The winter that I drove down to Florida alone with my two-and four-year-old sons was the one of the coldest on record. The polar vortex was arcing down, freezing everything. The wind-chills were in the negative double-digits. And my kids were stir-crazy, zooming around the house on their riding toys, jumping from coffee table to couch and back, going out of their ever-loving minds.
But the real reason we left that February afternoon for that desperate, spontaneous road trip was not their cabin fever but mine.
I was in the messy middle of the sleep-deprived, graham-cracker fed young child years, and most of my emotional energy was funneled toward things like consistency in disciple and potty training and keeping the big one from killing the little one.
I didn’t have much time to pay attention to my own spiritual and emotional journey. But that didn’t mean it wasn’t still happening. My anxious thoughts, my faith questions, my struggles, my doubts – these were all still there, trapped in the closet I’d jammed them into. And they’d gotten stir crazy. They were bouncing off the walls of my heart too, desperate for a change of scenery.
I hadn’t expected any of this. Before I was a mother, I imagined that by the time I had kids, my spiritual life would have distilled into something clear, sure, and wise. I thought I’d be having long, kitchen-table quiet times every morning during which my heart and soul and spirit would recalibrate. After that, I thought I’d spend the rest of the day being patient and lovely and doing macaroni-based craft projects with my children.
This is not really how it shook out. I’m not sure that any amount of morning quiet-timing can prepare you for the middle-of-Target temper tantrum or a public poop explosion or the word Mommy! shouted at you 17,000 times a day.
My spoken reasons for taking this two-week road-trip were weak at best. (I’ll see some friends! It’ll be a great way to promote my book! It’ll be a special adventure for just me and the boys!)
My unspoken reasons for going were even more vague. They heralded back, I think, to those high school youth group mid-winter retreats, where we took a bus to Florida and came back feeling refreshed and sunburned and close to God. I had it in my head that if I could just get to the light, the warmth, the ocean, I’d be okay. My questions and doubts and struggles would get a little air, and everything would click back into its prescribed place.
I probably don’t have to tell you that this plan didn’t shake out quite like I imagined either.
I didn’t find God in the ways I expected; the beachy sunshine didn’t heal me whole. The hours of our trip were marked more by chain McDonalds restaurants than by memorable road-side attractions…and there was lots of crying. From all three of us.
And yet, at the same time, the trip was essential in ways I had not imagined. I got in the front seat of my minivan, and I put my foot on the gas pedal, and I allowed myself to actually be on my spiritual journey.
How often do we do this as mothers? How often do we give ourselves permission to search and ask? For so long, I’d been tamping my struggles down to make room for the all-consuming work of parenting. And when one escaped the box I’d shoved it into, I’d simply douse it with a glass of wine or with a Netflix-binge or with Pinterest.
But here, on the road, none of those numbing agents were available to me. There was only the asphalt beneath my tires, the rain pounding against the windshield, the melancholy music on my iPod that forced me to engage with my own heart.
I didn’t solve all of my problems on my desperate Florida road trip. But I faced down my own tendency to flip on artificial lights, just to make things feel a little brighter. I stayed up late talking to others on the same journey.
I stared over my dashboard at the night sky and discovered that God is present in the darkness too. And that it is beautiful.
My kids did have an adventure. They collected shells on the beach and swam in the waves and watched an employee of The Crab Shack on Tybee Island rescue one of their toys from the alligator lagoon. We came home with bags of moss and acorns and sticks collected from the far reaches of the USA.
But more importantly than this, my kids were present in my spiritual journey in a very real and tangible way. And though they were too young to truly understand what was going on, I think that down the road, my sons will benefit more from a mother who honesty engages with her life than one who compartmentalizes it.
When my boys look at the pictures of this trip years later, I hope that they will feel in their bones an invitation into their own journey – however crazy and desperate it may seem at the time – and that they will find God there in ways they never imagined.
You can read more of Addie’s story of running away (because, I mean, what mom can’t relate) over here in her newly released book: Night Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark. She lives in Minnesota with her husband and two sons and blogs regularly at addiezierman.com.