Friday, December 10, 2010

He Still Feeds the Hungry

Late yesterday afternoon, as the sun was well on its way to the evening horizon, my wife and I did something very ordinary. We went to the local Walmart to get some groceries and thermal underwear. In this case, with our tropically thinned blood being assaulted by the blast of Canadian artic air currently sweeping through North Carolina, the groceries were the luxury, and long underwear the necessity.

In the midst of our ordinary day and our somewhat usual routine, something rather extraordinary happened to us. It happened right in front of us, actually. As we were checking out, I think we met an angel. This is how it happened. I was at the front of the shopping cart unloading it onto the conveyor belt that moved the items to the scanner/cash register while Jennifer stood behind the cart and sifted through the vast caverns of her purse in search of her wallet. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a diminutive elderly lady come behind us in line, pushing a shopping cart that contained a few small items. She began to speak with Jennifer in a soft, almost retreating voice. Thinking she was simply being friendly, I ‘leaned in’ to hear what she was saying. As I heard it, she quietly asked if we would buy the few items in her cart to feed the ladies at the women’s shelter at which she served. Jennifer looked over at me and, not being sure if I was within earshot of the conversation, said, “James, what do you think?” To be sure I understood, I inquired as to the request. The little lady seemed bashful, not wanting to be overheard by the cashier or the manager who stood close by. So, my Jennifer said, “she is asking if we would buy these items for the women’s shelter.” I looked in her cart and, seeing just a few things, said, “Sure.” I instructed the cashier to add the ladies’ items to our total but to bag them separately for her to take. The cashier did so.

With a gentle almost quivering voice and a grateful gaze that lifted from the floor for just a moment, she took the bag of items in her hand and said, “Thank you, Sir. God bless you, Sir.” Then, she quietly slipped away.

As Jennifer and I began our trek to the car, weaving our way in and out of the traffic both in the store and parking lot, we mentioned how sweet it was to help such a one as this. But, as the hours passed and I reflected on the moment, the encounter seemed increasingly meaningful and full of glory.

I wondered if our little angel came to the store with nothing but her hunger and a hope in the kindness of God. I imagined her walking around the store prayerfully selecting a few items to feed the women in the shelter. I wondered if, as she took each package from the shelf and placed it in her cart, she whispered a prayer that her precious Lord Jesus would provide a way to pay for it. I wondered if, as she pushed the cart toward the check out line, she whispered a prayer that God would open someone’s heart to give a little food to the poor. I wondered if her faith ever shook as she approached the cashier with nothing in her hand but her need. I wondered if she prayed that God would somehow, in someway, make the impossible, possible, once again. She must have.

She must have had a simple, sincere and powerful faith in Jesus, the faithful one. I even wonder if Jesus whispered to her, these two are mine – they will help.

At the end of the day, we were so very glad she came to us with her need. The scripture says, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” We felt incredibly blessed by this precious woman. She did more for us than we could have ever done for her. She helped us see the tender beauty of a simple faith in Jesus. She, in her vulnerability and trust, gave us a picture of how Jesus cares for us and that her Heavenly Father knows the way her tummy sounds when it growls with hunger. Her caring heart, her simple faith, and her total lack of pride spoke peace and encouragement to us. What a beautiful woman she was! We thank God for the encouragement of faith and the reminder of God’s loving care for all of His children.

And, in case you are wondering what was in her cart (and it didn’t hit me until the next morning), she had a small bottle of Crisco oil, a loaf of bread and some frozen fish. She had chosen loaves and fishes to feed the hungry women, trusting that Jesus would, once again, perform a miracle. And, He did. Praise Him!

Matthew 15:34,38 “And Jesus said to them, ‘How many loaves do you have?’ And they said, ‘Seven and few small fish...and those who ate were four thousand men, along with women and children…’”

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The End.

Saturday, October 23 officially ended our cross-country RV trip. 119 days on the road. 17 weeks. My dear friend, Dawn, asked me yesterday if the ending was anti-climatic and I have to say in all honesty, no. The trip was more than I could have ever imagined and totally different than I could have expected.

It is strange, though, that after dreaming, planning and praying about doing this for the last three years, now it is done. What next? Hahahaha, I laugh, because if this trip has taught me anything, it is to never etch plans in stone! God has His plan for us and so now we will enjoy the memories of the trip, look forward to the next step and be thankful for it all.

We had our last night on the road in the amazingly beautiful Grayson Highlands State Park in southern Virginia. We met up with Clayton and Amy, along with their three children, and enjoyed an evening by the fire under a full moon and the next day taking a short hike in the park and encountering wild ponies, something the children enjoyed immensely...well, me too. We then loaded up the RV and headed to Charlotte, NC.

That is where we are now. We have the RV parked on 40 acres overlooking a pond. It is very beautiful, unfortunately, it has been raining since our arrival, so everything is muddy and wet. Plus, the rain dampens my spirits, so I feel pretty unmotivated. But, I have decided to take this opportunity to reflect back on the last four months and try to encapsulate for you my favorite moments from the trip.

When I remember back to our very first night on the road, in the horrible RV park in Fort Lauderdale, it could very easily be 4 years ago, not a mere 4 months. It really boggles my mind. We experienced our first leak in the RV, which was quickly remedied by tightening a few loose pipes, but we were sure the RV was trashed and thought, "What in the world have we gotten ourselves into?" Our next night was at brother Charles' place to have our "Going Away Party" and to say good-bye to our families. This is the most difficult memory for me because I remember my Mom crying as they were leaving...brings tears tumbling down my face now as I think about it.

I have lived within a minimum of 2 hours from my Mom since 1990 and I miss her terribly. Skype and the phone are good, but nothing compares to seeing her face to face and hugging her so tight I'm afraid I will break her. I am so thankful to God that she has Ted, whom I miss just as much, and her Abby Girl to look after her. I can't wait until I get to see her again!

Saying good-bye to Mom and Pop, James' parents, was equally difficult. Thankfully, James and Pop had maintained their nightly phone visits throughout the trip, with the exception of a few nights here and there because of no cell phone reception, so we were able to stay close, but again, nothing compares to physically being in someone's presence.

Saying good-bye to all of the family was painful, but at the same time, we were excited because we had our trip ahead of us. Now, it seems the sorrow of saying good-bye has truly set in. We look forward to reuniting with them all soon, as well as our many wonderful and incredible friends we left behind in the Keys. So many amazing things have happened in their lives since we left, like the arrival of Jayda Skye, first grandchild of our sweet friends, Deidre and Mike Neal and the arrival of Cali, the newest puppy-family member to Marilyn and Keith Allen! I can't wait to meet both of them and hug my girls (Dee, Mare, Cindy, Ruth, Kathy...just to name a few) like they have never been hugged before!! onto the trip, I can't cry and type at the same time. Certain things, places and people really stand out when I think about the trip, the first being Austin, Texas. This was our first unofficially planned stopped and what a great surprise it was. I got my first decent haircut since leaving Skip in the Keys in Austin, we had our first amazing Thai meal there and really enjoyed the downtown, music and activity. I think we will revisit Austin again and again.

Then there was Santa Fe; this was our first extended stay, meaning, more than two nights. We loved the weather, food, art and driving north of Taos seeing the amazing landscape. It was here that the feeling of being on the road set in and the stresses of every day life started to fade away. We really enjoyed Santa Fe and the feeling of relaxation that we found there.

Colorado was amazing in so many ways that I can't list them all. We were in Dolores, CO for 10 nights...the longest stay, matched only by Maine, during our trip. We did travel to Carbondale for two nights to stay with Diane and my heart still warms at the memory of spending time with her. I was so thankful she and James had a chance to get to know one another better.

The mountains and sense of peace we took away from Colorado stayed with us throughout the trip and that says a lot about a place. I remember fondly and with a big smile on my face, the many nights by the campfire with Charlie, Judy and Sunny! What fun we had meeting up with some good Key's friends and enjoying food, drink and laughter together. We ate well, laughed hard and enjoyed every moment with them.

Then there was Southern California. Ahhh...yes, a good time for sure!!! I have to be honest and say that living there still lingers in our minds and we wait to see what God has planned for us. I was reunited with Dawn, whom I have known for 20 years, and it did my heart good! My time with her, Frank and their kids was cut short due to their move to Texas! But, since Dawn and I are both Dallas Cowboy fans and she lives near Dallas, I'm sure we will be visiting a lot!

I finally got to meet a lot of the "Wheaton Gang" while in Southern Cal and what a blast that was! Our time with all of them was very special and let me just say that Laguna Beach is gorgeous! The water is a bit too cold for me, but I loved that James surfed and SUP'ed while there! The Bahamian in freezing cold water...that is one adventurous man!

I remember vividly that it was in Dana Point, California that James and I both realized we are water people. Having spent about six weeks "inland" and in the mountains, we had forgotten the powerful calming quality that water has until we drove down to Dana Point and were faced with the amazing and awesome Pacific Ocean. We both sighed deeply. Southern Cal is beautiful, diverse, filled with amazing and unique people and a place we both feel a deep bond to. It will be interesting to see where that leads us.

I have said many times in these Blogs how impressed and proud I am of our National Park system, but I don't think I can say it enough. I hope all of you get out and see as many of them as you can. They are all completely different, unique, wonderful and awe inspiring in their own ways. I can't pick a favorite because they are all so different. Here is a list of the parks we visited:

Carlsbad Cavern National Park
Mesa Verde National Park
Grand Canyon National Park
Joshua Tree National Park
Sequoia National Park
Kings Canyon National Park
Yosemite National Park
Redwood National Park
Crater Lake National Park
Olympic National Park
Glacier National Park
Acadia National Park

I'm sure I have left some out, and that doesn't include the many, many State Parks we visited along the way.

IF I had to pick one favorite area, I would have to say the coasts of Northern California, Oregon and Washington. The shores, beaches and coastlines in this sector are so wild, intense and breathtaking. The best day for me on the trip was in Westport-Union Landings State Beach in Northern California. It was our first primitive spot and we were parked 20 yards from a cliff that overlooked the ocean. We didn't go anywhere while we were there...we just stayed at the RV and read, wrote, visited and enjoyed the sound the surf, the whales breaching out in the deeps and just the amazing beauty that surrounded us. It was The perfect day for me.

Glacier was everything we wanted and more. Majestic is a word that comes to mind when I remember driving through the park with thick fog around, or just before dawn when the stars were still out before the sun rose to tuck them away. Montana in general could be described this way. Once you have been there, it gets into your blood and becomes a part of you. People born there, stay there. I can see why.

The Midwest is another highlight because of the people we visited! Meeting up with old friends and family really ignited our spirits and made for some fun memories. For me, not a lot compares to the hugs and love I get from my nieces, nephews, great-nieces and great-nephew! From age 2 all the way up to 25, they all have a very special place in my heart and I'm so incredibly proud to call them MINE! Yep, they are all MINE...their parents don't know it, but they are! My sisters, Whitney and Julie, have known me my entire life and there is a wonderful connection and comfort in relationships like that. They are two beautiful and amazing women and I'm humbled by their strength, courage and hearts. My Dad always has been and continues to be so much fun to be around. I loved spending time with him and knowing he and James were getting to know one another better. I hope that in the future our visits will be more frequent and for longer periods of time!

I know I'm repeating a lot here that I have already said in my previous Blogs, but just sitting and reflecting, these are the moments that really jump out at me. I have not gone back and read all of the Blogs yet, but I'm working on printing it all out and reading them with James. I'm sure after reading it, there will be a lot more laughter at the moments we shared over the last four months.

As for now, we are staying in Charlotte, North Carolina. I know that probably comes as a shock to many of our family and friends in Florida, but we do feel God has brought us here for many reasons and look forward to seeing how things unfold. We don't exactly know how things will look, but roughly, James will be working with Clayton in Ministry, I'm hoping to complete a Grant Writing course and begin Grant Writing as well as help Amy in whatever capacity I can as it relates to the church. We will NOT be living in the RV forever (thank goodness) and plan on finding a temporary spot soon. That is about all we have right now and it is good enough for us. Trust and faith in knowing God will work out all of the other little details helps us to focus on being still and doing the next right thing.

We will be coming to Florida for the Christmas Holidays and maybe get our stuff out of storage, so I will be keeping everyone in the Florida updated on our plans as we finalize them. Your continued prayers for this next chapter in our lives is very much appreciated. It is with many mixed emotions that we have come to this point, but again, feel God's hand in this and know it is the right move. I will miss my amazing friends, my beautiful Mom and fmaily and the incredibly unique life in the Florida Keys very much...but remember, North Carolina isn't that far away!!!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Nearing the end.

Greetings from Virginia, or let me say, BEAUTIFUL Virginia! I love the rolling hills in front of the mountains and the people are kind, funny and very generous.

We are nearing the end...and I have to say what a blessing it is that we both, James and I, feel the same way at the same time. Imagine how things could have been if either of us were ready a month ago, but the other wasn't. But, as God would have it, we are ready to settle down and get back into the grove of normal things.

It has been an incredible blessing being on the road for the last four months. I can't wait to sit down and read the Blog from beginning to end and revisit in my mind the incredible places and people we have seen.

Maine, was, as always, extremely beautiful. We spent three nights outside of Boston and visited Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard, both were amazing places and made us, once again, realize we are truly water people!

We spent three nights in New York, actually, in Jersey City. The RV park was the most unique park we have stayed on this trip. It was basically downtown Jersey City on the harbor...we saw the Statue of Liberty from our RV and were only 40 minutes from Manhattan. We had to walk five blocks to the PATH (Jersey's subway system) and then catch a few subways to get to the heart of NY, NY! I SO LOVE IT THERE!

New York City is so alive and so full of different and amazing people. I could sit on the subway all day and people watch. We spent most of the time with our dear friends, Eric and Keri and their two adorable children, Emma and Daniel. It was so much fun! The four of us went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and then James took me to MoMa (Museum of Modern Art)...I was in heaven. To see Monet's Water Lilies, Degas' Dancer, all of Rembrandt's portraits was almost too much for me to handle. It seems the first part of our trip was seeing God's awesome creation and I loved every moment of it and then to spend the last part looking at man's creation of God's creation is nearly as beautiful, but not quite.

James and I aren't the only one's ready for the trip to be done...our little Miata, Sarai, has just had about enough! You might remember that since being on the trip Sarai has received a new CAT converter, radiator, rewiring of the AC and today...well, today was something all together different! We waited around until the rain stopped, which was about 2:00 this afternoon, and then hopped in the car to take in the sights along the Blue Ridge Parkway. We stopped into the gas station to fill 'er up and then just as we were turning out of the gas station we heard it. A noise like no other noise we had ever heard before.

We pull over, pop the hood and don't ya know it, we blew the 2nd spark plug clear out of the engine block. We just laughed. By the grace of God, we did this right by the gas station which happen to have a tow truck and the owner knew of a place that could fix the problem. So, three hours later, we are driving the car back to the RV thankful we weren't in the middle of nowhere when the plug decided to pop!

Tomorrow we head to Grayson Highlands State Park to camp with Clayton and Amy and their three kids for a couple of days before heading back to their house in Charlotte, NC for some much needed down time, prayer time and decision time.

We are very excited to see all of you again very soon! We have missed everyone so much and again thank each and every one of you for your prayers for us while on this trip! Until we see one another face to face...God bless and WE LOVE YOU!