One of our first stops on this cross-country adventure was Monticello, the homestead of Thomas Jefferson. This was on a “Must See” on our list because I’m a HUGE history buff, especially early American History. Monticello was a pilgrimage of sorts. So much of our country’s history is wrapped up in both the man and the home of our 3rd President. But, I was also aware of the scandalous hypocrisy from the man who penned the first draft of the Declaration of Independence.
The same man who wrote about the equality of ALL men and their unalienable rights of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” was a slave owner who impregnated one of the slaves he owned. These are facts I knew going in. But, they never really bothered me before that day. I’m not sure why. Maybe because they were glossed over in my public school education. Maybe because Jefferson’s treatment of slaves, contrasted against many others in the antebellum South, seemed grotesquely acceptable… you know, given the time. Whatever the reason, it simply didn’t bother me. But that would soon change.
From the very beginning of the tour, it became an issue… because the tour guide kept bringing it up. She talked about the controversy surrounding Jefferson’s views of slavery, especially in light of the words he wrote in the Declaration of Independence. She told us it was completely understandable if we had questions and that she was there to help us wrestle through it. (I thought it was weird the first time she said it, but it grew more odd each time she brought it up. Six total. I counted.) And to my knowledge, no one took her up on the offer.
As we entered Jefferson’s private bedroom, the guide told us more about Sally Hemings. It’s believed Jefferson’s relationship with Hemings lasted for several decades, beginning when she was a teenager; the property of Jefferson. I remember questioning whether Hemings, who birthed six of Jefferson’s children, was even capable of giving or withholding consent. As the tour guide continued in her explanation, you could feel the tension in the room. I could see the disgust on my kids’ faces. (And the whole time, all I could think about was how they would berate me after the tour. One of my favorite Presidents was a sexual predator. That… and how The American Adventure at Epcot would forever be ruined in my mind. Probably for my kids as well.)
Switching subjects, the tour guide began talking about the constant petitions from abolitionists, like William Wilberforce, calling for Jefferson to speak out against the atrocities of slavery. But, the distinguished man who penned the phrase “all men are created equal” would refuse those requests. The guide told us that in matters before the public Jefferson simply said the fight to end slavery was for the subsequent generation. Behind closed doors, he voiced his beliefs that Africans were not equal to white men in the area of intellect. Of all the things I learned about Thomas Jefferson over the years, this was never brought up. Not once. Even with homeschooling my children, this was never mentioned in textbooks. At the same exact moment I felt ridiculously ignorant, naive, and irate.
As the tour ended and everyone from the group began to disperse, Sydney was eager to dive into a conversation. I was eager to eat ice cream. I don’t remember her exact words, but the sentiment I will never forget: Our country was birthed into, founded upon, institutional racism. I remember Brayden questioning how Jefferson, as a Christian, could own slaves. It is true, Jefferson created a version of his own Bible, consisting of translations of the gospels in Latin, Greek, French, and English. But, it was merely a cherry-picking of scripture, separating what Jefferson considered the “true” teachings of Jesus… from those he didn’t consider true?
Does anyone else see the irony? (Both about Jefferson and the fact that my kids sharpen me better than anyone else. For. Real.)
Questioning the authenticity of someone’s faith isn’t new. Someone once told me only TRUE believers read the KJV. I’ve also had someone tell me the only “true” church is the Catholic Church. Believe it or not, I’ve even heard these topics mentioned in sermons over the years. But, here’s something I’ve NEVER heard a sermon on: Philemon. Why is that? In fact, the only time I’ve ever heard anyone, in any position of authority, talk about Philemon was in seminary. And even then, it seemed to be more about bragging rights than anything else. People would always say, “We teach ALL 66 books of the Bible, even Philemon.”
Why is it said like Philemon is a footnote or something? It’s not even the shortest book in the Bible. (It’s the third shortest for those tempted to Google it.)
Now, I have no doubt there are many sermons out there on Philemon. But, I haven’t heard any. And the few people I asked couldn’t remember ever hearing one. Is it because of the difficultly in discussing racial issues, especially today? I mean, I’m sure it would make most pastors a little nervous. It was also a hard topic during the civil rights movement, arguably much harder. Maybe that’s why few pastors took up the mantle then as well. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” was a jarring indictment against white evangelical leaders of the time… those who seemed to loose their ability to speak out regarding the injustices against humanity. To stand up for their fellow brothers and sister.
Decades after the Declaration was written, another well-known President by the name of Abraham Lincoln said these words in response to the question of equality as presented in the Declaration of Independence:
They meant simply to declare the right, so that the enforcement of it might follow as fast as circumstances should permit. They meant to set up a standard maxim for free society, which should be familiar to all, and revered by all; constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people of all colors everywhere.
I find Lincoln’s assessment troubling. At best, it makes unfounded assumptions about the intent of our Founding Fathers. I mean, we can HOPE their motive was to strive for the perfection of equality. But, Jefferson was the man responsible for drafting the Declaration of Independence. He, above all others, given his position and power, had the capability of both setting the standard of equality and living it out. So, why didn’t he? It’s an interesting question to ponder. For someone like Jefferson, freeing his slaves would have cost him everything. It would have meant the end of Monticello. The life of privilege he was accustomed to, one created and tended to by the work of slaves, would no longer exist. He had the power to set change in motion, but maybe the cost was too much for him to bear. Instead, he decided to punt the ball. A profound opportunity lost.
It made me wonder: How many opportunities have I lost? When could I have used my voice to stand up against injustice? Drawn attention to the need for racial reconciliation? How many times had I remained quiet while my white brothers and sisters mocked the Black Lives Matter movement? Did I unintentionally make their ignorance more acceptable by remaining quiet?
A couple of weeks ago, the KKK took to the streets in North Carolina, actively recruiting for membership in their local chapter. Their campaign slogan, placed smack dab in the middle of the banner: Help Make America Great Again. In light of our recent trip to Monticello, I can’t help but wonder what they consider to be America’s Age of Greatness. Have you ever sat down with a member of the KKK? I’ve sat down with several of them. I grew up around them. They went to my church. Let me repeat that: They. Went. To. My. Church. The espoused religion of the KKK, classified as a hate group by the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center, is Christianity.
Racism is very much alive in our country. Institutional racism exists. If you don’t believe me, I suggest reading one of my favorite books, Just Mercy. Racism is also very much alive in our church (please, see the above paragraph for the espoused religion of the KKK) and ignoring it doesn’t make it go away. So, what’s the answer? I’m not sure. But, I know having conversations is where we start. Especially with those whose skin color differs from our own.
Approximately 86 percent of churches in American lack definitive racial diversity.* Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.” This has been our experience on the road as well. But, as we travel across the country, my favorite churches have been the ones where our family is the minority. They also happen to be the places where we feel the most welcomed and loved.
The Lord opened our eyes that day at Monticello. What we choose to do now is up to us… and what we choose NOT to do will be on us.
Right now, our family is in Mt. Vernon, Washington. Literally, that’s were we are. I’m not sure how to describe where we are emotionally. Psychologically. We’re in a weird place. That much I do know. And it isn’t bad. In fact, I would even argue that it’s good. But, we’re definitely experiencing some growing pains. Pruning. Refining. All of my favorites.
I received a text this week. Out of the blue. From a Christian artist we know and adore. He was praying for our family and felt like the Lord gave him a vision for us. I’m still processing it all. For a lot of reasons. #1) The vision thing freaks me out. I’ll be diving deep into that one a few posts down the road. #2) We’re at a precipice. The Lord has been leading us there for months. Years. We’ve been praying for the Lord to make the path clear. We know He is beginning something new, BUT HAVE NO FREAKING CLUE WHAT IT IS. And then we get a text from someone we haven’t talked to in months telling us that a new beginning is about to happen… something we’ve been talking about as a family, but haven’t discussed with ANYONE.
It’s a little too much for this Southern Baptist girl to take in. But, I think that’s the point.
I’m going to share with you a private conversation that took place between me and the Lord at the beginning of this trip. (At the time, it was a one-way conversation. I don’t audibly hear His voice. But, He MOST CERTAINLY has been making His feelings about our little conversation known throughout our trip.) My prayer was simple. The first request: Wherever I have put You in a box, show me. I think my exact words were, “Please, tear the walls down.” That part of the prayer wrecked me a few weeks later when Syd and I were in Nashville. (Yeah… just hold on for that story!)
The second part of the prayer: Show us how to be a voice of truth. This one is more complex. I’m not quite sure how to articulate my thoughts behind it. Or my motivations. Probably because He’s still working it out in my heart. And my head. I have the heart of a prophet. Anyone who reads the Old Testament knows it never goes well for the prophets, which probably explains a lot of my history with leadership in the church. But, it’s so much more than pointing fingers. It’s about seeking truth… the implications of living out truth. The spiritual fruit derived from walking in truth.
One thing I’ve learned on this trip: We’re not alone in our frustration with what we see happening in our country… in the church. We’ve met with professed Christians on this journey who fervently believe someone will go to hell because they’re gay (not because they aren’t saved) and those who believe all roads lead to God. Both sides of the pendulum are askew from the gospel of Jesus Christ. I can also tell you about the guy who said having a gun was his God given right and that gender equality will never work because men are best served… the way God intended… when women are at home. (What I love most about writing this paragraph is knowing how people are going to react. One person might want to spit nails right now and another might be asking, “What’s wrong with that belief?”)
My suggestion: We sit down and have a conversation.
The stories we’re about to share are real. They might challenge you theologically. They most definitely have challenged me. But there is beauty in the pursuit. Unlikely friendships have been forged. (One of the people I correspond with the most is a pastor in Texas who’s theology is way different than mine.) Our lives have been forever changed. Our kids are learning what it means to seek truth and fight for unity. We know a lot of people who talk about the former, but don’t seem to care about the latter. We want to see that change… there’s only one way to do it:
Bring the things dividing us out into the light and talk about them the way Christ calls us to.
People often ask how we decide our partnerships for Be The Change Youth Initiative. There’s no real answer to that question except the Holy Spirit. Sometimes it’s just a matter of talking to someone and knowing we’re meant to work with them. Other times, Sydney finds an organization, reads about their mission and says, “I think we should help them.” That was the case with Guitars for Glory, a non-profit based in Rochester, New York.
In the fall of 2018, we kept seeing their posts on our Instagram feed. Pictures of people around the world receiving guitars. Videos of some in Africa, overwhelmed with joy and gratitude, receiving the gift of music. Two things that capture Sydney’s heart: music and world travel. (It’s only a matter of time before she’s gone. Not just out of the house… um… RV. But, on a plane or boat headed to some other continent.) So, we reached out to see if we could get involved. The timing was serendipitous. (That’s code for Jesus.) They had just received a request for instruments headed to Uganda with an organization called Reaction Tour. The cost would be over $1,000.
At that point, we were praying about how to proceed with Be The Change Youth Initiative. Would we even continue the mission at all? Between the costs for creating the music for Be The Change Collective, our travel expenses, and merchandise, we were hemorrhaging money. We also give most of our profits away, which really isn’t a sustainable business model. (But, we also knew the Lord was calling us to do it this way. He still is and it drives people crazy. Especially church people, ironically enough.) We were at a crossroad, but we also knew this was a need we could help meet, so we asked if we could help.
That December, we asked kids to use their gifts and talents to help raise the money. Some of these kids baked Christmas cookies and held hot chocolate stands. It was a seasonal rendition of our Fundraising Initiative, which raised approximately $1,300 for the instruments needed for the Reaction Tour. But, it was so much more than that. I remember a parent telling me how thankful she was to have something her kids could be a part of during the holiday season. Something that puts their attention on others and not the Target Christmas catalog. (Again, we knew there was something to this thing, a little engine that we knew COULD be a catalyst for change. But we just didn’t know how. We still don’t! But this little engine is still truckin’ so we’re still going.)
We wanted to visit our friends at Guitars for Glory, so we decided to make Rochester our first stop as we headed down Texas to start our work with Make-A-Wish. I feel like I could write a book about all the things that happened that weekend. The Lord confirmed so much about our decision to walk away from everything. First, we met with the youth pastor from Jeff Roeter’s church. (Jeff is one of the founders of Guitars for Glory.) You can imagine how hesitant we were to meet with him given our past experiences. But, this meeting was a breath of fresh air. Listening to him speak about the need for Sydney’s generation to be equipped for discipleship, instead of entertained with silly antics, was the encouragement we needed.
This was followed up with a tour of a local pregnancy care center in Rochester where we heard about their work in the community. We also shared with them our story and the Carry On Project. It was the first time we dropped of the download cards for Carry On. Our hope has been to drop these cards off at pregnancy care centers as we travel the country. It points women to our website, where they can read our story and download the song for free. It’s still the most visited page on our website.
The night ended with an amazing dinner at Jeff’s home. Many of the Board Members for Guitars for Glory joined us and from the moment we met them we knew they were OUR people. The people we have prayed the Lord would bring into our lives. Those sometimes seemingly non-existent like-minded people who actually live their lives, imperfectly as it may be, like Jesus is real and that our purpose in this life is to glorify Him. They don’t pretend to have all the answers, but constantly look to the One who does. They don’t shy away from the hard things. They make mistakes, but are quick to own them… to learn from them. These are our people.
We crammed into the living room after dinner to share our story. It’s crazy to think about it now. I mean, the story up to that point was pretty amazing, but what He’s done since we’ve been on the road… it all seems so surreal. The kids also got a chance to share their music. Brayden singing for the second time in front of a group of people. An INTIMATE group of people. I still remember how nervous he was. He’s definitely not the same kid he was five months ago. None of us are.
I think the most memorable moment of the night came at the end. You see, a funny thing happened almost as soon as we started the journey: The internal pick up on Brayden’s guitar stopped working. Super problematic when you’re a touring musical act that only uses a guitar. We were hoping one of the guys from Guitars for Glory could fix it, but they actually did something even better. They gave Brayden a brand new guitar. It was a brand we had never heard of before: Gopher Wood. (It’s probably a brand we will never be without again!) So many songs have been written on that guitar over the past five months. The kids share it on stage. (Sydney’s Taylor cost more than my first car, but she loves Brayden’s guitar!) A lot of healing has taken place as Sydney and Brayden have used that instrument to create melodies for the words the Lord has placed on their hearts. Sydney’s face in the picture below says it all. It was an extravagant gift, unexpected. Treasured. Much like the people who filled the room that night.
Some of those people have truly become like family to us. Jeff’s mom, Kathy, (seen in the picture below), is part of a small group of women I have praying for us while on the road. Jeff has arguably become my kids biggest cheerleader. As a parent, you pray for people like him to enter into their lives. A voice you trust, speaking truth in such a way that your kids will listen… even if it’s the same thing you’ve said a gazillion times! They’ve reached out to Jeff several times on the road to ask for help, or advice, and he’s always quick to respond.
THIS is what we envisioned our grand adventure being filled with. Moments that filled our cup and reminded us why we’re on the journey. Moments like these have most definitely occurred, but it’s been sporadic. They actually come at the exact moment one of us is ready to throw in the towel. It’s not a coincidence. I can give you at least 20 examples. And you’ll read about them in the weeks ahead. But, for this weekend, it was about more than encouragement. The Lord was widening or circle, growing our family. We’re so thankful for these people!
Our first official stop on the six-month road trip was Rochester, New York, by way of Niagara Falls. Visiting Niagara in April isn’t ideal, but when the only other option is not visiting at all, you settle for the less-than stellar views and closed exhibits. But, before the Falls, we made an overnight stop at Freedom Run Winery. Thanks to the advice of pretty much everyone we asked, Harvest Host was one of our first travel investments and it’s quite genius actually. The premise is simple: For roughly $70, their membership connects you with hundreds of small businesses, farms, museums, and golf courses across the nation. If you agree to support their small business, they let you spend the night on their property for free. (Yes, I know it’s not technically free, but it has been a GREAT way for Jamie and I to have a date night without feeling guilty for spending money on ourselves. When a lot of your living expenses are funded through the generosity of others…. you start to think about things like that.)
This was our first night at a Harvest Host location. We arrived about 15 minutes before closing and made a great first impression by using the wrong entrance and then finding ourselves unable to turn around… or back up. Thankfully, the owner helped us out by moving her car, giving us enough room to make the wide turn. Jamie decided to drop me off at the winery and told me to order something for him while he got the kids set up. It seemed simple enough. He wasn’t going very far. Literally 200 yards. So, in the meantime, I began talking to the owner and his son about the winery and life in Niagara. (Did you know that area of New York is ideal from making wine?!?)
Eventually, the conversation switched over to faith. It usually does with me. I never know how people will react. Some are an open book, willing to tell me their every thought on the topic, while others look for any opportunity to duck out of the conversation as soon as possible. But, on this occasion, I found someone willing to talk at length about his history with organized religion… about his belief in God, but his lack of tolerance for the hypocrisy of many professed Christians. And he isn’t alone. In every state we’ve been to, it’s like a broken record: I believe in God, but don’t really care for the church. It’s obviously something that resonates with our family, but it’s also something that breaks me. I’ve cried so many times over this issue the past few months.
Eventually, Jamie made it down the join us, but he didn’t look good. The expression on face was new to me, but it has become one he wears pretty frequently lately. It’s the face of defeat. On this occasion, he wrestled with the car tow… and the car tow won. I guess the guys at the RV dealership put the tow on incorrectly, so when Jamie went to take the car off… the bumper decided to stay on the tow. So we were 0-2 when it came to RV experiences so far. Two days in. I don’t think I can stress this enough: Two days in and we were seriously wondering if we made the biggest mistake of our lives. But, the next couple of days made up for it. In a BIG way.
I’ve said it a few times here, but just in case you’re new to the story… this is not a “How to RV Across the Country” blog. Please, don’t look to us for guidance or tips, unless you’re looking for wisdom on what NOT to do. That’s not humility. That’s truth. Anyone with any common sense would NEVER do what we did… unless the Holy Spirit was leading. It’s the ONLY way ANY of this makes sense.
At some point in February, when it became clear the road trip was going to take place, Jamie and I decided to join a Facebook Group for those looking to transition into the RV life. The first webinar, entitled “Five Thing NOT to Do When Purchasing a RV” seemed like a great first step… until we started watching. We already violated the first two steps! I remember looking at Jamie, while I closed the laptop, saying, “This isn’t going to be helpful.”
A few months later, we pulled our rented U-Haul into the RV dealership in Pennsylvania. We bought the RV without even driving it… or even seeing it in person. The kids were super excited at first. It was a new experience. It was a HUGE purchase. (From a fiscal responsibility perspective, it was a HORRIFIC acquisition. I’m pretty sure nothing depreciates like a RV… and I know nothing falls apart faster! Dave Ramsey would NEVER have approved, which probably made me want to buy it all the more!) But, about 90 minutes later, I was literally throwing things out of the RV and the most undignified, unrighteous things were coming out of my mouth… while we were STILL at the dealership.
Everything went pretty smoothly until the last twenty minutes. We purchased a tow dolly for our car and the guys working at the dealership were helping Jamie get it hitched to the RV. I decided to use my time wisely and start putting things away. It was going to be a long night, sleeping in a big box, at a camp ground with complete strangers only feet away. Honestly, I needed a distraction. For the first time, I was starting to freak out. Sharing a small space with five other people and a dog isn’t fun. (I’m saying that almost five months in. I love my family and I LOVE what we’re doing. But, we are six people with VERY strong personalities. The fact that we haven’t killed each other is PROOF that Jesus is real. Seriously.)
I began making my bed, which was no small feat. There’s no easy way to make a full-size bed in a RV. It took me approximately 20 minutes to maneuver the mattress enough to slip on the fitted sheet, top sheet, comforter and pillow cases. I worked up a sweat, mostly because it was pushing 80 degrees outside the RV oven. God only knows how hot it was inside. I threw the last pillow on the bed and began to walk outside, when Tenley, our puppy, ran past me. She jumped on the newly made bed and began releasing a stream of urination rivaling the elephants I saw on safari in Uganda. As I began screaming at her, she just peed faster. To this day, that dog has NEVER peed that much again. NEVER.
I honestly don’t remember much of what happened after that moment. I recall Tenley running out of the RV as Sydney rushed in with a horrified look on her face. Probably because she rushed in at the sound of my screams, expecting God knows what, and was met with a deluge of salty language. Brayden followed close behind, but his expression was completely different than his sisters. He looked confused. Bewildered.
I made both of them leave the RV. I remember Sydney closing the doors and telling Jamie not to go in. I stripped the bed as I sobbed uncontrollably. Our trip was NOT supposed to start this way. We only had one set of sheets, which were now stuffed in a garbage bag because they reeked. I finished the rest of my time at the dealership trying to scrub the dog urine off the mattress.
We eventually made it to the KOA in Hershey. I’m pretty sure I didn’t say much the whole ride there. No one did. I think everyone was afraid to say anything. You see, I’m the one who, when times are bad, ALWAYS has a positive attitude. Especially over the past two years. But here we were, not even one hour into the official RV trip and I was already defeated. I’m sure Jamie was beside himself. He was still in a daze from walking away from his job, questioning EVERYTHING! But trusting God… trusting MY trust in God. (Also something I will talk about a little later on.) I’ll end the story here: Thankfully, the KOA had a place to do laundry. Thankfully, my husband packed a bottle of wine for the trip. Thankfully, no one was in the laundry room that night while I sat there with my pee-stained sheets drinking a glass of wine by myself. I won’t lie. There was a moment where I sat back and said, “Sweet Jesus, what have we done?” It wouldn’t be the last time I asked myself that question. It also wouldn’t be the last time I drank wine while doing laundry. I’m actually sitting at the laundromat in Yellowstone at this very moment, with a glass of wine., making new friends… talking about Jesus.
It’s 11:25pm and everyone’s asleep except for me and Tenley, our dog. Tonight, our humble abode can be found snuggling between the trailer of a vagabond twenty-something and decked out tour bus in a Cabela’s parking lot in Billings, Montana. There are at least eight other RVs parked here and I quite literally have to fight the instinct to knock on each door and say, “Pleases, tell me the story that has you sleeping in the parking lot tonight.” I’ve come to learn that people like us… people who camp out in a parking lot…. we have a story.
Looking back over the past four months, there’s SO MUCH I would have told myself then… knowing what I do now. Things that would have saved us time and money. Things that would have prevented fits of frustration and our kids’ ears from explicit language spewing out of our mouths. (Mostly Jamie, but I can hold my own, unfortunately.) But, it would have also caused us to miss out on some seriously needed refining and pruning. We’re different people now than we were then. Praise God.
The next part of the story has us heading from Connecticut, to visit my brother and his family in Maryland. He graciously let us crash at his house before picking up the RV the following day. That event, in and of itself, isn’t necessarily worthy of an entire blog post, however, the story behind how I met my brother is. So, I’m sharing that today. I promise… it’s worth the read.
Interesting fact about me: I don’t share my husband’s last name. When people find out, especially men in the church, they usually assume that I’m some “flaming feminist” with a problem submitting to her husband’s authority. Seriously. I’ve had men say this to my face. And women. (I’ll save that topic for another post. I promise.) I actually find the comments amusing. Ignorant, but amusing. I’m also pretty quick to point out that neither feminism, nor my husband’s authority, is something I take issue with and that their assumptions give evidence to their stupidity. (I’m a little nicer than that. Usually.)
The reason why my name is different is logistically simple, but, also emotionally complicated. Long story made short: Before my parents married, my father had another wife and two children. It wasn’t something he ever talked about growing up. I remember finding pictures of his children and asking my mom who they were. My curiosity was alway met with blunt, nonsensical responses. Eventually, I pieced together the truth. My dad married young and became a parent far quicker that he should have. (And I would take that a step farther and contend that parenthood wasn’t a calling for him. Some people just aren’t made for it. He most definitely wasn’t.)
He eventually left his family. Completely. He divorced his wife and signed away the parental rights for his children. I won’t pretend to know why. It’s something I can’t fathom. He tried to contact them a few times throughout his life. Maybe conviction and regret got the best of him. But, he died without ever meeting them again. And his death also meant a huge road block for me to ever meet them. I didn’t know their names or where they lived. So, when it came time for Jamie and I to get married, I told him that I needed to keep my name, not because I didn’t like his, or because my identity was wrapped up in seven letters. It was because I knew the only chance I ever had to meet my brother and sister was if they found ME. And the only way they could do that was through my name. (This was years before DNA testing kits, when VHS tapes were still on the shelves and pumpkin spice flavoring wasn’t in Spam. Back when the world hadn’t lost its collective mind.)
If you know Jamie, you know this wasn’t even an issue. I’ve never met a human being more confident in who he is, yet so humble in living out that confidence. It’s almost like God knew what He was doing when he put us together. (It definitely takes a “special” human being to deal with me on a daily basis.) There were always the awkward moments when someone would call him Mr. Catlett. Our kids still snicker when it happens. And, like I mentioned before, I have received my share of eye-rolls over the years due to my choice to not take Jamie’s name. But, over time you learn to deal with people’s assumptions, which truly is a sad commentary on our society as a whole.
Years past and we never really thought about the difference in our names until about 10 years ago when I received an email from my editor. Back then, I was writing for a Christian magazine in the midwest. My editor had received an email from a woman asking for my contact information. When my editor informed the woman that doing so would go against company policy, the woman explained that she had been married to my father years before and wanted to get in touch with him. (Yeah… I know. We really need to write a book about our lives. Probably 10 books because the volume of crazy Jesus stories is pretty insane.)
I remember receiving the forwarded email from my editor. I was sitting in my office, working on an article when the email popped up. I opened it immediately and read through it several times before I began putting the pieces together. The first time through, I thought the email went to the wrong person. The second time, I began to remember my dad’s former life. Could this actually be his first wife? The third time through, I remembered why I never changed my name and all the people who said it would be pointless because the likelihood of my brother and sister ever finding me (or ever wanting to find me) was probably miniscule. It was the proverbial needle in a haystack, but like everything else, when Jesus is involved, there’s this magnet in your life…. no matter the seemingly insurmountable amount of hay and how infinitesimal the size of the needle, the dots are connected. The lost are found. Always.
Eventually I connected with my father’s ex-wife. I had to tell her that he passed away long ago. She told me about her life and the lives of her children; she suggested the possibility of us all meeting. Because the story isn’t just mine to share, I’ll leave it here. But, almost ten years have passed since that moment and I have a brother because of it. Something I longed for ever since I was a child. I also have the most amazing sister-in-law, and a nephew and niece. If you know me, you know I come from a broken family. The word dysfunctional doesn’t begin to describe my upbringing. But, despite everything, the Lord was faithful in giving me the one thing I ever really wanted: a family that truly loved me, unconditionally and unequivocally. Of course, I have that with Jamie and the kids, but being raised in a family whose love was conditional at BEST…. it leaves a mark (some of my fellow Enneagram 8s can attest to that!)
Years removed from it all, people ask why I haven’t changed my name. (It’s a little annoying, if I’m honest. But, I always laugh at how completely acceptable people think it is to ask the question. FYI… it isn’t. Mind your business and keep your opinions to yourself.) But, here’s the truth: My name is like an Ebenezer stone. It reminds me of His faithfulness. How He finds the needle in the haystack. How He makes the seemingly impossible merely mathematically improbable. He’s reminded us of that time and time again over the past four and a half months. He is faithful and very real. He isn’t a myth, or a coping mechanism, for weak-minded people. I think the problem is that we put Him in a box. I know I did, but He obliterated it about four months ago.
***Ministry Update: As some of you know, this blog isn’t in “real time.” At least, not yet. As I type this, we’ve finished up our tour of the Midwest and are currently driving through Such Dakota. The delay was intentional because I needed time to process my thoughts. We’re four months into this insane adventure, driving through our 29th state. We’re coming to a fork in the road, figuratively speaking. We know our lives are about to change. We can feel it. ****
Almost everywhere we go, someone inevitably asks if we’re taking notes on how to live out this grand adventure. But, here’s a confession: You don’t want our notes. I promise. Jamie’s always quick to respond, “The only notes we have: What NOT to do.” It’s true. All the experts will tell you that we’ve done everything “wrong.” And maybe from the world’s standards we have. But, the Lord is leading us to the road less traveled. Honestly, it feels like He’s just dropping us in the middle of a 2000 acre corn field with only a machete to carve out our the trail. (We just spent the past two weeks driving through corn. It’s fresh on my mind.) We have no compass or map. No sense of direction. Just a gentle blowing of the wind… and pretty much all six of us questioning which direction the wind is blowing. We’re a ridiculous mess.
As we encroached on two weeks without a home, we finally purchased a RV… in Pennsylvania. Without ever driving it. Without even looking at it. This isn’t recommended. EVER. (You should see the faces of seasoned RVers when they hear our story. They can’t hide their horror at the thought of making sure a huge purchase without due diligence.) Because the model we settled on (Entegra Odyssey) was different than the models we originally looked at, our cargo capacity changed. In short, we had to shave about 150 pounds of weight. That might not seem like a lot, but it meant only bringing 460 pounds into the RV. And when the kids’ instruments weight 75 pounds, and then you add the InstaPot and clothes for six people… things start to add up REALLY fast. Jamie and I spent HOURS packing and then stepping on a scale to weigh ALL. THE. THINGS… and then repacking. There were casualties from this process… like my coffee maker. If you know me… you know I cried. For real. (From the beginning, the Lord was showing us how much we relied on things of this world…how comfortable we had gotten in this world.)
After everything was packed up, we headed to Pennsylvania. Jamie took Brayden and Tenley, our dog. (Yes, our dog), while I drove the other three kids in the car, making a quick stop in Bridgeport, Connecticut, before heading down. A friend of ours had left Maine years back to plant a church in Bridgeport. At the time, I remember so many people in our church being confused. Why would a older white male from Maine want to plant a church in a inner-city community in Connecticut? Why would you want to walk away from the (safe) life you built to venture into the unknown circumstances of inner-city ministry? Other people thought it was odd. I thought it was magnificent.
I’ve been friends with Doran for a while. We’ve watched his ministry flourish despite the setbacks. I’ve watched him evolve into one of the fiercest advocates for racial equality that I personally know. He fights for his community, no matter the cost. Knowing him and witnessing his work has made me a better person and I wanted my kids to benefit for his existence in the world. At his relentless pursuit of being the hands and feet of Jesus. So, we spent a few hours with him.
While our time was short, it was life giving. He shared with us the reality of systemic racism, ingrained in the political and governmental infrastructure of their community. In many communities across our country. He talked about the importance of the church being present and active in the lives of the youth. Twice on our tour through the city, Doran jumped out of the car to talk with people in his neighborhood. It was beautiful to watch. He kept apologizing for the delays, but I can’t think of a better way to start our adventure. It was a profound example of the importance of connection. You never know when the Lord is going to place someone in your path. Someone He wants you to connect with. Someone that will impact your life. Someone that might profoundly change everything.
The Lord has put SO MANY people in our path. They have forever changed our lives… and our love for the church.