You’re here because you opted to be notified about updates related to my upcoming Struggle Bus book. Here is the rough draft copy of the introduction to the book. I won’t be promoting this particular post on social media. It’s just for you wonderful people who’ve expressed interest in my upcoming book (I thought a link would be better than an email attachment). You’ll have to wait on the full 14 chapters of Struggle Bus/Wood family adventures for a little bit longer. How much longer? I have no idea…but, the rough draft is almost done, and I’m making a little progress every day. I hope to update you again soon. Thank you for taking an interest in my writing. This has been a fun adventure. God bless.
During the summer of 2018, the time had come to part ways with our 2005 Ford van. I dreaded the whole van selling process for a myriad of reasons. Cleaning. Describing. Posting. Haggling. To quote the venerable 2012 internet sensation, Kimberly “Sweet Brown” Wilkins, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.” Also, big family van years work like dog years: 1 year of wear and tear in our world = 7 years of wear and tear in the world of normal human vehicle usage. Our van was basically 91 years old. It wasn’t hard to predict how the dreaded sales process would go. It would go as follows.
I would post an ad on Craigslist. A potential buyer would read the ad and express interest in the van. The two of us would take valuable time out of our respective schedules arrange a time to meet. At this meeting, some variation of the following conversation would occur:
Potential buyer: “So, how’s the air conditioning?”
Me: “Well, about that….”
Potential buyer: “So, how’s the sound system?”
Me: “Well, about that….”
Potential buyer: “What else is wrong with it?”
Me: “You’re going to want to have a seat. This is going to take a while.”
Ain’t nobody got time for that. I only had time in my schedule for exactly one of those conversations. In an effort to save time for everyone involved, I decided that I would opt for full disclosure when creating the ad. Sure, it would take a little more time initially, but it would save me an enormous amount of time in the long run. So, I got to work. My wife and I sat down and I started typing. We laughed and laughed as we discussed the van’s many issues and the stories of how they came to be. “No one is ever going to buy this thing,” we agreed. Oh well. We’ll post it anyway. If no one is interested in a couple weeks, we’ll lower the price and try again. I uploaded a few unprofessional photos and clicked “post.”
What followed was unbelievable. We never imagined that our pathetic old van would soon give the internet a good laugh as well. Within 24 hours of posting the Craigslist ad, messages were pouring in from across the country. Families were sharing eerily similar stories. People we’d never met were thanking us for the laugh. Many were even suggesting fixes for the van’s many problems. The whole thing was such a blessing to us. So fun. We loved reading the stories. It restored my hope in society’s use of the internet.
Among the messages were a surprising number of “you should write more!” messages. After a couple weeks, I finally convinced myself to write a book based on the now-viral Craigslist post.
“Stupidity got us into this mess, then why can’t it get us out.” – Will Rogers
While I was fully aware of how ridiculous “write a book based on a Craigslist post” sounds in the literary world, I talked myself into a bad idea with the following rationalization: if people enjoyed commiserating with me so much about one little Craigslist post, perhaps they’ll enjoy commiserating with our family via more stories about our van, our family, and our life.
The book was born. Don’t worry. The one-of-a-kind literary adventure on which you are about to embark is not so much about the van. It’s about life with a big family. It’s about parenting. It’s about marriage. It’s about success. It’s about failure. It’s about the Struggle Bus becoming a metaphor for our lives as we gave it a fun-filled beatdown for the ages. Before I get to those stories, however, a little background is in order.
Our family is not normal. At all. There was a time, however, when our family was closer to “normal.” We had 2.3 kids. We drove a normal-sized vehicle. We washed and dried a normal amount of laundry. When we ate dinner, we ate sitting down. We slept sometimes. Our house was clean. We didn’t spend our time searching for missing shoes. Or coats. Or toothbrushes. Or the source of horrendous odors. Or sanity.
Then came the crazy.
In the span of 20 months, our family of four grew to a family of eight. Our six kids were ages 5, 3, 2, 1, 1, and newborn. For those of you keeping score at home, yes, we had four kids in diapers; and, yes, we had six kids in car seats. Any sense of normalcy vanished. Our couch would never again function as a comfortable place for sitting. It would henceforth serve as the sturdy foundation of a perpetual laundry mountain. This didn’t really matter though, because we rarely sat down anymore and, thus, had no use for comfortable places for sitting, relaxing, or sleeping. I’m pretty sure that we slept for a combined 2 hours in 2 years. Despite our best attempts, our house became, well, not clean. There was no time for that, because we spent 50% of our day changing diapers, 50% of our day preparing meals, 50% of our day cleaning up the unholy mess of carnage that was created at meal time, 50% our day bathing children, and the rest of our time searching for missing shoes, coats, toothbrushes, etc. Seriously though, WHERE DO MY KIDS KEEP PUTTING THEIR SHOES?
You get the point. Mid-2007 through 2009 was a blur of total chaos. It was adorable chaos, but chaos none-the-less. God bless our family and friends who put up with us during this time. We lived in “survival mode” for a couple years. Like any family, we had highs and we had lows; but, we loved it. We had a blast. We cherished it. We prayed a lot. We’d do it again in a heartbeat. We learned an abundance of life lessons. You know the saying “God won’t give you more than you can handle?” Yeah, that’s stupid. What’s that, you say? You would like me to back up that statement biblically? Sure, I will. Thanks for asking. Here’s one of many examples: Gideon. God intentionally picked the weakest member of the weakest tribe to lead a tiny group of soldiers—a group so small that it was completely incapable of handling the task given it. Why’d God choose Gideon and his merry band of water-lapping, would-be losers? He did it in order to leave no doubt as to Who earned the victory. Story of our life.
Eventually, we settled into our “new normal.” We began to breath. That proverbial breath lasted about a day. Then, our family got bigger. I blame my oldest daughter. You see, for at least two years (every night without fail) she had been praying for God to give her a big sister. At first, I would give her a patronizing little pat on the head and try to prepare her for inevitable disappointment. I tried to explain that giving birth to an older sibling was physically impossible. I tried to explain that God doesn’t always answer prayers with a “yes.” She was undeterred.
“and please, God, give me a big sister. Amen.” Every. Night.
After awhile, I gave up trying to reason with her. “Just talk to Jesus about it” became a common refrain. Then, the craziest thing happened. Following a series of wild and unexpected events, a teenager moved into our house. The plan was for her to stay at our house for a week or two. A week or two turned permanent. Our household increased to 9. We entered a foreign world of curfews and dating and cliques and teenage driving. People warned us that teenagers were awful. As it turns out, teenagers can be wonderful. Teenagers can be amazing big sisters. In fact, our daughter stopped praying for a big sister. Her prayers changed. “Thank you, God, for giving me a big sister.” It’s humbling to hear the words, “I told you so,” from a seven-year-old. Especially 2,801 times. In fact, she still tells us, “I told you so,” all these years later. It’s our constant, beautiful reminder that we aren’t in control and that our plans can’t compare to God’s plans.
Side note: this is what the Bible is talking about when it talks about “childlike faith.” Adults tend to put God in a box, as if there are things that are off-limits in the world of prayer. Kids don’t think like that. Happily, I’ve never heard the end of it.
We had more highs and lows. We continued to have a blast in the midst of the ever-growing chaos. We cherished it. We prayed a lot. We’d do it again in a heartbeat.
This brings me to the now famous van. You see, math defeated us. 2 adults + 1 teenager + 6 kids in car seats = our old SUV was no longer of adequate size. Ultimately, we decided that a 12-passenger van would probably be the best option for our family since we often found ourselves toting around kids’ friends in addition to our own kids. Off to Craigslist I went in search of a 12-passenger van. My wife and I reminded each other of our newlywed days. Back then, we told each other that we would never become those nerdy parents who drove a minivan. We were too cool for that…or something. We made a number of other statements that turned out to be reverse-prophetic.
“We’ll never move back to our hometown!”
“We’ll never be those parents who bribe our kids with candy in Walmart!”
“We’ll never homeschool our kids!”
“Our kids will never throw a fit in public like that!”
…and perhaps the most famous of all of our “nevers”…
“I’ll never be pregnant again.” – Careese Wood
You see, our prayerful little daughter started praying for another baby. As seems to be our pattern, it was just about the time our other kids were out of diapers and we felt as though we could stop and take a breath—that’s when another baby (followed by one more 22 months later) arrived. Our latest additions to the family were born ready…ready to throw fuel on the fire that was the resale value of the Struggle Bus.
I’m convinced that there’s some angel out there whose sole task is to gallivant around the world listening for the words, “I’ll never…” or “We’ll never…” As soon as said angel hears some fool utter those immortal words, he leaps into action, focusing all his supernatural energy on turning the negative statement into a positive reality.
Oh, to be young and stupid. My wife and I both laughed (and maybe cried a little) as we realized that we were skipping right over “nerdy” mini vans and leaping into the land of church vans and busses. Suddenly, minivans didn’t seem so bad. Suddenly, minivans seemed super desirable. At the time, one of our friends had just purchased a new Toyota Sienna. They let us drive it. Those things are sweet! I was jealous…over a minivan. Alas, there would be no sweet-riding minivans for our family. A mega-van it would be. To summarize: pre-children Josh and Careese: “Minivans are for parents who’ve traded dignity for functionality.” Parental Josh and Careese: “We like big bus and we cannot lie.”
That’s where this story begins—with the purchase of the van that our teenager would later name “The Struggle Bus.” The stories you are about to read center around the struggle-bus-ness of our van and our lives. My wife and I hope that our ridiculous stories give you as much laughter as they’ve given us. Be blessed.
Oh, and if you haven’t yet read the ad that made the Struggle Bus famous, please do so now. It will help you to make sense of the chapters ahead. Here you go:
We’re selling our 2005 Ford E350 XL Extended 15 passenger van. Photos attached. In the interest of full disclosure, here’s more information and a partial list of its issues. Please read before making an offer. Thanks!
The van is missing a speaker in the side door. My kids have been throwing random items in the speaker hole for years. So, you may end up with some very special treasures. Or really old chicken nuggets. Probably both.
One side of the van has a yellow scuff mark on it. That’s courtesy of me and a battle with a yellow concrete parking divider (I did not win). The other side of the van has a matching white scuff mark. That one is courtesy of my wife. She completes me. In related news, you know how most cars these days come equipped with a fancy backup cameras? This one does not.
My wife and I have used this van for the better part of a decade. We’re a lovely couple, but we sometimes inadvertently back into inanimate objects. Also, we’ve been forced to take defensive driving class a few more times than the average American. That said, there are a number of other minor scratches, dents, and places where the paint is chipped on this vehicle.
When you open the side doors, the rubber door liner is detached in some places. It still does its job, but it looks stupid.
The van came equipped with automatic door locks. Unfortunately, they no longer work. Somehow, something got reversed and the locking motor ran without ceasing until the button was pressed and held down. Rather than taking the van to a repair shop like a normal person, I duct taped the button down to keep the motor from running. At some point the duct tape failed and the motor ran until it eventually burned up or something. Anyhow, the automatic door locks don’t work. Each door must be locked and unlocked manually. Duct tape is not included.
We’re a family of 11. Every one of our children has thrown up in this van at some point in the past decade–most notably, on this trip: http://www.joshwoodtx.com/college-station-2015/. We have had the van detailed a couple times since then (shout out to Xtreme Auto Re-Styling Center for tackling a level of depravity unrivaled in the world of passenger transport.) The van is clean now; but, it will probably always be inhabited by the ghost of vomit past.
The automatic windows work! This is good because the air conditioner does not. Well, it sort of works and sort of doesn’t. It works fine until you accelerate past ~45 miles per hour. After that, the gas pedal essentially functions as an on/off switch for the air conditioner. Accelerate = AC off. Decelerate = AC on. I don’t understand why. But, then again, as you’ve probably gathered by now, I don’t understand most things about cars.
The windshield is cracked.
There’s a 20″ tv mounted to the ceiling. It works and is connected to an in-dash DVD player. This is a handy feature as it helps distract kids from the intermittent air conditioning and smell of decaying chicken nuggets.
I don’t think that the front speakers work. Actually, just assume that they don’t. Better yet, if you’re wondering if some particular part of the van works, just assume it doesn’t work in the way that Ford originally intended it to work.
I looked the van up on Kelley Blue Book. $4,396. Unfortunately, Kelley Blue Book only allows me to choose between the following conditions: excellent, very good, good, and fair. I chose “fair” since “sad” was not an option. I’ve adjusted my asking price accordingly.
The heater works. Also, the van has a hitch and wiring for a trailer.
In order to save myself a bit of time answering requests for more information, I’ve decided to add a FAQ section below:
Q: “Have you performed all proper maintenance and religiously changed the oil every 3,000 miles?”
A: [laughter] No. No, I have not. Does this article make you feel better? It made me feel better. https://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/11/your-money/11shortcuts.html
Q: “Are those 143,000 miles mostly highway miles?”
A: Well, a lot of them are. However, we’ve been using this van as our farm van for the past year or so. Also, in efforts to find quicker routes, I’ve been known to disobey Siri’s directions. These “shortcuts” have sometimes taken us on exotic, off-road adventures. I’m pretty sure those miles cancel out all of the so-called “highway miles.”
Q: “Is the registration current?”
A: Yes! It should be noted, however, that first 3 letters of the current license plate are FRT. We have five boys under the age of 12 in our house. This is a very unfortunate combination.
Q: “How are the tires and the brakes?”
A: They seem to be ok; but, as with everything else, I recommend getting them checked out. I did buy the tires at Discount Tire, so there’s a warranty with them.
One last note: I recommend getting this thing checked over by a mechanic before buying. Everything under the hood looks and sounds fine to me; but, then again, I would have no idea if it didn’t look or sound right.