The Heartbeat of America Archive

Moment of Terror

Posted May 1, 2017 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

The darkness engulfed me as I climbed the steps into Dillon. I’d just completed my pretrip inspection by flashlight and needed to drive four hours into Mississippi to pick up my next load. This one would take me into our terminal in Missouri. My trailer was having problems with the refrigerated unit and the mechanics wanted to make sure they got it inhouse to repair it.

I wheeled off the farm onto a major US highway. Suddenly, the second my automated transmission tried to shift, my truck stopped! Right in the MIDDLE of a major highway! I was completely blocking both southbound lanes and the shoulder.

Terror gripped my heart. In the darkness, a southbound vehicle may not see me. I flipped on my emergency flashers and switched into neutral then back to drive. My truck started up again. My overwhelming sense of relief only lasted until my truck began to shift. Then it stopped. Again.

It took ten long, horrifying minutes to coax my 73 foot vehicle to the nearest place out of traffic: the center turn lane. I sat for a few moments until my heart stopped pounding and the blood stopped swishing in my ears. Two trucks roared by southbound and I knew I desperately needed to somehow get to the shoulder.

Surely I could make it.

I switched into drive again and tried to let the truck roll at idle speed across the two southbound lanes. Shifting seemed to be the issue. If I could keep the truck rolling slow enough that it stayed in first gear, maybe I could get it safely to the other shoulder before the next trucks barreled in my direction.

Despite my best efforts, the truck gained speed, tried to shift and stopped. Again I was blocking both southbound lanes. I repeated the switch to neutral-switch back to drive scenario ten times before I finally getting the truck safely out of harm’s way. The shoulder isn’t the safest place but it would have to do.

I immediately put out my emergency triangles, trying desperately to stop shaking as I walked. I needed to determine if the problem was coming from the truck or trailer so I disconnected. I pulled up with my truck and it shifted fine. The process of elimination told the story. The refrigeration unit was not the only malfunctioning piece of equipment on my trailer.

I reattached to my trailer and tried to pull up. Just like before, the moment I my automated transmission pushed in its clutch to shift, the truck and trailer stopped. It had to be the trailer brakes sticking.

I pushed and pulled, knocked on things with a hammer. I inspected everything I possibly could. I yanked. I cursed. Ok, I didn’t curse but only because those words just aren’t in my vocabulary. But I did pray.

Somehow, something that I did released the brakes and I continued on my way. Each time I stopped or turned into an intersection, I held my breath, praying the brakes would not jam.

I made it to my shipper and to our terminal without any further incident. My best pretrip inspection failed to reveal any problems with the brakes and yet, I was placed in a precarious situation.

My company’s equipment is the best in the business. My truck has dozens of safety devices and our trailers cannot be beat. But the fact remains they are mechanical devices and as such, can break down without notice despite our best efforts.

I have hundreds of friends who cover my travels with prayer. For that I am grateful. I have been spared many disasters because of them. It had just never occurred to me that I’d need those prayers pulling out of my own driveway in the middle of a very dark night.

Thank you all for following me on this incredible journey that sometimes produces a moment of terror. Fortunately, those are few and far between.

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Sweet Vidalia

Posted April 28, 2017 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

Deep in the heart of rural Georgia, a forty year old woman is about to graduate college. That’s truly an amazing accomplishment at any age. But if you peal back the layers of Sweet Vidalia, you’ll learn this is no ordinary woman.

Born on a farm to alcoholic parents, Vidalia was raised in a tumultuous environment. At the age of fifteen, the courts granted her petition to become an emancipated minor. She worked several jobs and rented a home from the parents of a friend.

Vidalia stayed in school and despite her very challenging life, she managed to graduate at the top of her class, earning her an academic scholarship to a major university. Life was really turning around for her.

Two weeks before she was to leave for college, her parents died in an alcohol caused car crash, leaving her younger brother and sister orphaned. Vidalia rode the bus to the college she was to attend and explained what happened. She told them she wanted to attend college more than anything but she could not leave them.

Vidalia once again went to court, this time on behalf of her siblings. And despite overwhelming odds, because she was so self-reliant, This now eighteen year old was granted custody of her two younger siblings.

Working tirelessly, Vidalia not only cared for them, she saved everything she could and sent both of them to college. Her brother is a computer programmer and her sister is in her residency as a physician.

Vidalia unselfishly gave up her plans, her hopes and dreams to provide a home for children. She did not stop until they graduated college. Once that happened, they insisted she go back to get her own degree. So she did.

In Sweet Vidalia fashion, she continued to work several jobs and took courses online. She’s finally completed all the requirements to matriculate and will graduate Magna Cum Laude. With degree in Social Work in hand, she intends to open a home for troubled children. It’s the same home she eventually bought from the parents of a friend when she left home. The same place that provided a roof over her orphaned siblings.

I am honored to have met such an amazing woman. Had she not told me her story, I would never have known. She so completely recovered, and excelled in life, despite a very rough start.

Sweet Vidalia is an example of the many layers we all possess. Sometimes the surface looks rough, dirty. Other times it shines but it’s always what’s underneath that tastes the sweetest.

Thank you, Vidalia, for your unselfish sacrifice to save two lives. May God grant you the wisdom to continue to carry the torch and fight the good fight. Because of you, the heartbeat of America is alive and well.

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A Blast From Two Pasts

Posted April 24, 2017 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

I drove Dillon across the bridge on US 41 south into Henderson, Kentucky as memories played in my mind. Four short years ago I’d ridden into the town on the Ohio River during the Road to Freedom Tour. It had been a place like no other.

But I was headed to a nearby town to the south to pick up chicken so I could not stay. I finally found my shipper in the middle of nowhere. I parked and headed in to the shipping office. No one was sitting at the desk behind the window. As instructed by the handwritten sign on the wall, I rang the bell.

A man came out of the back office and told me to back into door 7. A few moments later, a young lady with a pink high visibility vest came out and approached my truck. I climbed down as she asked me to unhook one of my air lines (they place a lock on it to ensure the trailer cannot move while workers are inside).

She looked at me for an awkward moment and finally said, “I know you.”

“Really? I’m not from around here.”

Her eyes widened, “You’re the Bicycle Lady!!”

I took my first good look at her. “Oh my goodness. You’re Charlotte! But how did you recognize me?”

“Your voice. I’d know it anywhere!”

For the next fifteen minutes Charlotte told me how she’d left her abusive husband, moved and started a new life. She thanked me a dozen times for wheeling into her neighborhood on a bicycle in 2013. That had given her the courage to take back control of her life and get out of a bad situation.

They loaded me in no time and after hugging goodbye, I was back on the road and headed toward coastal Georgia. I’d been on the road since early morning and wasn’t able to make it too far before having to shut down for the night only sixty miles away.

The mom and pop truck stop was empty so I opted to go there rather than the two crowded national brand truck stops. I meandered inside hoping I could talk them into making me a vegetarian pizza. The lady behind the counter eyed me strangely as she waited on other customers.

One man kept getting in my face. No matter where I moved or turned, he followed me and continued to get in my face. I returned to my truck until I saw him leave the parking lot. As soon as I walked back in, the lady behind the counter asked if she could help me.

I told her my request and her eyes opened wide.

“I know you! You’re the Bicycle Lady! I’d know that voice anywhere!”

“I know you, too Joanne!”

Joanne was yet another woman I’d met along the Road to Freedom Tour. She’d been working at a restaurant at the time. We’d met the one night I spent in her town. Joanne had bruises on her face and a broken hand. Today she looked radiant.

“That man I was with is in jail. I realized that if you could ride your bike all over America to tell your story, I could tell mine too. I filed charges against him and he’s been in jail ever since. My kids and I are safe. I’m the manager of this place and my life is back on track.”

She gave me my vegetarian pizza on the house and we spent the next hour talking like old friends. I finally said goodnight and as I climbed back in Dillon, I realized that God was orchestrating things for quite some time.

In 1993 I battled cancer that left me with partial vocal paralysis. My scruffily voice is quite unique. Because I used to sing, I HATED when my voice was compromised. But at that moment sitting in my truck thinking about Charlotte, Joanne and the thousands of women I’d met on my bike trip, I was grateful for it. Years after we’d met and I pedaled away, these women recognized me again because of my weird, gravelly voice.

God knew. He knew each of those women needed help and that I would answer the call. He knew I’d run into them again the other day and would be blessed to see how far they’d come. And He knew we would have to have some form of identification. After all, we were all on new adventures.

As I settled in for a peaceful night’s sleep, I thanked God for my strange voice. I thanked Him that out of all the millions of women on earth, He chose me to take the Road to Freedom Tour. I thanked Him for my weird, unique voice that suddenly sounded angelic.

Somewhere in the night my memories turned into dreams in the hills of Kentucky, two pasts having converged into an amazing present.

 

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Don’t Judge a Book By its Cover

Posted April 1, 2017 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

I got up from my nap, slipped on a jacket and walked to the other truck stop across the road to Denny’s. I was greeted and placed in a corner booth by a young lady. As she placed the menu on the table in front of me, I tried not to stare at the numerous tattoos covering both arms, neck and chest.

Lisa took my order and after bringing my grilled cheese sandwich—perfect cuisine on a blustery day—she returned to my table many times to check on me. On one trip, she sat down across the booth from me and explained she found a way to ring up my meal to save me a “ton of money.” I suppose that to a young waitress two bucks was a lot and I expressed my gratitude to her for her efforts.

Then without my asking—I promise I did NOT ask this time—she began to tell me her life story. Over twenty years ago, a woman trucker picked up a young female hitchhiker who was traveling to nowhere in particular with two baby girls in tow.  They rode together halfway across the country. The trucker stopped for fuel and while she was in the truck stop, the woman disappeared. She left only a note giving the trucker “temporary” custody of the girls until she could get back on her feet.

She was never seen again.

The trucker could have called the authorities. She could have given the two beautiful little girls over to the police, social workers or foster care. Instead, she kept them with her on her truck. Days turned into weeks and months turned into years. She raised them as her own. She shattered her knee and while having it surgically replaced, developed such a bad infection, they wound up having to amputate her leg. She was forced to come off the road.

Life got very difficult with no income. They became homeless and were forced into the streets. Lisa’s trucker mom never officially adopted her or her sister but was every bit a mom to them as anyone could ever be.

“Things have been hard, especially financially,” Lisa offered with a shrug. “But I’m really proud that I’ve never been on drugs and I don’t have a criminal record. I could have, you know.”

“Statistically, you’re a rarity. It speaks very highly of your character. You’re quite an incredible young lady.”

She smiled and said, “I have two girls of my own now. No way I’m going to leave them.” She paused and looked off to someplace in a past life for a long moment. “I know my mom loved us. But she was desperate. Things are tough for me, too, but we’re making it. She didn’t have to leave us at a truck stop but we were in good hands. I’ve had a good life.”

She is grateful that she has a good job waiting tables at Denny’s and her boyfriend has a job at the convenience store. He has a daughter as well so now there are three. One more mouth to feed but they are finding a way to make it work on their meager wages.

Lisa is not the rough and tumble grizzly girl her tattoos would suggest. She’s an old soul encased in a young woman’s body. She is kind, considerate, helpful. She’s also tenacious with a grip on life more solid than super glue.

I’ve heard it said we should never judge a book by its cover. I’ve tried to live my life not judging others by their appearance. Today I’m glad I took my own advice or I would have completely missed the priceless treasure hidden in the grassy plains of Nowhere, Nebraska.

One mother couldn’t make it. One took up where she left off and raised a stranger’s daughters into mighty women. Strong and courageous, these soldiers of circumstance decided to write their own book on their lives, complete with their own happily ever after. It proves you should NEVER just a book by its cover.

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In His Steps

Posted March 31, 2017 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

Jeffrey rolled down the road into the evening sunset in his Peterbilt. He’d been a trucker for twenty years and loved the open road. With country music playing in the background, his thoughts went to his mother. She died when he was sixteen and after bouncing around for a couple of years, he began driving a truck. The road was now his home.

He missed her more than he could imagine, especially since his father was absent. When Jeffrey was a young boy, Dad put on a uniform, picked up a gun and went off to fight the Vietnam War. He never came home. Whether he died a hero or abandoned his family, they would never know.

The lonely trucker wheeled into a favorite truck stop for some home cooking before finishing his run. He selected a seat at the counter amongst other truckers doing the same thing and struck up a conversation with the older fellow next to him.

Between sips of coffee and bites of greasy food, the two men traded stories. Midway through the elder man’s historical account, he looked up at his younger counterpart and stopped talking mid-sentence. Tears filled his widened eyes as he realized he’d happened upon someone very, very special. More slowly, it became apparent to Jeffrey that the stranger sitting next to him was his father and he’d followed in his steps.

Through tears, Jonathan explained to his son that he’d come back home from the war but he and his mother were no longer at their old homestead.

“Mom couldn’t make ends meet. She couldn’t pay for the house. I wanted to work but was too young. We lost the house and had to move away.” Jeffrey wiped a tear from his eye with rough hands of the strong man he’d become.

“I looked for you for so long,” the old man offered. “I asked everyone but no one knew where you went. When I knew I wouldn’t find you, I went on the road and have been out here ever since.”

They forgot about the time, their loads and the need to deliver them. They made up for lost time. Jonathan gazed at his son with pride and complete acceptance that without even knowing his son was walking in his steps. Jeffrey felt the hole in his heart seal up with every passing moment.

A chance meeting in a truck stop with two strangers chatting over a late-night meal changed the lives of two people forever. The ocean between father and son was eliminated and the joyful reunion was more than either could hope or dream.  That chance meeting—or was it fate—ignited a fire and bond that only happens between a father and his boy.

Five years have passed since Jonathan and Jeffrey were reunited. Today they mostly drive together, one truck behind the other. Father and son. Owner and partner. They recently visited a grave where a wife and mother was laid to rest. After more than four decades, a husband soldier was finally able to say goodbye to his bride. He looked toward Heaven and thanked God that He’d looked after his boy who despite his absence, had grown into a fine man. He marveled that even though they’d been miles apart and separated by tragic circumstance, a son had followed in his father’s steps.

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Pride of the Ozarks

Posted March 30, 2017 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

Nestled in a hollow in the deep Ozark Mountains, there is a place you’d miss if you weren’t looking. It’s not a fancy place by any means but the Hillbilly Hideout is one of my favorite places in America.

The Hideout is an all-night diner in a truck stop off Interstate 40. Most national chain truck stops give you a choice of fast food or go hungry. Not so with this place. When I eat there, I feel as though I’ve gone back in time when mama stayed home and cooked dinner every day.

At the Hillbilly Hideout, you can talk like ya wanna and ain’t nobody gonna judge ya. They are just plain down home country folk from the mountains in Arkansas and they treat a total stranger like a long lost best friend. They will give you the shirt off their backs and a free shower if you really need one.

The diner has wooden chairs from the 60’s. I’m sure the vinyl booths are as well. You won’t be greeted by a fancy hostess forcing you to sit where it flows best for them. You sit wherever you want. Don’t expect a waitress because one will not be assigned to you. Instead THEY ALL will be assigned to you. Every waitress on duty is responsible to make sure you have a pleasurable dining experience. Need something? Flag any of them down and they get it for you. They share the tips at the end of the shift so they all have a vested interest in making sure you’re satisfied. I have a feeling they’d do it anyway, because they are just good folks.

A typical country meal is too much for you to eat. Pork chops, fried okra, potatoes, cabbage, beans and cornbread are a typical menu choice. You’ll have to leave some on the plate—don’t worry, they won’t hold it against you—and it will only set you back $6.99. Every bit of it is cooked up fresh right when you order it. Nothing came in precooked plastic bags like the national chain eateries. One taste and you’ll feel like you died and went to Heaven.

The Hillbilly Hideout is as old as restaurants are in America. They haven’t upgraded the décor or their menu in all those decades. But once you discover it, you’ll adjust your travel plans to go back. At any time, you’ll find soldiers and locals, tourists and truckers. On game day in ANY sport, the local team bus stops here on the way to or from the game. It’s tradition. Young and old, rich or poor, EVERYBODY goes to Hillbilly Hideout. And they know all the waitresses. Though there is a younger generation of servers, most of the matriarchs have been right there every day for more than thirty years. They are part of the fixtures at this hole in the wall.

I am an adventurer and become easily bored and disillusioned when every brand restaurant looks exactly the same and has exactly the same menu. National branded truck stops are all laid out the same, so much so, sometimes I have to ask myself where I am. In one place in Arkansas, all I have to do is look around and I know I’m in the greatest place in the Pride of the Ozarks: The Hillbilly Hideout. No place like it on earth and one of the few places I can still get real fresh cooked food for a reasonable price, get treated like a queen by the nicest folks you’d ever meet.

The heartbeat of America is alive and well at exit 35 on Interstate 40 in Arkansas. Stop in. You’ll be glad you did. And when you finally force yourself to leave, you’ll hear, “Ya’ll come back now, ya hear?”

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Die Like You Were Living

Posted March 29, 2017 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

Last week, ten-year-old barrel racer Piper Faust died tragically at a rodeo in Caldwell, Texas. She was getting ready to race when her horse spooked, fell backwards onto her. Truly heartbreaking for the world to have lost such a wonderfully spirited young girl.

I did not know Piper but those who did speak only of her infectious spirit, her amazing smile and her passion for the rodeo. They say she’d said for years she would die young. Perhaps she somehow knew. One thing’s for sure, Piper spent every moment of everyday living her life to its absolute fullest, doing what she loved.

Her father said, “I think her heart stopped beating in the arena. She left her soul where she loved it.” That’s something that cannot be said of many eighty year olds when they pass from this life to the next.

Piper’s mother said that she did everything with all her heart. She gave it her all. That’s the cowboy way and at the end of the ride, whether a cowboy stays the limit or gets bucked off, they leave it all out on the dirt floor of the rodeo arena, satisfied that they gave it their all.

Not many people understand having that kind of commitment to something. They’ve never experienced a passion so intense, it compels someone to climb back up on the horse after being bucked off. Piper had that drive. Had she been able, she would have climbed right back up and raced when her name was called.

We can learn so much from this tough as nails kid. To embrace life wholly and completely. To number our days and live each one as if it was our last. We would make sure that we are living in such a way that when we draw our last breath, we die doing exactly what we were destined to do on this earth, passionately living our dreams.

There are those who feel Piper should not have been engaging in such a dangerous sport. I could not disagree more. EVERYTHING in life comes with its own set of risks. Because of that truth, we should—no, absolutely MUST—spend our days pursuing what we love.

Her death was tragic and that night when she passed from this life to the next, there was an undeniable hole in the world her presence once filled. But I guarantee you that if she had the opportunity to change that moment in time, she would not. She died like she was living… in the rodeo.

Piper’s death brings to the forefront of our minds the truth we are all faced with every moment of every day. None of us are guaranteed tomorrow. We must live while life is with us. When you come to the end of your cowboy or cowgirl’s last ride, I hope you will have lived in such a way, that you died living life. May your heart stop beating in the arena and leave your soul where you loved it.

All of life is like Piper’s story. It’s a rodeo with unpredictable horses to race. We can sit out or climb on the horse, calmly accepting the reality it could be our last ride. And since we could get bucked off, we owe it to ourselves and the world to hang on for dear life. To ride the limit and leave it all out there on the dirt floor of the rodeo arena.

Rest in peace, Piper. Thank you for teaching us all how to live.

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Defenders of Freedom

Posted March 28, 2017 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

I left under the cover of darkness in the vastness of South Dakota. I drove 52 miles without seeing a single light of any kind. It rained the day and night before and the higher I climbed, the lower the temperature dropped. When it reached 29 degrees, I stopped my truck right on the road. There was no place to pull off and since I was the only person for dozens of miles, it didn’t really matter that I was blocking the road.

I tried to slide my feet across the pavement. My boots dug in. Still not convinced there was no ice, I bent down and placed both hands on the pavement. There really was NO ice. I hopped back in Dillon and finished my ride to, well, an undisclosed location.

My instructions were to drive two miles down the last road on my GPS and stop at the gate. Someone would come get me.

“How will they know I’m there?”

“They’ll know.”

I arrived at the locked gate, cut my headlights and turned off my engine. Within thirty seconds, three sets of headlights sped toward me from inside the gate. Armed military police officers stopped, opened the gate and approached my truck. They were ALL business and were very heavily armed.

They instructed me to follow the lead vehicle to a building. As I approached, the door went up and two more guards appeared and motioned for me to drive inside. The second my trailer cleared, the door closed again and the armed guards showed up at my door.

They instructed me to open both doors, my tool compartment and my hood and to get my paperwork. Once completed, they escorted me far into the labyrinth of the building and into an interrogation room. As they closed and locked the door behind me, I gazed around at the room. A wooden bench spread along wall. On the far corner of it sat a telephone. Three walls were cinderblock, the forth a two-way mirror.  They could see me but I could not see them.

After fifteen minutes, a member of the security detail’s voice boomed over an intercom I failed to notice in my jailbird six by six. He asked me if I’d ever been there. Not knowing exactly where “there” was, I said no. They then asked me to slide my ID and paperwork through a tiny slot beside the two-way mirror.

Then I waited. I sat. I stood. I paced five feet, then five feet back. I sat again. I crossed my legs. I tried not to look like I’d committed a crime. I hoped they did not find the bomb I was now absolutely sure had to be in my truck. Otherwise they would not be doing this to me.

Ninety-three agonizing minutes later, the door opened. A very stern looking armed soldier told me I had been cleared but I was to remain in the room until my “sponsor” arrived.

“Would that be a person who is going to escort me where I need to deliver?”

“Yes ma’am.”

Finally, the door unlocked and opened again and an armed female soldier approached. She provided strict instructions that I was to follow immediately behind her vehicle, not change lanes or direction. She would escort me precisely where I was to deliver the plutonium… Uhhh, I mean the frozen beef.

I did as I was told while armed vehicles were on my left and behind me. When my sponsor made a right turn, I wondered if it would be worse to swing out to the left allowing my trailer to clear on the right, or run off the road with the back. I swung out. They didn’t shoot me. Another building came into view. She turned in and I did as well.

She stopped, got out of her vehicle and approached me as she pointed at a dock against the building. “Open your doors now (they’d already broken the seal when they searched the trailer) and back up to that dock. Once you are in the dock, please turn off the engine and exit your truck. Do NOT return to your truck until I tell you to.”

I did just that and within just a couple of minutes, the two pallets and six boxes were offloaded by personnel I never saw and my paperwork was brought to me by a member of my security detail. We then repeated the caravan in reverse order. Within moments I exited the gate in the middle of nowhere, it closed and the armed soldiers disappeared back into the darkness.

As I drove off to my next pick up point, I felt wholly patriotic to deliver beef to hard core soldiers who were standing the line of defense against America’s enemies. It was intimidating. Frightening even for someone who’d done nothing wrong. But it was also inspiring and reassuring to see that men and women are well equipped to care for our nation.

I realized we are in good hands. I’d thanked them for their service to our country. None even cracked a smile but with fingers on their triggers, responded with a quick, “thank you ma’am.”

Soldiers standing at the ready.

I would like to thank the men and women who sacrifice, put on a uniform, take up arms to fight in our military. I do not take that for granted and I know YOU are paying the price for my freedom, someone you’ll most likely never meet.

God bless you, American soldiers, as you stand the line for freedom.

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Temporary Home

Posted March 27, 2017 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

I pulled into a truck stop in a remote part of Kansas just as I ran out of drive time. The day had started at 2am and I’d been bombarded with challenges all day. My patience had reached its limit and I was ready for a relaxing dinner in the local restaurant.

I grabbed a window booth and perused the menu. As with many local eateries in Kansas, they had a Mexican food section. I ordered my vegetarian enchiladas and chomped on the chips and salsa. My young waitress drew me to her immediately with her infectious smile. She was friendly and attentive, and eager to please her weary customer. We struck up a conversation.

Jennifer is only 18 and was orphaned at age five. She was never adopted, although she is so delightful, I can’t imagine why. Throughout her childhood, she was placed in over a hundred foster homes, until she finally aged out of the system.

I was amazed and couldn’t help but ask, “How were you able to cope with bouncing around with no place of your own?”

“When you’re in the foster system, you learn quickly that nothing is permanent. No matter where they place you, it’s just a temporary home.”

“That must have been very difficult for you.”

“Sometimes. But I’m no different from you.”

I thought she somehow knew about my life and my story.  “How so?”

“We’re all just passing through. Earth not our destination. It’s our temporary home. I’m headed to Heaven. What about you?”

For the next few minutes, I let Jennifer share Jesus with me. It was important to her. I finally told her that I share her faith.

“I knew it. It just felt good to tell you. Thanks for letting me.”

“So what now, Jennifer? What are you doing now? I’m sure you had to qualify for college scholarships.”

The smile momentarily faded from her face for the first time since we’d met. “Another thing I learned in foster care was it’s best to not take the handouts they give you. There are always strings attached in foster homes.”

“So you’re on your own now?”

“Yes. I rent a room from my boss. I work here and two other jobs. No colleges around here to go to but I’m taking classes online. I pay my own tuition as I go. Another year and I will have my BA degree.”

“What then? Have a plan?”

“I suppose most people would think I’d do social work or something to right the wrongs and save the foster care system. But that’s impossible to accomplish and God rescued me from it. I have no plans to go back. This is cattle country. The cows need veterinary care. I’m going to Vet school. I’ve already been accepted. I just have to complete my biology labs at the campus this summer. I start in the fall.”

Noticing that Jennifer’s smile had returned, I knew in my heart she would be fine and go far in life. She’d been bounced around more than a tennis ball on centre court at Wimbledon, yet her attitude remained hopeful. She possessed a wisdom beyond her years, that true wisdom forged on the anvil of suffering.

I wanted to do something to help her. I wanted to adopt her and make her my kid. But she was not a child. She was a bigger than life young woman determined to grab life by the horns and force it to follow her lead.

Jennifer knows it is fleeting. She’ll never get it back. She knows this earth, however unfair it was to her during her childhood, is merely her temporary home. She embraces every moment and squeezes every drop of goodie out of it, not intending to waste a single one lamenting over water under a bridge she did not build.

As I reluctantly said goodbye to my new friend and slowly walked back to my truck, I was reminded how temporary life—good or bad—really is. I let the challenging waters of my day roll under the proverbial bridge and disappear somewhere beyond my world.

Jennifer got it right.

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You’re Never Too Old

Posted March 24, 2017 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

In a couple of months I will reach a milestone. I’ll turn the BIG 6-0. Through the years as I navigated this incredible journey called life, I wasn’t sure what I thought I’d feel like at this age. But I can assure you THIS was NOT it.

I still run. Ok, these days it more resembles the march of the penguins but I’m still out there pounding the pavement. I did not even start driving a truck until I was 57. I climb all over my truck and trailer. I play with my neighbor’s grandkids. I camp in tents on the ground.

The only time I feel my age is when I look at the mirror, gaze at that wrinkly woman with silver hair staring back at me, gasp and ask, “Who are you and what have you done with Reba?”

Recently while in the Mojave Desert in California, I stopped to eat at a local hole in the wall diner. My waitress hurried over to take my drink order. It was hard not to notice she was older than me. Much older. 89 to be exact. She was as spry as they come. Genevieve (Genny for short), took orders from memory, carried huge heavy trays filled with food to tables and NEVER got the order wrong. Never.

She worked circles around her young spring chicken counterparts and refused to complain about anything. I asked her if she could sit for a few minutes. Surprisingly, she did and as I always do, I dug into her life.

Genny raised four sons on tips from the restaurant. She started there at the age of 14. It was where she met her husband. She was married at 16 and widowed at 17. Her husband was killed in World War II.  Suddenly a single parent, she worked double shifts to provide. When her boys got old enough to attend school, the bus dropped them off at the grill every day. They sat doing homework while Genny bussed tables and provided for their modest lifestyle.

Her eyes glowed as she spoke of her grown sons. “One is a doctor. One is a teacher, a professor at a college. The other two followed in their father’s footsteps and are officers in the military. All things considered, I guess we did alright.”

She went on to say her sons want her to give up her home in the desert and retire from her job at the diner. Quite frankly, I’d chastise myself moments earlier for thinking the same thing.  I asked her why she stayed out there in the desert slinging hash. Her answer was profound.

“I’ve done this for 75 years. It’s who I am. Doing anything else would require I give up my identity. I’m just not willing to give up who I am.”

“It’s been really hard work. I’m sure you’re tired.”

“There have been days that I was so tired I felt I couldn’t go on for another step. But it’s that same work that’s kept me young. It’s keeping me alive. Sure can’t complain about that. Hard work never hurt nobody.”

Genny worked seven days a week for more than 75 years without a vacation or even a single day off. That’s over 27,000 days she’s waited tables. She serves about 40 customers a day at that little well known diner. That means she’s served over a million meals in her lifetime to hungry passersby. Many of them were complete strangers who she never saw again. Yet, she treated them like family and saw to it their hunger needs were met.

She suddenly jumped up, thanked me for the “chat” but said she had to get back to work. She hurried away as she waved at regular customers who were walking in. She met them at their table with their usual drinks.

Genny is living proof that you are never too old to live your dream. You are never too old to continue really living life. Honestly, you are never too old to become who you were meant to be.

I may never see Genny again but I doubt I’ll ever forget her. Deep in the Mojave Desert, she proves that the Heartbeat of America is alive and well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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