It was a strange series of events that led to my seven year old and I huddled on the cold tile floor in front of a grimy toilet in a local Wal-Mart at 11:20pm.
Today began as the first day of our annual summer family vacation road trip. As with most of these types of trips, we were running way behind with final packing, cleaning, fixing various last minute home repairs, and loading the camper. Getting our family of six humans and one canine ready for vacation and out the door should require a team of NASA scientists. Truly it is mind numbing the amount of prep work it takes to get our family ready for a vacation.
Earlier in the week I looked at my wife and said, “I may need a vacation from getting ready for this vacation.”
Anyway, after roughly 483 trips in and out of the house to load all our “necessities” we were loaded up and on our way, only 4 hours past our goal departure time. Vacation here we come!
The first five hours of our trip would take us up through scenic eastern Wyoming. Or as I like to call it “the place dirt goes to retire.” Also, by a unique convergence of geography and gravitational pull combined with the summer solstice, no matter what direction we were going, I was always sitting directly in the sun. So although the rest of the car was a breezy 74 degrees, the left side of my flesh was bubbling somewhere around the surface temperature of Venus.
But even though the hair on my left arm was slowing combusting, all of us were in good spirits and excited to begin our vacation in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
Approaching Rapid City, we noticed an ominous storm cloud hovering over the city. After a quick internet weather check, we decided to loop around a different direction in order to avoid the inclement cell. It proved to be the right call.
As we pulled into the campground it was covered in a thick layer of hail, downed leaves and limbs lying everywhere. It had clearly been a nasty storm we missed by minutes. Campers were intensely checking their campers for damage and gathering up wind blown items.
As we set up camp our neighbor shared how the inch plus sized hail had blown out his sky lights and left rain flooding the inside of his camper. All around was a pervasive sense that everyone had just survived a scary event. This left my family and I feeling subdued as we finished setting up our camper.
Once everything was secured and squared away, we made the all-important decision on where to eat dinner. Arriving at the restaurant, we were all a little dazed from the 8+ hour drive. There’s something about a road trip that does mysterious things to your inner clock and digestive system. We were all hungry, yet also slightly incoherent. After mumbling something about burgers and nachos to our server we settled in to wait for the food to arrive. In the background were the obligatory flat panel TVs showing mildly interesting sporting events. All would have appear as normal if not for the Emergency Broadcast System cutting in and taking over all the TVs at once.
Through our road weary confusion we heard warnings of severe thunderstorms, over 70 mile per hour sustained winds, damaging hail, flash floods and instructions to seek cover and shelter. This new information immediately changed the tenor of our meal.
Not wanting to unsettle the kids, we did our best to purposely finish our meal and return to our campsite. Once in our camper we went about the normal business of brushing teeth, putting on “jammies” and snuggling in to sleeping bags.
With the kids down for the night, we checked my wife’s iPhone for the latest on the weather radar. It wasn’t good. An angry red and purple cell was steadily advancing toward our exact location. Having witnessed the aftermath of the earlier storm, all the hail and all the damage, we called an audible.
“Everybody get up! We’re going to make a quick trip to Wal-Mart.”
“Dad, what are you talking about? We’re tired and in our PJs.”
“No problem, kids. It will be fun. No one will notice. Hop out of your beds and get your shoes on quick!”
My wife and I kept assuring the kids that nothing was wrong and it was entirely normal to make a trip to Wally World with the whole family at 11pm. In retrospect, rather than coming across as calm and soothing, I think we landed somewhere around crazy and deranged.
We chose Wal-Mart for three reasons: it’s open 24 hours, it’s large and built with cement cinder blocks, and it’s on the other side of town.
These all proved incredible handy once the storm hit. Though this particular Wal-Mart was of the “Super” variety, the intensity of the storm could be heard and felt throughout the cavernous isles. Primarily we stayed close to sporting goods and toys working to distract the kids from the maelstrom outside. We played catch with all sorts of balls. We played with super heroes, put on masks and rode bicycles. It was actually quite a hoot.
As the night progressed, the late hour and the emotions of the evening began to exact a toll on my seven-year-old son. His little body had had enough. With the sweet blue eyes of an angel he looked at me and said, “Daddy, I’m going to throw up.”
If you are new to the parenting game, allow me to dispense some advice. When regurgitation is mentioned, take it serious. You have nothing to lose with a trip to the bathroom, and so very much to gain. Seriously.
I scooped my little one up and off we went in search of the men’s room. Thankfully there are not many men in need of the facilities at an enormous retail store at 11:30pm on a Wednesday night. We quickly hustled into the first available stall and my dear son knelt before the bowl. In that moment I was particularly happy he was too young to have taken any classes in Bacteriology. As Scripture says, “knowledge puffs up…” and he didn’t need to puff up, he needed to throw up. So, ignorance was bliss!
Ten minutes went by and still no puking. My little red head was no longer kneeling, but now sitting and embracing the fixture. Tired of standing, I gathered in behind him on the floor. We sat like that for a while. Me gently rubbing his back and him quietly squeaking out a whimper or moan.
I was so frustrated by my inability to make things better for him. All I wanted to do was fix what was making him sick.
At one point, the wave of nausea was especially strong and he softly said, “Daddy I’m scared.” I drew him closer, placed my hand on his head and said, “I know, honey. I’m right here with you.”
His reply will stay with me for years and years.
“I know Daddy. Thank you so much. Thank you for being with me. Will you pray to God for me?”
Wow. So amazing. So sweet and honest.
I replied, “Of course honey.” And right there, on the floor, in front of that toilet bowl, in a Wal-Mart in Rapid City, South Dakota at 11:40pm, my young son and I came before the Father’s throne.
I’ve been reflecting on that moment all day. My presence with my son had power in his life. In that moment, I didn’t fix his pain. I didn’t eliminate his suffering. Yet my presence meant the world to him. Being near, holding him close, and praying for him in the midst of his pain and discomfort made everything better.
This Father’s Day I encourage you to gather in around those God has entrusted you with. Draw near to your children. Put aside any pride and hold them close. If you are a “fixer” like me, stop. Instead take an intentional moment to see them, to pray with them. You have so much to gain, and so very little to lose.
It all worked out by the way. My little guy never threw up and was feeling better soon after our prayer. And the storm? The storm passed by our camper leaving only rain and a few more leaves. But the crazy story our family now has and the moments I had with my son made for a night I’ll always remember.
Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will uphold you with my victorious right hand. Isaiah 41:10