Like many Americans, the wife and I took the break provided by the holiday season to saddle up the kiddos and travel over hill and dale to see various relatives in other states. I’m sure that a description of the stressful activity of packing oneself plus children, which also includes actually boarding the vehicle, is unnecessary since you’ve probably done it recently or can at least recall a similar childhood event.
Fast-forwarding, we had been in the van for a couple of hours and began a particularly twisted stretch of some remote state highway, which included a great deal of hills and turns. As we slowed and entered a smallish town, I heard a few exclamations from behind me, first from my oldest son and then from Katie. Every road-tripping father’s nightmare – somebody puked in the car. Gus, our two year old, had had enough of snaking through the Arkansas wilderness and had [insert euphemism]. We pulled into the nearest parking lot – McDonald’s – to assess the damage. Katie took Gus inside to clean him up and change his clothes while I removed the car seat to assess the damage. The other boys remained happily occupied in the van as I sat in the parking lot, staring at the soiled seat, trying to figure out how get the seat back to the point of useability – for the remaining 6 hours of our drive.
I grabbed my phone and just about called my dad for suggestions, but remembered that even saying the word “vomit” gives him the chills. Hitting speed dial for my brother, Matt (a survivalist at heart), I heard his voice after a couple of rings. “Gus threw up in the van,” I said, “I’m at McDonald’s across from a WalMart. I need emergency management.” He gave me a list of items and how to use them – Tide for the seat cover, Febreeze for anything soiled, scent-blocking trashbags to cover the seat. I hung up and immediately received a text from Matt with the same list. Katie hadn’t returned from the bathroom with Gus yet so I had a few minutes to fortify myself and turn my mind to things above. It was like standing on the brink of destruction, the eye before the storm, the moment before they open the gate to let the lions out. Fine – it certainly wasn’t going to be that bad, but suffering is what it is. Katie and Gus came back to the van and I was struck that the looming pain would be wasted if I merely endured it. I made the firm purpose to offer up my imminent suffering for the reparation of my tremendous sinfulness.
I began walking toward the WalMart and the lyrics to How He Loves by the David Crowder Band immediately surfaced in my mind:
He is jealous for me,
Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree,
Bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy.
The next two hours or so were insane. Everything that could make the entire situation more difficult happened – from laundering the seat cover with McDonald’s cursed motion-sensing bathroom faucet to the kids setting off the infernal car alarm. I wish I could say that the entire incident was blissful, saintly suffering and without the slightest vulgar word, but I can’t. It was good, old-fashioned suffering, yet every time it was taken up a notch, I was repeatedly struck by how much God wants me to be with him. I accepted the opportunity for the removal of temporal punishment and God completely took advantage of the situation – loving me like a hurricane. Once we were back on the road, I recounted to Katie my experience of the whole ordeal and was moved by even the outward recognition of the Father’s direct desire for the goodness of my soul. Suffering is an extremely difficult thing to understand while one is in the midst of it, and I am grateful that God gave me the grace to recognize the blessing it is.