Monday, 5 April 2021

The End of the Road

This particular ‘AdVanture’ has been wonderful, one high after another. I call it AdVanture because I am in a VAN as I travel Australia. The joy of soaking in each new scene and experience. Sure, there has been challenges and problems to solve, but it is all part of the adventure, right?  

And then it came to today.  I get to Kakadu and everything is closed. I literally came to the end of the road and could go no further. It is the wet season after all, but then all you read says that Kakadu is beautiful in the wet season. It is when the waterfalls are the most amazing, but of course there is the risk that you can’t get to them, and today was the day. It was raining, floods everywhere, mud and swamp as far as the eye can see. There are crocodiles in every river and you can sense the danger everywhere.  Of course, even when you are semi-prepared for it, it is a shock when they say, “no, you cannot go there”. Up until now, I have found a way around, or through, but not today.  

So, what do you do when your plans are halted? When you are somewhere like Kakadu and you really feel like you are in the middle of no-where, because you are. I was at the “Top End” as they call it, with nowhere to go but back from whence I came.  I was faced with a few choices.   It is late in the afternoon, so to travel back to civilisation would be unwise. I clearly needed to  find a place to bunker down, take stock of the situation and consider what tomorrow could look like.  

Now I know that this is not all that desperate. Many would kill to be in this position; stuck in Kakadu with nothing to do.  I have the motorhome and all the supplies I need and it didn't take long to find a campsite that would allow me to stay safely for the night. It even had a pool where I could safely swim away from crocodiles.  So, this is not a tragic story by any means.  But for some reason today, it really got to me. I was a little shaken and put out.

I sat and listened to the birds fly past me, felt the squishy wet mud under my feet, in an unkept BBQ area. Because the season has not quite opened so much of the campsite looks abandoned and messy.

I found this experience took me by surprise and it triggered many feelings of how life can often feel like this. You know those times when you are sailing along the adventure of life and loving the experiences and then something happens and it is enough to stop you in your tracks and knock you for ‘six.’   Sometimes it can be as simple as an email or text from someone that breaks your heart. Other times it is a major loss or unexpected turn of events that you have no control over. Sometimes you can see them coming and they still take you by surprise. 

When it happens, what do you do?  I know sometimes I simply can’t control myself and I find myself crying. I feel anxious, I feel fear and panic, I feel deep disappointment and sometimes I can even act like a right spoilt brat. Today I felt all these emotions and they were overwhelming. In the midst of being surrounded by flood waters, you could say the flood banks literally broke in my heart.

It is here when you have choices to make.  It is always good to stop, pause, breathe and sometimes simply sit in the space and consider what is really going on for you.   A friend asked me when I was feeling like this, “Sounds like you are lost, what do you do when you are lost?” 

It’s a good question for when you are lost ‘physically’ or ‘emotionally’ or any other “ally”. At any given time there are a multitude of responses, some good and some not so good.   

I walked, cried, journaled, cried some more, listened to worship music, cried again, texted some friends and was so thankful for their kind words or love and encouragement that came right when I needed it.

“The minute I said “I’m slipping, I’m falling, your love, God, took hold and held me fast. When I was upset and beside myself, you calmed me down and cheered me up… God became my hideout, God was my high mountain retreat” Psalm 94:19-22 MSG

“And not a tear is wasted. In time, you’ll understand. I’m painting beauty with the ashes. Your life is in my hands. So, when you are on your knees and answers seem so far away, you’re not alone, stop holding on and just be held.”  (Just Be held - Casting Crowns) 

As the sun sets, the stars come out, the sound of frogs fill the air, even a dingo ran past my table. I know that tomorrow will come. I dried my eyes and headed back to the van. With eyes red raw and a splitting headache, I know it is time to rest, be kind to myself till the morning opens up new options that I don't have to ponder tonight. Tomorrow will come soon enough. 

Tonight I sit in the safety of this space and know that I will be “okay”.  Tomorrow will not be as I would like, it will not be as my plans were hoping. If I can find a way to see the gift of tomorrow for what it is, it might just help me see beyond what right now seems dark and impossible. 

If it is the end of this road, can I be open to another path, another adventure, and new plan? Can you when you find yourself in these spaces?

As I leave the top end of Australia and begin the long trek back toward home, I can’t help but wonder, have I been brought to this place for this revelation, for a living metaphor!  I think God does that for us at times. Sometimes He brings us to the dessert places, the flooded roads that cause dead ends, to help us in these safe places to learn what we need to, if we are listening. He wants to prepare us for the literal life dessert and dead ends we will have to face along life’s adventure

He promises to never change and to sustain us wherever we find ourselves. I thank Him for feeling HELD tonight, for His hiding place and mountain retreat.  I thank Him in advance that I don't know what tomorrow holds, but I know I will not be alone. I know it is not comfortable, not easy, and I don’t like it, but it is inevitable, so it is comforting to know that somehow through it all I will be “okay”.


Thursday, 18 March 2021

A steep learning curve

Along the road, I saw an interesting sig … “Tolman Hill”.  Naturally, being my name I decided to take a detour and check it out. 

The view was beautiful across the whole city of Hobart. It was a rainy and foggy morning, but you could see ‘Tolman Hill’ was an opulent place to live with spectacular perspective. It warmed my heart.


I ventured into the estate to discover there was one way in and one way out. It was a very very steep hill. 


Now Wilson (the van) had been faithful to this point, always getting me in and out of every place we had driven. I had always been in automatic and let Wilson choose what gear was required to get us where we needed to go. I suppose you could say I trusted him and didnt need to know the manual process. 


So, as I ventured out again via the steep hill I started to skid and spin my wheels half-way up and began to slid to the side. It is a scary feeling being on the side of a steep hill, cars and houses either side of me that I could crash into and knowing the only safe way was to go back down, backwards. Going backwards is not my strong suit at the best of times, let alone in a large van. I was also hoping the whole time that the skidding sound of my wheels would not bring anyone out to watch. The last thing I needed was an audience watching me slipping my way backwards in a huge van that could easily smash something they valued. 


I edged my way down backwards in the middle of the road also hoping and praying no-one wanted to come behind me. I got to a place where I thought I could try again. 


The rain continued to pour, which was part of the problem. 


I began again ... a little faster in first gear, to find myself again half-way up spinning and sliding wheels, lights coming on the dash ... saying warning, warning Wil......son cant do this.” 


I tentatively backed down again and tried one more time. My heart beating, feeling slightly panicked but this time a little faster in second gear ... till it got half-way and stopped again. 


With my heart racing a little more than I would like I backed down to the bottom of the hill into a bus space at the side of the road and sat for a while. 


Should I try going really fast up it from a run up?!? The thought scared me, I just wasnt sure what Wilson was capable of and if going too fast would lend myself to being more out of control and doing something really dangerous. 


You know that moment when something happens and you are faced with a problem/situation that you are not sure what to do about or how to move forward?  When you have tried doing the same thing a number of times or what you only knew to do, but this time it is not working?


I got out and knocked on the door of a house to ask if there was any other way out. A lady comes out with a phone to her ear and says, no, sorry, the only way to get out is up that hill.” She looked at me as if to say, “what is your problem. You can do that?”  She said,That van will get up there, and at least if it doesnt youve got a bed to sleep in. I am sorry I need to go, I am on the phone.”


“Thanks,” I said with a staged smile on my face. I did not appreciate the humour at that moment, but yes she was right, I did have food and bed ... if I had to wait out the rain, I suppose. 


Hmm… what to do? I decided to phone a friend. It is times like these you need to know who you can phone that will actually help you, rather than make another joke. 


My friend was an hour away and was willing to come and help me, but at the same time he talked me through another way to attack this hill that seemed unclimbable. 


He talked me through putting it in Manual, (which I hadn’t done in the van yet) and getting a run up and in second gear climbing the mountain calmly and consistently and in the middle of the road to give as much space as needed. He said he would come and help me. 


So, I decided to stay put. I grabbed a packet of chips and a coke from my fridge and started eating. I could have chosen 10 other healthy snacks but no, when you are feeling stressed you always grab for junk food. 


But he also spoke confidently to me as if, “it is okay, you got this”.  There was something in his tone that gave me confidence, once I downed the chips and coke, to give it one more try. 


The rain eased a little and I thought, “it is okay, I got this, I got to at least try what he said.” I hated putting him out having to drive an hour out of his way to come and save me. 


So, I put my big girls pants on, practiced the manual gear changes. And went for it. Second gear … here we go … get a bit of speed up and be calm. 


So, I am getting past where I got before, I am right in the middle of the road, starting to skid ... be calm. ... put it down to first gear for the final bit just chug slowly, talking calmly to Wilson ... I believe you can do it. We made it. OMG my heart was racing. But I felt so happy to be at the top of the hill. 


I am not ashamed to say that I felt quite a bit of pride texting my friend to say I was out and he didnt need to come and save me. 


I know many drivers will be thinking, ‘how could you not know what to do’? I have been in this van for 20 days. I have never driven a van this size in my life. This was a new challenge and I came to my limits of know-how and experience and came to an unexpected challenge that took me by surprise.  We can only do what we know and then be willing to learn as we go. 


Along the journey you are going to find something that will stop you in your tracks. Some are just inconvenient, like today, some have life changing or serious consequences. The way we face it makes all the difference when there is no way of getting around it or avoiding it. I needed to know it is ok to ask for help. I needed to know who to call, who to listen to. I needed to be open to learning new skills. I needed to be calm and give it a go. I could have camped there for a few days anyway, but that was not the solution. I could have kept on doing the same thing over again and probably got into a worse situation. I could have quit, just walked away from the van and started walking to start a different type of journey. But I wouldnt have done that to Wilson, although many do.


As I got back onto the road driving, the rain stopped very quickly and before long I was headed to open blue sky and new adVANture, with new skills in my toolkit to be ready to face the next challenge that will come. 


On your life adventure, there will always be hills that surprise you and stop you in your tracks, there will always be voices that are not so helpful, and voices that are, there will always be good choices and bad choices you can make and there will always be new things to learn. I didn't need to detour that day, but I know that the detour has helped me to be better prepared for the road ahead, ready for the next challenge that may push me, rattle me or hopefully make me a better driver for the future adventure that I have yet to take.

Wednesday, 3 March 2021

Wilson has slowed me down

Driving an 8 metre long and 4.2 meter high van has slowed me down. Like a tortoise, it is like I am literally carrying my whole house on my back and carting it around has slowed me down. I don’t think I have ever driven so slowly and actually enjoyed it.  I get why turtles move so slowly, the load they carry doesn’t allow for quick turns, or quick changes or it might topple them over completely. I am sure that it is not true for a turtle, but It is certainly true for ‘Wilson’.  I have named my van ‘Wilson’, inspired by the movie castaway where Tom Hanks found a ball, and it became his friend and confidante while feeling very alone stuck on the Island. I know I am anything but alone on an Island, as Australia, even though an Island, is anything but lonely, and I am only a text away from so many that I love.  But in other ways I am alone on this journey and relying on “Wilson” for safety, reliability, shelter, and a place to call home. These are very important to me. 


He is all those things I said above, but Wilson has done something else for me that was unexpected. He has slowed me down.  I am now that person you get stuck behind, winding through the bends and wishing this big van in front of you would get out of the way or let you pass. It concerned me for a while, worried about frustrating people, but I quickly got over it, when to go any faster meant I could go over the edge or have a dangerous accident.  I simply find a place where I can pull over and let them pass and then toddle off on my merry way again. I am happy to let them pass, happy to go slower and happy to not be in a hurry. I have never believed In being busy, but this is a whole new level of “slow.” 


Normally I would get in a car for the express purpose of getting to a destination.  I would leave just the right amount of time to get there and get frustrated when the traffic messes up my time.  I have done a lot of travel in my life, but still there has been an element of having to be somewhere by a certain time. This trip seems very different. I have never driven such a big van before. Being on the road for 4 months in discovery mode means I am not running at the pace I used to.  I am enjoying immensely being able to watch the world go by and actually stop whenever I want to ponder and enjoy what I am seeing. It is a carefree feeling simply to meander along the road and be present in the moment.  I think the saying is to “stop and smell the roses”, but for me I am more likely to photograph it rather than smell it.


I have had a plaque in my house for a long time which says, “It is not about the destination, but the journey”. I love it and thought I lived by it. But I was kidding myself. I realise now, it has always been about the destination for me.  It has taken a season where I have no clear destination to realise that I really need to live IN the journey. As I travel each day, it doesn’t really matter where I end up, and guess what, for all you driven people like me, it is ok. At least one thing is true, I have always believed, ‘experience gives transformation to head knowledge’. Where in the past I might have head knowledge that the journey is important, I now have an experience that has transformed my understanding of that phrase.


There have also been many times when there is nothing to see, photograph or smell along the journey. Times when you simply have to travel the road, because it is the only way through to the next space. Nothing to see or enjoy, but there is learning there also. It is about learning patience and trust and faith.

“Faith gives thank in the middle of the story” (Ann Voscamp), even when you don’t know where the destination is taking you. 


It has been a lovely change of focus that has brought new life to someone who has probably being carrying a different kind of weight for a long time. It has been nice to lay that down for a while and pick another kind of load. It is just me and ‘Wilson’ for the next 4 months, but the challenge will be to not lose enjoying the journey when I get to the next chapter back home. 


It doesn’t mean that having a destination is wrong, in fact it is important for a lot of life, but never at the expense of the journey. Oh, the things I have missed in life, by being too focused on the destination.  I repent of that, Lord, and am reminded of the Rhythm of Jesus who had a clear destination.  But He never seemed to lose focus on the journey and all that He could give, enjoy and invest in every day He lived and served during His short time here on earth. 


I wonder if you need to enjoy the journey more? I wonder what it might take to slow you down?  To stop and smell the roses, as they say or simply to learn to trust more.  To understand the transformative journey of every day that God is more interested in all of us taking as we head towards an eternal destination with Him.