My weekly post-cancer blood tests show my levels continuing to taper off towards undetectable, with the last count down to one-point-three. Doctor Two simply says, "well... I guess sometimes these things happen." It is almost a question and the answer is yes.
After we hear that teacher back in July who tells about the storehouses of heaven and sees Little Buddy with a harp in his hands, I promptly go home and Google the guy: his name is Shawn. I see he is teaching up in Victoria BC the first weekend in October, so when we end up not running off to school, we decide to make a break for Canada. It seems like a great start to our big adventure...
Enter Nicole. We put Little Buddy in churchy childcare (gasp!) for the first time in his life (and subsequently he sees TV for the first time, and we suspect he also eats candy for the first time), and discover another parent needs a ride back to the event. I smile wide and said, "suuuuure!" but what I really mean is, "seriously?! I plan on having a big fat fight on the way to church and if you come with us we're going to have to wait until after church to duke it out!" We tell her the two minute version of our story while we drive and suddenly she is crying, then suddenly I am crying, then suddenly we are hugging, and then suddenly we are friends. It is not an accident that she rides with us. She and her husband, Tyler, and their two young girls are on the cusp of their own big adventure. They have just reached a breaking point and are going to decide that very night, after church, if they are going to throw in the towel or keep paying the exceedingly high price that extremely big dreams tend to require. Our own adventures encourage them to persevere, which encourages us to persevere... and we need the encouragement, desperately, because even though we are just starting out we are simultaneously just finishing up, and the adrenaline is just starting to wear off, and reality is just starting to set in, and the van feels much tinier than we'd previously realized.
The conference is uncharted territory for us. It is all about hearing God speak (it turns out it's easy and you probably already hear him all the time... like when you find you already have the answer in your head the moment you start to ask the question), and about letting God speak to others through you (yes, you). We end up sitting with our new friend, Nicole. The music is amazing and captivates The Music Man and I. We close our eyes to drink it in and I later open mine just in time to catch Nicole placing $150 on the floor in front of us. She sees a picture in her mind of bags of money at our feet and wants to show us. She's that certain of what she saw that she sows into what God is doing in our lives, even as she's sacrificing and saving for her own big adventure. Who does these things? We are overwhelmed...
We discover there are multiple speakers: Shawn, Chris, and Mike. Chris happens to be one of the leaders at the school we thought we'd be attending but aren't, and just when I start to feel more sad than happy that we're here and not there, Shawn starts talking about how you don't have to go to an actual school to learn to love people in a way that invites them to know and love God... you just have to do it, you just have to practice. It is like being given permission to at least try to make a real difference in the lives of real people, even though we didn't make the cut to go to ministry school, and even if we'd gotten to go and managed to flunk out, and even though we are extra imperfect and have no idea what the heck we're doing. Life is school. This crazy life is our crazy school. We can still try, even if we need a lot of practice.
We hit the streets the next day to love on people. The Music Man is magnetically drawn to the homeless and marginalized, while I admittedly trend in the other direction. For example, when I see someone on the street I know The Music Man's gonna wanna talk to (for a super long time) I usually try to distract him by saying something like, "hey, is that a rainbow?" and pointing in the opposite direction, although admittedly my efforts are seldom met with success. But this time we are out there and I'm not just impatiently waiting, I am actively participating! That is, until a homeless guy starts talking about killing me... then I decide it is time to wrap it up for the day and make a break for it with Little Buddy. Still, I experience first hand that it's not as hard to love people, even strangers (even strange ones), as I had previously believed.
At the end of the second night, Shawn teaches and then turns to us and gives us a word:
"Are you guys a couple right here with the scarf? I just saw like this thing over… kinda like your… it was almost like... your house? Like this family anointing of relating to people, and having a heart culture that's transferable. I feel like God was showing me that it's a holistic nature you live in and there's something… there's some sort of home-based business or something he's going to do for you that's gonna take off and I feel like it's... you're one step away from it. It's like you're already doing some things that are about to multiply into something that you'll be shocked at the amount of success that your skills and your talents that he's given you can bring you. There's monetization to be had in your skills and your talents. And I feel like there's some ingenuity -- it may not be fully new to you, but it's ingenuity of taking something, an idea that already exists, and bringing it to a new place that can be monetized. And I feel like spiritually and naturally, you're gonna be hiring people because of what you're building. I also feel like this is gonna be a blessing -- like you're gonna be taking people on a journey of what it is to be whole. It's not like an inner healing journey, it's like an empowerment journey. There will be inner healing in it, but that's not the goal. It's an empowerment journey to become really amazing people. It's not just a pastoral anointing either, it's also like a discipleship anointing to um... to release leadership on people's lives. So I just bless you. I hope that makes sense to you guys. You guys are really special people. God is good."
His words boggle our minds but speak life and hope to our souls. We make many new friends, most of whom ask us what kind of business we're starting? The truth is: we don't know. Could it be music? The last word Shawn gave us was about music. Music makes the most and the least sense -- it is what our hearts long desperately for while having the most significant and seemingly insurmountable road blocks. Could it be Wonderful, one of The Music Man's bands that has been around for nearly 15 years? In recent years they've had some surprising success due to a licensing deal in Australia, but that's The Music Man and a few other boys -- that's not an us thing, so that doesn't feel like it fits. Could it be eye masks? I've long had this notion that some day I'd learn to use a sewing machine and start cranking out these fancy-pants eye masks that take me hours to sew by hand, and sell them like hotcakes in shops around town featuring local designers -- but that's not an us thing either, and anyway, I haven't yet learned to sew. Could it be publishing the hundreds of songs we've written that we'll probably never get around to recording? That's music, and it's us, but how? We resolve to accept both the mystery and the invitation to take a step toward this new unknown. All we know is it feels real and true. And we also know that Miranda, the woman who gave us the word about singing on the mountaintops specifically said that if Shawn gives you a word, you can take it to the bank... literally.
Our new friend, Yvonne, invites us over for a night so we can sleep in a cozy bed and shower and do a load of laundry (and answers my many prayers for a new pair of jeans when she gives me a pair that fits me perfectly which her daughter is getting rid of). Yvonne tells us about this big, free, 10 day, old school churchy tent meeting in Arizona at the end of the month. It sounds both tempting and potentially a wee bit nutty, but we say, "maybe we'll see you there... who knows?" and head north to spend a little time with Tyler, Nicole, and their girls near Nanaimo. From there we head to Tofino and camp on the edge of a gorgeous lake before ferrying back to the mainland. After a few more tweaks to the van at Basecamp, we head south.
Our first stop is in Shelton, where we spend a lovely night on the lake with Art & Julee. Art & Julee are our anchor. They've been a strong presence in each of our lives before there was ever an us (we were both best friends with their youngest, Carly Jean, who was generous enough to share her family). They have been a constant in our lives as a couple and have long been our spiritual Papa & Mama, so it feels really good to be received and then sent out by them as we embark on the first leg of our journey in which we will be far from home with no safety net. We crack open the bottle of French champagne which our lovely friends Jean Marie and Marie personally imported from France and gave us as a gift the night before I got the call that I had to go to Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (and subsequently everything went sideways, especially the time we had intended to spend with them). We celebrate our togetherness, our voyage, and my healing. In the morning we gather around the piano and worship. We talk about Israel -- both the beautiful possibilities and the dangerous realities. We pray. We drive away feeling covered and connected.
Back in September, Alisha (my friend who sent me the link about healing that was the tiny pebble that began a lovely landslide in the landscape of our life) recommend I read a book by Graham Cooke, who I'd never heard of. Alisha is an insatiable reader and I learned a few years back that when she recommends a book, it's worth the time to do myself a favor and read it. She has a real knack with words, and with connecting the right words with the right people. I must confess that after purchasing the book, I could not find the time to actually read it -- so I did the next best thing: I went to see the author speak. Not so surprisingly, he was speaking on the route which we had intended to take.
By the time we reach Anaheim, we are pretty low on funds. Embarking on our trip gobbled up almost all the resources we thought we were going to survive on for the year, due to several rounds of costly van repairs... and yet we proceeded to drive away. Amazing! Not being able to afford for all of us to attend, The Music Man hangs out in the van with Little Buddy while I spend the evening at a fancy hotel listening to Graham. While I am there, I go over to introduce myself to a friend of Alisha's, and just as I am greeting her, I turn to see a beautiful redhead looking right at me and heading straight for me. "Here she comes!" I think to myself, and three minutes later she tells me about her family and I tell her about mine, and three minutes after that she insists that The Music Man join me and walks over the table and pays for him to attend. Who does this?! I am in awe of the generosity of strangers before they become friends.
We fall in love with Angela and she falls in love with us, and she invites us to come stay with her family... in Arizona, of course, less than an hour from the big tent meeting. It's all very suspicious. We keep running into people, at the hotel, on the street corner, wherever, who tell us how amazing Arizona is and say we should go. It just keeps happening and is so strange that we decide to pray and ask God if we should go... and so we go, feeling more than just a little leery and telling ourselves it is just for a day or two. We now know for certain that a big part of this adventure is our school and we want to see what God's really doing out in the real world, in real people's lives.
We enjoy a few quick visits with Carly Jean, Dan & Alisha, and one of the Wonderful boys, then take a deep breath and head east to Arizona... on faith, of course, because even with numerous random strangers approaching us to give us money (completely unsolicited, of course), we have very little left in our account.
We make it as far as a little town just outside Joshua Tree, and put $28.50 of our last $33.00 (not including the $1.10 Canadian floating around in the ashtray) in our gas tank and do the only thing we can do... we drive out into the desert and wait. Except when we get to the park, it turns out there is an $18.00 entrance fee! We ask the nice lady if we can just drive thru and, bless her heart, she says yes, and we are on our way. We had planned on camping on forest service land on the other side of the park (because it's free) but Joshua Tree is so beautiful that we decide to hit a back road in the park and camp there for the night (this is permitted). Unfortunately, recent floods have turned the back roads into little sand traps for unsuspecting tourists, but of course we don't figure this out until after we've made it a good distance off the main road and gone around the backside of a gigantic rock and are completely out of view of any and all passersby. The moment we stop, I get a flash of panic that we've just made a horrible mistake. It is not a good feeling. We make a valiant effort and get most of the way out of the sand on our own, but most of the way doesn't cut it in the desert where no one can see us and it's over 100 degrees out and the sun will be down soon and it's expected to be freezing cold overnight and you can see the tarantulas and you have a wiggly toddler and no cell phone reception. So The Music Man hikes back to the road (but not without taking the 10 essentials and our emergency locator beacon) while I watch his slender frame fade from sight in the rear view mirror. It is like having a flashback to the first time we climbed Hidden Lakes Peak in the North Cascades. You know, the time that by the time we reached the boulder field which was to have been the home stretch of the hike, the top of the mountain was horribly windy, bitterly cold, and socked in by a terribly thick cloud. It was nothing but rain and hail and snow and wet. Not being able to see more then 10 feet in front of us, we easily missed the cairn marking the practically nonexistent "trail" and we carried up and on until there was essentially nowhere left to go. And I, being the novice that I was and having torn the meniscus in my right knee the year before, was incapable of going back down on the slippery, mossy rocks with 40 plus pounds on my back (salami, fresh pesto, avocados, and fine wine in a bottle are all very heavy). So The Music Man left his pack with me, climbed over absolute nothingness (a huge gap between the very tiny ledge upon which we were perched and neighboring ledge), climbed up the slippery face of a wall to the top of a cliff (I cannot adequately express how dangerous this was or how terrifying it was for me to watch), gave me a wink, and ran off to find the trail. So there I was, feeling exactly like Jessica in The Man From Snowy River, trying not to panic, and having a deeply serious barter session with God for what seemed like all of eternity. Led to me thru the thick cloud by the sound of me singing his name, The Music Man eventually returned, having just found the proverbial needle in the haystack. I don't know he does it but he always does! He lowered a branch and pulled me up the cliff, where we kissed and I cried for a moment before remembering that the darkness was descending. We jumped up and donned our packs, and all out scrambled to the tower as night settled in. Even after waking to clear skies and glorious beauty, I did not set foot outside that lookout tower for two full days! And here we are again, parted in the middle of what feels like an incredibly dangerous situation (having just finished reading the park's informational brochure about all the ways you can die in the desert)... but this time we are with a hot, sticky, barely just two year old.
After another epic, deadly serious talk with God, The Music Man eventually reappears in the rear view mirror (!) followed shortly thereafter by Ranger Brennan. While RB can't legally do much to help, he is very kind and does teach us several handy tips, which eventually enable us to free ourselves from our sandy fate without the threatened $600 tow fee... and just as night settles in, as is our way. Though we cannot afford to camp, RB escorts us to a camp site, allows us to stay a few nights, and even comes back to check on us a time a two.
And wouldn't you know it, when we emerge from the park after a couple days and have cell phone reception, I check online and our tax return check, which we aren't expecting for several weeks, has just been deposited to our bank account. So we fill up our tank and drive on to Phoenix... but not before meeting a bunch of stoners stranded at the gas station and giving them our weed and telling them about Jesus. And by our weed, I simply mean weed that was in our possession. Since having cancer, my entire perspective on cannabis has taken a dramatic turn. What little weed we had in the van was a combination of the last remnant of our wedding weed and the result of a recent car sale gone awry. Six years earlier, a kind soul had given us a lovely jar of weed as a wedding gift, which we didn't use and which The Music Man eventually offered up to some homeless guys at Green Lake who were in desperate need. He decided to keep one bud of it for us in the freezer, because "why not?" but sadly, he gave away the cute little jar, which I really liked. Anyway. Fast forward to this fall. I was driving down the road in our cute little orange Volvo, just minding my own business, when this guy and his girlfriend pulled up next to me and started shouting at me about how great my car was. I told them, "it's for sale!" and they asked, "how much?!" and I said, "four thousand dollars!" and they said, "gimme your number!" and so I did and then the light turned green. They came over to test drive the car and loved it right away and said they just needed a few hours to collect the money. It turned out my new friends were local cannabis farmers who make cannabis concentrate, which is used for medicinal purposes, which I used myself for cancer. They ran off to get the money and we agreed to drive the car up north and rendezvous. Except when we met them they only gave us $1,000! Turns out that when I said, "four thousand dollars" they thought I had said, "for a thousand dollars." That's a really big difference. But, as a consolation prize, they gave us a big bud of their best stuff... which was so potent it makes the entire van and all our stuff stink to high heaven in the 45 minutes it took us to drive the rest of the way to The Music Man's parents' house. The end of the story is that the stoners upon which we bequeathed our tiny bounty are so elated that I am almost afraid.
At any rate, we make it to the big tent event and it is so wild and crazy and unbelievable that we stay the whole 10 days. Sure, there are plenty of crazies in the crowd, but we also make some fun new friends who are really normal, and we see and experience some amazing things. On the last night, after days of face melting heat with no end or cloud in sight, out of the completely clear night sky, a cloud forms over the tent and there is suddenly a torrential downpour and then it stops and the cloud dissipates, but not before The Music Man runs out from under cover for a quick shower. It is an arresting experience and feels holy and mysterious.
All of it is enough to captivate my heart and mind about my own healing, which is something I really haven't had time to process or ponder since being declared cancer free a full two months prior. Digesting the reality of all that has happened in our lives is probably going to take quite some time, but I've found a new fearlessness in praying for healing for other people. I long for others to experience God's goodness. At night I dream about praying for people to be healed. And I am suddenly aware of just how deeply I do believe, and have long believed, that our loving God is capable of doing literally anything we ask him to do... although we admittedly don't often see miracles. But what if that changes? What if we started seeing miracles every day? Why not? What if God gave my dad a new thyroid? What if he repaired my friend's heart defect? What if he restored my mom's sense of smell? What if he mended my friend's spinal cord? What if he healed my friend's stage four breast cancer, or my Uncle's broken ribs, or the infertility of so many dear friends and family? What if he gave The Music Man all those missing adult teeth that never came in? What if he mended hearts and unlocked minds, and did away with panic attacks and learning disabilities and the effects of betrayal and neglect and abuse? What if he set the narcissists and sociopaths free? Can he? Can't he? And if God really is doing good things out there -- if He's doing them anywhere -- then why can't he do them in our cities and in our families and in our lives? I want to see it for myself.
Before we leave several new friends sneak us gas money... a couple from Indiana on their honeymoon gives us $100, a father and daughter give us and envelope which we are astonished to later discover contains $500. Others give us gifts and gift cards, and invite us over for home cooked meals and warm showers and fresh loads of laundry and safe driveways to park for the night. Who are these people? Who sees someone and, with zero hinting or suggesting or begging or pleading or holding up a sign asking for money on the side of the road, decides to open up their wallet and offer the contents to a stranger. Certainly not I. Who is this God who, even though we actually have gas money at the moment, lavishes his love on us not because we are in need but because he wants us to believe that we can trust him to provide for us? I have never had a stranger give me money and I doubt before now I would have even taken it. I am learning to trust. I am learning to receive. It is unfamiliar and unnerving but exciting to the say the least. These are kisses from a good God.