“Dear old world. . . you are very lovely, and I am glad to be alive in you.” ~L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
My three youngest sit in the backseat of the van munching on sandwiches and carrot sticks. Dear sweet Anne of Green Gables entertains us with her deep scope of imagination as we listen to her story unfold. Trent and Hunter bravely set our course into new territory as I follow behind in the van embarking on the next chapter of our own story.
This particular northward direction (from Florida to Maine) holds new excitement. The land of happenings, dates, and people lay before us. The soil is marinated in history. This is where states adopt slogans such as “It’s Good Being First” (Delaware), “State of Independence” (Philadelphia), and “First in Flight” (North Carolina).
“It’s funny, but have you ever noticed that the more special something is, the more people seem to take it for granted? It’s like they think it won’t ever change.” ~Nicolas Sparks, The Wedding
Its strikingly simple to adapt to your surroundings with such ease that the lovely languishes under the weight of the miraculously commonplace. As much as I’d like to claim otherwise, I am as strikingly vulnerable to this sad reality as the next person. For seven years we lived 20 minutes from America’s most beautiful small town (according to USA Today and RandMcNally), yet rarely made an effort to properly take advantage of the quaint and uniquely quirky Sandpoint, Idaho. We heavily considered including the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington D.C. into our itinerary this year. Yet in all my childhood years growing up in Northeast Washington State, I never once attended the Spokane Lilac Festival.
I was recently reminded of this annoying propensity toward a prosaic point of view as we headed into the cozy northwest corner of North Carolina. Here the folds of the earth begin to gather together in a sudden contest of altitude. My breath was faint as I mouthed the words, “mountains” in an inaudible exaltation. Suddenly, after three months in the lowlands, my heart and mind remembered my first geographic loves: pinnacles, peaks and points. I’ve been wrapped in elevation for most of my life, yet I often have to step away before my true appreciation can seep in.
The Mark of Wisdom
“The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
I see value in identifying idiosyncrasies for the purpose of reforming habits. Truly beauty is bountiful and the seemingly ordinary carries with it the enormous weight of importance. The trick is to live within the margin of deep appreciation without slipping into the abyss of ordinary. I desire Emerson’s wisdom to see the miraculous in the common. I want to marvel in both the unusual and the familiar. The magnum opus that my Creator has set before me deserves my awe.
How about you? Do you find yourself struggling to find the miraculous in the common? When do you most easily find yourself breathless with awe?
One thing that full-time travel is teaching me is that living in a state of dependency affords the best view for provision. Time and again we’ve been shown that God is willing and able to provide for us. However, we have to first be willing to humble ourselves to be dependent on Him. I believe this struggle is not uniquely my own but the challenge of our American culture.
How can we possibly be dependent on God when we pride ourselves so strongly on our own independence? Quite often I think the answer lies in our willingness to step out in faith. Because the more distance we place between our own self sufficiency and our our need for God to show up, the greater the likelihood that we will request His presence.
To illustrate this point I will share a frustratingly low point that I walked through just before we left our hometown in Idaho to begin our time on the road.
Deeply disappointing delays
On the eve of our launch day six months ago, this was the view from our RV. We had a van with a cantankerous disposition and a truck 90 minutes away in the shop awaiting a part that was “100% going to arrive that day” but never did.
Our countdown to launch had dwindled to the very lowest number. Now our departure date was at the mercy of two different mechanics in two separate towns working on two different vehicles.
The delay was deeply disappointing considering the obvious build-up of excitement to this moment. However, the daunting discouragement was most firmly rooted in the very possible reality that we would miss out on a doctor appointment scheduled the following day for our youngest son, Tanner, in the town of our first stop three hours away: Coeur d’Alene. Tanner had been experiencing frequent and persistent stomach aches and I felt sure that it was tied to something he was eating. The doctor in Coeur d’Alene was known for assessing and treating allergies with magnets and I was anxious to have Tanner seen by him before we started traveling.
The fact that we were even able to set up an appointment with this doctor on such short notice as a new patient felt like a miracle (new patient appointments were being scheduled four months out). We’d rearranged four dentist appointments and bumped our launch date up by a day in order to make Tanner’s appointment work.
I felt utterly defeated by this unforeseen delay. When I asked a few good friends to pray that God would allow us to leave on time in order to make this appointment, a thought occurred to me: why not just ask God to heal Tanner?
It was a valid question, but it also seemed redundant. I’d prayed for him already, several times. Yet, this particular situation pressed my heart toward the reality that my options had just narrowed to allow my dependence to rest solely on the shoulders of my Savior. In this place of surrender I could see my wavering faith with clarity. Why did I find it easier to believe that God would fix our schedule than to heal our son?
In Mark chapter six, a multitude of people had gathered to listen to Jesus speak. As it grew late the disciples and Jesus both recognized the crowd’s need for food. The disciples had their plan in place: outsource the problem–send the people away to get their food. Jesus had another idea: just meet the need. Jesus simply told them, “You give them something to eat.” When the disciples responded confused and frustrated, Jesus asked how many loaves they had. They gathered their resources (five loaves and two fish) and Jesus blessed the small collection and began dividing it, again, and again and again until all were fed and 12 baskets of food were left over.
Like the disciples, I was ready to outsource Tanner’s treatment, confident that this Doctor would help. When it appeared that option was fading fast, I felt the Lord prompting me to consider the resources I already had on hand.
Providential provision: our only option
That evening friends stopped by to give their final good-bye hugs. I asked them to pray with us for Tanner’s healing and I recognized within myself a unique dependance that had not been there before. God was not the back-up option–He was very likely our only option.
Our launch day proceeded the following day as planned with the exception of a delay just significant enough to prevent us from making it to the doctors office before closing for the extended Labor Day weekend. This meant we absolutely were not going to make our appointment.
Desperate for dependency
It has now been six months and I’m humbled to say that the stomachaches that plagued Tanner for weeks prior to our launch disappeared after the prayer that was offered in a posture of desperation.
God could have healed Tanner the first time I prayed but instead he chose to wait. God could have used the doctor but He chose not to. I believe God allowed me to reach a point of desperation and dependance in order to allow my faith grow.
I am reminded that the Israelites were only given the food they needed for that day and that if they tried to hoard and save, it spoiled. How do I return each day to God’s table and ask Him humbly to refill my plate? How do I foster a regular dependency on my Saviors’ provision?
I don’t believe it means I turn my back on medical care. I’m not convinced that we need to cease proactive behavior. However, I do believe that my heart needs to be more tuned to respond by instinct toward the heart of my Heavenly Father.
Stepping into the unknown
The longer I know Jesus, the more I am convinced that He is a true gentleman. Scripture says that He stands at the door and knocks (Revelation 6:20). He requests a relationship but does not enter uninvited. Perhaps one of the best ways I can foster dependency is to simply open the door and begin taking steps of faith with Him into the unknown.
Once I am outside of my area of expertise, I require assistance. The tricky thing is figuring out how far I need to go before I am dependent. One day it might mean examining my giving. Another day it may relate to who I am willing to engage in conversation with. I am finding new opportunities to discover dependency as we travel. However, I believe dependency is more about the position of our heart rather than the location of our home: the challenge lies in desiring it.
We must cease striving and trust God to provide what He thinks is best and in whatever time He chooses to make it available. But this kind of trusting doesn’t come naturally. It’s a spiritual crisis of the will in which we must choose to exercise faith. ~Charles R. Swindoll
What about you? Do you find it challenging to foster a state of dependency? Has God shown up for you when you have been there?
Before we launched into our new RV living lifestyle, there was one particular aspect we wondered about most: is is possible to have community on the road?
Since hitting the road, this topic of RV community has been discussed repeatedly between Trent and I. Additionally, it has been talked about over campfires with new friends and its been questioned by blog readers.
What does community look like for nomadic travelers? Is it possible to obtain? How it is similar or different from a more traditional living situation? These questions are multi-faceted and with only a little over 6 months of travel time under our belts, I feel ill equipped to even comment. Yet despite my rookie status as a full-time traveler, I will lay my humble two-cents on the table.
Defining our terms
First things first. I feel it is important to define the terms that we are using when we speak of community. Webster defines community in the following two ways:
a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.
a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals: the sense of community that organized religion can provide.
In the first description, community becomes implied simply by nature of our location or a common characteristic. In this sense we are part of the “RV community” by default each and every time we pull into a RV park.
Yet what I believe most people are after is found tucked more solidly within the second description. Here there is a feeling of belonging, strengthened by common interests and goals.
However, to complicate things further, Trent and I are not entirely satisfied with option #1 or #2. Our hearts long for something greater. Something reflected in the pages of Scripture. We read about the new believers in Acts chapter 2 verses 42-47 and our hearts salivate.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. Acts 2:42-47
Within the framework of this example we might redefine community in the following way:
An interdependency with others connected by a common God-given vision with the goal of authentic fellowship aided by close proximity and mutual interests.
Basically we want our cake and to eat it too. We don’t just want to live near others. We don’t simply want to have common interests. We want more depth and breadth added to the entire mix. Admittedly this is a high standard–so much so that in our 17 years of marriage we’ve only sampled tastes of it. Yet, our longing remains.
To a degree I believe we will continue to hunger for this unique community until heaven satisfies our hearts. Yet, because I believe our longing was placed there by community’s creator Himself, I refuse to settle into apathetic relational atrophy.
Community on the road?
Our current lifestyle goes directly against the stream of convenient community. We’ve given up the built-in neighborhood. Our church building is ever-changing. At times we move too frequently to receive mail. If the postman can’t even find us, how could we possibly experience authentic community with others?
It may seem illogical but incredibly I’ve talked to women who have cultivated more connection on the road than they found in their former neighborhoods. We’ve heard about teens who traversed the unknown and discovered their own tribe of traveling friends. And remarkably, accounts from military families who say that their relationships on the road are stronger than they were while on active duty, caught us off guard.
“Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out that there are so many of them in the world.” ~Anne of Green Gables
Again and again we’ve heard from families who planned to travel for “just one year” who now have an open-ended travel itinerary simply because they realized they didn’t have to forgo relationships just because they happened to have nomadic tendencies.
EARLY TASTES of community on the road
While it’s too soon to make long term predictions on what this full-time RV community could look like for our own family, I can tell you what we’ve tasted so far:
-We’ve seen over 100 full-time RV traveling families.
-We’ve sat at the pool and recognized everyone else present.
-We’ve enjoyed spontaneous dinner guests and game nights.
-Our kids have attended co-op style homeschool classes and game nights.
-Hunter had a tent sleep-over two nights in a row.
-Trent went to a men’s movie night.
-I attended an IKEA ladies day out, a mini marriage seminar and a Christmas sock exchange.
-The two of us played the newlywed game with a large group of other couples.
-Ashlyn learned how to weave and taught others how to make fabric scrap dolls and friendship bracelets.
-Quinten and Tanner enjoyed countless light saber wars with neighboring boys.
-We enjoyed co-op meals.
-I taught a class on how to brew Kombucha tea and another on how to help your kids memorize easily.
-Trent taught a class on the basics of installing solar.
-We weathered a tornado warning in a parking garage amidst playing kids and crock pots of cheese dip.
-We worshiped and prayed together.
I’ve been floored by how many wonderfully unique people make up this RV community. Their stories would blow your mind. A single widow RVing with her two teens and two-year-old twins. A family of 12 fighting their dad’s brain tumor diagnosis by living life and making their dreams a reality. A Canadian family who wrote a book about the battle they faced against flesh eating disease and the way God miraculously provided healing. A man who is hiking 1,000 across two AZ and UT while carrying a flame. Families who have fostered. Families who have adopted. Families who have also experienced the grief of stillbirth. I could go on and on…
To be honest, during our stay in Orlando, we had more opportunity for social interaction than we could ask for. However, despite the abundant relational opportunities surrounding us, relationships don’t automatically equal community.
This winter has been a lot like moving into a new neighborhood. Yet, the introductory questions have drastically differed from my former norm.
“What state did you launch from?”
“How long have you been traveling?”
“How long will you be here?”
“Where do you plan to travel this year?”
“What’s your story? What got you into this lifestyle?”
Beginning a relationship based on location based questions is intriguing. Yet like any other kind of friendship, time is required in order to develop depth. Depth can be difficult to obtain in traveling timeframes–yet, not impossible.
SHALLOW VS. DEEP
While depth of relationships are often developed over stretches time, it is possible to accelerate the process. I’ve adopted the intentionally mindset. If I see someone I want to get to know, I take quick action. I’ve initiated morning walks, dinner get togethers, fireside chats and game nights. While I’ve not yet had enough time for those relationships to mature to a aged perfection, they do have a favorable jumpstart. The upside is that I’ve met some really fantastic women. The downside is that I’m not currently parked next to any of them.
“Dear me, there is nothing but meetings and partings in this world.” ~Anne of Green Gables
The process reminds me of standing next to a campfire on a cool evening. I stand as close as I can for as long as I can and then I have to turn to warm up the other side. While the proximity is right, the conditions are fantastically favorable for friendship. As soon as the proximity is off, it’s way off. I’m states away from people I ate dinner with just a few weeks ago.
I’m too new to know how this works out in the long run. Others have told me that they continue to ebb and flow in and out of proximity–meeting up with old friends and making new ones as they go.
PLACES VS. PEOPLE
Without a doubt there are relationships to be had if you are willing to pursue them. Herein lies the rub. At times there is a choice between the pursuit of the location or the people. For example, our goal for the next 6 months is to explore the east coast. However, we’ve met some great families who are traveling west this year. By nature of our chosen places, we will miss out on spending time with those people. Due to some family events, we need to move up the east coast relatively quickly. Yet, our east coast traveling friends are on a slower timeline. Unfortunately this means they will be trailing a few weeks behind us. We will do what we can to align our schedule to overlap with others however, for the next 6 months we are admittedly putting “places” in a high priority position.
Should our travels continue beyond this first year, I anticipate that the pull between places and people would begin to yield much more heavily toward people. As a result, I expect that we would begin to pursue places which are in close proximity to the people we wish to see rather than the reverse. What I don’t know is how close to our ideal “third community” definition we can get while on the road. In that arena (like all others) I’ve resigned myself to remember that God has never failed to provide for us. I believe that if He could create a partner for Adam out of a rib (Genesis 2:18-25), He can certainly provide community for us on the road.
A different perspective
In an effort to provide a more balanced perspective on the subject of community, I reached out to friends we’ve met online and on the road and asked for their insight.
The Walkers were the very first full-time family we met on the road. We’d gone two months without meeting another family and our social tanks were on empty. What a gift it was to connect with them! Since that time we’ve reconnected on multiple occasions and our kids have formed sweet bonds. To get to know them better, check out their Trent & Siobhan YouTube channel and listen to their music on Spotify!
Full Time Community – The Walkers’ Perspective:
For us, community on the road was a saving grace. To make a long story short, we had spent our first 8 months in our RV without community and we were very discouraged and about to give up when we made a last-minute decision to attend a rally with other families in New York. That decision was the best decision we had made since “launching” and we wished we had attended a rally or meet-up earlier. We went from not knowing ANY other full time families to meeting about 50 at one time! It was absolute bliss for all of us to spend four full days NOT having to explain to anyone that we live in an RV on purpose…lol! There is just something special about regularly spending time with people who share a common lifestyle. Since that time we have made a point to attend more rallies and meet-ups to continue the process of forming relationships.
This community of nomadic people, as a whole, couldn’t be more diverse but we have this common bond of homes on wheels and no matter our nationality, color, financial status or level of education we ALL still have to empty the black tank.
Marissa and Nate have been traveling since May of 2015 with their adorable young daughter, Hensley. We met for the first time at the Fulltime Families Rally in Tallahassee and then again when we went to Devil’s Den (click here to see that video) and then again briefly in Orlando. Their popular Less Junk More Journey vlog on YouTube as well as their blog is a great place to get to know them better. Here are Marissa’s thoughts on community on the road:
Community is one of the most overlooked aspects of fulltime RV living, but it is one of the most important. We set out on our journey hoping to just run into families at campgrounds who were living the same lifestyle so we could interact. It was 6 lonely months before we met our first fulltime family, just as we started to think they were as mythical as unicorns.
After including community as part of our travels our experience has been more fulfilling and enriched through these relationships and even friendships. Making community a vital part of your family travels opens amazing doors that you didn’t even know was possible.
Gaby Cuda from RVShare and I have corresponded via email with the mutual connection of blogging and RVing. I asked for her feedback on this topic of community and she was happy to share.
Finding meaningful connections on the road isn’t difficult, but, like all relationships, it does entail some work on both sides. In all aspects of life, relationships must be not just forged, but fostered. The wonderful thing about the RV community is that so many RVers are eager to join forces and share stories. What binds us together is our love of exploration, freedom, and of course, our rigs. There are plenty of ways to meet like-minded individuals – check out an RV show. Join an RV club. Strike up a conversation with your campground neighbors. You’ll come across many people in the RV world that have the same outlook on life as you – and that’s one of the strongest foundations for a lasting friendship. When you look for it, you’ll see community all around you, whether it’s in a neighborhood, a church, or a cluster of campers.
We have more friends (and deeper friendships with those friends) out on the road than we had back in our suburban life.
We never expected that.
But road friendships don’t happen by chance. We purpose to meet people. That often means changing plans. We chose to prioritize community over a fun museum or National Park visit. We went from Michigan to Texas by the way of Washington, DC in order to caravan with friends just a little longer.
And friendships look different than in the suburbs. We used to see friends more often but interact at a shallow level. Now we see people less often but interactions are deeper.
And we’ve gotten better at saying goodbye. We’ve learned to appreciate the sadness that comes when leaving friends. If there is no sadness, then the visit wasn’t a good one.
I am so encouraged to hear these perspectives and I love how the Boyink’s have chosen to view their goodbyes: “If there is no sadness, then the visit wasn’t a good one.”
How to find others on the road
While our stay in Orlando was on the extreme end of the social spectrum, we’d experienced the isolation end of the spectrum for much of the three months preceding. Here’s what I would suggest to other families seeking to make connection on the road:
-Make efforts to attend a Fulltime Family Rally. The rally we attended in Tallahassee at the beginning of February was great. We’ve heard from many that attending a rally was the game changer in helping their family see this lifestyle as a sustainable, long term choice.
–Fulltime Families also has a new family finder on their website. Members can update their location and see if other families are in their area.
-Use social media to your advantage. I’ve found other families in our area through Instagram. At the Fulltime Families rally I asked other parents (via the private Facebook group) for help in connecting my slow-to-initiate daughter with other girls her age. Within 20 minutes a small tribe of girls showed up, crafts, snacks and an umbrella in hand and friendships were born.
-Build margin into your travel plans. We’ve been most starved for interaction with others when we are moving too quickly to facilitate relationship building.
–Initiate. This is not a time to wait to be pursued by others. You have to be willing to make the first move.
I’ve put my two cents out there, now it’s your turn. If you are a traveling family, what has your community experience been on the road? If you are not a traveling family, are there questions I didn’t answer?
Is fear ever truly healthy? If so, how do you decipher if the fear gnawing in the pit of your stomach needs to be fed or starved?
That is the question I was staring at two years ago. I was wrestling with the unknown. My required response was either flee my fear or face it. Facing my fear may seem like the desired logical, brave, big-girl reaction. However, I wasn’t just scared to talk to a homeless man or visit Florida. This fear was fueled by the desire to keep my children safe from unknown predators.
Let me take you back to the beginning
A few years ago, after a period of intense heart stirring, my husband and I began tiptoeing down a new path of surrender. We felt the Lord nudging us toward lightening our load in preparation for an unconfirmed future. We sold things, we downsized and we began considering things that we’d never considered before. The further down the road we walked, the more curious we became—where was God leading us? Soon we approached a bend in the road, a place where we could not see around the corner. We believed that selling our home was probably our next step of faith. However, we had no clarity for what would come after or where we would live. Once again, we returned to prayer and asked God to lead us into the unknown.
At this time we received a unique offer to move a few hours away and help oversee an RV campground. In exchange for our time, we would be compensated with free housing and food. There were many aspects to this proposition that appealed to us. We could be free of our mortgage while we continued to seek wisdom for our next step. Our efforts to downsize would be rewarded in a smaller living space. We would be stepping out in faith toward something new.
The offer is considered
In order to gain clarity and better understand the possible situation in which we would be moving into, our family drove a few hours to visit the RV park. Throughout the duration of our stay we experienced several unique confirmations that pointed us in the direction of wanting to accept the offer and move forward.
On the last morning of our visit, our kids were outside riding their bikes. When they returned to the house, our daughter had a look of concern clouding her face. “Mom, there was a man in one of the cabins who was yelling at us out his window and he made me feel really uncomfortable,” she confided. At that moment it felt as though the air was being sucked out of the room. Suddenly my confidence shattered and wondered how I ever thought this arrangement could work.
The offer is poison
During our drive home my mind was racing faster than the car. Who tries to raise their kids in an RV park? What kind of mom would I be to bring my children into an environment teeming with strangers–not just strangers: transient strangers! How could I ever live with myself if something happened to them just because we decided that an unconventional living arrangement was a good idea? Later, after discussing these concerns with Trent, we both agreed that it was not wise to move forward unless we both felt peace. I certainly didn’t have peace so I set my mind toward accepting the hard truth that seemed to be staring me in the face: we were not going to move after all.
Days passed and I couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling in my heart. My lack of peace, which I had previously decided was brought on by divine discernment, caused me to feel restless and agitated. How was it possible that everything had pointed so clearly in one direction only to have it sharply U-turn unexpectedly? Wasn’t this feeling of unease from God as well? Wasn’t it? Somehow I couldn’t reconcile the two extremes.
I found myself in contemplative reflection as I remembered previous times in my life in which the Lord had clearly directed my steps. In an attempt to gain more clarity into those situations, I pulled out old journals and sought to retrace those moments of clear conviction. I read about occasions when I had stood at the crossroads of decision and God brought a confident answer through a time of prayer and fasting.
That next day I determined to beseech wisdom from God and set aside an agenda of food in exchange for focused time in prayer and reading the Bible. That afternoon I sat down on my bed and opened my heart asking God to help me know His will. I asked for confidence in how to decipher the feelings of anxiety I felt over the safety of my children. Finally, I asked for peace in whatever decision He was leading us into. I opened my bible and began to read from the book of Psalms. When I reached the third chapter, I felt as though the blinds had been pulled back from my eyes and the light of truth was pouring into the dark room. In this chapter David has fled from his son Absalom who was seeking to harm him. He exclaims,
O Lord, how my adversaries have increased! Many are rising up against me. Many are saying of my soul, there is no deliverance for him in God.
But You, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the One who lifts my head. I was crying to the Lord with my voice, And He answered me from His holy mountain. I lay down and slept; I awoke, for the Lord sustains me. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me round about.
Arise, O Lord, save me, O my God! For you have smitten all my enemies on the cheek; You have shattered the teeth of the wicked. Salvation belongs to the Lord; Your blessing be upon Your people!
Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have relieved me in my distress; be gracious to me and hear my prayer.
In that moment I understood that David was able to exclaim confidently “You, O Lord are a shield about me…I will not be afraid…You have relieved me in my distress…hear my prayer” despite the fact that he was being hotly pursued by thousands because he understood that the Lord was his protector. I saw that David cried out to the Lord and the Lord answered him with a confident assurance.
Untangling the lies
I now realized that the deceiver had woven lies, whispered fears and I had quickly cultivated them in my heart. I knew that God had used this particular passage of scripture to remind me that He alone is our true shield and protection. My desire to keep my children safe is no reason to refuse to walk the path that the Lord places before me. Once I uncovered the truth, my fear fell away. In its place came a peace that allowed us to peek around the corner at the next step in our path: listing our home for sale.
Finding the truth
As I reflect now on our year and a half living as managers in that campground before launching out on our RV traveling adventure, I am reminded of the crippling effect that fear can cause. The entire course of our family stood in the balance over one fear craftily woven. The ironic truth is that our family loved that year and a half. The transient strangers that I feared never materialized and instead we were blessed with unique friendships and community.
It causes me to stop and wonder, are there any fears that I am currently cultivating? What move of God might those fears be preventing? As I continue to lean into this theme of pursuing fearlessness won’t you lean with me?
I spent most of my childhood growing up on a fruit orchard on the Columbia River in Washington State. Our white two-story farmhouse was perched on a small hill, nestled within the protective arms of a pine tree covered hillside. If I tilted my head just right, I could see a sliver of placid blue water through the distant trees beyond my living room window. Our summers were hot and dry and the winters were cold and white. Although my family made many trips to Southern California to visit family, that was the extent of my travels and for all I knew the rest of the world looked a lot like the west coast of the United States of America.
First taste of freedom
In 1993 I turned 15 and my parents offered me my first chance to step outside my comfort zone and see well beyond my living room window. A pamphlet from Teen Missions International based in Merritt Island, Florida beckoned offered a travel experience like no other: two weeks in Florida for boot camp and then on to diverse international locations such as Mozambique, Papa New Guinea or Brazil. I scoured the brochure attempting to select the most ideal location like a discerning shopper looking through a fashion catalog. Dog-eared and worn, I poured over my printed options with vigor, circling those that seemed most promising and adding stars to the ones that seemed extra romantic. In the end, France captured my teenage heart and I submitted my application for adventure.
What the brochure failed to mention however, was the fact that no geographically informed individual would consider traveling to Florida in the height of summer. I was, up to this time in my life, grossly uninformed and blissfully naive to matters of humidity, chiggers and mid-summer mosquitoes. I was also somewhat self-absorbed and walking that difficult road of confident ignorance. (If you are over the age of 25, I trust I’m not alone in recalling memories from this period of time with embarrassing clarity.)
What greeted me that July as I stepped off the airplane in Orlando, was a wash of reality served fresh on a plate of heavy humidity mixed with intense heat. Arriving late in the evening, I traveled under the cloak of night by bus to the boot camp location. Because of my late arrival, I was treated to a night on the floor in my sleeping bag in an air-conditioned building. This would be the last comfortable night of sleep I would experience in Florida.
For the next two weeks, my sleeping bag rested inside a small pup tent amid the forest floor. I learned to wash my clothes by hand and forgo the expectation that they would dry in the moist air before I needed to wear them again. My only comfort was that I was not alone. My team of 32 other teens had signed up for this self-inflicted experience as well.
Because there were thousands of teens representing countless teams traveling all over the globe, our conditions were set up to mimic those of the most primitive team. Every aspect of our boot camp adventure was designed to mimic conditions on the mission field and help us overcome culture shock before we left the United Sates to our varied international destinations. This included our dress code of jeans and combat boots despite the sweltering summer weather. Team building opportunities included classing in construction, puppets, drama and survival skills and a morning obstacle course through the jungle complete with a rope swing over a muddy slough and scaling a 12 foot wall.
Occasionally, I would peer into the night sky and see the blinking lights of an airplane. I’d stand in awe that somewhere in the stratosphere people were sitting comfortably in an air-conditioned cabin drinking soda with ice cubes clinking in their plastic cups watching an in-flight movie. How I wished I could be among them! As sweat dripped between my shoulder blades in the heat of the night, I made myself a promise: never again would I be dumb enough to visit Florida.
Twenty-three years later I was staring hard into that promise as our family began charting our RV travel route. Logically and logistically wintering in Florida was the best choice.
For a lunatic, I reasoned.
We wanted to visit the states we’d never been to as a family. We wanted to travel up the east coast in the spring. Florida made perfect sense.
If you want to be an idiot.
Let’s set aside the humidity and the insects and pretend those are inconsequential. How can we ignore the alligators?
People say they are “everywhere.”
What about the hurricanes?
We are traveling in an RV for Pete sake, we’d likely blow right out to sea!
I might as well call CPS and report myself if I think it’s safe to subject my children to the dangers of Florida.
Facing unfounded fear head-on
In my first post of 2017, I addressed the topic of fear. Please understand that was not written from a hypothetical or metaphorical standpoint. I’ve met fear face-to-face on many occasions and in varying degrees of circumstances or intensities. This time was guilty of nursing a twenty-three year old memory well past the weaning stage. I’d let the news, social media and those around me feed that fear. It’s embarrassing to admit but over time my fear became bigger than my God and my faith was in the words of those confirming my doubts. If you are looking for a good place to get lost in insecurity, turn inward and wrap yourself in a blanket of anxious thoughts. It’s awfully lonely, but at least you will be warm.
Choosing to winter in Florida this year was a deliberate move to throw off the anxiety blanket and step boldly toward fearlessness; away from hypothetical “what ifs?” and unfounded fears and toward more calculated curiosity and logical reasoning. What I have discovered after a month in the Sunshine Sate has been surprisingly straightforward: yes there are unpleasantries in Florida. It’s humid. It’s buggy. There are alligators, crocodiles, snakes and panthers. Hurricanes are possible and sinkholes occur. But that is only the view through one lens. Realistically speaking, the Northwest, where I call home has bears, cougars, moose, and poisonous spiders. The winters are cold and summer brings the treat of wildfire. Despite all of those perceived dangers, I’ve never questioned my sanity or well being living there. Have you noticed how relaxed we can become inside our zones of comfort?
I could have so easily missed out
Here is what it comes down to: my fear of the unknown is often deeply rooted in just that–the unknown. Becoming familiar with something new is often not only the antidote to fear, but also a close-minded outlook. My fear faded as my education grew. I learned that hurricanes more or less follow a predictable schedule and just like in Idaho, the wildlife prefers to keep to itself. Once I was willing to use a different lens, I saw that manatees were swimming in the same waters as the crocodile and shark teeth could be found on the opposite shore of the lazy alligator. Beauty and wonder co-existed with my misplaced fears. I could so easily have missed out.
Those Blue Angels that flew over our heads on the beach in perfect formation…
That spontaneous Dominion game night with three other couples…
The decadent Key Lime Pie purchased in Key West…
Standing on the southernmost tip of our continent…
Seeing a sea turtle both in the wild as well in a rehabilitation hospital…
Discovering shark teeth in a riverbed…
Sitting inches away from wild manatee…
Trying Cuban coffee…
Attempting to see the sunset while a cruise ship moved in to block the view…
Picking strawberries in January…
Making new friends…
Biking through the Everglades…
Eyeing crocodiles sunning themselves on the riverbank…
Canoeing through mangrove forests while gliding silently past submerged alligators…
Watching dolphins swim in the Gulf of Mexico…
I could have missed it all.
Now certainly one could say that had we not been in Florida, different memories would have been made in another place. This is true and they could have been wonderful. However, in addition to all that we gained in friendships, memories and experiences, I can also add the lesson of facing my unfounded fear and realizing that the reality was much different than the expectation. Call me crazy but if I tilt my head just right, I just might see another Florida winter in our future.