Driving the Big Rig

         It has been obvious to my family and friends I have had no desire to learn how to drive our 45-foot motorhome. Traveling and living in it seven months out of a year is enough. To put my stove, refrigerator, shower, and bed on the highway along with motorists and truck drivers I don’t even know, is not my idea of travel. That was my husband’s idea. In the passenger seat, I have tried to ignore the rattle from the furniture and household paraphernalia as we rumbled along the country’s highways.

        I’ll admit knowing how to maneuver and manage the motorhome on the road is a smart idea. But learning how to drive it, considering the possible consequences if and when I do something wrong that could be catastrophic is reason enough for my reticence. Why would I want to put myself at such risk?  Besides, if I did learn how to drive, I would have to take over the wheel when Dan got tired. Shorter trips are a better idea.

        My husband thinks otherwise. “What if something happened along the way and I couldn’t drive?” Dan has asked this question in a variety of ways using different pleading and warning tones during the eight years we have been RV-ing.

            “Perhaps you should have thought about that before embarking on an extended camping trip.” I think but don’t say.  “That’s why we have emergency insurance, isn’t it?” is what I do say, trying to sound helpless.

            There is reason for an attitude check here, and not on Dan’s part.

            Hence, the intervention of the Holy Spirit. Until I sat in the driver’s seat of the motorhome I had left supernatural work to the Spirit while I focused on obedience, which has needed supernatural assistance on several occasions. I’ve known from Scripture that the Holy Spirit is real and powerful, speaks through prophets, gives voice to doves, and blazes through rallies with fire without burning a soul. People filled with the Spirit heal, prophecy, and speak in tongues. Their spirituality has been accelerated  more than mine, so to speak.

            God has seen me through many trials and even more errors, blessing me with unimaginable joys and journeys. A ministry in health and fitness, the births of ten amazing grandchildren, and travel in an RV across the country have been among the most unexpected and appreciated.  In spite of my painful battle with RA, struggle to submit to a man with an exuberantly adventurous spirit, and bouts of aforementioned attitude, I have found God to be true to His Name – glorious, merciful, counselor, and patient. But I have wondered if I had the Holy Spirit.

            “But when He, the Spirit of Truth comes, He will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on His own; He will only speak what He hears and will tell you what is to come. He will glorify Me because it is from Me that He will receive what He will make known to you.”(John 16:13-14)

           “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with wordless groans.”(Romans 8:26)

           Recently, I asked my Pastor to pray for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in my life. Once and for all, I wanted the prayer answered and the faith to believe. Assured by the pastoral request, I was ready to experience the power of the Holy Spirit!

            What I learned about the Holy Spirit the Sunday we did not go to church was that He shows up unexpectedly and much differently than we think. He has a mind of His own.

            Dan and I travel so much we have not been able to get planted in a church. This has been a source of deep heartache for me, singed with a bit of bitterness about the RV life we lead. Instead of praying in a pew, I had once again found myself praying for church to be wholly satisfying in my chair. As I was praying for the grace to let go of my desires, my husband spoke through the open door to my office.

            “Do you want to try driving the motorhome today?” Usually when I heard this reference to the RV I cringed. It is NOT a home; it is a camper on a truck bed. Attitude check again.

            “Sure!” I heard myself answer, maybe even with a smile as I tried to imagine church in an RV. This definitely was God’s idea, not mine.

            Dan’s face lit up like a Christmas tree. An hour later I found myself sitting behind the wheel of our motorhome, adjusting the seat and pedals. 

            “Release the brake, turn the key, and put ‘er in drive!”

I wasn’t praying, yet I sensed reassuring phrases whispering from somewhere. Dan must have heard them too because the intensity so normal for him, especially when it came to the RV, was gone. He grinned as I motored around the parking lot and out onto the highway. After the trip of about ten miles, with Dan’s hand-signaled directions, I backed the 45-footer into our slot, like a seasoned truck driver. 

            That Sunday the Holy Spirit met me in a way I never expected. Flinging my attitude to the cosmos, He accompanied me in the driver’s seat of the motorhome, and gave me an overpowering sense of peace and joy. I knew as I calmly drove our kitchen, bedroom, and bathrooms along with the traffic zooming by me, I was being flooded with freedom. No more fear. No more anger. No more attitude. When I turned off the ignition and pushed down the air brakes, I felt completely released.

            “Now the LORD is Spirit and where the Spirit of the LORD is, there is freedom.”(1Corinthians 3:17)

         The Holy Spirit is in the work of freedom. Jesus obeyed His Father and trusted Him in everything and He promised to give us this same ability through the indwelling of the Helper (John 14:16, 15:26-27,16:7). With the Spirit, we are released from griping and freed to gaze upon our good good Father. We can do things we never before thought of or wanted. He sure fooled me – He made me the driver of a big rig!

            

 

            

            

Life From A Stump

   
  
 
  
    
  
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               I am sitting in a coffeehouse in Bellingham, Washington. The morning air is just crisp enough to hint of autumn’s arrival and the sky is a celebration blue. This charming town is kind enough to welcome my somber spirit. My journal, Oswald Chambers, and WOODS coffee fill up the tall round table before me. In spite of caffeine chatter, I am secluded on my solid wooden bench.              Five weeks of travel across the United States has been a journey of wonders. Mile upon mile, state to state, the grandeur of God’s creation in rocks, rivers, mountains, and endless horizons of golden fields or sapphire sea, has left me in awe of what He has done. Time has not daunted the power of God.              Yet it seems as if time has stopped for those back home who are battle worn from storms, sickness, and grief. While I marvel at what God has made, my loved ones are struggling to pull together the blessed normalcy of fresh water, a full tank of gas, or a peaceful night’s rest. How can we behold a mountain one moment and the rubble of reality the next?              I am grateful for this coffeehouse right now. I can’t look at beauty without crying. Oh God. Won’t You please bring even a splinter of Your splendor to the weary war-torn ones back home? Please give them a ribbon to hold on to. We all need Your mercy and goodness right now.              In between sips of rich coffee, I pick up my phone and flip through my photos. These are golden nuggets of times past – a story of my travels through God’s Glory. Here is a picture of a tree stump. It was just the day before when we traipsed through Whatcom Park, a forest of mighty trees, gushing rivers, and a rushing waterfall. We were ensconced in ageless woodland where the silence was broken only by the flicker of a falling leaf and splashing water in a crevice somewhere. The massive trees formed an arbor and became for me a sanctuary.              How long had those trees withstood storms, fires, blight, and invasion? God’s faithfulness was in their shadow and I heard the Whisper,  “I am here. I am there. I am in the seed, branch, leaf, and forest. The battle has not been lost.”               What was it that made me stop to take a picture of a stump in the middle of towering trees? It was thriving, this massive trunk now covered in moss, ferns, and wispy branches. Rays of sunlight wove their way around the forest to rest on the fertile bark. How the great tree was felled is a mystery forgotten and unimportant. What stands now is an everlasting story of fortitude, nourishment, and roots pressing deep, deep into its source of life.              The hardest battle comes in its aftermath. Floodwaters, fire blaze, windstorm, and crushing cancer seek to destroy but cannot alter the foundation.              As with the stalwart stump, though it takes time and unknown reserves of energy, the rebuilding and renewal comes – and is miraculous. The Son will always make His way to shine on the warriors as they find their strong hope and restore the faith that never left. He will bring from the destruction new life, never before imagined. It will be as beautiful and bold as a slim and sturdy branch on the stump of a fallen tree, reaching for the sunlight resting upon its new branches.              All of God’s creation cries out above the forces of life and nature –“Be still! Know that I am God. …and I will make a new thing!”               My coffee drained, I close Chamber’s Devotional, and put away the journal and pen. A stranger smiles and opens the door as I pass through. I want to hug him and tell him how much he is loved …forever. Just like all of us.    

           I am sitting in a coffeehouse in Bellingham, Washington. The morning air is just crisp enough to hint of autumn’s arrival and the sky is a celebration blue. This charming town is kind enough to welcome my somber spirit. My journal, Oswald Chambers, and WOODS coffee fill up the tall round table before me. In spite of caffeine chatter, I am secluded on my solid wooden bench.

            Five weeks of travel across the United States has been a journey of wonders. Mile upon mile, state to state, the grandeur of God’s creation in rocks, rivers, mountains, and endless horizons of golden fields or sapphire sea, has left me in awe of what He has done. Time has not daunted the power of God.

            Yet it seems as if time has stopped for those back home who are battle worn from storms, sickness, and grief. While I marvel at what God has made, my loved ones are struggling to pull together the blessed normalcy of fresh water, a full tank of gas, or a peaceful night’s rest. How can we behold a mountain one moment and the rubble of reality the next?

            I am grateful for this coffeehouse right now. I can’t look at beauty without crying. Oh God. Won’t You please bring even a splinter of Your splendor to the weary war-torn ones back home? Please give them a ribbon to hold on to. We all need Your mercy and goodness right now.

            In between sips of rich coffee, I pick up my phone and flip through my photos. These are golden nuggets of times past – a story of my travels through God’s Glory. Here is a picture of a tree stump. It was just the day before when we traipsed through Whatcom Park, a forest of mighty trees, gushing rivers, and a rushing waterfall. We were ensconced in ageless woodland where the silence was broken only by the flicker of a falling leaf and splashing water in a crevice somewhere. The massive trees formed an arbor and became for me a sanctuary.

            How long had those trees withstood storms, fires, blight, and invasion? God’s faithfulness was in their shadow and I heard the Whisper, “I am here. I am there. I am in the seed, branch, leaf, and forest. The battle has not been lost.”

            What was it that made me stop to take a picture of a stump in the middle of towering trees? It was thriving, this massive trunk now covered in moss, ferns, and wispy branches. Rays of sunlight wove their way around the forest to rest on the fertile bark. How the great tree was felled is a mystery forgotten and unimportant. What stands now is an everlasting story of fortitude, nourishment, and roots pressing deep, deep into its source of life.

            The hardest battle comes in its aftermath. Floodwaters, fire blaze, windstorm, and crushing cancer seek to destroy but cannot alter the foundation.

            As with the stalwart stump, though it takes time and unknown reserves of energy, the rebuilding and renewal comes – and is miraculous. The Son will always make His way to shine on the warriors as they find their strong hope and restore the faith that never left. He will bring from the destruction new life, never before imagined. It will be as beautiful and bold as a slim and sturdy branch on the stump of a fallen tree, reaching for the sunlight resting upon its new branches.

            All of God’s creation cries out above the forces of life and nature –“Be still! Know that I am God. …and I will make a new thing!”

             My coffee drained, I close Chamber’s Devotional, and put away the journal and pen. A stranger smiles and opens the door as I pass through. I want to hug him and tell him how much he is loved …forever. Just like all of us.

  

Coming to Grips With Nature

Today marks the fourth week of our Trip West. Each week has offered us diverse terrain, adventure, and people. It has been a journey for the eyes, heart, and soul. From the towering rock formations of the Needles, steaming geysers in the earth, and winding bubbling brooks of the Lewis and Madison lakes, the landscape of the West is both overpowering and liberating. And it demands attention – to creation, culture, history, and the roads.

            The only thing that has not changed during our travels through eleven states and over three thousand miles is the weather. Following us have been clear skies dotted with languishing clouds, warm temperatures, and daily sunshine. We began to take the fresh air and dry weather for granted. Watching the onslaught of hurricane Harvey and its aftermath, however, wakened us from our oblivion. When we drove into Montana where a drought covers 90 percent of the state, forest fires are raging on its borders, and thick smoke obscures ghostly mountain ranges, we were shocked into the reality of nature’s fury.

            Over the past month, Dan and I have felt giddy like children receiving gifts every day. As we drove deeper into the West, through Missouri, South Dakota, and Wyoming and experienced the ever-expanding panoramas of the Black Hills, Bad Lands (where we were over-shadowed by the eclipse), Grand Tetons, Yellowstone and Old Faithful, the generosity and grace of God covered us. This we did not take for granted.

            Yes, God’s Glory has been clearly evident in the timeless creations of nature. But what delighted me anew was how He turned my attention to Himself in people. His Glory in people? Yes! While waiting for the eclipse in the barren monstrous Badlands, we met Dave a tall African American, who greeted us with a warm smile. He shared that he had gone to school at Piney Woods School in Mississippi founded by Dr. Lawrence Jones, an educator devoted to educating African-American children.

“Look him up! Dave urged eyes sparking like a six-year old kid, “Read about how he was almost lynched for trying to start the school. That’s where I got my education, those scary days in the ‘60’s – thanks to Dr. Jones.”

            As the moon crept its way in front of the sun, Dave told us he went on to college, then joined the Navy and served in ‘Nam. He is retired now and a traveling man anxious to see all of his country. Dave is a man of peace and gratitude.

            In St. Charles, Missouri, we met our “camping co-ops’, Amber and Walter, a couple so friendly and outgoing that I immediately invited them to our lot for hamburgers. I did not want to miss their joy. While they travel in their RV to Walter’s jobs in construction, Amber continues her passion for nursing on the road. Amber’s positive and motivating attitude about her RV life infused my faith and trust in the road before us.

            Through strangers with ready smiles, advice, and sharing, I saw God’s Glory take on Christ’s nature. Joy, faith, goodness, kindness, patience have shown up in so many people along our way. The greatest gift, though, was our unplanned impromptu meeting up with Chris, JoAnne, Caitlin, and Jake, our nephew and family from NYC who “just happened” to be vacationing in the Grand Teton National Park, just ten miles from us. We have not visited with this family for years and suddenly in the midst of prairies, mountains, and fields of wild life, we found each other! Just as I cannot find words to describe God’s Glory in nature, I cannot describe the joy of this miraculous encounter.  As Jo later wrote, “It had to be orchestrated by God!”

            One of the many advantages in the RV life is its ready mobility. Due to the limited sightseeing here at Polson, MT, we are cutting our stay short and moving on to a resort in Idaho, just fifty miles from the Canadian border. We may find the air smoky there, too, but the visit will add another state to our belts, so we will give it a try.

            Our Grandson, Gabe, is based with YWAM in Lynden, Washington, where the smoke is currently very thick. Even if we must alter our entire trip and turn back south, we will continue northwest until we are reunited with Gabe. God knows all of nature, thousands of miles, and national attractions will not keep me from a grandchild!

            In closing this epistle I join all of you in prayer for the flood victims of Texas, all of those preparing for impending hurricane devastation, and the hundreds of people who are fleeing homes as fires rage around them. As well, I continue praying hourly in confidence for the friend fighting victoriously his battle with cancer.

            No matter where we are, God is calling us to be His watchmen during these times, as He is with us in all difficulties and through the unknown. God knows, and He is mightier than any calamity and stronger than any disaster.  May He find us faithful.

   
  
 
  
    
  
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Deeper and Closer

   
  
 
  
    
  
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       Deeper and deeper we drive into the West. With every mile passed I feel smaller, slower, and more appreciative. There is a heritage in this land and the highway winds itself into it. I have only my eyes and camera to capture each piece of aged story.  South Dakota spreads rugged and royal, defying intrusion, occasionally offering relief in fields of whispering prairie grass guarded by the ageless rock sentries.  Wyoming, on the other hand, is like a wild woman leading us by asphalt ribbon over flat dry country to dizzying heights of knife-like boulders. Like the rocks in Crazy Woman Canyon, her dress of jagged crevices and spires, is stratified in zigzagged stripes of greens, reds, purples, and greys, shaded and subdued by the weather pursuing her ancient beginnings.    This land – all of it – was once the home of Indians. The rocks, mountains, rivers, grasslands, sunlight and darkness were theirs. They thrived on buffalo, wild game, and small crops, moving their communities to accommodate their simple, necessary needs. The Indian tribes fought fiercely their own invading people, skin hunters, gold diggers, cowboys, and wary settlers, for this land we so easily and comfortably drive through. Ultimately, they lost all their battles, but they have left their spirit. At times, standing beneath behemoth buttes, towering rocks, or along bubbling streams, I feel as if I should tip toe so not to disturb the sleeping stories. The wind, always cool in the close heat of the sun, welcomes my visit and knows my thoughts at the same time.  The sky covering the magnificent mass is a reminder that God the Creator of it all hovers close to the present and the past. I am humbled by the majesty of His creation in the western landscape of our country. There is a serenity surpassing description, which is arresting in view of today’s world affairs. I wonder, gazing at a presence such as the Grand Tetons, “Is this what the glory of God looks like?”  And this has been my quest. Embarking on a 90-plus day trip to places I’ve never been and have been perfectly content to look at in pictures was a challenge I had to take in faith. But I did it because God indicated He wanted to show me something when my prayer had been, “God, show me Your Glory.”  I also came aboard because my husband is following his dream.  Have you ever been with someone living his dream? Quite possibly, this joy seen in another is a glimpse of God’s glory and is as breathtaking as suddenly being confronted by a rock so magnificent you can only stare in wonder. The glorious joy is over-powering. If my husband’s head could pivot 360 degrees while he exclaims the unfolding of all he had imagined, a map of creational glory would surround me!  Together with our Schnauzer, Sophie, we have rolled through rustic friendly cowboy-Indian towns with legend-originated names - Ten Sleep, Crow Heart, Deadwood, Jackson Hole, and our current homestead, Flagg Ranch. Defying my doubts to be able visit “real America” because our rig was too big to fit along the streets in towns, let alone pull into vehicle parking places, Dan zipped the motorhome into a three-car space to parallel park like a pro, so we could disembark for lunch in Dubois, Wyoming, a quiet village on the Wind River. Here we met Blake, an artist who carves intricate scenes on elk horns and is a historian of the Indian folklore and landmarks of his hometown. It was from this wind-hewn gentle-voiced craftsman that we learned that the meandering Wind River that feeds into the Colorado, Columbia, and Missouri Rivers is a source of water for two-thirds of our entire nation. Over our buffalo burgers and homemade chips at the Cowboy Café, Dan and I marveled at how something as alluring and serene as a bubbling brook or the rushing rhapsody of a river could be the source of power and nourishment for the needs of a whole country.  God’s glory rises with a Truth. We, mere mortals who believe in Jesus Christ, are also sources of strength, love, and peace for a parched and hungry world.  “  Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ ” (John 7:38)  This Living Water is the life and character of the LORD Himself flowing from His Spirit within us – love, joy, peace, patience, faithfulness, kindness, gentleness, and goodness, all empowered and guided by the Holy Spirit.  I am being caught unaware as this journey brings me closer into God’s glory. Whether in panoramic phenomena, the unfolding of Creation, or treasured stories and legends, the reality of His Presence with us is everlasting.      

 

Deeper and deeper we drive into the West. With every mile passed I feel smaller, slower, and more appreciative. There is a heritage in this land and the highway winds itself into it. I have only my eyes and camera to capture each piece of aged story.

South Dakota spreads rugged and royal, defying intrusion, occasionally offering relief in fields of whispering prairie grass guarded by the ageless rock sentries.

Wyoming, on the other hand, is like a wild woman leading us by asphalt ribbon over flat dry country to dizzying heights of knife-like boulders. Like the rocks in Crazy Woman Canyon, her dress of jagged crevices and spires, is stratified in zigzagged stripes of greens, reds, purples, and greys, shaded and subdued by the weather pursuing her ancient beginnings.  

This land – all of it – was once the home of Indians. The rocks, mountains, rivers, grasslands, sunlight and darkness were theirs. They thrived on buffalo, wild game, and small crops, moving their communities to accommodate their simple, necessary needs. The Indian tribes fought fiercely their own invading people, skin hunters, gold diggers, cowboys, and wary settlers, for this land we so easily and comfortably drive through. Ultimately, they lost all their battles, but they have left their spirit. At times, standing beneath behemoth buttes, towering rocks, or along bubbling streams, I feel as if I should tip toe so not to disturb the sleeping stories. The wind, always cool in the close heat of the sun, welcomes my visit and knows my thoughts at the same time.

The sky covering the magnificent mass is a reminder that God the Creator of it all hovers close to the present and the past. I am humbled by the majesty of His creation in the western landscape of our country. There is a serenity surpassing description, which is arresting in view of today’s world affairs. I wonder, gazing at a presence such as the Grand Tetons, “Is this what the glory of God looks like?”

And this has been my quest. Embarking on a 90-plus day trip to places I’ve never been and have been perfectly content to look at in pictures was a challenge I had to take in faith. But I did it because God indicated He wanted to show me something when my prayer had been, “God, show me Your Glory.”  I also came aboard because my husband is following his dream.

Have you ever been with someone living his dream? Quite possibly, this joy seen in another is a glimpse of God’s glory and is as breathtaking as suddenly being confronted by a rock so magnificent you can only stare in wonder. The glorious joy is over-powering. If my husband’s head could pivot 360 degrees while he exclaims the unfolding of all he had imagined, a map of creational glory would surround me!

Together with our Schnauzer, Sophie, we have rolled through rustic friendly cowboy-Indian towns with legend-originated names - Ten Sleep, Crow Heart, Deadwood, Jackson Hole, and our current homestead, Flagg Ranch. Defying my doubts to be able visit “real America” because our rig was too big to fit along the streets in towns, let alone pull into vehicle parking places, Dan zipped the motorhome into a three-car space to parallel park like a pro, so we could disembark for lunch in Dubois, Wyoming, a quiet village on the Wind River. Here we met Blake, an artist who carves intricate scenes on elk horns and is a historian of the Indian folklore and landmarks of his hometown. It was from this wind-hewn gentle-voiced craftsman that we learned that the meandering Wind River that feeds into the Colorado, Columbia, and Missouri Rivers is a source of water for two-thirds of our entire nation. Over our buffalo burgers and homemade chips at the Cowboy Café, Dan and I marveled at how something as alluring and serene as a bubbling brook or the rushing rhapsody of a river could be the source of power and nourishment for the needs of a whole country.

God’s glory rises with a Truth. We, mere mortals who believe in Jesus Christ, are also sources of strength, love, and peace for a parched and hungry world.

Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7:38)

This Living Water is the life and character of the LORD Himself flowing from His Spirit within us – love, joy, peace, patience, faithfulness, kindness, gentleness, and goodness, all empowered and guided by the Holy Spirit.

I am being caught unaware as this journey brings me closer into God’s glory. Whether in panoramic phenomena, the unfolding of Creation, or treasured stories and legends, the reality of His Presence with us is everlasting.

 

 

Seas of Corn to Oceans of Sunflowers

         Leaving the serenity and hospitality of the Coons Farm in Hannibal, Missouri was bittersweet. Walks along acres of green pastures every morning with Sophie became a ritual of worship I did not want to give up. The graciousness of our hosts, friends from Pelican Lakes where we had wintered, who drove us through angles and heights of the Mississippi River with a history of her devastating floods, regaled us with stories about local lore, farmlands, and their family, and treated us to every meal we ate (“You’re in my country now! ”Mike bellowed when Dan reached for his wallet), filled our hearts and stomachs with gratitude. It was hard to imagine our trip being any better.

         Our Itinerary called, however, so onto Omaha we traveled through lush farmland and seas of cornfields. The trip from Missouri and a slice of Iowa to Nebraska (8 states so far!) offered miles of farms, dotted with stately silver-domed silos along the rolling landscape. Even though we were traveling seventy-plus miles an hour, our biological clocks seemed to slow down as the ribbon of highway unraveled before us. At Offut Field Air Force Base, just outside of Omaha, we settled in and ate heartily of sandwiches made with homegrown Missouri tomatoes.

            A visit with the Ostrand family, dear friends who we have loved since they were kids and supported when they were missionaries in South Africa, was the promise of our destination. What a joy-filled reunion we had as a growing line of people hoping to buy a pair of safety glasses for the eclipse wound around the restaurant. The monumental solar event has created a furry of anticipation all along its path.

            In case you’ve wondered about those faulty jacks from our stay in Nashville, the report is at a standstill. They have remained up throughout the rest of our stays, adding a bit of rock n’ roll to our trip. Dan opted for caution rather than extended delay until we get to Rapid City, South Dakota, where we plan to stay longer and could have them repaired if necessary. The lack of stability wasn’t noticeable until our brief overnight in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where the slant was extreme enough to cause our stacked cupboards to fly out like an unhinged accordion and the refrigerator door to become a swinging weapon. We rolled downhill to bed that night, looking forward to the flat roads ahead.

            We are in Big Country now, having passed by the winding Missouri River and wheeled into the very flat vistas of South Dakota. Vista actually does little to describe the expanse of prairie fields, rolling hills, and ribbons of highway surrounding us, 180 degrees. The flatness spreads like smooth carpet cluttered with occasional billboards and disappearing into an abyss of shadowing hills in the horizon, and ultimately the ominous Black Hills rising up.

            At one point we passed oceans and oceans of sunflower fields whose waves of golden faces eventually changed to green pockets speckled with grazing cattle. As the farms gave way to ranches, it became easy to imagine cowboys galloping across these ranges, even with the highway slicing through their ride. Everything seems bigger, wider, and flatter out West. Even the bugs splatting our windshield, hitting hard as mud balls thrown at us are a big messy impression of the wild country ahead.   

             In spite of all the new adventures and astounding beauty of our trip, I am not numbed to the miles and distances we have passed. I know acutely how far from home we’ve come and what it would take to get back. Sometimes I wake up in the dark and have to think about where we are and what day it is. These are not easy thoughts for one who counts on … what she can count on.

            When we were in St. Charles, not far from St. Louis, we stayed at a campground next to a highway flanked by an airport, shadowed by a railroad bridge almost over top of us, and surrounded by dozens of RVs. We were definitely in the middle of a traffic pattern! Looking around at the variety of vehicles as I walked with Sophie, the Holy Spirit whispered an epiphany.

            “Everyone here is on a journey going somewhere. They are all on the move and have destination stories.”

How true of all of us, “Even me,” I thought, which is the epiphany because I realized I still had not come to grips that I, too, am a traveler. Even if I stayed home I would still be on a journey where my true destination has been sealed in heaven with Christ. We are all travelers!

What is important about the journey is how we live while traveling. Is my destination story one of anxiety, loneliness, maybe even grumbling? Or do I meet each day as if hearing Jesus beckoning, “Come to Me…”, knowing with joyful anticipation, I am with Him wherever I am?

 God has already shown me His paths are good, full of beauty, peace, and wonder.  Even though He created the universe with a Word, His picture stories tell me of His Glory. “This,” came the Whisper, “is the better way to travel.” 

                       

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Quiet Meets Contentment

Dan and I have motored deep into pastures of peace. The hospitality of our friends. Mike and Donna Coons, who we enjoyed on the sunny social Florida scene, have now welcomed us on their farm of 750 acres where quiet meets contentment. We are near the tiny historical town of Hannibel, Missouri, home and imaginaive playground of Mark Twaine, and just across the river from Illinois.

 The great Mississippi River winds herself around fields and hills, carrying her stories deep within. We could see her flow, interrupted only by locks allowing boats and barges to pass through, from Lovers Leap where the panoramic view of her size and strength were as ominous as her beauty. 

This morning I rose early enough to join the sun to greet the birds, ponds, and dew along rolling hills of grass, corn fields, and soybean crops. I could sense the Lord stretching His arms and smiling at the loveliness of the land, decreeing across the generations, "These are the green pastures of peace I promise to bring nto my Kingdom." How humbled and grateful I feel to have this view of the heart of the Creator.

Inch by inch, yard by yard, the miles we have traveled (not quite a thousand yet!) have peeled away my anxieties exposing me to whatGod promised He would show me. The months of planning, mapping, and calculating Dan spent on designing our Trip West is evolving from destinations to vistas, adventures to appreciation. My sense of urgency is melting as we journey deeper into the country. In the soft breeze from the clearest sky I hear whispering, "Told you so!"

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Traveling Deeper and Higher

            We are back on the road again! I am sitting on the sofa of our mobile living room writing this as Dan drives through Illinois to our destination, Saint Louis. We will lumber into Kentucky and Illinois, then plant down in Missouri for two nights.  Actually, we will park twenty miles from the city, in St. Charles. Campgrounds are usually on the outskirts of town where wood fires burn and big rigs fit. Yes, my perch is very bumpy and jiggly. Such is the plight of an RV writer. Miles pass with every word!

            After an entertaining stay in Nashville where we walked over the Cumberland River via beautiful Shelby Bridge, tried out several colorful bars along twanging, crooning Broadway where budding country singers belted out heart and soul, visited the Johnny Cash Museum to hear just about every song he sang throughout his tumultuous career, bought cowboy hats, and I tried on a dozen different boots while Dan shook his head sympathetically. No Cinderella am I. Nevertheless, my Prince took me to dinner at the Grand Ol Opry Hotel!

            Our second day was quieter but just as interesting as the country hoopla. We meandered through Andrew Jackson’s huge estate, The Hermitage, where the country’s infamous leader’s tempest passion was palpable. Especially poignant and heart rendering were the acres of land used as slave quarters and their buried labor. History has a way of reminding us of our sins and inspiring us to strive to be better.  Only God can help us in this endeavor.

            Another highlight of our trek was my visit to Parnassus Bookstore, owned and operated by Nashville resident and acclaimed author, Ann Patchett. The charming store, created to prove that hometown book stores can thrive, is a book lover’s – and writer’s _ dream come true. Every book is displayed on wooden shelves tables like trophies to imagination, passion, and information. Comfy leather chairs and sofa welcome guests to “Come on in and read!” while words whisper in the air. I wanted to touch every book!

            We departed Nashville somewhat reluctantly because there still was so much to see. But our itinerary had been set, so deeper and higher into the country we must go. Evidently, our motor coach also thought twice about leaving. With everything packed, the car and bikes secure and hooked up, and all of the lines detached, Dan pushed the button operating our jacks (the stabilizers under the rig that keep us from getting seasick) and got only a squealing response. Phone calls to RV mechanics, an appeal to the overbooked Camping World attendant, and advice from several friendly but confounded neighbors were to no avail. It appeared we were stuck in the ground in Nashville. As a last resort, muttering, “I know this won’t work”, Dan turned on the engine and pushed the jacks button. Whoosh, like a tired beast pulling out of bed, the jacks retracted! Dan still wonders what happened. Perhaps my frantic prayer was some help. God is following us, right?

            Sudden delays while traveling in an RV are teaching opportunities. Dan and I are not the best of students. While Captain Dan operates best on immediacy, command, and vexation, I, the yeoman, prefer clarity, conversation, and respect. We have wrestled with our opposite operating personalities, I confess. Due to his perseverance, skill, and- uh – command, I am learning the difficult lesson of smiling silence and prayer. It works every time. The Lord is so very patient. And persistent.

            As I wrotethis travel log, we passed a heavily barbed-wire fence surrounding a prison, seas of corn still growing, and a crooked ash-red building with a faded sign, “Sunshine Stove Clean”. These are what God wants me to absorb, and to share – He came to let the prisoner free, to nourish the hungry and poor of spirit, and to make us all whiter than snow. How fruitful the journey!

 

 

 

 


Greater Pastures

            “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want…” I keep repeating these lines from Psalm 23 as I think of all I leave behind today. The pasture ahead stretches beyond my imagination even though Dan and I have poured over books, pamphlets, photos, and our dog-eared “Your Guide to the National Parks” for months.           

According to my meticulous travel agent (Dan) who has created a two-page itinerary for our three-month trek across the USA, we will first visit highlights like Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame, authentic Country Music at every corner , BBQ at its best, boot shops (yes!), and my personal request, Parnassus Bookstore, a rare homemade literary legend and dream come true of one of my favorite authors, Ann Patchett. 

After a visit to Saint Louis (the Arches! But Dan refuses to go up, which is an odd fetish for a former Fighter Pilot), we’ll head up to Iowa to visit our Pelican Lake RV friends on their 6,ooo-acre farm of corn and soybeans.  I hope to pick up some gardening pointers while perusing the rows of produce while riding on their GPS equipped tractor. Next we’ll slide into Omaha, Nebraska to see our friends, Karl and Julie Ostrand who we supported when they were missionaries in South Africa and growing a family. They continued growing their family after returning to the States two years ago. Now we are anxious to reunite with them and meet all five of their kids. Hopefully we’ll get there before there are six!

Our detailed itinerary informs me that after Omaha we will be done visiting friends and homes for awhile.  South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana warn I’d better secure my walking stick, fleece, and camp-girl panties.

This pasture we are wandering is so large! While Driver Dan is confident and cool, I feel like a sheep lost. How good it is to know “The eyes of the Lord roam to and fro throughout the earth”; I just don’t want Him to lose me!

Meanwhile back at home, August will slip into September and Virginia her autumn glory.  Soon school starts, football games begin, the pool closes, potted plants wither, and my birds look for places to stay warm. While miles pass beneath us, birthdays for grandchildren and daughters also come and go. It will be a new adventure hunting down unique gifts for them as we travel from state to state, rather than sending a check or ordering from Amazon. We all will miss each other during this season of travel, but we’re finally getting used to the honking of the RV air-horn letting the world, or at least our neighborhood, know another trip has begun!

Now that we have actually pulled away and I think I have EVERYTHING with me, I am trusting God more and more with those I have left behind. It has been hard to pull away from dear people so good to me and uplifting in their faith and for whom I have earnestly prayed. The Lord is not only my Shepherd who protects and provides for all good things, He is the Shepherd of everyone I love no matter where they are.  I know I can trust Him on that!

As we approach Ashville, the mountain ranges spike and sprawl in front of us in spite of rain and stormy clouds. I’ll start taking pictures now – I don’t want you to miss a thing!

 

Memory Game Alive

           With the kids and their Moms crammed into the living room, we agreed unanimously to play, “Pack Your Suitcase”. You know the memory game where each person adds something to travel with, but has to repeat the contents added by the previous “travelers”. The trip was to be on a cruise to “Mommom’s House.” Now that’s exactly where we were – six of our ten grandkids, our three daughters and me, my heart bursting after the Memorial Week end we had celebrated together. This was the night before they all were to depart, so the game was appropriate, I suppose.

            In our imaginary suitcases we stuffed a football (Childers), colored calligraphy pens and pencils (Josselyn and Sadie), a horse (Meredith), Boo-Boo the ten year old stuffed rabbit (Hunter), a twenty-year old afghan (Leslie), Smartphone (Kerith), running shoes (Robin), and my Bible. Then we added a variety of treasures – my dog, Meredith’s riding stick, Leslie’s Ninja, Hunter’s droid, a bike, a camera, and so forth. I did well with a few hints and lots of eyes rolling, but found myself lagging behind as my memory drifted into stories. Soon I couldn’t keep up with my giggling competitors. I imagined Boo-Boo under Hunter’s arm as Meredith corralled her horse onto the great ship. How fun it would be to take this crew on a cruise together! My mind played as I was skipped by and the game went on.

            I am a Story Maker. It is hard for me to focus for long because my mind easily wanders and quickly bumps into my imagination. Away we go, hand in hand with metaphors, symbolisms, and a cargo of memories. I especially love God Stories, those wonderful real life times when God intercedes and creates His own story. I look for Him everywhere.

            In less than a week I am about to embark on a real trip, traveling not on a ship, but a truck bed made into our home on wheels. In this motorhome I must pack everything my husband and I will need for a 92-day journey across 22 states. We are going West to see the great USA! How do I pack for three seasons and 8,000 miles? This has been the challenge. For once I cannot imagine what is ahead. I do know our dog, Sophie will be with us, as well as my pillow, coffee, oatmeal cookies, bandages, and three-months’ supply of cosmetics, shampoo, and pens. My husband has meticulously checked and recharged all of the RV systems, procured a supply of tools, tubes, and technical paraphernalia for emergencies, and the cooler with beer, wine, soda, and water. We will pack our food and clothes this weekend. Monday I will load my books, and Tuesday I will pick up my backpack in one arm, my Bible in the other, and shut the door of home, not to return until Thanksgiving.

            Life would be so much easier if I could just stay in my living room and play the memory game.  But placed before me there are stories to be found, and I want to remember them all! Travel tales of sights, folks, food, adventure, and quite possibly a mishap or two. Not long ago I think I heard God whisper, “ I have so much to show you! I made it all long ago and with you in mind!”

            I plan to share my stories along the way. Surely if God, the Master Creator, has something to show, we need to see it together!  

           

            

Rest Before West

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Wrestling with Rest

“Summer rest” is an oxymoron in the purest sense. While summer vacations offer sabbaticals from the demands of work or school schedules and the grind of obligation overload, they are packed with travel, visits, company, outdoor living, and camps from archery to zoo-life.  Wiping sweat from our brow, we take a deep breath and plunge into one activity after another, leaving behind a hammock swaying in the breeze whispering,  “Autumn is near.”

To be honest, I have loved summer because it brought kids, cookouts, and a crowded kitchen. But, I am in a season of life where I am learning to rest whether I want to or not. I have wrestled with rest. Who wants rest if it brings too much quiet and too little company?

Months ago our Pastor spoke about the importance of gazing at God rather than at our circumstances. Until the events of this summer, I didn’t realize how deep into my soul this wise word would dig. Everything I don’t want to happen is happening – the pool is empty, the house is quiet, my health keeps me restricted from activities like swimming and walking, and our days are all geared toward our 3-month trip west in our RV. I don’t want to pack – I want to play!

God has called me to rest this summer – to sit and read His Word, be quiet and listen to, draw deep into prayer, and gaze solely on Him. Have you wrestled with rest as I have? Jesus tells us to “abide in Me” (John 15) and He will abide in us, and as we know His Words, His Spirit will indwell in us and we will glorify His Father. But, first we must rest.

Like Jacob before he was given his new name of Israel I, too, wrestled with God this summer until He actually afflicted my hip and showed me how to prevail over the enemies of my soul. I have rested in God’s Word and I have seen His glory. The battle is over

How can we see God’s glory in our resting? This is more than napping, nestling up with a good book, or lounging on the sofa. When we rest in God and breathe deeply of His presence, we experience His peace. “…my peace I give to you.” (John 14:27) The troubles and distractions of the world cannot disturb us if we seek to know God through His Word. Having more time on my hands than I’d like  (truly orchestrated by God), I have begun to search for God’s glory rather than struggle with my situation. I have learned that God’s truths are eternal while circumstances are temporary; in every crises, Christ is; and the glory of God pulsates in His Word, is given to us through Christ, and shines in us by the Holy Spirit. God’s glory is in His peace!

While resting in the LORD doesn’t burn calories or let us romp with kids, it does restore our souls. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11: 28)

This rest is peace – peace within us no matter the crises or craziness. Jesus is the Prince of Peace in us. We have only to draw deep into our soul to find Him, lean heavily on His Word, and dwell in His abiding  “peace beyond understanding.” (Philippians 4:7)s

Prayer – Heavenly Father in You I rest. Thank You for stripping me of distractions and making me surrender to Your will. Thank You for Your Son who came to give us His peace – the peace that is so powerful and beyond understanding. Please forgive me for wrestling with You and now, Father, as I turn to You in rest, reveal to me more and more of Your Glory! Amen.

VIII: Finding Home

I am on vacation, hundreds of miles from home. While my family and friends are up north in cold damp weather, I am in sunny Florida for the duration of winter. At home the tree limbs are bare, the flowers still blanketed, and the birds feeding, not nesting. Here, in Naples, palm trees sway, tropical flora glistens in the sun, and shorts are the dress of the day. The air is warm and the birds cheerful and promiscuous.

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VII: Wrapping Up

We are home. Forty–eight days, twenty-two hundred miles, three hundred gallons of fuel, eight RV parks, one thousand one hundred and fifty two hours of companionship, and ten grouper sandwiches later, my husband and I made it. We are official RV’ers with our badges of future park reservations already on the calendar. Yes, we will travel together.

Thanks to our grandson who, with my sister, was a devoted House Sitter, our home was sparkling clean and vibrating with love and life when we arrived from our six-week vacation in Florida. His yelp of joy and bear hug wiped away any vacation blues I had. Florida may have been sunny and soothing, but home has my heart.

While I unpacked, replaced my cosmetics, and unwrapped souvenirs, memory bytes of people I had met, mostly with Bridgett leading me, interrupted my thoughts. These had been the ones, each unique and genuine, who made my vacation rich and blessed.

Take Yhenna (pronounced “Hannah”) for instance. Weighing less than a hundred pounds, she dressed in black flannel pants and a long sleeved white t-shirt, because “I’m allergic to the sun”, she told me. We met at the Bluewater RV Resort in Key West, an unlikely town for someone allergic to the sun. However, she and her husband had headed south from Michigan to capture a little warmth. The couple had two rescue dogs in tow.  The oldest one, “Ziggie”, was a monstrous pit bull that pulled Yhenna, holding onto his thick leather leash with both hands, up and down the long oval path in the center of the park. Unlike the common reputation of pit bulls, Ziggie was a whimp. He had an encounter with a small dog who had attacked and bitten him on his chest. Now Ziggie runs from dogs smaller than him, which is most every dog he meets. He jumps, yanks, and pulls tiny Yhenna who just smiles at wary passers by assuring them that “Ziggy is only afraid! He is a gentle dog!”

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VI: Captain Dave

The afternoon of our arrival at Bluewater RV Resort, Dan unhooked our bikes from the car and we hopped on them, rode on past the privacy gate and turned left. Our bike path led us along mangrove thickets and sun washed bridges separating us from flowing tributaries of the Atlantic Ocean. A local fish camp on Geiger Key we had heard about from one of Bridgett’s dog persons was our destination. When we reached Geiger Key, about three miles south, we turned onto a single lane rode that wound past trailer huts, squatted adobe apartments with a sign in front that read “Vacation Villas for rent”, roosters crowing under palm tress, and across another small bridge protecting us from murky stagnant water. Finally we found the fish camp nestled along a lagoon, just across a bunch of mangroves languishing in the dark water like a bouquet left by a lover in the night. Directly to our south was Cuba.

The scene around us was typical Key West – steel drum band playing on the radio, a lot of Jimmy Buffet, interspersed with Mumford and Sons and The Goo Goo Dolls, thank goodness.  Men grubby with stubby unshaven faces weathered by the sun were spitting fish stories at each other in between sipping their beers while bar maids in short shorts and bar-logoed t-shirts bantered with them as if they were family. Bottles of beer were propped along the bar like miniature soldiers wearing flags on their uniforms, displaying not their country, but their lager.

People in kayaks and fishing boats skimmed by the dockside restaurant as we found a couple of stools at the far end of the bar next to a white whiskered man with a faded blue ball cap on his head and a beer bottle in his hand. He sort of grunted when we sat down next to him.

I turned to him, smiled and probably asked a question, as I’m inclined to do. Before long, we learned that “Captain Dave” as the bartenders and local patrons called the man whose place at the bar was obviously his territory, had been in the Air Force a long time ago, which he announced by saying “Look.” and pointing to his cap. He had flown in the back seat of F94 Starfire in the days of manual ejection seats (not exactly reliable in an emergency), and his job, along with the pilot, was to skew messages sent by Russian Bears, which were in the air trying to thwart US missile information.

Captain Dave regaled us with aviation stories, as well as his newest venture of taking tourists through historic canals in Massachusetts. He bought us a beer, told us he’d been living at the fish camp for over twenty years in his trailer, and he had a kayak, if we wanted to borrow it. His voice was rusty as if it hadn’t been used in awhile and his eyes were as blue as the skies he used to fly and the old canal waters he now masters.

Waving good-bye to our friend, probably forever, Dan and I hopped on our bikes to head back to the RV. Our visit to Key West and Geiger Key had already been made richer for the stories shared with us by Captain Dave. I would like to think we blessed him as well by listening with rapt attention to the history he hadn’t told in quite awhile. After all, that’s what Lent is all about – the reliving of an old Story.


V: Lent in Key West

Key West, Florida, the home of icons such as Jimmy Buffet and the late Ernest Hemmingway, makes observing Lent a challenge, to say the least. Bars and music blaring along Duval Street, reckless raucous beer toting bicyclers darting through cross streets, waving palm trees ruffling in a clear blue sky and the brightest sun in the country is about as far from a church atmosphere as one can get. With bougainvillea in every imaginable color, ginger spiking red and white, bleeding hearts drooping, and plumeria offering their Hawaiian touch, the Key West scene seems more of a wedding gala than a worship service with the Bridegroom of mankind.

My husband and I spent two weeks in Key West, and in spite of its’ circus atmosphere, I discovered the island to actually be a perfect place to celebrate the Lenten season. “ Feed my sheep”, Jesus said to Peter, and to all of us who love Him. Many of those sheep were grazing along the streets I walked, the roads I biked, and in the bars I visited. Lent in Key West was a happening place!

After a ten day visit in a lovely cement stamped slot in an RV resort in Naples, Florida, Dan and I drove farther south toward the Keys.  In the resort at Naples all of the class A’s (permitted only) were parked neatly in an organized fashion on white slabs of concrete, facing or backed up to, in a double stacked row, a man-made pond with a timed fountain in the middle. Like so many dinosaurs chained to the ground in a circular prehistoric zoo, the behemoth campers, hooked up to electricity and water lines, grazed their sterile lots.

Around and around the palm tree lined circle my Schnauzer, Bridgett and I walked. Along the way, day-by-day, we met Jack, Linda, Tom, Abbie, George, Sherry, Bill, Joan, and all of their friendly sniffy tail-wagging dogs. I discovered life and story thriving among those dinosaurs on wheels!

We waved good-bye to our transient friends and lumbered our motor home downward on US 1 along narrow swamp-lined Alligator Alley, through Homestead and orchid farm stands, small town streets decorated with t-shirt shops and grills divided by two-lane streets pocked with cars, trucks, RV’s and traffic lights. Reaching the Keys where the turquoise waters and white glistening sand hailed us like a magical fairyland took away all of the frustration and sweat from our four hours of arduous travel.  Motoring up and over white bridges, lapping aquamarine sparkling water be speckled with darting boats of every description, we opened our windows, inhaled sea breeze, and set our sunglasses even more south to Bluewater RV resort, mile marker 14.

Our heaving RV at rest, hooked in under swirling palm trees with waving fiscus roots searching for ground, we found ourselves in a tropic haven complete with a blue picnic table, tiki hut, and a bar with a refrigerator and fish cutting stand. The pool outside our private gate was just beyond the garden pathway where Bridgett was free to do her “thing” in elegant, fragrant privacy, except for the iguanas hiding among the leaves and flowers peering with beady-eyed curiosity.

Here it would be hard to remember any other holiday except the one I was languishing in daily, just 14 miles from the most southern point in the US.

But there was a whispering in my soul. Some 2000 years ago, my Lord and Savior walked His last days on earth, to suffer and die for me. This, indeed, was the season of Lent when I have always, traditionally, given up something for Him. Vacation and sacrifice is an oxymoron, so I decided I would continue to give myself to our vacation days during Lent by turning my attention and whole heart to the people I met in Key West, just as I had in Naples. I prayed for Jesus to be with me on vacation.

Who did He want me to meet on my treks toward Mile 0?

 

IV: Bridgett Comes Aboard

My husband and I have traveled in our RV for four years, mostly to Florida in the winter to escape the cold of Virginia. There are adventures all over the country on our horizon, we hope, once my husband retires in less than a year. We are newbies in the world of RV’s compared to most of the folk we have met in campgrounds who entertain and inform us about their sites, adventures, and mishaps on the road. I wonder sometimes if we will ever graduate.

This year, as a step in becoming seasoned RV’ers, we took one of our dogs along with us to our favorite RV resort in Naples, Florida. Bridgett is a little black German Schnauzer with a sweet disposition and a ready wag of her nubby tail. Unfortunately, she was recently diagnosed with diabetes, so she must be given two insulin injections a day. This was the impudence behind us leaving our younger, very yappy, schnauzer at home in my sister’s care. Also, I got hives just thinking about traveling with two dogs and one former Fighter Pilot, my husband, in an over-sized camper. One dog it would be, and new friends we would make!

I figured if the people I met weren’t so sure about me, they were going to love my dog. This is always the first step toward the sharing of stories in an RV park. A wag of the tail, a sniff, and a bark, but not a word about real hair color.

Sure enough, just one trek around the park with Bridgett, and I was in. While my pet checked her “pee-mail” in flowerbeds and fire hydrants, then turned to greet Welsh Terriers, Yorkies, poodles, labs, and mixtures of all with a bark and exuberant sniffing, folks on the other side of their leashes first cooed at her then smiled at me.

“How old is your dog?” What kind is it?” “She or he?” Finally, ”Where are you from? How long ‘r you stayin?” and I find myself with a handful of M&M’s, meeting people and hearing more delicious stories!

III: The Walking Dog

There is no doubt about it. The best way to meet people at an RV park or campground, is by putting your dog on a leash and taking a walk.. Over our four years of RV travel, from Florida, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, my husband and I have left our two dogs at home. No getting up at dawn to walk the dog or bagging poop for us. Comfortable and simple, yes, the vacations were very relaxing. Sadly, though the acquaintances we made were nice enough, they were brief encounters I had been assured that when we took our RV on trips, we would meet all sorts of people. What we had not been told was the way to meet all those people was to walk your furry little friend, and carry that poop bag with pride.  

Bridgett is a mild-mannered friendly little dog with glistening black fur, soft curly ears, an unruly beard, and a nubby tail that communicates her happy greeting. Docile and demure, she makes friends with all of the other dog owners. She seems to be as interested in their stories as I am!

Jack and Linda, who have Gracie, a wriggling black Yorkie, live on a boat in Indiana all summer. Tom and Abbie, parents of Mickey, a curly-haired Poodle-Dachsan mix, met during the Viet Nam War where Abbie, tall and graceful with wild grey hair cropped short, was an ER nurse and Tom, the biggest man I’ve known, was her Corpsman on the field.

Bill and Joan, a couple from Ontario who spend most of their winters in Key West, just lost their “Little Fella”, Bill told me tearfully, his leathered hand twithering in the air.  They’d had him for over fifteen years, and the little mix traveled with them wherever they went. Bill’s dad, a Bush Pilot in the “30’s who barn stormed the hills, had taught him how to fly. Bill decided to race cars instead and made a career out of revving up fast cars. Bill and Joan have been married over fifty years, a little too late to find a puppy and “start a family” again, and Bill retired from a life of noise and transmissions. When they are not on the road, Joan tends to her garden and Bill drives a school bus because “… those kids need some positive influence and I’ve got the time to give it to “em.” Bill and Joan are looking for their place and a new purpose in a much quieter, slower life.

Another couple motored with their sheepdog, another one with two huskies; the people next to our motorhome have a great white Samarian with deep almond eyes and a perpetual smile. Our little black Bridgett has quite the crush on this hunk of a dog.

The family who arrived at the RV resort with three rescue bulldogs was told, “Three’s too many in a resort park for Class A’s.” So they took their Best Friends and settled in a friendlier campground where everyone was welcome. Campgrounds are  open to all kinds of folk and pets. In Florence, North Carolina, the bearded man in a bright tropical shirt staying next to our campsite pulled a separate trailer for his seventy seven year old Macaw.

I couldn’t tell you how these friendly folks looked when they were settled and young, and I don’t care. I’m just glad they are my Clan now and my dogs and I have so many more to meet in our future travels! The stories will keep on coming -that bag of RV candy is full!


II: M&M and Friends

RV’ers are a hardy breed. I find I am addicted to their nougats of life, which are as enticing as M&M candy. Distinct and colorful on the outside, their flavor won’t melt in the handshake. They are perfect just as they are the moment I first meet them. I don’t want to know how they used to look - fatter, thinner, wearing stilettos, or a hippie in bell-bottoms. Like a kid with a fresh bag of M&Ms, I find them familiar and original at once - paunch bellies, Birkenstocks, baldheads, and all.

Most RV’ers travel in their rumbling homes on wheels with their dogs, their last dependent and most faithful of all souls, whom they love without the restraint they had felt so necessary as parents of their children or the censoring they sometimes feel as grandparents. In fact, the majority of dog owners travel with two dogs. These dogs are always different ages, sizes, and predominately different breeds. Like couples who have circled, sniffed, growled and lapped at each other for decades and have finally settled down on a common leash, these canine gypsies are happy to smell new grass and take a whiff of a new dog in town.

 

I: Starting a New Story

“I just wish I had hair. I hate being bald.” Our friend and fellow RV’er, rubbed the sides of his head where his white hair bristled, framing his shining bald crown.

“I use to wear a wig.” Shocked, I looked at Jack, a pleasant man in his seventies with a wide toothy smile and bushy, surprisingly dark, eyebrows.

I tried to imagine Jack with hair. Had it been brown, maybe black? I could not picture it, nor imagine this man who drove and operated a forty-foot RV wearing a wig. His confession seemed to betray our friendship. Maybe he still dyed his eyebrows. We had hung out together now for two winters in Naples, Florida and had bonded through our stories - Jack and Linda from Indiana, and my husband and me from Virginia.

Could they imagine me without arthritic hands or my husband with wavy chestnut hair? If they did, it wouldn’t be fair. Surely there is an unspoken rule among traveling seniors about not revealing how we used to look. Regaling antics of the past and adventures we’ve had is permissible, welcomed for sure. Just don’t hint about the looks of another younger time. This would be a stranger’s intrusion when we are trying to create a new familiar.

I have discovered delightful characteristics among our new RV acquaintances, folks mostly retired and sauntering through the season of senior status. They are easy going and friendly, like tail wagging cocker spaniels or kids on a playground, “Hey! Wanna be my friend?” These journeymen have left behind their histories in pursuit of one last story and a new clan to make it the best time of their lives. So they pour real, unabashed, unhindered camaraderie into this life of travel, adventure, and, best of all, new friends.

My favorite gift from these, my new BFFs, are their stories. Everyone of them come from a place other than our neighborhood or even community, they have kids I’ve never met, grandchildren they (the women, mostly) go on and on about, and their lives have had true value, which they themselves seem to discover in humble wonder as they tell the unfolding of their lives. Oh, such rich stories!