"If you think of this world as a place intended simply for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable: think of it as a place of training and correction and it's not so bad."
C.S. Lewis, from God in the Dock
As it turns out, packing your favorite outfits, organizing your trunk, and stocking your car with healthy snacks does nothing to prevent forest fires and the stomach flu on vacation.
In my last blog, before heading out on a road trip that would include about 26 hours of total driving in nine days to northern Utah and back, I wrote about my obviously mistaken belief that I could create the perfect vacation by packing the best version of myself. Even before we embarked, I knew that no amount of planning could create a pretty, problem free life. Deep down I knew it, at least, but on the surface I knew I was denying it. And so I prayed for a reality check.
Don't pray those kinds of prays, friends, unless you would like our faithful God to answer in the affirmative.
The state of Utah was aflame last week as we drove from Zion up to the northern mountains, where my sister in law lives in Park City. We passed through huge smoke clouds south of Provo and watched helicopters douse the acreages of brush fire. Even at over 6,000 feet in Park City, we could catch the scent of ash on the wind during the first two days we were there. And then on our third day, our wedding anniversary, the slope of Alpine, less than 50 miles from where we were staying, caught fire. While Hubby was four miles up a slope on a mountain bike (his first time ever) and I was in a pool with my daughters and nieces, we watched the sun turn red, the sky turn orange and the pool surface skim over with gray ash. Not dream vacation conditions.
Fortunately, by Fourth of July morning, that particular fire was contained and the wind had shifted. With optimism renewed we headed out to the downtown Fourth of July parade. With about 10 minutes of parade remaining, Sophia complained of stomach cramps, and I took her to the public restroom, where, sick and disoriented, she faced the wrong way in the stall and vomited the contents of her stomach onto the floor. I, who fear the stomach flu so much that I often faint when my kids throw up, was severely challenged by this experience.
After I mopped up the tile floor with paper towels, we rushed home, amid our family’s assurances that Sophia had altitude sickness and it would pass. But by 9 that evening, Hubby and I were both curled up on the fold-out couch of his sister’s basement, sick as dogs ourselves.
I call my philosophy on which this blog centers Imperfectionism, and I’ve never been able to satisfactorily articulate it in a concise and punchy way for the synopsis you see here on the side. But the way I feel about my vacation can illustrate it well. There was a moment during that week that my husband and I convened downstairs in what we came to refer to as the Barf Basement (it’s a lovely space actually, and I hope if you ever visit our sister you won’t hold this against it), that we seriously discussed just cutting bait and heading home early. Could this experience possibly be redeemed?
To go home would have been an example of one type of Perfectionist thinking: All or Nothing. This trip is either all good, or all bad, and we were tempted to stamp it all bad.
Imperfectionism however, allows it to be flawed but still worthwhile. It even embraces the nasty moments as fodder for a good story (or a good blog, perhaps). And so we stayed through to our last day.
Our reward: a chairlift ride up to Deer Valley, where we hiked through wildflowers and aspens. We ate a wonderful lunch (carefully, our stomachs were still delicate). Our Livie overcame her fear of heights and wrote a song from a birdie’s perspective on the chair lift down. And it was an unforgettable experience. Even when Sophia barfed – AGAIN – that night, we were glad we had stayed.
Looking back on this trip for years to come, we will undoubtedly remember our 36 hours or so in the barf basement, and the fact that the heat and fires made the mountain air less than ideal.
But we will also remember, I hope, being waist deep in the Virgin River in the Narrows of Zion Canyon. We’ll remember eating banana pancakes with our nieces, and all their giggles and hugs and games with our girls. We’ll remember our drive through the Wasatch Mountains (where three out of seven of us were bit by some orange mutant horseflies, but still…). We’ll remember our anniversary dinner at High West Distillery (if you’re ever there, I recommend the trout with roasted grapes and caper berries). We’ll remember the Park City Marching Band in the patriotic parade and the lines of gorgeous horses walking past us deep in the aspen grove of the Deer Valley slopes.
If you had told me all the realities of this vacation (I didn’t mention it all, good or bad), I probably would not have had the courage to go. I didn’t want a vacation that was a time of training and correction (among many things, I did at least learn not to black out when my kids puke); I wanted pure pleasure and rest, and so some moments were intolerable, as C.S. Lewis wrote, above. So I’m glad I was none the wiser. Because I’d say the same thing about the realities of marriage, or motherhood, or every job I’ve ever held. If I’d known the whole truth, I wouldn’t have taken the leap.
It makes me think of Jesus, as things often do. Specifically, when he told his disciples, “I have many more things to say to you, but you could not bear them now.” (John 16:12) He then promised the Holy Spirit to teach them what they would need to know one day at a time, one moment at a time -- at the right time.
So as much as I think I would like to see the future so that I could plan for every eventuality and therefore head many problems off before they start, this is not the way of things. This may be one of God’s better ideas: I would miss out on so many precious things if I knew the difficult ones that would be served alongside of them. I wouldn’t be strong enough to make those Imperfectionist decisions ahead of time; I mightn’t have faith enough to choose the good and bad together.
So thank God I get one moment at a time. I get the decision to hang on for that last day of the imperfect vacation, to jump on the chair lift and ride it up, up, up. It won’t be a perfect experience. But it will be redeemed. It will be enough.