The last post here was on February 1st. Work and personal obligations have exploded since then.
I visited Wichita Falls in early March. Rented a car and drove up there with no particular agenda. I had never before gone to Wichita Falls with the intent to stay there overnight. I think I was previously there for one stay on the second night of my honeymoon with my now-ex wife. We had been forced to stop during our drive to New Mexico due to car trouble. It was on that stop that we conceived our first child, remarkably. And it’s safe to say that a related argument in the hotel room sowed the seeds for much damage in our marriage. That’s an epic story in its own right.
I picked up the rent car on Friday around lunch time. I ended up leaving that afternoon just in time to sit in rush hour traffic for over an hour, trying to get out of town. I followed the same back-alley route that my wife and I had followed from Dallas some ten-and-a-half years prior. The miles of quiet highway on this March evening allowed for plenty of opportunity to reflect on much that had come and gone since the last trip. Eventually, the gradual increase in number of deer carcasses by the road side prompted me to sharpen my focus and attention on driving and not reminiscing. There was a grass fire blazing in the dark across the highway on the southbound side, just outside Wichita Falls. I knew that area to be a drought-parched tinderbox. I wondered how one handles ‘911’ situations out beyond the velvet chains of city life. A few miles beyond, a lone fire truck sped south with lights flashing.
I pulled into the motel lot at about 8pm. The hotel manager found my reservation and checked me in. He was my first encounter with an actual Wichita Falls human, almost exactly one year after I got my mysterious prompting to consider the good folks of the Triangle. At my first arrival to the motel room, I found that my card key wouldn’t unlock the door. I took it back to the manager, who was perplexed that the key had somehow lost its coding after he gave it to me. He re-coded the card, and I took it back up to the room, where I was able to get in and unload my few belongings.
I had brought with me most of the food I figured to need for the 36hr trip: some oranges and apples, a few hard-boiled eggs, and a large bag of beef jerky. After I got moved into the room, I killed off an egg, an orange, and some jerky, while watching other travelers trickle into the motel complex. There was a crew of what appeared to be oil field roughnecks piling out of two vans and into one room. One of their group had checked into the hotel right before me, declaring a party of two for the room that night. He had used a foreign ID to check in and offered no phone number. State highway motels don’t much care about that sort of thing, I imagine.
A woman and two young children drove to a parking place just below my vantage point upstairs. I watched them file dutifully out of their vehicle and walk across the parking lot to the manager’s desk to check in. They then came back to the car and moved their bags into a room below mine. There was no father to be seen, and I hoped that he was somewhere close in spirit, if not geography. A couple of more random cars pulled into the lot with folks looking for an overnight roof.
I grabbed some cash and headed out to the street. I wanted to buy a bottled water at a nearby gas station. I planned to keep that bottle and just re-use it for the duration of the trip. I took the opportunity to wander around the area surrounding my hotel. Pretty sketchy part of town. Some hardcore homeless people. Lone clerk in the gas station. She looked like an absolute trip, and I recognized her as someone God had created and loved, and I knew that I’d been praying for her for many months.
I bought my bottle of water from the very interesting clerk. I believed I was in Wichita Falls with some authority from God (annnd cue the Blues Brothers); once back on the street with my water, I prayed for Wichita Falls in accordance with that perceived authority. I declared into the spirit realm that the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had plans for Wichita Falls. Things were going to be changing. For a couple of years prior, I’d been asking God to help me see people in general with His eyes. That night in Wichita Falls, the people looked like lost sheep, much like the lost sheep of Israel that moved Christ to compassion despite his His exhaustion. My own compassion is profoundly limited, in comparison; and there was in that night a tangible sense of new and budding eternal concern for complete strangers, a depth and perspective that I’d never held before.
As I made my way back to the motel, I watched as a police car’s roof lights in the Burger King parking lot flickered and bounced off the highway pillars, Burger King, and the fence around my motel. A woman walking down the street called out, apparently, to no one in particular. I saw a man in a pickup truck had stopped his vehicle by the side of the road, about fifty feet in front of her. She walked up to his passenger window, and I assumed they were negotiating terms. I walked on into the grounds of the motel and up to my perch outside my room door.
The parking lot was filling up. I causally worked the water bottle, surveying travelers in various stages of motel night activity: new arrivals were creeping into to the lot, not yet checked in; earlier arrivals were making all the trips necessary to and from their vehicles to get their luggage moved in; a few relatively old hands were strolling to the ice maker and drink machine, by ones and twos, already moved into their rooms for the night and freed up to address other wants.
I thought about the clerk at the gas station. She was a Wichita Falls person and not a traveler passing through. Most of the folks I’d been watching in the motel lot would be gone by sunrise. The gas station attendant would still be here, living whatever life her job provides for in Wichita Falls. Shouldn’t I go offer to pray for her? She’s one of the reasons I had made the trip, I assumed, crossing the threshold into my motel room. I set the empty water bottle down and went down the outside stairwell again.
Back out to the street. The police had left Burger King. A few homeless guys were settled in for the night under the highway overpass, each man resembling a pile of worn out duffel bags. At the gas station, a tanker was parked on top of the fill point. Inside, I greeted the clerk, and she replied in kind. She wasn’t alone. The gasoline truck driver was behind the counter with her. They seemed more familiar with each other than not, and I got a sense that my presence was interrupting something. I bought a bag of jalapeno pork rinds from her and left the store. I prayed more prayers for the clerk, the homeless guys, and all of Wichita Falls, while munching the pork rinds.
Back at the motel I saw the same pickup whose driver had previously been talking to the woman by the side of the road. He was in the cab, and the woman was inside with him. They were sitting in an unlit portion of the lot. I walked past the truck and on up to my room. By the time I got to my room door, the woman was walking down the length of the motel to the corner where all the oilfield guys were staying. She stopped and talked to one of them for a few minutes and then walked back to the truck. She got in, and he drove them both away. Motel life is interesting.
I casually plowed through the remaining pork rinds and resumed watching the parking lot. I could see the motel manager sitting at his desk. He appeared to be of South Central Asian origin. He lived in the management apartment with his wife and several children. His family was peaceful and close. There was a simple and calm beauty to their interactions, at least as far as I could see. At one point late in the evening, the wife and kids drove the minivan into the lot, and everyone hustled to move what appeared to be hotel and family supplies into their apartment. They were an isolated patch of light and warmth in an otherwise stark, grim landscape, just below the state highway overpass with its countless pooping pigeons and roaring auto traffic. Wichita Falls was depressing right around the family. But they were not depressing. I wondered at the potential strength that loving married parents can bring to their children’s lives. And I prayed that God would bless the man and his family with a revelation of how He sees them all.
I checked the bathroom mirror. My reflection showed orange lips and tongue, courtesy of whatever spray-on flavoring covered the pork rinds. Pork rinds are the ultimate road trip food. I got in bed and texted my friend to let him know I was in town and would be available for lunch on Saturday if he had time. At 11pm I fell into unusually bad sleep. I can’t say that I’ve had slumber so uniformly disturbed before. It wasn’t just bad dreams – it was more like the entire environment was oppressively evil. Theoretically, the entire environment was oppressively evil, and the evil was reacting to my presence. The only reason any evil spirits should have been that agitated was if there was actually some righteous power behind my visit. And not because I’m Captain Righteous, which I’m not; but because God had sent me. (see previous Blues Brothers reference). Is how I groggily figured it at about 5am on Saturday. Someone had just knocked on my door and woken me up. I didn’t answer, and they didn’t continue knocking. I was slowly awake and aware that it felt like no time at all had passed since I fell asleep, albeit no time passed in an the midst of spiritual chaos. I really don’t think it was about the pork rinds.
I stayed in bed and prayed for a while. Eventually, I breakfasted on my stash of eggs, fruit, and jerky. I got out in the car and began driving. Overcast and chilly morning. No particular place to go. Praying for Wichita Falls and her people. Two hours of that, praying and trying to commit to memory the sights of the city to call upon in future prayers. I did make one touristy stop at the actual falls of Wichita Falls. It’s not quite the rustic landmark I expected. There was presumably a natural and original water fall in the area at one point; hence the name. But the current incarnation appears to be the brainchild of the local Chamber of Commerce.
At around 11:30am I figured it was time to eat some lunch. I drove back to the motel. My friend texted me and invited me to lunch with his wife and him. His suggested time to meet gave me about 45mins to kill. Back out on the highway. I was looking for the hotel my wife and I stayed at on our honeymoon. I couldn’t find the car dealership we stopped at in 2003; I couldn’t even find a stretch of highway that looked like what I remember from entering the city back then. So now, even today in July of 2014, I wonder if I’ve misremembered all these years that we stopped in Wichita Falls on our honeymoon. I know we stopped somewhere because of a bulging tire; made a baby; had a spat; and then headed off into the rest of our lives the next morning.
These are the things I was thinking about while driving the highways of Wichita Falls that drab morning, when I noticed we pack of cars on the road were passing a highway patrol vehicle on the shoulder. I glanced at my speedometer, which showed low 60s-mph. Which didn’t tell me much, because I didn’t know what the speed limit was on that stretch of road. The limit seems to change every hundred yards or so in the city. “Did that last speed limit sign say 70mph or 60mph?” The flashing TXDoT lights behind me were a large hint.
I slowed down and glided onto the shoulder. This is happening? I set out the necessaries and prepared for the traffic stop routine. A trooper got out of the passenger front seat of the state vehicle and walked up to the same of mine. I put down the window as he approached my rental car. His footsteps crunched on the gravel and then he was leaning in through the window, resting his elbows on the doorframe. And it went a little something like this:
Him: Well, we got you going 63 in a 60. You were all going the same speed; you’re the lucky one that got pulled over.
Me: Hm. I thought it was 70 here.
Him: Yeah, you’re a couple of hundred feet past the change to 60.
Him: So…what are you doing in Wichita Falls?
The thing about this faith walk is God will sometimes present us with an opportunity to demonstrate how committed we are to the process. One of the ways He allows us to demonstrate our faithfulness is by making a place for us to say and/or do something that is foolish in the eyes of the world. Handing a trooper my driver’s license and proof of insurance is not a risk for the Kingdom. It’s not even a risk in the temporal. Much the opposite – it’s what people do all the time, if they want things to go smoothly. Sitting there in my rent car, on the side of the highway in Wichita Falls, I had fully prepared myself for the task of presenting my driver’s license and proof of insurance to the trooper. What I had not prepared for was the trooper asking me why I was in Wichita Falls at all, much less driving 63 in a 60. That’s the place where God was, I think, asking me, “Are you all in?”
Because, the thing about renting a car and driving it to Wichita Falls, with no particular agenda, based on an isosceles triangle formed of three distinct locales named in spirit to me a year earlier, is that it doesn’t leave a lot of room for comfortable spontaneous discussion with law enforcement officials about what motivated said trip.
All of the above analysis took the form of a giant exclamation mark that smashed its way through my brain in the span of about half a second. God mercifully gave me no time to question my dedication. I was, in that split second, all in.
Him: So…what are you doing in Wichita Falls?
Me: Well, I’m not really sure.
(I had never at any point in my life, up to that point, thought it would be a good idea to answer that particular question from a highway patrolman by saying, “I’m not really sure.”)
Me: (continuing) I was waking up one morning about a year ago, and I heard a voice in my mind say, “You – Wichita Falls; Portland; Long Island.” That’s all it said. I wondered if I’d really heard it all. I prayed about it for a few months, and I finally printed out a map of the US. I drew a dot on each place, and completed the triangle. It was a perfect isosceles triangle. The distance from Wichita Falls to Portland, Oregon, is the same as the distance from Wichita Falls to Long Island. I prayed for those places for a few more months and decided I’d go visit each one. I don’t really even believe this stuff happens. But it happened to me. So I’m here in Wichita Falls, just driving around and praying today.
(Things were happening pretty quickly for both of us at that point, I imagine.)
Him: So you’re just driving around praying?
Me: Yeah, pretty much.
The trooper was a pro. He peppered me with questions about my trip (how long would I be there?), the rent car (why did I rent a car if I only drove from Dallas?), my wedding ring on my right hand (why?). I now know he was trying to get me to slip up at some point in maintaining my ridiculous story. I answered the questions honestly and quickly.
And he changed. He changed from being a Texas Department of Transportation trooper, looking for cracks in an unlikely scenario, into man was talking to a stranger about his own personal concerns for Wichita Falls and the world. He told me his church had been praying for revival in the area. I told him I had been attending a church in Dallas where many healings had occurred in the name of Jesus, and that there seemed to be a promise of revival on the church leadership. I told him that a published prophetess had believed that there would be a great revival start in Dallas and then spread out to all the US.” Why Dallas?” he asked incredulously. “I don’t have any idea,” I replied, sympathetic to his doubt. “Dallas is a cesspool,” I opined. “The whole world is a cesspool, man; look around,” was his brusque reply.
He told me that he and his partner had pulled me over because my rent car had Florida license plates. “We get a lot of drugs run in here, and we wanted to check you out.” He asked if I’d show him the contents of the car’s trunk. Technically, I’m opposed to that kind of search without a warrant. In that moment I didn’t want to die on the hill of constitutional propriety. I opened the trunk and showed him my road hazard/car care kit that I keep in whatever car I’m driving.
He told me they were going to give me a warning for speeding and asked me to wait in my car while he prepared the warning. I sat in the car silently, my mind far from any concern about speeding tickets. Being all in with God can make for much unforeseen quiet reflection. A couple of minutes later, I saw in my rear view mirror that he was getting out of their SUV and coming back to my passenger front door. He leaned in again and handed me the printed warning, courtesy of the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Him: We’re done here with the official business. If you want to leave now, you are free to go. If you want to keep talking we can keep talking.
Me: Let’s talk.
We talked about my further plans to go to Portland. We talked about the fallen nature of the world. We talked about the drought in the Wichita Falls area and the possibility that the place was under a curse of some sort. I told him I’d seen the grass fire the previous night on my way into town. Finally, he said, “Man, this could be your legacy.” I can’t remember what I said in reply. He offered his hand into the car, and I shook it. We exchanged parting sentiments. I really wish I had the conversation recorded. He got back in his SUV, and I pulled out on to Texas state highway 287. If he was in any condition like me, he rode back onto the highway a very different man than had pulled off fifteen minutes earlier.
Back at the motel I only had to wait a few minutes before my friends arrived to pick me up. We greeted each other in person for the first time in a couple of years. In their car and at lunch we caught up on various details of each others’ lives. I showed them the map and told them about the conversation I’d just had with the state trooper. (My friend was already aware the Triangle, based on our talks related here.) They offered their guest room to me for the night. I considered the presumably unfinished business I had in Wichita Falls and whether or not I should keep to my plan of staying the night in the motel. I doubted that I would feel as free to come and go from my friends’ house as I would the motel.
Ultimately, I accepted their offer. After lunch, they drove me back to the motel and my car. I grabbed all my stuff out of the room, got in the rental, and followed them to their house. Once there, I loaded into the guest room. My friend drove his wife and me to the place where he was then (very temporarily) employed. It was a paint manufacturing and packaging facility. He further expounded on his concerns about the place, which concerns he had started describing while we were driving to lunch. It turns out, now four months later, that they only lived in Wichita Falls for a couple of months, as he has since accepted a position at another lab closer to Dallas.
That evening we watched a few movies on Netflix. I slept better in their guest room than I had in the motel room the night before. On Sunday we three went to the local church they had previously visited a few times. I spoke briefly with an associate pastor after the service. I told him that I felt like God had specifically put Wichita Falls on my agenda. I wanted the pastor to know that God is concerned enough about Wichita Falls that He’s telling, at the least, a random guy in Dallas to pray for the place. The pastor told me that Wichita Falls is in serious need of a revival. He remarked that one might think that, being in Texas and having so many churches, that there was a strong faith in Wichita Falls. But there’s not. We talked about the drought. I told him the drought monitor map makes it appear that Wichita Falls is specifically targeted for drought. He remembered being a boy and seeing rain falling around the city on other local towns, but not on Wichita Falls.
After church my friends and I went back to their house. She made lunch for us, and we all visited some more regarding matters of faith and family. I packed up and hit the road back to Dallas in the early afternoon.
I’ll try to put up a sequel to this post in the next couple of days.