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Kathy gave me a friendly wave as she stood by the banks of the Balonne River in south-western Queensland. She was not backward in coming forward. Strolling casually towards me, she extended her hand and with a broad smile said, “It’s a lovely place to camp for the night isn’t it?”
“Sure is.” I replied slipping my hand into hers. “Where are you from?”
“Taree, on the mid-north coast of New South Wales. I’m traveling with my son. We’re on our way to Emerald on the gem fields of Central Queensland. But there’s no rush. The Gem Festival finishes up there soon, and we don’t want to get there till it quietens down a bit. How about you?”
“Oh we’re just traveling about. We’ve been doing mostly free camping along the Darling and the Warrego Rivers in the outback of Queensland and just over the border into New South. Caravan parks seem to stifle us, we like to be out in the wide open spaces and do some bird watching. It’s a lovely season of life that we’re making the most of.”
“Yes, I know what you mean. We don’t do caravan parks either. No reason really, we’re pretty self-sufficient. My son and I have been doing this trip up north for twenty-nine years now. This year is our thirtieth of traveling together. Oh and Tiger comes with us of course. It’s his ninth year of traveling!”
A small, dusty, caramel and white toned terrier came trotting towards us. Burrs were embedded in his back legs and one stuck out under his chin. He stood beside Kathy and with a wag of his tail, acknowledged that it was his turn to be greeted too. I bent down and patted his head as dust flew off in all directions. Tiger was sufficiently satisfied and lay beside Kathy.
“Thirty years of traveling with your son! That’s amazing. What’s the appeal at Emerald?” I asked.
“Well, every August Leo has a month off work. He’s a farm hand out at Wee Waa in the far west of New South Wales and it’s the quietest time of the year. Not much picking or planting on the 3,000 acre property he works on. So Leo locks up his little house and I lock up mine and we meet here at Dirranbandi then slowly head north. My daughter lives at Emerald with her only son. We stay with them for a few weeks, catching up together before heading back south.”
“That’s a long way for you to drive Kathy. Must be around about 1,500 kilometers each way! Have you always done the traveling on your own?” I wondered.
A shadow of sadness briefly stole across Kathy’s face. “No.” she answered. “For the first twenty-four years, I traveled with Barry, my husband.” Leo loved being close to his dad on these yearly trips. But, then Barry died very suddenly five years ago. Such a devastating loss. But I picked myself up after a time and thought Barry would never want me to stay at home and miss out on seeing our family each year. It had become a pilgrimage that meant so much to us. Leo would never do it on his own. He likes company. So here we are continuing a family tradition and with Tiger of course.” She smiled and bent down slowly, scratching the terrier on the head.
I studied Kathy as she said goodbye and turned back to her self-contained camper-van. She was a small framed woman, slightly bent over and tanned with years of exposure to the harsh Australian sun. Kathy must have been in her mid-seventies easily. But despite the outward signs of aging, I had also noticed a fire in her eye and a determination in her spirit that overcame obstacles.
Life can take turns in unexpected directions. The very best of plans that have been so smoothly laid, can come crashing down around us. But the Kathy’s of this world pick up the pieces of their shattered lives, and move ahead. They are flexible and remain positive in times of darkness and uncertainty. They can bear all things because they have a resilience that pushes through when times are tough.
I walked back to my van, hungering for this same fortitude and resilience. Like Kathy, I want the wisdom to know what really matters. Family. Friends. Being there for others. Loving despite the cost. Determination and courage to overcome obstacles. Faith to believe that all things are possible, even when they seem impossible.
Does Kathy’s story resonate with us today? Where do we find ourselves? Perhaps ours is a place of struggle where we feel overcome by our circumstances. God reminds us that we have been made to be victorious. The head and not the tail. The overcomer, not the underdog. We can do things and forge ahead when we believe that He is working all events, even the unhappy ones, for our good.