If you are a regular reader of our blog (and a big thanks to those of you who drop us a note and let us know you are reading - it keeps us encouraged!), you will have heard of how God has provided for us in the past two and a half months (yes we are half way through our trip!). This past week has been no exception. We drove in wearily to Santa Rosa, California one night trying to find a bathroom and just "happened" to enter on the right road for the hotel that we had a coupon for. And by staying at that hotel we earned ourselves a free night anywhere in the hotel chain because we had stayed at another hotel in the chain in October!
Another blessing was that a trip to AAA with our host Steve from last weekend got us a camping map which led us to a great campsite at a great price ($15/night x 5 nights = only $75!) right outside Napa, California. Now, don't let the sign scare you, the campsite was a great fit for our family - lots of space, very hot during the day (though we did wake up with frost a few mornings), an amazing Frisbee golf course on a steep hillside, and a 42 flock wild turkey wake up at 6:40 am! The kids also had a great time catching little lizards, playing tag, and getting a sun tan/burn on their faces.
If you were thinking that we were in Napa because we are wine connoisseurs, you are sadly mistaken. There were two reasons we were here. The first was to connect with my cousin Rudie Fast from Sacramento. He drove down to meet us for lunch on Friday, and we had a great time talking about family, faith, and the joys of living in California. It was great to see him again, and to be together with family.
We also stayed here because this was the closest campground to our very fun weekend destination - Six Flags Discovery Kingdom! We had bought a season pass back in April, and finally cashed it in on the opening weekend of their very first "Holiday in the Park" season. We had a great time as a family hanging out with Looney Tunes characters, Frosty, and reindeer. There were a lot of different shows we could watch as well. Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo used to be called Six Flags Marine World, and the shows emphasized the water connection - we saw a dolphin show, watched the sea lions "Save Christmas," and experienced the beauty and power of Shouka the killer whale.
I have seen both dolphin and sea lion shows before, but being that close to a killer whale was a new and amazing experience. Shouka jumped, did some tricks, and also did came right out of the water and did a spin on some concrete so we could see just how big she was. God is an amazing creator, and the fact that these intelligent animals can be trained (how they do it I have no idea!) is truly incredible.
Most of the year here in the San Fransisco area things are pretty warm, so I guess that is why there is such a draw for people to sit in the "splash zone" at the Six Flags water shows. However, the Shouka show was at 7:00 pm, it was dark, it was Nov 23, with a temperature at around 5 degrees. So you think people would know better. Well, I guess not, and since we are parents who sometimes let our kids do what they think is best, we let Joseph, Caleb and Lorianne sit right up front in hopes of them getting wet. After a few near misses, they all got totally soaked from a tail splash from Shouka. Once wet, they didn't feel so brave, and they also realized that salt water can really sting cold skin. We as parents didn't want to get wet and were higher up. It is a good thing, because we saw a lot of adults take on a lot of water, and ruin a lot of clothes and electronic gear.
I would show you a lot more pictures, but our net connection is a bit slow at our hotel here in Lost Hills, CA. (By the way, did you notice that we got a new camera? No more cracked lens!) But I can explain to you in words, about how God has challenged us to provide for others. Through scripture, and a great book we have been reading as a family every night called "The Printer of Udell" we have been reminded that Christianity needs to be applied for it to be real. God gave us some opportunities to do that this past week, and I am thankful that we took them. With our season passes we received coupon books that included 9 free passes to the "Holiday in the Park" at Six Flags. I will be honest and say that I wanted to only partially gift them to people and see if we could get $10 a piece for them. God in his graciousness spoke to Lois and thus we decided to give them away. The first night God led us to a family of 6 who were new to California and coming to the park for the first time. And the second night we gave away our remaining 3 tickets to a Grandma and Grandpa who were taking there two little grand kids (only one of who needed a ticket!) out for an evening so their parents could go on a date. Our kids were pretty pumped that God had answered our prayers and allowed us to just the right people.
Finally, homelessness is something that is very real to people. The story we are reading deals with a man seeks to help those who are truly in need of a place to stay. Throughout our trip we have, at times, felt somewhat "homeless," and have also encountered people on the streets who really were homeless. And then these past 5 days God led us to camp beside Mrs. Becky and her son Charlie, who through no fault of their own, have lived in a tent in Skyline Park for 5 months as they wait for different Government agencies to sort out their situation and find them a home.
Five months in a tent - can you imagine that? Yet they aren't bitter, they were always smiling, and Mrs. Becky always took time to teach our children about something from the area, point out some wildlife or plant life that they could learn about as she drove Charlie to his job every day. As we got to know them, and then realized that we were camping by choice, and had the freedom to pack up whenever we wanted and go to a hotel, we sensed that we needed to help them. A month's rent in Napa costs at a minimum $1200 for a one bedroom place, and while we did not give them that much, after praying as a family, we shared from what God has blessed us with so that they can maybe spend a few nights in a hotel, get some extra things for Christmas, or just pay some bills which we may not know about.
All of us have so much compared to so many. Jesus says "what you do to the least of these, you are doing for me." Who are the "least of these" in your life? Do they live on your street, do you pass them on your way to work, or are they sitting in the back row of your church waiting for someone to truly live out the teachings of Jesus? What about the missionaries that you know are doing without so that God's work can be done? And what of those many mission agencies that are giving their all so that the Gospel can be proclaimed, yet are so often frustrated because of lack of funds?
Christmas is coming and the Walmarts and Future Shops will be packed. May God continue to speak to us all about those who truly are in need, and how we can go without (or more realisticly at least with a little less) so that they won't have to.