“It’s a surprise party!” I said 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 arranged 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 and his lovely wife, Scott and Megan Ruhmann, who had moved from Piggott, Arkansas to work with this loved congregation in Bend only three months before our visit.
In the Bible class that evening, we studied and had a good discussion over John 12, including this 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.” When he had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid himself from them.
Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet:
“Lord, who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”
For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere:
“He has blinded their eyes
and hardened their hearts,
so they can neither see with their eyes,
nor understand with their hearts,
nor turn—and I would heal them.”
Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him.
Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not openly acknowledge their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved human praise more than praise from God.” (John 12:35-43).
Of course, the most curious part of this text is about how our God can be both full of lovingkindness (Psalm 145:8) and yet is said here in relation to those who refuse to believe to have “blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts.” Good question! In fact, so relevant and consequential that I’ve done some intensive personal Bible study on this topic and Mark and I even recorded a podcast on this question, available here: https://anchor.fm/nomadsyouandi/episodes/Create-In-Me-A-Clean-Heart--O-God-eonv8p
During our hour with the Bend congregation, I found it fitting that we happened to sing together the song Precious Memories with its lyrics:
“Precious memories, unseen angels,
Sent from somewhere to my soul;
How they linger, ever near me,
And the sacred past unfold.
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 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 trip so deep and meaningful, and in the end, served as the inspiration for my present nomadic lifestyle. Here’s how that all went down.
“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 other, 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 had college or children at home or employment, or nondependent husband, the list shrunk again considerably. Of the few sisters that remained, I thought about natural chemistry/compatibility, street smarts and skill sets, 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 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 was not afraid of much and loved to drive (because I don’t). Lifelong bestie and flew first into Tampa and then into Minneapolis to join me for a couple legs of the journey and my dear buddy Rhonda Clark joined Deb and I in Washington D.C. and went on tour Boston with me.
The trip left me with a books’ worth of stories in my heart, but in brief, this quest ended up being about 11,300 miles, basically drawing with my FJ Cruiser a rough rectangle around the country from February 25th to April 22nd. I was gone 57 days, gave away about 30 Bibles my church family had donated. Seven sisters in Bremerton, WA volunteered an afternoon to bookmark, highlight, and insert handouts to prepare the Bibles for distribution. It was funded primarily by selling my old Miata that years ago my dad had given me and recently my son had totaled. I traveled through 30 states, stayed with 31 different homes, and was hosted by 29 amazing human beings I’d never met.
About 4 hours “out of the gate”, I prayed with a stranger on top of a Saddle Mountain, and daily 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, “God has sent you to me”. Even a cell phone crash resulted in a Bible study that resulted in the student eventually studying with the local church of Christ in Lincoln City, Oregon. God’s Providence could not be missed. I worshipped 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 and was cooked delicious meals and taken to outstanding restaurants. My five lesson series called “Fresh Start” (containing 5 lessons on evidences 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 handed food to go, a homemade quilt, empty bullet casings, books, a pheasant pelt, a pedicure, coffee mugs, home grown oranges and lemons, art supplies, home cooked meals, a headlight installed, a beautiful homemade pen, spray paint for Cadillac Ranch, a wooden crate, Florida salt scrub, a fluids check, meals out, a Starbucks gift card and so much more. 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.
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 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 learned to sleep hard anywhere. Many of the best experiences were the unplanned ones. My brain was in a constant state of delighted surprise. I seemed to learn something new about every ten minutes.
I took a boat ride around the Statue of Liberty and Niagara Falls with only Chinese people, one of whom I gave a Bible. She had never seen one.
Someone tried to con $130 dollars from me, 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, a book called Fervent and we grooved to our own customized playlist of one song for every state we drove through.
Besides the tears shed on day 4 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 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 8 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 just loved us back.
A lot of people have told me they’re inspired by our road trip, and want to take one of their own. That’s cool. 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, putting a few Bibles in one’s backpack. Praying. And enjoying people, Then watching Him work. It’s like staring down the Palo Duro Canyon and realizing “this is the best trip of my life”.
27th Street church of Christ
61691 SE 27th St, Bend, OR 97702