On October 2, 2014 I left on a journey across the United States. On April 13, 2015 I came home.
I slept on more couches than I can count and never knew where my next meal would come from. I submitted myself to the unknown of each day where the only mode of survival is to breathe trust like oxygen.
I saw more than a book can describe and I heard more than I could retain to relay.
I left to write a book. But all the while, God was writing me.
Nothing could have prepared me for the uncomfortable etching of His pen stroke into the smooth fibers of my clean, white papered life.
Tim held up his cell phone and slowly panned from horse to horse, capturing video of the restfulness of the pack. It was the morning of their final day and the spring breeze whispered in his ear. That afternoon these horses’ hooves would make contact with the sandy shores of Emerald Isle, North Carolina, having reached their destination.
Freedom lay on her side in total relaxation stretched out across a patch of the open, grassy field of seemingly endless acreage next to the Octagon House. Tim let the tears flow freely as he gazed at the only horse that had made the journey from coast to coast.
Freedom. From sea to shining sea.
The weight of glory transfixed him as he noticed God so profoundly in the smallest detail of his horse’s name. He wordlessly gave thanks over and over for choosing him for this. For letting him be a part of something so spectacular, so sacred.
Tim looked up at Lynn in her saddle as he arranged the pack strings around her reins. The morning sunlight cast shadows across his face and beams of bursting light surrounded her with a heavenly glow.
“The Lord spoke to my heart first thing this morning,” he said, handing her the reins. “He said to continue to go until He made it really obvious where we are supposed to stop. If it isn’t obvious, we keep going.” He gave one last tug to tighten her saddlebag.
“Sounds good,” she replied, unquestioningly. A minute later they were off on the open road again.
“Chico! Let’s go!” Tim hollered at the Red Heeler from the truck door, waiting for him to climb into the backseat. The dog trotted his way across the parking lot towards the vehicle. Lynn, nearly right behind him, reached for the passenger door handle when Chico barreled headfirst into the rear tire.
“Oh, Cheek! You okay?” she knelt down to rub his head and he shook off the blow.
“What happened?” Tim asked from inside the cab.
“Cheek just ran straight into the tire like it was invisible or something,” Lynn answered, perplexed. He jumped up into the truck and settled in for the ride as she climbed up into her seat and looked at Tim. “He’s been acting a little weird lately, but that was a little more than a little weird.” Tim started the truck, giving no response, and they headed out to have dinner with some friends.
Tim scanned the parking lot as they approached the over-sized front doors. Four police cars in a row with a sheriff’s car at the end. They were clearly no longer on the grounds of a tidy Christian school as many of the previous weeks had contained. This was Tim’s favorite—the unlikeliness of a public school. He grinned to himself and held the bulky front door open for Lynn with Chico following on her heels. They approached the reception desk and Tim removed his cowboy hat.
“Hi, there. We’re here for Mr. Goldman’s History class. Tim and Lynn Tuggle.”
The secretary smiled pleasantly and retreated to a back area after greeting them. A minute later she returned with a taller man in a business suit who opened a side door to usher them back into the office area.
“Mr. Tuggle, welcome to Hunter Huss High School.” He gave Tim a sturdy handshake. “I’m Sam Alps, the principal.”
The three greeted each other and mingled before introducing them to more of the staff milling around. The bell rang to change classes and students shuffled through the hallway in front of the main office.
The clopping of horse hooves carried the traveling crew alongside the main highway. The increase of traffic told Tim they were nearing another cluster of towns. Houses were sparse in that day’s trek, and the team took notice of the upcoming trailer park, somewhat hidden behind the overgrowth of trees. Tim peeked through the foliage and spotted the first mobile home. He immediately felt a stirring within him and he quickly recognized it.
“We’re going inside here,” he blurted. “We’re supposed to pray over this place.”
Lynn didn’t miss a beat. “You got it,” she replied, surely. These were the moments she had grown to love most about their journey. The possibilities of who they would meet, where they would end up, and the ever-thrilling unknown of how God would use it all to meet their needs.
Cher carried Tim up the incline of the drive, pack string in tow with Lynn bringing up the rear. A few minutes later they were rounding the main circle drive of the park, trailers lined up and packed in like sardines. A woman stood in her yard as they passed by her home and she quickly headed for her door without a word. They continued their way around the full park, praying silently for each home as they ambled by. A man stood in his doorway, staring at them for a minute, then swiftly closing the door without so much as a smile.
This is a little weird, Tim thought.
“We will be there, Pastor,” Tim responded, phone to his ear.
“Do you know how much it will cost you?” asked the man on the other end.
“I don’t even know how I’m going to get there so, no, I don’t know how much it will cost me.”
Hanging up the phone, he tucked it back into his shirt pocket and repositioned himself in the horse’s saddle. He glanced over at Lynn with a sheepish grin.
“It really is hilarious how we just agreed to do Vacation Bible School several states away and we have zero idea how we can pull it off,” Lynn exclaimed. “Five horses, no truck, no trailer, no money, and one week away.”
Austin changed into a new shirt and grabbed his cap. Heading out of the house, he hurried through the pouring summer rain and climbed into his truck, wiping a few drops from his knuckles. With Rachel still at work for two more hours he decided to make her a nice meal for the evening and have it ready when she got home. The thought of a stiff drink entered his mind, and he did nothing to push it out. Backing out of the gravel driveway, he hit the gas a little hard and his book tumbled off the dashboard into the passenger seat. The Last American Man by Eustace Conway—the story of a man who had ridden a horse across the United States. He reached over to fix the smashed pages.
The book had been the highlight of his last month. The courage and grit of a man to take such a risky journey had given him a mental escape from his own mundane drudgery and feelings of failure. After filling the grocery basket with the few items needed to grill out, he remembered the drink. Turning down the alcohol aisle, he grabbed a six-pack of beer off the shelf. As he made it to the end, nearing the bread, he turned back towards the shelf and placed the beers down. Staring at it for a moment, he wrestled with the disappointment Rachel would feel for him to have a drink again after going this long without it. It was too easy to choose it over her. Then the personal disappointment in himself rose up. He didn’t want to be that man anymore.
He left it sitting there and walked to the check-out.
The spring breeze blew a fresh wind across the sweat beads forming on Tim’s brow. He glanced at his watch, wondering how long they had been stopped in this CVS parking lot on the outskirts of Knoxville, Tennessee. Both of them had lost count of the number of people that had approached them. The hours blended together as time seemed to stand still with every encounter and opportunity to share their stories and encourage others. One was a man by the name of Randy, enthusiastically intrigued by the rugged posse in an ironic setting such as this.
“So where are you folks staying this evening?”
“We’re not sure yet,” Lynn responded with a grin.
“Oh, you can stay with us!” Randy quickly responded. “My wife and I have plenty of room. And I know just the place we can keep the horses.”
She tossed the first trash bag overhead into the dumpster. Pausing for a breath, Nikki clenched her jaw and swatted at a fly buzzing near her ear. She scoffed. As the owner of the restaurant her tasks were typically found indoors, far from the stenches of refuse. Readying her lower back for the second swing, something caught her eye at the end of the drive. She looked up to see what appeared to be a scene from an old Western movie. A pack of horses led by a man and woman in cowboy hats clip-clopped their way towards her in the back alley of her small-town, Tennessee restaurant. Not a sight you see every day. Bewildered at the scene, she called out a simple, “Hey!”
They greeted her cheerfully, relieved at the stop for rest and filling their bellies. After introducing themselves Nikki gawked at them with wonderment.
“Oh my gosh. You guys just stopped what you were doing to come eat here?”