Don't you hate it when people ask you if you had a good vacation? I feel pressured to have a good time so I can tell people about the good time I forced myself to have.
It's as though people want to believe there is somewhere better than where they are, and they need your help perpetrating the myth.
Well, I'm tired of perpetrating the myth, so I'm going to publicly describe my vacation. In between the times I was horribly afraid of dying a gruesome and fiery death, my vacation was sort of nice.
It began last week when my family drove a rented motor home to visit my college daughter. She seemed to think our dorm visit was "sort of nice" -- in between the times she was horribly afraid of dying from embarrassment, that is.
Undeterred in my effort to find ways to embarrass my teenagers, I proudly established myself as the man of the "motor house," and drove until our first gas stop in Redding, Calif. The gas station was swamped with cars from the annual hot rod reunion and I was feeling like I was on the set of the 1973 TV movie," Terror on the Beach."
Movie reviewer Mark Johnson described it as "a sort of Charles Manson meets Charles Atlas in Middle America's angst-ridden collective unconscious when evil, dune-buggy-riding hippies kick sand in the faces of Dennis Weaver and family during their seaside vacation."
In spite of that fearful picture in my mind, my wife took her turn at the wheel and I mapped a route back to the interstate, where the real fear began.
As we began our climb of Mount Shasta, the gathering darkness made the curving road seem like an invitation into an eternal abyss. The oncoming cars seemed like they were "dune-buggy-riding hippies" back to challenge us in a game of chicken.
There were plenty of signs to feed my fears. There were signs warning "Caution, 7 percent grade," "Check Brakes," and "Slow Dangerous Curve." There was a sign indicating our approach of the "highest point on Interstate 5" as well as signs advising the use of an emergency ramp should our brakes fail.
But it was the animated sign of a truck falling over that really sent me over the edge.
Upon seeing that sign, I embarked on a haranguing campaign to get my wife to limit her downhill speeds. My obsession for control became so disoriented, that on one hill, she incredulously informed me we were straining in a steep climb.
Suddenly, the strain was to keep my faith. I prayed, sang hymns and popped every knuckle in my body. Until finally on a hill marked, "Hell's Canyon," I did not only doubt my faith, I seriously doubted my body's ability to retain control of its evacuative functions.
"Do we need to stop?" my wife asked.
"Only if you see an airport," came my quivering response.
"You'd need a hang glider to get off this mountain, so why don't you lie down in the back?"
"Not unless there's a five-point racecar seatbelt back there."
"The children aren't seat belted," she reasoned.
Tempting as it was to stuff my fingers in my ears and sing more hymns, I just shot her a Patriot glare to intercept the scuds of incoming guilt.
But, eventually, we came off the mountain and I began wondering whether someone who had shown so much fear could write something relevant about faith. I found myself hearing the recent criticism of two first-time readers who had doubted my relevance.
One reader called my writing "folderol," and said I ought to use my column for loftier purposes.
Another reader erroneously thought my last column was against prayer and expressed disappointment that "such a position would be taken by a man of God." (Stage whisper: Ouch! Not the ever-feared "you're-supposed-to-be-a-man of-God" line.)
Suddenly, I realized this terrifying mountain trip was a pilgrimage that led me to a most relevant reply: yes, ma'am, I am a man of God -- accent on man.
I can be a controlling man filled with pride, insecurities and temptations. I'm a man sometimes filled with folderol, and, yes, absolutely, a man with fears. And showing my readers that God can still use such an imperfect man is the "loftiest" goal I can ever reach.
I pray that my poor example of faith gives you hope. I pray that it sustains you to know that God can most certainly use a man such as me. After all, God has used murders, tax collectors and even an unwed teenage mom.
All of that gives me assurance God won't have much difficulty using you.