saturday, august 24, 2013.

The many mountainous threads winding their way throughout our lives somehow intersect and suddenly things start to make sense. After three words about mountaintops, we decide not to wait until full healing comes before stepping into this story God is telling us he wants to write with our lives. We pick a place we've never been before: an easy hike with a big payoff. We pack a tiny person and our guitar (a Guild J30 -- J stands for Jumbo), as well as a few essentials, such as avocados and smoked oysters, then head for the hills. I'm afraid we've never been great at traveling light.

It is our first hike of the year due to our misadventures, and I am out of shape. The guitar is heavier and the hike is harder than expected. After reaching the summit we venture even further down the path and find a cozy spot to hunker down. We lay out a blanket and feast on our delights as The Music Man breaks out the guitar and starts to sing. I am reluctant, tired, and a wee bit annoyed. I resist and then relent. We sing together in this way a while until I commandeer the guitar, which is not at all like me. I tend to participate only under duress, and rarely initiate. I used to sing and play and write for hours on end each day, giving myself over to the music and pouring out my heart in endless song. Nothing could stop me and nothing was more important. Life itself was a song to be written, and every one and every thing was lyric fodder. The songs I wrote weren't stories I conjured up, they were experiences I related: the actual facts recounted, the actual dialogue transcribed. The telling of the tales brought about a catharsis: a purging, a cleansing, a release. But these days, singing means inviting the unnerving sensation of huge hands wrapping themselves around my throat and choking me... tightening their grip until the physical sensation is so uncomfortable and has me so alarmed that I concede defeat. I can still sing but I have all but lost my voice. This time I do not relent and we sing a song together which did not exist until that moment, and out of nowhere thunder rumbles deep in the distance: frequent, low, sustained. God himself hums along with us.

Music is so mysterious. Even now, with hands at my throat and all, I can sing any time I please, though I cannot necessarily create when I want to, and I most certainly cannot make the music come alive according to my will. There are times, moments I hope we have all experienced, when a song itself overtakes us, when a hush falls over the crowd and we hold our breath in anticipation, when something new and real happens to us as we listen to a song we've heard a hundred times before. Music has power beyond any power any of us possess. I can be livid and listen to a song that melts me. I can be sad and listen to a song that fills me with delight. I can be stressed and listen to a song that makes me feel amorous. And the juxtaposition of these contrasting states makes the shift all the more surprising. The same old song does not necessarily produce the same old result. These moments cannot be controlled or contrived, only experienced and enjoyed. Music changes the very atmosphere in which we live and breathe and think and feel and exist. It is not like anything. It is a tool, a weapon, a gift.

We wander down from the tiny mountaintop and laugh about life together. We are no longer afraid of the cancer. We talk about all the crazy things we have experienced in recent weeks and wonder at the things we have learned. The storehouse of heaven is a new concept to us, and having long sensed that our Volvo-loving days are drawing to a close, I flippantly ask God out loud what kind of car he has stowed away for us up there. I suddenly see a very clear picture in my mind of a bright orange, mid-80's Volkswagen Vanagon. With a tone of clear disappointment I protest, "... seriously? Those are so ugly!"

I've never been a fan of that era of VW, but I set my feelings aside and peruse Craigslist. During our first test drive I catch the vision: this is to be our home away from home. Oddly, the inception of the home away from home concept came to us the same weekend we heard about the storehouse of heaven. Little Buddy desperately wanted to go home, to which I replied, "I'm your home... home is wherever we are together." It all makes sense to me now and from here on out I am fully on board, but in the moment of decision we hesitate to throw our money down (unlike the next guy in line), and two weeks, many hours, and several test drives later, we remain vanless.

The competition is fierce for these tiny, mobile homes. Apparently these are the most sought-after vehicles in the greater Seattle area. My best friend's husband sends me a link to an ad I've previously viewed online. Unlike all the other un-orange vans we've looked at the last couple of weeks, I readily dismiss this particular van based solely on the fact that it isn't orange, but after such a trustworthy referral, we decide to inquire. The Music Man gives the owner a call, and though I cannot hear the conversation my spine tingles, and when I see the address where we are going, I declare this is the one and although it is getting late, we invite ourselves over. I am so certain I am ready to buy her sight unseen. And when we arrive, I am ready to buy her without a test drive. And when the owner insists on a test drive, I am ready to buy her without a buyer's inspection.

The van had actually been sold a week prior, after I first saw the ad. A local gal had put money down on it with the promise to deliver the rest within the week, so the owner declined several serious buyers with cash in hand, one coming as far away as Eastern Washington. As someone who has taken a train to buy a car more than once, I can say with certainty that when you're going that far, you aren't interested in going home empty-handed. But instead of the gal handing over the rest of the money, her husband appeared and asked for the deposit back. I guess they were just helping hold it for us? Upon reposting the ad, we are the first to arrive, and we stay for several hours.

The owner, Berthold, is a strong, kind man. His wife, Uta, is lovely and gentle. They are warm and generous and hospitable, and welcome us into their stunning home for hours and hours over the course of the next few days. They have taken many long trips in this van and have cared for it lovingly while it has been in their possession, though their son has had the van with him in Colorado this past year while away at college. Originally from Germany, and he an engineer, he knows everything there is to know about the van, and meticulously goes through every aspect of the it, explaining it's history and maintenance, and teaches us how to use, troubleshoot, and even repair, should we ever have need. It was the ultimate invitation for The Music Man to take complete ownership of this area of responsibility in our lives, and he couldn't have a better teacher. While Berthold's son had the van for the last year, the only repair which he knows the van needs is a paint job... and he says it really does need to be done. It is like being given permission to spend the money to paint her orange!

We take her down to Mt. Rainier for her inaugural adventure, if only for one night, and wander down to the lake with the Guild to sing the way we know we are made to. There is something so powerful about stepping out and positioning yourself to realize your dreams. Before long, we return to the van, and to our home, and to work, and to life, and to this strange new normal to which we are acclimating.

I drive her over to the local paint shop for an estimate: which is well over a thousand dollars. I shake the man's hand and thank him for his time, and tell him I'm sorry but I think we'll have to rattle-can it ourselves. I return the next day and say a quick "Hail Mary" under my breath and tell the man our story before submitting my ridiculous request: cut a few corners and paint her for $500. To my surprise, he agrees! A week later we have a gorgeous new van and the vision becomes a reality...