Friday, June 19, 2015

Outside the Drawing

The other day I noticed an old drawing I had doodled years ago on the side of my refrigerator. It is a cartoonish sketch of my wife, my two children at the time- JulieAnna and Sawyer, and myself. It’s funny, because it has been there so long I hadn’t noticed it in a while. Standing there at the fridge, it jogged my memory of another hand drawn picture.

When we were dating, Patience would take bright markers and make all sort of colorful signs for me. I had a closet door covered in copy paper with romantically mushy phrases like “I love you more than the stars” and “Happy 6th month anniversary.” If that sounds a bit juvenile it’s probably because she was a sophomore in high school at the time, and we were young and head over heels crazy about each other. But there was one drawing she created that stood the test of time. It was of a yellow house with a red door. Beside it were two tall stick figures (a mom and dad) a little girl, and a baby boy. At the top it read, “Our dream.” 

I found that drawing in a box about five years ago and ran to Patience in astonishment. It was as if she had prophetically predicted our future back in high school. At the time I discovered it our life perfectly mirrored the “dream” she envisioned many years before. I quickly grabbed a marker and told her to draw a picture of us in a bigger house swimming in piles of money. 

“We are literally living our dream,” she said as she studied the paper.

“That’s crazy, right?!” I exclaimed.

She was quiet for a moment.

“All those years you just keep looking forward to the next big thing…” Patience paused as she thought aloud, “But it’s like once you get there you forget… you forget you actually get to live some of those dreams.”

I hung the picture on our refrigerator and used it as a conversation piece when guests would come over. Somewhere in the past few years though, the fridge was cleaned, and the mysterious house drawing is now nowhere to be found. All the while “our dream” began to change.

I think it’s great to dream big and make plans, but sometimes the most amazing things in life happen when you detour from what you always predicted you would do and instead do something you never expected. I was happy with my family of four. I was content with my yellow brick house and my beautiful wife. But it wasn’t until we started thinking outside of our own dreams that life truly began.

I have mentioned the adoption of our son, Wesley, a lot, but it’s because he was one of those unplanned detours. There was no place in Patience’s hand drawn picture with a little blind Korean boy. It was never on our radar. He was not drawn into the dream. But, man, I am so glad life doesn’t always go the way you planned. I am so thankful we didn’t settle to just live the simple high school dream of making money and having the perfect little family. No, the true adventure began in our lives when we stepped outside of the boundaries we had drawn for ourselves, and did something bigger and harder and more difficult than we ever imagined. We took the plans we had, crumpled it in a ball, and threw it in the garbage. For the first time in our lives we were living a plan only God Himself could set into motion. 

One of my fondest memories is the time I talked Patience into driving up Highway 64 to the Ocoee Whitewater Center. It was a beautiful Saturday morning, and I just could not stay put. JulieAnna was a just a baby, so we loaded her into the car seat, and hit the road. We snaked alongside the winding river beside the highway, breathing deeply the cool spring mountain air. The Whitewater Center is home to the 1996 Olympic whitewater competition, and is great spot to watch kayakers play in the rapids. We had packed a picnic lunch and spent the next hour or so meandering along the Occee River; taking pictures of JulieAnna as she waddled along the stone paths.

When we returned to the car I asked Patience what she thought about driving a little further. She was hesitant. I just wanted to go about 45 minutes further to Murphy, North Carolina; a quaint little town with small shops and eateries. She reluctantly agreed. About fifteen minutes into the drive though, she and JulieAnna both fell sound asleep. A thought crossed my mind. A spark of adventure flared up in my chest. So without a word I determined I was going to keep driving until they woke up, and just see where we ended up. 

We passed Murphy in no time and continued Northeast deeper into North Carolina. Another hour passed, then another. Patience began to stir in the passenger seat. She sat up and rubbed her eyes into focus.

“Where are we?” she said in a half yawn.

“I’m not sure,” I responded with a coy smile.

“What do you mean you are not sure?”

“I mean, we’ve been driving for a while.”

Patience jumped up in her seat as she looked at the clock.

“Why are you still driving?” she exclaimed.

JulieAnna began to stir in her car seat. My whim of adventure suddenly began to seem like less of a good idea.

“Where are we?” Patience repeated.

“I really don’t know.” 

JulieAnna was now awake and hungry. She began to cry.

So we pulled over the car into a rundown country gas station. I began to fill up the tank, and popped the trunk to look for an atlas. (Yes, this was pre Google Maps.) Patience lifted JulieAnna out of the seat to discover a soaking wet mess. The bad news: one diaper and no change of clothes. I could feel the heat from my wives evil glare as I peered up from the atlas. She carried the soaking wet baby into the nasty gas station bathroom at arm’s length. By now the sun was beginning to set, and I could tell my wife was in no mood for an evening excursion. She came back with JulieAnna, strapped her in, and plopped down in the seat next to me.

“Let’s go home,” she said.

There was a moment of silence.

“Well, we are about 4 ½ hours from home, so it might just be better to find a place,” I responded with caution.

The silence returned.

“Let’s just make the most of it,” I said smiling.

Patience just shook her head in frustration, as JulieAnna cooed from the back seat, despite her urine drenched onesie. After a long discussion, and Patience surrendering out of pure exhaustion, we decided to move forward to the next town. 

Shortly after, we pulled into the little town of Chimney Rock, North Carolina. The main strip of shops and restaurants was beautifully tucked between two mountains, and in the shadow of the Chimney rock; a pronounced stone jutting out from the top of one of the mountaintops. It was springtime, and the streets were crowded with tourists. We spend the next hour searching for a hotel. There was a rundown little motel next to the creek with one room still available, so we took it. 

We had no change of clothes, no toothbrushes, no baby supplies, so we made our way to the nearest Walmart and bought all of the essentials. After the store came a lovely dinner at a little restaurant that was mostly windows. It looked out over the valley, and had a spectacular view of Chimney Rock. We ate a delicious meal then walked the street and perused through the shops, before returning to our musty motel room.

The funny thing is, looking back, we have such fond memories of that trip. We still laugh about it. And it makes me wonder why I don’t step outside of the plan more often. Why not be spontaneous every once and awhile? What’s stops me from getting in the car and just driving until we stumble upon somewhere interesting? 

If you’re like me, there are a few big things that keep spontaneity from happening… namely money, responsibilities, and schedules. 

It seems at some point we are forced to grow up. Our money goes to pay the bills. We have families. We go to the grocery store. We run the kids to baseball practice, and juggle a hundred other things on our plate. Somewhere in the mix our spontaneity flies out the window. We’re either too broke or too tired to step outside the norm into anything new or exciting. 

I am not saying that you should be some total free spirit and shed all of your responsibilities. I am also not suggesting to go run up your credit card so you can live out your dream. Pretty soon the Visa bills will find you and the responsibilities will track you down like a pack of dogs. But I believe adding a little spontaneity into your routine can help balance your life. 

I look at the drawing on my refrigerator now and it just seems so empty. The old dream of the wife, two kids, and a house feels a lot like the sketch itself: colorless. Had we stuck to the plan, our lives would be so drastically different. We would have missed the adventure. We would have forfeited a better story. So stop sticking to the limitation of your plans. Put your foot to the gas and drive. You might just find a life outside the drawing is where real life begins.

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