Traveling Mercies

By Kim Long

As one of three children of a working-class father and a stay at home mother, money was not something we treated with frivolity. Often times, summer vacations were more “imagined” than real. As a young girl our local library served as my international port of call offering the world for my taking, via the printed page.  Mr. Owen, my high school English teacher, who was so fond of Emily Dickinsin’s work often quoted this famous, and his favorite, passage“there is no frigate like a book to take us lands away.”

Of the few trips we did take we visited family. One trip I sojourned “all the way” to Alabama to stay with a cousin near my own age whose family, unlike my own, lived a very rural lifestyle. When my family came to bring me home we left laden with eggs and produce in styrofoam coolers and a “picnic” for the road. The bread was buttered and loaded with thick slabs of roast beef and strawberry milk in mason jars with the lids screwed on tight so they would be ready for us when thirst overtook us. We traveled by night with the windows down in my grandmothers huge Impala. It felt like a time machine. Sleep overtook us and soon we were being gently carried to our own beds. When we woke up the next morning we were home again, Aunt Dean’s home seemed “a world away.”

When my children were young we traveled when possible and I tried to make every trip regardless of destination an occasion. We always began with a prayer, sometimes hurried, sometimes forced and sometimes very natural for safe travel. Like my own childhood destinations, a trip to visit family was often an overnight one. Upon arrival, all the uncle, aunts and cousins would welcome us into another land. I am grateful that my grown children and I have this shared experience with family and a real lesson in traveling.

God has blessed me with some amazing travel opportunities. On my first overnight flight, I did wake up in another land, longing for coffee and the adventure which awaited me. The feeling of being in a time machine remained.

Traveling, whether real or imagined, always changes us; the degree of change often depends on the degree of openness. When we enter an unknown land, arrive at our destination, or even when we put both feet on the floor each morning it is not uncommon to ask the Lord to be with us. These prayers, known as traveling mercies, are mentioned in both testaments. Who among us has not prayed for safe travels for friends, family or self? Who among us has not “invited” God to come with us and protect us on our way?

On my most recent trip, I began to question not only the “what to bring back” to the family, but I also began to consider what changes are being made within me by this excursion and its experiences. Often I leave things behind in order to bring home what seems to matter most in the moment. In Russia it was clothing to make room for icons, in Ireland, toiletries to make a weight limit because I was bringing home knitting yarn and jigsaw puzzles, and in Israel I ditched some doubts in order to bring home a real sense of reconnection. This led me to examine whether or not I invite God on a daily basis.  It seemed normal to ask for traveling mercies when going a distance but not so much in daily life. Please do not misunderstand; I know God is always with me but I became aware that my invitation was not always forthcoming in the way it was when the pilot is taking us over the ocean or miles of land. This awareness, which was welcomed, also shocked me. How could I have been so inhospitable?

The psalmist states “you enlarge my steps underneath me and my feet do not slip.” Traveling anywhere can enlarge our worldview whether in appreciation of beauty and art or in the case of my pilgrimage to Israel, a trip to our spiritual home, as well as a walk around the block, a visit with a friend. What am I taking with me, leaving behind, what am I making room to bring home, are my travel questions now regardless of my destination.