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Our 4,500-mile road trip and its Job-like lesson
Well, we made it back from vacation — just barely, and by the grace of God.
I had never been out west, and for years I had been dreaming of hitting the road with my wife and our six kids to see several of the national parks in Arizona and Utah. As I wrote about almost a year ago, we bought an old RV with the intention of taking it to the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, Arches National Park and others.
It seemed like a great idea. We knew we’d have to invest some time and money to make sure the old RV was road-ready. The engine and transmission got our mechanic’s stamp of approval; we bought new tires, new batteries, new brakes, new TVs, a new backup camera, a new GPS unit. It would all be worth it, we told ourselves, when we were cruising down the highway in relative luxury, seeing sights we never thought we’d see. We took it on a couple of short trips, and everything worked as intended as we prepared for our 17-day, 4,500-mile trip.
But we didn’t even make it out of our cul-de-sac before adversity struck. As we were packing the night before we were set to leave, my wife and I both noticed a strong smell of gasoline coming from underneath our 35-foot rig. There was a leak in the hose that connects the gas tank to where you put the nozzle to fill up, but a few hours and a little As-Seen-on-TV spray adhesive later and we hit the road as scheduled, with the leak fixed. Or so we thought.
It sprung again at our first gas stop — about five hours from home. For the first time on the trip (though not the last), we were greeted by signs of God’s goodness. There was a repair shop less than half a mile away that could squeeze us in. To our delight and surprise, just behind the shop, there was a city park with multiple pavilions and a shaded playground where the kids could play while the work was being done. They were ready for a break from driving anyway, and a few hours later, we were back on the road.
There were other mishaps along the way. Our generator also went out on Day 1, which meant no movies for the kids to watch while we traveled and, more urgently, no air conditioning, either. My daughter and I changed a flat tire in the middle of the Arizona desert. Our plumbing sprung a leak. The cover to our rooftop air conditioner flew off near the Utah border. We didn’t think much about it until we drove through a monsoon in Oklahoma and our 2-year-old kept saying, over and over again, “It’s really raining! It keeps raining!” And we kept nodding and agreeing with her until we realized she was soaked and her car seat was soaked because it was raining ON HER.
At our first multi-night stay in Williams, Arizona, my wife and I were nearly at our breaking point. Perhaps we were being dramatic, but we both admitted that it felt like we were being tested, like Job.
Exhausted from three days’ worth of driving, we staggered into Mass at St. Joseph the Worker, eight weary travelers (some of us more weary than others). The First Reading, fittingly, was from the Book of Job — and of course it was the subject of Father Thielo Ramirez’s homily. He started by saying that the most frequent question he gets asked is why God allows us to suffer. His answer: “I don’t know.” There will be pain along the journey, he said, and it’s natural to ask why, but ultimately, we are called to discern the will of God and stay pointed toward him. Trials — even pain and suffering — will come, but we must remain faithful and put our trust in God.
I hadn’t cried at Mass in a long time, but his words lifted the burden I’d been carrying with me for 1,700 miles. And from that point on, I saw God everywhere along our journey — not just in the wonders of his creation, but also in the struggles that bonded us closer together as a family.
It was a remarkable journey — one that none of us will soon forget. And thanks be to God.
Scott Warden is managing editor of Our Sunday Visitor.