Burnt out. That was the best way to describe me. I was completely and totally burnt out. I had left Portland in failure, crushed by debt and frustrated by the lack of support for our ministry.
As we drove south on the 5, I glanced in the rearview mirror at the tarp flapping wildly in the wind. All of our belongings, stuffed into an old trailer that looked as if it would fall apart at any moment, were stowed beneath the tarp.
Just a few months ago, I had been filled with such faith and rising optimism, and now I was on the road, searching for a future.
On a very hot, dusty, early September day, we wound our way into the Sierra Nevada Mountains toward Mariposa, California where we had stayed with Robert and Alexis Crabb last Spring. As we began rising into the pine green clad mountains, a burden seemed to lift off me -- or at least seemed to lessen.
My wife’s words echoed in my mind from last Spring when we had first visited this beautiful place, “Wouldn’t it be so beautiful to live here?”
A narrow, rocky road led us into a thick forest that double backed on itself, leading us to the familiar ridge where the Crabbs lived in their double-wide trailer home. As I lowered my window, I saw their five year old daughter rush out of the house, a huge grin on her face.
“Oh, Daniel and Annika -- we missed you so much!”
After weeks of despairing frustration, those words helped me to smile. It felt as if we had come home.
Later that night, after putting our children to bed and setting up a makeshift cot in the living room for my wife and me to sleep in, we gathered around the table with our hosts.
Robert studied me closely and said, “You know, when you guys first arrived, I just felt this wave of despair. And I didn’t know where it was coming from. But now I think it was coming from you.”
I nodded and, for the first time, started baring my heart about all the frustrations I had encountered in Portland.
“But there is something about this place,” I said. “The mountains, the trees, the fresh air. The peace. I really like it here.”
“It’s a good place to live,” Robert agreed. “I’ve been able to support the family doing wood working and cabinet making. I don’t make a huge amount of money, but enough to pay the bills.”
“I wonder if there is something we could do here. Like our own business,” Annika said.
“Well, what about house cleaning?” Alexis suggested. “There’s always a demand for house cleaning down in the valley.”
As we settled into bed that night, the conversation kept running over and over in my mind. Owning our own business and settling down here not only intrigued me, it excited me. What a perfect place to raise the family. What a perfect place for restoration.
The next day, we drove down to CSU in Fresno, the first campus we had preached at during our tour. Classes had already started, and when we arrived, another street preacher named Brother Munoz was already delivering a fiery sermon on holy living.
After an hour or so of his preaching, we introduced ourselves to him, and I thanked him for his message. He offered to allow me to preach, and I eagerly did so. As I started preaching that hot September afternoon, I realized this would be the perfect place to live. We could raise our children in the beautiful mountains, a campus was only an hour or so to the south for preaching, and everything just felt right.
A few days later, Robert and Alexis treated our family to a very expensive restaurant at a lodge in Yosemite National Park. That was another bonus to living in the area. One of the most beautiful national parks in the nation would literally only be about 20 miles away.
The Native American motifs carved into the rich redwood of the vaulted dining area dazzled us. Wide glassed walls revealed the majesty of the mountains and pine forests. As beautiful as Oregon was, we had always lived in the city. But to be right in the wilderness was beyond breathtaking.
Eating our meal, Robert asked, “So, have you guys made a decision yet?”
“We’re still praying about it,” I answered. “But I have to tell you, the more I see about this place, the more I want to stay.”
Robert pointed at his heart, “I feel you guys need to stay. Feel it right in here.”
The next day, I made the decision to take our trailer of belongings down to a storage facility in the valley. We had already promised the Arkansas congregation that we were going to visit them for Yom Teruach, but we had a strong feeling that we would be returning to this small mountain town.
I vividly remember backing up our trailer toward a small, orange painted storage bay. With little money to our name, we could only afford to buy the smallest size they offered. As I tried to back the trailer into the opening, I realized our bulging tarp would not allow me to squeeze it in. Sweat dripping down my eyes, I spent the next few hours ripping off the tarp and removing items from the trailer and placing them toward the rear of the storage bay.
Again, I tried to back in the trailer, but then I realized the trailer itself was too high to clear the raised gate. Taking a hammer to the old wood, I began beating and ripping off chunks of the trailer until it would fit into the small space.
Weary, tired, my body aching, I realized that no matter where Yah would eventually lead us, our things were definitely stuck here in central California. Our trailer would never make it cross country in its present condition. But as I drove away that afternoon, an overwhelming peace from Yah filled my heart. Yes, this seemed to be the place he wanted us to live.
* * *
Five days and about 1500 miles later, we arrived in northeast Arkansas just in time for Yom Teruach. Over a festive meal, our hosts played a beautiful worship CD by an anointed musician named Chuck Girard. As the soul-piercing worship chords swept us into YahShua’s Presence, I knew deep down in my heart that we needed to return to California. Somehow Yah would open the doors and give us the provision we needed.
Having finally come to a decision, Annika and I wanted to get back to California as soon as possible. We decided to use the five days between Yom Teruach and Yom Kippur to travel. Bidding farewell to our hosts, we drove back west, singing in our hearts, knowing Yah was leading our way. Having felt directionless for so long, my wife and I were very excited that here, at last, we had a clear purpose.
One morning, as we were about to leave our motel, Annika called Alexis to check in with them. I watched her face light up with excitement.
“What’s going on?” I asked as Annika finished the conversation and hung up the phone.
“There’s a rental opening up, about a mile from the Crabbs. Right in the heart of the mountains! Alexis is going to talk with the owners and thinks she can convince them to rent to us!”
I cannot completely capture the utter joy that flooded through my soul when I heard the news. For years, I had dreamed about living out in the country. Now it seemed Yah was offering that dream on a silver platter, complete with mountains, streams and Yosemite National Park.
The next night, I dictated over the phone to Robert the newspaper advertisement we wanted to place to get our housecleaning business up and running. On our final day of driving, only hours from Mariposa, Robert called me on my cell phone and informed me that we had our first potential client. Not wanting to return the call from an Oregon cell phone, Annika called the woman back on a pay phone. She had a large house and wanted to get a bid on how much it would be to have it cleaned. Annika seemed to click with her on the phone. As it turned out, she would become our first steady house cleaning job.
Thrilled beyond belief, we reached Mariposa just as Yom Kippur was beginning. Although it was a day of fasting and prayer, we could not contain the joy we felt. Truly everything seemed to be falling into place.
The next day, nervous but excited, we went to meet the owners of the rental property. They were an older couple and as they looked at our application and made some phone calls to check our credit, they eyed us warily. We could understand their qualms. We had no steady source of income and had literally been living out of a van for the better part of the past four months.
However, despite their reservations, they said, “Well, you guys seem like very honest and decent people. So, you can go ahead and rent from us.”
The rental was just a small, single wide trailer, barely big enough for our two growing boys, my wife and myself. But it had been freshly painted and very well maintained. And, of course, the biggest draw was its location. Situated on a low hill, the trailer had a 360 view of the jagged Sierra Nevada Mountains. As far as the eye could see, mountains and trees stretched out in every direction. We were in paradise.
As the Feast of Tabernacles began, I helped Robert cut up pieces of discarded lumber and fallen branches, erecting a sukkah big enough for both our families. Alexis and Annika carefully prepared a table of food, and decorated the sukkah with plastic grapes and pomegranates.
Because our rental had not been fully cleaned out yet, Alexis’ family loaned us a small RV that we could live in temporarily. In the middle of great Sierra Nevadas, YHVH had provided us with our own little sukkah. The RV even had a stainless steel ladder that provided access to the roof.
Our backs on the roof, our boys held in our arms, we gazed up at the dazzling display of stars. I had never seen so many stars in my life.
“This is perfect,” I whispered to Annika.
“I know,” she replied.
And the blessings just kept coming.
Throughout the week of Tabernacles, the phone kept ringing off the hook. We had dozens of bids lined up for people desperate to get their houses cleaned. Our first week on the job, we had made over six hundred dollars.
When we finally moved into our rental property and had our own phone set up, the calls kept pouring in. Neither of us had ever run a business before, but those first few weeks brought in one client after another, confirming our decision to live in Mariposa.
Of course, we did have our rough spots as well. One fall evening, as we finally found time to retrieve our trailer from storage, I remember wondering if this rickety, torn up thing would actually survive the 40 mile trip back into the mountains.
Even before we left the valley, I watched several of our things tumble from the trailer and litter the road. We quickly pulled over, my wife and I racing across the street, grabbing everything we could before some car hit our precious few possessions.
Securing the tarp more tightly this time, we did manage to finally get home with all of our things. However, before we decided to unload, a surprise snow storm ripped through the mountains. Although the tarp protected most of our belongings, we had to deal with a semi-damp bed for the next several days until it finally dried out.
“Do you realize what the word Mariposa means?” Annika asked me one day as we were returning home from cleaning houses.
“It’s Spanish -- for butterfly.”
I smiled. Perfect. Butterfly. For a new beginning.