Blessings in the journey

Last week I was given an incredible gift.  A 4-day worship retreat in the mountains of North Carolina.  It was very unexpected, last-minute, and I honestly didn’t think I deserved to go; however, Leo encouraged me and all the pieces came together to work it out.  I mean, it just “happened” to be Fall break for the other therapist that works with my kiddo, so she could cover me at school for the 4 days I would miss.  Crazy!

From the outset of the trip, I was excited.  It turns out that I’m a faster driver than most (big shocker, I know), so the folk I went with wanted me to drive.  No problem.  Driving is like breathing for me… especially when it’s driving through the mountains of West Virginia all the way to Asheville, NC.  I was giddy the whole drive!  The colors, the hills, the curves….  it was amazing!

Now, I’ve had some major health issues the past few years that have kinda all come to a head here in the US; so I am on a VERY strict diet (it’s easier to tell you what I CAN eat than what I shouldn’t).  When traveling with a group over a long distance, it’s pretty much a given that there will be crap food eaten along the way.  We stopped at a Bob Evans, and I looked in disbelief that I couldn’t eat ANYTHING on the breakfast menu.  I was the girl who ordered a no-cheese, no-egg omelet.  Crazy.  I was a bit overwhelmed and disheartened thinking what the rest of the week would look like, to say the least!

Blessing #2 came when we sat down to eat our first meal at the retreat center.  They had food I could eat!!!  I filled up 2 plates with salad, veggies and fish… and was SO relieved.  Throughout the week I could eat at every.single.meal, and not just salad!  It was amazing!

I could go on and on about how amazing the week was… music, food, beer, conversations, laughter, rest, the mountains…

But, there was one experience that stands out above all the rest.

A group of us decided to hike up a “mountain” during our freetime one afternoon.  We called a friend of mine who used to live in the area to see what he recommended, and we set out-  hiking up the road to the trailhead.  We heard that this trail was “moderate”, but that the view was incredible.  Upon getting to the trailhead, there were warnings of bears, so we quickly decided that we should just make noise the whole time up… which wasn’t really a problem for us VERY talkative women!  Ha!

The trail started uphill pretty easily.  Left foot, right foot.  About 1/3 up, it started getting steeper, with steps laid out in front of us.  We’d go up one set, and then the trail would curve around a bit just to reveal another set of stairs.  This.kept.happening. I started to just get frustrated.  We could see through the trees enough to know that we were in a cloud forest, and the folk coming down the trail warned us of rain…. but they all said that if we could make it up before the rain hit, the view would be worth it.

About 4/5ths of the way up, with a bad knee and a current struggle with anemia, I was slowing down.  I’d turn another curve, see another set of stairs and just get more and more frustrated.  I just wanted to get to the top!  I used to walk all.the.time., and had no idea why this was such a hard hike.  I used to love hiking!

As I stood and paused at different points to catch my breath, I caught myself thinking,
“I’m tired of the struggle.  I don’t know if I can keep going”.

I wasn’t talking about the hike anymore.

“Why does this always have to be so hard.  Why can’t I have the strength I used to?  Why does every turn reveal another #$*&%$%* set of obstacles?”

The girls up ahead would call down to me to make sure I was still coming.

I’d go up another set of stairs.

Frustration.

They’d call out.

Up another set…

The difference came, however, when I heard them yell out “OH MY GOSH!!! THIS IS INCREDIBLE!!!  We made it!”

I knew I was only 2-3 climbs away from the top.

They then yelled down “Lilia, it IS worth it!  You gotta get up here!”.

As I rounded the last bend, I saw a rock face that was standing between me and the top.  One girl was there, talking me through how to climb it.  We walked together to the summit.

I then realized that I need to find more people in my life who aren’t just experiencing my struggles alongside of me, but who have been on my journey, with my struggles, and can yell down at me from a higher vantage point than I have right now. Who have struggled up to the top, possibly swearing as they go; and through blood, sweat and tears can proclaim that it really IS worth it.

As we all stood there, looking out at the beauty, we could see the retreat center way below us.  We had no idea how far we’d come until we saw that landmark.  Later on, at dinner, we were able to look out the windows from our table to the top of the mountain we’d climbed, and with absolute joy (and exhaustion) we told of our journey.

We made it.  Together. 1780755_10152322503470841_921857032589956806_n

That night we sang songs of mountaintops and valleys.  Each time, we glanced at each other and giggled under our breaths “we climbed one today!”.

Jesus is enough for me… and I am so grateful that He allows trips like this one to remind me that I still have yet to fully grasp that.  He put people around me to comfort, encourage and love on me so that I am less likely to forget that He really does love me.  He will work all these struggles out for my good… someday.

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We “drive” by faith and not by sight

It was around 8:30pm last Thursday night.  We had already pulled over once because the torrential downpour didn’t leave much space for seeing out the front windshield.  Leo thought he could try to drive because I was absolutely exhausted, but alas, I have much more experience driving in this kind of weather.  Lightning striking all around us, lighting up the beautiful Kentucky mountains, my mother-in-law and brother-in-law in the backseat stating “Nunca, nunca hemos tenido una tormenta asi!” over and over again… they’d never seen a storm like this before.  Inside my head I argued that they had, but just had never attempted to drive 300 miles in one.  I mean, who does that?

Wind-shield wipers at full blast did nothing.  I sat way up in my seat, focusing on the rear lights of the car a ways ahead of us, praying that we would just get to Nashville.  We had already been delayed enough.  I just wanted a bed that I didn’t have to pay for.

Then, Leo said it, amongst spoken prayers:  we drive by faith and not by sight.  Nervous laughs filled the car, and we prayed that we would just get there.

Our adventure started out long before we even knew.

My parents have a history of driving high-mileage cars.  It is common for us to have cars with over 250,000 miles, even to 300,000.  Dad knows a few great mechanics who just try to keep us running.  I honestly don’t think I’ve ever driven a car with less that 100,000.  Good times!  So, it was no surprise when, just the week before we were to get to the US, two of the family’s 4 cars officially died.  Mom and dad were in the process of getting a 3rd, so, although we knew it would be tough, we could juggle schedules enough to make something work for a little bit.

We were given leads here and there, but nothing worked out in the timing that we needed it… except for a friends’ dads’ Jeep Liberty that he was selling for more money than we’d ever had at one time in our account during our married life.  Welcome to the US, right?

A friend was really concerned about us getting a car, and when I told him about the Jeep, he said that he might be able to help us out with a no-interest loan.  That sounded do-able.  But, we wouldn’t be able to do anything until we got back from a trip to Nashville to visit dear friends and pick up some stuff that people brought up for us from Colombia.

After post-poning the trip 2 days, we decided to just go for it.  The night before I left, I asked the parents one more time if it would be good for us to just rent a car, and they said that it would be better to just save our money and plan on being back on Sunday evening so that they would have 2 cars when my dad needed to start teaching.

We left Wednesday morning very hopeful and excited about our road-trip!

That is, until about 60 miles south of Cincinnati (only about 3 1/5 hours into the trip), when my dad’s car suddenly started over-heating.  I pulled over at the closest exit and when we opened the lid, there was an odd smell and the engine was steaming.  The coolant tank was empty, so we bought some, poured it in… and it poured right out the bottom.

It was 6:30pm, and all the garages were closed.  We asked the cashier at the gas station where the nearest hotel was, and she smiled and pointed “just up the hill here”.  It was the only hotel on the highway for 40 miles!  And, it had a pool.  And, everyone but me had something to swim in. 🙂

The next day, we slowly drove into town, aided by the rolling hills that we were able to coast down.  No over-heating.  We showed up at Scott’s Garage in Warsaw, KY and were met by some really nice people.  Right away, Scott was honest with us:  it could be simple, and it could be complicated.  Within 20 minutes, we knew it would be complicated so we took a walk to the Dollar General and then down-town.

I must admit, the 4 of us were quite a team.  Patty, Leo’s mom, doesn’t speak much English besides “coffee, please”, and “thank-you”.   So, when she walked into the Dollar store and saw all the treasures, she just kept talking and talking in Spanish about everything!  Then, there’s Santi, Leo’s brother.  He is convinced that for Latinos, speaking with a British accent is much easier than with an American one… so he has mastered the British way of speaking English… even vocabulary.  He had something he needed to throw away, so while Patty is walking up and down every aisle while the workers watch her in wonder, Santi walks up to one of them and asks “Do you have a rubbish bin?”  Remember, we are in Warsaw, KY, and they had no idea what he was saying.  One girl said “you mean, a trashcan?”.  oh my.  Then, there’s Leo who gets nervous every time he starts talking, only made worse by his Colombian accent.  (He says he has a true “southern” accent. ha!).   I tried to smooth things over by explaining that we were not from around here… as if that wasn’t obvious enough.

I just kept laughing.

We walked all around the town, and it was absolutely adorable.  Set right on the Ohio river, there were boats passing by, beautiful gardens, and houses that dated back to the 1800’s.  We picked apples right off the tree, and found cute little antique shops to escape from the heat in.

Patty kept commenting that the town seemed empty.  I explained that the US doesn’t have the culture of “walking around”, especially during the summer.  But we found the town when we walked into a cute bistro for lunch.  It was loud and packed with a line basically out the door.  There was a huge birthday party for a nice little old lady, as well as people eating by themselves.  It was small-town America at its finest.

We had a great conversation with the people in line in front of us.  They were excited that we had come to their little town, even if it was by accident.  When it was our turn, we sat down to classic dishes:  meatloaf and potatoes, shrimp and grits, and chicken fingers.  It was delicious!

After walking around town for 6 hours, we called the garage and he said that they were taking the car on a test-drive, so we could head on back.

Upon getting there, we found out that the root of the problem was a blown head-gasket.  They tried everything they could… and our bill would be $600 to have an un-fixable car.  However, Scott flashed his Tom Hanks look-alike smile, and held up a receipt for $100.  One of the people in the group we talked to in the restaurant dropped by the garage and put $100 towards our repair.  He told Scott all about us, and Scott decided to take an additional $100 off the cost… so we only owed them $400 to fix the car.  “only”.

I called my friend who said he could help with buying the Jeep, and when I asked for $2500, he said “well, you haven’t checked your account then, have you.  I put $4000 in it for you on Tuesday.”  I couldn’t believe it!

I called the owner of the Jeep and he said he could meet us half-way.  It was 5:15 pm, and we found a bank that was open until 6.  The garage owner’s wife was willing to take us and our luggage to the meeting point and drop us off.   We got everything transferred and arrived at the bank with 5 minutes to spare.  She dropped us off where we were going to meet our Jeep, and when I offered her $5, she said “No way.  You’re gonna need that!”.   Scott and Laura are the best!

When our friends got there, we did the exchange and loaded up the Jeep and got back on the road for Nashville.

Unreal.

The $4000 that my friend put in our account paid for the Jeep, the “repairs” on my dad’s car, and the hotel room… almost to the dollar.

Would it have been a lot easier to have rented a car? Yes.  Of course.  Do I sometimes wish that our journey didn’t always have to include stories like this?  Yep.  But, now we have a few more people involved in this story of ours, in the bigger story of God’s grace in our lives, and we have another stone to throw on our alter to God’s faithfulness.

We don’t deserve any of it, but He is gracious to take care of every need.  Santi and Patty got to witness first-hand God’s provision for us, and we know that no matter what these next few months/years hold, the Lord will provide above and beyond what we need.

We walk by faith and not by sight.

And, we have a Jeep!!! 🙂  WOOT!