both our waitress and our waiter were doting over us for an hour and a half.
Afterwards, I couldn’t help but think, was God illustrating something to us in this experience? Just the day before, we were being completely ignored, and left to eat prepackaged yuk. We thought our efforts would bring us the spinach salad that we craved, but they were to no avail. It made absolutely no sense that the food we ordered would never get to our hungry stomachs. But the next day, we were lavished with food that we didn’t even ask for, service way beyond our expectations—and it was free! Our $40 dinner that we tried to order for ourselves was replaced with a feast that was more than triple the cost.
Needless to say, our two servers received a generous tip of gratitude from us as we left our dream-like dinner experience and re-entered conference-land. The waitress suggested that we take our wine glasses full of schmancy water to the conference with us, and just lay it somewhere when emptied. “It will eventually come back to find us,” she promised. But I left it there, in dream-world–you know, to veil the glow of my experience before the other conference-goers. I was ready to get back into my station wagon with renewed hope.
What a concrete reminder that the way to the promised land is through the desert, and to keep my hope and my eyes on the true abundance of grace that God really will lavish on his beloved people. In Exodus 19:5 God says, “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples…” But he didn’t stop there. Our God sent his own Son to represent us as the covenant-keeper, and to bear our curses as covenant-breakers. Keller pointed out that the reference to treasure alluded to the personal wealth of ancient kings being their personal, private possession. Not only do we share in Christ’s inheritance as sons and daughters, but we actually are God’s treasured possession in Christ.
As I’m preparing for communion Sunday this week, I can’t help but think of how the Lord’s Supper reminds us to feed on Jesus Christ. In it, we are actually given Christ and all his blessings. He will sustain us in this desert. He is our blessed treasure. And we longingly wait for that consummation feast on our wedding day.