The Gypsy Life!

Life is fluid. Just when you think you have it figured out, it shifts and changes direction. Blessed are the flexible; they will bend but not be broken!

After nearly a year of life in Tennessee, we are moving again. We became Snowbirds and spent last winter in Florida, then became “Half-backers” when we moved half-way back to Michigan and tried life in Tennessee. Despite loving my position as Connections Pastor in Sweetwater, my body did not do well with Tennessee weather. I battled sinus infections all summer and lived on antibiotics and steroids. Once cold weather moved in, my asthma kicked up and I had to go back on the drugs! Enough is enough! You can’t live where you are sick all the time when there are other options.

Our options are many. My husband has retired now, so we are not locked into a location based on a job. We can go anywhere! We revisited our original plan of moving to Florida, and brainstormed over doing something wildly different for a season. We have chosen the wild way!

Our son’s family is in Michigan, and we have a house there. We will use it as a summer retreat and a place for the family to gather for the holidays. This way we can still be involved in our grandchildren’s lives and the lives of our parents and siblings who live in the Frozen Mitten.

Our daughter lives in Virginia so we will buy a condo there. Lots of people in Michigan have a small cottage up in the north woods for vacation get-aways. Our “small cottage” will be near our daughter and we will spend spring and fall in Virginia. And, we have the option to take the RV to Florida for the coldest 6 weeks of the winter and camp! For this season of life, we will be gypsies, traveling cross country, following the spring. We realize that this is for a season; someday we will be too old and feeble to chase the sun and will need to make a decision on a residence for our final years, but not yet!

The down-side of this plan is the inability to serve full time on a church staff, but we are trusting God to faithfully open up doors of ministry where ever we may be. It is the dawning of a new chapter and a new adventure. Life with the Lord is never boring!

God’s “Suddenly”

A recurring word throughout the Bible is “suddenly.”  When God opens doors, and blasts you through them, it feels very much like  a “suddenly.” 

After three months of Snowbird life, God “suddenly” opened a door with a job offer and I found myself en-route to a new position and life in Tennessee.  We broke camp in Florida and headed north, eager to begin the next chapter of our lives.  

When God opens a door it doesn’t necessarily mean you will have smooth sailing. If the devil can’t close the door, he will try everything he can to slow your progress and distract you.  We almost made it to our destination trouble free, but all that changed about 15 miles out.  We heard a funny noise in the engine and, as my husband and I were speculating on the cause, we “suddenly”  heard a noise resembling gremlins  banging on pots and pans under the hood.  We limped to the nearest exit and started making phone calls. 

After a long evening of waiting for a tow truck, quickly packing a few days’ worth of clothing, unhooking the car from the dolly, and transferring valuables and the cats from the RV, we were on our way again: the RV towed to a shop and us to a pet-friendly hotel.   The repairs were not quick, easy or inexpensive.   Essentially, a belt in the motor broke and the cascading effects caused major damage throughout the engine; repairs took longer than we expected, and cost more than we expected.  My husband kept saying, “We must be doing something right! Look at the opposition.” 

A few nights spent in the hotel did not delay me from starting my new job and beginning the search for a place to live.  Plans were to live in another campground inside the RV until we found an apartment. Living in a campground while working is possible, especially if you don’t mind sharing the showers with 80 new friends, but it makes an apartment feel like a luxury! 

Apartments are few and far between around here, but God came through again.  We spent a day driving around the surrounding communities and happened across a for rent sign.  This unit was not advertised in the paper, and we were fortunate enough to drive by and spot the sign.  A few phone calls later, we did a walk-through and assessed the potential of a year long lease. 

The rooms are big, it is in a safe area, and has quiet neighbors, but the carpet and woodwork felt very 1980’s, and the appliances were horrific.  I struggled  because of the kitchen, but after looking for other options, I figured it was better than living in the RV and signed the lease.  God (and our landlord) surprised us again by blessing us with new, modern appliances, which significantly improve the overall quality of the apartment.

We are leaving our house up north fully furnished for when we list it  and decided to buy a few strategic pieces of furniture for the apartment.  God has faithfully led us to unexpected sales and the place is starting to look like a real home. 

I have experienced a “suddenly.”  Within a week I left Florida, moved to Tennessee, started a new job, found furniture, and moved into an apartment.  We are nearly unpacked and even have some pictures on the walls.  The week has been a whirl-wind, with meeting many new people, learning a new community, apartment hunting, furniture shopping, and the demands of a new job. Some days it has felt as if I am trying to drink from a fire hydrant, but God continues to graciously bless and surprise me.  And I look forward to being at the point where the only thing I have to focus on is my job! 

 

A Twist of Fate

I have been battling homesickness on this Snowbird journey, so I was elated when my husband announced that we needed to spend the following week in Michigan for an important work meeting. A week of living in a real house, seeing my friends and family and doing laundry in my own (free) machine was definitely worth a two day drive with drugged cats. My week’s activities were quickly planned and I was terribly disappointed when the meeting was suddenly cancelled.
That cancellation meant that instead of being on the road, we would now be spending the weekend in Florida and I didn’t like the weather forecast. The weatherman called for severe thunderstorms, gale force winds, and tornadoes. The thought of riding out a twister in a trailer park made that two day drive on winter roads all the more appealing.

Authorities tell you to go to a safe place in case of a tornado, only there are no safe places here. There are no basements because the water table is very high, and ditches quickly fill up with water, snakes, and gators. The desk attendant at the RV Park told us the standard procedure for dealing with tornadoes is “get in your car and try to outrun it.”

So, we prayed for God’s protection and sat and watched and waited. The sky turned black in mid-afternoon and the tall trees began to whip from the wind. The RV began to rock and shimmy. The torrential rain was so strong we couldn’t see outside of any of the windows.

At the peak of the storm’s fury, the RV sprung a leak. A seal on a stationary window gave way and water poured in and down the wall. It soaked the floor in the front third of the RV, including everything stored under the sofa and in front of the driver and passenger seats. We moved what we could to higher ground and went to bed.

The next morning we bought a shop-vac and pulled at least a quart of water from the carpet, washed the towels, and tried to dry out. We have been running electric heaters, the air conditioner and a small dehumidifier to dry out of the flooring before it grows mold and mildew. The window is now resealed and survived last night’s rainstorm, but the carpet is still damp three days after the flood.
I can only imagine the mess we would have walked into, had we followed our original plan and returned to Michigan for the week. The storm and flood would have hit on the first day of our absence. Outside temperatures are ranging in the mid seventies, which would have turned the inside of our soggy RV into a mold and mildew breeding ground. Chances are, the interior of the unit would have been destroyed.
Now I look at the cancelled meeting with grateful awe at God’s protection. Not only did He protect us from the storm itself, He protected us from the property loss that would have ensued had we been away.
And it makes me wonder how many times our plans don’t work out because a merciful God was protecting us from very unpleasant consequences. Yes, I am disappointed that my week at home didn’t happen, but I am ever so grateful for God’s providential intervention on my behalf!

What’s YOUR Story?

I am meeting new people on this snowbirding journey. Protocol for meeting new folks covers the same questions: “What’s your name?” “Where are you from?” “What do you do for a living ?” (Or “What did you do for a living?” – because most of the people I am meeting here are retired.) And, “Which rig is yours?”

There is the usual mental sizing up and rating system: Yankee vs. Confederate, blue collar vs. white collar, urban vs. country dweller, those who camp in huge, shiny RVs vs. those who stay in older ones. We tend to classify and pigeon-hole people as if we are scientists cataloguing plants. We smile and nod, are polite and play nicely, but it takes time and shared interests for real friendships to develop, so conversations rarely move on to deeper things.

People shut down if the conversation moves into tricky waters, such as religion or politics, too quickly. You look for little clues and nudge the conversation, all the while being ready to side-step the issue if they are not receptive to the nudge. So, we stay in the shallow end of the pool and tread water instead of diving in an risk alienating a potential friendship. Everybody has a story, but you have to build that bridge of trust before they are willing to share it with you. Trust takes time to develop. As a result, most stories remain untold.

Last night I had a dream about heaven. I was with a huge crowd of people, from all ethnic backgrounds. We were all wearing whatever “street clothes” our culture or time period deemed, and we were all roughly the same age. There were no children, teens, or elderly in the group. Folks were clad in jeans and tee shirts, prairie dresses, sari’s, buckskin, and silks – a wide assortment of humanity, both men and women,

There were people standing shoulder to shoulder as far as the eye could see in any direction. We were all facing the same direction, and way off in the distance was an elevated platform with some people seated in fancy chairs. We in the crowd were all very excited to be there, and were eagerly sharing our stories with those standing near us.

These stories were intense, personal, and vivid. There was no reference to names, places, jobs, or titles.. Instead, the question was, “How did you meet Him? How did you meet Jesus?” And, we talked, sharing our stories in heartfelt, deep details, giving glory to Jesus for His grace to touch our lives. There were no half-hearted, “Well, my grandma used to take me to Sunday School, so I decided I was a Christian” or “Well, my family all went forward on an altar call when I was little and I didn’t want to stay in my pew, so I guess I’m a Christian.” stories. These stories were rich, detailed, personal, and powerful.

There was no classifying, no judging, no rating system of who had the “best” story. Instead, there was a deep excitement, acceptance, and overwhelming joy. Everyone had a story and everyone was intensely interested in hearing what anyone had to say.

One day we will all be called to tell our story, to give a personal account for our life. What will your story be?

Suddenly Snowbirds

Singer Ann Murray had a hit record in the 70’s titled “Snowbird” where she sang about a migratory bird that left the snowy, frozen meadows of the north for warm sunny skies. “Snowbird, take me with you when you go to the land of gentle breezes where the peaceful waters flow…” or something like that. My diagnosis of suffering from an unconventional form of cold-induced asthma, battling an asthma-induce URI since early October, and the opportunity for my husband to transition into retirement brought us to the sudden decision to spend the winter in Florida.

This introduced a series of rapid life changes! I gave notice at my job just prior to Thanksgiving, he applied for retirement,and we spent the month of December breathing life back into our ancient (22-year-old) RV after ten years in dry dock. 

Christmas was a whirl-wind of family parties, rapid packing, and a departure for the sunny south before the New Year with an ice storm nipping at our heels.

We are unconventional snowbirds; most of the folks we have met are truly retired and maintain a home in the north where they live during the summer, and spend the winter months in luxurious RVs with multiple rooms that “bump out” when they settle in for the winter. Our little rig is only slightly larger than the dorm room I had in college! (As a student, I would have loved a dorm room with its own kitchen, living room, bathroom and bedroom.) All the comforts of home are here, including a small flat-screen television. But, my husband is still “working.” He has an office area set up in a corner of the RV as he transitions out of his current career by satellite remote. I have my “office” on the dinette table where I write and attend an internet class I am enrolled in. And, we share our little space with two cats!

Boots, our 18-year-old tabby, spends most of his time curled up next to me on the dinette bench sleeping. Buster, the three-year old Maine Coon, spends his days leaping around the dashboard chasing birds and squirrels. The cats are loving all of the attention and “people time” they are receiving from such close quarters.

Because of my husband’s job, we are “tethered” to a site during the week and are limited to traveling only on weekends. Consequently, we have rented a monthly slot at a Florida campground where he can commute by internet.  We are close to the well-maintained showers and laundry room, have a concrete patio and little picnic table, and are surrounded by other monthly lease campers.  The park is its own little community of friendly people, with pre-planned activities if you choose to participate. 

As I walked the mile circle around the park this morning, feeling the warmth of the sunshine on my face, I was overwhelmed by the blessing of being outside and able to breathe the air. This transition from Michigan feels as if it happened rather quickly; we like to plan our life and work our plan. But we serve a God who specializes in “Suddenlies.” He cares about the details of our life, and directs our paths. He will guide us as we listen to the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit. Because of God’s direction, we are “Suddenly” Snowbirds.