In 2016, while grace was pregnant with Jewel; everyone where she worked was informed that, within a couple of months, all teachers would be laid off. Her facility was shut down just after she went on maternity leave.
We were living in a small apartment with some serious health risks; occasional carbon monoxide issues, serious fire hazards and many more things the landlord refused to fix. There was a splintering floor, leaded paint and symptoms and chemical issues that were present, but unidentifiable to even professional investigators. It was simply no environment for an infant (let alone any other living thing).
The upcoming choice
Though we struggled to find new employment and a new home, it just wasn’t working. So we moved in with some family members. That went on for about 10 months, but also fell through. A situation arose that was all too familiar; for circumstances beyond our control, almost every functioning life support we had was failing, fast and hard. So, that September of 2017 we faced a choice:
1. Stay in a city that wasn’t a fit for us, put all of our resources into a down payment on a small house and hope for the low-paying job situation to work out, or,
2. Take those resources and use them on a chance to build a business, in turn building a better future for our daughter.
That chance was to beef up my photography and writing portfolio and support my newer business.
By then, due to medical issues, Grace’s mother had never been able to fly to see us and we couldn't afford to do the same. Jewel had a Grandmother that had never met her.
We spent a few days agonizing over what to do. On one hand we could stay and settle into a life that didn’t fit, but would at least offer some sort of (probably) stable housing. My parents would stay in our little girl’s life more, but then Grace’s Mom may never have known Jewel. On the other hand was a leap of faith; and if it worked, not only would Grace’s family be able to build a relationship with our kid, our dreams would open up and our daughter’s choices in life would be more abundant.
And as we repeatedly discussed it at great length, we began to see many clear signs from God that the right choice was to take that leap of faith. So we made a decision, spent a couple of weeks frantically, tensely preparing for a drive across the country to Los Angeles. And one night; late, stressed, overpacked and saddened by the tears in my parent’s eyes; we left. It was a moment mixed with guilt, excitement, fear and tremendous uncertainty. And yet somehow, somewhere inside of us, we felt God’s hand in it all.
Road trip? Us?
That moment sparked something we never thought we would do; a road trip. We hadn’t had a single vacation in the prior nine years. We had no jobs except my business that was not thriving. Our savings was nothing to get too excited about. We had no plan except to get to the other side of the country and settle in (which we didn’t end up doing).
We took five weeks to get there, stayed in Los Angeles for 3.5 months, then came back to Indiana where Grace grew up. But what happened along the way there, along the way back and after we settled in Bloomington; it was previously unimaginable for us.
How the hotel life began
On our trip out and on our way back we stayed in hotel after hotel after hotel after...
We booked nothing in advance. We would drive as far as we could in one moment, then stop at a hotel, then another, then another, until we found a reasonable place to bed down for a bit. Some places were just stop-overs for a night or so. Some ended up keeping us a week or more. But most importantly, we found ourselves in incredible, unplanned situations with people and events. It started with meeting the occasional person or couple and having just between one and a handful of conversations. It felt random at the time as we didn’t have much understanding of how God worked and the kind of webs he weaves.
But then it started to pick up. Between our trip out, our stay in California, our trip back and the moments since; our introductions to new people became more frequent and more meaningful. The connections between us and those we would meet would quickly get deep. And before long we started feeling purpose in this seemingly chaotic housing scheme. As we met more and more people who were like us, wanting badly to uplift others in God’s name; it started to hit me. I was hearing so many deep stories about faith and hardship that I made the decision to put it all ‘on film’ and so the documentary was born.
We began to meet a lot of people who just sort of fell into place, people who ended up joining my effort to make this film. I couldn’t have planned it better myself, though I didn’t plan most of it. But the team of musicians, interviewees, stage hands and supporters came together with absolute perfection in both timing and placement. Not all of that has happened in hotels, so I’ll get to the more specific point of this article.
What living in hotels is NOT
It is NOT glamorous. It’s not pampered. We have virtually no space for any proper organization of our belongings. Because I use a cheap, portable burner, a small pot, one skillet, almost no proper kitchen tools and very little space; everything I cook takes multiple times the amount of time it should. It takes 45 minutes to get 4 quarts of water to boil. It takes five or six hours to make a stew I could normally make in about two. Add in a toddler (not in the stew, just in the room) who needs to be cared for in a home that is nothing but a small box; you have a lot of long, difficult moments.
It drains the bank like water from a kiddie pool that’s been run over by a semi.
One small mess makes the ‘home’ look like a tornado came through.
Because we've had to chase lower prices, there have been long periods when we had to pack up and move every few days. That's a couple of hours work to get out, sometimes hours of driving to find a new place to stay, then an hour or so back in. So are we spoiled by living in hotels? No. Not at all.
Am I complaining?
Partially I am. Living in about 300 square feet with no real storage, privacy or personal space is not an easy setup for a family. It will test that family in completely unexpected and generally unprecedented ways.
I’d have to say it like this; it really frustrates me sometimes, until I pass by a homeless person sleeping in an outside doorway. So while I’ve been speaking steadily to God about a better situation, I do so with much appreciation for having beds and a shower. And lately, with some struggle, we’ve been fortunate enough to be able to stay in the same place for months now.
Wasn’t the title of this article about some sort of magic hotel?
Well yes, and here’s the reveal:
Hang on. Just FYI, there are no little blue men who sing funny songs and hand out candy that makes you float. No one stands at the door and pulls a rabbit out of a hat every time you come in (by the way, if you happen to find a cheap hotel like that, please contact me).
But the magic... it is the absolutely beautiful art of God. And this time the medium is found in the social, emotional and spiritual interactions between the people who work, stay and pass through these hotels; especially the extended stay hotels we’ve encountered lately. And most of it comes down to the lobby.
The hotel lobby
In this place are seats and tables for breakfast, our own personally cooked family dinners, work, play and social interactions. And in this place we’ve gotten to know staff members and hotel guests, sometimes short term, sometimes long term. The stories that have passed through here from the mouths of those we’ve spoken to; they are a mix of tragedy, kindness, elated joy and everything else along that spectrum.
The magic happens when we start to realize that many people are people that we feel we were supposed to meet. These weren’t just folks who said a few words and walked away. Here, in the hotel we’ve been in for a while now; I’ve met quite a few people who’ve suffered great loss, often losing children.
These people; through their interactions with us we find ways to, as a family, be the unlikely ministers. Even with those who’ve found great tragedy and have lost children, Jewel would light up their faces and make them smile. Grace and I would have extended conversations with them; and many times, we were able to bring some form of my work (ministry) into it. They would sometimes leave with articles to read, videos to watch or words from us that we hope helped them in some way.
And at times; some of the most magic moments I’ve ever experienced would happen.
When asked for advice by more than one person in the lobby; something like “what would you do about..?”, I’d find an opportunity to say how I get through our hardship. I would say something like “maybe it’s not for everyone, but the way I get through it is to talk it out (while pointing upward, suggesting they speak to God)”. I got to say things like “What would it hurt to just ask for guidance or discernment?” And off they went with my suggestion, a bit of anxiousness to try it and sometimes a little smile on their faces.
But this lobby; it’s revealed things about people who I’d meet, but not always immediately think I’d get attached to. Some relationships would unfold quickly and get interesting right away. Some took months before we would ever say more than a standard greeting. But many, many interactions became deep and offered something very specific that either we or the others would need. The timing was often uncanny, as with the man who said “Don’t bite your finger and complain that it hurts”. And eventually I started to see God’s glory shining throughout the whole building.
I see this place we’re staying in as a hub. God can bring people in from all over the world and have them connect right in that common space. Right in the lobby I'm sitting as I publish this, God has gifted I and many of his children a piece of our own puzzle. This place I once thought was just a place to eat and hang out has become a bright point in the webs God weaves. And again, being the observer that I am, I see just another way that God works, often in what we think is the background. As usual Father, you blow my mind and open my heart, giving me all the more reason to cling to you.
Don't you want more? You should have more :)
A Child in a Messed up World (The Story of Jewel) (article) - The unexpected gift that, without her, there would like be nothing in this article and no ministry.
God's Webs (Crayon Web) (91 second video) - Jewel created a drawing, reminding me of how God's webs are woven in our lives and the lives of others.
A Struggle to see the Face of God (article) - It's about the day when the man said "Don't bite your finger and complain that it hurts", and the way God reminded me he can be seen everywhere.
I've written some short articles about stops on our road trip and some of the amazing moments and photos that came from them; located on my photography portfolio website. They are:
Canyon Rainbow, - I got a wonderful set of images and Grace got to pee.
Scum of the Earth Church - A church with a metal/grungy style, and yet somehow I've never seen a congregation that was more rooted in Christ's work than they are.
Page Arizona Balloon Regatta - Hot air balloons, Synchronized fire, an unplanned and unexpected gift of excitement and wonder.
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