I chuckled to myself. As I stood outside the laundromat wringing out loads of soaked clothes, moving them from the beyond sopping wet dripping cart to the almost-not-dripping cart, laughter seemed the most natural response. Response to what? A lot led up to that point but let me tell you about our family Thanksgiving trip that almost never happened.
Before we even left on this trip, through their cautions, doctors and nurses had influenced enough concern in my 35-week pregnant wife that our plan to drive to Tennessee was almost canceled. Was God using them to warn us so baby boy number three wouldn’t be a roadside birth? It got to the point that I gathered up the courage to disappoint my mom, called her two days before we were supposed to leave, and told her we weren’t coming.
Then I called Dr. Gibson. He had some good wisdom about why it would probably be safe to go. I shared his points with Deanne. She listened. Then the conversation became the main talking point at our baby shower. A big thank you to everyone who came and supported us! Some said they wouldn’t go. Patricia said she wouldn’t in Kenya but here you can call 911 from anywhere in the U.S. Even roadside! Through a multitude of counselors, we finally felt it was going to be safe as long as we were careful to take lots of breaks to walk around and get the pregnant lady’s blood flowing. Thanks again, shower friends. You saved Thanksgiving and the bump didn’t keep us from heading down the road. I’m grateful because it was super memorable...but not for the reasons you might hope.
The car ride was long, peaceful, and uneventful. We arrived at our hotel Tuesday night. We were so happy to be off the road and with family as my grandma and parents dropped by. We got everything unloaded and had a great time catching up and eating veggie burgers and fries from Burger King, grandma’s treat.
The next day was pretty laid back. The family eventually convened at grandma’s house, some members were visiting from London, Michigan, and California with all kinds of different sleep schedules. We ate, watched some world cup, and played in the yard before we eventually ventured out to the Corvette museum for Ezra, our 8-year-old car enthusiast. We zoomed through and by the time we got back to the hotel it seemed that Salem had picked up a bug somewhere along the way. In the morning it was worse, sniffles were sounding and snot was running to the point that though we drove all those miles we expected we might spend Thanksgiving separately. And speaking of bugs, my bother’s family discovered some unwelcome guests in their hotel room. Bed bugs! They switched rooms and had their laundry done in the middle of the night. At least we didn’t have those! But we got to talk them through it since they had never experienced them before. Our travels earlier this year provided a first-hand experience that taught us a thing or two about them. Especially what not to do. Whatever you do, don’t let the unwelcome guests become hitchhikers as well.
Thursday morning after lots of conversation about how to approach Thanksgiving, Ezra and I pulled into grandma’s driveway again some hours before the anticipated feast. Deanne and Salem stayed at the hotel so as to not infect everyone. However, everybody, including the bug-bitten and sleep-deprived parents of my young nephew agreed that they would risk Salem’s bug. They wanted Deanne and Salem there. So I picked them up and we delighted in a fantastic feast and enjoyed connecting with family and learning about my middle name’s sake, Great Grandpa Lloyd. It was definitely a high point.
The next part is where it gets kinda crazy. The night of our exquisite meal and exhausted from Salem’s difficult and sometimes disheartening antics as a sick child with autism, Deanne woke me up in the middle of the night. We too…had bed bugs! She had bites as evidence and then we found two engorged bugs on our mattress. They enjoyed a feast as well! Only to be flushed down the toilet. We didn’t want to disrupt all our kids in the middle of the night so we decided we’d figure it out in the morning and it sure did take some figuring out. Our hotel manager was not as accommodating as my brother’s. My brother’s hotel helped them do all their laundry and move all of their stuff. Our hotel manager wanted to give us 50% off for sharing the room with their other guests that weren’t paying. He also wanted to get us out ASAP. I asked where we were supposed to go. The manager didn’t seem to care. Then my businessman uncle from London came and played hardball. He got everything refunded and we moved into a better hotel. What a relief. But we still had much we had to handle.
We made sure our kids had bug-free clothes and dropped them at grandma’s while Deanne and I examined our stuff, put it in plastic bags that our hotel did provide, and got it out of the room. Then we hit the laundromat…where the spin cycle on the huge washing machine I put all our clothes in didn’t work. That’s why I wrung out all of our clothes by hand. I’m still sporting a scab on my left hand from where it was rubbed raw. That’s when I started laughing. All this craziness was going on and I was still supposed to preach the next day at Grandma’s church and this was not part of my ideal preparation process.
Honestly, I wish I had started laughing a bit sooner. I wish I had thought of the unexpected words of Jesus’ brother James. He starts the post-introduction remarks of his epistle with these words:
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
When things go so wrong it can feel like life is unfair. We can get down and miserable. We didn’t go on this trip for all that! We can wonder where our loving God is. But if we learn to keep the score differently, to count the trials all as joy, and to let go of control when our plans go awry, to focus instead on how we can respond in faith, to trust that God is working out a brighter future for us through that very trial that makes us want to scream, then we can somehow instead laugh a delight-filled laugh because we know God is perfecting our faith and completing us so we will know that we have all we need in Him right now.
In the end, everything worked out just fine. Great food was eaten, fun games were played, comfortable beds were slept on, and a meaningful sermon was preached but the highlight of the trip was probably when we were laughing at the laundromat. My sister-in-law even came and helped Deanne and me do the job without our asking. We were so grateful and got to have her all to ourselves. She laughed along with us.
We don’t need our circumstances to be perfect, bump-less, bug-less, and bite-less to be perfectly happy. We just need to be assured of our perfect God’s presence with us. He is all we need to laugh when our circumstances incline us to get angry or despondent. We can’t change the past but with God we can enjoy the present even as we look forward with delicious expectancy to our perfect eternity with Him. - Pastor Nick