The fun of the Florida Strawberry Festival can also be found in faith and celebrated at any church you choose to attend.
The lights, the sounds, the rides, the food and the fun are all the celebratory characteristics of our own Florida Strawberry Festival. During those 11 fully-stacked, action-packed days, the howling hordes of families, friends and visitors walk through the vendor-lined buildings and avenues buying everything from hats to water hoses, dresses to desserts and creative items that only incredible minds can dream up.
Yet, when the last concert is performed, the final drawing of the ever-elusive Stingray Corvette is announced and the final rush to get the last funnel cake (the guava was my favorite, or was it the red velvet?), what happens the next day? The fun is over, and now the massive clean-up has begun. The weeks prior to the festival are with putting up tents and bleachers, and cleaning areas for all the arriving vendors. However, on Monday, March 9, the mad dashing golf carts and speedy supply trucks now move at an “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing” speed.
Is that not what normally happens to us after great times of excitement and memorable experiences?
The thrill of the “high” of adventure now meets the “low” of the reality of normal life. It is often like the Tower of Terror ride that lifts you up to the highest peak of the park, only to drop you suddenly to the level parts of the ground. You not only lose your stomach, you can also lose your joy. That is, unless your joy is not based on the circumstances in your life, but a confidence you have for life.
So where do you find that confidence?
For me, it is found in a deeper celebration that goes on, not for 11 days, but every day. It is a festival of faith that constantly surrounds me with a great cloud of witnesses that cheer me on when the weight of the workday takes it toll. It is the roll call of ready hands that help me when the project becomes too big to manage and the expectations become too great to handle alone. It is the endless supply of spiritual vendors that provide for my needs with creative ideas that come from the throne of grace. It is the ever-roving, ever-watching warriors of light that walk with me to make me feel safe and secure in a dark and uncertain world. It is the momentum-building music that quickens my step and lengthens my stride to find the cadence of compassion, the song of sympathy and the brass band of blessings.
Does that seem like a festival you would love to attend? If the answer is yes, then I have great news for you. Every weekend, and often during the middle of the week, you can find the lights, the sounds, the food, the fun, the rides (if you park a ways out) and the faith in the many churches that fill our great little community of Plant City and the surrounding Hillsborough County. Just as there are a multitude of sights to see at our Florida Strawberry Festival that draw people from all over, there are plenty of spiritual churches of faith that touch every denomination and every need and, most importantly, create a family reunion of faith that grows love and grace and confidence. From the First Baptists to the First Responders, from the Cowboys with horses to the Free Riders with their “Hogs,” from the small fellowships to the medium to the mega, these weekly occurring celebrations of Christ bring the lows of life to the level ground of the cross.
Cleaning up after a major event is never fun. Neither is cleaning up after a bad decision or life mistake. That is why God has His houses all around that help us to move from the dirge of despair to singing the songs of salvation once again, no matter if it is a hymn, a modern praise or contemporary chorus.
If you like Southern Gospel music, you can toe tap to the best of it (yes, it is a shameless plug) at 6 p.m. this Saturday night at First Call, 1510 Cre Road, Dover.
Remember, the more you attend a church, the more everyone will begin to feel like family. After 85 years of the Florida Strawberry Festival, they all feel like family. After thousands of years of the church, it should be more. So, which “festival of faith” do you plan to attend this week? I have a suggestion, but that would be another shameless plug.
Dr. Daniel Middlebrooks is the Senior Chaplain of First Call Church and the CEO/President of Chaplaincy Care, Inc.