It’s sometime between very large coffee #2 and Nashville. The odometer reads every tenth of the 1751 miles I’ve driven in the past 4 days. The first 1400 miles were full of prayer, worship, reconnecting with myself, and falling in love again with the open road. Really good stuff. Miles 1401 and following, however, were a total blur of boredom, NPR, and the creation of the time warp I found myself in by mile 1751. At mile 1751, I’m alternately spouting streams of profanity and pleading with God to help me “keep it together,” tears streaming down my face, my eyes darting back and forth between the pink citation in the passenger’s seat, the flashing blue lights fading in the distance, and the now blurry road in front of me.
This all began last week. My grandfather, James, has finally come to the point to require the care of hospice in Paris, TX. Because I’ve started a part-time job and will have surgery in a few weeks, last weekend was the only chance that I would have to see him for several weeks or months, and I don’t think we have that kind of time. I made the decision Thursday to drive to Texas on Friday to spend time with James, and come back to Nashville on Sunday. Rather, God made it clear to me that this would be my last chance to spend quality time with James, and I had better get my butt to Texas. So, I went. Although it was hard for both of us to spend time together in that way, I’m so incredibly thankful for every minute. He and Betty gave their lives to their family, and I am honored to hold such a legacy of faith and love. Betty died suddenly after a fall in 2006, and I think James has spent every hour of the past 5 1/2 years missing his girl. They were married for over 6 decades, and he is ready to see his sweetheart again. I love that he has pictures of her all around his room, and drinks from her coffee cup with “Betty” in cursive on the side. He had one with his name, too, but I haven’t seen it in years. It’s sad for the rest of us to know he’s getting ready to go Home, but I’m so happy he’ll soon be with his Betty, again. I’m sure she’s gathered all the hummingbirds in Heaven to greet him.
After spending Friday night and Saturday morning with James I spoke with my dad, who, incidentally, was with my aunt in Salado, TX. Peggy and her friend, Larry, have partnered to build and run a country western dance club (why not?), and my dad has been installing the sound/video/lighting equipment for the past several months. He and Peggy suggested I come to Salado for dinner. Salado is 4 1/2 hours past Paris, which was a 10 hour drive from Nashville. So… sure, I’ll come to Salado for dinner.
Now, this is about when I realized just how divinely orchestrated this weekend truly was. Last week, I read a book called 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess , that wrecked me. God is leading me down a brand new path, which I couldn’t possibly begin to flesh out in this entry because I’m still processing and defining and searching (stay tuned), and He used this book to really shake things up. The author, Jen Hatmaker, lives with her husband in Austin. (That’s right, my favorite city. The city I know I’ll live in someday. The city I get back to as often as I can because simply driving through it makes my heart flutter like a girl with a crush.) About halfway through this book about fasting from every kind of excess, I began searching for flights to Austin so I could visit this church and see how these people live this incredibly counter-intuitive life that makes so much sense to me that my heart aches for it. Flights were not cheap. But, Austin is 45 miles south of Salado where I was headed for dinner that night. And God said, “I told you it was a good idea to drive to Texas.”
And, just because He loves me, He orchestrated all of this on the weekend that Bob Schneider was playing in Round Rock, right smack in the middle of Salado and Austin. If you know me at all, I need not say another word. This was bliss.
I got to visit Austin New Church the next morning. It was not what I expected. Reading this book through my filters (Charismatic church background, complete with dancers, at least 45 minutes of interactive worship experience each week, and “Amens” and “That’ll preach!” directed to the pastor during his/her teaching time), I expected that a person who lived this passionately and this authentically must do church like I do. Wrong. How surprised was I to discover that this church is most closely associated with Methodists and Baptists? I come from a church that is so charismatic, artsy, and eclectic that we left the Assembly of God in large part because they didn’t really know what to do with us. I thought people who are really passionate about Jesus would look like my home church looks. It turns out, charismatics don’t have the last word on experiencing Christ. Apparently, He even hangs out with Methodists. And Baptists. Who knew?
I stuck around for the informational meeting after service and learned a little bit more about the community and what they do. I could go into all of it, but probably some of you are interested and the rest of you are close to getting bored with me and going back to Facebook. Please, check out their website to learn more about these Christians who are feeding the poor, adopting orphans, taking care of widows and single moms, and generally doing a really good job of actually obeying Jesus.
I spent the afternoon with dad, Peggy, and some peach cobbler before heading to Dallas. Tara prepared a feast for her family and our still tight knit group of friends from high school, and I joined them for a night of stories, loads of laughter, and several bottles of $10 wine. Seated on the patio, under the stars, completely at peace with myself and the dear ones around me, God said, “I told you it was a good idea to drive to Texas.”
Fast forward to Mile 1751. I sat in that car, pitching a ringtail fit, trying desperately to hold onto the joy that had been bubbling out of my spirit all weekend, wondering What the hell just happened?! Well, that was exactly what just happened. Hell took notice of just how juicy and thick I had become with the peace of God, and decided to pull me back into anxiety, short-temperedness, and resentment. So when that officer pulled me over (How dare he?!) for going 86 in a 70, even though I had been cruising the entire previous 1750 miles at 79, and accidentally sped up for less than 20 seconds as I turned up the music in an attempt to keep myself from falling asleep at the wheel, I was suddenly locked and loaded. The enemy knows my buttons (That’s not FAIR!!! YOU ARE WRONG. I AM RIGHT. HERE IS WHY!), and he didn’t so much push them as he launched flaming cannons right into the center of them, and then laughed in my face for good measure.
I must admit that my knee jerk reaction, once I was clear of the flashing blue lights, was to curse and cry and wish ill upon that poor officer who was just doing his job and didn’t deserve to be called all the things I called him when he couldn’t hear me anymore. I didn’t recover quickly. First, I called my mother and explained to her (through tears, mind you) why this ticket was going to ruin me financially, disrupt my summer plans, and ultimately prevent me from one day adopting children, if I so choose. (What?!) She lovingly called my attention to the downward spiral I was descending, then quickly told me to snap out of it. At that point, I had a decision to make. I could let this ticket ruin my blissful, surprising, restorative weekend adventure, or I could fight like hell to hang onto it.
So, I started cussing out the devil. It wasn’t my finest moment, but it was what I had to work with so I worked it. I’ll spare you the details, mostly because my grandmother reads this, and skip right to the part where God said, “Now, you pray for that officer that you just called a whole host of nasty names.” He said, clear as day, “I told you to love your neighbor. He is your neighbor.” I prayed protection, love, strength, courage, and blessing over that officer. I prayed for his children and his brothers and his sisters and his parents. I prayed for provision and peace over his entire family. And, suddenly I wasn’t angry with him anymore. I repented of my anger and resentment, begging God to please, please, please not leave the car. I need to actually feel you here, because I am starting to lose it. I don’t want to forget all you’ve done for me this weekend. I don’t want to be bitter. I don’t want to be anxious. Please, please, please don’t leave this car. I called out His name over and over and over until I was sure every demon in hell could hear me. They must have, because they left me well enough alone the rest of the way home.
Now is the part where I tell you what I’ve learned. Oh, brother. I’ve distilled this enormous weekend into three points for you, dear readers.
First, when God says “Go,” you go. Even, and especially, if it seems completely irrational. I’ve found that God often uses what we think of as irrational to teach the greatest lessons. The first shall be last, anyone? My hours on the road with Him were life giving.
Second, when He fills you up, you had better expect a brutal attack from the enemy. There is little more threatening to hell than Christians who genuinely want to do what Christ commands. You know, crazy stuff like love your neighbor, feed the poor, and take care of the widows and orphans. The enemy is already dying, and he thrashes around in hell trying to bring as many as he can down with him. Fight him off, fight him off, fight him off.
Last, make room for your joy! Distracted? Start stripping away until you’re not anymore. Stressed? Eliminate. Purge. Get simple. Confused? Say “yes” to your gut instinct, and “no” to everything else. Trust your gut, as I’ve found it is often the Holy Spirit in disguise. Move forward. Life is messy, so get okay with feeling uncomfortable. Get vulnerable. It will be SO worth it.
It really was a good idea to drive to Texas.