It was our first cross-country road trip since the COVID-19 pandemic had shut down the world as we knew it.

I'll admit I had some angst as my husband and I ventured forth into areas that might or might not be well vaccinated or observing indoor masking. But it had been 16 months since we had seen family, including a new granddaughter. It was time.

One thing I love about long road trips, assuming I'm not the driver, is the chance to watch and ponder as this amazing world rushes by my car window.

It seems like God's invitation to sit still, observe and be present. The verdant hills and Midwestern cornfields, the occasionally weird or crazy billboards, the houses and farms tucked away from the Interstate, the fleeting, crowded cities – they invite imaginative flights of prayer.

There are also the brief encounters with strangers on the journey, people I'll never see again but with whom I share a few moments of this short life. Standing with my luggage outside a hotel, waiting for my husband to bring the car up to the curb after a pleasant stay, a woman passes me with her family, suitcases in tow.

For no particular reason, she looks at me, a stranger, and says, "Well, that was a nightmare hotel."

"Really?" I reply. What else can I say? The journalist in me wants to follow her and ask what happened. The happy traveler in me wants to urge her to keep a gratitude journal and enjoy the trip. But she rushes on to the parking lot.

I did keep a journal, and that's why I remember dinner at an outdoor restaurant in Indiana. We wanted to eat outside because, despite being fully vaccinated, we assume some mask-less folks are not. At first, we had the covered patio all to ourselves, but soon a young couple appeared. They removed their masks, ordered cocktails and dinner, and held hands.

My journal noted that it was a good dinner, a great glass of Malbec, and that the music, playing softly on the speakers outside, was perfect. Those memories might have slipped away without my journal.

Noted another day: a passing semitruck, with an inscription on the back of the cab: "Pray more, worry less." Thanks God, and some truck driver I'll never meet, for that day's message.

Then, there was the trucker at the rest stop. We had purchased gas and were ready to head out the exit, but my husband wanted to doublecheck his phone map app, and pulled off for a moment into the semitruck parking area.

Immediately, a driver looked at us from his cab's tall perch and started pointing behind us. Assuming he was trying to tell us to get out of the parking area, I waved him off as I knew it was only going to be a few seconds.

He got out of the cab, and starting motioning again. Oh, come on, I thought, shrugged at him and looked away.

Next thing I knew, he was replacing our gas tank lid and closing the lid's cover, which we had accidentally left open after filling the tank. He had been trying to point this out all along.

Embarrassed, I opened my door and thanked him graciously. "No problem," said this stranger as he walked away.

Thanks to God and that truck driver for giving me a reminder I've taken to heart. How often do I jump to conclusions about people's intentions?

Traveling starkly reminds us that we only pass this way but once. Every journey is a little pilgrimage.