When we first left Wichita, bound for home, the miles couldn't go by fast enough.
The decision to return to Colorado had been made much like the one that had landed us in Wichita in the first place -- on the spur of the moment, with no forethought and zero preparation.
Small wonder, then, that we ended up trading our 9- inch black-and-white television, our only remaining asset, for a tank of gas, $10 and 10 quarts of oil at a small gas station in a small Kansas town, just east of the Colorado state line. (If the attendant hadn't been agreeable to the exchange, I would certainly know more about the town and remember the name, because we'd have been staying there indefinitely.)
The oil was needful because it was leaking out of the oil pan nearly as fast as we could pour it in. And the leak was getting worse. In fact, shortly after we crossed into Colorado, we were pulled over by a state trooper who wanted to let us know that we were leaving a back trail of black. We thanked him for his concern and he quickly sent us on our way, oil visibly pooling beneath us as we idled on the side of the road.
It was late January 1975, and the plains were cold and blustery, the sky overcast and our future -- foreboding.
Still, for the first time in months, we felt like we were headed in the right direction. We passed the time talking about how excited we were to be going home. It was just Danny and me, along with arguably the world's ugliest dog, Missy, and Ben, only discovered to be present scant weeks earlier. (In fact, we hadn't even discussed possible names yet, the news was that new.)
Our excitement and anticipation increased with every tire rotation as we strained our eyes for that first glimpse of the Rocky Mountains, snow-covered and majestic. (I've often thought that Denver exists simply because the westward ho settlers took one look at that formidable geographic wonder and said, "Put 'er down right here, Ma, we ain't crossin' that!")
The mood in the car, a 1968 Volkswagen hatchback that had served as our only shelter for more nights than we cared to recollect, changed dramatically after the mountain peaks finally appeared.
Suddenly, the magnitude of the decisions made in haste, both the one that sent us homeward and the one made months before -- to leave jobs, home and hearth in the first place -- settled on us, full strength.
Now what? Or more to the point, "Where do we go from here?"
The very people we were so excited to see as soon as we "got home" were now the very people that we suddenly realized we had left behind. They were left to clean out our little bungalow, pack our meager possessions and either store them, give them away or toss them in a dumpster. What kind of reception did we expect? What kind of reception did we deserve?
I could blame it on our youth, we were not yet 20 at the time, but that would be a copout. We'd been out on our own since we were barely 17. We knew what it was to hold full-time jobs, pay the rent on time and buy our own toilet paper. We had given into one last great temptation, foolishly sacrificing good jobs, our little home, and now we finally realized, our families in the bargain. Now we had to own up to the entire sordid affair, dead broke, hungry and pregnant.
We discussed all of the possible options, our spirits growing heavier as we considered the receptions we would receive no matter where we went.
My family wasn't even an option. They had opposed our relationship from the get-go and even though I accept full responsibility for what would come to be known as the Wichita fiasco to this day, they would have found a way to make it all Danny's fault.
Danny's mom had lived alone since our wedding and would be getting home from work just as we pulled in to Denver. We figured we had used up her grace and then some at the close of the Rocky Mountain retreat affair when we were 16 and the Iowa farm plan at 17. No, we couldn't show up there.
Our friends, and now former neighbors, would certainly be surprised to see us, but not happily surprised. We hadn't bothered to bid an adieu, fond or otherwise, to a single soul on that dreary, drizzly November Saturday when we took off for the white beaches of sunny Florida. We decided they would surely show us the door before we spoke two complete sentences.
The gas gauge was hovering over the E, just barely. We had to choose and soon.
Sandy, Danny's eldest sister, was stunned to see us at her front door. Nevertheless, she flung it wide, opened the screen door and her arms, welcoming us with kisses and hugs.
Over the next couple of hours, she fed us, provided us with clean clothes and hot showers.
When I came out of the shower, my sweet husband was on the phone with his mother, taking the hard fall for both of us. Over the next week, bunking in Mom's basement, the boxes of all we had left behind surrounding us, we made the plans and the car repairs that would result in our move to Worland, Wyoming, where our firstborn drew first breath and we finally started to grow up.
It's what family does. It's why God created family. No matter where you go, no matter what you do, family is there, to celebrate the victories, to mourn the losses and to soften the fall when everything falls apart. Even when you're the one who unraveled the thread.
Family gives us our first glimpse of grace -- grace we will one day see, flowing full and free at the cross.
I don't have all the answers, but I know the One who does. Let's walk together for awhile and discover Him; together.