Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Richmond Retrospective: Seven Lessons Learned (and one I'm still learning)

Yes, we were stranded in a hotel in a snowstorm - but God never once left me stranded.

I packed for a 3-night, 4-day stay in Richmond (VA), where the boys were slated to fence in the Junior Olympics. (Yes! The Junior OLYMPICS!!) National fencing competitions are intense, exhausting, marathon events for fencers and families alike. As much as I love the boys’ skill and passion, I’m always ready to head home at the end.

Except, this time, there was a snowstorm coming when we were ready to leave. And it was 15 degrees outside (not ideal for our diesel vehicle). And the car would not turn over. We were stuck. Six hours from home. In a snowstorm. Without our car.

(How do you spell panic?)

Since returning home (yay! I may never leave again), I’ve contemplated our “extended stay” and what God showed me and taught me, during a time which I was honestly in no mood to learn anything from anyone. Still, His smile never faltered, even when mine was nowhere to be found.

Seven lessons I learned:

1. Always pack Febreeze. A full bottle. It was of great solace to me in our hotel room, which I shared with a husband and two teen-aged sons. And all their fencing equipment. And socks. 

2. Bring more books than I think I’ll read. Twice as many. No, three times. Without an absorbing book, I morph into a caged animal, snarling and restless. Our visit to Barnes & Noble was a healing time for me (save for the incident in Starbuck’s– refer to #3): just rubbing shoulders with all those new books, poring over countless dust jackets, jotting down new titles for future reading (although hopefully not during an unexpected extended stay in a small hotel room in a bad storm).  

3. When in Starbuck’s, do not close my eyes for too long. Otherwise, the barista may startle me by tapping me on the shoulder, announcing emphatically, “Ma’am, you cannot sleep here.” My protestations that I am only closing my eyes to quell an oncoming headache may not convince her, as she continues to believe that I am an indigent who has wandered in off the subzero streets. “Ma’am, you need to leave,” I may hear. This really happened to me. As Dave Barry says: I am not making this up. When I told Frank why we had to leave quickly, he looked me up and down, then remarked: “Well, we may be homeless right now. But you don’t look homeless.” (Smooth talker.)

4. I am actually addicted to Zumba. Mentally, physically, emotionally. It was one of the things I missed the most (after my bed, my books, and my routine). Enough to heed my facebook friend’s advice to dance to Spanish music videos on the tiny strip of exposed carpeting between the two queen-sized beds in our hotel room. Cramped my style, but it was better than nothing, and I only stubbed my toe on the bed frame once. 

5. After 24 years of marriage, my husband can still be a white knight. I had expected grouchiness over the mounting stack of bills: extra hotel nights, towing and garage expenses, rental car, more eating out, lost work days. Instead, he promptly declared it an adventure and let the boys push the dead vehicle down three flights of the parking garage, where the tow truck awaited. He treated us twice to the nearby diner we had discovered (instead of cheaping it at KFC/Taco Bell) and was extra-patient with me while I moped in my pit. He and the boys gave me time alone to Zumba in our room, didn’t criticize me for my mood, didn’t  push for the cheaper (and riskier) plan for getting us home sooner. He even bowed gallantly to my plea to hang out at the nearby Barnes and Noble for hours on end (mind you – after 15 minutes in the magazine section, he’s done). In the face of my black mood, his white-knight nature gleamed brightly.

6. I can tire of Food Network. This surprised me because – not having cable, satellite, or any other paid TV service – I only get to watch it when I travel! But if I never see another episode of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, it will be too soon. I mean, does Guy Fieri even cook?! Or does he just inhale everyone else’s menu items, so viewers can hear him say “Mmmmm!” and watch sauce drip down his spiky beard? I have no patience for perky Giada or those sickly-sweet cupcake wars. Even our favorite show, Chopped, tasted like stale leftovers after three back-to-back episodes. (Refer back to #2.)  

7. My pillow is worth its weight in gold. Even though it consumes valuable space in our small hatchback, already stuffed with fencing bags, camping mattresses, school books and other Smid essentials. But that pillow is a travelling chiropractor for my creaky neck, a healing slice of heaven in a hotel room. I’m soooo glad I didn’t leave home without it.

Finally, one priceless lesson I continue to learn:

Even when it’s tough for me to smile, I can see and appreciate God’s smile. I’m so proud and happy that my sons are involved with this great martial art, but fencing competitions are stressful for me. I have to pace myself: listen to my iPod (to drown out the piercing noise), pray and take deep breaths, and know when it’s time to take a break before heading back into the venue. Standing on concrete or sitting in folding chairs for 9-10 hours a day, manning the camera, does no favors for my neck and shoulders. (Refer to #7.) So when the car didn’t start on Day 4, as we were primed to outrun the snowstorm all the way to South Carolina, I felt my last bit of well-being slipping away.

I knew that God was providing for us and protecting us: two of the things He steadily and faithfully does for His children every single day. I could see it! Still, I felt like I was going to lose it at any moment: I was tense, panicky, claustrophobic, exhausted.

Even in the midst of the emotional and physical stress, however, I saw God’s smile everywhere. The same kind of smile you have when you give something to your children that you know will make them smile – and so you smile, too. He gives good gifts to His children, and He delights to do so.

We were able to book the same hotel, and it never lost power in the storm. Our rental car proved reliable on the snowy streets. With every restaurant closed for the storm, we found rotisserie chicken and hummus and pita (my favorite!) for dinner at Wal-Mart (do Wal-Marts ever close?). No-one broke into our broken-down car as we waited overnight for a tow. We found a diner with a great menu and waitstaff – one of whom even paid for my hot fudge sundae (when she saw my sons’ long arms reaching for it against my protests!). Discounts and mercy at the hotel and garage made the bills a hair less staggering. Having every meal together was a gift: our routine is so busy that we only have dinners together 2-3 nights a week right now. Even though the garage received the replacement part later than expected, they still were able to complete the repair in time for us to avoid one more night’s stay in Richmond. The boys’ homeschool co-op was cancelled, so they didn’t have to miss yet another day’s classes. The roads on the drive home (and – yes – I was still anxious about the car failing again in the frigid temps, or black ice on the roads) were dry; the only ice we encountered was on our driveway, which we had anticipated. We hauled our luggage up the iced-over driveway at 1 am in 10-degree weather, without falling or encountering scary creatures (coyotes, wolves, and possums, oh my!).  

Swirling emotions and physical tension notwithstanding, I saw the goodness and faithfulness of God in Richmond. I can hold fast to His truth and promises, to the reality of how good and present He is, even when my feelings are not lining up with the facts. Yes, we were stranded in a hotel in a snowstorm - but God never once left me stranded. He is utterly trustworthy – even when my emotions are anything but. 

(Disclaimers: I intend no disrespect toward Guy Fieri, Giada or Food Network. Nor toward indigents looking for a place of rest in subzero temperatures; in fact, if I'd been in a different frame of mind, I may have thought to ask the barista what was available in that area for homeless people wanting to escape the frigid storm.)