28 years ago, (give or take 6 months) I rode a borrowed bike from my Grandmother’s house down a nearly-dirt road about 5 miles to a tiny little convenience store beside a tiny little bridge over Lake Greenwood.
I don’t remember much about the store… other than how great a Cheerwine tasted at about 2:45PM at 90 degrees and 98% humidity, but I remember much about the bridge there on Todd Quarter Road.
My memory is tainted both by time and the glamorization of being in South Carolina–a place so magical that you could pee in the yard (which is a fairly big deal to an 11-year old boy), but it was not a fully one-lane bridge, while also not necessarily wide enough to fit two cars across at high speed.
It was the kind of bridge years later as I learned to drive I’d watch my knuckles whiten as I reminded myself to breathe when a truck passed me.
Todd Quarter bridge is where I learned to fish.
My cousin Michael (who was from around here) would take me and my older brother, the city boys from North Carolina, to sit underneath the bridge and fish for crappie, brim, and the occasional bass.
In those magical days before cell phones, we’d leave the house mid-morning with the instructions to be home before it got dark.
We never cut it close to it getting dark. The thought of riding a bike down that road at dusk was enough to break through even a pre-teen’s illusions of invincibility.
Hours later with a stringer full of fish flapping from the handlebars of whoever had the best ability to ride while being fish-slapped for 5 miles, we’d pull back in and start cleaning the fish for dinner.
This morning I woke up to the sound of my 9-year-old who was too excited to sleep past 5 AM. He’d been promised fishing with dad and a cousin.
Now that we live right on the other side of the lake from that house I’d spend a week in each summer, I thought it fitting to go and check out how the fish were biting on Todd Quarter Road.
The bridge is much nicer these days. The placard on one edge reads 1999, my sophomore year of college. Don’t tell that 11-year-old, but now you can actually fish from the bridge, with a dedicated spot to stand out of the way of traffic.
That convenience store isn’t there any more (can’t tell what they’ve turned that building into… looks like a guest house or something).
I told myself it was to avoid a sunburn that I opted to do my fishing from under the bridge. But once I sat down on that red clay (redder than I remembered, even… but maybe that’s this new-fangled 20-year-old bridge construction) I got a little emotional.
I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and realized…
There’s a long backstory to our move. Ever since Jacqueline was diagnosed with Adult Onset Type 1 Diabetes (now more than 2 years ago), we’ve had a plan to get closer to her family in South Carolina. Lots of things needed to fall into place, but it turns out a global pandemic that shuts down everything is the final kick-in-the-britches that’s pushing us out the door.
If you had asked me in December for the timeline, it would have sounded like “as soon as the foster toddler’s adoption is final, we’ll start the process.”
If you had asked me in Late January for the timeline, it changed to “because of some extenuating circumstances in the family, we’re moving before the adoption is final, which just means more paperwork, but we need to get down there after the kids are out of school in June.”
If you had asked me in February for the timeline, it changed to “because of some school-related things in SC, we are going to bump up the move to April over Spring Break”
If you had asked me three days ago, that would have still been the plan.
But then moving companies started closing because of the virus. And state governments started mandating that businesses close.
So, if you asked me for the plan as of last night, we’re now moving on Monday.
To call it a whirlwind is an understatement. I’m not sure which part of my overwhelm is coming from COVID-19 and which part is coming from managing/thinking about the constantly-changing logistics of the move.
The weirdness of moving when you can’t grab coffee to say goodbye to friends is terrible. I just keep reminding myself that we’ll come back once the virus stuff blows over to say a proper goodbye.
We’re very excited to get down there, but definitely didn’t want it to go down this way!
As I type this, my toddler is resting against his favorite new naptime accessory, a stuffed horse that is serving as a pillow. Before he nodded off to sleep, he exclaimed “I’ve got pockets!” and shoved his little hands into them, and promptly began snoring softly.
A few years ago, I had the proper perspective on these moments, and slowly but surely it’s returning to me.
I’ve not liked being quiet lately, because I’ve erroneously thought that it is my job to provide for my family, and when I am quiet and alone, I’m terrified by my own inner monologue:
What are you doing resting? Don’t you know that there are more things you could be doing right now? Why haven’t you learned a new marketable skill today? What if someone else does, and passes you up? You need to be hustling!
Me, on repeat
Here’s the truth: chasing vocational peace is like running to the candy aisle at the store to feel full.
Candy is not supposed to do that. My job is also not supposed to do that.
Heck, my family is not supposed to bring me peace. Placing that weight on my job or my kids or my wife will crush them.
For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked.
2 Corinthians 5: 1-3
The heavenly dwelling I long for is mine already, in Christ. The peace that I hope that “one more thing” I learn or do vocationally will bring me is already mine, in Christ.
I once had a pastor tell me that the whole of the Christian life is a process of realizing “I remember forgetting that before.” This is one of the things I had forgotten: Life and ultimate peace is found by discovering that Jesus is in control. He doesn’t expect me to rescue myself.
If you’ll excuse me, I am going to go stuff my hands in my newly-discovered pockets, and rest.
This year was essentially one long pause button for my family. We had intended for the adoption to be finalized, for a promotion at my job to be finalized, and for some traction toward moving to happen, but none of that happened.
I’d love to say that we did a good job of waiting, of trusting in a power larger than us to know what to do, and resting and waiting, but we did not do well.
I did not do well.
When I look at the big picture (that’s what the year starting with a new 10s digit will do for you, right?) the 2010s have essentially been a very long pause button. In 2010 we left a job that we thought we’d retire from. Full-time ministry was our calling, and we greatly enjoyed the years of trusting God to provide for our growing family.
With a BRAND new baby and a 2-year-old, it honestly felt when I left staff with Cru that God had dropped us off at the curb, and driven away. I leaned heavily on my own understanding, and started working retail, barista, and sales. I had to dig myself out of this funk.
The church job that happened 2 years later was another case of us thinking that maybe the long pause was over. But the reality that even working at a place we loved was taking a toll on the family and there was no real long-term full-time plan there. God had circled the block and waved at us, but left again.
When I was let go of the telesales gig in 2013, I dug in deep into my own understanding and decided to throw everything I had at this “WordPress” thing. I was going to be an entrepreneur, a business owner, and figure out my way out of the financial weeds.
Two years into that adventure, I’d finally gotten enough skills to land a full-time job. I had made close friends in the industry who encouraged me both spiritually and vocationally.
Then God took a big part of that way, too. My best friend Jesse passed away from complications with Cystic Fibrosis and I was left again with the feeling that God had dropped me off at the curb, and I was alone.
Since 2017 and our foray into foster care, it’s been really hard. My wife was diagnosed with Late Onset Type 1 Diabetes, and there have been other medical issues in the family that are well above my paygrade.
I can’t honestly say I have any close friends, and as we’d made the decision to move to SC, it didn’t make any sense to cultivate those friendships only to have to lose them again.
In late 2018 we thought for sure that the case was finally going to wrap up and that we’d be moving into adoption in 2019. When that didn’t happen, I again leaned on my own understanding and for the first time found that I just didn’t have any understanding to lean on.
I really hope that this “end of myself” thing will lead me back to leaning on Christ, to trusting that he really does have my best interests at heart, and that he has a plan for this 10-year desert.
If I take my cynical glasses off, I can see God’s hands all over the past 10 years.
Not once in those lean years did we have to take out a loan or put things on credit in order to make it. (medical loans not included, but they are all paid off now). More than that, we became officially debt free during those lean years.
Not once in those years have we had to skip a meal (even when maybe I should have).
Even in the ONE job I took in those 10 years that I didn’t enjoy and excel at, I still worked alongside people I truly enjoyed and respected.
Now, on the back side of those lean years, I’m working a job I love, with a team I love, doing something that I’ve truly grown to be good at. I’ve got more money than I’ve ever had, and am looking toward purchasing a house when it comes time to make the move.
Not insignificantly, God added the most precious child to our family and soon that will be official via adoption, Lord willing.
I’ve had to re-learn that even in areas I think I’m capable, it pays to not lean on my own understanding.
They say the best way for your kids to appreciate their upbringing is to spend money on memories, not things.
They won’t remember that $43 remote control car, but my kids will never forget the time they thought they might die on the Yadkin River back in 2019.
Before we get there, let’s rewind back to August of this year, when my middle child turned 9, and Jacq and I decided that (due to his love of all things fishing) we’d purchase the largest boat you can own in the state of North Carolina without having to license it: A nice 12-foot inflatable raft.
We planned a fishing/rafting trip for the weeks following, but the wind and rain turned it into a fishing-only trip.
The trip was a success, but we still needed a chance to test out the new boat.
Enter this past weekend.
The joy of a raft is floating down the river, and not having to propel yourself down the river. In our area of the state, all the rivers have widened out to the point that, while they are moving, they are not moving fast enough to prevent a strong case of arm fatigue. So we, with the help of my brother, planned to head west toward the foothills where the water is still deep enough to not pop the float on the rocks, but moving steadily enough to propel us down the river relatively quickly.
I mean, after all, we don’t want to be stuck in a 12-by-8 space with two kids for 6 hours.
We mapped out a put-in/take-out location with just a few miles or so of water between them, and embarked.
My mom and dad kept the 2-year-old who we briefly entertained the idea of taking with us. If the title of the post and multiple foreshadowing elements were not enough: That would have been a catastrophic mistake.
Here’s how the day went:
10:30 AM: Arrived at put-in point after dropping off our getaway vehicle (with the lunch cooler) just a short 15 minute car ride away. We’ve begun pumping up the boat.
11:30 AM: We’ve put in and anchors away for the short journey back to our car. Much fun is had on the first 3 sets of “rapids” and floating, playing and journeying commences. All is well. The first rounds of snack have been consumed.
12:45 PM: We’ve travelled about three bends in the river, and should see the bridge that indicates the “taking out spot” at any moment. The kids and parents have both had fun, made a memory, and cooled off in the unseasonably hot September weather.
We don’t have any sunscreen (it’s just just going to be a couple of hours!)
The snacks in the boat have been almost completely depleted other than the emergency stash for Jacqueline’s Type 1 diabetes control.
1:41 PM: We’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve rounded a bend expecting to see a bridge, but feel confident about this next one.
One of the oars snapped off the end on a rock, leaving us using the other oar as a paddle. This has resulted in much spinning of the boat in a circle, as it is a rudderless craft. We are now fully dependent on the current, but have found that with all 4 humans in the vessel, it does not progress at even the speed of the current without assistance.
One of the children has jokingly suggested calling 911 and being rescued. We all laughed at the thought.
3:15 PM: One child who decided to “float alongside the boat” has somehow ended up nearly out of sight behind the boat. Jacqueline has made the “I don’t want to fight about it but you’re going to need to stop and wait on him soon” face, despite the fact that the child was specifically instructed that we would under no circumstances stop and wait on him. Keep in mind we have been travelling for much of the time at a rate slower than the current. He can keep up by committing to just not touch the bottom of the 2-foot-deep water, and allow his Personal Floatation Device to live up to its name.
All he has to do is NOTHING, and he catches up. You see my issue here, reader?
We find a sort-of-shady spot, I grumblingly hop out and use myself to anchor the boat and wait. I turned and used my outside voice (I’ve never been accused of even having an inside voice) to bellow “HURRY UP” to the child. The child made exasperated arm motions and whines something shrilly.
3:20 PM A child just asked “hey dad what would you do if I hopped out right now?” To which I replied “Outwardly, just fuss and make you get in the boat. I’d also glance at my wife, who would make a ‘please don’t kill him he’s just a child’ face back at me because she would know that inwardly, since I’ve not eaten anything since 7 AM other than a diet Cheerwine about 3 hours ago, I’d be considering ways to injure you in a way that is covered by our insurance plan at 100%.”
The child decides not to jump overboard.
3:27 PM The GPS on Jacqueline’s phone refuses to locate us correctly, and says that my phone (in the getaway car) is still a “45 minute walk” away. We are comforted by the fact that it also doesn’t currently have us on a river despite the clear fact that, if we are anywhere, we are on a river.
The river is our only reality now. This river, 4 humans, 1.5 oars, and the distant sounds of what might be a bridge but also might be a tractor in the nearby field.
One child has switched from “call 911 as a joke” to “but seriously, call them and rescue me I’m so bored and hungry.”
The other has formed into a sunburned ball coiled up in the muddy puddle that is the bottom of the boat.
3:42 PM: Somewhere, a distant car horn rouses the youngest from his slumber. He rubs his eyes, unable to make them focus. He’s not sure what day it is, but he’s clutching his trusty half-oar, whose splintered end will serve as a spear to both capture fish to eat and ward off predators.
As his vision clears, he sees his family, baked in the sun and only holding one or two of the emergency carbohydrate bars that will literally save his mother’s life. He must not eat them. He can’t.
Dad appears to be asking him something, but the words rumble against his eardrums like a bumble bee trying to come through a window.
Brrzzz Brmmm bZZZrrr
A leaf floats past the boat’s edge, mocking him with its progress toward THE BRIDGE. The fables of the bridge have passed down from one generation to another. The legend of the bridge has grown over time, and he imagines it to be thousands of feet tall, gleaming in gold against the backdrop of early autumn green leaves.
He resumes his daily task of bailing water from the inside of the boat using an old Diet Cheerwine bottle, a reminder of the good times.
He leans his head on the starboard gunwale, feeling the sting of its sun-scorched heat on his temple.
He fades back off to sleep.
4:19 PM: The GPS has begun defaulting us to the closer of the roads to the getaway car, and we’ve started to travel in a more southward direction. Both of these are good signs.
Thanks to the sacrificial love of my wife (and her 300+ blood glucose level thanks to the early defensive snacking) I’ve eaten the last of the snacks, giving me a second (14th?) wind of emotional energy.
I’ve begun making “on the bright side” comments.
These comments have not been met with joy from my children, who have been emptied of all bright sides by solar radiation and lack of YouTube.
4:30 PM: After fighting through a narrow pass fraught with storm-felled trees ripe for puncturing an Amazon-purchased raft, we rounded a corner to a concrete monument to our liberation.
Its sun-bronzed pillars shot up from the center of the river, holding aloft not only NC Hwy 67 (connecting travelers from East Bend, NC to Tobaccoville NC), but the hopes and dreams of the lunch cooler nestled securely in the back of an Acura SUV.
We had MADE it.
Just a short 45 minutes later (after deflation, consumption of easily the best turkey sandwich ever crafted, and packing of the things into the car) we pulled out onto NC 67, and turned left toward Tobaccoville.
I leaned over to Jacq and smiled, saying “Just imagine if we’d brought the 2-year-old!”