Opinion: Out of a random road trip, a purpose worthy of thanks

It was the kind of trip that makes little sense to those who didn’t make it, nor even to some who did.

I don’t fully remember how the idea of it came about, how I thought to connect some unrelated dots. Only now, more than a year later, do I truly understand why my family was led to get in the car and travel more than 1,200 miles on an otherwise random summer road trip. Only now am I truly thankful we did it.

Leading up to the summer of 2016, I was anxious to plan a family vacation. Anxious not just in anticipation, but in figuring out how to make it work. We had been to Disney World the previous fall, and we had some large, one-time bills to pay, so money was tight. But we also had some hotel rewards points, and some folks we’d been meaning to visit. An itinerary gradually came together:

First to Charlotte, where we took our boys (then 7 and 4) to a children’s museum and spent the night. Then on to the historical sites at Williamsburg and Jamestown in Virginia, and to nearby Poquoson to see one of my cousins. Then down to Virginia Beach and, on the way back to Atlanta, to Chapel Hill to see a college friend and his family.

While it wasn’t exactly Mickey and the Magic Kingdom, at least I could draw a fairly straight line from here to there. Still: pretty random.

But the Lord works in mysterious ways, and He definitely was guiding my hand as I plotted our course.

Virginia Beach is a long way for some Georgians to go just to see the ocean, but that wasn’t why we went. Our friends Kevin and Anne and their children have lived there since returning from Belgium, where they helped plant a church called The Well, which Emily and I attended.

Back then, we learned from their faith. Not yet parents at the time, we learned from their parenting (their kids then were about the same age as ours now). As expats do, we leaned on one another, enjoying the friendship of wonderful people we wouldn’t have met otherwise.

In Virginia Beach last August, that friendship crackled warmly back to life like a campfire that had never really gone out. They took us to the beach and put us up in their home. Their example and stories taught us a few more things, and we left exchanging promises to see each other again soon.

But what happened soon after our time together was instead most unwelcome. It wasn’t a visit, but news: Kevin had cancer.

Since then Kevin has experienced chemo treatments and surgeries, successes and setbacks, moments of darkness and bright rays of hope. We and many others, in his local community as well as their extended network elsewhere, have prayed continuously for the day he would be back to his old self. In recent weeks, however, it has become clear that won’t happen on this side of heaven.

The whole family’s grace and faithfulness have shined through at every turn, and so many of us have been inspired by their example. It feels self-centered to speak of what one can take from another’s anguish, but they have been intentional about living out what they believe — all the way, wherever the journey leads them.

I won’t try to make sense of their journey, and why it has unfolded this way. But I do know that seemingly random road trip of ours had a real purpose after all. On this day of thanks, I’m grateful it brought us back together when it did.

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