Some people spend a gorgeous Sunday afternoon working in the yard. Or napping in the sun. At a family gathering. Or on the ball field. For some people Sunday is a sacred day of rest.
Apparently, our family is not “some people.”
What started out as fun family outing on a weather-perfect Sunday afternoon evolved into a terrifying adventure. Don’t worry, though. It ended mostly well. I mean, we lived to tell about it, right?
A week or so earlier, Facebook reminded my husband that I had suggested (a year ago) we check out this local wildflower preserve. Thanks, Facebook. What a great idea! Our week was super emotional and busier than usual and we are feeling it, this need to get out, get away. Nature calms, heals, focuses all four of us, something for which we are thankful to share.
So, we packed up a picnic lunch and left straight from church. We gassed up the car and drove south and west, toward the big river, following the vague-ish directions from the newspaper article. When we found the road that would take us to the preserve, we were stunned. Steep. Uneven. Rocky. We pulled off to the side where some other cars were parked and figured we would walk the rest of the way. I worried about how we would get our aging van with its used transmission back up the hill. But I tucked those worries mostly away as we followed the road through a tunnel and along the river to the trailhead of the wildflower preserve.
We sat on the rocks and ate our sandwiches. My husband took the kids up the side of the hill to the low-grade trail that runs alongside the river so they could see. We studied the pictures of wildflowers and kept our eyes open for the early spring blooms with names like spring beauty and trillium and Dutchman’s breeches. The kids were the calmest and most interested they had been all week. I forget sometimes how much they need this.
When the trail ended at a creek, we walked right up to it and peered in the tunnel, which apparently you can cross through and continue hiking on the other side. We were not up for that on this day. On top of the tunnel, where we rested and shared cookies, the air was cool. A Mennonite family who happened upon us told us you could find ice in the hills as late as April and sure enough, underneath a rock was what looked like a patch of snow that had yet to melt. It was all fascinating and wonderful.
We hiked back to the trailhead, dragging a little by now. It wasn’t a long hike, but the week had drained us, and the sun was bright. We decided my husband would walk back for the car and bring it down aways and we would meet him. Then we would find our way back up. As the kids and I rested, I noticed a few cars going back up the hill a different way than we came down. I mentioned this to my husband and we decided to give it a try. The other access road was busy and congested (for an access road), he said, so we thought why not.
Have I mentioned that we drive a mini-van?
To call this path a road is more than generous. If you’ve watched an episode of Top Gear where the goal is to traverse some kind of rocky terrain with a car that was not built for it, you might have some idea of what this was like. The car tilted as my husband tried to avoid the worst of the crevices. We bottomed-out numerous times, and I will admit to you that we uttered some swears in the hearing of our children. (Lord, have mercy.)
We got to a point where we could see the paved road. And we got stuck. The tires spun and we kicked up the sandy clay that our area is known for. We reversed and went forward, all while the kids were freaking out in the back. I decided the best choice was for us to get out and stand to the side while my husband tried to maneuver the van through. No luck. We tossed down rocks and bark and sticks to try to get traction, to no avail.
That’s when we started to pray.
This is exactly the state of my prayer life these days. I think about it most when I’m in over my head and can’t get out. In the days before this little incident, my husband and I were contemplating putting an offer in on a house. We had looked at a foreclosure home. It was the only one that fit with the financial parameters we had. See, we had gotten ourselves in a bit of a predicament financially and on paper, we don’t have enough of the good qualities a bank wants before they agree to loan you enough money to buy a house. At least, the kind of house we were hoping to buy.
But this foreclosure home was in pretty good shape. The only questions were whether we would a) even win the bid because you don’t get to negotiate with a foreclosure home and b) be able to come up with the other money involved in buying a house, like closing costs.
The whole thing has been overwhelming in a short amount of time. I haven’t slept much. I’ve cried while making dinner. My stomach has churned.
So, we prayed. And honestly, I think, at least for a little while, we hoped that God would provide a miraculous solution. Like maybe this foreclosure home was the answer to our prayers when we thought we didn’t stand a chance of buying a house. But the more we tried to force ourselves into this situation, the more it felt like we were doing more harm than good.
Okay, so back to the van and its state of stuck-ness and our feeble prayers. Not long after we started praying, we heard the sound of a dirt bike climbing the hill. Yay! We’re saved, I thought. Except the dirt bike sped right past us and our plight. If you’ve ever read the parable of the Good Samaritan, I think this is a little bit what that was like, except we weren’t unconscious.
We laid out our options. We could keep trying. We could call a tow truck. We could see if anyone in the house at the top of the hill could help us. We opted for number 3, so the husband and kids walked up the hill and before they had gone far I could hear the bark of a large dog and a man’s voice carrying down the hill. They returned shaking their heads. I don’t blame this neighbor for being unhelpful. I’m sure this happens often, though at the time, I was feeling like the only people on the planet stupid enough to try to get their mini-van up this hill.
My husband started the call to a tow truck when a Jeep Wrangler pulled up. We had seen a couple of people round the corner and somehow turn around and go back down. We were not interested in that option. I’m not sure the children would have survived it emotionally. I got out of the car and put my hands in the air in a “I don’t know what to do” sort of gesture. A man got out of the Jeep and told us that just last week, he’d brought a Hyundai on this same stretch of road and got it stuck. He knew exactly how we were feeling. He was willing to help however he could.
So, for the first time since this adventure started, I got behind the wheel while my husband and a stranger pushed on the back of the van. Still, nothing. The tires spun and the rubber burned and I was worried that one or the both of them would throw their backs out. And then where would we be?
My husband told the man he wouldn’t keep him all day. His name was Robert. And he got back in the jeep and went down the hill.
Back on the phone with the insurance company to call for a tow truck. We got it scheduled and it would be covered as long as the equipment on the truck was all that was necessary. It was a waiting game. The text from the towing company said it would be an hour. We had already been stuck for more than an hour. The kids were getting restless and anxious, but at least we had snacks.
Not long after that text, a red Nissan SUV pulled up. (Are you sensing a theme here? I don’t get any kind of kick-back from car companies but I know a great place where they could shoot some commercials!) I didn’t want to get out again. I didn’t want anyone else to help us and fail. I just wanted to be left alone in this mess we had gotten ourselves into.
But these people would not be deterred.
A white-haired gentleman called from the driver’s side.
“Are you stuck?”
“Yes!” Was it not obvious?
“I think I might have something that could help.”
A flutter of hope. But I squashed it because sometimes it’s harder to hope and be let down than to not hope at all.
He pulls out a shovel and a couple of tire traction mats (I just looked that up because all I know is they were purple and grippy and scratchy) and the hope flutters again. It can’t be squashed. His wife gets out of the car and she ushers the children to the side and my husband and this man put the mats down and shovel out some sand and I get behind the wheel again.
And I push on the accelerator and I can hear the spinning and see the clay spitting out. By this time, the inside of the van is covered in it, as are the tires. We back up and try again. And again. Finally, the man and his wife decide they can’t wait an hour and they’re going to go back down. But just before he puts all the stuff away, he looks at the path and says, “Have you tried it on the right side?” We thought we had tried everything, but what was one more try?
Hope is this funny thing that makes you feel like flying but also like you’re standing on the edge of a cliff and might fall off. At least it is to me. Hope isn’t solid ground. At least, hope in certain things isn’t.
This house we were looking at, and the possibilities that came with it, wasn’t our hope. We didn’t need it to make our lives better, not where it really counts. This is a new feeling for us. We’ve always felt like things will get better with the next thing, the next move, the next job. Now things are good, well, now. Everything else is bonus. So while we had a little hope that this might be a good opportunity, we weren’t building on it.
I have a hard time not focusing on facts. On evidence. Hope and evidence don’t always play well together. I’m working on not being so negative all the time. But it’s hard.
Especially when you’ve been trying for more than an hour to get your van unstuck from a dirt road in the middle of nowhere.
So, I’m behind the wheel and my husband and this older man are telling me to straighten the wheels and keep them straight, which is easier said than done when the clay is kicking you off to the side. I tried a couple of times and it kicked me to the left both times. We gave it another try. I backed the van up, kept the wheels straight and gunned it and all of a sudden, I was moving. I was past the spot where we got stuck, past the spot where the kids stood watching, past the dirt and onto the blacktop.
I could have cried. I put the van in park, set the brake and ran down the hill. The couple were heading back to their car, but I was trying to get to them to give them a hug. I was so grateful. Maybe they hadn’t done anything special but they stuck with us in a moment of need, they believed we could do it, and they were there for the victory. But they were back in their vehicle before I could do more than yell, “Thank you!” and wave. My husband asked their names: Ed and Carolyn, we think, but there’s some dispute with the children about whether the man’s name was Pete.
We piled back into the van, my husband took the wheel and we drove the 25 minutes home. I called and cancelled the tow truck on the way. The rocks and gravel spitting out from the wheels and underneath the van were the only reminder as we drove that this thing had happened. Even now, it feels a little bit like something we saw happen to someone else.
I told the kids as we drove that sometimes God doesn’t answer our prayers exactly like we think He should. I confessed that I wanted Him to answer us immediately and get us out of the mess we had made for ourselves. And when that didn’t happen, I wanted it to be the guy in the Wrangler. At least he understood where we’d been. I didn’t want to have to call the tow truck, but it easily could have been our salvation from this mess.
Instead, it was Ed and Carolyn, who had worked all day in the yard before they came to the wildflower preserve and stumbled onto a family in trouble.
I don’t think God kept us there longer than I wanted because we needed to be taught a lesson or because He’s cruel. Maybe our rescue at the hands of Ed and Carolyn were for their benefit, too. All I know is that we did learn something: Don’t take a mini-van to an SUV party.
And sometimes an outrageous adventure is just what you need to take your mind off the other worries of life.