“It’s a surprise party!” I announced to my soul sister, Stephanie Merrill, as we shared a good, long hug. She wasn’t expecting to see us until Friday when we would plug Fresh Prince into her house for a night, but we rearranged our schedule so that we could also enjoy a Bible study with the church of Christ in Bend. It was a delight to meet their new, energetic young preacher Scott Ruhmann, and his lovely wife, Megan, who had moved only three months before our visit from Piggott, Arkansas to work with this loved congregation in Bend.
In the Bible class that evening, we studied and had a good discussion over John 12, including this beautiful section: “Then Jesus told them, ‘You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where they are going. Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.’” During our hour with the Bend congregation, I had good reason to find it fitting that we happened to sing together the song Precious Memories:“Precious memories, unseen angels,
Sent from somewhere to my soul;
How they linger, ever near me,
And the sacred past unfolds.
Precious memories, how they linger,
How they ever flood my soul;
In the stillness of the midnight,
Precious, sacred scenes unfold.
As I travel on life's pathway,
Know not what the years may hold;
As I ponder, hope grows fonder,
Precious memories flood my soul.”
This song took on a special meaning to me, given the fact that I had made some very special memories with Stephanie around our looking for souls together desirous of becoming “children of light” by “seeing...understanding...and turning” as John 12 later puts it. Perhaps sharing our story of looking for these souls will especially inspire those who travel, to include some of the spiritual activities that made our 2017 travels we called the “Only God” road trip, so deep and meaningful, and in the end, served as the inspiration for my present nomadic lifestyle. Here’s how it all got started:
“They have showers at truck stops, don’t they?” I innocently asked Mark in early 2017 when I was planning all the details to frugally drive the extended scenic routes from Oregon to Rhode Island and back to try to attend my grandson Sam’s fourth birthday in mid-April and cram as much adventuring as I could there and back. For weeks Mark had heard my thinking and planning out loud and some of my ideas were scarier than others, but showering at truck stops?! That was it. He had hit his hard brick wall of dread, imagining what could happen. “Why don’t you find someone to go with you if you’re going to do that?”, he requested. I began to think of who might want to travel with me confronting all manner of potentially scary things for weeks and weeks. The mental list was not long. When I began to consider which sisters no longer were in college, could break away from work, and were empty nesters with independent husbands, the list shrunk considerably again and again. Of the few sisters that remained, I thought about natural chemistry and compatibility, street smarts and skill sets, and then started making a few phone calls. “Do you want to live on the road with me out of my FJ Cruiser for a couple of months starting in late February until maybe the end of April?” I got two “maybes” and a solid “Yes” from my world traveler, motorcycle driving, skydiving friend Stephanie Merrill. Perfect. She, like me, is not afraid of much and unlike me, she loves to drive. Thirty days into the trip, Steph flew out and lifelong bestie, Debbie McCown flew to me twice, first into Tampa and out of D.C. and weeks later into Minneapolis to join me for the last leg of the journey. Meanwhile, my dear buddy Rhonda Clark joined Debbie and me in Washington D.C., and went on to tour NYC and Boston with me.
Funded primarily by selling my old Miata that years ago my dad had given me and a family member had just totaled, the trip left me with a book’s worth of stories in my heart. In brief, this quest ended up being about 11,300 miles, essentially drawing with my silver FJ Cruiser a rough rectangle around the edges of the country from February 25th to April 22nd. I was gone fifty-seven days and gave away about thirty Bibles that my church family had donated. Seven sisters in Bremerton, WA volunteered an afternoon to bookmark, highlight, and insert handouts to prepare those Bibles for distribution. I traveled through thirty states, stayed in thirty-one different homes, and was hosted by twenty-nine amazing human beings I’d never met.
About four hours “out of the gate”, I prayed with a stranger on top of Saddle Mountain, and stood in awe while God’s timing introduced me every day to people we needed and people who needed us. Over and over, as jaw-dropping conversations unfolded, the idea was in one way or another vocalized by those we met, “God has sent you to me”. Even a cell phone crash resulted in a Bible study that resulted in the student eventually studying with a congregation on the Oregon Coast and being baptized. God’s Providence could not be missed. I worshiped in what may be the biggest church of Christ in the country and a thriving little congregation meeting in a hostel.
I talked to dozens of believers and nonbelievers about the wonders of God’s saving love. I prayed and fasted, had delicious meals cooked for me, and was taken to outstanding restaurants. I gave away comb bound, rough draft copies of Your Fresh Start containing lessons on evidence of God’s existence, the inspiration of the scriptures, Jesus’ Messiahship, restoring the New Testament church, and living for God. I placed business-sized “Only God” cards with relevant scriptures on the back, everywhere from the steps of the Supreme Court to Bourbon Street. I gave away little pieces of art and was given so much including a homemade quilt, empty bullet casings, a pheasant pelt, a headlight installment, and spray paint for Cadillac Ranch. Best of all, I was given lodging, advice, hugs, prayers, companionship, seven sack lunches for the homeless in Seattle, snuggles from my grandbabies, and more gas fill-ups, meals, and admission fees than I can count from my three generous soul sisters who traveled with me. The Only God road trip was extreme.
It was 90 degrees and it was 20 degrees. I slept near cockroaches and was taken to lunch in someone’s private airplane. I went inside the White House and inside the intriguing junked-out lower level of a long abandoned hay barn. I talked extensively with a wise, blind woman and briefly with the Secret Service. I held gooey frog eggs and fluffy baby chickens. I put my feet in the white sands and turquoise waters of Caladesi Island and prayed my way through the slums of Gary, Indiana. I heard, in silence, buffalo eating grass in the Badlands and floated on a boogie board in the Gulf of Mexico. I took a boat ride around the Statue of Liberty and Niagara Falls both with only Chinese people, one of whom I gifted a Bible. She had never even seen one. A bike taxi driver in downtown NYC tried to con $130 dollars from us, and another, who could barely afford to, handed me a $100 bill.
During the drive we enjoyed meditative silence, counseled each other through our personal challenges, read everything from Romans through Jude, listened to Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, and another book called Fervent and in-between we grooved to a playlist we created by choosing one song to represent every state we drove through.
I learned to sleep hard anywhere. Many of the best experiences were unplanned ones. I seemed to learn something new about every ten minutes. My brain was in a constant state of delighted surprise.
Besides the tears shed on day four from the stress of losing important trip-related information from my phone crashing, there was a $1,300 breakdown, a lost credit card, and two times I wondered if I’d have enough gas to make it to the next fill-up. But every problem was solvable by putting our heads together and resting our hearts in God’s faithful love and divine care. I bought almost nothing, but came home feeling utterly rich.
The biggest surprise of the road trip was how easy it was to just say in a relaxed way, “Oh, just traveling the country for eight weeks, handing out Bibles, talking to people about God and adventuring” every time someone asked us, “Hey. What’s going on?” Our fun vibe and happy, egoless confidence that “Only God” has the answers this country needs, felt natural to talk about to the people we met along the way and was anything but socially awkward. People seemed to just love us back.
If you find road trips inspiring and want to take one of their own, that’s swell. After all, God Himself says, “Go into all the world” (Mark 16:15-16). Here’s the thing: What if every time we went out into the world, instead of experiencing our journeys for merely our own thrill and “discovery”, we also included our purpose for living: helping others discover the ultimate; that is, eternal life by carrying out the rest of Mark 15:15-16. Maybe you already figured this out years ago, but I’ve discovered it’s as easy as thinking fearlessly and putting a few Bibles in one’s backpack, praying and enjoying people, and then watching Him work. It was adding this spiritual focus within our travels that had me realizing as I stared down at the Palo Duro Canyon, “This is the best trip of my life”. Precious memories flood my soul.
27th Street church of Christ
61691 SE 27th St, Bend, OR 97702