It’s a warm August afternoon and we’re loading up our van with the essentials for our California road trip, our boys hauling in the non-essentials like packrats in a competition. Early the next morning, with steaming cups of coffee and chai in our hands, my husband and I whispered to each other as the Odyssey rolled along the highway, meeting the sunrise as we neared the sleepy town of Grant’s Pass. We pushed the reset button this summer.
Purple skies and wispy clouds delighted my camera shutter. Click, click, click. More clicks. Our little Wren Margaret began to stir and I instinctively put down the noisemaker into the middle console, turning around to see her heavy eyelids close once again. My husband and I probably exchanged relieved glances at this point but my memory fails me. I settled back into my seat. There were so many things on my mind. And yet, there was nothing on my mind.
The next couple of days would be spent with family and although the days were busy they were absolutely delightful. Our little ones, along with their adorable cousins, experienced an authentic Southern Pacific train ride along the Sacramento River. As we chugged along, the scent of the eucalyptus trees brought back childhood memories including those of an unfortunate humpback whale who had found his way into the Sacramento River. I had always felt sorry for him. Her? I can’t recall. Nonetheless, we were both born with a terrible lack of directional sense and I could relate to the poor creature in that way. Anywho, we finished our time with my husband’s sister and her family, complete with fresh-from-the-oven chocolate chip cookies for afternoon treats and happy, raucous water fights between the boys and their cousins in the evenings. On the morning that we left to travel farther down California, my husband’s sister sent us off with hot coffee and banana bread, all prepared the night before. Aunt Brooke spoiled us all!
We arrived in southern California late that evening, anticipating a friend’s wedding the next day. The boys carried in their sleeping bags while I carried in a nearly sleeping Wrennie. My poor husband carried in all of the afore-mentioned essentials plus all of the non-essentials, which by this time had become THEE essentials to our children: (what seemed like) every stuffed animal they owned, bags of smuggled toys, and this, that, and the other. It seemed that merely opening the door of the hotel room gave all of our children an immediate and miraculous second wind. After sleeping bags had been arranged and re-arranged, all stuffed animals had been accounted for, and sips of water had been gulped down, we–– the ill-fated, no second wind getters–– finally pillowed our heads and pulled up the white, down duvet around us.
John Harvey was a graduate student at the University of Oregon. He showed up at our church on a Sunday morning last June and ended up at our dinner table that afternoon. Later that evening he sent a text to my husband expressing thanks for the meal and for the joy that he had found in our home and our children. Last but not least, he wanted my husband to know that, for as long as he had in the area, he would be there to serve our body of believers and to encourage us in ways that he could. And he did. I chased a happy Wren Margaret around the grounds of the infinitely beautiful Foothill Ranch Golf Resort in Corona the next evening, all while listening to John and Euna’s wedding vows exchanged farther down the green. Later, at the reception, when my husband and I would take turns going in and out with our little ones, in an attempt to run off their energy, I would be overcome with tears–– John washed Euna’s feet, promising to love and serve her.
As I left the reception, I caught John’s father’s hand and thanked him for how he had raised his son. I told him of the body of believers in a small, unincorporated town in Oregon and how his son meant a great deal to us. “We love and appreciate your son. We were thrilled to be here today," I said. “Thank you for sharing that with me,” he replied. I walked away and prayed silently that his eyes would be opened to the gospel.
The next day would hold a special surprise for our children–– we were headed to Legoland! (I’ll share more about this soon.) We debated: should we go to Disneyland or Legoland? Somewhere amidst the long miles of our road trip Graeme said to us, “what’s Disneyland?”. And, at about the same time, I received an email from Legoland offering free tickets in exchange for a bit of social media advertising. So, it was settled: Legoland it would be!
A few days later we would pull into our driveway, unload every single stuffed animal, piece of luggage, and leftover McDonald’s happy meal toy, and the realities of our reset button would begin to settle in.
My husband resigned from his position in the middle of July. It wasn’t something that we completely expected or wanted but we saw, and continue to see, the goodness and providence of God through it. It isn’t as simple as that. It’s never as simple as that.
Paul Tripp, in his book New Morning Mercies, writes that “true prayer happens at the intersection of surrender and celebration.” We are finding, sometimes through pain, sometimes through joy, that true life, yes, truly living, happens at the same intersection. Last year I led a women’s bible study through the book of Romans. One of the barest truths of that book is this–– be thankful! How had I missed it before? This kind of thankfulness isn’t blind or irrational; it calls us into deeper Relationship and beyond our ability to understand. It doesn’t hide from the hurts and losses of reality; it faces them and still says: Father, you are good and only have our good in mind. Thank you for this. (Romans 8:28-30)
Something loved lost? Thank You. Unexpected time with our children, extended family, books upon books, projects long put off? Thank You. A cabin in the woods surrounded by immense Oregon beauty? Thank You. Our next step in life unknown to us? Thank You. Things given, things taken away? Jesus, thank You. And in the times when it is difficult for us to say and live the words "thank You", Lord, please help us. Amen.