By Kim Seeley
When I was a teen, I thought myself a poet, pathetically misunderstood by my parents and society. As a college student, I thought myself not quite as brilliant as at 15, but still intellectually astute, industrious and capable of great deeds. As a young mother, I thought myself one of the most inept women who ever gave birth. Surely every other mother in the world had more confidence in diapering, bathing and soothing her new infant than I did. As a forty-something, I thought myself rather fortunate, a mother of two lovely girls, wife of a good man with a stable job and happily employed in a career that brought me personal satisfaction.
My fiftieth birthday was not the rude-awakening, “Oh, my God, I’m half a century old!” type of birthday. My fiftieth birthday was the funeral visitation of my 19 year-old daughter, killed in a car wreck three days before. I was plunged headlong into a pit of despair that challenged my Christian faith, my belief in a God of miracles and my assurance that there are really “angels among us.”
It took several years for me to emerge from this pit into the light of every day life. It also took about thirty books on grief and faith, three different “mild” anti-depressants and a trip across this beautiful country of ours. While the books and drugs may have helped save me from despair, it was the trip with three female friends that brought me back to joy.
The “WOW Girls,” as one of my friends designated us, were “Women of Wakefield,” “Women on a Walk” and “Women of Wonder.” She had visors made for us, and we proudly wore them from Virginia to California and back. We were proud to explain our “WOW Girls” hats to other tourists across country, but we were the only ones who understood the deeper connotations of “WOW” for each of us.
Each one of us had a special deeper journey she was undertaking as we were undertaking our physical journey. One of us had recently survived a bout with breast cancer, the loss of her hair and a close encounter with her own mortality. Another still mourned the loss of her father, taken far too early by the crippling disease ALS. Yet another has battled for several years with the shadow of lupus, a disease for which there is no cure. And I; I was struggling to make sense of a world in which bad things not only happen to good people, they happen to us. They happen to you and to me, my friends on my journey, believers and non-believers. Bad things happen.
As we traveled across country, I was in charge of devotions. I had selected a reading for each day and as we began each day in the Ford Explorer, I would read the scripture and brief message. A pattern seemed to appear as we crossed country; each devotion seemed somehow earmarked for that day’s opportunities. We felt God’s blessing on us as we traveled, sometimes as quiet as a whisper, sometimes as if He were reaching down from heaven, spreading His hand across the sky, and shouting, “Look at this! I made this for you.”
Our first night was spent at Lake Junaluska, a Methodist retreat in the mountains of western North Carolina. We were invited to a service that was planned for a special convocation of pastors. At the end of the service, which was filled with lovely music and healing words of faith, we each went forward to have the sign of the cross placed on our foreheads with oil. We felt as if we had been blessed for our journey.
It was just the beginning of the blessings. We found our journey scattered with rainbows and butterflies, wild creatures and wildflowers. Churches and chapels dotted our trail, and we entered several, leaving each more peaceful and serene. From the Great Smokey Mountains to the Grand Tetons, we stood in awe of the majesty of God’s handiwork. We marveled at the wonders of the geysers and mud pots in Yellowstone and the palette of colors God used to paint the Badlands. Each day brought new visual feasts and opportunities to say, “Wow! What an incredible sight!”
I had made us song books for the road. While we rode, we sang songs ranging from patriotic anthems to hymns to folk songs. The sounds of “Feeling Groovy,” “This Land is Your Land” and “The Wonder of It All” filled our Explorer as we rambled down Route 66 past Cadillac Ranch and through the desert highways of the Salt Lake flats in Utah. We were entertained by jazz combos in New Orleans, a Texas trio in Amarillo and Native American chants in Wyoming. Some days it seemed that God Himself was attempting to waken all of our senses, to hear, see, smell, taste and touch the wonders of His world.
I’ve always been told that the best things in life are free. After all, one does not need a dime to enjoy a butterfly or a sunset. But the value of our trip out West cannot be measured in dimes and cents. How do you place a price tag on renewing our very souls?
This is a beautiful country, and our national parks offer scenes of grandeur that rival any place in this world. The companionship of good friends, the surroundings that filled us with amazement and wonder, the music from Lake Junaluska to the Crystal Cathedral that touched our spirits – these are gifts that will last us a lifetime. Yet I feel that we did pay a price for this trip – not just in dollars and cents – but in experience. We each found the type of healing and restored faith that can only come when that faith has been tested. How can anyone fully appreciate the mountains without the valleys? Only those who have been broken and wounded can experience healing. The best things in life may be free, but those that have come to us through healing after pain and sorrow are dear, in every sense of the word.
About this writer
- Kim Seeley, a former librarian and English teacher, lives with her husband, Wayne, in Wakefield, Virginia. She is a frequent contributor to Sasee and Chicken Soup for the Soul. Her most recent story, “Amanda’s Jonquils,” can be found in Chicken Soup: Messages from Heaven. She loves to read, play the piano, travel and spend time with her grandson, Evan.