We pulled out of my parent’s driveway before five o’clock a.m.

The road was thick with wet, slushy snow. An early weather report called for hours of ice and snow all across the southern United States. It was one of those reports when the weatherman strongly advises people to stay home, cozy and safe. And for the first few minutes of that long drive, that’s exactly what I wanted. To stay safe. Not so much from the ice and snow. We live in Wisconsin, and the threat of unpleasant weather rarely holds us back.

No, what I was really longing for was the security that comes from playing it safe–avoiding risks.

My parents’ house was warm and snug. If we stayed there, my mom would serve us home-cooked meals and we would sit around the fireplace talking while the kids played with toys. Maybe we’d bundle up and head out into the snow until their cheeks turned pink, then Mom would make a big pot of hot chocolate to warm our insides. We would be comfortable. Safe.

But here we were, leaving in the early hours of the morning to begin the longest road trip we had made with kids yet, to a place we’d never been, in weather that promised to be treacherous. In the backseat, our boys were wide awake, eye full of excitement. At ages two, two, and nine months, they were already accustomed to being pulled out of warm beds and bundled into the van for road trips.

picture of house with white text the first breath of ocean air charleston sc

The back of the van was carefully packed with suitcases, bins of food, sand toys, and other necessities—the fruit of months of planning and days of preparation. Our AirBnB was booked and waiting for us. The funds were in place, diligently saved every month for just such a trip.

Most importantly, a dream was ahead.

For as long as I could remember, I had been wanting to visit Charleston, a city filled to the brim with history, culture, gorgeous architecture—and the ocean. Only a couple months before, my incredible husband suggested that we take a few days out of our trip down south to see my family and make that dream come true. So we stopped in Kentucky for a few days, then headed out from there towards Charleston, South Carolina.

So why, after all that planning and feverish excitement, did I suddenly feel panic and want nothing more than to turn back?

I pushed those thoughts aside, and focused my attention on the road ahead of us. Of course we wouldn’t turn back. That was ridiculous. Security aside, we would take this risk. We would travel with three very small children and we would do things we had never done before in a place we had never been. After all, isn’t that the very essence of travel? It’s always a risk.

The trip was supposed to have taken ten hours. It took fourteen. For hour after painstaking hour, we drove up mountains and prayed as we half-slid down mountains. We passed countless cars and trucks in ditches, and prayed for safety again and again. We struck up a conversation with a trucker at a rest stop in Tennessee. He wouldn’t be driving again until this weather let up. We said goodbye and ran through the snow to load the kids back into the van, and then were on our way. We couldn’t sleep in a truck stop. We needed to reach our destination.

Mercifully, the boys behaved amazingly during the entire trip. Even though there was traffic and long stretches of mountain road where we couldn’t pull over, they remained content and happy. Jordan drove carefully and I prayed. Despite the stressful moments, we were a happy little group, warm and snug in our van. Safe in the hands of God right in the midst of the risk.

We had planned to arrive around dinnertime, but it was dark by the time we finally left the ice and snow behind, and entered South Carolina. Our excitement grew as signs for Charleston led us closer to our destination, but we were also exhausted. Not only from the long, tense trip, but from life.

We had just adopted our son, Robert, a few days earlier. It had been over two years since he’d come home as an infant, and we had been dropped headfirst into a world of intense medical needs, hospital stays, surgeries—and foster care. Our hearts were tossed around violently during those two years, as we waited and hoped and trusted God that it would all work out for good. And finally, it had. Robert bore our last name now, and we carried legal papers stating that he was ours. True to form, our idea for a proper celebration was to travel. We set out for two weeks away from home.

toddler boy walking in charleston harbor

Now, already days into our trip and hours into a very long day, and years into a long-awaited dream, we drove into Charleston. We pulled into the driveway of the charming yellow house that would be our home for a few days. After a day spent fighting against cold and snow, and two years spent fighting for the life of our son, we stepped out into a warm night, and took our first breath of ocean air.

It is a moment I will never forget.

An ancient palmetto tree stood against one side of the house, towering and majestic. Above it, the moon was full, glimmering yellow and bathing the world in silver. The air was warm, kissing our mid-winter skin with a strange and welcoming sensation. And that breath…that first breath that filled our noses and lungs with the salt scent of the ocean—it felt like coming home. It was as if Charleston had reached lovely arms out to weary travelers, and joined with the moon and the ocean and that ancient palmetto to welcome us. The years of burdens slipped off our shoulders as salt entered our senses.

The warmth and safety we had left behind in order to follow this need to risk something still glowed miles and hours away. But this new warmth surrounded us, excited us. It blew gentle breath on the spark of wonder in our souls, and that spark glowed brighter than even the safety left behind.

That breath of ocean changed us forever.

woman with infant in arms and two toddlers walking on pier in charleston sc

Have you had a profound moment in travel or in life that was simple, but unforgettable? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

More posts you might like:
Beginning Early – Traveling with Young Kids
Embracing the Ancestors of My Adopted Son
How to Not Settle Down – Staying Adventurous after Marriage and Kids