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God’s grace on parade

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Grace Notes

We had been planning this particular weekend for months, Part One of our Christmas 2016 Celebration Extravaganza.
Part Two happens on Dec. 24 with a trip to Orlando for a replay of a Christmas Eve we spent there two years ago.
We had begun with a Christmas Eve service at a church near the downtown area, followed by pizza and hot, gooey garlic knots.
We spent the night at a hotel on Lake Eola, our room overlooking the lake that was decked out with thousands of white lights in the trees surrounding it. We had a huge balcony where we sat and drank in the wonder of such a holy and silent night.
But that’s Part Two, and it’s still two weeks away.
Part One was to be an overnight stay in Tampa, beginning with the annual “Snow on 7th Avenue” parade on Saturday, followed by church on Sunday morning and then exploring the city.
We had talked about this trip for weeks, how we needed a getaway, how fun to watch the parade, wondering where the snow would fall from, what would be the best parade-viewing location.
We got to the hotel Saturday afternoon in plenty of time for the parade, and after checking in, went for a walk. I remember thinking it odd that there wasn’t any pre-parade activity going on anywhere.
And then we saw the posters plastered all around town -- the parade was the following week.
I Googled it on my phone and one website said it was that day, Dec. 3. But another said it was Dec. 10.
The posters said Dec. 10, and posters don’t lie.
I couldn’t believe I got the date wrong! And being the drama queen that I am, I dumped ashes on my head and ripped my clothing asunder in bitter remorse.
Not really, but I was pretty distraught for about a half hour, thinking of myself as the world’s worst human being, wasting our carefully saved Christmas 2016 Celebration Extravaganza, Part One money and disappointing my husband who was looking forward to watching the parade.
I sent my friend Tara a text telling her of my epic failure as a human -- did I mention I’m a drama queen? She texted back: “You didn’t mess up. God just has other plans for you.”
Turns out he did.
We bought passes for the trolley and rode it to the Amalie Arena where the Lightning play hockey. That night they were playing the Capitals, my husband’s favorite team.
Here’s where God’s grace kicked in: Even though we didn’t have tickets, we got to watch the game for free on the big screen at the arena’s outdoor plaza.
There was a food truck and a drinks tent, and benches and chairs set up all over the plaza.
Not only that, but the band (Mighty Mongo) that played before the game on the plaza stage turned out to be one from our town.
“I know them!” I may or may not have squealed.
With the air temperature neither too hot nor too cold, Barry and I sat on a bench under the stars and enjoyed the game. The arena people even let us in the building to use the bathroom.
It wasn’t a parade, but it was still time together.
However, I don’t think it was the hockey game that was God’s other plans, at least for me. I think it was church the next day, the songs that spoke to me deeply and healingly, and the pastor’s message that sometimes our plans don’t work out the way we want them to, but always the way God wants them.
He said this time of year reminds us that Jesus is our Emmanuel, “God with us,” and that he came at Christmas as the promise that one day all our disappointments and failures, our mistakes and the consequences of our sin, all our confusion and sadness and shattered dreams will one day all be redeemed and made right.
It wasn’t a mistake that we had come on the wrong weekend. God knew my heart needed to hear that message and to sing: “Then rang the bells more loud and deep, God is not dead nor does he sleep. The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men.”
I may have missed the snow and the marching bands, but hallelujah, I didn’t miss God’s grace.

Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria - I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing,” and her latest book, “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached at 352-564-2927  or via email at nkennedy@chronicleonline.com.