Category Archives: Roadtrip

Souvenirs

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Upon returning home from vacation, most of us unpack the souvenirs and download our photos that serve as physical reminders of our adventures, but the stories we bring home remain the mind’s delight. The memories make the planning, the budgeting, the packing and unpacking worth the effort. Not the “Let’s remember this moment” variety, but the spontaneous memories that pop up unexpectedly during life’s mundane tasks.
– Folding laundry yet remembering the taste of Chianti and homemade pasta served expectantly in an ancient Etruscan cave-turned-restaurant.
– Standing in a checkout line and taking a mental vacation back to Nice with its perfect weather, invigorating colors, and breathtaking views of the Mediterranean.
– Washing dishes while pedaling a bicycle and laughing hysterically in pouring, soaking rain next to the Chateau at Versailles.

I have been fortunate to travel a good bit, though not as much as I’d like. Paris and Rome, Tuscany and the French Riviera, Poland, the Caribbean, the Baja coast of Mexico are all reflected in the pages of my passport. Thanks to many years of business travel and an adventurous husband, I have driven across the US and back, and visited 39 of the 50 states. I have enjoyed fabulous, pampering spa weekends and “we’ll laugh about this later” debacles that tested my character and my ability to truly laugh later.

I’ve flown with (and been vomited on by) my children and I have given thanks I was traveling without them because the plane I was on would surely go down. Due to a rough pregnancy, I have been sick coast to coast, and can rate airlines, hotels, and airports accordingly. I’ve been the passenger, driver, and caravan leader, even the trunk-popper when the brakes caught fire.

Among the varied travel-related emotions, there is no feeling quite like careening in a metal can seven miles above the earth, and feeling the desperate chasm between yourself and your children. Turbulence be damned, I have prayed and willed my way back to my daughters, sitting at the edge of my seat to be an inch closer and wondering if the trip was worth the ache in my soul.

Except when I left Honduras. I boarded a plane and left behind my children to return to my children. I couldn’t wait to get home, just to shorten the time until I can go again. My heart, now existing in two places, is left in a paradox; I both love and resent my life. I want to fully embrace all the blessings God has given me and my husband in our daughters – the ability to feed and clothe them, to provide them quality healthcare and excellent educations, to meet their needs and desires. Yet I despise our greed and consuming behaviors. I want to educate my family of the world’s ache, emptiness, and needs without burdening them with guilt.

The stories and memories that came home with me from Honduras are more precious to me than any treasure. I wear my inexpensive beaded bracelet and coconut earrings, not as a fashion statement, but as a connection to the love I found at the orphanage. I spent weeks creating my photo album, smiling back at each beautiful face, carefully crafting my words, and selecting Bible verses to bolster my aching heart. But now it sits, untouched, on my bookshelf. I don’t know how to crack it open to share the stories within the pages or within my heart.

Many weeks have passed since my return; the “How was your trip?” niceties have stopped. Unlike other travel memories that bring a smile to my face – walking along the Seine with my beloved, driving the wrong way through a one-way tunnel in Rome, watching the sun rise above the glaciers of Alaska or set past the beaches of Hawaii – the memories from Honduras bring joy, sadness, longing, and pain. It will take quite some time to sort through them, and to know where to put them, what to do with the memories and my changed, broken heart.

In the meantime, the trip replays in my head. I laugh, I well up with tears, I lash out at simple frustrations. I seek, desperately seek, a space where I feel comfortable, torn between two vastly different worlds. When it comes time to unpack my souvenir, my changed heart, I need to know where in the world to place it.

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Bus Ride from … Heaven

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Much to the chagrin of my fighter pilot dad, motion sickness plagues me. I’ve learned to avoid it by sitting towards the front whenever possible (driving is best), selecting airplane seats strategically, never ever touching carnival rides, and not boarding public buses. Especially hot, crowded buses with multiple stops. But this trip isn’t about me and the transportation isn’t going to cater to my issues.

Our group of 14 has been traveling by van to and from the Children’s Village, school, and our hotel. Each hot, dusty drive takes about 30 minutes. My compatriots have been kind enough to let me sit towards the front, and God has protected me from the first sign of queasiness.

But yesterday, our group was split: 7 at the Village with the van and 7 of us at the school. At the end of the day, our small group hitched a ride on the school bus with the kids… 80 from the Village, 6 adults from the Village, 7 of us, 14 teens that live elsewhere, and a gaggle of local kids who ride the bus to stops along the way. Well over one hundred people on one standard school bus. No air conditioning, no seatbelts. To say we were packed like sardines makes it sound organized. It wasn’t. There were bodies everywhere! Hot, sweaty bodies. Three to four of us piled in each seat, kids climbing across one another in the aisles.

What was also in abundance were smiles, laughter, pure joy. People were singing, battling through thumb wars, sleeping, and enjoying the human crush. Shoved somewhere in the middle of that bus, I sat on the edge of a seat already filled with 10-year old girls. Three boys leaned in from the aisle. We talked and laughed, then watched videos of my “loco” daughters. When time came for our group to disembark 45 minutes later, I was filled with such disappointment. This had been a heavenly bus ride.

Wednesday’s schedule will require us to travel on the same hot, loud, sweaty bus. And I cannot wait!!

A world of difference… First, the bus as I boarded, at about 80% capacity. Second is a shot I grabbed last week on a first grade field trip with my daughter.

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Tow Truck Date Night

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My husband and I went on a date last week! With little ones at home, we use up most of our “date nights” at required functions for business, school, and church. A night on the town for just the two of us is a rare treat. This night was no exception. We drove through the city, felt the late night urban buzz, and saw the monuments by moonlight. Odd that this evening, like many of the special times he and I have shared, also included a tow truck driver.

Earlier in the day, my husband’s beloved 10 year old Jag overheated. Summers on the East coast are brutal, with the regular forecast being “hazy, hot, and humid.” It’s all a person can do to not melt into a puddle of sweat by 9:00 am. The 100+ degree heat indices take their toll on everyone and everything, including cars. Especially older cars, something for which my guy has a fondness. Like a child who reaches out to wounded animals, he is drawn to cars that need TLC. At least this Jaguar, his “impractical sculpture,” is in far batter condition and looks nice compared to some of the others he has loved.

When we met in college, he parked his old grey Cougar next to my shiny red Honda with its stick shift and bucket seats. He loved to whip around our little university town in his automatic car with the American engineering. I loathed that boat and offered to drive my zippy little Japanese car at every opportunity.

By the time we made the crazy love-fool decision to spend a summer driving cross-country, we “upgraded” to his father’s ’84 Grand Marquis. This twenty-year old monstrosity bore the scars from the acid rain crisis, with peeling grey paint across the hood, roof, and trunk. But it worked and had a cavernous trunk to hold all our belongings for an 8-week adventure. In fact, it worked quite well until we hit the Pacific Coast Highway 40 miles south of Tijuana, Mexico. That’s when it just kind-of stopped along the highway. Well, not kind-of. It stopped. Dead. We flagged down a tow truck driver who, though already burdened with another couple of unprepared gringos, jump-started the “Merc” and suggested we head back north to the US border. We heeded his advice and drove away, laughing at the silly Americans who needed a tow truck in Mexico!

Yes, those silly Americans. Just. Like. Us. We spent a long, terrifying day fighting a dead alternator in a foreign country. Every time we used power in the car, the battery died hard and fast. Turn signals. Power window controls. Brake lights. It all drained the battery, requiring us to throw the car in neutral and rev the engine, hoping to restart the car without requiring a jump. Soon enough, all that revving also drained the gasoline, causing the gas level indicator to light up. Lights, power, dead battery again. After more than 16 kindly folks along the highway jump-started our dead battery, we limped to the US border, but not before the Merc gave one last shudder and died. In Mexico. We literally pushed the car across the border into our homeland where we could call AAA and a tow truck driver.

Fast forward many years (and several more tow trucks) to a Jag on the outskirts of the city, waiting for its own ride. I headed downtown to retrieve my husband from a very long, frustrating day. The tow truck driver didn’t know his way around the city, so we had to meet in a nearby town and lead him back, caravan-style. As he carefully pulled the Jag onto the flatbed, I watched my husband in amazement. Exhausted, disappointed, beaten, but never defeated or cross, he amicably chatted with his new pal, one of dozens over the years. Then he climbed into my trusty Japanese minivan. We drove home from our impromptu date night, laughing and retelling our many car stories. One more adventure under our belts, one more tow truck story for the rosters, one more evening spent with my best friend, learning to face life with grace and laughter. Now that was a great date!

Celebration on the Horizon

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Some folks turn forty without a second thought. My husband will likely try to get away with such craziness. Not one for public acknowledgement or parties in his honor, he’d rather allow his day to pass quietly, like any other day. I learned years ago that if I want my day celebrated, I need to “manage up” and give him ideas. Which begs the question… What DO I want for my fortieth birthday? How do I want this next year to go down in my personal history?

I’ve thought about the usual suspects: a weekend getaway with my mom and sisters, a cruise with my family, maybe even a return trip to Paris. I’ve explored options outside of my comfort zone like inviting my mom and sisters on a three-day walk for breast cancer. Noble, yes, but not quite “me.” In fact, for all the fun celebrations I dreamed up, none of the ideas felt inspired.

When my oldest sister first tipped “over the hill,” we girls celebrated together with a weekend of shopping, wine, and pampering at the Ritz. It was a time to honor the coming of age for all the women in our family: the birthday girl, our sister and myself, as well as our beloved mother who raised us so gracefully. We four take every opportunity to weave our bond as tightly as possible; being together for this milestone was no exception.

My middle sister marked the occasion more solemnly. She had recently faced a health scare and was as thrilled to celebrate life itself as the four decades behind her. The four of us gathered at a friend’s vacation home for time together, a few tears, and a lot of laughter. The birthday girl then returned home and hosted a joy-filled autumn harvest party with dozens of her family’s closest friends.

Just before my 39th birthday, my mind was preoccupied with what I would do during the coming year to make it special. Something to make me feel more mature, like I found my place in this world, like I was finally a grown-up. That’s when God spoke to me, directly to my heart.

Missions. Go.

At the age of 16, I heard God ask me to serve Him through missions. I felt a tug (pull, yank) on my heart and I answered Him. Yes, I’ll go. When the time is right. But first I needed to finish high school and start college. Then I didn’t want to miss a semester, so my commitment would have to wait. After I graduated from college, I was too busy proving myself to the world to bother with God, much less missionary work. When I finally settled down and found a church home with my new husband, the topic of international missions seemed as foreign to our relationship as the languages I had never learned.

For twenty years, I watched friends go on short- and long-term trips all over the world. Surely they were better prepared than me, holier and more righteous. And perhaps I was mistaken all along. Maybe I had been a sappy, heartsick teenager who just imagined the “still, small voice.”

This time there is no mistaking. Missions. Go.

For my fortieth birthday, I will ask my family to give me the gift of the opportunity, to care for my children, to support my husband as I go. I’ll ask my friends for the gift of prayer as I seek God’s direction for the place and time (please, Lord, not much longer than a week away from my daughters). I will finally fulfill the commitment I made decades ago and admit that forty-year-old me will never feel like a grown-up, I’ll never find my place in this world until I take that first step: Go.