I almost died the summer of ’89.
It was the summer after my sixth grade year. My parents moved our family to a new city. My stepfather had a job offer that might afford us the opportunity to stop living paycheck to paycheck.
We packed up our Mercedes (I use the term loosely), the ’63 Mercedes of the sagging headliner, cracked vinyl seats, and missing air conditioning, and we moved to Redding, California.
It was June. Redding in June is somewhat like I imagine hell to be. Not a temperate climate on the best of days, we arrived in the midst of a particularly hot spell. The temperature hovered between 115 and 120 degrees for a solid week with no reprieve granted during the evening hours.
You must remember that this was in the days before cell phones and internet. When you moved from one city to another and you disconnected your phone line, there was no way to get ahold of you until you got to the other side. Somewhere between the packing of our luxury vehicle, the staple-gunning of the headliner to the roof, and the hot and miserable drive to our new destination, my stepfather’s job offer fell through.
We arrived in Redding to the realization that we were jobless and homeless. The rental house we had secured would not accept our family when we had no sustainable income on the horizon.
My parents did the logical thing. They moved us in to the KOA campground. This is where we would live while my stepfather searched for a job. We lived in a tent, at a campground surrounded by concrete and blacktop, in Redding, California, during the summer of 1989.
Did I already mention the three digit temperature?
Tents do not have air conditioning.
Our Mercedes did not have air conditioning.
We lay in our tent and slowly melted away, my brother and sister and I. Adding insult to injury was the fact that our campground was located directly behind a water park. We could see the towering slides from where we lay. We could hear the children laughing as they swam. Those children seemed to taunt us with their cool body temperatures. But we could do nothing but dream and sweat.
The heat was an all consuming problem for me, but my parents had bigger worries. They had to find a way to provide for their three children; to feed and clothe and house them.
It is a great testament to my parent’s unwavering faith that never once during the summer of ’89 did I doubt the outcome of our current situation. Never once did I hear my parents question God, question our circumstances, or question the future. They demonstrated a complete trust in His provision.
Sometimes His provision looked like a large orange block of government cheese as we waited in line to receive our allotment of food for the month. Sometimes His provision looked like a friend inviting us to sleep in the extra room above their garage, washing our dirty clothes and behind our dirty knees and filling our empty gas tank. Sometimes His provision was found around the table at the soup kitchen, eating dinner and rubbing elbows with other people like us. People who were struggling to fill their bellies with a little bit of food and their souls with a little bit of hope.
One time in particular His provision looked like toilet paper.
It was near the end of the month, the days when we most closely guarded our pennies and counted down the hours until the next block of government cheese. We had no money for anything besides the bare necessities.
My parents did not consider toilet paper to be a bare necessity. Why waste your money on frivolities when there were plenty of good phone books lying around?
For some reason my brother and sister and I were not keen on the phone book’s tendencies to spread typeface ink on our behinds. As the oldest, I was elected to voice our concerns to our parents. I complained as only a junior high girl can complain. Annoyingly. Frequently. Whiningly.
My parents could have discounted our feelings, insisting that food was more important than clean behinds. They could have told us that we had bigger issues to worry about than something as trivial as toilet paper. But instead they took our complaints seriously. And they took their God seriously when He said that He would provide ALL of our needs.
My parents gathered our family together and prayed for toilet paper. Yes. We held a prayer service for toilet paper right there in the middle of the KOA campground. We prayed fervently, fully believing God would provide.
Surprisingly, no toilet paper fell like manna from heaven.
However, the very next day as we were driving down the road — headliner flapping in the wind, bare legs slick with sweat on the vinyl seats, windows rolled down to prevent heat stroke — toilet paper did fall from the truck in front of us.
That truck hit a pothole and a package of toilet paper bounced out of the grocery sacks sitting in the truck’s bed. The driver kept going, completely unaware of the role he played in God’s provision.
My mom pulled our car to the side of the road, jumped into the middle of traffic, and scooped up that package of toilet paper faster than you could say “clean behinds.”
God gave us toilet paper. But more than that, God taught a lesson to a very impressionable teenager. I learned that God is actively involved in the mundane details of our daily lives.
My trust in God is built on a foundation of toilet paper.
My parents modeled a life of trust. God proved Himself worthy of my trust. I have been working on deepening my trust ever since.
It is not always forward progress, this thing we are building between us. I tend to trust in my own abilities rather than handing over control to my God. I can see my doubt rear up every time I clench tightly to my own desires and God has to pry my fingers open in order to reach for His goodness.
But God is gentle with me. He proves Himself time and time again. And whenever I stumble and fall, I find myself landing on a soft cushion of toilet paper.