These last few days, I began to retrace my steps. It has been two weeks since I had reached my destination. On the Sunday after I had reached New Hampshire, “The Car that Ran on Prayers”, stopped. It stopped starting. I had a bad feeling about what seemed to be a “minor” fuel-flow issue. The Bishop in the area who I called when it initially stopped on Saturday (I was able to keep it running after the sun went down, by “double peddling it” and got it to church the next day). After finding out that the spark plug wires were ORIGINAL from 1983, I had a feeling that the fuel filter might also be original. He had agreed and purchased a filter for me, but didn’t find himself with the time to replace it once it’s location was discovered. It was soon towed to a shop, where it has remained for over a week while they have been doing anything and everything they can to figure out what is the problem, while the problems seem to multiply.
Today is my third Sunday in this New Hampshire, Testimony Sunday. Boy, do I have a testimony. But can I put it into words? That small, still voice telling me to just go the shortest way to New Hampshire. Don’t take the freeway, keep it under 60 mph. That small still voice that guided me and comforted me when the job I thought I had didn’t pay and I was left to shoulder the expenses of the trip on my own. The God that I, and so many friends prayed to on my and the car’s behalf. It was not only the car that ran on prayers, but my mind and body as well. Jesus was, indeed, my co-pilot. He guided me wherever I traveled. He told me, through the Spirit, which way to turn. On those occasions when I took the wrong turn, He would force my steering wheel. One of those times was in Kernersville, North Carolina, when the car would not go past a certain milepost, no matter how many times I tried.
It was in Kernersville where a tune-up and a few other minor repairs were performed, and I met a Bishop who called himself “Charlie.” Bishop Charlie is a man who is young enough to be my son, but as I poured out my tales of woe to him, he listened with the ears of a father. He used the Priesthood in a caring manner to comfort me with a blessing. Bishop Charlie also gave me the gift of meeting a woman who was serving our Heavenly Father in the midst of her own struggles. The wonderful Relief Society President of their ward had been stricken with that awful “c word.” An orange bracelet on my arm still reminds me to keep that Sister in my prayers.
It was in Kernersville where I followed many impressions, including one to go into the chapel early. I routinely like to be at the church that I am attending, early, but I tend to “hang out” in the foyer for a time. This time I was in the chapel when a wonderful Sister who had baked the Sacrament bread offered me one of the 3 extras that she baked for friends in the Ward. Later that day, I broke my fast with the same bread that I took at Sacrament, and I can only echo the little boy who sat with his parents on the bench in front of me in church, “YUMMY bread!!!!”
When I left Kernersville, I took a different route out of town. The car continued, purring like a kitten through the rest of North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, New York, Vermont and then New Hampshire before it began acting up again.
Before Kernersville, I spent a lot of time in South Carolina hunting up a bit of genealogical history. During a middle of the night perusal of my family tree on FamilySearch.org, I discovered that one of my “brick walls” was born in South Carolina. Married in Rowan County, North Carolina, Rebecca Wassin reported that she had been born in South Carolina. I searched the history rooms at libraries and I scoured microfiche in the state archives, but it was to no avail. I could not find any record of her family. What I did find was a personal awakening about our nation’s history in the early 1800s before the Civil War.
While in South Carolina, I was invited to stay with a wonderful Sister named Leanna after the Women’s Session of General Conference. She had two dogs also and our dogs became friendly as we also developed a friendship. I stayed a few days before a personal situation caused me to need to be in an environment I could control due to my mental illness. But I remain incredibly thankful for her generosity.
Before leaving Florida, after Jacob left heading back to Washington, I was having issues with the publisher of the magazine I started this trip writing for, when Sunday came along. Being left without the funds promised, I felt quite discouraged. I was in a city called Palm Bay. That was where I met a Sister named Nikki and her family. I had been more open about the fact that I was living in my car, than I had been in most of my church visits. I don’t know why, I just felt compelled to be a bit more open on that particular Sunday.
Nikki invited me to dinner, then her daughter gave up her bedroom for the night and the dogs and I were invited to stay over. It was a blessing that was so appreciated. The night before the dogs and I were attacked by mosquitoes that were quite gigantic in the Volvo where it was too warm to put the windows up. I was covered in bites and so were the dogs. The next day, Nikki and her children took me to Walmart and purchased a cart full of fresh fruits and other necessities that were quite needed. I was completely humbled. Not as humbled, however, as the fact that weeks later during text conversations with Nikki, she shared with me that her children still keep me in their prayers. Specifically praying that someone will pay me for my writing. These are the things that hit me right in the “feels” as the kids say nowadays.
After we left Palm Bay, a bit more set for our travels, we continued north in Florida. I was in DeLand when I was contacted by a Sister from “across the pond” who had read my story about being “Transient in Trump’s America.” She had a bit of “extra cash” as she put it and really wanted to help me out. I was torn. As much as I have received from others, I HATE asking for help. I REALLY long to be on the OTHER side of providing for others, I dislike the situation I am in currently not being able to completely provide for myself or have anything extra to give to others. She persuaded me over a couple of days and I finally accepted her help. Jean had made a point of explaining that she had been in my situation and she wanted to pay forward the help that she had received.
After that explanation, I finally consented to accepting her help. It was a major blessing. With Jean’s help, I was able to finance a week at a campground, taking a much needed time-out from traveling that coincided with a week break from my classes. It also ended up giving me an opportunity for some major self-care as I fought off some of the worst allergies and chest cold that I had experienced in my travels that far.
There have been friends that I have met on Facebook and on other trips that I have been able to visit along the way. Those visits have been, for the most part, limited to a few hours. That isn’t what this trip has been about. This trip was about making it to New Hampshire to watch the first person in my family graduate from a University.
I will be walking the day before my daughter, but won’t finish my classes until August. My daughter, my youngest child, remains the first person in our family to graduate from college. It will be the best Mother’s Day present in history to watch her walk across that stage and be presented with her Bachelor’s Degree in Mathematics. All of the blessings that I have received on the way here have all lead to that. The goal when I left Arizona where my second divorce was finalized and I was left with nothing to my name except the Volvo and my dogs was to get to New Hampshire before Mother’s Day. I have made it to New Hampshire. I was only able to do so with an incredible amount of help from God and all his angels on this earth. I am more than blessed and I appreciate each and every one of them.
I remember the nervousness that overcame me not long after I felt the impression to seek out and listen to the Missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. They talk a lot about “being in the world, but not of the world,” but all of my friends were “of the world,” NONE of my family were members of The Church (except my granddaughters) and most of my friends had “alternative lifestyles.” When I decided I wanted and needed to be Baptized, I prayed almost constantly about the situation with my friends. How could I tell my friends I was now a member of the “Mormon” church, would they want to be my friend anymore? Did that matter?
During my repentance process in the weeks before my Baptism I was relatively quiet on Facebook, a social media outlet where I had spent an inordinate amount of time during the previous 5 years accumulating an audience for my writing. At times I had been known to make a spectacle out of myself, becoming rather dramatic about loves and losses and pain and pleasures. I had been known for “letting it all hang out.” How could I reconcile my previous behavior with the life I wanted, no, NEEDED to create and begin to live? I prayed even more.
The answers came gradually, but they came. I was impressed to read “The Articles of Faith.” They all rang so true in my heart that not only did my “bosom begin to burn” but I also wept with joy several times. Then I came to the 11th:
“We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.”
The second part of that statement, “and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may [emphasis added]” caused me to completely lose my cool. I broke down and cried loudly; I bawled. Why? Because it was an answer to my prayers. There was NOTHING in the Mormon Doctrine that said I had to exclude those who
worshiped differently from myself from my life, ABSOLUTELY the opposite!!!
Relief filled my soul. But what about all of the people who followed my social media? Now that I no longer practiced alternative beliefs, should I even be “out there” in the public? What about all my photos and what I had said? As I began to hint about my baptism on social media some people I thought were my friends were quick to delete me from their connections, I cried but continued to pray about it. I didn’t want to lose friends, but those people who had “unfriended” me weren’t acting like friends. My prayers to Heavenly Father continued, so did my tears.
I deleted hundreds of photos of myself that embarrassed me from my social media accounts, I also prayed to know if I should even continue with an online presence. After all, it would have been easier just to delete the accounts. But the impression from the Holy Ghost was persistent: “I needed to be LOUDER about my conversion than I was my sins.” I was at a loss as how to accomplish that. The year before my Baptism was quite humiliating as I looked back upon my own inequity to others in addition to myself. I continued to pray and study my scriptures.
In a few weeks, it will have been 4 years since I sought out Missionaries to receive the lessons leading to my Baptism. In the subsequent years I have “cleaned up my act” on Facebook and other social media outlets, but I am louder than ever! I want the world (including my friends) to know HOW being a Mormon has changed my life! In the last four years I have worked hard trying not to alienate my friends and family. It’s difficult to convey to them how much I love ALL of them and I respect what they chose to believe in, all of that is part of them and I love them.
I had an opportunity to travel with a very dear friend of mine recently. Cub, as he likes to be called, is a professional photographer and acted as my assistant on a recent trip. In our travels across the country, we incurred our number of odd looks at us, but he helped me to see my world through different eyes. I saw judgement from my fellow church members when they watched him light a cigarette, I felt their stares and disapproval in both of our directions. That made me incredibly sad.
We visited the Ft. Lauderdale Temple towards the end of our time together. I asked Cub to take some photos of me when I was done with my session; he enthusiastically complied. When we were finished with our pictures another temple patron asked him to take her photo. Cub graciously agreed to do so.
While he was doing that act of service, I took a few snapshots myself for social media. I shared it first on Instagram as “Cubby doing service at the Temple,” then, after talking it over with Cub, I shared it again on my Facebook page and to a group called “1 Million Mormons on Facebook” with an additional introduction:
For a while I almost felt like I was exploiting my friend and his service. Although he had given his consent for both photos to be shared on the internet inclusive of my comment about his lifestyle, he had not asked for the photo to be taken. While probably wished I had allowed him to continue his nap in the car, I felt it important. There was a lesson here for not only me. I am not ashamed of my friends. I love each and every one of them. Not in spite of their beliefs or actions, but as WHOLE people with different ideas about life and different understandings of the universe.
We read in John 13:34 that Jesus Christ himself told us:
I believe that His love is unconditional. That is something I try to work towards each and
every day. I am so grateful to ALL of my diverse friends, like Cub, who help me to remember what my Heavenly Father commanded me to do.
(This story is published as it was submitted for a grade in an advanced writing class…I also wanted to share it with all of you)
I had planned to leave a week in advance; I had planned to rent a car. I had also planned to come back home after the twins were baptized. I didn’t plan leaving my husband at his behest. I didn’t plan to divorce him. But nothing went as planned.
The First 24 Hours
My identical twin granddaughters were finally turning eight. I had waited for this moment since I was baptized 3 years earlier. The prayer I said, the impressions received, all the events leading up to my joining The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints had included feelings that I was somehow important to their spiritual progression. This was the year, in keeping with our Church’s beliefs that the age of 8 is the age when a person is able to understand right from wrong, they would have the opportunity to be Baptized if they desired. I had promised them in the baptismal font after my own that I would be on the other side when they entered the waters of Baptism.
The girls, Alice and Rayden, were to turn 8 on the 18th of July. But on the 22nd of June, my husband and I had quite the argument. Like many before, it ended with him walking away. This time he didn’t come back until I was packing my things for the trip to see my granddaughters. He had been given a fixer-upper 1983 Volvo, and wanted to give it to me for my journey. The intent was that I would not be returning home right away, but would take a couple of months to visit friends and family in Western Washington, while he and I worked out our differences through distance. Although I kept getting feelings of car failures (a very big anxiety trigger for me), I accepted the opportunity to be away from Arizona for the monsoon season and I really missed my friends and family in Washington. I was definitely D.O.N.E. being anywhere near my husband, even to accept the generous offer of a vehicle.
The fight had been like none other. Having a disorder that many know as Multiple Personality Disorder, but is listed in diagnostic manuals as Dissociative Identity Disorder, I have lost many memories through the years into separate places of my brain. Some I have “co-consciousness” with, others I do not. The personality holding this memory is not one I have access to. I believe my husband, when he contends I said some awful things. However, I do understand what set me off: It took four “NO”s for him to understand it didn’t mean “yes” and finally got off of me. He knew I am a multiple rape survivor, it is part of the cause of my diagnosis, I can only imagine WHAT my “alter” (personality) said to him about it. Some of them (“alters” or “alternative personalities) can be very protective.
I cancelled my rental car and awaited the days until we could pick up the car from the mechanic who was replacing the distributor and timing belt. Originally scheduled to pick up the rental car and leave for Washington on Tuesday, I was packed and ready to leave. On Wednesday and Thursday I lived out of my packed suitcases and the few cans of food that I could open and eat without making too much mess. I didn’t want to be in Arizona, I wanted to be on my way to the granddaughters. When I looked at the photo of our wedding on the wall, I just cried. I put the framed photo into the cupboard, he could take it back out when he came back. If he wanted to.
Each day that passed while we awaited the distributer being shipped from the east coast to our remote area in northern Arizona, him in the little RV that we had fallen in love in, me five miles away at the newer 5th wheel where he abandoned me and our dogs and cat. The few messages between us were curt and short, but he agreed to help me pick up the Volvo: I would drive my friend’s truck to the mechanic, then he would drive the Volvo to her house to drop off the truck. Now, if we could only be in the same place without arguing, it would be a miracle.
Today was Friday, the twins would be eight on Monday, I had to get to Washington, but would it happen?
On the way to the shop early in the morning, the absence of a radio in the truck was painfully noticeable. It was a sunny day in the White Mountains of Arizona, but the mood between my husband and me was as dreary as Seattle in November. Conversation was forced and difficult. My pulse raced with anger and words I dare not say, after all, he was giving me a car.
Back at the little RV which was closer to main roads for staging purposes, Keith helped me pack not only the things I would need on my visit north, but also those important things I couldn’t leave behind in uncertainty. Contained in three sealed boxes were six years of journals, my most prized possessions: books to be written. The boxes were heavy in the back center of the large Volvo trunk. The suspension needed to be replaced, but there wasn’t the money for that. The rest of my belongings, as well as 40 pounds of dog food for my 5 year old service dog, Athena, stuffed the trunk. Provisions for the road purchased on sale to avoid the temptations of truck stops filled a small cooler on the floorboard of the passenger seat, as well as the seat itself. Vitamin and “Smart” Waters, “natural” and healthy varieties of vegi chips, jerky, dried fruits to replace my craving for Gummy Bears and a few treats would be my sole diet during the trip. Bedding and two suitcases competed with Athena and her necessities in the back seat. The Volvo was stuffed to the point of dragging on the non maintained road I had to navigate to drop my husband off before leaving Arizona. By this time it was dark
“Keith, there’s a weird vibration somewhere near the tire in front of you, can you check it out?” My husband hated getting under cars, after having one collapse on him while working in the heat in Phoenix; I hated to ask him to do it, but I didn’t know what I was looking at. At least he was trained as a mechanic.
He agreed to look, but said he could find nothing that would explain the issue. I was frustrated, but he and I were not communicating so I let it be and left him with a hug and many tears.
The ride in the rural area of Eastern Arizona up to Interstate 40 was a peaceful one as it approached midnight. Cranking the music on the FM radio, I easily found a country song that I could sing and cry to. The country music singers that had romanced one another and married while Keith and I were doing the same, were now getting divorced. The tears fueled the accelerator. But the weird vibration continued in the area of the left front tire.
I filled up my gas tank in Holbrook before getting on Interstate 40, a quick call back to my husband brought back anger, frustration and tears making me wish I hadn’t called. Athena did her business and wasn’t interested in drinking water. She and I had made several trips between Washington and Arizona these last couple of years; If the car was this packed, and Papa wasn’t with, it was likely to be a very long night of driving. No matter how many times I would prompt her when we travelled, she hated eating. It was a sore spot between us as a service partnership. But tonight I let it be. We had spent enough time in the past 5 years together for me to understand that I wasn’t going to change her mind, and I was only going to frustrate myself trying. I got back into the car and proceeded to the interstate.
As I drove on interstate 40, it was apparent to me that my vehicle had been manufactured in the 1980s, the highlighted speed on the speedometer was 55, but the analog clock on the dash still worked! As I attempted to get the car up to the speed limit of 80mph, I decided that might be a bit optimistic, and settled for a easy 70ish. It felt better.
The roads were dark, and the absence of passenger vehicles giving way to the night traffic of semis made the drive seem easy. I passed Winslow and approached Joseph City, the lights of the power plant lit up the night but were all too quickly gone leaving not a street light or peripheral glow to be had from the dark reservation lands.
“BANG!!!!” I felt the car lurch to the right. A blow out? But these tires were new!!!! I got the Volvo to the right side of the road, but was completely unfamiliar with where the hazard lights were. In the darkness, I reached for the glow of my cellphone plugged into the cigarette lighter, no longer charging with the ignition switch off. It was just after 1 a.m.. What could I do? How could I get to the jack with the trunk packed so full? Athena felt my anxiety rise and tried to get through the blankets packed around her to do her job, comforting me. The low glow of the cell phone didn’t do much to sooth a childhood full of fears of the dark, I curled up, hand on Athena, to nap until there was at least a glow of the sunrise to come. I knew the light would wake me. The car shook with every passing semi and I stifled my anxiety hugging Athena closer and closed my eyes.
On the Road
As I expected, I awoke when a glow of predawn light was just beginning to approach the horizon. I took my cellphone as a flashlight and went outside to assess the damage. Sure enough, the right side front tire was as flat as a pancake. And it still had the little rubber nibs on it from it’s newness!!! Flabbergasted, I went about unpacking the corner of the trunk where the tire and jack was located. I uneasily rolled the sun worn and cracked spare to the side of the car. There was not enough clearance under the car for the bottle jack that I had. I went back to the trunk, there was another jack, a simple one that hooked onto the underside of the car… only it couldn’t hook either: There just wasn’t enough room.
Crying in frustration, not even 60 miles from a place I didn’t know whether to call “home” anymore and 1,600 miles from my destination, I returned to the driver’s seat, the only free spot in the car to sit, folded my arms and prayed.
Within a few moments, I was surprised and pleased when I saw a Arizona Highway Patrol Woman’s lights on as she pulled in behind me. She got out of her car, then I got out of the Volvo, went over to the side where the tire was flat and started explaining the situation.
Without missing a beat, she pulled out a large floor jack from the back of her vehicle and together we changed out the bad tire for the spare. I was horrified when I saw the inside of the tire: It was completely shredded. I had picked up something jagged and it tore up the tire once we hit freeway speeds.
The Patrol Woman offered to give me an escort back to the Winslow Walmart which was the closest tire shop, since we both agreed the spare was not in shape to tolerate highway speeds. I was happy to have her lights behind me, doing about 50 mph, as I limped the Volvo back to Winslow.
Athena and I walked in the morning sunshine as a tech at Walmart replaced the tire, but the July Arizona sun quickly warmed up to the point of being uncomfortable and we sought cooler temperatures in the tire shop waiting room inside the store. The television caught my attention: having lived off-grid for the past nine months, the bright colors and shapes and loud noises from an animated children’s show were almost shocking. I, or at least some of my younger alters, were enjoying it though and were quite in shock when I glanced down to Athena and saw a spot of blood on the floor.
Really? You go into heat the DAY we try to leave Arizona?! My failure to have my service dog fixed tended to be a topic of discussion far too often for my preferences when it was all based in my own PTSD about the medical profession. She was also a second-generation service animal and I toyed with the idea of breeding her once before that surgery. I just hadn’t had the opportunity or the stability to follow through with that yet. Blood, yuck. I wiped it off with my shoe, hoping the few people coming in and out of the waiting room didn’t see.
Once the tire was on, we headed out again. Passing our night’s pitstop, I almost felt okay, but there was an odd apprehension still present in my stomach.
Busy traffic has bothered me more and more the farther away from it I have lived. I LOVE backroads. I detest busy freeways. The intersection of Interstate 10 and Interstate 40 in Flagstaff has to be one of my least favorite places to drive. A complete and sudden stop of the car as it lost electricity and power at exactly that location was the last thing I thought I could handle. As my hands shook and tears ran down my face, I called 911. “My car stopped. It just lost power and stopped! I’m at the intersection of Interstate 40 and Interstate 10.” My voice broke as I relayed the information to the operator. They would have an officer to my location asap.
The officer came, then Athena and I waited over an hour in the hot sun by the side of the busy freeway with the officer in his air-conditioned vehicle, we stood as far from the cars speeding by, for a tow truck.
When we arrived at the repair shop where the tow truck was based from, Athena growled. Not sure what she was attempting to communicate with me (she tends to growl when I need to put myself into a chair before my legs become unusable), and under an enormous amount of anxiety, I first responded to the person behind the unkempt counter who was explaining they didn’t work on foreign vehicles, only american-made. He was not impressed at my “service dog” growling and told me in a very gruff manner that the two of us could wait outside.
I cried and got caught up in my struggles with my own brain. Round and round. But I KNEW I had to be in Washington!! Suddenly, after saying yet another prayer, I heard the Holy Spirit, “don’t you think He knows you made that promise?” “Don’t you trust Him to get you where He wants you to be?”
Humbled, I called my Bishop again, seeking reassurance. He offered to speak to the men who operated the shop. They finally agreed to look at the car, being very emphatic that it was “$65 just to look at it and [they weren’t] promising anything.”
A half hour later, the men that had yelled and cussed at Athena and me all day long, informed me that my problem had been a fuse. They had also found a gas leak that was fixed with just a tightened part. I felt absolutely relieved. That awful feeling was finally gone.
As we headed out from the shop, I had the impression not to get back on interstate 40 but to take another route through Utah and Idaho: That route proved to be a little faster.
On Monday afternoon right about 3 pm I drove the Volvo into my granddaughter’s driveway. My mother was just pulling out, having come to celebrate her great-granddaughter’s birthday. She was shocked to see me. My mother and I haven’t had the easiest relationship for my first 50 years of life. The last time I had messaged her was in frustration from the Flagstaff mechanics. I hadn’t thought to let her know the situation had been resolved.
The girls came running, not recognizing the vehicle, they had to see who it was that came to visit them on their birthday. Their other grandma, Mary, a woman who stepped up to be their mother-substitute when both of our children failed in the parenting department, was in tears. She had no idea I would actually make it.
While I passed off my smart phones to the children to photograph their lives and the event of their birthday, Mary and I had a chance to speak. She hadn’t had an opportunity to purchase gifts for their birthday. Overwhelmed with the expenses of raising the three daughters that her daughter and my son had left to her raise, gifts were not in the budget.
I made plans with Mary to visit later in the week and I handed her some cash I had left from gas money I was given. She cried. I cried more. When I started the trip, I had no idea if I would have enough money for gas and expenses; I didn’t know if I would make it to Washington. However, I had received some unexpected funds from an anonymous source in the Snowflake Temple where I volunteered in the office. Those funds went to the girls for their birthday. It was a blessing unexpected by any of us.
He is Always in Control
The summer was marked by challenges with the Volvo. Although it had run without issue to get me to the twin’s Baptism; I struggled with a variety of electrical issues with the car throughout August. While attempting to regularly visit the granddaughters between visits with friends, I was forced to replace the alternator. The Volvo and I had been separated for a week while that repair was performed, and I was happy to have it back on a Friday. That Sunday I anxiously prepared for church. The drive from the friends home where I was staying, to the granddaughter’s church was almost 2 hours. I allowed two and a half to be safe. But when I went out to start the car, it wouldn’t even TRY to crank.
My hair wet from the shower and twisted on top of my head held with bobby pins, my skirt and blouse fresh from the dryer; I tried not to cry. I didn’t feel as anxious as I expected to. Once again sitting in the driver’s seat I folded my arms to pray. Immediately I felt impressed to wait for my friend to wake and ask her to take me to the local Ward building for services instead of travelling to my granddaughter’s Ward.
I went back inside the house and messaged Mary with the disappointing news: I wouldn’t be able to see her or the girls that day, we would have to wait until I knew what was up with the car this time. She understood but was disappointed. She liked having support keeping all three girls somewhat in control during the Sacrament service.
I sat and waited for my friend to awake. When she did about an hour before the Sacrament service was to begin, I asked her for a ride. Her multiple sclerosis was acting up and she didn’t feel comfortable driving, but experienced a feeling she needed to allow me to borrow her father’s truck. Her dead father’s truck that NO ONE else EVER drove. I was shocked, so was she. But I took the keys and headed over to the address indicated on the app from my church for the local Ward building.
I got to the building, but there were absolutely no cars in the lot. Not a one. Mormons all know that if there are ZERO cars in the local meetinghouse parking lot on a Sunday morning, that means there is a meeting called a “Stake Conference” at a larger building in what is called a “Stake” where several “Wards” meet together. Usually during Stake Conferences officials from the head of the church visit and give special messages to those areas. I decided to drive over to the Stake Center to see who might be visiting.
When I got close to the Stake Center, a building known as the Mullinex Building, off of Mullinex Road, I witnessed cars parked up and down the main road. Wow, I wondered who might be here. A small still voice inside of me impressed me to go to the back parking lot, there was a parking spot for me. Ignoring a packed front parking lot and cars parked up and down the main and side roads, I drove to the back lot. There was an open space right in front. I parked and got out with my notebook and pen ready.
As I walked in the door of the Stake Center I asked a mom walking a fussy toddler, tilting my head to the side, questioning, “general authority?”
President Nelson left his notes and scriptures at his seat and stated that he was speaking from the Spirit, the Holy Spirit. His words were full of suggestions about teaching our children the scriptures. I was anxious to share them with Mary and the girls. But was reminded that there was something wrong with the car again.
I returned my friends’ truck to her and excitedly messaged Mary with the information about President Nelson’s visit. We exchanged frustration about the car, but I shared with her that I, oddly, didn’t feel panicked about it.
Two days later, I prayed again to know what to do about the Volvo. Immediately I was impressed to rotate the fuses: I did so, the car started right up.
Returning to Not-So-Home
I waited to leave the northwest until after I had the opportunity to celebrate my grandson’s birthday in early October. After all, what kind of grandma travels to the granddaughter’s birthdays, but leaves before the grandson’s?
Communication throughout the summer between Keith and I had been strained at best, punctuated at times by unfriending on social media and refriending but limited conversations. I kept hearing rumors that my husband was calling another woman “wife.” The thought nauseated me, but most of my possessions and the dog and cat I had left with him were there… and the plan we had made with our ecclesiastical leader to work on our marriage kept going through my head. I had to go back. I promised all of my friends in Arizona I would be there for my 50th birthday.
Despite the “thunk” that reminded me of the “Harley thunk” that you hear and feel when putting a bike into gear, I heard from under the Volvo when I put it into gear, I prayed for the car to stay together to make it to Arizona and packed it with all of my belongings (minus a forgotten suitcase) and Athena with her six – 2 week-old puppies in the back seat.
I asked a friend’s friend in Grand Junction, Colorado, to look under the car when I arrived. In Oregon the muffler had fallen and was dragging when I got off the freeway for a gas stop. Although I had a shop wire it back up, I was troubled by the noises and vibrations under the car since. It was less than 8 hours to drive to my destination, but I kept feeling like something could be horridly wrong.
The certified mechanic was troubled by what he saw under the car and encouraged me to stay in Colorado to have it fixed or at least to fully evaluate the situation. I felt strongly about my timing. I wanted to go to church back in Concho. I wanted to be with my friends. I needed to see my husband.
The mechanic tightened what he could see in the darkness, and handed me his number to call if I had any problems. I had decided to head out at night to keep the seven canines asleep in the back seat. The puppies were too young to need to be taken care of except by their mom and in the darkness Athena slept peacefully. We headed into the darkness.
Stopping only briefly for gas and for me to pee and rest a few hours, we arrived in Arizona as the sun was breaking. The vibrations were fairly stable underneath the car until about 50 miles north of St. John’s, Arizona. THUD!!!! Something hit the bottom of the car close to where the seatbelts connected in the center front seat. The entire car vibrated hard with every acceleration. There seemed to be some sort of exhaust leak. Every time I accelerated, a THUD THUD THUD shook the entire car… my heart pounded as loud as the THUD.
In a panic, I called my friend Amy and asked her to pick up my husband (to check the car out) and meet me in St. John’s, about 15 miles from my destination. She agreed.
Relieved, I finally pulled into a gas station in St. John’s and waited for Amy and Keith. When they arrived the uncomfortable mood between he and I seemed even worse than when I left Arizona. He got out of Amy’s truck and held his arms out expecting a hug, I looked at him with confusion: he hadn’t even called me in a week.
The uncomfortable situation continued as he looked under the car. When he got out, he announced that the exhaust was busted probably because of a broken transmission mount. I asked him to ride with me in case of any mechanical problem. Each mile I regretted that decision.
We parked the car at a friends’ who had a garage and who did most of the mechanical service work for the church, and I decided to spend the night camping out at Amy’s land.
When I arrived at church the next day, I was overwhelmed with friends who had to ask how the visit went. They all described praying for the car to work. I thanked them all for their prayers. But even then I had no idea how much their prayers had been needed.
The next few weeks saw my husband’s lies unfolding: I was confronted by retail shopkeepers who were confused I was still wearing my wedding band while my husband was introducing another woman as his wife on not one but two separate occasions. I filed for divorce. He filed a restraining order keeping me from my property, animals, clothing and personal belongings. My heart was as broken as my car.
When I had an expert look at the Volvo, both the mechanic and I were absolutely shocked by what was found: The Volvo needed 3 new U-joints and a new carrier bearing cushion and carrier bearing. He stated that he had never seen a driveline in that bad of shape that hadn’t been severed. None that hadn’t been in an accident.
After the car was repaired with donated labor (over 10 hours) and parts that I scraped up the money to purchase, it was time to return to Washington. The pain of watching my husband, still my husband, cavort around the tiny community and our church with another woman while we went through the legalities of a divorce was too much. I had to return to Washington. I prayed the car would make it again, my friends prayed with me.
The fact I have driven over 5,000 miles, so far, in a car that ran on prayer is something I thank God for each and every day. He guided me and through the Holy Spirit impressed upon me where He wanted me to go and He made certain I got there safely. He has also impressed upon me that perhaps I need to find a more reliable vehicle very soon. I’m working on that part currently.
It was a long, bitterly cold day. Our mournful spirits were tempered by our warm reminisces, as most of us had met before. New faces had traveled from as far away as Indiana to join our mission: about fifteen indicated this was their first time as members of the Patriot Guard Riders.
As I had prepared for today, various family members had politely asked where I was going to be, if there was a chance the flag lines we were standing would be caught by the media. I had joked with them: “Sure, I’ll be the one in black leather, holding a flag.
That was yesterday; today jokes were few and far between.
The day had encompassed the widest diversity of emotional experiences. Now, we were all bordering on exhaustion and eager to get warmed up, thawed out, and on towards the places we call home.
I thought back to the morning’s procession:
A stoic, respectful flag line that I had been proud to be included in.
Seven layers of clothing topped by leathers, with chemical hand and foot warmers had been barely enough to keep the frigid teen temperatures at bay, as I stood beside my brother and sister patriots. We stood proud for the three brothers and sister we had lost.
While standing at attention, watching the cold air I had just previously expelled; I steadied myself as the hearses and family cars came into my peripheral view.
Keeping my head forward, to my right I noticed that each car was being met by officers and walked in up to the Tacoma Dome.
Officer Tina Griswold’s hearse came to a stop for what seemed like an eternity directly in front of me.
My heavily gloved hands held tight to the metal flag pole assuring myself that I was holding the flag at the proper height, quick to busy my mind with anything else but the memory that was eating it’s way through my brain.
I wasn’t her friend. I was simply one member of the public she enthusiastically had served.
The final time my eyes had met her’s was just this past September 11th.
September 11, 2009. I was a member of an escort to accompany a group of Strykers as they deployed….again.
When the bike that I was riding as a passenger gently took a left turn to follow our small procession, she was standing in front of her squad car blocking traffic for us. Our eyes met, I smiled and gave her a big “thumbs up”….
She had returned my smile and waved. That memory I treasure.
November 29, 2009 was the day the four of them lost their lives: assassinated, in a coffee shop while beginning their day.
While standing at attention out of respect for all four of our fallen heroes; tears silently flowed down my cheeks.
My chin quivering the slightest bit; it was the hardest I have ever cried without moving a muscle. The tears I wanted to evaporate, instead froze as they fell onto my leathers for all to see.
The day had included moments of comic relief.
Friends shared good time stories of riding and families, mishaps, as well as tales from the ride to “get coffee” only two days prior:
The ride to get coffee was actually an unofficial (not PGR) ride for the fallen four. We had each donned the electrical gear necessary to ride our various makes of motorcycles in the 9 degree December weather. I rode a 2002 Harley Low Rider, my electric vest and gloves, plugged in to the battery ponytail that stuck out from under the seat from Olympia.
Less than 20 bikes made that journey.
Our ride stopped at the Lakewood Police Department to drop off the donations we had collected from each other that morning.
Even though the donations we were giving, were more than the box could have held; a rookie officer, not understanding the deep relationship between the Washington State PGR and Lakewood Police Department, had fearfully hid the donation box inside when we parked our bikes to pay our respects at the memorial.
It seems there is never a shortage of comical misunderstandings when bikers and law enforcement gather together.
We laughed about other peoples’ perceptions and mis-perceptions. We laughed at some of our own.
The sun receded behind the hills shortly after we had walked our flags up to the dome. We had set ourselves where instructed awaiting further commands, then moved the entire line when corrected. While awaiting our duty, we had watched, then joked quietly with, a sniper opposite our section of the flag line as he gave a “one finger salute” to a sheriff’s helicopter that was flying very close. Apparently too close for the sniper’s comfort.
We were positioned around the ramp, outside the Tacoma Dome. Directly within our view were the enormous amount of vehicles from law enforcement and fire departments across this country as well as Canada. The support from around the world, for these heroes, was incredible.
Once the fallen and their loved ones had departed the Tacoma Dome, we were given the orders to assemble as two lines for the several-block walk back to our staging area. Gathering orderly into the column, we unintentionally encompassed a small group of Canadian Mounted Police who had curiously wandered close to the flag line as they departed the services . I hung back slightly to allow them through the line in front of me.
Me, being me, couldn’t resist saying something. Very quietly I stated, “ you are now in the US and you are surrounded by our flags!” One “mounty” got my joking nature and answered, “ Just a sec, I think I have something.” He reached into his bright red uniform pocket and proceeded to place a beautiful red and gold CMP pin into my heavily gloved hand stating, “you are now Canadian.” I tried to answer him, “my grandma was born in Alberta,” but tears choked my words; then he was gone.
I couldn’t feel the pin through two layers of gloves and hand warmers. I kept glancing at it on the walk back down; carefully holding my treasure tight in my numb left hand, as I carefully carried my flag with my right.
We returned to our staging area and stowed our flags in their various proper containers, having been brought from areas around the state. The area was now an eerily quiet dark parking lot.
The small hamburger joint who’s owner graciously donated his parking, restrooms, hot beverages as well as a warm escape to defrost in and monitor the memorial from his television, was closing. Distant echoes of emergency vehicles filled the night. Only a small corner of the road we had lined with our flags earlier in the day was visible from where we gathered.
We huddled closer together, preparing to be debriefed.
Our “ride captain” for this mission was someone we knew well, Jim “BikerVet” Dixon. He thanked us for sticking around.
We still had the majority of our numbers. Only about 30 had to leave before we were finished. As he disseminated various facts and figures of the day, I heard a firm voice from a ride captain behind me: “FAMILY.”
It was immediate.Silence. Turn.Face the street. BikerVet hadn’t even had the opportunity to repeat the word “family” before most of us had already turned to face the small corner of light that was 26th, the street where the family cars were traveling.
It would have been disrespectful to face the opposite direction. Nearly a hundred of us that remained, turned and stood gently at attention as the procession receded. My eyes glanced without moving my head, towards my right where I had previously noticed hands raised signifying this was their first mission. They got it.
Standing in the frigid black night, such profound silence struck me: So still. Where just moments before the thumping of heavy gloved hands clapping as well as hushed sounds of light laughter and conversation had prevailed.
The silence in that dark corner reminded me of the significance of our actions that day, and every day that we gather. The reason why we as a group “The Patriot Guard Riders” exist. Respect, decorum, honor, courtesy, reverence and propriety. These are the only things we can offer the families. We owe them so much more.
In retrospect, I know in my heart no one in the vehicles that passed us could have seen, or even noticed our group standing for them in that dark corner lot as they passed. However, for any member of this proud group of patriots to be accused of “turning their back on a grieving family,” literally or figuratively would have felt reprehensible.
The families, the loved ones, the “left behind” are why the Patriot Guard Riders exists. The families are our obligation. They have all sacrificed for us, as communities, as a nation, and as a planet. They are why we ONLY serve when invited by the families. We are here for THEM. We respect, honor and thank them all for their painful sacrifices. We are forever in their debt.