How Taking A Different Path Home Changed My Heart and Mind
Sometimes you have to go a different way to get home.
For years I have traveled the same road to get home. (From my home in Virginia to my childhood home in NY.) I know my route, I know how to get there, I know where the gas stations are and all the things.
I check the weather, pack accordingly, grab the snacks, and go.
For years this is the way I have done it, and the way that I have been able to travel so often with so many children over 600 miles and five states to visit our family and friends and the other world that we love so dearly that is so close to our heart yet so far on this earth.
I am so grateful for a husband that really releases me to visit our family whenever I feel like we need to. Through family emergencies and babies being born and monumental times, and just times when I felt like I was homesick and needed to be with my parents for coffee for a morning… He has made it very easy for me to be able to go when I need to go. He trusts that I know what I am doing, and that I will do it to the best of my ability.
And I do.
We have stories and stories of times when we have laughed on the road, had life-changing conversations with my kids as we are driving, tears and tantrums, crazy traffic and being spared of accidents… The list of stories is endless. Each time I arrive, whether it’s at my old home or my new home, I think God for days and days for safe travel, travel mercies, and the abundant life that God so freely gives to us.
So I tried something new this weekend, and was able to sneak away for a three day girls weekend where I traveled north a few hundred miles, and my mom and sisters and best friends traveled south a few hundred miles and we met somewhere in the middle for a few days of fun to celebrate my mom‘s birthday.
I had never heard of something so fun and exciting, and the support my husband and kids gave me to rally together to make it happen was warming to my heart. I was so excited, even in the middle of the anxiety of leaving… Leaving so much behind, all the kids and their needs and the paperwork and the medicine and the laundry and the tantrums and the church Christmas play that is coming up with three weeks to spare… It was all so much to leave behind, but so very necessary for me to go.
The trip was amazing, and one that I will never forget for as long as I live. And in so many ways, it was life-changing. For over 16 years I have had such small children in my home and living so far away from my family makes it very difficult to try to go away for a weekend. If I had any window at all to get away, it would be to sneak away with Tim so we could try to work on our marriage in the middle of the crazy shenanigans of our life. Owning our own businesses has been insanity on top of all of it, trying to juggle the needs of a small business with many employees and all the little kids at home… Sometimes it was just too hard to fight for all of it, and just easier to stay at home and wait for the weather to break and the sun to shine in our hearts again.
This time when I left, the baby of our home was seven years old and the stability that has come from moving from the foster care world into the adoption unit and waiting on adoption paperwork has truly stabled our family. For years we have worked in the system and with the system, and it’s a very broken system where hearts break and good people get hurt while doing the right thing.
It is nothing new when I say that we live in a broken world where good people get hurt and sometimes the wrong lives are changed and what seems like unnecessary pain happens at the wrong times. It has taken a whole new level of faith to believe that even in the pain, God has a purpose and a plan, and that He needs to send us to those places to show himself to us even stronger than before.
The more I studied the life of Jesus in our season of foster care, I saw that He lived a very hard, and mostly very lonely life. It was a beautiful life, and it changed the world forever, but it was still hard, and many times lonely.
I tried to fight it at first, thinking that love and kindness and patience would fix it all. But the road we walked eventually wore me down to realize that if I would just accept the pain as part of the purpose, that I could see the Lord and see His purpose for this pain so much better than if I kept trying to fight it and deny it.
So coming out of that place was no easy task… to tell my brain and heart that it was OK to hope again… to tell my heart that it was OK to try to heal again.
That meant I had to let go of all the things that were not “necessary”, and remind myself that this girls’ weekend trip was necessary, and it was time to start over again, keep walking away from the dark, hard place and keep heading towards the brighter days.
Challenge One was realizing that I was going to be traveling in one of the busiest holiday weekends of the year, and I would be doing it alone. This really took for some planning and some strategic conversation with Tim.
Daily I walk the line of fear versus wisdom. Being a woman and wanting to be independent is one thing… But when I look at my 16-year-old daughter and eight-year-old daughter, I wonder what I would tell them and how I would want them to behave and what places they can go safely with wisdom and without fear…?
Because it’s one thing to think that you can go anywhere and do anything and that the grace of God will go with you… But every one of you knows a story or a person or someone who went missing, or the picture perfect family that lost their child in one moment or one blink of an eye… The reports and news and shared stories online are more than I can bear sometimes.
I do not want to be that person that is ruled by anxiety and fear. When I was a teenager and I first got my license I went everywhere. Nothing could stop me. I wasn’t afraid of anything. I was smart, but sometimes I put myself in stupid situations, and I look back now and thank God for his grace and his mercy and keeping me safe. I believe the same things for my children in the times when I can’t be there.
But that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to train and protect them for every moment of their life, to equip them to think wisely and to know to do things in safety. They are learning well, and I think I mostly find a good balance between teaching them why we want to stay together in groups, and why we do not go places alone at night, and how we need to think ahead to fill the gas tank or do our shopping before we are left alone or find ourselves late at night in a place that could put us in danger.
Tim and I talked about all these options when we I knew I was traveling 300+ miles and four states away by myself over this weekend. We talked about the traffic and the dangers, how we could do it safely, what extra money we would use just in case we needed a hotel, and after that we just banked on grace and knew that the memories would be worth it.
I felt good about it, though I knew there was so much riding on the weekend: My little tribe, my whole world, would be at home without me, and it was up to me to make sure I made it home safely to them to keep their little world turning, all by the grace of God.
I used one of our rental cars and planned out the whole trip so I would arrive before dark. It took a little while to get used to a luxury car versus a humongous 12 passenger transit van, but it wasn’t a change that I did not like… By the time the first song was over and the sun was shining and the roads were clear, my heart was lighter and lighter by the minute.
I loved all of it. Snacks all to myself, podcasts and music all to myself, phone conversations all to myself… It was stinking glorious.
By the time I arrived at the hotel to meet my mom and sisters and friends, I literally had breathed so much fresh air I thought I was already changed.
For the entire weekend we laughed until we cried, ate the most amazing food, watched an incredible show, And walked a city full of history to our hearts’ content.
I browsed a local farmers market until I wanted to be done. I rode an Uber for the first time ever. I tried new food and I bought myself a fresh pair of pajamas just because I wanted to.
We were having such a wonderful time that two days felt like four. We were having so much fun, we did not even check into the weather forecast for the entire last day. By the time we were back in our room, dressed in pajamas and ordering pizza and pay-per-view movies, the reports to confirm the storm were coming all over the weather channel. Now we knew it wasn’t just an idea or a possibility: It was happening. For my mom and sisters and friends heading north, they were about to get a double whammy starting at 6 o’clock the next morning: ice and rain for the first 12 hours… And then snow and sleet for another day and a half. Me? If I got out of the first hour and headed south, I could beat the storm nearly completely, and just have to fight Thanksgiving weekend traffic.
It was 10 PM by the time we were putting the pieces together and making decisions. I was kind of hoping that we could all just hunker down and be slobs in the hotel rooms for days… Half of us were still in our jammies as we scrolled our phones for last updates and called husbands and made decisions and discussed pros and cons. My older sister had already taking her meds for a chronic illness she is fighting and had snuggled into bed for the night in the room next-door, sort of oblivious to all the things going on. My other sister and friends were ordering pizza and wings (until mom ix-nayed the wings and told us all we did not need that much food, and stinky food to boot, so late at night.) But once we realized the second storm that was coming, mom had to make the call: we needed to pack it up, and we needed to head home. Ten minutes ago.
I felt like we were living in a movie as we collected our things as fast as we could to get home. Don’t get me wrong, I had the choice of course: I could have stayed there. The room was paid for, we were all settled and safe there, and no one was telling me to leave. But I knew if I didn’t get out of there, I would get snowed or iced in by myself for days… And though it was the most gorgeous hotel, it was the kind where you did not walk out to the parking garage by yourself or even with your bestie in a pair after dark. That was wisdom, not fear… So although I didn’t know exactly what I would do once I left that hotel with my favorite people, I knew I needed to get out of there while they were still with me.
That meant that I was leaving the hotel at 11 o’clock at night, driving a couple hundred miles alone in the middle of a Saturday night. (The Saturday night after Thanksgiving.) I had worked night shift long enough as a waitress to know what happens on the Saturday night after Thanksgiving.
This was not in any of the plans or options that Tim and I had rehearsed in the weeks before the trip.
It would make for a funny story eventually… If we all made it home alive and safe.
What a sight we were:
My poor sister, so loopy from her meds that we were helping her pack up her stuff so all she had to do was climb in the back and go back to sleep in mom’s car all the way home. Mom, a stress basket because of so many things that were out of our control, and she was virtually making the decisions for her girls and her best friend that she would have to live with for the rest of her life. My baby sister, cutting it up and on the jazz from so much fun now turned into a shenanigans she knew we would never forget. She kept chiming in on how she could drive, how she could help mom, how they were going to make it home before the storm hit, dancing all the way home through the middle of the night. My mom and two sisters piled in one car, and I sat in the parking garage with them for the last few minutes as mom’s bestie and her daughter wandered through the parking garage trying to find their vehicle because they could not remember where they parked it when we had come in from our shopping adventures earlier that day. She had shoved the leftover pizza in my arms, arms that were already full of clothes on hangars and Christmas presents I had bought that afternoon. “Here,” she said, “you’ll need this for breakfast.”
We were a hot mess, and I knew we would laugh about it someday. It was a comedy of errors, and the best of stories… As long as it had a happy ending once we got through.
Goodbyes are always hard, and crazy hurried rushed fast goodbyes are sometimes even harder because you have to process them later and just make sure you do your best in the moment. It was not lost on me as my mom hugged me goodbye in that parking garage, and neither of us could say one word for fear of tearing up when we needed to be gearing up to drive. I knew full well that there was a chance that I may never see her again, never see any of them again. The storm that they were trying to get away from, and the magnitude of the risk we were taking to leave in the middle of the night and drive 5 to 7 hours was a gamble to be sure. I believed in the grace of God and I knew that He was with us, but I have also lived enough to understand that He is with us in good times and bad times, and it all belongs to Him and goes back to Him when He says it’s time. I heard it even in my dad’s voice on the phone with my mom as they were making decisions of when to leave and went to stay… he was explaining how his whole world was in that one vehicle headed towards home in the middle of the night trying to beat the storm, and there was nothing he could do to help solve the problem.
And so I left, with shouts of goodbyes and laughs and “love you’s” following me all through the parking garage. Five of my most precious people in the world headed north, and me alone headed south.
Tim handled it better than I thought, and was my champion as I started the drive home, calling hotels at midnight to find the best and safest place, googling each of them to see how far off the interstate they were, and asking the front desk what type of neighborhood they were located in and if they offered a late checkout in case I wanted to sleep in.
As he called me with each update and asking what I wanted, I felt a little more connected to my people and less like the Lone Ranger. When my car headed one direction and the other two headed in another, it was very hard for me to process through my lack of sleep and anxiety and fear if I was making a rational decision and if it was wise to do the things. I just had to believe that God was faithful, and He would meet me wherever I was at. Even in the crazy.
But the road I started on was rough: it was darker than dark, and I had never been on these roads before in this city. It was a Saturday night during the Thanksgiving holidays, and there were one-way street signs and GPS rerouting and detours and traffic everywhere. To make matters worse, the customer that had the rental car just before me had hit a deer with it, and though we put in a brand new headlight, Somebody Somebody forgot to test it and aim it… so basically, that meant that my headlights were pointing in the wrong direction, not lining up where I needed them to in the middle of the night, in the construction and the detours and the roads that were left unknown to me. The car also had a feature that as the phone stays charged, it would revert to playing music from my phone thinking it was the iPod music device… Every time I got a phone call, it diverted to Burl Ives’ “Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas” each time I hung up with whoever called.
You may not think I would get any phone calls at 11 o’clock at night on a Saturday while I was getting out of Dodge, but mom was checking on me and Tim was planning for me…Needless to say, I will never hear that song again without some type of freakazoid twitchy reaction again.
That first hour was so intense as I got used to the car all over again and breathed through my nervousness to the next step.
Once I made it back to the 81 South Interstate and I knew that it was smooth sailing as long as I could stay awake, Tim and I decided on a hotel and he sent me the pin to plug-in as my new destination.
No problem, I was now good to go.
Well OK, there was one problem: I would get there at about 2:30 in the morning… And my car then informed me that I would not have enough gas to make it all the way.
I played the game with the miles that my car said I had left in the tank versus the miles that my GPS said I had left on the trip. At first, it looked like I had 80 miles left in the tank, and 60 miles left on the trip.
But I had traveled enough to know better, and it wasn’t 10 miles in before I realized that the miles were dropping way faster on the gas gauge and they were in my travels in the GPS in the car.
I was going to have to stop for gas. At 2 o’clock in the morning. Alone. At a gas station. By myself. On the Saturday night after Thanksgiving.
This is not the stuff that dreams are made of. This was me, getting set up, to face my fears and get the things done. I knew there was a way that I could do this smartly… I just had to be smart.
I was also secretly wishing I had taken those self-defense courses when I saw them offered at the YMCA…
No use in thinking about that at the time, I just had to focus on what was in front of me. As the miles wound down, I looked at each exit, trying to analyze how far away Sheetz was from the road. A couple times I thought I should stop, but I kind of sort of missed it until it was too late. No matter, I told myself. I still have time to make a decision.
With less than 20 miles to spare, I found a beautiful, open, well-lit Sheetz that I could see from the Interstate exit. The cold air woke me up pretty well and calmed my heightened anxiety as I swiped my card and pumped the gas. In my sleepy delirious state and emotional processing, I filled the tank and I did not get taken by one single crazy. I did not even really see a crazy, though my bleary eyes were not exactly on their A-game…
I jumped back in the car, got to my hotel within 30 minutes and thanked God that I was alive.
I did a quick “Killer Check” in my hotel room, texted Tim and all my traveler friends to let them know I was safe for the night, and said good night to the world.
I slept so good and woke up with my eyes not blurry and my shoulders not aching. I could make it the rest of the way home no problem.
Except that it was the busiest travel day of the year.
The icy cold rain and the gloomy skies were not what I had to look out for… It was the traffic on Interstate 81 as I headed home.
It was the crawling kind of traffic, where you could be going 70 mph one minute, And 5 miles an hour the next. I had geared up and was paying attention, I had my protein bar ready and waiting, my coffee and tea that I had fixed as I left the hotel, and I was going to do the thing.
As I drove, I listened to some music, and of course it was my playlist from Back in the Day. Those songs made me think about times past, trips past, and all the things that I was when I made those road trips as those songs were coming out.
Trips down memory lane take you so much farther than the road trips actually do in physical miles.
I thought about so many things, so many memories, so much of my life.
I knew the gas stations where I have stopped with each of my babies, the places we had to pull over for emergencies and puking and tantrums.
I knew the mile markers where we had sat for hours, the rough places to look out for with low visibility and high opportunity for accidents…
I knew how to get home.
I sat in traffic for so long, the GPS eventually asked me if I would like to save 34 minutes by taking a different route.
With my track record of crazy shenanigans and anxiety over leaving the beaten path, I would’ve expected myself to answer an instant “No thanks.” I wasn’t leaving what I knew and I wasn’t going to leave my regular route behind for the purpose of saving some time.
Today was different. And I saw I was changing.
Because when I saw that option on the GPS, I did not hesitate in fear, but rather something jumped in me, “Yes! Yes I will try something new, and I will take a different road home.” I knew it was the right thing to do, and within 2 miles, I was headed off in a new direction…
But still going home.
As I headed off the exit, I took a look in my rearview mirror one last time: I saw ambulance lights and fire fighter trucks and police cars in the northbound lanes and all the standstill traffic.
I knew in my heart it was time to let go of all of the things that I was holding onto to keep things the way that they were, and to let myself try something new and follow a new way to get me home again.
Of course I hit the densest fog I have ever seen the moment I got off the exit. Of course the merging traffic was so great, so many others taking the route just like me, but the tiny roads were not made for such heavy traffic so we all had to squeeze and merge.
Through the white fog, I just followed the car ahead of me, and tried to listen to the music and make myself breathe.
After a while, I looked around and realized I was still alive. I was still driving, the music was still playing, and I was still feeling pretty good. I couldn’t believe it. Within 20 miles, the fog lifted and I was headed in a familiar direction though I wouldn’t have recognized it if you had told me it was the same way.
I started seeing some landmarks that I recognized, though I was still a couple hours from home. It was a road I had not driven in quite some time, but it gave me such good memories and new things to think about.
This road was connected to so many other parts of our life, where we had taken fun family trips, and even gone away on a couple weekends just me and Tim. With my Old School playlist still going on in the background, I got to piece together more parts of my peace and past that helped me keep driving a little farther.
My mom and sisters and friends had texted early in the morning that they made it home safely. They sent photos of themselves snuggled up in blankets next to windows that were covered in sleet and snow and freezing rain.
My baby sister checked in on me and sent me photos of her little girls running around the house so happy to see their mom because she got home a little earlier than expected.
My drive may have taken longer than I expected, but it wasn’t a bad longer. It was a God-ordained longer. It was the type of time capsule that once I accepted it and submitted to it and worked through it, I was able to receive the things that I needed to.
I didn’t need to go home the way that I always had to, I didn’t need to force it and push it and endure it just to make it happen.
I could yield to that Still, Small Voice in my head and in my heart, nudging me to push more out of my comfort zone and trust that the God that has seen me through these times and all these days could most certainly see me through the weather reports and dark travel times that I had to walk through.
And as I lean in to that Voice, and let that become more clear and more loud then the voices all around me, I find I can see more clearly through the windshield, past the road signs, and even past the brake lights and traffic jams…
to see the greater purpose in the journey, instead of only the Destination.
Here’s hoping that you find peace as you choose to listen to the new roads in your life, and that it brings you home in the best way possible.
I know it worked miracles for me.