First Day, First Hiccup, Serendipity at work!

Everything started out as planned. We got a good nights rest after Dad's retirement/birthday party, had hot showers and a delicious danish for breakfast, thanks to Grandma & Grandpa Becker. ☺️

On the road by 8:30 am.

Could not have asked for a better start.  As we left North Carolina and started into our first state, Virginia, everything was smooth, kids were behaving, and no traffic.  Then we hit the Blue Ridge mountains, specifically Fancy Gap. It's where the climb begins.  The truck is struggling, seemingly begging us to stop torturing it with this long pull up the mountain.  We don't.

The check engine light starts flashing at us, meanwhile, the engine is bumping around trying to get out of the hood.  We finally see an exit and our GPS says there is a service center just around the bend. For a minute we almost stop at the nearest gas station but figure we'll be better off if we can just make it to the shop.  Following the GPS instruction, we take a left on a 2 lane country road with the shop only a .5 mile down it.  As we near the location of the shop, a big hill (mountain) is right before it with a big turn so you can't see the shop. With the truck still struggling we inch our way up and around the turn only to see, there is no shop! Nothing, nada, there was never anything there, only green grass.  We have no choice but to continue on the hilly country road at a snail's pace. The silver lining, we get to enjoy the beautiful scenery along the way! :)

Finally, we make it back to the main road and before we turn we see a closed antique shop on the right with a nice empty parking lot where we decide to pull over.  We open the hood to look at, what, we aren't sure. Haha! No more than 5 minutes go by with us trying to think about what to do now when a couple in a red truck pulls up to ask if we need help.  We quickly say "yes, that would be greatly appreciated" as we have no idea what we are doing.  They offer for us to tow our trailer to their place of work less than a mile away so we can unhitch it and go get diagnostics run on the truck. (Unhitching the trailer from the truck never even crossed our minds!)  This incredible couple, Phil & Paula, work at a children's home and they offered for the girls and me to stay and play on the playground while Mike and Phil go get the diagnostics run at Auto Zone. Knowing the girls could use a break we took them up on it.

While Paula changed from her Sunday best Delia, Teagan, & I headed down to their playground with spectacular views of green rolling hills against bright blue skies. So far this hiccup is turning out to be quite beautiful.

Not long after burning some energy and learning how to play Gaga Ball, I see Paula walking down towards us with the homes' director, Dan and his daughter Erin, who reminds me so much of our neighbor Kristen. They mention they were about to go out to lunch and offer us to come along. Dan chose a delicious southern buffet called Porky's. I had to coax Teagan just a bit into the buffet until she saw the desserts! Ha! Surprisingly though it was Delia who ended up choosing too many deserts till her stomach hurt. ๐Ÿ™„๐Ÿ˜„
After enjoying a wonderful lunch with great conversation Dan insisted on paying. These gracious hosts not only assisted us in solving our trucks issue, but they also treated us to lunch. It was so incredibly generous and kind of them. My heart was as full as my belly.

Back at the ranch, Paula gave us a tour of their facilities while Mike & Phil finished up on the truck. It was an incredible campus that grew out of the hearts of a local couple in the early '50s seeing a need for children in their area who didn't have safe, or stable, or really homes at all. It's a remarkable story that you can read about HERE. Joy Ranch has now housed 5000 kids over the past 50+ years and they work solely on donations, either of time or monetary. I was excited to hear that Mt. Zion Baptist in Raleigh had recently done a service trip out there to work. Their campus even houses a volunteer-only campground called The Joyful Camper

(This was a poster on the wall inside one of the cottages that reminded me of my preschool family at Greystone. We would sing this song with the kids during chapel.)

The boys came to let us know they were done and I could see Mike was eager to get us back on the road so we said our goodbyes, gave lots of hugs, exchanged phone numbers, and littered them with thank yous. As we pulled away and the ranch was shrinking in the rearview I had an idea and surprisingly it was Delia's exact idea to. She said, "you know what would be cool? If we came back with all our friends after our trip to do some work on their campus. We could work part of the day and then go hiking and kayaking and such the rest of the day". It's like she read my mind! ❤️

I will forever be grateful for the love and kindness that these dear strangers showed us that day. Though strangers they are not anymore. They took what could have been a terrible situation, happening only 4 hours into our journey, and turned it into an incredible experience. Hard to imagine that there was not some divine intervention at work that day that brought us to that empty antique parking lot and brought Paula, Phil, and the Joy Ranch into our lives. Serendipitous for sure!

If you would like to help their cause and make any kind of donation I have included a link HERE that details various ways you can support the amazing work they do.


  1. What a terrible, amazing beginning to your wonderful trip. Great way for the kids to see goodness, kindness in this world.
    Keep going,
    Susan Linstrom Howland

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