We arrived at our town’s brand new Chick Fil-A on a sunny December afternoon. Leaving our names behind
with our remotely-parked Volvo, my husband and I assumed the identities of Number 27 and Number 28 of the First
100®, the lucky few who forsook their normal lives for a night in order to camp out on freshly laid asphalt in a brightly
lit, music-blaring parking lot for the grand opening of our town’s long-awaited Chick Fil-A. For the sake of 52 free
meals each, we decided to give up bed, home, family and warmth for a night. Seventeen meals for our family of
six…why, it’s practically like making $600, we reasoned, and we can have a long date to boot, even though—yes—
it will take place in a cold parking lot. The other voice in my head quietly raised its eyebrow and asked, Aren’t you
two a wee bit old for this? But we looked at each other and shrugged and decided to stay.
We were just a mile down the road from our home, so everything felt familiar. But it also felt a bit like prison, for
we signed a contract stating that we understood that if we left the premises, we would lose our numbers and places
in line. We set up our tent and sat in rusty beach chairs and read and did a bit of work, then walked laps around the
grounds to try to stay warm when the sun went down. At dinner time, we found our places in between Numbers 26
and 29 in the single-file line, and walked through the drive-thru to pick up our bags of chicken tenders and chips. At
bedtime, we did the same, this time for a delicious cookie and cup of milk.
When it got too cold to sit outside any longer, I crawled into my sleeping bag clad with woolen socks, a snug hat and
a thick sweater, and tried to sleep. I popped earplugs in and pulled my head wrap down to shield my eyes, but hot
rod trucks revved their engines in play, crawling along the street near my head. A generator’s engine popped and
buzzed close by and people talked and laughed and threw a football just outside our tent. The parking lot lights
Finally I slept, albeit fitfully, only to be wakened at 5 a.m. by a woman’s cheerful, “Good morning!” on a
microphone. “Pack up your belongings and come line up for your final roll call. It’s time to collect your well-earned
We all stood shivering in the dark with bad breath and bad hair but so close to the end, no one seemed to care. It
was indeed the final roll call, and everyone was quietly chatting with the now familiar faces surrounding them in line.
As we stood there, a young man we had spoken with the previous afternoon walked up to our line, a half smile trying
to hide his dejected tone as he began to share his story with his close friend, Number 23. He had been Number 10,
arriving at 9:00 a.m. the previous day, and had snuck off after evening roll call to work a job he could not miss. He
got off work at 5 a.m. and drove the 30 minutes to Chick Fil-A, but sadly arrived just moments after roll call began.
His number was called, he was not there to answer, and he was disqualified.
Number 10 couldn’t mask his disappointment. He had tried so hard to get the prize, was earnest and
enthusiastic and eager, but there he stood, empty-handed, and there was nothing any of us could do to help the
situation. He had broken the rules, and we knew the Chick Fil-A rules were unbendable. Realizing he was eliminated,
Number 10 immediately put his name on the alternate list, but the name-takers didn’t offer much hope, as the list was
already long. The thought entered my mind, Maybe I should give him my prize, but I pretty quickly dismissed it. I was
eager to offer him my sympathy, but not my meals.
The line began moving, and we all walked in single file through the new restaurant to claim our prizes. A man
dressed in an enormous cow costume with a Santa jacket overtop gave high fives, and trainers and new employees
clanged pans and clapped and cheered—a bit surreal at 5:45 a.m. We tucked our cards safely away, loaded up our
tent and sleeping bags into our car, and drove home in the darkness of the early morning.
|"'You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased men for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation.'
…Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels,
numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand.
They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders.
In a loud voice they sang:
'Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth
and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!'"
So thank you, Chick Fil-A, for showing me such a beautiful glimpse into the gift of the Incarnation. Thank you for
giving me a tangible example of the verse I had my Bible Club children memorize last week:
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
that though he was rich,
yet for your sakes he became poor,
so that through his poverty you might become rich.”
(2 Corinthians 8:9)
P.S. After dropping my children off at school that morning, I stopped by the restaurant to express my concern over
poor Number 10 and inquire how it had all turned out for him. I was thrilled to hear that Number 10 had been the final
alternate called to receive a prize.
While the giver was mocked and scorned as an empty-handed fool in the parking lot of our world, in unseen worlds
he was given the name above every name, and praises to his name began to flow which will crescendo to the end of
all eternity. Revelation 5 says they—we—are singing a new song:
I couldn’t stop thinking about that poor man, Number 10. As I packed school lunches and drove over to the
grandparent’s house to collect my children, I mulled over the events of the past 16 hours. Maybe it was the season
itself that suggested it, but a beautiful correlation began to dawn in my mind: that between my experience at
Chick Fil-A and Christmas.
I gave up one night of home—the chance to drive children to ballet and cook a normal dinner and tuck children
into bed, the chance to spend a cozy evening reading and sleeping sweetly in my own bed in a warm home—in order
to become a number and to sleep in a cold, unfamiliar parking lot with noisy strangers. Jesus gave up his home—his
name, his position, his face-to-face closeness with his Father, his warm home full of love and joy and light, and
instead chose to join in with a dark, cold, noisy, abrasive world totally foreign to himself. He spent not just one cold
night but rather years and years camping on asphalt as it were: he was born in a barn, was a refugee to Egypt from
birth, grew up whispered over as the illegitimate son of a sinful Mary, was dismissed as a liar and worse by his own
people, was harassed by miracle-hungry crowds, was scorned and mocked and spit upon and beaten by haters, and
then was finally killed by the very people he had once camped with, the very people he had come to love.
I endured one noisy, cold night and had enough. Jesus endured 33 years of loneliness and temptation and
fasting and crying out to his father and choosing the right choice every single time. He saw all 99 of the other
campers flounder and walk away in defeat, unable to follow the rules and make it through the night. Jesus was the
only camper to last the night and actually earn the prize. But then, prize in hand, Jesus chose to do what he had
planned to do all along: forfeit his victory and give every bit of it away, trading his prize for our failings. Out of pure,
brimming love for all those who failed, Jesus gave his winning tickets away, choosing to back away empty handed,
emptied of all but the promise of a family-like new relationship with anyone who might look into his eyes, open their
hands, and simply receive that prize from him. Jesus suffered the long night not just to give us the prize—the gift of
life forever in the home he loved so much—but to actually be our prize, befriending us as a brother, providing the way
for us to be adopted by his Father, and sending his Spirit to come live in us forever.
Some campers might walk away from an unearned prize, heads high, convinced they can figure out some other
way to provide for themselves. Others might walk away with their heads hung, too ashamed to receive a prize they
don’t deserve. The reasons for walking away don’t really matter; the fact that they walk away does.
But some campers will thrill the heart of the giver by staring squarely at their lack and at the same time the giver’s
plenty. They will walk toward the giver, look up into his kind eyes, show their empty hands and say, “Yes, I will
receive your gift. Thank you, dear Giver.” For mercy is only mercy when it is poured down upon great failure,
drenching it, drowning it with its sweetness. The gaping hole of need is the exact measure of love and gratitude that
fills the heart of the saved.
It was cold. People shivered in their chairs beneath layers and layers of blankets. How do homeless people deal
with the cold? I kept wondering. Our children stopped by for hugs, along with my sainted in-laws. Shaking their
heads, they all scurried back to the car, obviously bewildered by our craziness. “It will be worth it!” I yelled after my
kids, who smiled back at me, shrugging.