I remember a conversation with an eighth-grade girl just after I left the convent. I explained to her that I expected to be consecrated–that I would never be married–and that I was living rather a simple life. No car, no cell phone, that sort of thing.1 When I have conversations like this, I generally expect people to get hung up on the whole celibacy thing. But not this girl:
“You don’t have a cell phone? Like, really? No cell phone at all? I couldn’t live without my cell phone!”
I tried to draw her attention back to consecrated life, but to her the lack of cell phone was dramatically more significant than the lack of husband.
It’s been much the same in recent months. When I meet people and discuss my vocation (God willing) or my ministry, they’re interested. But then they ask where I live and all hell breaks loose.
“Right now, I’m living out of my car.”
Jaws drop, eyes bug out, and any number of questions follow:
“But really, where do you live?”
“Where’s all your stuff?”
“You sleep in your car?”
“Where do you shower?”
“Do you really live out of your car or is that some kind of speaking gimmick?”
“How did you learn to read if you don’t have a home?” (Okay, that was from a five-year-old.)
Again, I would have thought that being celibate or willingly unemployed would draw more attention. But these questions keep coming up, so I thought I’d take a minute to explain.2
When I left Kansas in May, I felt as though I was being led to pack everything into the trunk of my car and give away whatever didn’t fit. (There wasn’t much–I haven’t owned a stick of furniture for three and a half years now.) At that point, I had three things planned for the rest of my life: babysitting, a wedding, and speaking at a retreat. There’s something very freeing about having a schedule that wide open.
My expectation was that I’d visit friends for a month or two and then settle down someplace in August. I wasn’t anticipating having anything much in the way of income, so I figured that God would just give me a place to live. He does tend to provide for me in rather surprising ways, so I figured that someone would ask me if I wanted to house-sit for a year. You know, pay me to live in their house. Something like that.
I was planning to settle down, though. See, I’m crazy extraverted. I mean, after working for an hour, I used to leave my classroom and wander the halls till I found someone to talk to. Ten minutes of small talk later, I was ready for another hour’s work. I’m so energized by socializing that living in other people’s space is something I often enjoy.
But I have this terrible disorder called FOMO–fear of missing out.3 So when there is fun to be had, you’d better believe that I’m out there having it. I survived my senior year of college on four hours of sleep a night rather than miss out on any of the 4am fun. Seriously, it’s a problem.
My FOMO means that when people are around, I’m not so good at taking time for anything other than socializing. Oh, I’ll get my prayer time–that’s non-negotiable. But there’s only so much work I can get done when there’s somebody around to chat with. So I figured if I’m going to write this book,4 I’ll need my own space. I’ll set a schedule, I thought, with all kinds of time for reading and prayer and naps and writing.
And so, having been called out of my well-planned life into this bizarre new endeavor of trust, I began to plan my horarium. And once again, God laughed.
I left Kansas and started my new nomad life. I stayed with my sister and my old roommate and the little girls I’ve helped raise and my best friend from high school. And it was really good.
Being a nomad felt right for the time being, so I pushed back the date I expected to settle. Instead of August, I’d travel till October. Then October approached, and I began to think I could do this until January. Now I’m not so sure that I’ll settle down at all in the next year–or even longer.
Throughout this whole thing, the Gospel passage that I’ve been given has been, “Take only a walking stick.” I like plans and stability and safety nets, but God prefers that I trust.
When I’m homeless like this, I join with the disciples who went out, not knowing what welcome they would get. I learn to trust that God will take care of me, sometimes in dramatic ways. I learn to trust that friends and family and even strangers will open their homes to me. I learn to trust that I’m not a burden. I learn to trust that God will give me direction as to where to go next, that he’ll give me work to do and money for gas, that I’ll have time to blog, that my car won’t break down unless I’m taken care of.
It’s strange and it’s totally unlike me—and yet it fits me so well. I’m a missionary, an itinerant evangelist, a nomad for Christ, a crazy girl living rest stop to rest stop.
So for those of you who want the nitty gritty, here’s what it means that I “live out of my car”:
I don’t sleep in my car. Well, occasionally I take a half hour nap, but only during daylight and only in crowded parking lots where nobody would try anything. There’s trusting God and then there’s blatant imprudence–I’m not doing anything dangerous.
Everything I own is in the trunk of my car. Okay, my mattress pad and my comforter are at my sister’s house. But everything else: the dress I wear to weddings, my high school diploma, my bottle of Jordan River holy water, my Code of Canon Law–everything. This is very convenient, but it does get a little crowded. Fortunately, I have little enough stuff that I can literally fit everything into the car and have room for 3 passengers besides me.
I mostly stay with friends. I occasionally stay with friends-of-friends. So far, 25 different families have opened their homes to me. I haven’t yet stayed with strangers, but I’m sure it’ll happen. Don’t worry, it’ll be a host family arranged through a parish I’m speaking at or someone who reads my blog or the nice people I met on the plane to New Orleans. I’ll be safe.
I don’t have a permanent address. I have stuff sent to my sister’s place or to my previous address to be forwarded. But sometimes it’s time-sensitive and misses me and has to be forwarded around the country. That’s always funny.
I’ve been to (or through) 28 states in the past 4 months. And I’ve put 12,000 miles on my car. I listen to young adult fiction to stay awake (princess books!) and eat a lot of dried fruit and nuts. I try not to eat much fast food. I don’t really get bored if I’ve got books to listen to, plus I do my rosary and chaplet and meditation in the car if I’ve got a big chunk of driving to do. I’m pretty comfortable driving up to 12 hours in one shot; anything shorter than 6 is a breeze. If I get too tired, I call someone; talking on the phone re-energizes me (see above).
I guess home base is my sister’s place. I’m there more often than I’m anywhere else (three weeks over the past four and a half months, I think), and I’ll be there even more come the end of November when she adds TWINS to her already busy two-toddler house. It looks like I’m taking December off to help out, so for a month or two I’ll have a little more stability. I’ll still be living out of a suitcase, though–don’t think I’m selling out.
I’m not worried about money. People think it’s awfully irresponsible of me to quit my job and then turn down job offers. What kind of person is intentionally unemployed? But there’s nothing to worry about when you’re in God’s will. I’m trusting in God’s providence, people’s generosity, and a savings account to fall back on.
I’m not yet speaking enough to warrant being homeless. I don’t have events in every state I stop in, but maybe eventually I will. I find that there’s plenty of ministry going on even when I don’t have anything scheduled, and I’m trying to make it more intentional. I want to get a shirt that says “I’m a Catholic. Ask me a question.”5 Then I’ll wear it when I’m in public places with time to kill and voila! Instant evangelization. If anybody knows someplace awesome to get a shirt made (or wants to make it themselves), let me know.
I only ever have a vague plan. I usually know where I’m going for the next few weeks. Then there’s some fuzzy space to be filled in before my next event. For example, I know that I’ll be driving from DC to Georgia in early November. I have one scheduled stop, but once October rolls to a close, I’ll probably have added a few other visits. Other than that, all I’ve got on the docket is Georgia in January, DC in March, and Kansas after that. I’m sure God will fill in the hazy in-between weeks.
I’m open to whatever! In September, I drove from Iowa to Texas just for a fried avocado and some football with friends–don’t think I won’t come to you. If you’ve got a youth group or RCIA or confirmation class or Bible study that you want me to come speak at, I’d love to! You don’t even really have to pay me if you can’t. Or maybe you just want me to come hang out at your house and be your new best friend or talk to your teenage daughter or homeschool your kids. I just never know what God’s going to set before me. All I know is that he’s asked me to speak—street corners or stadiums, it’s all the same to me.
Maybe I’ll spend the rest of my life as a nomad and maybe I’ll have a home next week. Maybe I’ll never be gainfully employed again and maybe I’ll settle back into a classroom in January. I’ve learned to stop making plans–well, beyond the next few weeks–and consent to follow.
As I was driving away from my most recent home back in May, I noticed a strange optical illusion that I’d never noticed before. The hot asphalt ahead of me shimmered in the sunlight and seemed to disappear. I couldn’t tell exactly where the road was; I just had to trust that it was there ahead of me. I couldn’t see exactly where it was going until I was right on top of it; but while I didn’t know what twists and turns it would take, I knew the ultimate destination.
I’m sure I’ve seen this a hundred times before, but I never once noticed it until that day, the day that I was setting out on a road I didn’t know, not knowing where it would go or how it would get there, but trusting that it would lead me to my ultimate Destination. Jesus and I had quite the little chat over that one, let me tell you!
So I mostly eat granola bars and dried fruit and crackers, I listen to a ton of audiobooks, and I’m more grateful for cruise control than I ever thought I could be. And all for the kingdom–isn’t God funny?
P.S. I’ll be speaking at the Omaha Theology on Tap this evening at 7:30. If you’re in the area, be sure to come by!
- How different from today, where all I really have are a car and a cell phone! [↩]
- Maybe I’ll get a QR code that links to this post. Then when people ask me, I can show them the code and stand there checking facebook while they read it. It would certainly be more efficient…. [↩]
- Katherine, Chenele, Hannah, I’m looking at you. [↩]
- Did you know I’m going to write a book? On apologetics–think every apologetics post I’ve ever written but in some systematic order. It’s going to be awesome. No, I haven’t written a single page. [↩]
- Props to the St. Lawrence Center at KU for the inspiration [↩]