Did you know that there are two national parks dedicated to Theodore Roosevelt? They are located fifty miles apart in the southwestern corner of North Dakota. I didn’t know about them before we set out on our trip, but my aunt and uncle wanted to make sure we saw them, (they have been to most all of the others already!). I was just thrilled to be going to North Dakota, so it didn’t matter to me what we were actually going to see!
We visited the South Park first. The landscape was absolutely beautiful! The deep valleys looked like the Grand Canyon. It’s rocky, steep, colorful, and filled with various trees. Standing on the top edge is just breathtaking! We made the thirty-mile trek around the park and were rewarded with numerous bison, antelope, horse, and prairie dog sightings. The beauty of this place cannot be accurately explained or photographed. One must simply stand there and soak it in to understand how wonderful the land itself truly is.
When we had finished the loop road we stopped by the visitor’s center to use the restroom. The visitor’s center is packed with great information about Mr. Roosevelt. I had blindly walked past an information board on my way inside, but Uncle Jimmy told me to stop and read it when I came back outside. Boy, am I ever glad he did!
I knew that Teddy Roosevelt was responsible for the National Park system and I also knew that he was a very conservative president. We have access to all of the amazing National Parks across the US today because of his foresight and willingness to go above and beyond to ensure that they will always be available to every American. Honestly, what he did and the lengths he was willing to go to in order to ensure that the land remained untouched and available for everyone to enjoy is awe inspiring in itself. But, do you know why he was so determined to preserve the land?
As I stood there and read the explanation on that board outside the visitor’s center in Medora, ND I had a moment of connection with a man that I will never meet…and it was earth shaking.
Just behind the visitor’s center stands a small log cabin. I read that this was the cabin Teddy moved in to when he came west. The name of the cabin is “The Maltese Cross Cabin” and it was the first sight he saw as he stepped off of the train from the east.
Do you know why he came west all those years ago? I didn’t…but now I do.
Theodore Roosevelt came out west to grieve. He had just lost his wife and his mother. He came west to learn how to live again. He came west to figure out how to start over. I sure did not learn that little piece of information in any of my history classes!
As I read his story, with my hand on Maggie’s shoulder…I realized that God lead me to this place for a reason. Of all of the informational boards I could have read, this one was meant to bring clarity to my mind and…to my heart.
Maggie asked why I was tearing up and so I told her the story in an abbreviated version. This is what I said, “President Roosevelt came here to heal. His wife and his mama had died, so he came here to try to find a way to get past his grief.” Maggie stood there and took a deep breath. Then, (with more maturity and understanding than any ten-year-old should possess) she calmly said, “He was just like us, Mama. He came out here to this beautiful land and he learned how to live again didn’t he? Is that why they named this park after him? Because he learned how to live again?”
Softly, through the huge lump in my throat I said, “Yes, baby. Mr. Roosevelt did learn how to live again and he went on to do some really amazing things with his life. Heck, he became the President of the United States! I would say that he did indeed learn how to live again.” She said, “We are learning how to live again too. I am so glad we came out here. This has been the best trip ever. I love you, Mama.”
And, that my friends is the reason we travel! Maggie would never have learned this lesson inside of a classroom. I know that she will always remember Teddy Roosevelt. I don’t think she will wonder what kind of man he was when she hears his name mentioned in some history class one day.
Today, standing in a National Park with her Mama she learned that even the President of the United States has to start over sometimes. She learned that starting over can’t always happen in the same place where the pain hit. She learned that leaving home doesn’t always mean you will be gone forever. She learned that pain takes time to move beyond. And, she learned that this trip was planned all those months ago to help the three of us heal. She got it…and she loved me for it.
Next, don’t think for one minute that the fact that the cabin Teddy lived in being named the “Maltese Cross Cabin” was missed by either one of us.
The Maltese cross means a whole lot to me and my girls. (Click to find out why!) It was tattooed on Greg’s back. It reminds us of him every time we see one. The name of that cabin mattered all those years ago to Teddy Roosevelt because he found healing inside of it. It mattered to three girls from Alabama today as they looked inside of it and realized that they are finding healing one day at a time. It is not easy…it is not fast…it is not finished, but it is happening and we are so thankful to be where we are at this moment in time. It has taken a whole lot of prayer, courage, and determination to get to where we are and there hasn’t been one thing easy about it.
Please take just a moment and read these plaques…
Do you see what I mean? Amazing isn’t it?!
As I looked into the distance beyond the cabin I realized that if Teddy Roosevelt could come here to heal and find out who he was meant to be; so can we. I am most certain that when he spent all of those long days riding horses and rounding up cattle in the cold winter snow and hot summer sun he never imagined himself becoming the President of the United States one day.
I choked up again as I looked down and saw the announcement for my first book signing on my phone. I had received a message today during lunch about my upcoming event and was overcome with excitement when I saw it. I don’t know what God has planned, but I know that the struggles I am facing are preparing me for a future that I can’t even imagine. And the best part? My girls are realizing that they can’t imagine how amazing their lives are gonna be either!
God is so good! As we pulled into the highway leaving the park, I looked out across the open land and saw this beautiful rainbow. The promise that God sent to Noah so long ago is the same promise He gave me today. He will never destroy His people again. He will make us strong enough to endure whatever this life throws at us. I’m reasonably sure ol’ Teddy saw a few of those rainbows across this beautiful land himself all those years ago. And, I mean he did become THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES y’all!!!!
I will never, ever, ever forget how I felt standing there on the same piece of ground that Mr. Roosevelt stood on all those years ago. I will never, ever, ever forget the feelings I had inside when I knew that my ten-year-old daughter fully understood why we were on this amazing road trip. I will never, ever, ever forget how much God loves us and plans out the smallest details of our lives in advance. Teddy Roosevelt didn’t know me, but I will never forget him or his story.