You know that feeling you have right before going on vacation? That mix of excitement, hope, and exhaustion? When we left three Sundays ago for our family trip to the United Kingdom with my sister and her husband, we were thrilled to be traveling and we also felt desperate for a break. As a ministry family, the lines of church and life often blur, and it can feel difficult to really get “away” from a job that also happens to be central to every other aspect of your life—friendships, family, spiritual growth—the list goes on. We were excited to be hopping across the pond where our phones wouldn’t be constantly buzzing. We were excited to rest.
Ours was an overnight flight to London, and it started with Ella throwing up all over me as the flight was taking off. She had been fighting an ear infection but had been on the upswing, so we didn’t think much about it. I thanked Jesus that I had packed one of my extra shirts in her carry-on bag, changed into it, and settled her down to get some sleep. She slept like a champ on the flight and although neither Michael nor I got any real sleep, we knew we were heading to Oxford that day (one of our favorite cities) and could go to sleep early.
We rode the tube from Heathrow to London Paddington, tired but happy to finally be on vacation. Ella was in the Ergo on Michael, and when we finally got to the train station we realized how hungry we were. Due to some electrical issues, our train was delayed—along with most of the others that should have been taking off that morning from London. Paddington was a madhouse, and did I mention we were tired? All four of us adults hadn’t slept in about 24 hours. But we found a spot of floor, put all of our luggage down, and looked for some food. I offered Ella a squeezie pouch. And that is when she started to vomit all over me and all over herself. I was soaked through every layer of my clothing, and Ella was burning up. After taking her temperature, we realized that she needed to see a doctor. But here we were in London, and we hardly knew where to find a restroom, let alone a doctor.
We discovered there was a private medical clinic in the Paddington Station (yay!) but went to the office and found out they don’t see children (no!). They recommended we go to the A&E (Accident & Emergency) Department of St. Mary’s Hospital, within walking distance. At this point, Michael and I were starting to feel overwhelmed. Ella needed help and we felt helpless—it’s an awful feeling as a parent. We didn’t know our way around the city and “walking distance” was a positive spin on the distance we had to walk with our luggage and a sick baby. By the time we found the A&E and realized that it could take hours for Ella to be seen, she was asleep in the Ergo, and Michael and I sat in an un-air-conditioned waiting room, raw to the core.
So many thoughts went through my mind, and I said some of them aloud to Michael: Vacation isn’t supposed to be like this. We need to rest. We are so tired. This trip was supposed to be our break. We need this trip to be refreshing.
I had prayed for months that none of us would get sick on this trip—the exact scenario that we were living through was the thing I dreaded most about traveling with Ella. I was afraid of pushing her past her limits, being in an environment where we couldn’t help her, and seeing her struggle as a result.
But here we were, in a hot waiting room in London, in a healthcare system we knew little about, needing help for our little girl. And we looked at each other and both of us were in tears.
And we did the only thing we knew to do. Michael held Ella as I read Psalm 23 out loud.
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
And we didn’t fight the tears, and we asked God to heal our little girl and to help us. And I felt God’s presence and his love there in that hospital room, and I knew, afresh, that we were not alone.
And God carried us. Ella was able to keep liquids down, and medicine helped keep her temperature in a normal range. We made it to Oxford on a later train, and checked in to a hotel that will forever be a reminder of God’s grace to us. It felt like home: we slept well there, and we felt taken care of by God himself.
And although it was maybe the worst way to start our vacation, the vomiting and the fever and the hospital visit all reminded us of one very important thing. We didn’t need a vacation. (And we never deserve one.) What we did need was God. His presence is rest for my soul. His word is encouragement for my heart. His nearness is refreshing beyond any vacation. And He, himself, is our final home.
So much of the trip was amazing and wonderful and refreshing. The first 24 hours were decidedly not. But God was with us. And He met us just as much in that hospital waiting room as he did on the top of the mountain we climbed in the Peak District. He is near. And He alone is the refreshment that we really need.