As I returned to the Turnpike on my return trip to Ocala, my mind wandered again. Being later in the day, this drive seemed to be much smoother. I was able to watch the sun lower at about the same rate as my gas tank level. I wanted to make it back in time for some sort of normal dinner time. I arrived safely back to the old brick house from before. As I was walking up to the house, my friend called and said that he had kind of crashed a small-group meeting with a BBQ dinner. After being on the road for over 4 hours, this was music to my ears. I almost threw my bags into the bedroom and set off to find the food!
For the first time the whole trip, I didn’t get lost on the way to this very exact address. This was a big moment for me; I was starting to get a feel for the area. I arrived looking exhausted (hard to see why…) and I was directed to the food. These people, none of which I had even seen before, welcomed me into their home, provided me food, and engaged in conversation about my crazy trip that was starting to come to a close. This house was noisy, but in a “full of happy people” type of way. It actually didn’t bother me at all. From the solitude to the crowds. After speaking with some of the others, I realized this was a small group from a church that is not the one I would be visiting the next day. This was surprising and encouraging. I am not sure why, but in my “old age”, I don’t see a lot of that type of crossover. I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t happen, however, it struck me as interesting. (That is probably enough adjectives for the idea, William.)
Many of these people, close to my age range, had children running around, so stopping the fun was a chore. I was happily invited back to my friend’s house to chat, as it was still pretty early for us adults. I followed my friend’s car, as the Google Maps voice was becoming annoying. They must have taken the longest possible route to get to their house, but I didn’t question it. When we arrived, I came to realize they had taken this path to help the kids wind down so putting them to bed would be easier. These people were in full parent-mode and it was a joy to observe. Ironically, I think my presence actually made it harder to put the kids to bed. So after probably 15 interruptions, the kids were finally, actually, pretty sure….yes, asleep. I am sure any parent of young children can vouch that this is normal. We chatted and had real conversations. I told them about my struggles of finding a church community that I was comfortable with. They were naturally supportive and I could go on and on about the amazing qualities of these people, but I won’t. I know they read this and I don’t want to embarrass them too much.
We said our goodnights and I returned to the large brick house with the soft bed. I was done after that full day of people and talking and driving, so I collapsed. I woke up early to make sure that I was “up and moving” and had plenty of time to arrive at the church. I actually arrived early because my Google Maps was on walking mode for some reason. The extra time allowed me to park and wonder around for a bit before the service. The building itself was of a traditional design, which I enjoy. I enter the sanctuary and can see the sun lighting the stain glass windows around me. My friend is practicing with and leading the praise band as everyone arrives. The space is not as large as some churches. People fill all the pews, even the “dreaded” first row. The service style is very familiar and comfortable. The service liturgy has personal meaning to me and is not just something that is memorized. This is a key part of my faith. While the prayers were written by men as part of a religion, I use them to help focus my mind on my God. (He can be your God too, if you want, don’t worry.)
After the service, we walked back to my friend’s office to drop off a couple of instruments, but not before several stops along the way to humor his adorable preschooler who didn’t seem to want to leave. She actually stopped and climbed a tree for a few minutes with some other boys. This created an instant, full-bodied, flashback. It was like in the movies when the person is standing as their present self and the surroundings are slightly fuzzy. You see your younger self and it superimposes on the current life experience. No, just me? Well, it was a nice way to end my time in Ocala. We said our goodbyes and I headed off to grab some lunch. Driving while hungry is not a good plan. My drive back to Jacksonville seemed very slow after the Turnpike two days in-a-row. I wanted to be home to sleep in my own bed and start to process all this stuff you have just read. Obviously, I didn’t share everything, but this covers most of it.
I am sure you have figured out by now that this particular trip was mostly about friendship. I needed to remind myself that I have long-term friends that care about me, no matter what mistake or sin I may have made in the past. I describe my Ocala friend has a beacon of light, but he would be the first to admit that he was never perfect. I didn’t realize until I started writing this series, but on my outline for this, I wrote the words: “Lasting Friendships” for both locations. Both of these friends have shaped me into what I have become today. A stronger person that I had realized, for sure. The Prodigal Son may be a bit of an exaggeration, however, this captures the feeling before I arrived.
800 Miles, 4 Days, 2 Cities, 2 Close Friends, 1 State, 1 Road Trip.
I have truly enjoyed these and hope to continue in a similar manner for my other trips. Let me know what you think! Any suggestions are welcome. This is still very new for me. I am hopping into new ideas every day and may be getting ahead of myself. Either way, let me know! 😀