I keep trying to imagine how the pioneers must have felt crossing the expansive untamed regions of our country back in the days when all forward motion was biologically powered. What did they do for repairs? If a wagon wheel broke did they stop, cut down a tree, and make a new one right there on the spot (if and once they were out of spares of course)? There were no grocery stores back then or Wal-Mart parking lots to park in overnight either. Food must have been what they could carry or kill, and supplies would come down to what they could find or make. But the things they would have seen! Oh with those first eyes on places never before discovered. And before you say, “well, surely the natives would have already seen those places,” I’m sure there were pockets even they didn’t know about that settlers came across on their travels. What would it have been like at night with no artificial lights? What would it have been like without vast webs of electricity, sterilized water, and concrete running like veins above, across, and beneath the countryside?
And here we’ve just covered in 3 days what would have amounted to a months-long journey for them. And we’re cozy in a campground site next to a heated pool nestled among water and theme parks and other audacious attractions in Wisconsin Dells, WI. We can run the AC if we need to. And when I’m done typing this I’m going to send it into space and back to earth after it hops through a series of towers at the command of a little box not much bigger than a deck of cards. Did the pioneers have and play cards back then?
If you’re not in the know, Sammy is the family name for our ’98 GMC 6.5L turbo diesel suburban. It has dutifully lugged us and all our belongings across roughly 60,000 miles over 4 years which is no small miracle considering where all we’ve been and how much it has pulled there. Oh, it’s had its share of fits and tantrums and somewhere along the way (not too long ago) we officially crossed the threshold of having put more into total repairs than we had originally spent on the vehicle itself. But Sammy has been taking this trip in stride, running smoothly, and strongly and enjoying the last second maintenance and repairs (leaky power steering line swap) that we got done before leaving Pennsylvania.
It’s truly like leaving a home especially in the way when you feel like part of yourself is still attached to a particular geography because of the relationships anchored there. We are grateful for every experience we had there since last September. Departures are (or at least should be) every bit as much a part of life as miracles, and there’s nothing like traveling again to combine both in such a concentrated and potent dosage as to be reminded all over again why we set out to do this in the first place. For us, the Road compresses nearly the whole dynamic spectrum of life into such rapid bursting moments along a highly accelerated timeline: good-byes and sadness, open possibilities and elation, soundtracks, storms and trials, tests of faith, tests on wisdom, unexpected unique decisions, problem solving, strategizing, thinking ahead, coping with failures, basking in successes, memories, discoveries, and on and on.
But by far the best part is the miracles. The things that many people might write off as coincidence or mere “positive perspective” when confronted with trying to explain 2 or 3 of them. But when they happen by the dozens like they do for us on the Road, by the grace and provision of our Heavenly Father, I don’t care how you try to explain it – life is miraculous.
I was trying to find a good analogy for it. I love the mind-opening affect of the Road. As the driver I have lots of time for mind-wandering exploration – something in which I almost never indulge because I almost constantly have my brain focused on some particular issue or problem or situation with family or work. Even with a substantial amount of concentration on gauges, and sway correction required by the blast of passing trucks, and the GPS, and road signs, and the current pulse of passengers, there are open stretches where I can mentally wander into scarcely trodden paths.
And, so, I came up with the back yard analogy. Life for those who walk in a pure and practical daily trust in their Creator is very much like the life of a child sent out into the back yard to play. The child basks in the freedom of the whole yard, of getting to decide the games and activities, to feel like the master of his own destiny, oblivious to the parent’s watchful eye behind the window, of the carefully crafted fence around the yard, of the deliberate selection in the objects filling the yard. There are certainly dangers: toys can be abused, a child can employ foolishness to great effect, and even tragedy can happen in the relatively safe environment. But their parent is always there, and the permutations of things that could go wrong are almost all within the realm of something the child can handle. But for those other situations the parent is always ready to intervene directly. Even when it’s not a matter of safety or crisis, the parent still delights to intervene in response to the conditions: to supply a sprinkler on a hot day, snacks and drinks at intervals, and encouraging word when the child does something particularly creative or clever, and so on.
And that is very nearly exactly how I feel traveling. So much can go wrong, but YHWH knows we can handle it and we know that He will intervene for things completely beyond us (because He already has time and time again). But even more miraculous are all the little things He puts together for us to discover along the way… almost a reverse breadcrumb trail for us to follow – even when our waypoints are not predetermined in our own minds. Now I’m sure you can think of countless real-life scenarios that seem to break the parameters of this analogy, but it’s completely consistent with my personal experience so far. So here’s a list of Miracles and Memories that we’ve collected so far on this trip:
- After departing our friends’ farm in PA I felt like I should stop one last time a few miles down the road before getting on the interstate to connect the anti-sway bar and check a few final things. As a result I discovered that we had developed a pretty bad fuel leak, which explained the slight fuel smell we noticed since picking the truck up from the shop and the fluid leak evidence Joe noticed as we were pulling away. With all the other vehicle issues we’ve had I thought we might not be leaving PA for a while after all. My heart sank. But looking at it there in the parking lot, tracing it backwards, I figured out that the fuel filter had vibrated loose and I was able to tighten it down all the way again which fixed it completely so that we could keep on rolling down the road. That could have been major serious if we hadn’t stopped and caught it, not to mention expensively drooling fuel all along the interstate. Joe had prayed right before we left that we’d discover any issues before we got too far.
- Dad and mom recently sent a CD that became an instant soundtrack. Everyone had a favorite – Zach was the first to start asking to play that one particular song on continuous repeat – and the beauty of it is that even in the children though they might not consciously understand it, the song resonates so deeply with the entire context of this trip itself, where we are going, why were are heading there, and the trajectory of our entire lives. I can’t listen to it without tearing up from the expectation. It blows my mind and heart to know we’re alive in these days and our King is letting us play in His back yard even while He prepares to renovate and re-landscape it completely. The song is “Prepare the Way” (Spotify) from Paul Wilbur’s album “Your Great Name” (iTunes).
- One of our rear / side trailer light covers has been missing for month. It got smashed when I parked a little too closely and Bennah opened the door into it. On a whim, I looked in Wal-Mart. Lo and behold I found an entire light module that included a cover the exact right size and color. It fit like a glove and even included a rubber seal. This unexpectedly completed a bunch of little external trailer repairs that I had been slowly working on.
- The first night we stopped I had a perfect place to walk across the street and catch up on a few hours worth of emails. Maybe doesn’t seem miraculous given the scourge of 24-hour McDonalds covering the land now, but the fact that there was an outlet to plug into and other minute details which rarely all come together keeps it on teh ledger of Provision in my book.
- Our second and a very long day of driving landed us in an epic Storm. I’m talking about “Master! We are perishing” epic. Traffic on the 70 MPH speed limit interstate was none existent or going 30 MPH. There was nowhere to pull off and weather it out. Trees were bowing and branches were flying along horizontal trajectories. Visibility was 10-20 feet with wipers full blast. Father provided an escort. A car just in front of us was traveling slowly with blinkers flashing and I could just keep those flashers in visibility and follow. The road lines themselves were scarcely visible, and the wind kept trying to push us into the other lane, but our Shepherd kept us safe and brought us through the storm.
- At the 2nd night’s Wal-Mart stop-over south of Chicago Renee went in to pick up a few things. The cashier turned out to be from Manitoba – just south of Winnipeg (Renee’s home city) in fact – and warned us that it was a very unsafe area (the store next door had just been robbed a few nights before) and advised us not to stay overnight. We were all settled in and the kids were asleep and it had been an 8 hour + stops driving day: a fear-based reaction wasn’t an option. I was talking to my business partner and brother in Messiah Kenn when Renee came back with the report and we put our phones on speaker so that our wives could join the conversation and we all prayed together in agreement for safety. The night passed in restful non-adventure.
- Right across from that Wal-Mart was a Home Depot and we were able to easily swing by there on the way out the next day. I had been looking for one. I needed new 18V batteries for my drill that I use to help speed up the stabilizing process of trailer setup and Home Depot is the only one that carries the brand I need. Just in time for the setup I would have to do that night.
- I had really wanted to take the kids into one of the walk-way bridges at the oasis stops along the Chicago area tollways so they could stand over the crazy traffic passing beneath. I stopped at one because we needed fuel but the signage was ambiguous and I ended up on the wrong side for diesel. There was no way back. I figured it wasn’t a big deal cause we could just stop at the next one 13 miles up. But before we got there we had to exit onto a different route. I was so sad, because it looked like that was the last chance and we had missed it. But unexpectedly there was another one – the last one furthest from Chicago, several miles down the other route. It was such a fun blessing.
These are just a fraction of the little provisions and adventures that fill our days on the Road. Our King is such and awesome Brother and Father and what a joy it is to play in His back yard. Well, we got free passes to an insane water park down the road from our campground so we’re off to play on some slides and pools.