Jen and I often refer to Minneapolis as our adopted American home. We’ve been down the main roads and the backroads, shopped until we dropped at the outlets and the mall (which for me doesn’t take much) and experienced wonderful sunsets sneaking behind the downtown skyscrapers as we drove the river road. We’ve attended concerts, toured gangster hide outs and the Old Mill District, hung with the Peanuts gang and wandered the expansive natural wonderland that is Minni’s waterfalls, lakes, Mississippi and Apple Rivers and Stillwater origins.
We’ve shared a lot of great moments on the way down and in that particular city, but by far one of my favourite memories has to be a once infamous and spontaneous stop at the downtown Sculpture Gardens where we decided to masquerade as potential home buyers by hunting down open houses in the row of old, stately homes that dot the hill behind the park. For our purposes we happened to be “relocating for work” and “considering something centrally located to downtown” with “a spacious backyard and at least 3 bedrooms in a quaint and quiet neighbourhood.”
We found some good potential, but we were pretty sure they weren’t going to take our idea of a low-ball bid.
Getting Lost and Getting Found in a 13 Mile Radius
One of the things we anticipated about this most recent trip was the opportunity to be stand-in-tour guides for our group of students as we navigated this neck of the woods, or at least as far as Chicago. But it turned out the only thing they were truly interested in was the Mall of America. I won’t lie. The wind was taken out of my wannabe-tour guide sails for a bit. When you’ve done the mall (I’m sure) 1,000 times (okay, a slight exaggeration) the last place you really want to be is back at the mall… 3 times… over the course of a single trip.
But I was quickly reminded by forces greater than me that I wasn’t there for myself. We were there for the students, and as Jen rightly pointed out when I was their age and embarking on my very first trip to Minneapolis guess where I wanted to go? The mall.
All of this was good though, because as it turned out my personal pride in knowing the area backwards and forwards was about to take a serious hit. Apparently Minneapolis has taken a more recent page from Winnipeg’s book and decided to close off every known street leading straight to the mall.
And, no I don’t believe it is an exaggeration to say “every known street”.
We arrived in Minneapolis 2 hours ahead of schedule (Dave pats himself on that back for ignoring those back seat calls for that last washroom break), and just as we texted the parents to let them know we were arriving at the mall safely? Complete gridlock.
Being no less than a ten minute drive from the mall in regular traffic flow, we would end up spending the next 2 hours being led in a continual circle by a GPS that refused to recognize the road closure.
The only solution when this happens to be the one time you forget to bring a physical copy of a road map with you? Try and get far enough out of the way for the GPS to recalculate and choose a different road.
And yes, that’s much harder than it sounds when you are, literally “trying” to get yourself lost.
And then came the monsoon. That didn’t help matters either.
The running joke in the midst of all this mayhem and frustration was that no matter how hard we tried to get ourselves off track the GPS remained determined to keep us exactly 13 miles away from the mall. We eventually had ourselves a little celebration when it finally rolled over to that 12 mile mark.
At the very least, on a positive note, I did finally get to exercise my tour guide alter ego. The GPS at one point rerouted us straight through downtown, and so the kids got an up close and personal look at the big city, and my commentary:
Dave- “And did you know this building…”
Jen- “Dave, they’re not listening.”
Dave sheds a tear.
Going in Circles and Finding Our Way
As I mentioned in my previous blog, one of the big takeaways for the students that attended the conference in Tennessee was the charge to consider what it means to carry the experience of the conference into everyday life on the other side of the Appalachian Mountains. It can be difficult to return to daily routine after such an elevated and hyped up experience, and it can take a certain determination to keep from feeling like one is simply going in circles with exercising and growing their faith at work, in school and with family and friends.
And yet these are the places that faith has the most opportunity to become real and honest and relevant and measured.
Along the way down to the Nashville area and back we stayed at a few different places, including a Church and, on our first stop in Minneapolis, a house of a particular couple who provided me personally with a good picture of this same faith challenge.
They are a Canadian couple currently living in the United States while actively ministering abroad. And one of the things they mentioned when asked about why they chose to move to Minneapolis was that, alongside some personal reasons, they felt that they needed a place to take root. A home base to serve from and serve out of, even if they weren’t there very often. When pressed about what taking root meant to them they proceeded to give examples of their ongoing struggle to cross certain relational barriers in a place that they didn’t share much history with. A place that also happened to be where those relationships tended to be most important. And the fact that they weren’t at “home” very often made it doubly hard to even begin building this history, particularly at the Church they were now attending.
But for them, having that home, that compass to centre them and lead them back in the midst of their constant travels, was still hugely important. It just meant that in the little time they did have at home they needed to be far more intentional about pushing themselves out of their comfort zones and having those necessary conversations, inviting people over and joining small groups.
In truth, and as a part of their personal confession, their collective GPS seemed to know its way around the middle east, their main point of ministry, far better than at home where it could be easy to simply set course and keep hitting the same obstacles over and over again rather than looking for creative ways to recalculate towards a more fruitful investment and trajectory. And as they acknowledged this, they continued to share inspiring stories of how they were challenging themselves to look for new opportunities and pushing themselves to gain every new mile with a sense of purpose, efforts that they felt were translating into progress and new relationships, however small they might be in the moment.
And this, in my eyes, included their hospitality towards us.
Recalculating And Getting Back on Track
As we eventually left Minneapolis and headed towards terrain that was quickly becoming far less familiar to us, setting us even more dependent on a GPS that for some bizarre reason still picks up Sasha’s thick Ukrainian accent long before our own made in Canada dialect (AAGGHHHH, It’s CHICAGO… QUICK, TELL IT TO AVOID THE TOLLS, AVOID THE TOLLS, AVOID THE TOLLS), I couldn’t help but feel like the metaphor we were bringing with us across the Minnesota State line was turning more and more relevant. Relevant as I processed some of my own life. Relevant as I prayed for and considered the experience of these students in the week ahead, one of them being my own son.
On that note, I know for both Jen and I we are constantly wrestling with how to offer Sasha a clear picture of the Christian faith and the Christian walk, something that can hopefully make sense to him as he wrestles with his own questions and finds his own way in this crazy world. Something that can help him build a solid foundation for him to carry on his personal journey. And being a first time parent of an only child, I confess the weight of this responsibility feels terrifying even on our best days. And yet we knew that for whatever this once in a lifetime trip was going to be for him, continuing to be there to help him navigate his questions and his struggles on the other side of the Appalachian Mountains in any way that we could, especially as he enters Grade 11 and holds his first job this summer, continues to be our most important role as parents. Helping him to know that, just like gathering together with five thousand plus students South of the border who all share a similar connection and desire to understand the Christian faith in some capacity, we as a family are likewise on this faith journey together, through the ups and down, failures and successes.
And isn’t that what this journey of faith is really all about? One step at a time. For all of us. Together. Up the mountain, in the mountains and coming back down that mountain. Yes, it’s true. The makings of a good road trip also happened to awaken in me the makings of a good, faithful and fruitful Christian walk.