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Tender Mercies | The Big Blue Bus Tour


*Great Grandpa’s house in Yuma.

I recently read an article that referred to all the small miracles the Lord works in our lives as tender mercies. Our entire trip we’ve had occasion to be the recipient of innumerable tender mercies that are indeed miracles from a loving Heavenly Father and I’m so thankful. But the last few days seem to be even more blessed – when perhaps we needed it most.

Our visit to Prescott was everything I wanted it to be. Even with the layer of snow on the ground and frigid temperatures, I wanted to stay. There is something about that town that drew me in and made me feel at home. We had dinner with friends from Kodiak who shared the last of their salmon harvest with us. We ate breakfast the next morning with one of Jacob’s favorite mentors from Elevation. Afterwards we visited with another family from Kodiak and snuggled their new baby while Miss B played with their other children closer to her age. On our way out of town we stopped at World Market (Our first visit ever! It’s amazing!) and finished our Christmas shopping. My only regret was that we didn’t have more time to spend. Our quick overnight trip didn’t seem nearly long enough.

We arrived back in Yuma late in the evening and immediately made preparations for an early departure. We had to be in San Diego the following day in order to make a mentoring session I had scheduled. The next morning as we said goodbye to my aunt and grandpa, the tears fell. I don’t know when or if we’ll see my grandpa again. His health has been failing and I’m grateful for the time we had. He gave me a big hug and in his gravely voice said, “We’ll see each other again somewhere down the line.” That about broke me.

Jake started the bus and it was time to get on the road. We stopped at Walmart and while I shopped for groceries, Jake did a safety inspection of the bus and noticed that we were leaking fuel. Some of the hose clamps hadn’t been tightened well enough after the fuel lift pump was replaced when we were in Yosemite. It turned out to be an easy enough fix, but it was not without stress while we were figuring it out.

There was a moment when Jake and I stood in Walmart, looked each other in the eyes and said, “Let’s just be done. Let’s go home.” I don’t remember who said it, and it didn’t matter because it echoed the sentiment we both felt. Let’s go home. Jake turned to head back to the bus with newly purchased tools while I continued to gather groceries. As he left he whispered, “let’s talk exit strategies.”

In the end we knew we couldn’t quit. We’ve made commitments. This is what we are doing. So we fixed the bus, unloaded the groceries and pushed on for San Diego.

The trip from Yuma to San Diego was uneventful, except for the stop by Border Patrol. Evidently The Big Blue Bus looks like the perfect smuggling vehicle. When we arrived at our campground I was disappointed to realize we wouldn’t have cell service, but that was overcome by the awesomeness of the campground. I can’t be certain whether the campground was truly an oasis or if we’ve been on the road too long. But the bathrooms were clean, the showers were hot, and there was a heated pool and hot tub. As soon as camp was set, we dug out the swimsuits and headed for the hot tub.

Night had fallen and the temperatures had dropped to the chilly range, but as we sunk under the steaming water, all our stress dissolved. The moon was bright overhead and there were too many stars to count. I wondered aloud why the campground was full but we were the only ones enjoying the hot tub. Jake laughed and responded, “To anyone else it’s too cold to be out here!” That was just fine with me. The boys and Miss B scampered back and forth between the heated pool and the hot tub and we stayed until we were wrinkly and relaxed and ready for bed.

The rest of our visit followed a similar pattern. Early mornings at the pool for Jacob and Josh as they swam laps. Late evenings for the family as we soaked in the hot tub. The days were filled with photo sessions, workshops, mentoring sessions, visits with friends, and a bit of sightseeing. We did nothing that cost any money. No zoo or Sea World. At the USS Midway we even opted for the free view from the flight deck rather than a tour of the entire facility.  We spent a sunrise at the beach, visited the LDS Temple to see the Christmas lights and drove a couple hours north to visit with a friend who is undergoing treatment for cancer.

Each day I felt rejuvenated and known. Known by a Heavenly Father who knew what I needed. Visits with friends, new and old. (I can’t express how much these visits mean to me.) Warmth on my skin as the sun shines. Relaxing evenings spent laughing with my children and talking with my husband. All too soon it was time to leave. We don’t know what lies ahead, but I hope we have the chance to return. As we left I couldn’t help but thank Heavenly Father for his grace. He knew what we needed and he filled our empty cup.

The drive from San Diego to Tucson was a long 400 miles. Jacob and I shared duties following the bus in the van. Sam-a-lam rode with me when it was my turn. He’s an excellent road trip partner. I was a bit worried heading to Tucson because we didn’t have a campsite picked out. Many of the rv parks were reserved for the 55 and older crowd. I contacted Cortney who was hosting the Day With Amy Workshop to see if there was anything near her. She’s a friend from Kodiak and I was excited to see her and her family. As it so happens, her church as a couple of RV sites (with electricity and water) in their parking lot. Her dad met us there at 9:30pm to welcome us and get us situated. I felt the warmth of a tender mercy as we settled in to sleep with our space heater running and knowing we were in a safe spot for the night.

The next morning we drove the bus to Cortney’s house where the workshop would be held. She generously opened her home to us for showers and laundry. We’ve had many offers along our route, but typically we can shower and do laundry at our campsite, which is simpler than taking over someone’s home. The morning of the workshop I was so thankful for the blessing of Cortney’s home and her hospitality.

Pre Big Blue Bus Tour I had a post shower routine that Jake affectionately referred to as my haiaka. I’d sit on my bed with my hair still wrapped in a towel and generously smother my skin with various types of lotion. Nivea for my face, Lubriderm for my arms and legs, O’Keefes for my feet and Burt’s Bees for my hands. An indulgent, relaxing routine that I’ve done as long as I can remember. Except since we started the BBB Tour. Now I rush through my shower in the public bathhouse and get dressed without the luxury of applying lotion to all surfaces. My haiaka has been a distant memory, even at my sister’s house in Sacramento, our room didn’t have a lock and so I always felt rushed getting dressed.

But at Cortney’s house – the shower she offered us was attached to a guest bedroom fully equipped with locks on the doors. After my shower I retrieved the various lotions from my tote, sat on the guest bed and lathered away. This routine from a pervious life familiar and comforting. In this moment I was thankful again for tender mercies.

The workshop that morning was filled with women eager to learn more about photography. Have I mentioned how much I love teaching these workshops? We have met so many new friends and been able to meet up with old ones. I love that I can offer this workshop for free and help others capture moments that they will treasure forever. So far this tour we’ve taught workshops in Puerto Rico, Palm Harbor, Fl; Kodiak, AK; Anchorage, AK; Sequim, WA; Astoria, OR; Coos Bay, OR; Eureka, CA; Petaluma, CA; Dublin, CA; Sacramento, CA; San Diego, CA; and Tucson, AZ! January I’ll be teaching in Galveston, TX; San Antonio, TX; Gilbert, AZ, and St. George, UT! Looking back I’m overwhelmed by the blessing of what we’ve been able to accomplish and the incredible people we’ve been blessed to meet.

Tucson’s workshop was a hoot, made even more special because two of the gals who attended are friends from Jake’s past. We’re talking high school past. How cool is that?! Social media has made it easy for me to become friends with them as well and I was giddy about meeting up with them at the workshop. Sandy made an almost 3 hour trek Monday morning to be at the workshop by 9am. What a blessing to have friends willing to make the drive to meet up for just a few hours. After the workshop everyone got a tour of The Big Blue Bus. It doesn’t always come to the workshops with us, but when it does it’s a big hit! Sharing our little home with others allows me to see it through their eyes. We may be a little crazy, but what we are doing is pretty cool too. It’s a reminder to be thankful for what I have.

As we sat in the bus after everyone else had left, Jake and Sandy reminisced about old times. We all got a chuckle listening to them. When she heard that the boys needed haircuts, she offered to cut it for them. She used our clippers which I’m sure aren’t very good, but you wouldn’t know because their hair looked amazing when she was through. As we sat on Cortney’s back porch and chatted with her brother and his girlfriend and Sandy cut the boys’ hair, I was again thankful for tender mercies. My heart was overjoyed with gratitude for a Heavenly Father who was lifting my burden through amazing friends.

That evening as the sun began to set, we had an incredible photo session with MaLaan (one of Jake’s friends) and her children. Her husband is currently deployed and we were disappointed to miss him.  While I played  with (and photographed)  the kids, she and Jake chatted about friends they have in common and caught up on what everyone is doing. It was a good day spent walking down memory lane.

Then it was dinner back at Cortney’s house with her family, including her parents, brother, and his girlfriend. We spent several hours chatting and thoroughly enjoying the company and excellent Mexican food (our favorite!). Time with a family as kind and good as you can imagine.  It felt like being home. Late that night as we fell into bed exhausted but happy, I had to thank Heavenly Father once again for his goodness and grace. Just days before we were ready to be done. We wanted to walk away and quit. But a week of tender mercies has rejuvenated our spirits and we are looking forward to the next 7 weeks.


*Miss B in her Big Blue Bus Tour shirt special made for her by J.Marie Designs, one of my dearest and talented friends.

December 18, 2013 - 1:53 am

Tania Schultz Murphy - I’m so sorry we didn’t get to see you in Tucson! I need to pay closer attention to your posts–had I known you were in town I’d have cancelled everything to see you! Happy Holidays!

December 27, 2013 - 4:29 pm

Tara Norris - Reading your blog reminds me just how many things I have to be grateful for and to focus on that Thank you so much for shariing your life with all of us who are missing you. It helps us feel that much more a part of your adventure and reminds of the wonderful blessing Heavenly Father always has for us, especially when we take the time to notice them. Missing you!

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