If ever a roof box had a raison d’etre, surely that raison is a road trip. If you are a family of 5, contemplating a journey in excess of 2,000 miles, then the roof box must exist for such a time as this. Arguably, the family road trip is the highest point of its vocational calling; its presence in our leaky garage, buried beneath camping clobber and bicycle helmets, is entirely, solely for crowning the car with holiday essentials, a vessel for buckets, spades and wind breakers.
Not according to my husband. My husband resists putting that box on our car like a teen being asked to come off TikTok. So deeply entrenched is his position on the subject of our roof box that he won’t buy the fittings that would attach it to the car, meaning it’s not even a conversation, rather an academic debate, whenever we broach the question of whether to use it. After a fruity luggage-related debate this week, a real low point in our journey through middleagedom, I made him buy him said fittings for our summer holiday. Somewhat suspiciously, they didn’t arrive in time.
My husband therefore instructed us last night, as we prepped for our packing, that our allowance was basically a change of undies and some swimmers for a holiday of almost 3 weeks, speaking as if this wasn’t a situation all of his making. My daughter and I were told we must share a bag (an allowance less generous than an budget airline) as we will be spending a few nights away from this travel Scrooge. Inevitably, that bag has been filled so full it takes a two-man lift to move it anywhere. I can’t see how the pair of us will manage around the Paris Metro and on tbe TGV but we stayed within the rules so we and the bag were allowed on the trip. Interestingly, the picnic bag my husband prepared for the journey is almost as big and heavy as the rest of our luggage.
When we pull up at passport control in Portsmouth, the lady checking our documentation seems less interested in our Covid passes than the lack of space in our car. ‘They’re very cramped back there, aren’t they?’ she observes, peering in at the kids.
‘Do you want to see my NHS app?’ I ask, proffering my phone to try and distract her from the interior of our car.
‘No,’ she says, waving it away. ‘They don’t look very comfy, do they? Hope you’ve not got far to travel on the other side.’
I don’t tell her our destination, too nervous to explain we are traveling the length of France to the Riveria in case her alarm confirms mine. ‘Enjoy your trip,’ she says flatly, unconvincingly, handing me back the passports.
So why this objection from my husband to our poor old roof box? He says it’s the issue of drag. ‘It will cost twice as much in fuel if we use it,’ he asserts, a claim completely unfounded, as far as I can tell, without scientific basis, a figure plucked from nowhere. Yes, it will cost a bit more in fuel but so will buying all the things we’ve not been allowed to bring. He’s acting like he’s participating in the Tour de France, mistaking himself for a solo cyclist in Lycra, with Vaselined nipples and waxed legs, shedding all unnecessary encumbrances, when in fact he’s a dad of 3 fast-growing human beings who need STUFF!
The delusion continues in the ferry queue as he laughs at people with trailers and bike racks, like these well-prepared folk have made some hilarious mistake, as if a carful of farting kids sat on top of one another with no changes of clothes or entertainment is going to end well and those other idiots will be bemoaning their decision to bring picnic blankets, anti-histamine and an Aeropress, items we establish in the queue off the ferry that we failed to bring ourselves. Items I would have liked. I point this out. ‘We’ll just buy them,’ says my husband, blowing his economic arguments out of the Channel.
The other reason we weren’t allowed to bring the roof box is, apparently, my husband’s fear that we won’t be able to enter underground car parks with it atop our car. I am hoping not to spend our holiday in underground car parks. I am not sure what my husband is envisaging for this trip. I am dreaming of cafe and beach experiences, not subterranean adventures. Plus, we don’t drive a double decker or an HGV, which might allow for this argument; we drive a low-slung family estate.
I know there is a sense in which my husband is right. We have been on a holiday before (see Greek Island Hoping) where an airline, whose name I still can’t say without a rise in blood pressure, lost all our luggage. Standing in the clothes we’d travelled in, we soon discovered we were actually better off without the twenty-one pairs of shoes we were later reconciled with in the middle of the Aegean. After learning the joy of simple travel, I vowed we would venture out lighter in future.
But when faced with tight packing choices last night, I couldn’t decide whether to bring the 3 for 2 novels I’d bought at Waterstones or my Bible. I ended up choosing both and just sitting on my case a bit harder! It got me wondering, if we were made to choose between the different loads we metaphorically carry on our individual journeys- emotional, spiritual, psychological, relational- what would we want to keep and what would be like to lose? Which things would we be unable to put down and which might we realize we weren’t designed to carry?
I recently attended a ladies weekend where I felt challenged to lay down things I had been carrying for a long time. In the weeks leading up to it, I had resisted going, largely because of the journey. It was going to be 4 hours at best but I would be traveling on a Friday afternoon so I predicted it would be worse than that. The day before, my traveling buddy had to cancel with Covid and I was tempted to bail. I am not good at navigating long journeys alone, even with a sat nav, but something, annoyingly, was tugging at me. Before I set off, I prayed I would have a good journey. Seven hours later, I arrived at the venue, a tear-stained mess.
My emotions ran close to the surface from that point onwards. I didn’t want them to. I wanted to remain closed off from anything too painful that might crop up in the teaching. But perhaps the doomed journey was deliberate; it broke down my defences, creating space to release the emotions buried behind them.
One of the first talks was called ‘Longings of the Heart’ and just reading the title made me well up. The theme of the talks was based on God’s plans for us, our ambitions and how they fit together. I have been so disappointed for such a long time about a hope that did not come to fruition. The disappointment cut so deep, into my sense of self, purpose and value, shaping my internal life into a barren wasteland. It caused me to stop trusting God and wanting his plans for my life.
One lady later said during a time of prayer that God was calling me to trust Him again. I hadn’t said anything about not trusting, in fact I hadn’t said very much at all. But I knew she was right. I spent time praying with close friends about the broken hopes that had left me heart-sick. The hardest part of those prayers was laying down my ambitions for myself and surrendering them to God.
Separately, I did an art session aimed at listening to God. There was a telescope in the room, beautifully called Star Watcher, which my partner pointed out to me. She said I had my own telescope that allowed me to see God and his universe stretching ahead of me, a way of exploring the possibilities in His plans for me, rather than those plans I was being asked to lay down during the weekend.
Interestingly, it was facing a wall. I said, I think I have had my gaze fixed on the wrong thing for so long, I can’t see God from where I am. I need to reposition myself. When we began our artwork, it was suggested we draw what we think Jesus is looking forward to about us arriving in heaven to be with Him. I drew myself on my wedding day with my veil lifted back. On my actual wedding day, I was too nervous to lift my veil and wore it down for a chunk of the service, much to the consternation of the vicar, who worried Jack might be marrying the wrong person! In heaven, I thought, perhaps Jesus is looking forward to seeing my face unveiled, my gaze turned to Him.
I saw how much time I had spent with my face turned away from Jesus, veiled by other things, like a comfort blanket that I ought to have outgrown. I have filled my disappointment with things I shouldn’t have done, instead of looking to Him. Like that roof box, full of added weight, heavy with things I don’t need for the journey, things a father can provide later on if necessary, I needed to lay down my disappointment and it’s associated baggage. Only then could I go deeper into those murky, subterranean places I would rather not explore, allowing God to dispel the darkness with His light and hope.
The words spoken to me that weekend were painful and perfect in equal measure. God’s way can feel harder than the steps we’d rather take but there is nothing better than shaking off things He never meant us to carry and walking in the freedom He offers. As I drove away from my weekend, the journey back was no easier or shorter but I felt lighter. There was a renewed joy bubbling up inside me as I travelled home under the safety of His mighty wings, finally, happily, excited to see where He suggests we go next.
“For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”
2 Corinthians 3:17