It turns out that living in a tiny orange van with others is exponentially harder than it sounds. Since we didn't settle anywhere for more than one night during our first lap around the west coast, we were in transition each night when we found a place to camp and converted the van into a bedroom, and each morning when we converted the bedroom into a kitchen and living room, and each day when we converted the van back to a van... and each afternoon when we converted the van back to a bedroom for Little Buddy's nap. You get the idea: endless transition. Taking a year off from work and normal life is no vacation, at least not for us. But then again, here we are, driving south for the winter in search of warmer weather while listening to a few choice songs from our first real adventure in Canada, now more than two months ago, and the music brings with it a flood of beautiful memories and glorious truths and a genuine longing for new old friends made in but a moment, which I pray will last a lifetime... and I realize now how epic it has already been. Truly. There have been so many beautiful and surprising moments that cannot be conveyed to others, only held dear in our own hearts. Somehow it's just easier to write about the tough stuff. Even the moments spent lost, broken down, stuck in a rut in the sand in the desert, in deep darkness and bitter cold, side swiped and in utter disrepair, but (and I don't even mean our van, I mean me -- and also our van) even those moments feel like a gift and completely worth it right now.
November was all over the map. I was hurting over losing our baby, so while nothing too horrible happened, almost everything that did happen felt unbearably hard. During the big tent meeting, my due date came and went and we did not have our baby... and we never will. Days later, we got word that our dear friend who was due the same day as me and our dear friend who was due the day after me both had their babies. We were overjoyed and devastated. It's very confusing to feel such deep delight and heartbreaking sorrow all at the same time. In all, our many friends gave birth to six different babies right around that time, with a few more still on the way. One great joy we had in becoming pregnant again was getting to share it with others going thru the same season in life. The first time around we were the only ones, and we had never envisioned pregnancy and parenthood as a solitary experience. This second time around it became yet another solitary experience. We miscarried in April, but suddenly, months later, it was like losing our baby all over again...
After the big tent meeting, we drove up to stay with Angela, our new friend from Arizona, and her husband, Greg, with the intention of staying for dinner... but had such a great time with them and their little ones, Darby and Abraham, that we couldn't tear ourselves away and stayed for three days. Our time together was so significant, so potent. Maybe it was because I was so raw and tender over the loss of our baby? They have experienced their own loses, as well as their own miracles, and have gracefully accepted the hand of God shaping and reshaping their lives and marriage and family. We were in good company.
We would have stayed a week but needed to return to Seattle, so we headed home via the Grand Canyon (14 degrees!), Zion in Utah (breathtaking!), Idaho, Oregon, (a short breakdown in) the tri-cities, and a 6 hour late night nap in the Snoqualmie Pass parking lot. Our van made it back to Base Camp, but only just.
Our visit back home wasn't anything like we'd planned when we decided to drive over 1,000 miles to get there. We stayed more than a week longer than we'd expected and spent the entire time stuck at Base Camp while our van was being repaired, and then repaired again. We hemorrhaged money. We had pink eye. We had doctors appointments. I sewed a set of blackout curtains for the van (which required me forcing myself to learn to use my sewing machine), which have turned out to be worth their weight in gold. We had a post-cancer checkup and, hallelujah, my levels were less than one!
On our way out of town we stopped to meet two new beautiful babies. We parked at Green Lake down the block from our apartment the night before, desperate to feel at home, but it turns out that hanging out on the street outside your home while someone else hangs out inside it isn't actually very comforting. In the morning we emerged from the van to find our beloved great blue heron lying in the street. There were no signs of trauma or reasons why, it was just dead. We flagged down a Seattle Parks worker, donned some latex gloves and helped move its beautiful body across the street to safety. It felt like that time I'd just found out about the cancer and, on my way to the basement, found a sweet, soft, furry mouse... which was so cute it didn't even alarm me until I then realized it was dead. I ran to our neighbor, Linda, who was working out in her yard, and I must have looked horrified because she very motheringly exclaimed me, "just don't think about it! I'll take care of it." And she did. I tried not to but couldn't help but think about it: the reality of death. And here I was again, facing the reality of death. The baby we lost was no longer a concept, we were about to see that we'd lost fingers and toes, coos and cries, softness and smells... not just the idea of a baby but an actual child, a person, a personality, a tiny little best friend. When I held beautiful baby Orson, I was in shock and could hardly think or feel. When I held beautiful baby Juniper, I cried. I conversed and carried on, but I could not stop my eyes from leaking or my heart from hurting, and even as I write this my heart aches and my throat is tight and my nose stings and my eyes are welling up with tears.
Nothing goes absolutely according to plan. Sometimes really shitty shit happens. I believe that God can redeem everything, but it's times like this when I look at the endless emotional suffering in the world, and the occasional suffering in my world, and I just can't make sense of anything. I want to hope again that these days won't last long, but I know for myself just how devastatingly dark it really feels, and I wonder what kind of redemption can even be hoped for, let alone encountered. I wrestle with whys. Lord, why heal my body while my soul writhes in pain? As I endeavor to become fearless in my love for Christ, I long to know, experientially, that He is willing and able to heal not only our sickness but also our suffering. I continue to pray for the hurting and sick in my dreams when I am asleep, and also in life when I am awake. I have yet to see someone get healed, but I keep praying.
We left Seattle that night, and I was so very glad. I wanted to put as much distance as I could between me and the hurt. We made it a whole two days before the van broke down again, this time in southern Oregon. It was another financial hit, but we found a great shop and had some good family time while we were there. Having put almost as much into the van for repairs as we paid to purchase it, it's hard to explain why I remain absolutely convinced that this was the right van for us and we made the right decision -- but I do.
We eventually made it down to Redding, the home of Bethel and the school which we'd attempted to go to. For the first time on our journey, we paid (but only half price!) to stay somewhere. There was a cute little RV park just down the road from Bethel where we camped out for a whole week. It was the first time we'd settled anywhere for more than one night in over two months, and it was freezing but it was great. We spent Thanksgiving and a nights following out on Lake Shasta at the coolest campsite on the tip of a tiny peninsula with not a soul in sight. It was beyond refreshing to be away and be surrounded by water and beauty and quiet. We feasted on takeout turkey dinner, and several days after, we finally found ourselves falling into the kind of routine we'd originally envisioned when we set out. It was lovely.
We met a lot of people going to school there at Bethel... all raving about what an incredible, life changing experience it was. It seemed that everywhere we went (beyond the shores of Lake Shasta) we were confronted with the two things we thought we wanted but didn't have: babies and school. It was disheartening.
While I was admittedly in a pretty dark place, I was also really willing and really wanting for God to reach down and rescue me. I decided to go talk to a professional. Bethel has this ministry there called Sozo, which isn't exactly counseling, it's more like a person who guides you in praying and teaches you to talk to, and listen to, God for yourself... and then you've done it so you know it really can be done and you can do it anytime you want to without help from anyone else. Just a little trivia for you: we actually started calling our vanagon "The Sozo Van" shortly after we got it. One of The Music Man's bandmates and closest friends, Jason, was checking out our sweet new ride and noticed the S and Z stripe design in the original paint and J suggested we name the van something with an S and a Z in it. Sozo immediately came to mind so we went with it. Anyway, Sozo is a Greek work used in the bible that means saved, delivered, healed. Jesus told the 10 men with leprosy to go and show themselves to the priest, and as they went they were all physically healed, but only the one man who came back to give thanks was sozo-d... body, soul, and spirit.
So I went to a Sozo and before we started praying together, the lady asked me what I wanted. This was somewhat baffling to me, as I didn't really see what that had to do with anything. I was thinking, "who cares? The question is, what does God want? Should we try to have another baby? Should we try to go to school next year? Did we make a horrible mistake leaving our lovely life and our cozy home and our amazing friends and a really good job and is this going to ruin our lives forever?!" And the lady seemed shocked because... because God has given all of us free will and He cares what we want. How can you possibly ask Him for what you want when you don't even know? Not that the point of knowing Him is so that we can get what we want, but last time I checked there's a bunch of stuff in the bible about God giving us the desires of our heart and Him being the Giver of every good gift.
So I was feeling pretty awkward but we started to pray and talk to God about my anger and my fear and my self-protectedness, which I was thinking wasn't really what I wanted to be talking to God about, but suddenly I knew what I wanted: music! Duh, right? Seriously though, the thought hadn't even slightly occurred to me. Even with all this talk about singing on the mountaintops, music had been off my radar for at least a month (actually, it was more like three -- since the end of August when the idea of going to Bethel sent us spiraling off into this unexpected adventure). And The Music Man will attest that, even though my heart has always drawn me towards music, something in my body has reeeeally resisted it these past few years. There have been many times in the last few years when I've picked up my guitar to sing and literally felt hands physically wrapped around my neck, squeezing my throat. It's extremely unnerving and has led me to avoiding music for several months, several different times... but it hasn't choked the longing from my soul.
As soon as I realized what I wanted, life made total sense again. The weight and the fog and the confusion lifted. We went to Bethel's school go audit a class and check it out, and it was indeed really amazing. But sitting there in class, neither one of us felt like we're supposed to be anywhere other than where were: on our own, personal, crazy school of supernatural ministry. And it's still ridiculously hard sometimes, but it feels really right.