Thursday, June 22, 2011. The official date. The day we would finally leave our home in Pennsylvania behind and head west. The plan: load both our mini-vans to the hilt and caravan ourselves across the country—me and the boys in one van and Orlando and the fish in the other.
But the day went whooshing by and we hadn’t gone anywhere yet. Too much to do—the end of the road packing and sorting simply overwhelming us. Our belongings seemed to multiply as we struggled to empty out our house. Every time we turned around, we found another full drawer. Another stack. Another pile. We were drowning in a sea of stuff.
But God had mercy on us. Orlando’s sister Dawn came to help us finish the task. A veritable white tornado, our house was never as clean and scrubbed as it was when she was done with it. Our good friends Nelson and Nancy hung by our side for days, carrying box after box, and even letting us leave behind a list of to-do’s we just hadn’t gotten to yet. Such amazing, gracious people.
And so Friday arrives. Take two on our exit date. Plan B on the road to Big Red. Yet upon waking, I sense that something in my tummy isn’t quite right. At first I think it is nerves, but quickly realize I am dealing with another bout of the stomach flu. Not a big deal, I say to myself. I can buck up and make it. I’m a trooper. But in my heart I struggled a bit. Not over the idea of having to find strength I didn’t have—I’ll admit to being used to relying on God in that way. But this was not the fairy tale, riding-off-into-the-sunset exit that I had planned for us. In my storybook head, I thought we’d sail away into this bright new horizon with the sun dancing and the orchestra playing in the background. The stomach flu really didn’t fit into that plan so well.
But still, we are a day behind already and really need to get this wagon train moving. So we continue working feverishly to get going. Orlando packs the van with his amazing ability to cram as many pieces into the space as he possibly can. The silver van has just enough room in it to fit in me and the boys. The burgundy van is so full it’s sagging in the back.
Finally, at 2:30pm, the vans are packed. The vacuum put away. The house is ready to go.
The boys say “Goodbye House!” in their own little ways. They take a final swing together on the front porch swing. Dominick hugs the porch rail. I quickly move through the rooms, knowing I probably will not return and feeling like I just can’t cry another tear over leaving this place. I walk out quickly, trying hard not to think or feel too much, my stomach rumbling. The boys carefully climb past the mountains of bags and backpacks in the van. They click in their seatbelts, chattering excitedly. We are going. Finally. As I strap myself in, I can feel just how heavy the van feels around me. With the car topper on and the load in the back, I’m going to be driving a tank.
Orlando walks over and gives me a quick hug and kiss. Dawn is traveling in his van with him to Ohio where we will drop her off. This is it. I take my keys in hand, whisper a final goodbye to that old house I love so well. Set the radio. And turn the key.
Clickclickclickclickclick. The engine does not turn over. The battery is dead.
The failure caught me completely by surprise. It caught the boys by surprise, too. That van has always turned on. I can’t remember a single time it left us sitting. Orlando looks at me and drops his head back and looks at the sky in a “this can’t be happening” gesture. He quickly recovered and came over and said, “I think the battery is dead because the doors have been open all day. I’ll just need to jump it.” My first thoughts, of course, were complete frustration, but they quickly gave way to my need to explain the situation to the boys in the back.
“What’s going on, Mom?”
“Well,” I tell them, “The battery is dead and Dad is going to have to jump start the van. You’ve seen him do that before, right?” And they had. Orlando has always been that nice guy in the parking lot who helps out stranded travelers with his jumper cables. The boys had seen him do that several times.
But then I felt the need to add just a bit more. And maybe I was saying it more to myself than to them. Saying it more to my need for a fairy tale ending. “Sometimes,” I tell them, “when we are doing the right thing, when we are doing the things God wants us to do, bad stuff will happen to try to discourage us. To try to keep us from going on or to try to make us doubt God’s plan for us. I think this is one of those moments. We need to choose right now to not be discouraged. We need to choose to trust what God has said to us. It’s not going to be an easy trip, but it’s the trip God has us taking.”
And in true fashion, my children understood this better than I did. They weren’t the least bit put off. They continued to chatter and sing while they watched the activity in the front of the van. They didn’t tense up when the first efforts failed. They waited. And they cheered when the van roared to life. And I was able to wait it out along with them, in peace. The kind of peace that comes from knowing you have the King of Glory on your side.
And with the engines running and God once again being firmly put in the driver’s seat, we headed out and drove off into the sunset. And this time, it was for real.