Last time I wrote about God playing Travel Agent in my life, it was about a different October, and the blessings that arose from my stay in a psych ward. (Halloween-themed craft projects? I’m now an expert!) This time God played a more literal Travel-Agent role… and naturally I have a Story to tell.
To set the stage, let me tell you what I think about myself as a Travel Agent:
I love the planning-parts of travel. My dad (who was himself an avid world traveler) always said there are three “stages of enjoyment” with every trip: the planning, the trip itself, and reliving the memories afterward (and in his case, disseminating them via Kodak slide shows).
So I don’t just book the locomotion and the landing-spot before a trip. I research places we might want to eat (so we won’t be standing on a sidewalk searching “food near me” on our phones when our needles have dropped below “hangry”). I make reservations in advance for Experiences that require pre-arrangement (boat, horses, fishing trips) because Experiences are what we travel FOR. I study maps with my highlighter (call me old-fashioned: I love me a paper map!), collect ideas, dream up routes that will take us on new roads… Sometimes I make up a little “travel brochure” for my husband, providing itinerary of pre-planned parts, and an array of additional options we might undertake.
It’s the only fictional-character-birthday I know, and not because I’m a big Tolkien nerd (though I am), but because it’s also my sister’s birthday. Just before my own birthday earlier in the month (or as I like to think of it: the annual reminder from my mother about what LABOR day REALLY means!) I read a piece referring to September as the fresh start of the new year for many pre-Gregorian-calendar cultures.
That feels right to me.
Maybe it’s because my personal calendar turns over its “counter” in September; maybe it’s because the rhythm of school-years imbued my early decades of calendar-use; or maybe it’s because I tend to start things at this time of year.
Case in point: my Blog’s (11th) birthday is today.
In its early years I posted several times a week—a frequency facilitated by the fact that I was freelance-writing for a living, i.e. always at the computer, and when I hit a wall and needed a brain-break, the most natural draw was the open browser-tab with my FUN writing in it. In recent years I’ve drifted away, and back, and away again… and today I notice that my “back-agains” arose in autumn or winter, every time. My creative life broadens as day-length dwindles. I’ve never made that connection until just now, counterintuitive at first blush… but in the next beat, I felt its truth.
My job, too, has a seasonal rhythm. Last week’s rodeo, the Pendleton Round-Up, marked an end to the months where a “day off” might mean only five work-hours instead of nine to fourteen. This week I’m filling our RV sites with monthly residents, traveling workmen arriving for construction on a nearby wind farm, and the processing of guests (phone call, reservation, questions, email, park map, check-in, orientation, more questions, parking, hookup, other questions, conversation, check-out) will drop from the turnover of a thousand guests a month to just a few dozen. You could say our “work-week” is organized on an annual scale: Spring as “Monday”, Summer as “Tuesday-to-Thursday”, Fall as “casual Friday,” and Winter—long-awaited and hard-earned—is more or less our weekend.
Well how fortuitous! The circannual rhythm of my Creative cycle may actually be synced with a job where I have TIME, just when I might actually be most disposed to (literally) make something of it. The purple index card taped to my roll-top desk just above my screen is my reminder:
Time is the currency of your art. In this transaction … writing accepts no form of payment other than your time. “
A person can BE A WRITER without publishing books you’ve heard of (or even, as in my case, published in books you’ve never heard of). A person can BE A WRITER without publishing anything at all, ever. It’s not the publishing that “makes” a writer—it’s the act of writing. So what a person can’t do… is be a writer if she’s Not Writing. In high school I lettered in cross-country, but (for several decades now) it would be inaccurate to say I AM a runner. Same goes, if I don’t engage in the act of writing.
But. Have you ever seen a visual aid of air-flow being deflected around an aerodynamic vehicle or shape?
That’s exactly like my brain’s response to a blank screen: it veers to the side so smoothly I don’t even notice I’ve been redirected.
I am really skilled–disgustingly skilled–at sitting down “to write” and then tripping down a rabbit-hole of writing-related-activity that is still Not Writing. I might be fiddling with settings or images on the blog, or fussing with my writing area, or (my most frequent offender) looking something up for the piece I’m “working on.” This summer I wanted to come up with a visual detail to add texture to a scene (a Manhattan street in 1841) and I ended up spending two days on historic maps and buildings and businesses and newspapers—finally pulled myself up, midway through reading the script of a play that had been onstage at the time… In two days at the computer, I had written one sentence. Framed as entertainment, it’s fine—I get a kick out of that kind of thing. But in terms of productivity? Fail!
Two years ago on an August evening, an unknown Oregon number rang my Idaho cell, and I picked up the call that changed EVERYTHING. Jon and I were agitating to get out of Boise, which has outgrown itself —-wanting to move closer to the Coast, somewhere small-town, more like Idaho used to be… (When I was growing up there weren’t a million people in the state! Now they’re approaching a million in the Boise valley.) Jon, who’d been a mechanic at the same mom-and-pop shop for 27 years, was searching job postings all over Oregon, while I drew a radius around every Home Depot to which I might transfer…
Over and over, my life has proven that GOD is a better planner than KANA. (I write that sentence with a sulky frown, because I’ve considered myself a brilliant planner, thankyouverymuch!)
And so it was that despite all our lists, maps, searches, and phone calls, it was this call-from-the-blue that revealed the real plan for our exodus:
“Is there any chance you’d be interested in managing an RV park in Pendleton, Oregon?”
Why HELL YES, since you ask!
We had chosen to live on wheels for just this reason. Everything we owned was in that fifth wheel—so we could just roll up shop and roll down the road! (That’s it just below: ALL Our Stuff, driving down the road.)
We gave notice at our respective jobs, bid farewell to our Church, my AA Home Group, Jon’s folks and brothers, my teenage daughter, our friends of decades… And exactly 19 days after answering that phone call, we were Pendleton residents: registered to vote in Umatilla County and proud holders of Oregon drivers’ licenses (though I have literally had a mug shot that looked better than this photo).
Now here’s the thing. There wasn’t a written Position Description at that time, but we had a pretty solid idea of what we were taking on. We’d lived in an RV (and an RV park) for our entire marriage, I’d worked in the RV park office for several years, and Jon had moonlighted on the maintenance staff in the summers. So it’s, you know… you keep the grass mowed and laundry machines running, manage the reservations and help people park, sell ice and laundry quarters, pump propane, make bank deposits and do the paperwork, pick the best staff you can from whoever is living in the park… stuff like that.
And indeed, when I ended up writing the Position Description a year later, it was full of stuff-like-that. “Reviewing and updating the Park’s legal and operational documents (renter application, rental agreement, park rules, employee handbook, employee contract, etc.) and staying apprised of applicable changes in state and local laws“… You get the drift. And yes, that’s all stuff we have to do.
But here’s what’s NOT in the Position Description—-not even the one I wrote myself. Because some of this shit just has nowhere to fit in a document like that. Snake Charmer, for example? What heading would you put that under? It’s a thing. In the summer we get bull snakes strolling through from the open adjacent fields—-looking enough like rattlers to spook our East-coast guests, and terrorizing poor Bob, who lives here and doesn’t care that they’re not venomous. Periodically I get a call from Bob, barricaded with his little dog inside his motorcoach, under siege by a bull snake lounging beneath his steps—-so Jon jogs over to take it by the tail and swing it back over the fence.
The ACTUAL Job Title Should Include…
The reality of this job is some crossbred chimera of… House Mother. Building Super. Narco. Concierge. Groundskeeper. Zookeeper. Safety Inspector. Sponsor. Hostess. Personal Shopper. Newspaper Reporter. Driving Instructor. Postmistress. Social Worker. Tech Support. Marriage Counselor. Emergency Services. Landlord. Mediator. Plow Driver. Plumber. Ditch-Digger. Electrician. Traffic Cop. Crew Boss. Legal Advisor. Neighborhood Watch. Marketing Manager. Trainer. Travel Agent. And maybe Tiny-Town-Mayor. (Or Tiny-Country-Dictator?—-there’s really not another branch of government in play here.) Plus, occasionally, a touch of Pastor.
I’ve had someone knock on my door to alert me (with quite stern intensity) that there were hamburger buns in some trees! I wasn’t sure what she wanted me to do with that information, but I thanked her politely.
Last week a mom knocked on my door for help with her fourth-grader’s math homework (the kids still aren’t back to school-in-person in our county; thanks to COVID they’re suddenly all home-schooled).
I’ve been asked on the phone if there were any possibility I could provide a javelin upon the caller’s arrival, something about a scheduled coaching-session. (We don’t have Craigslist here, but a community FaceBook page serves similar purposes—and my request for the loan of a javelin was certainly one of my odder posts there…)
I do wish I’d started earlier at jotting down the surprising incidents, the sorts of things that leave me owl-eyed blinking and wondering if someone actually just asked me that… But here’s just a small and recent sampling.
Tech Support, Level One Zero
“I need you to help me set up one of those—-you know, a mailbox on my computer,” says one of our residents, hefting himself onto the stool across the counter from me. Not having the least idea what he has in mind, and not wanting to sound insulting, I settle on the vague but diplomatic: “Tell me more.” Email! It turns out the thing Stan wants but doesn’t know the name for is an email account.
I set him up with gmail—and staple the address and its password to his renter’s file, assuming he’ll need help with that again. Sure enough, a few months later he’s at our door asking my husband about his password. Feeling rather proud of my foresight, I produce it on a Post-It, but Stan frowns and says he’s already tried that. “Here. You make it work,” he insists, holding out his device.
It’s a Roku remote.
Sometimes the moment when you understand something is the same moment when you realize you don’t know where to begin with explaining it.
Parrots. Parents. And Other Wildlife
I’ve been asked if we provided grazing for horses. (They might fit through the dog-park gate?) I’ve been asked if we had rules about goats. There’s a six-foot iguana living in a fifth wheel down the way. (And Harley does startle people, sunning in the window at eye level.) There used to be a one-legged man with a parrot (for real!) and after I teasingly called him a pirate, he showed up in the office in full piratical regalia! Actual wooden leg and antique pistol and all. (Turns out he used to make a living playing pirate in Key West.)
I’ve seen cats walking their humans on leashes (and one that rode around on his person’s shoulder), cow-dogs on rodeo ropes, one bear-puppet, a couple imaginary pets. One day a glance out the office window started me laughing—“Ohmygosh, that looked almost like a huge chicken in that camper doorway!” My cohort and I had a good giggle, because how crazy is that! Well it WAS a huge chicken. Harvey, the biggest rooster I’ve ever laid eyes on. (Thankfully, Harvey’s person considerately took him on a drive every morning so he wouldn’t wake the rest of us cock-a-doodling.)
For pure entertainment value, though, it’s hard to beat the people. Especially (being a hike-in-the-mountains, pee-in-the-bushes kind of Western Gal myself) watching the people unaccustomed to wildlife that’s any wilder than, say, pavement pigeons.
An overexcited woman grips my arm: “Ohmygod, did you see the MOOSE?” (Yes, we do see deer in the fields and conservation easement between our fence and the mountains. Do I educate her, or just let her have her moment?)
A person with a camera around his neck asks me WHAT TIME will the family of quail be returning to view? I’m reminded of a back-country hike in Yellowstone, when we ran into another hiker who was anxious about being on the wrong trail “because when I went UP the mountain there were SHEEP.” (Again, do we educate or just point him toward the trailhead and his car? Notice to all hikers: Bighorns come on legs.)
Just last month a resident asked me to move the birds congregating in the adjacent tree and making a mess on his trailer. I said sorry: “Shit happens. Sometimes literally.”
The people-watching prize, however, goes to a colleague of mine who runs another KOA park… Young kid finds baby skunk. Kid’s mom lets kid pick up baby skunk. Baby skunk bites kid. (Go, Baby Skunk!) Mom wants proof that “the animals are up-to-date on vaccinations.” !!!(Park manager silently wishes baby skunk had bitten MOM while he was at it…)
Hey, girl, turn around and say something to that silent person you just passed. She needs a smile. And while you’re at it, tell her she has beautiful hands, because that will make her think of playing her piano, and she’s been missing her music without realizing it. Oh, and by the way, I’ve lined up your next motorcycle for you—you’ll find out about it when you talk to Carrie during book-study. You’re welcome. Love, God
Wouldn’t that be convenient? None of this praying-for-guidance or listening for subtle answers. I’m a literal-minded person; I want instructions dammit! Surely the Almighty Creator of All Things could tap into my cell-service without any problem.
So okay, God has NOT been blowing up my phone. But you know what? He HAS been blowing up my life lately in all kinds of ways. And the guy can make himself heard!
I found myself telling a total stranger (except now he’s not a total stranger anymore—he’s my friend Anne’s landlord) that “God had told me” to ask him about rental properties. While he was buying tile and I was giving him his veteran’s discount at Home Depot. That’s just crazy. What’s crazier is that he didn’t call me crazy. His response? “I believe.”
Now I’ve just finished saying that I don’t have some special dialed-in bat-channel to God. I’m only just Me.
So Anne asked me yesterday, “HOW does God talk to you? How do you know?” Well, all I have to offer are stories. And she knows some of them—they’re about her.
Anne and I used to hang out two and a half years ago, when Jon and I were just married and she and I were both struggling to get Sober again. Her number has stayed in my phone—but we hadn’t talked, or even messaged, for a couple years. Until I took a nap recently and dreamed she called me. And woke up feeling convicted that I needed to reach out. No logic to that impulse, but I texted her. Got nothing back. Kept texting. Again, no logical reason to keep pinging someone who wasn’t responding—but something was telling me to. It was weeks later that she did call me, checking herself into a crisis center with nowhere to go afterward and no one to pick up her calls.
She’s Clean. But she’s broken. And my text messages were the only recent incoming activity on her phone. Left to myself, I had no reason to contact her. So I can only figure God told me to.
Let me take a moment here to tell you (with her permission) a little about Anne. She’s just 31 years old, a disabled combat vet whose complex PTSD and social anxieties stem from horrific traumas in her childhood and her civilian adult life, some of those very fresh. She has lived under bridges, she has thrown herself off a bridge in Portland, she has drowned in her own life countless times and is still (however reluctantly) here to tell the tale. She jumps out of her skin if anyone touches her or makes a sudden move in her direction, rendering her miserably frazzled and disconnected in settings like our church, where everyone wants to welcome her by hugging. One side of her sports an impish smile and a from-the-gut laugh you can’t help but join, while another side of her manifests in stricken expressions and panicked breathing in the face of the overwhelming requirements of simple daily living. She lives in a constant state of fear and anxiety, and sometimes only her OCD (with its attendant attention-to-details) keeps her going with any semblance of togetherness. Her outlook combines deep thinking and childlike curiosity—when we read Bible together I walk away feeling sheepish that I’d never thought to ask the questions she does.
If I had to pick out one defining characteristic that shapes Anne’s life, it would be the fact that she does NOT. Trust. Anyone. No one feels safe to her. Not counselors. Not pastors. Not medical professionals. Not the VA. Not acquaintances. Not family. It’s not “paranoia” on her part; her life experiences have trained her that not even a mother can be trusted to be safe.
That’s Anne. Traumatized, broken, barely functioning, and absolutely alone. Even her service dog was separated from her when she lost her housing in early July.
So when she asked me yesterday how God “talks” to me, I reminded her of the odd impulse that started me texting her in mid-June. Like God was setting something up when he knew she was about to need it.
Even as she acknowledged the point, she was frowning that she doesn’t think God sends her that kind of message. “You don’t think so?” I challenged her. “Then tell me why you decided to trust me.”
That trust has grown with baby-steps, each promise-from-me coming with a reminder that I haven’t broken a promise yet. They’ve mostly been small promises (“I’ll stay with you in the ER,” “I’ll find out how your dog is doing,” “I’ll call you on my lunch break”) but she started out so sure she couldn’t believe them…
The other day she let me stand behind her and braid her hair. If you know Anne, you know that’s an even bigger deal than the Power of Attorney she signed authorizing me to help her straighten out some issues with the VA. So: “Tell me why you decided to trust me,” I demanded in yesterday’s conversation.
She drew her eyebrows down and looked at me sideways and admitted, “Something just told me I should trust you.”
“Well there you go. God told me to call you, and told you to trust me, and here we are.”
Where-we-are includes that she’s been living in the garage section of our fifth wheel for several weeks while we’ve been searching high and low for new housing for her. It’s not a “renter’s market” here, and although she has a perfect rental-history and guaranteed income (disability), her credit sucks. We couldn’t find her anything.
Enter Ed, chatting me up while buying tile from me at Home Depot. I inexplicably asked him what he knows about rental properties (thank you, God, for the nudge) and he answered that he has one. He’s just finishing up renovating it (hence the tile) and it would be available in about a week. So I told him about Anne. And I’m thinking God told him something, because the next day we were meeting him at his sweet little rental-house with hardwood floors and bright open windows and sturdy old trees lining the front. No credit-check necessary. She can have her service dog back with her.
Anne is still raw, and fresh to the practice of trusting people (or God, for that matter). She won’t fully believe it until she has the keys in hand. But she’s trying to. And she’s tentatively “letting in” some people besides me. Not all the way in, but she’s opening that door and building a belief that maybe there ARE some people who can be trusted. It wouldn’t take much to make her snap those doors shut… But I’m trusting God has this in hand. I still wish he’d text and TELL me so… But he seems to know what he’s doing.
We ended up holding an impromptu Scuba-demo last night at our campsite… The same gaggle of youngsters who had gathered around our motorcycle a couple days earlier returned, drawn this time by our clothesline full of wetsuits and dive gear.
They were brimming with questions—what things we’ve seen diving, how we breathe underwater… So Jon pulled one of the air tanks back out of the truck, scooped up his regulator set, and hooked it all up to show the kids how it works. As they took wide-eyed turns breathing from the tank, I chatted with their mom, who had just as many questions as her kids.
In the course of conversation, I shared with her the comment from her son that made me grin the other day—that the reason he has to grow up is so he can get a motorcycle. Her answer gave me great pause. With an uplifted smile, she told me that he’s terminally ill, so she’s grateful for every reason he finds to fight.
What I had taken for a humorous kid-ism was in this case a literal truth. This little guy, all of five, is collecting reasons to grow up, because “growing up” isn’t a given. It’s a poignant reminder that really nothing is a given, even though we make assumptions about our futures… It’s a reminder to pay attention to all the reasons to enjoy today.
A recent Gallup poll asked Americans what they think is “the ideal number of children for a family to have” and found Americans, on average, believe that 2.5 children are ideal. ~ Gallup.com
I’m sure this quote intends to say that the averaged number, gathered from responses, is 2.5, not that people actually believe “2.5 children are ideal.” I mean, kids come in whole-number units, so that’s an ideal no one could achieve. Or could they? Sometimes I feel like fractions should be a part of my answer when I’m asked about my kids…
“How many kids do you have?”
As cut-and-dried as that question seems, I actually find it awkward to answer. I reply with a variety of permutations depending on situation and circumstance.
I’ve given birth to two sons and a daughter. (So I “have” three kids.) One son was adopted by an amazing other mother, and I don’t currently have custody of the other two. (So I don’t “have” any.) My daughter at least sees me (so I “have” relationship with one). And I’m still legally the parent of the two teens, even without custody. (So I still “have” two.) I could answer, with some truth, with any of those numbers, but no numerical answer to the question actually tells my story.
(And that’s not even opening the question of step-kids… Do I have five of those, because I married their dad? One, because he was still a minor during that marriage and I mothered him? None, because their dad passed away and dissolved the link? I do still consider them family, and refer to them as my step-kids if relational explanation is called for—but I’m less likely these days to include them in a kid-count than I did when their dad was alive and I was married to him.)
Despite the hypothetical argument above for “having” no kids, that’s never my answer. I’m still a mom, regardless of current custody. My most frequent answer is that “I have two teenagers.” But then, it’s not unusual for me to include the baby (with an adoption-explanation) as well. Continue reading “Mother’s Day, By the Numbers”→
This one is a painful topic. I lost custody of my kids seventeen months ago.
Having weathered (Sober) the death of a spouse, the infidelity of another, the unplanned arrival (and subsequent adoption) of a late-life baby, and a host of medical problems, I let my guard down when my life finally looked like smooth sailing—and I drank.
Five years previously, I had voluntarily added to my custody agreement that I would relinquish my share of custody if I were to drink again. And then came the day in December of 2015 when I got collared for an excessive DUI. At eight in the morning. After dropping both my kids at their schools. (“Painful” is an entirely inadequate word for those sentences.)
My funny, engaging, wise, sensitive son has not talked to me since. (“Excruciating” is an entirely inadequate word for that sentence.) I still have Faith that there’s healing in our future, though clearly that’s not going to happen (hasn’t happened!) on the timeline I would wish. In God’s time. Meantime, I send him occasional text messages and notes in the mail (and cards for his 15th & 16th birthdays), wanting him to know that haven’t “walked away” from the relationship, or from him.
My daughter stayed silent for a few months, but she and I talk and text regularly now, and I get to see her for an hour or an afternoon here and there.
Of course, this isn’t at all how I envisioned mothering my teens! I’m at least grateful to have an ongoing relationship with Elena Grace, but it can’t properly be called parenting. It’s visiting.