Thousands of miles from home in the brushy woods of the Pacific Northwest, I opened the pitted door of my 1969 Shasta travel trailer and squeezed inside. The table, benches, and floor were awash in Bob the Builder figurines, capless markers, and wooden train engines, and my three-year-old son was the swirling center of it all, making explosion noises as he smashed one toy into another.
My wife, still in her pajamas, slipped her arm around my waist. Between the darkness under her eyes and the way she rubbed her thumb into her left temple, I could tell the past eight hours in these 60 square feet had pushed the limits of her patience.
“I can’t figure out what to make for supper. We had the last of the peanut butter for lunch.” She paused. “Got any thoughts?”
I didn’t. The afternoon had been filled with strategizing and decision making, long phone calls with spotty cell reception, and countless walks down to the campground lodge and back up to the trailer again. I was spent, and I was out of ideas.
My glazed eyes rested on the scene beyond the kitchenette window, now an afghan of gray settling over the dense flora. I marveled at the notions that brought me to this moment, this campground, and this set of impossibilities.
As a self-employed graphic artist able to work from anywhere, and with a child not yet constrained by an academic schedule, it seemed that a fleeting opportunity to take the adventure of my lifelong dreams—a road trip to the corners of America—was upon me.
To be a recipient of kindness is to experience the hospitality of Jesus Himself.
Fearful of losing nerve, I frantically scraped enough money together to purchase the only trailer my aging Honda Element was rated to pull, a vintage 10-foot Shasta that was a notch or two below museum quality. With a gob of spray paint here, a wad of duct tape there, and the purchase of a dozen plastic kitchen utensils, I figured she was ready for the highway.
When our Atlanta home faded into the rearview nearly five weeks prior, the plan seemed simple enough: Sleuth out a Wi-Fi signal and work in the morning; drive a few hours in the afternoon; then set up camp, cook supper, and finish the remaining work tasks before bed. Sightsee, hike, and explore on the weekends. Work enough to support the cost of travel, and have a little fun along the way.
With a heaping dose of optimism and little idea of what to expect, we started down I-85 South toward Alabama and the Gulf Coast. The black ribbon of asphalt wound its way beside sugary white beaches where we kicked off our sandals and cooled our legs in the placid aquamarine Gulf of Mexico. Interstate 10 brought us to Louisiana, where encounters with wildlife in dank bayous were only slightly less thrilling than an evening of zippy crawfish étouffée and live Zydeco at a local joint. And then, a detour through the heart of Texas had us transfixed by the gnarled trees and coarse stonework parks of the San Antonio River Walk.
We traveled through San Francisco aboard iconic cable cars and took white-knuckled drives uphill to enjoy the soaring oceanic views of the Marin Headlands. We stood in the shadows of leviathan redwood trees and chased Portland food trucks around the city for a taste of their famed recipes. And now, thousands of miles from home, we were closing in on the well-combed, coffee-loving metropolis of Seattle.
How, then, did we manage to get stuck at this rural campground in Chehalis, Wash., a half-hour from the nearest town and still dressed in the previous night’s pajamas? Our Honda had finally given out on us. And we gawked in silent dismay as our only source of transportation was chained atop a white flatbed truck and disappeared around the corner in a cough of brown dust.
As the sun faded, all that remained was a bluish-black haze and a hungry family that needed supper. I shook off my worries and rummaged through bins for anything that would provide the sustenance we needed. I found only a few mustard packets, a jar of marmalade, one bottle of vegetable oil, another of garlic salt, and a box of pancake mix, two-thirds empty.
Pancakes it would have to be. But of course, we lacked an essential ingredient—eggs.
Back home, I would think nothing of borrowing a stepladder or a cup of sugar from a neighbor. But miles away from the familiar in the wooded thick of Washington state? Request generosity from a total stranger in my moment of need? Become the recipient of someone else’s kindness? Something about it didn’t sit well with me. I felt too fearful to ask and too prideful to receive.
Even worse, my twisted mind had pigeonholed the lot of RV dwellers into a population of eccentric road warriors, all ready to shut their blinds in my face. The mere thought of door-to-door scavenging set my spine atingle.
But pride and fear were powerless against the needs of a hungry three-year-old. I swallowed hard and ventured into the dusk to round up the missing ingredient.
I trudged down the pebbled double-track, passing scores of trailers, each one locked tightly against the approaching evening. Then I happened upon a humble, well-kept Coachmen Class-C with folding plastic chairs and a flamingo lawn ornament beneath its awning. I fumbled through a quick prayer and knocked.
“Can I help you?” A man smiled warmly from behind the screen door that he now held open, motioning for me to come inside. He wore a thick, green flannel shirt and a brown mesh baseball cap. “The name’s Mike,” he said, extending his hand to shake mine. I stuttered through an explanation of the broken car, the hungry kid, the bare cupboards, and the ingredient missing from our pancake supper.
Before I could finish, Mike had not two, but four large brown eggs in a Ziploc bag, and he launched into conversation like an old friend. I pulled a chair up to the kitchen table as he recounted stories of his travels and asked me about my journey. He even played me a little tune on his acoustic guitar.
It’s only through the uncertainty of adventure that we gain trust in God as we experience His provision.
Less than 24 hours later, the Honda would be firing on all cylinders once again, and Chehalis would be a memory. As my family continued to rumble through the far reaches of the United States, Mike would not be the last kind soul in the long line of big-hearted folks eager to lend a hand to a couple of married kids far from home.
For I was hungry in Seattle, and they gave me something to eat. I was without power in Boise, and they lent a 30-amp adapter. I lacked a campground in Denver, and they opened their driveways. I was feeling alone in Omaha, and they provided firewood, marshmallows, and an evening of conversation. And when I broke down thousands of miles from a familiar mechanic, they fixed my car a day later for an honest $150. To be a recipient of such kindness is to experience the hospitality of Jesus Himself.
Traversing the country in a hunk of metal older than I am, towed by another hunk of metal with 225,000 miles of wear on the engine, meant embracing a level of risk absent from a typical day at home. And in the face of fear, a dreaded empty refrigerator opened the door to trust, to experience the goodness of my fellow man, and to rely on God through the uncertainty of the moment.
Too often, the structure of American life shelters us from risk; it renders us afraid of the unknown and compels us to follow the well-trodden path. Instead of daydreaming about the journey that awaits us down the road, we need to take the risk of scheduling it and initiating steps to make it happen. Because it’s only through the uncertainty of adventure that we gain trust in God as we experience His provision—whether it comes in grand forms or humble ones like a handful of eggs.