800 Miles Alone: A Grace Story

There isn’t a perfect time to start an 800 mile trip in one day. I began mine shortly after 2PM. According to my GPS I’d be lucky to be home by 2AM. What was I thinking?

It didn’t take long on the road before I called my Mom. After all, it was mother’s day. I talked to my sister and wife too. But that only bought me a little over an hour of my 12-hour journey, so I turned on the radio. I learned about the placebo effect on Radio Lab, frustrated that I lost the signal in Sioux City. I caught up on the weekly non-news during Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, including the wedding announcement of the current curator of the Spam Museum in Austin, Minnesota. I discovered that the old-timey, band Squirrel Nut Zippers, has revived itself with a mostly new lineup. They played on World Café. I also heard people argue about whether LeBron James is done after a poor showing in Boston. All those hours later I was still far from home.

If I had any other destination I would have broken up the 800-mile drive into two legs. Omaha is about halfway, and as I passed through it the sun was beginning to set over the city built by the railroad and maintained by Warren Buffett. A familiar motel was approaching, and the GPS said I still wasn’t even halfway home. I toyed with the idea of stopping for the night.

Since Easter I’ve stepped foot in ten church buildings with six of those visits coming the last two weeks. I had what I called a 40-hour layover at home a couple weeks ago. But other than that I’ve been away from my family since late April. I hope they remember me when I return.

I’m not as young as I used to be, but I’m still in my thirties for a few more months. I was finally going home, and I pushed on. I longed to sleep in my own bed, eat with my own family, and just relax for a change. That longing pulled me closer and closer with each passing minute

I fueled up a few times with gas, caffeine, and protein. My supper was delayed until ten at night. Pizza from a gas station never tasted so good. Apparently in St. Joseph, Missouri the place all the cool kids go at night is a well-lit gas station parking lot. In Overland Park it was the oversized parking lot of the nearby record store.

As night fell the traffic cleared. My Dad used to make long drives alone just like this one. I thought about what he might’ve thought about. I came up with nothing. He was a mostly quiet man when he wasn't nervously among a crowd. Meanwhile, Kansas City has a weekly radio show late on Sunday nights that only plays instrumental, electro-dance music from Europe from the 70s and 80s. It wasn’t too bad to drive to.

As I got on the last Interstate for the trip, 44, it was well past midnight. I found the signal for Coast to Coast, a show I hadn’t heard since my college days. Someone from Spinal Tap was interviewed and at age 75 continued to play the straight man on the running joke that is the band.

Setting Goals

When I was a solo pastor I’d chuckle about all the hats I’d wear. I once disposed of a duck carcass that had attached itself to the radiator of a car in front of our church. My daughter and I used her butterfly nets to dispose of bats in the church basement. She was fearless. So were the bats. I mowed and trimmed the yard. I shoveled snow on the sidewalk and stairs. I answered telemarketing calls for the church, especially people who wanted us to buy their fancy ice-melt mix every single year. Some days I was a social worker, helping people with government paperwork or giving them rides to the bus station 90 miles away. Other days I got to pray before electric co-op meetings. I’d never been to one of those before.

Of course, on top of it all I did regular pastor things: preached, taught, counseled, visited, and hosted. As I switch to being a missionary appointee, raising funds, I don’t think I wear as many hats as I used to. I write. I call. I email. I drive. I talk. I ask. I drive.

Lately, I’ve done a lot of that without a home. And without a family. When I finally pulled in at 1:30AM I brushed my teeth in what seemed like another strange bathroom. I’m sure that will change as I hang around for a few weeks until our next trip. My bed was oh so familiar, and my family was all resting. I couldn’t wait to see them the next day.

For all the reasons I pushed to drive 800 miles in one half of one day, I think the main reason was this: I got to set a goal and actually accomplish it. I don’t get to do that much anymore.

Embracing Grace

I have a goal to get to Brazil and teach, but I have very little control in how it is accomplished. It’s a needy goal. For us to reach it we have to be needy people, continually. And as Americans we hate that needy feeling. As Christians, though, we probably should expose ourselves to it much more often.

Grace is for the needy, so grace is for me.

And God’s grace is sufficient. At least, that’s what the Lord told Paul, a struggling missionary.

Paul learned this through his weakness. Through making plans only to see them blow up. Through opposition, aches, pains, and fears. Through nights alone and in chains.

I’ve got much more to learn. 800 miles later, I’ve still got a long way to go. But the truth is I'm never really alone. And that in itself is grace.

- Brandon