Bumpy Beginnings

nathanielkiddnathanielkidd on 1250951428|%B %d

Sarah and I are on the road again. Well, sort of.

Don’t get me wrong. We’ve definitely come to a new chapter in our story. We have certainly entered a new stage of our journey, and this segment of the path we are on is very different from the last one. We’ve once again left the comfort, security, and familiarity of our families, our friends, and the communities we grew up in so that we can follow the Lord where he is leading us.

We will be three years at Nashotah House. Three years in one community, in one apartment – this is more stability than either of us have had in quite some time. It’s more time than we’ve ever stayed in one place as a couple; more time than we’ve even been married. Still, our time at Nashotah House is only a training, only a phase, only a preparation for what comes next. It is a new segment of our path, and will certainly be a formative one, but it is still but a segment.

When I say that we are only “sort of” on the road again, I am not doubting the fact that the Spirit of the Lord has moved us forward, nor I am not doubting that our next phase is but another transient moment in our lives of pilgrimage toward the eternal. When I say that we are only “sort of” on the road again, I am referencing the series of misadventures that greeted us only hours after pulling out from the driveway.

We packed our little borrowed Tercel to capacity, then strapped on a cartop carrier and kept packing it. Somehow, we managed to stuff most of our needs for the next three years into five suitcases, two backpacks, two shoulder bags, and three small boxes. People laughed at us when we arrived in India with four suitcases and thought we were “traveling light.” But we’ve learned a few things since then.

Still, the Tercel looked hilariously overburdened with the shell on its top and bicycles lashed to its back — like a child trying on his daddy’s suit.

“Get ready for a bumpy ride,” my father laughed at us, as we finished packing, “You’ve probably doubled the weight riding on those shocks.”

At midnight on Monday morning, a time that certainly presses the edge of sanity, we began our journey. Wisely, Sarah had been gradually adjusting her bedtime earlier and earlier, so that by Sunday night, she was able to hit the sack at six o’clock to be fresh for our nighttime departure. Unwisely, I had been sleeping less and less, trying to wring every moment out of my last few days with my family. On the night of our departure, I hadn’t slept at all. When we got into the car, I found I had developed an acute case of narcolepsy, prompting Sarah to adopt the heroic task of being the sole driver over our two-day excursion. (But this turned out to be just as well – as we discovered later, we had packed the car was so full only Sarah could fit in the driver's seat.)

At four in the morning, we made our first stop, a rest area in Sterling, Colorado. (This was an understandable necessity, given that Sarah had been pounding bottled frappachinos since we departed.) We intended it to be a quick in-and-out venture, but unfortunately, our little car had other ideas. Upon returning from the bathroom, we found that the engine would give us no more than a series of angry clicks when we turned the key in the ignition.

After an hour of thumbing the manual and fruitlessly staring into the foreign country hidden beneath the hood, we decided it was close enough to a reasonable hour to justify calling for some advice.

“Sounds like you have a problem with the starter,” my dad told me. At his suggestion, I tried hitting various things under the hood and beneath the car with a hammer. Not surprisingly, it didn't help. Nor did two more collect calls serve to improve my knowledge of engine taxonomy.

“Alright,” my dad said, “Even if you can't knock your starter back into place, you should be able to push start it. Give the hammer thing one more try, and then I'll call you back in five minutes.”

My final attempt to hit the right piece of metal with a hammer was just as unsuccessful as all the others. So we went back inside to wait for a phone call. Five minutes. Ten minutes. After fifteen minutes, our impatience finally outweighed our feeling of guilt for making yet another collect call. We picked up the reviver and…

The pay phone had died. The speaker was emitting an “error” beep, and faintly picking up a Country radio station. We had to laugh. It just wasn't our morning.

With not a lot else to do, we decided to try a push start. Fortunately, this worked.

That's the long and short of it, but try to imagine this for a moment. There, in the dim light of early dawn, pitifully augmented by yellow street lamps, a frumpy and bleary-eyed Nathaniel with his shoulder against the frame of the car. The thwap of thrice-repaired sandals against the asphalt rose to join the chorus of early morning insects, and – finally– the engine sputtered to life.

Surprised by our success, I didn't quite know what to do – and neither did Sarah. The car kept rolling forward, and I kept running. I tightened my grip on the frame of the car and leaped heroically into the vehicle, nearly losing a sandal in the process. After a few breathless moments, I pulled the door shut behind me, and we laughed and zoomed off into the sunrise.

It was quite a scene. The humor of the situation could have only been improved if I had been wearing my cassock.

After another hour and a half of smooth cruising, we reached Big Springs, Nebraska, and pulled off to get some gas. Unfortunately, though we had been driving without incident, our car problems had not fixed themselves – and indeed, they had gotten worse. This time, even a good push couldn’t convince the engine to start chugging. Even several good pushes, assisted by a couple of friendly Syrians didn't convince our engine to start.

“I'm no mechanic, nor a son of a mechanic,” the portly Syrian told me, as we all caught our breath, “But I think you have a problem with your alternator.” He nodded sagely as we stared under the hood and watched wisps of white smoke emerge from the battery every time Sarah tried to start the car.

Big Springs, Nebraska is not exactly noted for an urbane and educated population. As we scanned the faces in the parking lot, we began to feel a little anxious. These were not exactly the kind of people that four years of a Liberal Arts education and a year in India had equipped us to deal with, and, with our set of wheels inoperative, we were totally at their mercy.

Fortunately, however, Sarah and I were blessed to experience the lauded and elusive quality of small-town hospitality. Everyone was eager to share their automotive acumen, and our conversations ended with two guys from Truck Repair shop around back jump-starting the car and nodding over the sorry state of our alternator, which apparently wasn't moving at all.

“We can charge yer battery, and that should gecha to Ogalala,” the chief mechanic told us. “Thar's a mechanic thar who does alotta work with foreign cars.”

After tentatively pulling around the building, the mechanic lifted our hood and attached a device to our battery that might have been R2D2's rusty cousin. One hour and two hardy trucker breakfasts later, we were set to move on to our next mechanic.

“I ain't gonna charge ya nothin',” the truck mechanic said as we got back in the car, “'s just electricity, and tha's practically free. I know it sucks to get stuck like that when yer on the road.”

The ride to Ogalala was pretty uneventful. Well, it was uneventful for me – I fell asleep instantly. Sarah was a little more stressed. Between going over a bump that nearly knocked the bikes off and wondering if the car would start if she stalled out, Sarah felt that the car moved the twenty miles to Ogalala more by prayers than by burning gasoline. She didn't even stop to fix the bikes because she wasn't sure she'd be able to start it again.

Nevertheless, we made it, we made it in one piece, and we made it without losing any cargo. More than that, going over the severe bump seemed to fix our problem. When we pulled up at the shop behind the tourist-trap-faux-Old-West-town in Ogalala and popped our hood, our alternator was spinning away and our mechanic was a bit mystified that we had been experiencing such horrific problems.

Dave, our mechanic, struck us as a car-nerd version of Owen Cramer. He was a thin old man combining a sweet nature, extreme erudition in his craft, and an abundance of energy uncommon for his age. He spent his time abruptly teleporting around his shop, chain smoking into our engine, and brandishing a tool that made us cringe with memories of the dentist's office.

Dave agreed to take apart our alternator, but I think mostly to humor us. After dissecting it, he showed us how the mystical innards of this little cylinder were like new, if a little dirty. In reassembling our engine, however, he discovered that our issues were probably the result of a lose battery cable. He charged us thirty dollars for his diagnosis, which is not bad, considering the drastic and frightening nature of the symptoms we were experiencing.

This little side adventure stretched what Google thought would be an eleven hour day, and what we thought would be a thirteen or fourteen hour day, and made it a good nineteen hour day. If we had spent all that time on the road, we could have made it clear to Nashotah House, rather than to our stopover point at a friend's house in South Dakota.

Worse still, we left in the middle of the night to avoid driving in the heat of the day in our little air conditioner-less car. But not only did we do the bulk of our driving along sweltering, shadeless Nebraska highways, we also somehow managed the dubious pleasure of driving into both the sunrise, and the sunset.

Fortunately, the rest of the drive was pretty uneventful. Of course, I can only say that because of my tendency to fall asleep instantly when I wasn't specifically doing something else. Sarah got to enjoy many hours of tension, wondering if the car would keep moving, and at least one episode of road charades when a friendly couple in an SUV was kind enough to point out that we were close to losing the contents of our cartop carrier.

But we're here. We made it, not only through our first day of driving, but our first of settling in in our new community. We're tired, disoriented, and still recovering. But if we can survive India, a nomadic summer, and a cross-country marathon in a 94 Tercel loaded down with our belongings, surely the Lord is with us, we can certainly make it through seminary.

I'm not normally one for omens, but I think our bumpy beginning was, as a matter of fact, a good one. It was rough, but it could have been worse. It was rough, but the roughness was actually quite enjoyable. The roughness heightened our sense of adventure. To all those who have prayed for us, we are glad to report that, while our travels have not been smooth, they have at least been safe, and we have seen the fingerprints of Jesus along the way.

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