DAY NINE – Wednesday July 18

Finally, I'm back to continue recapping. I'm sitting in a Starbucks in Dallas as I write this […on August 7th! Time flies on the road!]. It's hot. Well, no, in the Starbucks it's air conditioned, duh. And I finally broke down and actually paid for an overpriced Starbucks drink: a Raspberry Mocha Frappuccino. Okay I didn't pay for it, someone else did. When I did a charity event (Jump Rope For Heart) at my nieces' school (this niece being the daughter of a friend) the teacher who organized it gave me a $25 gift certificate to Starbucks in appreciation. I told her not to ahead of time, but she did anyway. And the sneaky lady mailed it to me so I couldn't refuse it in person. Sweet sneaky teachers! So this is the first I've used it.

(I have to pause and say I am VERY glad that, despite there being Starbucks on every inch of the planet currently known to man, my Word spellchecker is not yet familiar with "frappuccino." I don't think I've ever been more glad to see that squiggly little red line under a word. There is surely some comfort in that at least.)

Back to the trip! When last we left our heroic traveler (emphasis on traveler, not so much on heroic) he was with lovely friends Kim & Bill in Montana. He woke...okay that's already old...I woke on Wednesday after Kim had gone to her part-time job, and Bill was at class. I got up and headed out to the deck to do my morning devotional reading, but heard creaking upstairs and saw Bill's Toyota still in the back driveway. I surmised either his class had been cancelled or the clutch 'trouble' he'd mentioned had become clutch 'failure.' Bill came downstairs and, yup, the clutch had basically died on him a few blocks away, so he never made it to class. We sat and chatted and then I followed him slowly to the Toyota dealer where he dropped off the car, got in mine, and we ran a few errands on the way home.

We had decided not to do much sightseeing and just have a day of hanging out. Kim came home around noon, and the afternoon was spent talking, writing, and reading. Bill's sister Anna returned in the early evening and Bill broke out the cornhole set. If you've never played Cornhole, it's a sort of cousin of horseshoes, and it is fun. Basically you throw a beanbag (filled with corn, not beans, 'natch) at a slanted board that has a hole in it. In the hole scores three points, on the board scores one...unless the other player/team cancels your toss by also scoring. At the end of each round (four bags each player/team) the player/team that scored more scores the difference. Thus:

That's two points for blue.

Bill put steaks on the grill, and we played boys versus girls. Bill did most of the work on our side, but the ladies whupped us. We played again later and redeemed ourselves, with me actually contributing this time around.

As we sat down to dine, Bill surprised me by asking me to pray over the meal. If you recall from my last trip recap, Bill is a spiritual guy who is searching for the truth, having been raised Catholic and soured in various ways from that faith structure. He accepts Jesus as divine, and has a lot of respect for Christ's teachings, but also considers that Buddha was divine, among others. Kim is a Christian who is trying to re-embrace fellowship with other brothers and sisters of our faith. We had a few neat discussions about that. Kim prays a short (sometimes silent) prayer over every meal, and sometimes when it's not silent, she'll hear Bill echo, "Thank you, Jesus." But it took her by surprise that he asked me to say 'grace' basically. Me too. But I was thankful for the opportunity, and thanked the Lord for being so awesome ('cause He is), for His provision of the food and for the wonderful company. I don't recall my specific words, and really it wasn't any special prayer...but it was in that it was a neat moment for Bill to ask, and for me to be asked.

The steaks were great and as we finished, the weather began to make itself known. There had been talk of rain again, and the lightning and thunder started to get closer. We went inside and hung out, and Bill played some Johnny Cash on CD, and we talked and watched the light show outside as the rain began to really pour. At one point, it began to hail. I'd seen hail before (living in LA, I'm not totally weather inexperienced) but it was neat that this was nice white ball-bearing sized pieces. I took a pic from the porch just for the fun of it. You can see the flash just barely reached the mailboxes at the end of the lawn.

Through rain and sleet and hail and snow, you can still see mailboxes! Okay just rain and hail, then.

Anna left and Kim went upstairs to bed. I was leaving in the morning and Bill and I talked as we listened to a bunch of old music (including a few versions of the Popcorn song, though I’m still not sure why we did that). Finally I went to bed, knowing that I would be up in the morning to hit the road.

DAY TEN – Thursday July 19

I woke in the morning as Kim was getting ready for work. I packed up my stuff and we had a very quick goodbye chat. Kim doesn't like long goodbyes, and we would be in touch anyway, so it was a fairly casual 'see ya.' I liked it.

Bill came down shortly after and we had a good hug as I got in my car. He is really a great guy. We may differ on our current theological views, but I'm still a fan of the man. The hospitality he and Kim showed me was heartwarming. They didn't want me to leave, and I didn't want to. But I had to head to Yellowstone to walk my feet off, courtesy of my cousin. Did I not mention that? Oh yeah...the other day, while hanging out in the yard with Kim & Bill, my cousin Jennifer called. She's working for the summer in Yellowstone and we were trying to coordinate me visiting. But her best friend's friend was coming into the park for the weekend and they had a big hike planned. So the only real way I could spend any time with her is...wait for it…if I went on the hike with them. She offered, told me it would be about 20 miles over a few days. I thought... "on my feet?" (A saying stolen from my friend Pat from ages ago.) I don't think I've walked 20 miles TOTAL in my life! (Okay, exaggeration.) But if it was the only way to spend time with her, I said, "Sure! It'll be brutal, but it'll be fun." So as I drove out of Kalispell headed south, that's what awaited me.

Now, allow me a digression/preamble as prologue to the next event. Before I left for this trip, I talked to one of my best friends, Pat (he of the "on my feet?" walking reference). Pat was Best Man at my wedding, and he and his wife Helen have been two of my closest friends in the history of my life. When I almost took my own life at 24, it was Pat & Helen that kept me from doing it. Not by anything they said or did...they were on vacation in Hawaii, and I decided I wanted to say goodbye to them first, so I waited until they returned. Each day that went by, the decision to end my life got a little farther away, and finally it wasn't a desire anymore. God was working in that, for sure, but Pat & Helen were who He used to keep me around.

Anyway, Pat has been in the trucking business for the last handful of years, so I took him to dinner two nights before I left to get some perspective. Years before, my car had suffered some damage from an accident, and that included a crack in the windshield that had, over the years, crept across from the passenger's side to the driver's. I never got it fixed. I told Pat that my concern was that "the right sized rock at the right speed at the right angle and the right heat of day kicked up by some random truck" could hit my windshield and explode it all over me. Which, ya know, would be bad. Pat suggested I get it fixed before I leave, not because that could happen, but primarily because I should expect to get "ticketed in every state" for it. So I checked online and the day before I left had a guy come out to my place and install it. The process was easy and reasonably priced. It was strange to Not see the crack in front of me, even though I'd grown so used to seeing it that I sorta looked past it. But now that it was gone, I had one of those my-car-feels-brand-new moments.

So here I am leaving Kalispell, Montana...yeah, you see this coming, huh? Of course, I didn't have the benefit of reading this blog ahead of time like you. BANG! I admit I flinched. I thought maybe my tire popped, or something invisible had hit my car, or perhaps even something inside the car had fallen over...though I couldn't imagine what that could be to make such a loud and sudden cracking/popping noise. I thought for a moment a rock had hit my windshield, but no, I couldn't see anything. I don't even recall if there was a car or truck in front of me. The sound had shaken me so suddenly that I didn't look ahead on the road to check the sound’s origin. I simply focused on my car.

To be safe, I pulled over to the shoulder on this empty road, and got out to check. I grabbed a water bottle of old water, figuring I'd wash my window of bugs while I was out there. I walked around the car and saw no major damage, all the tires were intact. I already knew it wasn't the windshield because from inside the car I saw no damage. But as I leaned in to dump the water from the bottle on the windshield, I saw it.

As you can see, the rock DID hit it and DID make its mark, a nice small spider web spot. I thought, "Awwwww, man!" But then actually thought to thank God. Had I not replaced the window, the damage could have been much worse. It probably wouldn't have shattered dramatically, imploding into the car or anything like that, but it could have caused the crack to spread itself out and I would have had to replace the windshield out here, costing me a major delay in getting to Yellowstone.

I ran my finger over it and a few tiny slivers came out of it. It looked like a BB gun shot had hit but not penetrated. And from inside the car, it was perfectly positioned behind the rear-view mirror, so I never saw it. In a way, that's a blessing, because while driving, I hardly know it's there.

I couldn't help but laugh. I love it when stuff like this happens, actually. It cracks me up, no pun intended. The old me would have been furious, seriously perturbed like a mother who has just mopped, only to have her son track muddy footprints across the floor. But I saw God in even this, just like the situation with my battery a few days before my trip.

I got back in the car and continued. It was a nice drive, and at one point I got behind a car that was pulling off into a sort of roadside General Store. As he pulled in and I sped back up, I saw a brunette woman in a purple full-length skirt standing there hitchhiking. The car had blocked my view of her, and I passed her thinking, "Oh well, I'm past her now." Then I thought, "That's stupid, you're 100 yards away, turn around." So I did and drove back. She noted this and raised her arms in triumph, and as I approached and pulled in I saw another woman jogging out of the store towards the road. So there were two of them. Okay. I wasn't sure how I was going to fit them both, but I stepped out and introduced myself. The brunette was Angel and the blonde was Katie. I rearranged a bunch of stuff and they got in. I asked them where they were headed and they said Big Fork. I told them I was headed to Yellowstone and Angel said, "Oh. That's the other way." Then I recalled that I had already passed the turnoff for Big Fork some ways back. I asked Angel how far it was and she guessed 20 miles. I thought for a moment about how that might delay me getting to Yellowstone, where my cousin and new boyfriend and her friend's friend were going to be waiting on me for dinner. And then I thought and said something to the effect of "Well, you're in the car already so why not?" and hit the gas, pulled out, and headed back over road I'd just traveled.

Angel and Katie started asking me questions, which, as many of you know, is always a bad idea. I told them about my trip and faithful search for purpose, and it intrigued them. They kept me talking (yes I talked a lot but they kept asking me more) for quite a while, and I asked them about their travels. Along the way, we passed a sign that said Big Fork Angel's 20-mile guestimate was way short. I didn't care, it was a great conversation and good company. Katie started asking me some 'Christian' oriented questions, and said, "Do you know the Ten Commandments?" I instantly felt stupid. Yes, I know them, but I was caught unable to recite them. What a great Christian representative I was, huh? I told her I honestly couldn't quote the Scripture but gave her the rundown: I am the Lord thy God, don't have any other Gods but me; keep the Sabbath, don't kill, don't lie, don't covet, don't commit adultery, honor your parents. I think I threw in a rather foolish sounding "etcetera."

But then I 'saved' it by explaining one thing I learned from the very first time I went to church with my ex-girlfriend Lauren...the pastor (Steve, who is on the right in my baptism pic on my MySpace profile) was teaching from Mark 12, so I recapped for Katie what Jesus taught: all ten commandments are basically summed up in two: Love God, Love each other. That's condensed, but it's the basics. Love God with everything you have (mind, heart, strength) and love others as yourself. If you break them down, that's what they mean. Think about it...if you loved God, you would worship only Him, you would keep his name and Sabbath holy. If you loved others, you would honor your parents, wouldn't kill or steal or lie or cheat against them, or covet what they have. Leave it to Jesus to simplify it for us. (Mark 12:28-33, in case you were wondering.)

This could lead to a major digression, so I'll stop there, because there's plenty more to tell. But I like to slip in the joke that the first commandment was really "Hear O Israel:" the first commandment was God saying to His People: "Listen up!"

Katie then opened a big can of worms when she said, "Okay, tell me about Moses. Because I've been feeling recently like I need to learn about Moses. He basically was the guy who parted the Red Sea..." and she ticked off a few of the bullet points of the achievements of Moses, ending with him not being allowed to enter The Promised Land. I said something stupid like, "Basically, yeah, but there was a lot more to it." I felt a teaching coming on, so I asked, "Do you know why Moses didn't get into the Promised Land?" They said, no, so I explained that Moses, while a great prophet of God and leader of His people, disobeyed God at the end. Just before they went into the Promised Land, the people clamored for water (they were a crabby lot, considering all God had done for them), and Moses went to God to ask how to provide it. God instructed Moses to speak in the Lord's name to a rock so would yield water. Moses didn't listen, and did as he had done once in the past, striking the rock with his staff (instead of speaking to it) and said to the people "shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?" (The 'we' was Moses and his brother, Aaron.) They did not honor God, nor give the Lord credit for supplying the water, so God told them for their disobedience they would not have the privilege of leading the people into the Promised Land. (Numbers 20)

Katie asked why it took them 40 years to get there, and I explained that when they arrived at the land of Canaan, Moses chose 12 men (one from each tribe) to scout out the land that God would give to them. They were gone for forty days spying and scouting. Ten came back with negative reports, completely unappreciative of the provision of the Lord. Two (Caleb and Joshua, son of Nun) brought back good reports. The people were so bent about the two who brought back good reports, they prepared to kill them. God basically said, "y’all are a bunch of ingrates" and told the men who grumbled against Him they would die. He decreed that their sons would become shepherds for forty years, one day for every year they had spent scouting, to pay for their shame. (Numbers 13-14...especially 14:33-34)

The rest of the drive to Big Fork turned into me totally witnessing to both of them. Katie said she had recently felt called to learn about Moses and go back to church, that she knew it was Jesus calling her in her heart, but she didn't trust church and wasn't sure how to go about doing it. We talked a bit about that. When we arrived in big Fork, I pulled over to drop them off and then we spent another 10 minutes (at least) in the car talking about Christ and church. While it seemed Angel wasn't particularly interested in the gospel, she was still very attentive and supportive of my sharing it. She liked that I was convicted and convinced, and said it was nice to hear someone talk about it with passion and not condemnation for others. That's always been a struggle for me and some days it still is.

I got their info to add them as MySpace friends, we hugged goodbye, and I began to drive away. I returned a moment later to snap a pic of them.

Turns out, Big Fork was over 50 miles it was at least a 100 mile round-trip diversion. I'd easily lost an hour of time backtracking. But it was totally worth it. I'd had an opportunity to discuss scriptural history and witness the gospel to people in a way I had never done. I was so thankful for that moment!

The rest of the trip down to Yellowstone was only memorable for the beauty of the land. This archway greets those at the north entrance:

Driving in I past this sign and felt like I was at the center of the universe:

I arrived in Mammoth Hot Springs, the little 'town' about 5 miles into northern Yellowstone (there's a hotel, gift shops, employee dorms, and a post office!) and was met at my car by my beloved cousin, Jennifer. She introduced her new boyfriend, Anthony, and her best friend Amanda's friend, Wes. We went back out of Yellowstone into the small town of Gardiner to eat at a pizza joint called Outlaws. We all got tasty calzones, and I snapped this shot of the lovebirds.

Jennifer and Anthony (with purposeful silly smile)

Back into Yellowstone, we went Jenn's dorm room to do some backpacking prep. She took us downstairs to a friend's room, named Matty (Grammar warning: dangling modifier alert! The friend is Matty, not the room.)... where Wes and I would stay. (Anthony was staying in another dorm building across the way.) There was an extra bed in Matty's room, Wes and I both offered it to each other, and I told Wes to take it. I made myself some floor space, we chatted with Matty, who was in mere minutes about to celebrate his birthday, and then went to sleep. It was going to be an early morning.