Riding Shotgun all the Way

We can make our plans but the Lord determines our steps. -Proverbs 16:9

We pulled out of a campground in Central Washington with everything we owned packed into a bright yellow school bus and our mid-sized SUV. After months of praying, God opened a door for us to live in Alaska. Having camp hosted at one of our favorite spots all summer long and eager to begin our newest adventure, we headed for the Canadian border. With borders closed due to Covid-19 though, getting there would prove to be a huge challenge.

Like much of our lives nothing went as planned. Isn’t that how life often is though? We think we are headed in a certain direction, the route mapped out in our heads, and then we come to an abrupt stop or we must take a detour. Many times, the detour proves to be a rugged mountain we weren’t expecting to climb. Whenever the terrain is rough and there is a slope in front of us, however, we can count on Him to help us scale it, no matter how steep it is or how unprepared we think we may be to do this next hard thing. We can count on Him because He is our strength and He is our refuge. He is our resting place and we can rest in the shadow of His wings when we need it most.

I need Him all the time, but I most definitely needed Him on this move. He was my strength during this hard thing I still cannot believe I did. And I ONLY did it because He was with me every inch of the way, giving me strength when I needed it most-a time when our big plans were completely thwarted. And anyone that truly knows me, knows I don’t do well when plans change. Well, guess what? Our plans drastically changed.

Despite having all of our ducks in a row and speaking with what we thought was the border crossing three times in the weeks before leaving Washington to make sure our “plan” was kosh, passing through Canada was looking grim. As we stood there at the border at 9 o’clock at night, with our nerves barely intact, all of our belongings in tow, two restless kiddos, and nowhere but Alaska to go, the combative Canadian border officials shook their heads and scoffed at us, stating that our quarantine plan was a “no-go”. Grilling us about why we needed to cross the border, they were not finding our reason to move good enough to let us cross. It was time to pray, pray, and pray some more. We had already put down a deposit on a rental cabin in Alaska, and there was no backup plan in place if they didn’t let us cross. We had to cross, but at the same time, we did our best to put it all in His hands.

As the darkness of the night set in, and we continued to be interrogated for at least an hour and the border agents whispered among themselves about our situation, one officer aggressively questioned if we had the finances to change our quarantine plan. She showed us a list of specific hotels along a another route, telling us that if they were to allow us to cross, the hotel names, nights staying and reservation confirmation numbers would need to be provided right then and there. We were threatened that someone “would come knock” to check that we were there, and told we had to make it through Canada to Alaska in two and a half days, a forty hour drive. Could we do it, she quizzed us? My husband and I looked at each other and nodded that we could, although I was not entirely sure two and a half days was nearly enough time, heck, I was nervous about our original four and five day plan, camping-and we did not know if we really had the extra funds for staying in these hotels. It was a big move and we had budgeted just enough to get us there. The agent strictly stated that we had to have enough food and water on hand to get us through and that there was to be “no recreating”, no camping, no stopping at grocery stores, eating in restaurants or going inside gas station marts along the way. If we did, we faced a one million dollar fine and up to 3 years in jail. And, as if my anxiety wasn’t already sky high traveling during a pandemic with a chronic illness, she also threw in that there was currently an American sitting in jail because he didn’t follow these orders and couldn’t pay the $750,000 fine for going off course. But, after much hesitation and intimidation, they gave us the green light to pass through.

We crossed the border into a foreign country just after 10pm, in the dark and had to drive another 9 hours to make it to our newly confirmed quarantine location. Although we made it through the biggest hurdle, this was just the beginning. After getting turned around, our 9 hours turned into thirteen, so at that point, I had been driving for a total of twenty hours since leaving Central Washington. We were still 3 hours away from making it to our first hotel stop and it was already 8:30am, just a couple of hours before checkout time. I had our girls in the car and I knew I couldn’t keep driving safely. Starting to get delirious, physically and emotionally, I knew I had to stop. This was not allowed, however, and it would completely throw us off course, not getting us to any of our required destinations on time. This perpetuated my anxiety. I tried to pull over and take a short break to see if I could continue driving, but instead I broke down. Either He was going to have to take the wheel and help us get there, or we weren’t going to make it. There was only one way through and it included Him. I had to make a conscious choice to put my faith in Him over and over again because my anxiety would not let up and I was far from calm. Fiercely praying, I asked my husband and our girls to do the same.

I had to pray constantly and just trust. The pressure of not having anyone to swap me out and drive part way there, the stress of plans being turned upside down, struggling day to day with my chronic illness, along with the time constraint and threats of jail time if I didn’t make it, staying in hotels during Covid, and my own thoughts running wild with “what if’s”, was too much. My anxiety was crippling and it was making me physically ill. I felt stuck, but there was no turning back now, so I reached for the One that I knew would help me. There was no doing this huge thing without Jesus, because with Him, all things are possible. They may not go as planned, not even the second time, but with Him, they are possible.

He didn’t completely take away the anxiety, but He drove next to me every mile of that journey. See, He may not take away the hard things, but He will walk with us-or rather, drive with us. We ended up stopping in places that were not on that list, having to go into a gas station store because we couldn’t pay at the pump, and meanwhile were getting several calls a day from the Canadian Health Authority. I called the Canadian/Alaskan border to let them know we would be late. The border official I spoke with on the phone was shocked we were given just two and a half days to get through and said she would have never given anyone that little time to make it. She stated that she would make a note of our late arrival, although we would still be “flagged”.

On Friday afternoon, the second day, around 4:30pm, we made it to Smithe, BC, and my husband accidentally hit the curb parking our school bus. The wheel immediately began leaking fluid and the tire shop across the street wouldn’t touch it. Again, reaching for Him was it, because my mind immediately went to “it’s 4:30pm on Friday and our bus is breaking down. How on earth are we going to make it now and who is going to have a part to fix an American Bluebird school bus on a Friday afternoon right before close with no appointment?” I called two mechanics. The first said we would not be able to drive it further than a few miles to have him look at it-then maybe he could have it fixed by Monday. That wouldn’t work. The other was willing to look at it right then. This was blessing number one. Blessing number two came when that mechanic fixed the wheel in ten minutes for $25 and we were on our way, something only He could have orchestrated.

After the quick fix, we headed to the second hotel, a day late, only to find out the room was moldy. Because we are highly sensitive to mold after living in a home with toxic mold and getting extremely ill, we had to leave. Being a weekend night, no other hotels in town had rooms available, but we happened to find a beautiful remote cabin just outside of town in a Native village, cheaper than the hotel. Again, I prayed and then prayed some more. We were off course and I’m a rule follower-so the anxiety was creeping in every chance it could. See His hand in it all though? He directed our steps and He had us the entire time, even on that dirt road-that rough terrain, late at night driving seven miles up to a remote cabin in an SUV and a school bus. Once again, He had us. 

On day three, we drove several hours, getting us as far as the Yukon Territory, which had its own Covid checkpoint. Being stopped and questioned-especially being late and not having followed our quarantine route, was yet another anxiety-ridden event. Since we were off course already, our current plan was to drive as far as possible to get to Alaska as quickly as possible. We just wanted out of Canada. Again, we had to stay at a different hotel than we had given to the Canadian border agents.

The next afternoon, being so last minute, as we drew closer to Alaska, I scrambled to find a place to reserve once we made it there. There was just one cabin left in the nearest Alaskan town of Tok that allowed dogs. This was blessing number three. That evening we made it to the Canadian-Alaskan border and crossed without issue. We made it to Alaska, ya’ll! And He made it possible. There is no way I could have made that drive on my own without His help and strength. And our plan to camp, which we thought was a better quarantine plan, was actually not a good plan at all. With temperatures dropping into the 30’s at night, we would have frozen, instead God kept us safe and warm in two beautiful log cabins, cozy hotel beds and hot baths to rest and relax in. It was His plan that prevailed and it was better than ours. Even with the extra hotel stays, He had it covered. When I budgeted our move, I had hoped we had a sufficient amount to get us there, but I hadn’t accounted for the difference in currency. The change in quarantine plan from camping to hotel stays that was required by the Canadian border officials, didn’t stop us from getting to our destination because He accounted for it. With the U.S. to Canadian exchange rate, it was just enough to cover our lodging. Sometimes He gives us just enough. This was one of those times. His plans triumphed and it was all we needed. There are times when we think we know what we need, but He knows better. He knows what we need and we can trust that.

Looking back, I wish I had trusted more. My anxiety wasn’t pretty. Despite reaching for Him constantly, I let fear in more than I should have, but I see the blessings He provided in these trials and I have learned to trust Him that much more. My faith is stronger because of this adventure. And despite the ugly anxiety rearing its head on more than one occasion, our girls got to witness us leaning on Him to get us through.

With man this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible. -Matthew 19:26