Monday, September 22, 2008

Lost on a New England Highway

I remember sitting in our blue van. It was parked in the front yard. We never parked there, but on that Monday morning exactly 10 years ago, everything was different. The yard would never be seen again. The red front door of our white house would become only a memory. The wooden fence covered in countless layers of thick red paint would rot away without me. We were leaving the house I had played in, the yard I had run in, the trees I had climbed. I would never see my childhood home again.

That bright September day in Massachusetts did not find me so meditative. I wasn’t sad or distraught. Mostly, I was impatient. Weren’t we supposed to have left by now? Oklahoma was waiting! It was time to be off.

Yesterday had been fun and sad at the same time. Our church had hosted a goodbye party for us, and all my friends had been there. I didn’t know when I would see them again, if ever, but I had been able to push those thoughts aside for most of the day. We enjoyed good food, homemade ice cream, photographs, and excellent company. They were all there: Faith, Acacia, Lauren, Kaylie, all of their parents, brothers, and sisters, my babysitter Sophie, little Emily… The list could go on and on.

The fun was over too soon. The goodbyes were said. I remember hugging my friends for the last time. The tears only came after my family had climbed into the van and were on our way down the street – my friends disappearing behind me.

That was the day before. There were no friends to see me off this morning, and I wanted the adventure to begin! Eventually, Mom, Dad, and Susanna came out of the house and closed the red door behind them for the last time. Dad and Susanna climbed up into the big yellow moving truck parked on the street. Mom joined David and me in the van.

We were off. The moment had come.

The drive began easily enough. We traveled through familiar streets that had been my neighborhood for as long as I could remember. Our old neighborhood – Little Italy – was gone. The road was ahead.

Both of my parents were extremely tired by the time we pulled out of town. My mom had cleaned out the attic and basement, sorted through cabinets and dressers, packed boxes, and done who knows what else to prepare for this trip. My dad was putting things in order at the church he had pastored for nine years. My mom and dad were not at their freshest when we pulled out of town to begin what we thought would be a three day drive.

I had it easy. At age nine, I was pleased to have packed all of my own belongings and helped with some of the lighter packing. My biggest grief was leaving behind the largest specimens of my rock collection, but at least I had plenty of sleep and tons of energy. David and I probably kept the drive lively for my mom during those first few hours, but we had some help in that department as well. Our cat Charity lay panting in her pet carrying case in the front passenger seat. Our cockatiel chirped away from the back.

I wanted adventure, but I don’t think I was ready for it when it came.

The long road put me to sleep, and when I awoke, it was to pure chaos. The yellow truck was gone! Where was Dad and Susanna? My mom didn’t know, and she had been awake – just barely.

The story that gradually came out – when my panicked mother could explain – was that she had looked down for a brief moment to get her vitamins. It had only been for a moment. How was she to know that at that exact moment the truck would change lanes? She watched in disbelief as my dad – with very little warning – took an exit ramp. She was stuck in the other lane hedged in by traffic and had no option but to drive on and miss the exit!

Today, a cell phone call would have resolved the issue before it escalated into a problem. In 1998 the situation was more complicated. My mom took the next available exit and circled back. We drove around and around looking for a giant yellow truck. How hard could it be to spot something that big and that yellow?

The truck wasn’t there.

I remember becoming very worried. My active imagination could envision never seeing my dad again. My sister would be lost to me. The rest of my rock collection would be as gone as those left behind at the house.

I started to take mental stock of the things I had with me. I still had Johnny (my stuffed bear), a few car activities, the friendship box Acacia had given me the day before, my brother, my mom, and both of the pets. That was it! I might never see the other half of my family or most of my belongings again. We would be destined to drive around this little exit forever and ever without any way out.

The next few hours were long and unpleasant. I tried to stay optimistic, but this problem was beyond me. I should have remembered that no matter how lost I felt, God knew exactly where we were and exactly where my dad was, and He would take care of us.

My mom found a payphone, and we parked. David and I waited in the car while Mom called a friend of hers, Mrs. Smith, and explained what had happened. While on the phone with her, Mrs. Smith received another call. It was the Reuters, another family from our church that had just recently moved to the same place in Oklahoma we were headed. My Dad had called them! Mrs. Smith was able to give the Reuters the payphone number of where we were at. God made a way!

All we had to do was wait for my dad to call and let us know where he was. It really was a miracle. My dad and sister had taken the exit to refuel the truck. When they didn’t see the van behind them, they assumed we had stayed on the highway. They got back on the highway and kept going in the hopes of seeing us. The truck had traveled for a couple hours before realizing there was a serious problem.

Mom, David, and I got back on the road. We knew where we were going now! It took a couple hours to catch up, but I was more than a little relieved. I would see my dad again!

We caught up to them eventually. There was no time for chat, however, as we were terribly behind schedule and had a long way to go. We would be driving into the late hours that night.

That was the first day of a good trip that went wrong in so many ways. Looking back now, I can see the hand of God protecting and caring for us even when we didn’t have a Plan B or when my parents were sleep deprived and drained of energy.

Even in the worst moments, I knew we were supposed to move to Oklahoma. The getting there was tough, but in the end it all worked out. We have a faithful Heavenly Father who makes the connections when we’ve lost them, has the plan when ours fails, and keeps us going no matter what!

Behold, I will gather them from all the countries to which I drove them in my anger and my wrath and in great indignation. I will bring them back to this place, and I will make them dwell in safety. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul.

Jeremiah 32:37–41

1 comment:

Wholesome Works said...

Elizabeth,

Wow, that's quite a story! I'm glad God worked it out and all of you made it okay. He's good like that, you know. :D

I like your details, I really felt like I was there.

Zachary