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How Charles Esten Helped Me Find Joy In Times Of Struggle

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“Hold on, you don’t know what’s waiting for you down the road.”
Charles Esten
Singer, songwriter
The Bluebird Café, April 9, 2022

I did not want the first blog I wrote from the road for the Radical Living Challenge to be fraught with anxiety or fear. I definitely did not want you all to know how much I have been struggling.  I want the Radical Living Challenge blog to be good vibes and inspiration. But the truth is, a story of courage, and one that is particularly named using the word ‘challenge’ in its title, is going to be just that, challenging.
Let me explain.

I left Los Angeles at 3:30 am on March 28 in tears. Mostly, I think, what made me sad was leaving the city my children still call home. While they are no longer living there, the home where their dad lives is filled with their belongings. It will be the place they will return to when they go ‘home’, and that old part of me that once felt I might get left behind resurfaced with a vengeance. Filled with doubt as we approached the airport, the cats meowing in their carriers, I beat myself up wishing I could find excitement in beginning the next part of the Challenge.

Once we arrived in Nappanee, Indiana to pick up the rig, the weather was cold, alternating between rain and snow.  I cannot tell you how happy I was to unpack my winter jacket! And, I felt relief as the excitement I had been longing for returned when we first walked into our new home, a 40-foot Newmar Dutchstar Class A RV. That said, as the 14 hour days spent learning how to operate the rig, packing everything we owned into small, oddly shaped cupboards and drawers, and working in the empty service center late into the evening began to weigh heavily on my sense of peace.

As the days passed I meditated whenever I could, and grabbed happily at moments of familiarity, getting in a workout in a hotel gym fitted with equipment from the 1980s, and checking out the local Planet Fitness in a shopping mall near the place where the tow hitch and bike rack were being installed. I loved overhearing the conversation so different from those I had heard at home between a few conservative old timers hanging out at the local diner while we ate.   But as we headed out to Louisville on our first stop to visit the Waverly Sanatorium, sleep deprivation, lack of available good nutrition (I could have never imagined it would be challenging to find fresh food in the most remote parts of the country), and the general consistent stress of driving a 40-foot rig down the highway for the first time sent me into a tailspin.

I cried, a lot. I meditated every day then, doubling down on my routine, as I struggled to find connection to myself and my joy.  I chose to lean into the sadness I was feeling, that the dream I had been imagining for the past six months was not looking like the five weeks we had spent living in the 36-foot RV last summer. At all. And when we finally landed at a gorgeous Army Corp of Engineers campsite set on the shoreline of J. Percy Priest Lake in Hermitage, Tennessee a few miles from Nashville, I had high hopes for starting a new chapter. We went to the grocery store, loading up on healthy foods that I could cook. I began the work week, but then it started to rain. And rain. After three days of rainfall, even though I took several walks out into it, I felt trapped in the tiny space that had become our home, tiring of the constant tidying necessary to keep the environment clean.  With the bickering between Jeremy and I escalating as the weekend approached, I realized the immediate antidote was to find joy in a thing we do best together, music. We spent the weekend at what are considered the trifecta of music legend in Nashville — the Grand Ol’ Opry, The Ryman Theatre and The Bluebird Café.  At the Bluebird we delighted in hearing singer/songwriter and actor Charles Esten perform,  the lyric of a song he recently wrote but had not recorded hit me square in the heart as we watched enrapt from our seat in the 20-table venue.

His message, surrender.

Esten sang about struggle, the idea that we don’t know where the journey will lead us, inviting us to have faith that we are being guided towards ultimate good, that we don’t know what lays down the road. And with that song tucked deeply into my heart, I felt peace. But then, just a day later, as we prepared to leave to go to The Smokey Mountains, Jeremy discovered an important part of the RV had been installed incorrectly. Frustrated, Jeremy spent hours on the phone discovering it is something that must be fixed and will require us to be off the road for an undefined period of time while it is serviced. We are crossing our fingers that it can be remedied quickly, and are celebrating that we have been invited to stay at the home of my high school best friend in Atlanta while we wait it out. I am seeing this as evidence that the journey is unfolding in a way that is taking me towards something better that I just can’t yet see.

Nevertheless, the challenges continued. The dryer also broke after just one use. A small issue, however it has required an additional amount of time on the phone trying to figure out how to fix a piece of machinery that is literally bolted to the cabinet in which it sits making it impossible to simply pull it out of the wall to investigate. And, because I have had to exercise inside due to the rain, a ten pound dumbbell crashed to the floor and dented it.

Nevertheless, I am writing this overlooking a river that continues to flow despite the rain. And, today we saw the sun. It was brief, but it reminded me that part of the challenge is navigating through it from a place of faith and trust. I’m trusting the issues that Jeremy and I need to grapple with while we are here in this 400 square feet home are those that I know have been hiding beneath the rugs of the houses we have lived in, so the gift is in solving them now. I’m becoming comfortable with the dark clouds that are overhead and open to letting the dream we had of what this might be fall like rain into the parts of me and us that need healing, creating seeds for new dreams and possibilities.

And while we had heard tales of caution from those who have gone down the road before us about how the path of living in an RV full time is rarely the one you plan, the stakes feel exceptionally high. And while it is raining, again, it is a little less terrifying today to be in the liminal space between the life we left behind and this life on the road. As Jeremy said last night as we sat together watching TV while I knit, each stitch providing a moment of meditative peace, “the key to peace in this life is to surrender.” So, while most of the challenges we are having are right in front of us, we have decided to embrace them and turn our hearts to face peace and joy.

Places we have visited:
Nappanee, Indiana
Louisville, Kentucky
Nashville, Tennessee

About the Author

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MARNI BATTISTA

I am Marni Battista, entrepreneur, mom of three, wife, and lover of travel. My husband and I have spent the last three years being intentional about creating a life that feels like an authentic expression of us as individuals and together. We have a mutual love of adventure, nature, peace, and freedom which has resulted in a series of experiments in honor of our desire to experience a radical living challenge! This blog represents the beginning of this journey.
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