Sunday, June 26, 2011

Dream Summer: Setting Forth

A young man in an SUV gave me a big grin and a thumbs up sign as he pulled up on the passenger side of our converted van.
“What?” I thought.
Then I remembered. It probably wasn’t everyday an Atlanta driver saw a giant “Montana or bust” sign in the rear window of a recreational vehicle just outside the 285 perimeter. I waved and settled back in my seat.
A Handcrafted Mardon Originals Lewis and Clark Trail Map
“We set forth under a gentle breeze . . .,” William Clark penned to describe the beginning of the Lewis and Clark expedition. For me, my husband, Jerry, children Aaron, and Bethany, our expedition began under a hot Georgia sun.
No breeze, but plenty of anticipation to carry us along.
We’d left in the early afternoon. It would have been sooner, but I bet Lewis and Clark didn’t have to turn back three times to make sure they didn’t forget to take out the trash, leave the iron on or the sink faucet dripping. Then there was the matter of seven-year-old Bethany’s flip-flops, or should I say one of her flip-flops.
“Where did you last have it?” I asked her as I rummaged through the laundry room.
She shrugged.
We could never find her footwear mostly because she rarely wore shoes and didn’t ever know where she’d last taken them off. Now we had one flip-flop and not the other—not an uncommon occurrence. I turned to see if it was under the mop bucket as she headed for the den.
“I found it,” Bethany called.
Under the sofa, of course. Why hadn’t I searched there first?
At last, we’d loaded into the bulging van, and backed out of the driveway. The June sun bore down on us as we turned west. I knew we’d be chasing the setting sun for days before we reached our destination.
This trip would be a dream come true for Jerry and me. I seem to remember Dick and Jane doing this, or maybe it was the Ricardos and the Mertzs. Somewhere in my life and Jerry’s life, the seed had been planted to see the country by automobile. A preaching engagement in Montana for my pastor husband had the potential to be the open door for us to realize this dream. Both of us also had ministry opportunities this summer in a small town north of Boston, Massachusetts. As these invitations presented themselves over the past year, our hopes began to rise that we might really be able to make this trip.
But, as arrangements started coming together, there’d been a problem—a big one.
My mother had a fall in February and decided to move to a rehabilitation center in my town. The original expectation for eight weeks in the rehab center had now stretched to months. My sister had cared for my mom for many years when she’d lived in her town, but now was more than sixty miles away. I didn’t want her to take on the task again especially from such a distance. Mom had not made much progress in the five months she’d been in the rehab center, for it seemed just as she neared going home there was another setback, which had included several weeklong hospital stays. We’d visited her every day since she’d moved to the center, but I struggled as she struggled knowing she longed for normalcy again in her life. Her life was anything but normal. I wondered how we could leave her.
I shared my concern with others, and soon an army of kind friends and church members came forth to see to my mother’s care during our absence. My sister graciously declared one hundred and twenty mile round trips were no problem. Following much prayer and discussion, we dared to start making plans.
 So, after days of packing, here we were, in the van, rolling toward weeks of we didn’t know exactly what—the unknown. Hadn’t the mystery of the unknown lured countless others toward adventure? Now we followed in their footsteps, wagon wheels, and canoe wakes.
I turned and scanned the back of the van where books were crammed into every possible crevice and shelf. We opted not to have electronics entertain the kids, and to that end, we ransacked garage sales and the local library to fill our book coffers. To supplement his wide array of reptile and wildlife books, nine-year-old Aaron also brought Legos and his animal fact cards to sort and study. Bethany loaded up on books about babysitters and children who’d lived in boxcars.
We were smack in the middle of two years of American history in home school, so we looked to include historical sites that might be of interest, especially the Lewis and Clark expedition, as it approached its two hundredth anniversary. Having the ability to plan the trip to the mile thanks to computer technology, we still wanted to allow for deviation if we saw something interesting.
Only a year earlier I was diagnosed with breast cancer for which I’d had multiple tests and surgeries. Added to the physical challenges was the emotional trauma of processing the turmoil that comes with a cancer diagnosis. Then even before I was released from the doctors, my mother fell.
 Out of the blender of difficulty, we’d emerged to stand on the brink of this dream. I felt like a drowning person who’d been rescued, but after I’d started breathing again, I wondered for what I’d been saved. I had the distinct impression several years earlier that God was calling me to write. I’d always written. Since I was eight, I filled up journals with my musings. But this was something different and in response to it, I’d written two manuscripts of devotional books and some other creative nonfiction. But so far, not much had happened with it. No one but a few friends and family had ever even seen these writings. I wondered if God might use this trip to clarify this calling.
As best I could tell, God had provided all we needed to take this trip as a family: the vehicle on loan from my dad, the financial resources, and so many folks to take care of my mom. I knew this could potentially be a once in a lifetime opportunity. I knew this because Aaron and Bethany were seeing as children what I was about to see for the first time as an adult. I wanted every minute to count.
These would be treasured days.
From The Message:
And how blessed all those in whom you live, whose lives become roads you travel; They wind through lonesome valleys, come upon brooks, discover cool springs and pools brimming with rain! God-traveled, these roads curve up the mountain, and at the last turn—Zion! God in full view! (Psalm 84:5-7)

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