Late last year, Bob and I invested in a “mobile cabin,” aka Cecilia. Cecilia is a 1970 Volkswagen T2 bay window bus. She’s an old gal, but we think she‘s kind of cool.
Before we took Cecilia on the road, we wanted to proactively make sure she would get us where we want to go without any pit stops alongside the road. You see, I spent many hours waiting for help along the roadside during my childhood vacations. It was never fun and sometimes it was traumatic. I’ve never been a big fan of road trips because of this.
So, in February, we checked Cecilia into rehab and waited. And waited. And waited. Oh…did I mention that we waited??? Although she ran well enough for local jaunts, she needed a little work to go on the kind of road trips we’d been dreaming about.
In May, Bob and I took a leap of faith and planned a road trip to California. Because we were going to travel over a holiday weekend, we reserved a camp spot in Temecula so we’d have a “for sure” place to rest. Two days before our departure, we got Cecilia back. The mechanics had road tested her and we felt confident she could make the trip.
Sometimes my approach to life resembles the way we prepared Cecilia for this trip. I want to anticipate every possible scenario and proactively eliminate roadblocks and detours. I want God to lead me down smooth straight paths instead of bumpy curvy ones.
Well, the first part of our trip in Cecilia was exactly as we pictured it. Bob even had a few comments about how Cecilia was outpacing the newer vehicles stranded alongside the road. There was no indication of an issue, no sign of trouble at all. Until Indio.
We stop for gas in Indio and prepare for the trek across California to Temecula. As we merge back onto the freeway, poor Cecilia shudders to a halt. Our uneventful journey takes a twist and our prayer journey amps up. Isn’t that the way it happens? When life meets our expectations of normalcy, we coast along with occasional conversations with God, but when our wheels get knocked out from under us, we talk with Him non-stop. At least that’s what I was doing over the next several hours.
Recently, Pastor Denise gave the staff a book to read called Everybody Always (Bob Goff). In it, Goff says, “God’s idea isn’t that we would just give and receive love, but that we could actually become love.” Simple, but powerful. Most of the time, I think and pray about how I can be love for other people. When my life path is uncomplicated, it’s easy to do that. But when the journey is bumpy and I’m road-weary, God sends people to be love for me. That’s how he answered my prayers as we made our way to Temecula. He sent people to “be love” for Bob and I.
Eduardo – The Hero
Bob thinks our car trouble in Indio is related to the battery. So, as I wait in Cecilia alongside the road in 100-degree heat (with 2 dogs) he walks back to the truck stop to get help. When he arrives at TravelCenters of America he is told it would cost several hundred dollars for a truck to leave the parking lot and that they don’t offer services for cars; they focus on trucks. Eduardo, a towing service employee, is within earshot. He clocks out for his lunch, climbs into his service truck, and comes to our rescue.
I was immensely relieved when Bob and Eduardo arrived. They make a valiant effort to jump the battery, but Cecilia doesn’t respond. What all parties thought would be a simple fix is becoming more complicated. Eduardo had already gone above and beyond the call of duty for us, but he took another step beyond our expectations. He offered Bob a ride to AutoZone to get a new battery and the tools required to put it in.
After they drive away, I exit Cecilia, find some shade, hug Honey in my arms, grip Sugar’s leash…and pray. I remind myself of everything I have to be thankful for in that moment: we are close to a town; we have a helper; there is shade; we are financially equipped to deal with a repair; and I have my pups for company.
After what seems like an eternity, the “hero” and Bob return with a car battery and tools. Sitting with my dogs in the cab of the air-conditioned repair truck, I watch as they install the new battery and try to start Cecilia. Nothing. They try jump starting the new battery. Nothing. Try this. Nothing. Try that. Nothing. But as our shoulders start to droop and our hearts sink, the hero, Eduardo, finds a loose connection, tightens it up, and …Vrooom! Success!!! The hero is as excited about getting us on the road again as we are.
Bob doesn’t make any more comments about the other cars alongside the road…LOL. We are thankful, but quiet.
In Palm Desert, our route takes us off of the main freeway on a scenic, more direct route through the mountains. The 2-lane highway doesn’t have a berm, only a few pull outs. It is a beautiful drive, but my trust in Cecilia isn’t fully restored so I hold my breath and cling to the door handle around the curves. I am grateful that God had answered my prayer for a hero, but I wasn’t fully leaning on Him yet. I was still anxious…uneasy. I still had more to learn.
When we were within 15 minutes of our overnight destination – Sweet Oaks Ranch and Winery in Temecula – Cecilia shutters and shakes. We know right away that she is getting ready to stop. Praying fervently for a spot to pull over we coast around a curve into a side road.
We met a few people during this detour, but I’m going to tell you about the 2 who, like Eduardo, became love for us.
Larry and John
The stories of these two neighbors are intertwined. Two very different personalities. Two very different ways of being love.
Larry – The Humble Expert – Scene 1
Larry and his daughter are the first ones to spot us on the road. It turns out we had come to a standstill in a drive leading up to 5 homes, one of which was Larry’s. He questions Bob about what’s wrong with Cecilia. Bob had already checked the connection that “the hero” had fixed and it seemed OK. The battery was new. So…maybe we are low on gas. The gauge says there is a quarter of a tank, but we aren’t sure it is 100% accurate. So. Gas.
“Is that all you’ve got?” says the “expert.”
Larry was suffering from heartache that day. His beloved dog had to be put down. He was distraught, but he was not insensitive to our need and the unique help he could offer. You see, Larry had trained as a Volkswagen mechanic in the 1960’s. He was pretty sure our problem was not gas related, but he didn’t have it in him to help us that night. It was getting pretty late and he was weary. He gave us his phone number and told us to call him after 8 AM if we couldn’t get Cecilia started. If any other neighbors questioned us, we were to tell them that Larry said we could camp there for the night.
The expert went on up the hill for the night. Bob and I rearranged our load and pulled out Cecilia’s bed to try to sleep. By now it’s dark. That’s all we can do.
Thank you, Lord. We are stranded, but not abandoned. You heard our prayers.
John – The Watchman – Scene 1
As you might imagine, it took us a little while to fall asleep. We talked about our day, about my childhood memories of being stranded roadside, and about how we were so close to our reserved sleeping spot…yet so far away. At one point, Bob asks, “In 10 years when we tell this story over Thanksgiving dinner, how’s it going to go?” “It depends on what happens tomorrow,” I reply as I drift off to sleep, exhaustion winning the battle over anxiety.
Not long after we finally go to sleep, we hear 2 loud voices talking. One of them, the male, is maligning those “Arizona squatters” camping in his driveway. This is HIS territory. After all, his grandfather had cut that road up the mountain to his house many, many years ago. The female, on speaker phone, tells him to leave us alone, but he isn’t having any of that. He gets out of his car, stalks around Cecilia, and continues talking to his comrade…loudly…adamantly…and most likely under the influence.
There was no avoiding this intrusion. I pop open the small side window so we can have a proper conversation with our visitor. His name is John…the “watchman.” He’s concerned that, where we were parked, we could be hit by a car (perhaps he almost hit us when he pulled in…). He wanted to help us move Cecilia and then get his hands on the problem. We told him that we were waiting for morning…and Larry. After sharing many of his life stories with us and enjoying some banter with Bob, the watchman decides to continue up the hill to his home. By this time, we felt like we knew a lot about John and, if we could believe what he said (repeatedly), he loves us. He was an unlikely friend.
Time to snuggle into our warm blankets and try to sleep again. After all, we must face Cecilia again in the morning.
John – The Watchman – Scene 2
We allow sleep to overtake us again, but not for long. I see headlights coming DOWN the hill, stopping beside our little bus. “Bob…we have company again.”
The driver hops out of his vehicle and approaches our little window. I pull back the curtain and startle a bit. It’s the watchman again and, as he peers through the small triangle of space, he looks like Jack Nicholson in The Shining (“Here’s Johnny”). He brought a flashlight this time so he could get a better look at us, and we him. Unexpectedly, the watchman pulls out 3 red solo cups, fills them, distributes them, and toasts our first night in Cecilia. As we join him in the toast, Bob and I aren’t sure whether to laugh or cry. We are exhausted, but the situation is absurd and comical.
Bob rolls with it and we have another 45 minutes of conversation with John…sometime after midnight…through the triangular window. We learn more about John during that cold dark evening than we know about most of our church peeps. The watchman continues to suggest that he look at Cecilia’s mechanicals, but finally realizes that it’s not going to happen and returns home.
John was rough around the edges, probably not sober, a little scary, and insensitive to our need for sleep. But still, John was love to us. He cared enough to come back down the hill and help us make the best of a stressful situation. And, we knew we could seek help from him in the morning if needed.
We will laugh about the watchman for years to come.
Larry – The Expert – Scene 2
Morning arrives. Bob and I rise early to take care of our dogs, fix our load, and decide what to do next. We don’t really want to bother the expert, Larry, and we are pretty sure the watchman, John, is still sleeping, so we decide to try gas. The nearest station is too far to walk so we call AAA and wait. We talk about our options if we can’t get Cecilia moving again. And our options if we do. Should we just head home or should we continue moving forward – to Temecula and then to Huntington Beach?
Do we trust?
About 8:30 AM a white truck makes it way down the road. The expert climbs out from behind the wheel in a white muscle shirt, pajama bottoms, a green checkered bathrobe, and uncombed hair. I believe God nudged Larry out of bed and down the hill. The Lord knew that gas was not the answer.
With a quiet, confident demeanor, Larry begins his assessment. There’s fuel. The engine turns over. There’s spark. Ahh. Here it is. Another loose connection. Crimper? Yes. Spades? Yes. Larry trims wires and fixes both of the questionable connections with tighter crimps. Tears well up in my eyes. I love you, Larry. The Good Lord knew we needed you when he put us right in your path last night. You have become love for us today.
Larry is kind and humble. He is just glad he could help. He gives our pups a few pats and heads home. He has no idea how much he has impacted our lives during those few moments of connection.
The rest of our trip to California was fun, but the stories we have to share are rooted in the struggle. We thought we knew what we needed – rehabbed mechanicals, a battery, gas – a perfect trip with no roadblocks or detours. We didn’t. God knew what we needed. We needed to look into the eyes of Eduardo, Larry, and John and see His love.
Whether we are road tripping from Chandler to Temecula, or from Monday to Tuesday, love should be the central theme of our story. Becoming love. Absorbing love. The kind of love transactions that can only come from God.