Deployments are hard. They are stressful and put random strains on you that you don't expect. There is also a Murphy's Law that if something can go wrong it will happen during a deployment.
Now, I don't really put much stock in such superstitions. I think stuff will happen no matter what. It is just more upsetting when you are shouldering the burdens alone.
We are now about 2 months into this relatively short deployment. And it is holiday season. The kids and I wanted a break. We discussed it and decided to spend Thanksgiving with my family in North Carolina. My husband was not thrilled about this idea. We discussed it. A lot. Sometimes after we talked I had such a feeling of foreboding that I didn't even want to leave the house! The decision was still unmade the morning we planned to leave. I mean, we had packed and stopped the mail and newspaper and done everything as if we were going but I wasn't going anywhere until I was sure of what to do and I just wasn't.
I had prayed about it a few times and was still coming up blank. I even wondered if I was being like Joseph Smith and the 116 lost pages, asking over and over when the answer was no. But I hadn't really gotten a no either.
So, that morning, I gathered the kids together and discussed the situation. I explained that there was going to be some possible bad weather. I explained that one of them had been sick just the day before and the others might get sick on the trip if it was going around like it does in big families. I told them we could go for Christmas instead. We all wanted to go now. We all wanted to spend Christmas in our own home. So we prayed again.
I remember at some point that morning pleading for assurance that either decision was best. I was so torn and I really needed an answer either way. I silently asked if we would be safe. Suddenly I had the assurance I was seeking. Yes, we would be safe.
That was good enough for me. We loaded up the care and headed out. It rained for the first half of the trip. Normally I hate driving in rain. I hate being a passenger in heavy rain! But this time I was fine. I was cheerful. I drove right through the storm without feeling stressed out at all. We got beyond the storm and headed on to my parents house.
We enjoyed a wonderful Thanksgiving with cousins and grandparents, aunts and uncles. I got to hold one of the newest members of the family. All the kids played really well the whole time. I talked a lot with my dad and my brother who had flown in from Utah. My grandmother had the great-granddaughters over for a sleepover, just like when I was a kid and spent the night with my cousins there. And on the other side of the family all 20 of the great-grandchildren were together for the first time and were able to take a picture together with their great-grandmother. My oldest son played football with his second cousins and had a great time. We were treated to a mini concert by my cousin's daughter on her tiny cello and her dad let all the little kids try it out (My kids LOVED it!!!) I spent some time with my mom and sister-in-law shopping on Black Friday. And I came home with lots of Christmas presents to go under our tree!
I had planned to drive home on Monday. The extended forecast had shown rain on Monday and Tuesday so I considered leaving Sunday. When my youngest woke up Saturday with an eye infection I considered it again. Honestly, I wasn’t quite ready to go back to real life. There was now a slow-moving winter storm coming right across our path home. If I waited it out we wouldn't leave until Wednesday or Thursday. I decided to go on Monday as planned. I felt uncertain about what to do but I didn't know why. I did think of asking my dad to check out the Suburban for me but I felt kind of silly. We had done a lot of work to it and there was nothing to suggest that anything was wrong. Well, I had to add a gallon of coolant on the way there so I had been keeping an eye on that. I even checked it before I left and bought 2 gallons to keep with me just in case but it was fine.
The first part of the trip was great we had pretty good weather and made good time to Knoxville, TN. That is about half way for us. We stopped for lunch at McDonalds and I let the kids play for about an hour. We filled up the tank and started back on I-40. At which point I couldn't go above 50mph and the RPM's shot up to 5!!! I didn’t know what was wrong so I pulled over and checked for a flat tired or parking brake but everything looked okay. I went on to the next exit and got off. We drove around for a few minutes looking for a place to park so I could use the GPS to find a mechanic. I saw a lube shop and stopped there. The man was VERY nice and said they could take a look and either fix it or tell us where to take it.
First, they found a bad leak in the transmission line. Apparently it had been cut and sliced with rubber hose which was not good enough. They replaced it with a metal pipe and assured me that it would last for a while. But after adding 5 quarts of fluid it still wouldn't shift into third gear. They said the upper gears were bad and I should put it in2nd gear to drive. "Don't go above 45 and you should be fine." They suggested the interstate because it would be the straightest, shortest route and limit more wear on the gears.
We had 225 miles to go. It was raining pretty hard. 45 isn't bad in those conditions. We drove about 2 hours before it was dark and clear... and 70 mph. We were stopped by a state trooper. He wasn't very helpful but said that if I got off at the next exit I could take a highway that ran parallel to the interstate “for a while". We crawled along to the exit and got something to eat. Well, the kids ate. I was too upset to eat. I bought a map (since GPS can be really stupid!) and took that highway to the next town, about 20 miles. The clerk that sold me the map said there was nothing after that. (He turned out to be right!)
We got a hotel in Cookesville. I didn't want to try the unfamiliar roads at night, in bad weather with a flood watch out. I couldn't risk being stuck in the middle of nowhere with 7 kids. I didn't sleep well. But we got a free breakfast and I was able to email my husband. (Did I mention he's deployed?) Until this point I had considered getting it fixed, even if we had to stay a few days. That didn't quite seem like the best idea (think of keeping 7 kids entertained without a car... and did I mention the winter storm? No exactly walking weather!) I did a quick search for "rebuild transmission cost" and saw that the top few results were around 2000-2500.
Okay, never mind. I guess we will keep going. I prayed a lot that morning. I felt like we should stop by the dealership that the GPS had shown. I talked to the guy about cost, time, and how to get home in 2nd gear. He basically confirmed everything I already knew but at least that was reassuring. He and another guy said the highway I had taken to get there would go all the way to Nashville and I should have no trouble getting home if I took it slow. I also asked about a 9 passenger vehicle, just in case. The guy made some suggestions but didn't have one. I decided to keep going. Before I even got out of town my husband called. He made more suggestion, mainly to go slow (about 35) and add some Transmedic to protect what was left of the transmission. I went right back to the place across from the dealer and the guys there put some stuff in it for me.
We drove down this quiet, scenic country road for hours. I tried to stay around 30 mph. I did NOT want to ruin that gear! We made slow and steady progress. We stopped for lunch at another McDonalds and the kids played for a while. I bought more maps and called a few people from our ward to make sure I was looking at the right roads. By then I was sure of what I was doing and where I was going. My only anxiety was whether the transmission would last until we got home.
Well, it did. We got home after driving for about 7 hours at 30 miles per hour. And the kids were ready to kill each other! (Did I mention I didn't bring a DVD player and I don't have a smart phone? We were really low-tech on this trip!)
Here are some things I learned from this:
I learned that the tender mercies of the Lord are indeed a "multitude". We were able to find good people to help us along the way. We were able to feed ourselves. We were able to travel through a very beautiful area and enjoy it because we weren't racing through it. We had some good talks and prayed together and sang Christmas songs and Primary songs. There was no quick fix. We all had to find better ways to do things. We had to put our personal comforts aside to accommodate the needs of others. We had to really look at each other and acknowledge each other. Let me tell you, it was HARD!!! I have felt for a long time that we are too selfish. Now I see that we really do need to work on that.
At one point I decided to tell some stories. The first one I picked was "The Christmas Oranges". I sobbed through the whole thing! I had been feeling really guilty about this car issue. I don't like to make mistakes. And I am not very forgiving of myself. I imagined that I was little girl, crying into my pillow thinking "I don't deserve an orange anyway!!" And yet there are always people who are very willing to make sacrifices to make it better. Especially the Savior.
And that isn't all! When I got home I had an email that told a similar story of overlooking the flaws of others. I had another with a video clip by Elder Russell M. Nelson about fear and faith. AND a friend of ours was planning to come till the garden while we were gone. I came home to trimmed bushed, racked flower beds, cut grass including the trimming, and beautifully tilled garden! It looked so great even the kids noticed!
I'm pretty sure this isn't the end of this lesson. I still feel really uncertain about the immediate future. But I have a sure hope that it will all work out.
On our way home we saw a rainbow across the road. As we drove the rainbow moved with us. Here are the pictures taken by my 10 year old daughter. You can see a double rainbow in some of the pictures. And, yes, it was raining at the time! (Oh, yeah, that is just a big stick smudge in the middle that I can't get off. Oh, well!)