Wednesday, September 4, 2013

is ready for a road trip!

Road Trip to Redemption ~ by Brad Mathias
"A disconnected family, a cross country adventure, and an amazing journey of healing and grace"

The premise of this book intrigued me, the metaphor of "life as a road trip" has always struck a chord of familiarity with me. Mathias "unpacks" the metaphor by stating, "We want to get our family safely to our destination, but we're afraid we'll get lost, distracted or wrecked - or just run out of gas...too often we forget to enjoy the process; we miss the fact that it's a privilege to take the journey at all." This made me excited to read on, this story is right up my alley, I thought.

Unfortunately, my expectations were a bit off kilter. The bulk of "Road Trip"is the backstory which, while important in its own rite, took so much time to develop that I was tired before the actual "trip" that I was eagerly anticipating even started. I realize it is important to get to know the players in the drama that is about to unfold, but I felt that I should have been given a chance to meet them along the way, instead of wading through the drawn out introductions before the "amazing journey" began. I appreciated Mathias' candid look at his family, his failures, his triumphs, but the entire first part of "Road Trip" felt to me to be a story of its own, a long prologue with some self help parenting and scripture sprinkled in to keep the momentum up. I was ready to pack the car up myself and get the show on the road. Mathias spends a great deal of the backstory discussing spending time with kids to promote an authentic faith, but I didn't feel as though he was "practicing what he preached."

By the time the family (and their extended family, Mathias' brother, wife and kids - of which there was no prior mention) starts out at 4:30 am from Nashville, ready to drive 2,500 miles to Canada in 2 1/2 days, I had to stop reading for a moment. What happened to "enjoying the process" and "the privilege of the journey?" Driving 1,000 miles a day with a family that isn't, by his own account, "road trippers" seems downright pushy. Now, I know everyone travels at their own pace, and my own family's method of a few hundred miles a day, stop and enjoy the journey, doesn't work for most families. But, when seeking "redemption," I felt that perhaps Mathias' and his family should slow down.

Meeting storm after storm in the first days of their trip, and still pushing on, did show determination, at least on Mathias' part, but I began to sympathize with the family, trapped in their tiny SUV, hoping, as was I, for the freedom afforded from traveling. Six states in day one, waking up in Sioux Falls, South Dakota (as Mathias put it, "a nice town....or so I've heard. We didn't stay long enough to find out.) - anticipating the much touted trip to Mount Rushmore, which was a two page blip of vague descriptions summed up as "a symbol of his (his son Caleb's) coming of age." I desperately wanted to feel and see this change in his teenage, youngest child, not be told about it. A flash of a writing professor's favorite criticism, "show don't tell," kept coming to me. The dirty rest stop in the next section got more descriptions than Caleb's ethereal "four chins." I found it difficult to stomach the scathing commentaries of the Indian reservations that gave an off-putting elitist air from Mathias and his kids. As though the "true meaning" of America lies in a town's material appearance of McDonald's and 7-eleven. Isn't part of traveling and redemption to get out of one's comfort zone and really see the world?

Day two ended in Billings, after a close encounter with a tornado and the vague, "we had seen some incredible sights that day..." for a book about a trip, I felt that I was barely getting the Cliffs' Notes version. Day three begins with a brief meeting with a family friend at McDonald's, which is given the summary of, "we enjoyed our time with her immensely" but more focus seemed to be on "some American Diet Coke and good ol' Egg McMuffins." The cross between the countries is uneventful and boring. The Mathias family is again very focused on McDonald's, which I found odd. At this point in the story, Mathias has used the words, "indescribable" on at least three occasions that cried out desperately for a description. Those "picturesque," "amazing," and "inspiring" sights could have used some superfluous descriptions. It seemed that the dawn of the first full day in Canada awakened Mathias' descriptive senses and gave me a renewed hope for a true feeling of what I knew the story was about. In these sections, I felt more of a connection to the idea that, "beauty is not dependent on our ability to grasp it's significance. It can inspire us whether we are aware of it or not." I love that. The few graphic descriptions in these paragraphs are delicious, the streams "like the arms of a giant octopus" and the metaphor of "God...asking get out of the bus and put on our hiking boots..." and "our faith becomes little more that a convenient painkiller..." hit home. I enjoyed these passages where I could see and feel the journey.

The week in Canada comes to a close with a beautiful quote from St. Augustine of Hippo ~ "The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page." What an inspiring sentiment (though I am still disappointed in Mathias' frequent use of "indescribable" as a description) to continue the journey. The family is headed to Yellowstone, and gets delayed by an onset of sickness in their eldest daughter. Strangely, this incident, and the hotel room setting where it plays out, is probably the most vividly described and heartfelt in its raw simplicity. Yellowstone is another mere blip, "more beautiful than any description I can share here" and another place where Mathias urges, "if you haven't gone...make it happen." I so wish he would have inspired me to go, instead of telling me to do so.

The next stop in the Grand Tetons, the last for Kevin (Mathias' brother) and his family, was truly my favorite. The realization of Kevin's connection to that particular spot was an endearing and insightful look at the brother whom was previously a mere mention. The remainder of the journey is a sprinkling of vague accounts, more "indescribable" sights, and the urging of "you should see it for yourself." The stories of each teenager's "personal message from God" are presented with more insight from the teens themselves. I particularly enjoyed Bethany's account, which offered a candid glimpse into the awakening soul of the 15 year old. The final chapter, more appropriately a synopsis of the story, discusses the "road signs" of each chapter. There is a vast amount of wisdom here, but it feels almost out of place. These "road signs" could have been more effective had they been placed within the respective chapters, helping to guide throughout. The "road signs" stop at chapter four, though, and feel almost like an incomplete thought. Paige's look back is filled with sentiment and a mother's memory of what was possibly the first and only trip of its kind. The appendix gives a brief guideline about planning one's own road trip, but is scarce on too many details.

As a whole, "Road Trip to Redemption" is a wonderful story and a powerful insight to finding, and guiding the search for, faith. What it lacks in descriptive narrative it makes up for in Mathias' earnest longing for his family to find comfort and support in their faith in God.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Tyndale House Publishers Tyndale Blog Network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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