Turning In at the House of Grace

The day started in the Garden of Eden and ended at the House of Grace.

Before we go on, a smidgen of background and a caveat or two. Bear with me, please.

Regular readers know that this blogger’s life is currently a wild adventure. There have been ample corkscrew twists and hairpin turns to keep us guessing about what’s next. The recent stretch has been particularly a lot like going up mountain passes in a car. The road elevation increases with each s-curve that then brings altogether new views. The car pushes forward with extra power, but goes slower from the required effort. At such altitudes the air is thin and fresh, the sky is deeper blue, and the earth below unfolds in amazing panoramas. The ascent to the upper reaches of the tree line and lower levels of tundra puts everything into perspective, just as my personal experience of coming to the end of self-sufficiency a long time ago does.

Regular readers also know that I am a person for whom faith is not an option. I don’t know how to live without it. I’ve known the presence of God since I was very young. It’s impossible for me to go through a day without experiencing him in some way. It is essential to who I am and central to how I live life.

Further, readers know that I love to capture images that elevate the heart and soul and lift people’s attention from their daily concerns to think about God and his presence in the world. That’s really what this blog is all about.

Yesterday morning I learned that a photo of mine was used for the blog “Picturing God” at IgnatianSpirituality.com. I was thrilled because I hope the particular photo chosen will make an impact upon someone, if only for a second. Just as I’ve had wonderful opportunities to travel and capture beauty around the world in order to share those images, so to have I had the chance to travel along some remarkable paths in life that display God’s amazing workmanship. I’m writing in order to share the current landscape.

Readers know that I am compelled to write. Just as I don’t know how to go through a day without being aware of the Divine Presence, I also can’t get through life without writing about it.

Writers often write because they must express an idea or story. That’s usually my m.o. But not this time, not today. I write because out in the blogosphere someone needs to read my story. I put forward the experience because someone is facing really hard times and thinks God can’t help, or won’t help, or both. Whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever you’re going through, this is for you.

Now, back to the beginning!

It became clear that come check out time Wednesday morning I needed to leave the place in high country where I’d been staying for two weeks awaiting another’s decision. There had been no communication and no responses to email or phone messages. Without other viable options that permitted waiting indefinitely in the Denver area, it seemed that the initial plan to return to the Washington, D.C. area was best. I couldn’t wait around forever without any word from the other end. Wednesday morning I checked out and headed east with enough money to cover gas for the trip.

Rolling along the interstate in eastern Colorado, the temperatures climbed to the century mark and remained near 105 degrees, give or take a degree, throughout treeless western Kansas. It was impossible to stop for more than a couple of minutes because my two cats are traveling, too. By the time I made it to Hays, Kansas, I knew I had to stop for the night. It meant tapping into money needed for gas. I had to trust that I was making the best decision and that what I needed would be provided when it was needed, like God’s provision of manna to the Israelites during the Exodus.

Thursday morning when I left Hays, I didn’t know where I’d sleep that night. It was a matter that could only be handled by God.

Now, you should know that I’m drawn like a moth to a flame when it comes to roadside attractions. The world’s largest ball of barbed wire, miniature replicas of Graceland, giant fish and mammals — if it’s tacky and fascinating, I’ll make an effort to see it. For years, the one attraction that I’ve never stopped for is the Garden of Eden in Lucas, Kansas. It’s only a short detour from I-70, but I’d never had time to stop, or it was not possible for one reason or another. I was going to resist the lure yesterday, but at the very last second took the exit that would lead to paradise. Oh, why not?

The few miles to Lucas made a pretty drive in the early morning. After looking at mountains for many days, the vastly different terrain of the prairie was refreshing. In no time though I’m standing at the entrance to the Garden of Eden. It’s closed! Closed? How can the Garden of Eden be closed, theological implications aside?

Fortunately, a good bit of the sculpture is visible from the street. It’s possible to get a sense of the overall uniqueness and take a photo or two no matter the time of day. Within five minutes the pilgrimage was made and I was on my way.

The car was only a block or so from the Garden of Eden when it stated shaking. In the few minutes it took to figure out the tire was flat, I was right in front of a “Kids for Christ” fireworks tent (really? Or should that be really!), and across from a family-owned gas station. The mechanic and his son were on duty.

A nail had punctured the tire and created a hole that in effect ruined the tire. The small spare wouldn’t do for the driving I needed to do. A new tire was needed. It cost more than what was in my wallet.

Yet, about 30 minutes before the incident, a friend was trying to work out how to get $100 to me. Known options wouldn’t work for one reason or another. When the mechanic said I needed a new tire, I asked my friend if she’d consider this as a use for the money she wanted to give. She thought that would be perfect. Before the transaction was done, the new tire was installed. I left holding a receipt for the $96 charge. Before I even knew I needed it, God provided exactly what was required.

Standing near the car to keep an eye on cats, it seemed as if I should plan on staying in Kansas City, still a few hours away. I wouldn’t be able to travel further.

When you travel along the edge of the road in life, you tend to pray a lot. And it was after praying the day before, on Wednesday, that I sensed I should contact Marshall, an Episcopal priest who is on staff at the hospital where I did my chaplain residency in 2001-2002. The thought came to me that he might know of a place where I could stay for a night or two in Kansas City. It seemed crazy and I’m not one to call up people out of the blue. But the idea persisted. I followed up on the inner nudge.

On Wednesday afternoon when we talked, he didn’t know of anything for certain at the moment, but he’d check. Not too long after leaving the Garden of Eden and Lucas with the third new tire of the week (two new ones were purchased on Tuesday) Marshall called. He knew of a possibility, but I’d need to find housing for the cats.

Another friend and animal lover said she’d ask her mom about taking in the cats for a few days. Her mom said yes; I could say yes.

Yesterday, in the late afternoon, I turned into the House of Grace, a retreat space affiliated with an Episcopal parish in the Kansas City area. I have a place to stay until Monday.

Like the ancient Israelites, I have felt as if I’m wandering in the desert, guided by only a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of cloud by night. God has provided manna all along the journey, just enough for a given day’s need. Never too much and never anything left over.

The pillar of cloud and fire remains hovering here over the House of Grace. I don’t know when it will move and in which direction. I trust that since today’s manna is gone, fresh manna will appear as the dew tomorrow morning.

Watch with me to see what God does.

For those of you in the midst of your own desert wanderings, no matter what they are, take heart! Don’t be afraid. Take hold of the One who loves you more than you’ll ever know, the One who is closer to you than your own breath. He will never leave you. It may be a rough, hard journey you’re traveling, but he is with you, guiding your every step.

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