Hello! I sure do hope that all of you are doing well in Daytona Beach. As I am writing this, I am doing laundry 2,752 miles away from you, in Monterey Bay, California. Our campsite is just across the dunes from the Pacific Ocean. I have sent numerous pics to family and close friends, and when I talked to my dad last night, on June 6, he told me how much everyone was gushing over the fun time it looked like we were having. That is partially true.

We are a family of seven, all riding in one car. We bicker often: over what each day’s schedule will look like; over who gets to sit up front; over who got the most of whichever snack is the most popular. We have seen each person’s strengths and weaknesses amplified in the close quarters we are living in. We are tired, and we are on each other’s nerves.

We rented an RV that looked great when we pulled out, but has been a disaster. So far, we have lost part of the awning, had the tire tread of one of its wheels come off in the middle of the Nevada desert. We had to abandon it overnight on the side of I-80 west, and drive an hour to a hotel. Overnight, some people tried to steal our bikes and we even thought there might be someone who broke into the RV, causing Nevada Highway patrol to enter the RV with guns drawn. Then tonight, we discovered a leak in the hot water heater. We have had to replace the sewer system, a propane tank, and purchase a converter from 30 amps to 50 amps.

Driving over a pothole in Yellowstone caused us to crack the rear right wheel on the Ford Expedition, and because Rigby, Idaho Ford dealerships don’t have the replacement wheel on our vehicle, we now have the wheel from a 2012 Ford F-150 as a replacement until we can get back.

And the weather has not behaved. The warmest temperatures we have had so far were in Yellowstone, in the lower 70’s. But every night except one it has gone into the 40’s, and the heater has been spotty in the RV. We were supposed to be in Lake Tahoe tonight, but the temperature was going down to 25, so we headed toward the coast so we would not have water freezing the RV. And the wind, except in Yellowstone, has been unbearable. Driving uphill into the wind, heading into Carson City, nearly caused the transmission to overheat, so we sat on the side of the road waiting for it to cool. Coming back from Big Sur, California this evening, there were piles of sand in the middle of the expressway in Monterrey, causing us to nearly wipe out.

And the roads have been either terrible, or ill advised. We have hit more potholes than there are grains of sand on the beach, and each one is jarring with an RV behind you. Google maps has sent us over the Teton Pass, and over the pass from Tahoe down to Sacramento, neither of which an experienced RV hauler should take on, much less an amateur like me. But on two-lane roads, once you are headed up, there is no going back, so we have gone over.

But with all of those obstacles, we have seen things that we will probably never see again. On the third day of travel, it was our longest day of the trip, and we were driving well past midnight in Kansas. Out in the distance, we saw what looked like radio or television towers. They had red lights going up a pole like media towers do, but there were way too many of them for it to be that, and they seemed to be too short. When we finally got close to them, in the eerie shadow of their red lights, we saw that they were really wind turbines for a wind farm. We later found out that 41% of the energy in Kansas is produced from these wind farms. We saw wind farms in Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, and Nevada.

And we have seen other wondrous things as well. Inside of Yellowstone, we saw the beautiful Lewis falls, and found out that the snow is still melting in the park. Our kids had a snowball fight in Yellowstone Park in June! We saw the painted pots, where microbes that love the hot springs change the color of the rock as they feed down into creeks and rivers. We saw Old faithful erupt, and the beautiful Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, the result of the Snake River. We saw bison, caribou, bears, and prairie dogs.

We made it to Carson City, Nevada, which Carson has been wanting to see since he was 3 years old. I guess he thought it was his namesake. We spent two nights very close to Lake Tahoe, which is a gorgeous lake, clear and blue, surrounded by beautiful tall spruce trees. And then today, we saw the beautiful Pacific Ocean, which was just absolutely breathtaking.

So as I am writing this on June 7th at about midnight Pacific Time Zone, I am thinking about two things, which might be closely related. First, I am thinking of what Jesus said to the Pharisees in Luke 19. At the end of the chapter, the scene is Jesus entering Jerusalem, and the crowd is yelling its Hosannahs to Jesus as he enters the city. The Pharisees tell Jesus to make his disciples stop yelling their praises, either because they were offended, or because they were worried that the “Hosannas” would incite a resurrection. Jesus looks at them and says, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would shout out.” In spite of all that has gone wrong on this trip – if you weren’t laughing our crying or empathizing with me as I told you about our trials on this trip, there’s something wrong with you – we have still been amazed at how God’s Creation shouts its praises of God. I hope that you are able to see the beauty of the pictures I have sent to Andy. They are stunning. We could look at our trip and think that it has been a failure because of all our obstacles. But every  time that we start down that path of thinking that as a family, the stones cry out, whether it is the beauty and the wildlife of Yellowstone, the barren, stark beauty of Wyoming and Nevada, the grandeur of the Tetons, or the majestic beauty of driving Highway 1 along the Pacific coast. The stones have cried out in saving us all from an accident when we lost the tire on the RV, they have cried out when we unexpectedly got into the national parks for free because we have a fourth grader; they have cried out when the tire shop in Idaho was willing to stay open when the wheel on the expedition went out (they secured the awning on the RV for us for free as well). So I can take Jesus’ words to heart: there is more to life than the bad luck, or constant obstacles that life has thrown at us, or that life throws at lots of people. There are the stones, and they cry out for us to see God’s presence in all of life.

Second, I am thinking that our trip is a microcosm of life together. My family has experienced a lot of ups, and a lot of downs. We have seen things we expected to see, like McDonald’s and Chevron and Walmart and nice people and crazy drivers and small campsites. But we have also seen things we didn’t expect to see: grizzly bears on the side of the road; speed limit 80 in Nevada and Wyoming; bison; hot springs, and Fallon, Nevada. And as we have seen these expected and unexpected things, we have seen them together. We can’t quit each other; We can’t quit the RV, we can’t quit the trip itself. Where we are, we are 4 or 5 days drive away from Daytona. But we also can’t quit because we are on a journey, an adventure, a quest, and once you’re on the road, there’s no turning back (especially when it is a mountain pass).

These thoughts remind me that this is what church is all about. We are on a quest together, to be the presence of God to the world around us, even as we experience the presence of God for ourselves. We bicker, we argue, we disagree. We see things we didn’t expect to see. We encounter mountain passes that seem too steep, too challenging for us to conquer. But we are in it together, because God has called us to be Central Baptist together.

But this is also what life is like for our community. Each day, we have turned on the news and heard about the protests that are going on around the country. We have heard about peaceful protests, violent looters, helpful police, and police who have crossed the line. We have heard about the virus as it continues to spread, and we have heard about the tropical storm that has hit Louisiana. Those are challenges and obstacles, to be sure. Each of those challenges are familiar to Daytona Beach. But if we act or live as if we are not in the boat together, with all of the people of Daytona Beach, we are mistaken. If we think that “those” liberals or “those” conservatives live in a different world than us, we are mistaken. We are in the boat together, and the sooner we recognize it, the better off we will be together.

For our family, our quest when we started on this journey was not only to see beautiful sights, to experience the wonder of God’s creation. It was also to be inescapable to each other. For our kids, for Melissa and I, to see that we are bound to each other, and to see more of each other than the myths we have created about each other. And so in the midst of the bickering, we have seen the beginning of Isabel’s nurturing presence. We have seen Cade’s helpfulness in setting up and taking down the RV. We have seen Isaac’s playfulness and sarcasm. We have seen both Carson’s curiosity and Austin’s intelligence. We have seen Melissa’s organization and work ethic, and hopefully the kids have seen my protectiveness, and ability to manage driving all over the country.

What we have seen is that God has pulled us together as a family, and is shaping us and transforming us, by our inescapability, by our quest, by our overcoming the obstacles. When we think about our communities in the same way, we will be better off, and we will hear the very stones cry out. I look forward to seeing you soon!