It was 1956 in the small town of Langdale, Alabama. Everything I needed was carefully tucked in its place in my little red wagon. A box of crackers, a pillow, and my teddy bear. With a final backward glance at my home, my journey into the world began. Down the gravel driveway – the driveway where so often I had launched tiny plastic boats into the rapid-running, cascading rivulets of rain-water run-off.
Sometimes You Just Have to Run Away
Carefully pulling my wagon down to the street, I turned to the right – down the hill further than I had ever journeyed on my own. Down to the bottom of the hill where the road ended and the weeds began. Weeds that swallowed me, stuck to me, itched me, and almost blinded me. Pulling that little red wagon through the overgrown brush sapped almost all the energy of this little five-year-old. But then in the distance I sighted the roof-top of a house and this seemed to be the perfect destination for a travel-weary pilgrim. Hours later – okay, perhaps just a few minutes, I arrived at the porch where a group of men were enjoying a cold glass of lemonade. I was more than willing to accept a tall glass of tart lemonade, a chair on the porch, and the company of a stray playful baby kitten. I can only imagine the delight I brought these old-timers as I spun extensive tall tales about my journey down the mountain, through the jungle before arriving at their porch. After I finished my drink, they suggested I might want to start my journey back homeward – to which I readily agreed.
The House at the Top of the Hill
In 2013 when I was visiting in Langdale I drove by the little house up on the hill. Nothing much had changed – not even the gravel driveway leading up to the house. The dead-end street had been extended and now led around the corner to another street where the house with the porch was barely visible with overgrown weeds. I discovered that this had once been a boarding house for senior adults. I walked up onto the porch and was easily able to see the driveway – the driveway where me and my Red Flyer had made that perilous journey nearly 60 years earlier.
Sharing this adventure with my husband led to a similar story from his childhood. Out the front door with the words, “I’m running away” to which his mother responded, “Have fun!” He recalls that he turned to the right, walked to the corner, turned to the right, and continued this progression until he was back to his own house. When pressed for the rationale of this repetitive pattern of right turns his quick reply, “Because I wasn’t allowed to cross the street without mama.”
All Run Away Events Are Not So Simple
All run-a-ways are not so simple and many carry greater consequences than these child-hood adventures.
I was 16 and deeply troubled in my relationship with my parents. Feeling unable to live up to their expectations and constantly feeling like I disappointed them with every decision I made, I concluded that I needed to disappear from their lives. There was not serious forethought to this decision – it just happened. On a Wednesday night after yet another episode of me bringing disappointment with one of my decisions, I left home. There would be no crackers, pillow, or teddy bear on this journey. With less than $10.00 in my pocket, I set out to catch the bus at the corner of West Flagler Street and SW 58th Avenue in Miami Florida.
Initially I felt no fear. My sister and I had traveled the bus lines on many occasions when we’d ride downtown, transfer, and arrive at South Beach for a day of surf and sun. But this journey was different. The end of the day shadows cast dark images upon what should have appeared as familiar scenes. Instead, the gathering dusk mirrored the emotions of my heart as the bus carried me further from home and into the unknown.
After several transfers, I was left alone at a bus stop along a busy street in an area I didn’t know. Making a quick survey of my surroundings revealed two unappealing choices while I waited for the next bus. Behind me, a short stone wall, holding hostage all the headstones of those who were buried within. Before me a frightening reality that I was vulnerable to any evil that happened to notice a lone teen girl in the dark of the night. I quickly scooted over the wall and clung to the shadow of a nearby tree as if somehow “he” could offer me protection.
What is Your Destination?
As the next bus approached I dashed aboard with my transfer. The bus driver asked me in a curious manner, “Where you heading?”
“Where does this bus go?” I countered.
“To the end of the line”, he replied.
“Okay then, that’s where I’m heading.”
Finally feeling safe I was able to relax and watch the many lights of Miami Beach as we drove further and further from the home and family to which I could never return. If there is such a thing as thinking about nothing while at the same time thinking about everything – that was what I was doing. The sights were beautiful and just as I began to feel confident that I had made the right decision, the driver pulled up to a stop and called out, “End of the Line.” The few passengers who had boarded the bus along the way exited, and still he waited.
“End of the Line, Miss.”
“But when does my next transfer come?”
“There’s not one – this is it. End of the line.”
Talking through the cotton that suddenly filled my throat, I asked, “But what do I do?”
Suddenly he changed from the gruff “get off my bus” personality, to genuine interest. “I tell you what, this is a bowling alley. I go in, take a break, drink some coffee, and then I start the route in reverse. I’ll accept your transfer to take you back the same way you came. Surely he saw the panic on my face and concluded I was a run-a-way. I mean it was nearly midnight at the far end of Miami Beach.
I had no choice – no plan, and only a little money left in my pocket. Though I didn’t want to involve anyone else in the mess I was creating, I called my boyfriend and told him what I had done. At my insistence, he made several promises. One, he promised he would not notify my parents, and two; that he would meet me at the bus-stop in a few hours – the same one where I had begun the journey.
“Don’t worry,” he promised, “I’ll be there.” And he was.
I stepped down into his embrace and felt secure in his love and care. Then he dropped his arms and stepped back.
“What is it?” I asked in alarm.
Taking a long, deep breath, his whispered words struck fear in my heart. A new fear. A fear more palatable than I had felt on my entire journey. “I called your folks.”
“And?…” My eyes searching the surroundings, furtively scanning every dark shadow. And then I saw my dad and younger sister standing in the shadows across a parking lot.
For several moments two teenagers stood hopelessly lost and heartbroken in what we knew was the reality of the moment. There was a decision to be made, and I had to make it. I had to go home.
As I turned toward Dad, he stepped out of the shadows. If the reason I had run away was because I felt that I was a disappointment – I could only imagine the trouble I was about to face after pulling this newest stunt. My feet didn’t want to move forward, my legs suddenly had spasms. Terror was something I could taste.
But wait. Dad stepped out of the shadows with out-stretched arms. Arms that said “come home, little one, I love you.” Out of the shadows where he had stood and waited patiently the entire time.
What To Do When You Need To Run Away
I’ve had many times in my life when because of hurts, dissapointments, heartaches, and failures, I’ve wanted to run away. It has been in those moments that I’ve discovered the Father is always there waiting for me to come home. His love is unfathomable. His heart is abounding with tenderness. His arms are always outstretched with a welcoming embrace.
Have you experienced periods of difficulty where you needed to just run away? Let me suggest you run to the Father. He’ll meet you, and lead you home. It may not be a box of crackers, a pillow and a teddy bear, but He will offer everything you need to sustain you, to protect you, and it will be His loving arms that reach out to comfort you.