Someday I’d like to take a road trip and clean up the mess I’ve made of my past. If that day ever comes I’d have to include a route up through Michigan, back into Ontario and spend the night in a small off-the-map community called Wawa before continuing on my journey to Saskatoon.
It would be the second time I attempted such a journey. But last time I did I had made a decision in Wawa of the most selfish proportions in my life. I was scared. I felt hopeless. I saw an opportunity. I took it. I ran.
But that is getting ahead of the story; so let’s take a step back and set the scene.
In the beginning…
My story begins when I left Bible College in 2002. I went up to Saskatoon Saskatchewan because my old youth pastor and good friend had taken up the pastorate in a small church. Rather than return to Windsor, he – Bob – had graciously and sacrificially allowed me to stay with him, his wife and young child until I could get on my feet.
After a few months I landed a job as a supervisor at a Diary Queen and moved into the basement suite of parishioners from our church. They were the greatest people to live with and be around – a very rare family. Over time I would view them as my family away from my family.
Life in “S’katoon”
I became very involved in church. Preaching once a month, teaching a new converts class, joining the worship team and became – for better or worse – a leader in the youth group. I also made some very good friendships. Off the top of my head were Tenny, Nathan, Chrissy, Jen, just to name a few.
But I had also made some pretty big mistakes. I became ashamed and emotionally withdrawn. Soon when poor choices collided with low self-esteem the vision of ministry which had seemed at certain times to be so clear fizzed away like flat pop.
When these mistakes, poor choices and deprecating sensations of “poor-me” met the doctrinal issue of “Tongues” – the denomination held as an ironclad belief that all their ministers must “speak-in-tongues” which I did not – hopelessness plummeted to new depths of despair. ‘What was I doing here making under $7/hour, barely cutting out rent money with a huge and wholly unfruitful student loan snarling down on my everyday with no indication that my circumstances will change and no hope for ministry or a future?’
Running for the Boarder
… the Ontario boarder that is.
Every year I made an effort to return home at least once, always at Christmas. But as I felt my situation in S’katoon continue to spiral out of control, I could not wait for my third Christmas to visit. I became home sick and so came up with a plan to visit my family early.
The plan was to fly home in September, spend a week living at my sister and brother-in-laws home, purchase my mom’s (oil leaking) Dodge Shadow for $1 and then drive it back to S’katoon. Easy as pie.
Three unexpected things happened to me while I was home. First I got back together with my – then – ex-girlfriend. We had broken up because I could not continue on with the long distant relationship, but when we saw each other emotions and history ran deep and by day two we were an “item”. Second, my old church had just got a new young pastor who had made me many promises for ministry if I ever were to decide to return to Windsor. And thirdly, I was not prepared for the bond that deepened between my brother-in-law and me. The day I was leaving to return to S’katoon I remember he hugged me with tears streaming down his face. The relationship between Jonathan and David comes to mind.
Contrast these with the mediocre and aimless situation I believed was waiting for me in Saskatoon and you might be able to see how difficult it was for me to return. You may also be able to understand how my mind may begin to play tricks on me. To rationalize, ‘what if this is a sign from God, an opportunity to start over?’
But I had responsibilities. I had a cat. I had accumulated books and clothing and trinkets. My guitar and amplifier were out there as well as my job and church commitments. I could not just not return. I had friends and people counting on my – not least Bob.
Marooned in Wawa
So I filled my trunk with twenty-eight liters of oil and off I went stopping every three or four hours to check the oil in the car and add more when necessary (which was often).
Leaving Windsor, I journeyed up through Michigan until I reached the “tip of the mitt” and crossed over into Sault St. Marie. I stopped at a gas station to check the oil and determined that I was sufficiently stocked for another hour or two, figuring that I would find a rest stop somewhere along the way to top it up.
However, after a very long time (not sure how much time) I began to panic. For miles and miles there were no rest stops, only hilly roads and unending trees on either side – and no cell phone signal. Then the noise began. “Click, click, click“. The Shadow began to slow and a whole bunch of warning lights began to go off. I reached the peak of a hill and stopped the car. Checked the engine to discover that it was bone dry, not an ounce of oil remained. It occurred to me at that moment that I could die out there and no one would discover my body (I had not seen another vehicle for what seemed like hours).
I reached into my bag and pulled out a CB to see if I could contact a truck driver somewhere. No such luck. Out of options there was only one thing left to do: Pour as much oil into the engine as I could, then drive with my foot to the floor relying on the momentum of the hilly roads to get me as far as they could. I raced down the hills doing 150 km/h only to climb back up them at a crawling 30 km/h. This rollercoaster continued until I reached the small community of Wawa.
I had enough cash on me for one night’s stay in a motel and for food. That was all. I rented a room in the local Inn, and promptly made the necessary calls. First I called my brother-in-law who offered to come and get me; next I called Bob in Saskatoon who offered to gather the necessary money for me to take a train the rest of the way.
I was literally at crossroads in my life.
Down the street from the motel was a local mechanics shop where I managed to sell the Shadow to the owner for $200. As it turned out, a train ticket from Wawa to Saskatoon was – you guessed it – $200!
It seemed to me that it was time to pray and seek God’s will. On the one hand if God wanted me to return to Windsor then why would the price of the car perfectly match the cost of the train ticket? That just seemed a little too coincidental if you ask me. On the other hand, if God really wanted me to return to Saskatoon then why would he allow the car to break down in the first place? And what about all of the “signs” or “signals” I received when I was at home. Ahead of me was only despair; behind me a sunny opportunity to start over.
Then again, maybe all of this was a test. Perhaps God wanted to see if I would “hear” his voice by heeding all of these “signs” and return to Windsor. Or, perhaps God wanted to test my resolve, to see if I would be faithful and stay the course even in the midst of shattered dreams.
How was I to know?
In the midst of this internal struggle I made – without a doubt – the most selfish decision of my life. I chose to turn my back on everything and everyone that waited for me in Saskatoon. I chose to run. I chose to do what seemed best for my own pleasure. I chose to think of only one person. Me.
Someone had to clean out my apartment so that new tenants could move it. Who was going to do that? Well my godly landlords of course. And where was all of my stuff going to be stored until I could manager to go up and get them, well that was my godly landlords responsibility now. And who was going to take care of my cat? You guessed it – my godly landlords. And what about my job as a supervisor at Dairy Queen? Well my boss was a Christian, he’d understand. And how would I get my musical instruments? Well I could contact people I knew and get them to send them to me.
And what about Bob? I mean, what about all that he did for me. What about his credibility, after all, it was because he “backed” me that the church trusted me. And what about the church? Well I figured they had enough of me anyways. And what about my friend Nathan? Well I figured I had managed to cause enough drama among him and his friends (Derek and Angie) that I wouldn’t be missed much. They probably just viewed me as little more than a hypocrite, though no matter how hard I tried I never felt like I made the mix.
So I made the decision for the survival of me. I accepted my brother-in-laws offer to come and get me. Then I called Bob (who no doubt set his face towards God in prayer for me) and had to tell him my decision.
In Windsor: First I want to talk about what seemed to be “signs” that I should stay. The young pastor who made me many promises, it turned out, was not a very godly man who had a notorious reputation for lying, manipulating and splitting churches. I ended up leaving the church of my youth and going nowhere for a while. My ex-girlfriend (who then became my girlfriend) seemed disappointed that I returned to Windsor. Eventually we would split up for good. And the height of the bond I had established with my brother-in-law could only be matched by the greatness of our catastrophic falling out.
In Saskatoon: I had hurt so many people. At the top of a very long list is Bob my dear friend and pastor, Gary and Helen my landlords who in spite of having every right to never speak to me again have none the less remained in contact from time to time. And Nathan – the closest thing I had to a best friend out there.
No amount of repentance could ever undo the past. No amount of “sorry” will heal some of the deep wounds which I caused.
Wawa may have been a crossroad in my life, but the decision I should have made is clear – indeed it was clear even at the time! There are just some things we do not need to take to the Lord in prayer. Gods will is not always difficult to discern.
Simply put: do what’s right – that is the will of God.