A couple weekends ago, I went out on a limb and realized that it had been way too long.
This recent going out on a limb took the form of a road trip that, when I embarked, was only half-planned in its details and still unclear in its destination. When all was said and done and I was back in Dallas, my Camry and I had covered approximately 2,363 miles in 83 hours or so. If there’s one thing I love it’s a good road trip, but I think I outdid myself that time.
It started when I realized a college teammate’s wedding in South Carolina fell on the same weekend that my school’s Day of Prayer freed me from the obligation of Friday classes. It might be nice to get away for a weekend, I thought. I then remembered that a pastor friend had offered to connect me with a church in South Carolina where he knew the missions chair. I could use the trip to visit the church and share my plans for missions work overseas. (You see, being an itinerating missionary has a way of changing one’s concept of “getting away.”) This church also happened to be where another college teammate’s family still goes. Pre-wedding church missions visit: check; warm, hospitable lodging: check.
I am a road tripper, so I was prepared to drive all that way for a friend’s wedding; but I am a pragmatic road tripper, so if I could kill two birds with one stone, even better! Well a week before leaving, a third bird flew into the picture. I got word from MTW that a group of people involved in work in West Africa (i.e. people I’d potentially be working with in the future) were doing a driving tour for meetings and church visits. A couple were Africans that were only in the country for the brief window of their tour. They were open to meeting up with me if our schedules allowed, a huge opportunity since otherwise the only communication I have with such people is via email (spotty at best!). When I looked at their itinerary, where did they happen to be planning an overnight stop between Florida and Virginia but South Carolina, on Sunday the same night that I’d be there for the wedding. Surely it’s too good to be true, I thought. Either it’s a coincidence or a God-thing; either way, I’ve got to do everything I can to make this meeting happen.
I told them I’d drive to meet them wherever they stopped. It would be a few hours away from the wedding location, but what’s a few hours when they’re usually halfway across the globe? They had no way of knowing exactly where or when they’d get a hotel, though they told me which interstate they’d be getting off. We said we’d keep each other posted, and that’s about as much as I knew. I wasn’t even sure what I’d ask them or what we’d talk about, but it could only be a profitable visit. If it worked out, wherever I met them would be my last stop of the trip. I hadn’t figured out how I’d get back to Dallas afterward. There was still too much up in the air; I’d cross that bridge when I got to it.
So I set out on my cross-country trek, not sure of all the stops I’d be making but certain that I needed to go. My GPS was invaluable of course. As was a jar of peanut butter and a charged up iPod. Ah, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of starting out with both hands on the wheel and your sights on the distant horizon, knowing that you’ll be crossing multiple state lines that day. I’m convinced that I was born to cover ground and to take in new scenery.
I got to visit some great people along the way (always a road trip bonus) — fellow itinerating missionaries in Birmingham, college pals in Atlanta, friends that I hadn’t seen in years at the wedding. The church visit ended up being more than I’d planned for; I got to practice “winging it.” And yes, the meeting with the West Africa group did in fact happen. The conversation switched back and forth between French and English as we got to know each other, brainstormed, and imagined. New inspiration was sparked in my search for a field assignment overseas.
During the trip, some details of times and locations were only finalized en route to said locations. All I could do was go with it and enjoy the ride. Several times I had that exhilarating but slightly terrifying sensation of, “Here I am driving in the middle of nowhere, no one actually knows where I am, and I have no guarantee that I’ll find the place I’m looking for.” It was in those moments that I realized I’ve missed that.
I’ve missed being out on a limb and being forced to trust my startling frailty to a startling Providence. That was my theme while living in Normandy, France as an English teaching assistant after college. For those formative 10 months, I lived on my own in a foreign country without phone or car, totally dependent on others and God. I was completely at the mercy of the memory of strangers who were supposed to pick me up or meet me somewhere; at the mercy of public transportation, which was reliable except for when the conductors went on strike; at the mercy of acquaintances into whose homes I invited myself. Mostly I was at the mercy of a Providence that I’d always believed in but perhaps never really believed I needed. There were many occasions where I felt and heard the Lord’s guiding hand like I never had before. It’s not that the Lord hadn’t been guiding me before then, but I had too many conveniences, I took too much for granted to truly realize it. I’d managed to fool myself into thinking I was responsible for things working out. Now there was no fooling anyone; I was obviously not self-sufficient. I was testing this hand of Providence, and I found it to be sure.
I got a taste of that again on this trip. That hand guided me all along the highways of the Southeast, through the back-roads of South Carolina, to a hotel where I had an evening chat with five men about the need for the gospel in West Africa and how I could fit in. That hand guided me as I got back on the road for the 17-hour drive back to Dallas, later as I watched the sun rise from behind the wheel, as I went back across the Mississippi River. When I rolled back into my Dallas driveway, I knew this hadn’t been any ordinary road trip.
Granted it wasn’t something to do every weekend, but man was it worth it!