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Happily Even After

Carried by Prayer

July 27, 2010

by Stacey Noem

Two weeks ago on Josh’s birthday we learned that his grandfather had died.  On his birthday.  In Iowa. 

Joshua is the first grandchild on this side of the family and we are all very close.  There was no way he couldn’t be there.  I was hoping that I would get to join him as well.  Then – we saw the airline prices.  Absolutely undo-able for even one of us.  So, we found ourselves, late at night still on Josh’s birthday, sitting by a campfire in the side yard just staring.  Neither of us knew what to say.  We really couldn’t figure out what to do. 

We agreed: He couldn’t fly.  He couldn’t miss it.  He couldn’t take the car.  We only have one and there is only one of him.

Then we realized: what we lack in money we can make up for in time.  Thanks to our wonderfully supportive and flexible work environment we do have time to play with. So before we knew it we decided to throw all three children in the car and drive from Portland, Oregon to Iowa. 

OK, for the record: we don’t take road trips.  The longest we have driven with all three of our children is 6 hours to the Redwoods.  The Redwoods were spectacular but barely worth what we had to go through to get there.  And we have not even attempted something comparable since.  So looking down the barrel of 1600 miles (according to Mapquest) and around 24 hours of driving (one way) I was far less than optimistic.  But as soon as we had made the decision, we just seemed to know it was the right one and we jumped up from the fire and threw ourselves whole hog into packing and prepping the car (which was 1000 miles overdue for an oil change and in desperate need of two new tires).

Part of my job was clearing our work calendar.  To give you an idea of just how freaked out I was about the trip with the children this is an excerpt of what I wrote to our staff:

“So, with faith that God will provide we are undertaking the psychotic step of driving with the whole family to Iowa starting tomorrow morning. 

“Psychotic” is obviously an exaggeration, but I am completely uncertain and “un-confident” in our children’s ability to handle this amount of car travel.”

My boss wrote back one line that began: “Psychotic actually seems just about right” and ended with his blessings and promises of prayer. Most of our friends, family and colleagues wrote with their promises of prayer for the larger family and prayer for our journey. 

Turns out it is 1800 miles (200 more than we thought).  And the children…

…were a dream.  They were great.  They stayed occupied with the activities I brought for them. They were patient.  They did as they were told.  They napped.  They joined us in the rosary and they looked at the whole thing as an adventure.  And the car…

…not a problem in the world.  Smooth sailing 1800 miles there and 1800 miles back.  We are now due for another oil change which I am sure we won’t put off.

I don’t know if I have ever so fully felt like I was floating on the wings of prayer like I did for that 9 day trip.  Travel was almost completely ideal.  Not easy, but no problems or hitches with the car or roads, or food, or lodging, or family.  We would get calls or texts from folks checking in and letting us know they were praying for us.  When we arrived folks were so kind saying what a hard long journey it must have been.  But the truth of it is, I feel like the entire time we were in a state of grace, carried by their prayer.  It was amazing.

Reader Comments (1)

  • Sometimes those last minute trips are the best and most rewarding.

    Of course the reason for your trip was not a great reason, but the Lord does work in wondrous ways and He may have put you on the this trip for a very good reason. Enjoy the trip and God Bless!


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How to Talk to Your Kids About Star Wars

How to Talk to Your Kids About Star Wars

If you are a human being who lives on the planet Earth, you know that there is a new Star Wars movie coming out sometime before Christmas.

If you have children, now is the time to have your deflector shields tested—they are about to be soaked in a Star Wars merchandising campaign that will stretch from Tatooine to Dagobah. It will literally rule the galaxy. Mark my words, by January you will be throwing your glass of chardonnay against your brick fireplace if you so much as hear one more thing about Kylo Ren or Poe Dameron or that infernal crossguard lightsaber.

We will all be swimming in Star Wars for the next two months, so it is good advice to get ahead of this curve and talk to your kids about this movie franchise.

I am a huge Star Wars fan, and I plan to relish the new movie in the same way a Rancor would devour a Gamorrean Guard. The youngest of our kids is 8 now, so they are just old enough to dive in to this cultural trend and swim along for themselves. We’ve been re-watching the original trilogy and even the prequels so that we can run into Dec. 18 primed and ready. I even brought home a giant Star Wars coloring book—we’ve been spending evenings coloring Boba Fett posters.

I’ve been unabashedly encouraging these movies with our kids. The Star Wars universe loomed large in my youthful imagination, so this is a way to share an important part of myself with them. I’ve also been encouraging it because the Star Wars story world, at its heart, is about mystery and redemption, and I hope (with all my heart!) that the new film continues this theme.

Let me offer the paradigmatic example of Luke Skywalker’s climactic encounter with his (spoiler alert!) father, Darth Vader, in the last movie of the trilogy, The Return of the Jedi. Luke’s training to become a Jedi will not be complete until he faces Vader. Vader takes him to the Emperor, who conjures the dark side of the Force to electrocute him. Vader, conflicted by the cries of his tortured son, relents and grabs the Emperor and throws him down an abyss, where he perishes in a gale of fury.

What do we have here? A son who is willing to suffer. Suffering that moves a father to mercy. A father who destroys death. Sound familiar?

There are strong parallels with the story of our own salvation. When we sin, we put ourselves inside of the black suit and mask that Vader wears—our sin brings tyranny to the relationships in our lives, and makes us less than fully human.

Jesus confronts that sin through a willingness to be overwhelmed by it. His willing sacrifice builds a bridge: it moves us to convert, to grab with full and decisive arms all that hinders life in us and overthrow it. It also moves the Father to overthrow death itself—to promise new and abundant life beyond death.


Using Star Wars as a Teachable Moment

So, back to the crossguard lightsabers that every child will have on their Christmas list—how can we break open the mystery of our faith that resonates within this Star Wars story world? If you will see the new “Force Awakens” episode with your kids, I would recommend watching the original trilogy (episodes 4, 5, and 6) with them, just to prime their imaginations for where this story has been.

Below are some conversation prompts you might consider using after each episode of the original trilogy to connect the Star Wars story to the mystery of our faith.


Episode IV: A New Hope

Prompts: Who is Luke Skywalker, really? How does he come to know his true identity? Where does this new identity take him? Why does Obi Wan give himself up in his fight with Darth Vader? What happens to him?

Connections: Our truest, deepest identity resides in our baptism, which makes us adopted sons and daughters of God. Knowing this gives us strength to go on adventures—to do things we never thought were possible, even to give up our lives to help other people. It also gives us new life, even beyond death. When we die, we know that we will still live with God. And those who have died before us can still help us with their prayers—they are still with us.


Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

Prompts: What is the Force? How does it give people power? What can people do with the Force? What does Luke have to do to feel and use the Force?

(Warning for Star Wars buffs: It is blasphemous to reduce the Force to a function of midi-chlorians, so don’t step in that Sarlacc pit or you’ll never get back out, I don’t care if you have Boba Fett’s jetpack.)

Connections: The Holy Spirit is God, together with the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit lives within us and gives us the power to do good. When we pray and do good things—especially when it is hard—we grow in God’s grace, and become even better at using it. The Holy Spirit is always with us and will always help us.


Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

Prompts: Did Luke love Darth Vader? How could we tell? What did he do because of that love? How did that love change Darth Vader? How did that love save Darth Vader?

Connections: Love gives us courage to do difficult things, even to face things that terrify us, even to suffer, even to die. Jesus loved us like this—he didn’t get electrocuted, but he was willing to suffer on the cross, which hurt just as much. But he knew that God would take care of him—God gave him new life. When we love that way—without being afraid—it gives us new life, too. And it connects us to everyone else who loved that way.

Think of the party on the forest moon of Endor as an image of heaven—it is a great feast that includes even the departed, who appear through the Force in a kind of communion of saints.

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