Sunday, August 23, 2009

adventures in gratitude

I just finished writing some thank-you notes and realized that I never wrote about our truly incredible experience when the transmission died. We felt blessed by so many people and kept saying the whole time, “This has happened in the best possible way.”

We were fairly delayed leaving town by some emergency funding issues that I found out about (thanks to our wonderful neighbor in a long and complicated chain of events, but essentially she came running over right as I was loading the kids in the car) that had a major impact on whether Neil would have a stipend and a tuition waiver for this fall. So we spent an hour and a half working those out and going to various professors on campus, so the kids had been in the car for quite awhile before we actually left, and we were all a bit depressed and very relieved to go on vacation (note: we did find out two days later that Neil had full funding support, so that was a relief!!)

We had been driving for about an hour and stopped at a gas station so that everyone could go to the bathroom, run around for awhile, and Isaac could be fed. Five minutes after we started up, the van jerked, and Neil and I both looked at each other with slightly panic-stricken eyes. The failure was complete, fast, and catastrophic. Just a moment or two later, we found ourselves with absolutely no power from the transmission. We pulled off the road, thanked our lucky stars that we’d chosen to drive the “scenic route” instead of the interstate, and started investigating and praying. It only took a few minutes for us to realize that the transmission was completely dead.

We called for a tow truck (again grateful that my mom had given us an emergency cell phone for my birthday last year, since we’re some of those lingering few who don’t have cell phones as our main contact point) and settled down to wait. And wait. And wait. While we waited, we tried to figure out a) where we were going to take the van for repair b) where we were going to spend the night c) how we were going to get back home d) how we were even going to leave the site, since the dispatcher told us the tow truck would not have room for all of us e) where the heck we were, since there were no road signs and we were surrounded by cornfields. This also gave us the chance for me to cry a lot, Abigail to wail, “Will we ever get home,” and Juliet to attempt a dash across the road in front of oncoming traffic (a brief and misguided attempt to let the kids stand at the side of the car after about an hour of waiting inside).

To make a longer story somewhat shorter, we found a man living nearby who was willing to jump the car, since the battery was now dead, and we were hoping that a bit of juice would allow us to make it to the nearest town, since the tow truck was supposedly still 45 minutes away (we were seriously in the middle of nowhere). We also made contact with a local friend of my little sister’s who was willing to come get us and take us to a hotel, although they warned that area hotels were very expensive and offered to let us stay at their house instead.

Then the tow truck arrived. And the driver told us that he had an extended cab, since he had kids of his own, and he would be happy to take us all together--which was an enormous relief to me, since I was really stressed about separating. We drove into town, stopped at a gas station for directions to the insurance-approved transmission shop, and a friendly local walked over and asked where we were planning to go. He advised us not to go to the local shop, and told us several horror stories about them, since he was a mechanic himself. Several other passersby concurred. We began to feel pretty stressed again, and at this point, the tow truck driver offered to drive us to his hometown, about forty-five minutes away, so that we could go to a shop that he could recommend. He told us that he would charge us a little less than a third of what this extended tow would actually cost.

When we arrived in town, the tow truck driver took us to a hotel within walking distance of grocery stores and restaurants so we’d have a place to eat the next day. He carried Abigail, who was sound asleep, to our room, since I was carrying Isaac and Neil had Jules. He helped Neil bring in our luggage, then drove him to the transmission shop to drop off the car. When we thanked him for his kindness, he told us how relieved he was that we had decided to stay in this town rather than the one where we originally were, which had a rough reputation, and how he was glad he could leave us safe and with a mechanic he knew and trusted. He told us that his worst nightmare was to see people he’d towed on the news the next day for some tragedy, and told us again he was just glad we were safe.

The desk clerk at the hotel gave us their largest and nicest room (a king-size and queen-size bed, a fold-out couch, etc.) for their cheapest small-room price, and told us we could check out late the next day. They brought us a crib for Isaac, and we settled down for the night. The next morning the transmission shop people came to the hotel to pick up our keys, saving Neil a three-mile jog. They called later and offered to rebuild the transmission rather than simply putting in a new one—which saved us over a thousand dollars. And my amazing parents left their vacation—at the beach—so they could drive two hours home, get another car, drive two hours to the town where we were, and take us back to their house.

The price tag for our little adventure wasn’t fun, but it was the most amazing exercise in gratitude I’ve ever had in my life. At midnight in our hotel room, I made up two cups of hot chocolate (packed in our luggage in anticipation of that night’s campout on the beach), wedged myself in next to Neil in the hotel bathroom (since the kids were all asleep out in the bedroom), and just talked about how incredible all the people were who had helped us that day. I think we offered up some of the most heartfelt prayers of our lives that night in gratitude for the way things had turned out.


Meghan said...

I'm so glad your dark cloud had a thick silver lining. We had a great time with you. And I'm continuing to clear out and organize! Thanks for all your help.

Elise Decker said...

wow...that is really incredible how good people are and how much the Lord blessed you :)

Anonymous said...

Wow! That is quite a story. So sorry to hear you had to deal with all that stressful stuff. We are so glad that people were so kind and helpful to you during your time of need. Take care. Hugs to all of you. Love, Aunt Pam & Uncle Kevin

Anonymous said...

We miss you here and still have several packages of unopened ice cream. However, thing 5 is doing her best, so there probably won't be any when next visit.

love you and grateful for your safety,

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