Road-tripping with little ones is not for the faint of heart. And normally it’s only done by people who actually have children. Normally. But this trip was an exception. I’d volunteered to accompany my sister and her three kids to Spokane, Washington to visit our parents. Driving. In a van. For two days each way. I knew it was going to be an adventure, to say the least. I was excited. I was apprehensive. And I was nervous about being able to maintain my relationship with the Lord through the chaos. You see I’ve been working on my relationship with God fairly intensively for the past two years. It hasn’t been easy and the changes in my life because of these efforts have been incredible. I didn’t want to set back my progress during the road trip. I knew that “me time” –something I have in abundance in my normal daily life as a Single Adult – would be scarce with three little ones, so I worried about being able to keep up my self-assigned basics: daily prayer, scripture study, listening to conference talks and not listening to music that didn’t invite the Spirit. On the one hand I knew that it must be possible to maintain spirituality in the setting I was going to be in. Family is *kind of* a big deal in our faith so the two must be compatible somehow… On the other hand I’d never experienced anything like it so I had no idea how to bring principle into action in this setting.
Around six hours into day one Avery, my three-year old niece managed to get gum stuck in her hair despite promising to keep said gum in her mouth. The discovery understandably created some tension in the vehicle.
“Do you want me to pull over?” I asked from the driver’s seat as my frustrated sister *may or may* have been climbing over the center console toward the back of the van to help her daughter with the sticky problem.
“No!” She exclaimed, stern annoyance edging her voice.
“How did you do this? Gum stays IN your mouth, Avery Paige.” My sister bounced back and forth between conversations expertly. “If we keep stopping we will NEVER get there!”
Only five minutes before we’d stopped for gas in the middle of nowhere, Oregon.
Nodding, I continued driving until it became clear that the gum was not going to come out without assistance that could not be provided in a moving car and pulled into another gas station. On the way in I drove past a ragged woman holding a sign asking for, I assumed, money. I thought fleetingly about the zero-cash situation in my wallet before dismissing the woman’s plight from my mind and instead focused on helping unload Avery’s twin brother from the back seat so he could follow his mom and sister to the bathroom, suddenly needing to go potty for the second time in five minutes.
“Well, Quinn, it’s you and me,” I said to the twins’ five-year old brother. There hadn’t been a convenience store at the previous gas station and I suddenly felt like a snack. I wasn’t actually hungry so the need took me by surprise. All the same a snack felt really, really important, so Quinn and I walked inside. He picked out some gummy bears while I grabbed a big bottle of water and some cheese crackers. It was more than I wanted, or needed, really. I still had a little bit of water in the car and we would be stopping in a couple of hours or so for dinner. But cheese crackers! Yes! After wondering briefly if the salty snack would sate my palate I discovered I also needed something sweet, apparently. I looked up and down the sweet aisle with disdain – I’m a total chocolate snob – and was surprised when junior mints really didn’t sound half bad. I paid for the purchase using a card and escorted my nephew back to the van when the woman with the sign came into clear view, as did the writing on her sign.
Need water, food.
I didn’t have cash in my wallet but I did just happen to have water and food in my hands.
I hesitated momentarily, alarm bells ringing in my head, wondering how my sister would feel about me taking her son to talk to a homeless person. What if the woman was rude to Quinn and scared him? It would scar him forever. Or she could be dangerous. Did I want to take the risk?
But when I looked at the totally unnecessary-for-me snacks in my hands I just knew. They weren’t really ever for me. I hadn’t needed them. Hadn’t wanted them.
“Come on, buddy,” I said to Quinn, “I need your help with something.”
We gave the woman the water and when I offered her the crackers and junior mints her weary eyes seemed to burst wide open with longing. “Thank you,” she said and smiled kindly at my nephew.
Of course Nephew Quinn and I had a conversation afterward about being kind and having charity and about homelessness – it was a great teaching moment for him. But it was also a teaching moment for me- a single, never married 35-year old auntie with no children of her own – that amidst the foreign chaos of a road trip, gum in hair, potty breaks, tears and frustration – the Spirit can still be present, and the Lord is always trying to use us to do His work. I knew when I looked in the woman’s eyes as she laid her hands on a box of junior mints that the Lord loves her dearly and deeply, and knew her well enough to prompt me to buy her a box of candies she enjoyed – though I didn’t know it until we gave them to her.
As the days of the trip progressed, as I suspected I didn’t wind up with much dedicated “me” time. There were no quiet mornings alone to read and listen to scripture. Instead I was woken each morning by a niece or nephew who wanted to snuggle. Scripture reading time was done with a child on my lap–slowly, aloud while painstakingly explaining the meaning of many words or scriptural actions to an audience that was less than enraptured and more interested in getting through the verses and on with playtime. But I could feel that it was quality time and that the Lord approved of my efforts.
Although I wasn’t able to sit and bask in the words of the Prophet and apostles in solitude as I prepared for the day I found that my sister had also begun listening to conference talks daily and we enjoyed the ritual together during the hours of the drive the children napped – daily some of the most peaceful hours of the trip. I found that the way I was used to doing things, listening, feeling, serving and tuning in, as a single adult were all adaptable and all able to be restructured in a sweeter, more perfect, more godly way that I could never have anticipated on my own.
He is always mindful of us. Each of us. Always.
“And I do this for a wise purpose; for thus it whispereth me, according to the workings of the Spirit of the Lord which is in me. And now, I do not know all things; but the Lord knoweth all things which are to come; wherefore, he worketh in me to do according to his will.”
-Words of Mormon 1:7
“Now my brethren, we see that God is mindful of every people, whatsoever land they may be in; yea, he numbereth his people, and his bowels of mercy are over all the earth. Now this is my joy, and my great thanksgiving; yea, and I will give thanks unto my God forever. Amen.”