Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Long Road Home

On the 10th day of our journey, we set our sights toward home, but we didn't hit the road right away.

First we went to church together at a local youth camp. Their pastor is preaching through the book of John this summer and they were at chapters 4-6. We paused at these stories that you probably know well: Jesus and the woman at the well, Jesus feeds the five thousand, and Jesus says, "I am the bread of life." For context, we flipped back to the end of Exodus chapter 15 through the beginning of Exodus 16. Moses had just led the Hebrew people out of Egypt. God had performed many miracles in the exodus. But now the people had been walking for 3 days and had no water.


At this point the pastor told a personal story. He and his family had gone to the airport to pick up a friend. He left his wife and kids in the van, as they expected their friend would be grabbing luggage and be out in a jiffy. Unfortunately the friend was delayed by customs officials for several hours. The kids of course could not patiently wait that long. Their basic needs precluded any ability sit and wait. I could empathize with trying to sit in a van with kids and simultaneously keep the peace. "The kids are losing.their.minds," his wife texted him. Yes, I think I have texted those exact same words to Mitch.

Now imagine 3 days without seeing water. We assume the Hebrew people had carried some water, perhaps enough for 1 or 2 days' journey, but now things were getting desperate for the people and their livestock. They came to Marah, but the water there was bitter. They cried out to God, and God answered by miraculously healing the water.

The next problem was food. Their tummies grumbled, and they grumbled to Moses. That's when God answered with bread from heaven.

We have this beautiful story arc that goes from Exodus and very desperate physical needs all the way to the Gospels and very real spiritual needs. There were physical and spiritual needs in both stories, but each story highlighted a different need and solution. God healed the water, then rained bread from heaven in Exodus, and He gave living water in John 4:14 and the bread of life in John 6:35. God knows our physical and spiritual needs. He will provide for both.

Great sermon, time to hug goodbye and leave. I had no idea how the words would be so needed in just a few hours, and how I would continue to draw from them for the next week.

Goodbye Cam and family...we are so grateful that you opened your homes and hearts to us this week.

 Goodbye lovely canola fields...
 Goodbye Tim Horton's and my leftover colorful Canadian dollars with a maple syrup smell that's all in our heads (hehe).

 Hello USA! 
See the clouds in the sky? It was like this weird line...Canada was overcast, and right at the border the clouds stopped. Glorious sunshine.

And then this. 
We needed a rest stop to pee and buy gas.
We were trying to make it across the border to buy gas, and we did.
We said we'd take the next exit.
We passed the 1 mile sign, then the van lost power.
We coasted as far as we could. If I zoomed all the way in on my zoom lens, I could just see the mile marker ahead.
We were almost there.
But the van would not go.

What do you do when your van breaks down on the side of the interstate? 
Pull over, put on the hazard lights, call roadside assistance. 
But we have 11 people in our van. 
Roadside assistance says they will call a tow, but we have to figure out how to get everyone else off the interstate.
A semi zooms past, 9 wheels riding the white lines, shaking our van and shaking our nerves.

Mitch decided to walk and buy a gallon of gas to see if maybe our gas gauge was broken and we had run out of gas. He was quickly picked up by a traveler and was back before long. By then the battery was dead (we knew we had a bad battery), so there was no starting the van. It was SO hot, and even hotter in the van. Now I found myself wishing for clouds. And water. And a potty...I hadn't been since I woke up that morning, and it was something like 4 pm.

Over an hour later, roadside assistance said they couldn't get a hold of anyone to tow us. Too bad.

I put out a desperate call for help on Facebook.

One friend suggested we call state troopers. Mitch did, and they responded with two troopers to help us, one female and one male. One officer stood firm, glared, and shouted "MOVE OVER" when oncoming traffic did not yield by moving into the left-hand lane. The other officer seemed flabbergasted that no towing agency could be reached to tow us. She pulled her cell phone off her chest, dialed, and was immediately connected. The tow driver asked, "White 2001 Chevy Express? I was on the phone with the dispatch for over 70 minutes. She didn't like my price, so she hung up on me." The trooper's eyes flashed with empathetic disbelief and anger, "She lied to you!" The tow truck was on the way.

The troopers ended up staying with us beyond the end of their shift to make sure we got safely where we needed to go. They helped us move kids and move our tubs off the hitch on the back of the van so it could be towed. One trooper patiently explained that they could transport us without carseats because this is an emergency situation, even though maybe we wouldn't think of it as an emergency. I said that I certainly felt like I was in an emergency situation. I was too upset to ask permission to take pictures with the kind troopers, but I did ask permission to get a picture of the boys in the back of the car.

Mitch's cousin (his aunt's daughter) contacted us from Colorado. She has family (her dad's sisters) that lives in Grand Forks, ND. One aunt was on the way. This aunt loaded up 4 of us, Mitch rode with the tow truck, and the rest of the kids went in the troopers' cars to Grand Forks. We didn't know anywhere to go in town, so we were at the mercy of strangers. We relied on them to take us to a car shop they recommended (not open until Monday, of course). We relied on them to get us to a bathroom, water, a place to stay, and food. We were put in a position that I was very uncomfortable with. After all, wasn't it 10 days earlier that a Canadian border agent told us he wanted to make sure we were able to provide for ourselves?

Yes, we could, I asserted.

No, we couldn't, I admitted.

I was humbled and exhausted.

But we were so well-received. Gratitude was my strongest emotion.

We were not dropped off at a hotel and left to figure out how to fit 4 people to a room with an adult in each room (11 people, only 2 adults). We were offered the home of strangers who were not even home (the other sister). Relatives of relatives. It was nothing short of amazing. And get this--she does daycare. Her home swells to love children on a regular basis. In a strange turn of events, Mitch's aunt and uncle from Colorado were up visiting family all across the state of Minnesota, and they just happened to miss seeing us in our hometown since we were in Canada. They would be sleeping in the very same house we were taking shelter in, just two nights later. The aunt who helped rescue us off the interstate stayed with us for the night, answered endless questions, and helped us get where we needed to go all throughout Monday.

We were so loved by strangers.

Do to others as you would have them do to you? Indeed.

It was long past supper time by the time we were settled in their home for the night. We walked to Burger King and were the last customers of the night. Even the manager on duty at Burger King was a true friend to strangers.

We were fed, clean, and safe even from storms that rolled through Sunday night and slipped on across Minnesota.

Monday brought more questions. We started the day hopeful to hear that our van was a quick fix. It was Micah's birthday! I hoped we would be home in time to grab some cupcakes from Sam's Club to celebrate.

Unfortunately the repair shop couldn't look at our van until 10 am. At 10 they put in a new battery and it wouldn't start. They wanted to get a new starter and put that in. It would cost $300, and "yes, we know that the starter is not what caused the van to quit while you were driving 70 mph down the interstate. But it must get started in order to figure out what is wrong. We'll call you back in a couple hours after that's done." Noon came and went. While the repair shop puzzled over the van that still wouldn't start, we got creative.

I found a used 15-pass van on Craig's List nearly identical to ours for $1,400. Already sold.
Mitch drove around town looking for a trailer hitch big enough to tow our van if friends came to pick us up. They could do some tinkering on the van for us if we could get it back home. No such hitch.
The repair shop could get us a good deal on a couple rental cars. No cars available. Not even one in the whole city of Grand Forks.
Friends who were RV camping could drive their RV the four hours and pick all of us up. That would be a fun ride.
But wait, the repair shop is going to try one more thing. They'll let us know in an hour.
Tick-tock goes the clock...
Friends call us back, they got called home on urgent family business. But..."No, I will come. I want to come get you guys. I will take care of this first and I will come."
The repair shop is still puzzled. They say that on Tuesday a technician who is really good at this will be in to look at the van.
Come, friend.
And he did. Our friend Sonny has a 12-passenger van, so he came the long 3.5-hour drive alone so that he could bring us all back. We would get the van another day.
While we waited the long hours for Sonny to drive up, we received from our generous hosts yet another meal. Then the ones who were not even home were able to arrive home. We were able to share our gratitude in person.
One of our hosts knows a bit about cars and asked to see our van himself. He looked it over, and said he would talk with the repair shop on Tuesday and make sure they are good guys. (They were).
I cleaned out the van and repacked our tubs. Sonny was bringing a trailer, so we could carry everything back home easily.
Micah called and asked if we were on I-94. I said, no, we were still waiting in Grand Forks, getting ready to leave. He said they were taking shelter. A tornado was spotted. I looked on the weather map. It was 5 miles from our home. Here I was so desperate to get home...maybe there would be no home to get to.
Sonny arrived and I felt hopeful again. By 11 pm we were hugging goodbye to our new friends and ready to drive away. Meals, snacks, miles driven, kind words, shared toys, use of bathrooms and showers and beds and couches, electricity, and more were so kindly shared.

I sent out a new message on Facebook. I hoped the worst was over. I couldn't wait to get home to my own bed and relax. By the time we arrived home, it would be early Tuesday morning. Instead of being gone 10 days, it would be 12. And we completely missed Micah's birthday.

We heard reports of torrential rains accompanying the strong storms moving through Minnesota. My friend Kristin commented on my post, "Be careful...Lots of flooded roads." As I read her comment aloud to Sonny and Mitch in the front seats, my heart stopped. I had simply been passing on useful information, but a flashback to a couple weeks earlier happened. I'd been showing our friend Barb the sump pail system in our crawl space. Barb had asked. She said in their prior house, every time they went on vacation it seemed, their basement would flood. I told her not to worry. Our pail had only needed to be emptied like 3 times in 13 years: twice during spring thaw, and once in the summer when the roads flooded. I hardly finished reading Kristin's comment when the next words out of my mouth were, "Our basement is flooded."

I sent off a quick text message to Barb. In a few minutes she called me back. Yes, it was flooded.

Normally our basement would not flood. The soil around our house drains pretty well. But there had been so much rain that the drain tile filled and emptied (as designed) into the sump pail inside our crawl space. This system is designed so that a pump can be used to move the water away from the house. Our pump is a manual pump (meaning we have to plug it in to turn it on, and unplug it to turn it off) with no permanent outlet. When the pail needs to be emptied, we have to manually hook up a hose to the pump, run the hose out a door or window, and drop the pump into the pail. When we don't do this, the pail not only overflows, but the drain tile all around the perimeter of the house also overflows, and water seeps up under the foundation and concrete throughout the entire lower level. Two years ago during spring thaw (when our frost depth was over 9 ft and we had an unusual amount of spring rain), our basement flooded. We threw all our carpeting away and began painting epoxy on the floors (as we had time and money). At least this time I wouldn't be heartsick over the loss of carpet.

So Barb went out into the storm, found a hose, and got our sump pump running. Remember that this is after 11 pm. I told her the sump pump was all she could do, go to bed and get some rest. I was so thankful that she got it started. She had class the next day, but she didn't stop there. She found our shop vac in the garage and started cleaning up the mess.

Meanwhile we had no choice but to sit and wait as the miles sped away under us. Sonny drives for a living, so we were in the best hands we could be in. He was as cool as a cucumber even while we caught up to the storms that had gone on before us.

When you get into the van with children so late at night, you think, "Oh, they'll fall asleep and I'll try to get a little rest too." Only they didn't. They took turns falling asleep while others took turns crying. 20 minutes, 30 minutes, 60 didn't stop. Sonny drove on. And I was stretched beyond the limits of anything I ever thought I could endure. Three-and-a-half-straight hours of crying.

When I walked in the house and heard the shop vac, I was humbled all over again. Here was my friend, wading through my soppy mess, trying to help us be able to get to bed.

Yet another day passed in which we could not provide for ourselves, but God provided for us.

If we had come home under normal circumstances,  our day would have been filled with unpacking, laundry, and grocery shopping. But Tuesday morning came all too early and the to-do list had been drastically changed. There was no time to sit and grieve what wasn't. When your stuff is wet, if you want to save it, you have to get it dry as fast as possible. We knew we only had a few hours before the possibility of mold growth would begin. We were blessed again with a hot, dry, sunny day. We immediately started emptying things to the outside.

There are days when I feel like I can't fold a load of laundry or make even one meal because someone is holding on my legs and crying the entire day. What we were able to accomplish on Tuesday was mind-blowing. The kids were amazing as they played, helped, or stayed out of the way.

This was our crawl space after we had already emptied some things out. Barb had to climb over all our junk to even get to the sump pail. Then there was water every where, and she had to plug the pump in. She said she climbed into a tub of basketballs because she was afraid of being electrocuted. She talked to me on the phone through the whole process. I have been there--I have been scared too!

There were some things that got wet that we had to throw away (like a whole box of paper towels that I had bought the day before we left and didn't bother to put up off the floor yet...$35 in the trash). But experience has taught us not to put most things on the floor. Many things were in plastic tubs. But even those things had to be moved off the floor so that we could have maximum air flow for the floor to dry out.

Micah's friends--fresh young men--arrived to help us move things. They came just in time to help with the heavier pieces of furniture, when my strength was failing.

Some places in the lower level (it's less than halfway under ground, so it is not technically a "basement" even though I also call it that) had enough water to splash up on Barb's toes when she first found the flooding. Some places had no water. I took a few pictures to remind myself where the wettest spots were.

This was by far the wettest room, but the water was already down by the time we got home. Mitch's dad brought over squirrel cage fans and dehumidifiers.We also turned on the air conditioner and didn't turn it off again. The a/c really helped bring down the humidity levels to a safe percentage right away.

Our bedroom had a really wet spot by the outside wall, but some completely dry spots under the bed.

Some spots of water we didn't find until we moved every last piece of furniture. We had moved so much, that it got to this point where I was asking, "That's good enough, right?" Finding a new puddle of water was a reality check. This back corner must be a really low spot. We endured to the end. By the way, that's not mold, but is carpet glue with a little bit of the old carpet pad still stuck in it. It is NOT fun to try to scrape up!

Barb had started the sump pump sometime around midnight. At 7 am, it was still emptying water out. We had an empty garbage can outside that had collected rainwater like an oversized rain gauge. We estimated more than 7 inches of water had fallen in our area, which is consistent with official reports that came in.

There was a surprising amount of clothing and bedding that had been in contact with the floor and thus had gotten wet. So I ran the washing machine and dryer all day simply to get those things clean again. It was Wednesday before I could even start on our vacation laundry.

Tuesday was a long day. While there was no rain in the forecast, the dew points were high and as the sun went down, dew began forming on everything. We were dog-tired, but we weren't done. Barb helped us once again as we carried most everything back inside to keep it from getting wet from dew. Once again we were pushed beyond the limits of our strength. I didn't even mention that during all of this, Mitch was injured. He had torn his hamstring muscle in his right leg while trying to water ski on the previous Friday. So not only was driving and walking painful, but the going up and down of stairs too.

While we were carrying things back into our bedroom, I took the opportunity to rearrange the rooms to a configuration that I had been contemplating for a while (but never would have done "just for fun."). We moved the bed into the office area, and all the stuff in the office area out to the large part of the room. My idea was that it would be a better use of space, and it is, in a way. It creates a sweet little private sleeping spot for us. When the king-sized bed was in the bedroom, we only had a walk-way around the bed. The room has a lot of door ways and not very much wall space. By moving it into the office area, there still is only a walk-way around the bed. But the bedroom is opened up considerably, as long as I can creatively arrange my crafting/sewing things. This was a pretty cool thing to do, but it also was troubling to me. We had just spent nearly 2 weeks sleeping in strange places. I had been longing for my familiar bed. When I woke up in the middle of the night I was disoriented and confused. It took me a while to figure out where I was. We were already in survival my sleep pattern was disturbed even more. It took a good week to get used to the new room.

During this process, we took the opportunity to do some purging. I set a few things on the curb and they were picked up. We loaded up our Subaru Outback full to the brim, plus got a trailer load full of items and took them to Salvation Army. We gave a lot of things away that we had been meaning to give away, but hadn't bothered to take the time to load up.

On Thursday our van was finished. It turns out that the distributor was hanging by a thread. Some metal filings were just nearly about to go through the engine. And I don't know what all else. It was a mess. The total bill was $1,100. After Micah got off work, he and Mitch drove back up to Grand Forks and picked up the van. While they were there, they stopped in and saw our Colorado family for a few minutes. It was a great way to bring closure to the trip. :)

While our crawl space was empty, we decided to use our last can of epoxy (that we had picked up at Menard's for only $5) and paint the floor. We made some repairs to the vapor barrier too. The crawl space got some much needed attention. It wasn't how or when we would have chosen, but it was still good.

We also made plans to install an automatic sump pump with a permanent outlet. The supplies have been purchased, we just need a day to do it. It will require yearly maintenance, but the cost was not prohibitive. Even though our pail rarely needs pumping, we want to avoid repeating this situation ever again.

The drama did come to an end. I want to wrap up this blog post on a positive note, including pictures of things cleaned up. The cleaning and the purging were good. We are hosting guests all throughout the month of August, and it feels good to have our space back in order.

While we started out way behind on our to-do list, we did catch up and even tackled some things from our project list--like moving Mercy's clothes down to Tirzah's room, since we have been slowly transitioning her to sleeping there also.

I got to do some things in my crafting room that weren't originally on the list of priorities. Well, they were in May, but got cut after we finished painting upstairs.
I love this. The kids can now come to get milk out of the fridge in the morning without first walking through our sleeping area. It's also convenient to have a straight shot to the fridge when we are bringing in groceries. Before this, they would have to come into our room, and make a right through the French doors. The fridge used to be to the right then, in the corner of that room.
I plan to hang curtains over the French doors to give us a little more privacy. I even have some curtains already. ;)

I finally began to purge the rest of my diaper-making supplies, keeping only enough to play around with myself. I know where I can get more if I ever decide to jump back in. The stacks of tubs in this next picture is all "give away."

This room is a work in progress. We need to put our cabinet back over the electrical box. I want to ask Mitch if we can get rid of the dresser. And I'm pretty sure I don't want to store anything in that back corner where the blue cubes are now. When this stuff was in the office, I had space for a table to be up all the time. Typically the table was just a spot to "catch" stuff, and needed to be cleaned off when I wanted to work on something. It was always a mess, and I don't want a table up just to do that again. I have some ideas for what will happen in the future.

I love our new sleeping area. This was a really good idea. But I'm not much of a decorator. I'd like to change the paint scheme, but I don't think that I will. This entire area--the office, bedroom, and walk-in closet--is the last place in the basement that doesn't have epoxy on the floor. If we can find some more oops paint at Menard's, we'll do it. Otherwise it might be a year (or two?) before we can afford it. 

Baskets full of laundry to put away means that I'm all caught up! In fact, I've had a hard time switching gears back to normal laundry mode. :)

We had a stressful week coming home from Canada, to be sure. But God provided constantly for our needs. He first met our physical needs, and He also met our spiritual needs. We asked for prayer, and many friends were praying for us. We felt His peace and patience in us. Mitch and I worked hard together. Yes, there was tension. How could there not be? We were pushed to our limits! But with God's help we were able to show love and respect to each other with each new problem that arose. Kids will be kids, and ours aren't perfect. But together we were able to weather this storm, too. They were patient when I never would have imagined they could be, and we were patient when I never would have imagined we could be. I don't know how, other than God did it.

God is writing a story. I don't know why he gave us this great one. I know it has been really long in the telling, because I want to remember it and laugh about it and marvel over the details in the years to come, details that were orchestrated--not coincidental. I have opened myself up to the world and shown the private parts of our home because I love this story. We are stumbling around, like little babies learning to walk, trying to learn to trust in God's faithfulness to us. We have a lot of growing to do yet. Our trials are small compared to others'. We give thanks to God for all that He is doing in our lives, for the blessing of His church, the people who are His hands and feet. All glory belongs to Him!

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