Monday, September 1, 2008

Are We There Yet?

A year ago we decided to take a family vacation to Yellowstone National Park. For weeks our family gathered up the necessary supplies to enjoy a nice week-long trip in one of nature’s best parks. We made reservations, outlined an itinerary, and the kids started saving money for precious trinket souvenirs – the important stuff.

The day for our adventure arrived. According to plan, the family was inspected for last minute details. Everyone was fed, the car was packed, and souvenir money was fidgeting to be spent. With our checklist nearly accomplished, a successful early morning departure was immanent. Nothing could stop us… except for the fact that I strained my back loading up an oversized cooler with a week’s worth of food. Nice start, eh?

Once we managed to get on the road, and my back pain eased, the only thing that stood between us and Yellowstone was hundreds of miles. A daunting task with five young kids? No problem. Distance is an easy thing to endure if you have Game Boys, DVD players, or books on disc. We were set.

We had warned the kids in advance, however, that the rules would change once we got close to the national park. Electrical devices were to be stowed down below someplace where we wouldn’t see them for a week.

The idea seemed okay to everyone, but it triggered a very important question. “So where can we buy something?” they asked. The absence of one distraction makes room for another. We reassured the kids that there would be plenty of opportunity to buy souvenirs. This question was followed up by the more predictable of choices, “Are we there yet?” I think we had just left Teton National Park with only an hour to go.

My wife and I quickly realized that we needed a new management plan to keep the masses in the rear seats content. Getting there is not what Yellowstone is about. But the pleasure of being there has a whole different set of expectations. We attempted to steer their interests, with the assistance of snacks. Never underestimate the power of blood sugars.

The first day of driving in the park seemed to generate more time related questions like, “How much longer?” Though Yellowstone Lake, the Le Hardy Rapids, and some sulfuric mudpots were all fairly close to each other, it still took a few minutes time to traverse between them. Our second oldest was most unenthusiastic about the sulfur, by the way. The complaints of how things smelled seemed to lengthen the passage of time.

Over the course of the week our kids caught on that there was more to enjoy and experience along the way. In addition to seeing sites such as the Upper and Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River, Mammoth Hot Springs, and Old Faithful, we began to see elk, moose, bison, and other types of wildlife. We watched for smaller geographic interests such as steam from geysers rising up through the forest trees, or ancient craters of earlier volcanic activity. We even located all but four states in our exotic license plate search. (This added a little incentive when the wildlife was scarce.)

In a place like Yellowstone, the journey is as important as the goal. It gives meaning and accomplishment to each destination. The experience in its entirety adds richness to the memory.

Over the hundreds of miles we traveled on that trip, I couldn’t help but think of our lengthy journey through this life (a thought inspired by our return trip home.) A larger course perhaps, but there are times that I ask myself, “Am I there yet?” or, “How much longer will it take?” I find it too easy for me to focus on where I am going, and not enough time on where I am at.

I would venture that some of our trials in life are like long roads in between amazing views and sites. They can be real opportunities for understanding if we know what to look for.

In my personal prayers, I used to ask Father to help me get over a trial. I used to think of difficult circumstances as something to get past. I really haven’t changed much – I still like to get past them. But now I am a little more inclined to pass through the trial, looking for opportunities in the midst of adversity. Instead, I try to pray for needed strength. I pray for the insight to benefit from the hardship.

For me, this kind of attitude wouldn’t be possible without faith in Jesus Christ – faith that this life is worth the trip, and faith that he can see something that I can’t. It gives me hope that there is beauty all around. I just have to keep my eyes open. With a combination of faith and gratitude, I have found strength to have some amazing experiences. I have seen things that I otherwise would have missed. Not only that, I feel like I know him better because I have seen his hand in my life. Because of the road I have taken, I know God lives. I know he has a plan that will bring us joy forever and happiness while we are here on earth. It is so reassuring to know that he cares and will help us along the way.

On the way home, our kids commented to my wife and me that we had just had the best trip ever. I was glad they saw it that way. I agreed.

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