Actually, I never thought I shouldn't go. I only thought, "Wow, this is a LOT of obstacles in my way."
They messaged me a long time ago. Would I consider coming to speak at Gospel Haven's women's retreat in March of 2016?
I consent to one out-of-state event a year and didn't have any others scheduled for 2016. So I said Yes.
The name of the retreat is the same every year: Joy in the Journey. The theme for this year was "Peace." I was asked to speak about mothering, particularly adult children, and also dealing with depression.
About three weeks before the retreat, my laptop computer, the one I do most of my writing on, utterly and completely crashed and died. You know how it is--sometimes a computer is sort of aging and faltering, but if you call a techy son for advice, turn it off and back on, and beg your husband to fix it, it functions again.
This time, it was dead and gone.
However, over on the counter in the office was a little black book-sized device that was supposed to keep the household's computers backed up. Matt had set it up for us a few years ago, but then he went back to Washington, D.C,. and I wasn't sure that it was still doing its job in his absence.
I clicked around on the big desktop computer, found the file for my laptop, and there it was--all my work, up to date.
I spent a few days at a funny little house at the coast, writing like mad on my tiny little Netbook. Paul was with me the first two days. When he left, he mentioned that he's going to run a cleaner/efficiency-increaser program on the home desktop computer.
Ok, I said.
I came home two days later with the worst sore throat ever, razor blades shredding my tonsils, it felt like. Within two days I had a full-blown case of strep throat.
It was awful. And the retreat was only a week away. I emailed Fannie Wengerd from the retreat committee, and she asked the rest of the ladies to pray.
I recovered enough to work some more, but the password to the backup had disappeared when Paul ran the cleaner-upper program.
No no no.
We ran through our normal list of passwords and suddenly one worked.
Mercy, the relief. I was afraid the password would be some computer-generated nonsense that we would never figure out.
A month before the retreat, I had contacted the publisher of my first three books and ordered 60 copies of each title to be sent to Fannie's house.
Five days before the retreat, they still hadn't arrived.
Worried, I contacted the publisher again. They had forgotten to send them.
Paul, being less busy with school and warehouse than he used to be, decided to go with me on this trip. Happily, he has a Companion Pass deal with Southwest Airlines, where we can buy a ticket for him and mine is free.
He parked the car at the long-term parking at the airport while I went through security. Then, while I waited on the bench where you put your shoes back on, he sent me a text. His license was missing from his wallet.
I am not proud of my reaction, which was a mix of panic and flabbergasted horror. How could he do this to me?? Who does this, going to the airport and not double-checking their license?? This isn't like him--is he getting dementia??? Was he headed for that happy, oblivious state where people are healthy and strong but have to be watched every minute or they'll wander downtown in their pajamas?
I have a good imagination.
I didn't recognize the real issue or the real enemy--it took me a few days to realize that.
Paul got through security on his Costco card. [The next day, the DMV faxed a paper that said he owns a license, and then our daughter overnighted his passport for the flight home.]
We had "C" boarding passes for the flight to Las Vegas, which meant we were among the last ones on the plane. Toward the back, I saw an empty aisle seat and grabbed it.
Oh dear, this guy beside me was very large.
The plane took off, and the guy gradually expanded until his shoulder overlapped mine and his arm took over the armrest between us.
He fell asleep and expanded still further. His huge arm edged further and further into my territory as I scrinched into the remaining 2/3 of the seat. I put my tray down and it settled on top of his arm.
The Sleeping Giant, I called him. He snoozed blissfully with his nose in the air, his sunglasses on, his earbuds in his ears, growing with each breath, like a balloon.
Perhaps I could do some work to redeem the time and the trip. I placed my notebook on the tray which was still resting on his arm, and dug for a pen.
Another wave of panic. I had forgotten to put in that handful of pens I had collected on the desk. I had one pen. ONE! How would I make it? I have to have at least three pens or I feel terrified and panicky. Would they have pens in Ohio??
Calm down, Mrs. Smucker. At least you have this one.
I took the cap off the pen and it began to drip big ominous drops of black ink on my notebook. No no nooooo! It had exploded, as these pens will, from the pressure changes of flying.
"Spiritual warfare" is a Christian concept that probably sounds crazy to non-believers. But once you've experienced it, you know it's real.
There's good and evil. God is good and he's on our side. We have an enemy called Satan who is evil and who is against us in every way. When you're doing God's work, you can expect opposition.
You fight by praying and pressing on and praising instead of panicking, which you might guess I am not so good at, in the moment.
I've learned that if I'm going to speak somewhere, opposition presents itself in the guise of frustrations, endless interruptions, fear, and misbehaving computers. If I'm going to speak or write about marriage, the opposition doubles.
It's weird but real.
I sat with Paul on the flight from Las Vegas to Canton-Akron, near the front of the plane, wondering if all was finally going to be well.
About halfway through the flight, a silvery gray cat came walking up the aisle, creating a stir among the passengers around us and causing the flight attendant to take one pop-eyed look and shriek, "WHOSE CAT IS THIS??!!"
An embarrassed woman hurried up the aisle and snatched up the cat, muttering something about letting him out of his carrier.
I thought, "Did that just happen or did it not??"
I had my Netbook open on my lap. Quickly I typed in the comments everyone was making.
Here's an exact copy of my notes:
And then I laughed and laughed. The tide had turned, I was sure of it, from frustrating to simply bizarre.
We got to Canton-Akron, got our luggage, and walked out of the terminal. It was after midnight. Paul had made a reservation at one of the two nearby hotels that have shuttle service. He called them.
"Your reservation was for two nights ago," they said. "Tonight we're filled up."
The tide hadn't turned after all. Oh Paul.
Paul called the Hilton. They had a room. They sent a shuttle.
The original hotel gave us a refund.
The next day, I tracked down the book order via the tracking number the publisher sent me.
It said they're sending 180 books, in one box, weighing 24 pounds.
That's kind of impossible, you know, if each book weighs half a pound.
Paul called them up and used Dad Voice* on them.
Eventually we got to Berlin, Ohio, a village that's 80% Amish and Mennonite, and got booked at the Berlin Grande Hotel, and the tide turned and things went well and I was a genuine tourist, gawking at the cute Amish people and gushing about the bonnets and buggies and billowing skirts.
One morning I went down for breakfast and passed the open door to a utility room, and there was a gray-haired Amish maintenance man, eating a banana and reading a newspaper. That made me very happy.
The books arrived in time. Well, most of them did. They sent 60 each of two titles and only 12 of the third, but I was beyond worrying about such things.
I ran into our old friend Alice Miller at the retreat. She had followed our travel saga on Facebook. "That was weird," she said. "Marland said, 'That doesn't sound like Paul Smucker! He's such a planner.'"
That was when I realized that, as I had so many times in my life, I had completely mis-identified the enemy. I had focused on Paul and his strange mistakes rather than realizing --DUH-- it was all part of a package of opposition that I'd been facing for weeks.
I could quit worrying about Paul getting dementia. We could face this together.
After an eventful weekend, we flew home. At the airport, I went to baggage claim to get our stuff while Paul took the shuttle to long-term parking to get our car.
When he picked me up on the rainy curb, he said. "Well, I can drive legally again."
When he got into the car in the parking lot, he had looked down, and there was his driver's license, down between the seat and the center console.
Who knows what other-worldly forces pushed and pulled behind this trip of ours, but it all turned out well and we are so happy to be home.
*Emily's perfectly descriptive term.