The Journey West
This is the story of how I, Richard Cermak, was guided from above in taking the wooden sculpture collection of “Our Salvation” out west, as I was divinely inspire to do.
From the time that it came to me to take the collection out west, I never had any indication as to where out west I was to take it, and some anxiety was starting to build within me.
About two weeks prior to taking the collection to its unknown destination, a series of events happened which led me to form the idea that I knew where the collection was to be taken. First of all, my boss, who was very interested with the story, happened to make a suggestion that while I was out west, I should make a point to visit Santa Fe, New Mexico. He went on to elaborate of the tremendous amount of art work and galleries that are there and thought that I would really enjoy seeing them. However, since I felt that this trip was going to be a rather intense mission, I dismissed the idea, thinking that I would not have time for that. Coincidentally, Santa Fe was brought to my attention about three days later by a priest whom I like very much. The Collection had been on display at the Church where he ministered, and I was picking it up to get ready for the journey out west. This priest had told me about a woman who had read the story of “Our Salvation”, and for some unknown reason, had wanted me to have an address of the Chapel of Our Lady of Light in Santa Fe. Not being familiar with the story surrounding the Chapel, I asked a very close friend if she had any knowledge of it, and she did – lots of it! So I read the miraculous story of the Sisters of Loretto’s Chapel, and was quite moved by it. In fact, I thought that it could very possibly be there, that I would be taking the collection. So I started to think that the Lord was taking some of my anxiety away, by giving me hints to where I was to go. I was getting very comfortable with the idea that this trip wouldn’t involve a last second decision on the highway going about 75 miles per hour. I couldn’t have been more wrong! Anyhow, having a strong feeling that I was heading to the Chapel on Santa Fe, but not entirely certain. I was ready for the journey.
It was Sunday, Dec. 20, 1998, five days before Christmas. My truck was packed with the collection of “Our Salvation”, which also included various custom sized tables, table-clothes, display cased, and brochures of the story. I left after attending 8:30 a.m. mass from S.S. Cosmos and Damian Church in Twinsburg, Ohio. The weather was clear, the roads were good, and thinking that my destination was almost certainly, Santa Fe, I was rather relaxed. I headed west, which I was supposed to do, on route 80. During the entire trip, I never listened to the radio, except for a few select religious songs on a cassette tape. I prayed and prayed a lot! Sang a lot to the Lord, usually just making up words to already known melodies. Prayed the rosary a lot, and just talked about so many things to Jesus. During the entire trip there, I always knew that the Lord would direct me, but humanly of course, I didn’t know how. So I found myself always watching and thinking of signs that I thought He may be giving me, for I surely didn’t want to miss a sign. (as though He would allow that!) But, of course, it was all needless. For when the time came (His time), He did, what was needed as He always does. Praise the Lord!
Anyway, the first day was rather uneventful, except for the fact that I saw the words St. Joseph on three different occasions. I think that they pertained to a St. Joseph river, a county, and something that I didn’t quite read because I just happened to catch it out of the corner of my eye as I passed it. The significant part of this is that, if you read the story of “Our Salvation” you know that the number three plays a very important role. So when I saw, St. Joseph for the third time, I used it as a personal sign, and started to devout some prayers in his direction. It seemed very fitting since he was a carpenter and worked with wood. Also, as mentioned before, I was still filled with the miraculous story of the Sisters of Loretto’s Chapel, which pertained to St. Joseph, so it all seemed rather fitting to include St. Joseph in my prayers.
The only other thing worth mentioning was that I saw the words “Trust Jesus” twice that day. They were painted on bridge support columns in either blue or red paint. I can’t remember which. (this is being written fifteen months after the trip) Other than that I was still heading west on route 80 and praying like I never prayed before. I drove about 600 miles on the first day, and stopped at a small motel off of route 80 close to Des Moines, Iowa. I prayed and slept.
The second day began with a surprise that rather shook my confidence that this journey was going to be an easy one. Up until now, as mentioned before, I was reasonably secure in the idea that I was heading toward the Chapel of Our Lady of Light in Santa Fe. After all, one wonderful miracle already happened there, which made the Chapel world known. Now then, if “Our Salvation” was to become world known ( as was indicated to me), then how convenient it would be to just take it there. Well, it was a little too convenient! What I needed to do was to quite thinking and totally let the Lord handle this. But I can certainly attest to the fact that when your driving somewhere that has a specific destination, and you have no idea where that is, it sure is awful hard not to think and second guess. If I could only learn to trust 100% in the Lord! Oh Lord, help me in learning to put all my trust in You!
Anyway, after I woke up I was in the bathroom using the facilities. I was reading once again about the Chapel. Then it hit me directly from above, without any doubt, you are not going there! It was such an incredibly strong feeling, almost as though I was spoken to. Unfortunately, nothing came after that. So there I was in some little motel, in the middle of Iowa, without a clue as to where I was going! Yet, deep in my heart, I knew that it would be OK – if only I could stop thinking and worrying. Isn’t that hard to so sometimes?
Well, I was off once again, heading west on route 80 and praying and praying and praying! Although I knew for certain that I wouldn’t be going to the Chapel of Our Lady of Light, there was still a part of me that felt rather strongly, (and I don’t know why), that I could still be going to Santa Fe. I found myself somehow being split down the middle inside – half thinking that it would still be Santa Fe; half thinking that it would be further west. There goes that thinking thing again!
At any rate, I found some comfort in the fact that now I was entering Nebraska, which is a rather long state and no matter which way I was going to go, I’d have about 300 miles before the decision comes, so I’ll just simply relax and drive. Oh yeah, that lasted about an hour! Once again, here I go, looking for signs. When will I learn?! I had about 2 ½ hours to go at this point before the split in the highway came. At the split, I would either continue west on route 80 or go southwest on route 76. Anxiety increased tremendously inside of me – only because I allowed it to, not because it needed to be. Along with praying, I found myself inadvertently looking for sins from God, thinking somehow that He would lead me by giving me signs. (I would like to mention at this time, that is has been my own personal experience that whenever I thought there might be a sign from God given to me – there never was! He always worked in a far deeper and wiser way than I could ever conceive.) But at any rate, here are some of the ways that I thought He might respond in letting me know which way to go. Actually, I find them now to both rather foolish and humorous. The first way that I though t I may be directed concerned the first piece of sculpture that was done “He Has Died”. This piece happened to be on the passenger side of the back seat in the truck with God the Father facing towards the front of the truck. Periodically, I would look back, somehow expecting the head of God to turn right or left as if He were my co-pilot or something! Of course nothing moved. Another time, I saw one of those signs that tell you to turn on a certain radio station to get information concerning local road construction. I said to myself in excitement, that’s it! He’s going to give me directions over the radio – how convenient! Wrong and foolish, again. There was nothing at all on the station!
All along the way, I was particularly watching out for hitch hikers to pick up. After all, surely it would be an angel who was going tot ell me where to go! I didn’t see on hitch hiker all the way there!! So much for me expecting a sign from Him! Well, after all Lord, I recall this story about three wise men who at least had a star to follow! Now I’m all alone here without anything to follow, but in my heart. I knew that I wasn’t really alone.
None the less, I physically felt my blood pressure going up and sweat coming down! At this point, I was about 150 miles before that infamous split in the highway. Praying harder and harder, I guess the Lord felt that I needed a tranquilizer, so He gave me one. On a bridge that I was about to go under, on the far right side, almost where the bridge joins the land and ends in bright large white letters, were the words “Trust Jesus”. It had an enormous calming effect on me, and I gave many thanks to the Lord. Unfortunately, the person that I am, that calming effect lasted about ½ hour. After all, I still don’t know where I’m going and I’m down to about 100 miles. Where’s that angel hitch hiker at?! The speed limit, by the way, is 75 mph there. Once again, working myself into a frenzy, praying as hard as I possibly could, I received another tranquilizer! In exactly the same location on a bridge I was coming to, in the same white letters, were the words “Trust Jesus”! Wow, thank you Lord. What a shot in the arm. I relaxed, at least for another ½ hour or so. Down now to about 50 miles and getting all worked up again. Why hasn’t He let me know yet which way to go? Let’s see, any hitch hikers? Blood pressure up, sweat coming down again, praying hard – very hard. Then it happened. Praise the Lord! For the third time, I saw once again, in the same area of the bridge coming up, and in the same letters “Trust Jesus”. Well, this time it was more than just a tranquilizer. Once again, keeping in mind that the number three has a very great significance to me, when for the third time that I saw “Trust Jesus”, I seemed to be washed clean of all anxiety and remained calm. Please keep in mind that this was 3 times that I saw these words within about 100 miles, when I needed it most, as opposed to seeing them twice before that in about 800 miles. Also, I never saw the words again after that until I delivered the collection. For they were in the Chapel that I prayed in!
Everything was going well and I was calm until I saw the sign junction 76 – 2 miles! Oh Lord, here we go. I’m really getting down to the wire here. Help me please. Why won’t You let me know which way to go? My heart is really beginning to race here. Maybe I’ll have a heart attack or an accident. The thought which came back concerning that was, “No you won’t, you have My collection with you!” Besides, we have plenty of time yet. Oh Lord, is this the time for humor? Junction 76, 1 mile! The cruise control is set at 75 mph, we have about 45 seconds. Don’t you feel that it’s about time that You feel that it’s about time that You let me know which way to go Lord? Please let me know which way to go! Please help me. Please show me. The miracle began. There were 3 lanes. The right lane, of course, went right, the left lane went left, and the middle lane could go either right or left at the split. I, naturally, was in the middle lane, not knowing which way I was to go! The cruise control was set at the speed limit, which was 75 mph. I was down to approximately 800-900 feet before the split. I had about 7-8 seconds left! I was beside myself. My heart was pounding, sweat was pouring off of me, and I was screaming to the Lord! Then it happened, all within about 6 seconds. I passed a relatively slow moving motor home, which was in the left lane that shouldn’t have been going that slow in the high speed lane (approx. 60-65 mph). Just as I passed the motor home, I looked in my left side mirror and saw a semi-truck in the same lane as the motor home, coming up behind the motor home, very quickly, at a high rate of speed, that shouldn’t have been going that fast (approx 80-85 mph). Down now to about 4 seconds. The semi-truck swerved out from behind the motor home, and was now directly behind me (about 40 feet away and closing fast). I at that time, being in a complete frenzy, slightly touched my brakes to release the cruise control still not knowing which way to go! With about 2 seconds left, I made a decision on my own, to go right. I don’t know why I decided to go right for it was opposite to Santa Fe, but none the less, I started to veer right. Instantly, I caught a sight of the semi-truck in my right side mirror, who at this time, was half way past me on the right, and less than a foot away from the side of my truck! Apparently, in gaining on me the way that he was, and in seeing my brake lights go on, he was forced to swerve to my right side to avoid hitting me in the rear. The second that I saw the semi-truck in my right side mirror, I thought that we were going to collide, and so I immediately swerved left to avoid getting in an accident with it. As I swerved to the left, the semi-truck, who now was in the process of braking, swerved back to the left also right in behind me (less than 3 feet from my rear bumper!), and then continued to swerve to my left side. He accelerated and passed me on the left side, just in front of the motor home! As it turned out, I was physically forced by a semi-truck, in a wild exhibit of road maneuvering, to go left at this split, or more than likely be involved in an accident with the semi-truck. I was heading toward Santa Fe! I only wished to this very day, that I would have taken the time to look up into the cab of that truck. Maybe the driver…No, I’m not going to think here! By the way, no one ever blew a horn! At this point, I was crying lots of happy tears, and praising the Lord for all that I was worth. Never in all of my wildest dreams, or using all of the creative talent that the Lord blessed me with could I have imagined that decision going down the way that it did! Praise the Lord! I felt a tremendous relief and peace and I felt the Lord with me.
Confident that I was headed to Santa Fe, I could finally relax at least for the rest of the day. For the following day, I would reach Santa Fe, and I had no idea where I was to deliver the collection. After the pressures and anxiety that I led myself into up until now. I didn’t want to even begin to think about the next day. Besides, road conditions were deteriorating. I was in Colorado now, heading toward Denver, and getting into the mountains. It was turning very cold now, and it was snowing. I went through Denver at about 4 p.m., got lost, but was on track shortly afterwards. I drove about another 100 miles through the mountains. It was very cold, about 0 degrees F., and snowing quite heavy. The left lane was completely snow-covered, and the right lane was nearly as bad. There were road signs along the highway that were lit-up, telling of icy road conditions. Unfortunately for me, the defrosters in my truck were not quite able to de-ice the windshield. I was down to about an eight inch in diameter clear opening to see out of on the windshield that wasn’t iced up yet. Being dark at this time with the snow blowing hard in almost a white out condition, visibility was extremely poor, and I didn’t car to stop along the highway in the mountains to clear the windshield. Anyway, the Lord provided. I was a motel sign at the next exit and gratefully stopped for the day. I was about 100 miles from New Mexico, and I was exhausted. I prayed and slept.
Good morning Lord! What lies in store for today? I was about 250 miles from Santa Fe and would be there about noon, but where in Santa Fe? Here we go again! Actually, even though I didn’t know where the final destination would be, I was far more relaxed and confident after the way that things turned out the day before. So through the mountains I went. Thank you Lord for this beautiful country.
At this point, I was in New Mexico, and had about 175 miles to Santa Fe. I felt fairly relaxed, although, as I prayed, I did from time to time wonder how I would arrive at my final destination. The weather now was cold, approximately 30 degrees F.), but there wasn’t any snow. In fact, it was sunny out and quite beautiful. I did appreciate the beauty of the wonderful scenery, although not as one would who was on a leisure vacation!
I was about 50 miles from Santa Fe and had about a little less than ¼ tank of gas now. Time to start looking for a gas station. About 10 miles further, I saw a sign that read there was a gas station at the next exit, so I got off to get gas. There wasn’t a gas station at that exit! Apparently, the sign was an old one and the gas station was closed up. Well, I was down to about an 1/8 tank and there went my mind again! Richard Cermak is not (after all that has happened) going to figure out how God is going to direct him to his destination. He’s going to run out of gas in front of wherever the collection belongs! Why do I bother thinking?! I guess it’s human. Needless to say, that isn’t how it worked. Also, there were no slow moving campers or fast moving trucks around! Thank God! There also were no more gas stations before Santa Fe!
Of course, I was praying as hard as I could again, and in spit of everything that has happened so far, I was starting to get a little bit anxious. As I approached the city limits, the gas gauge was on empty. The sign read, Santa Fe next 4 exits. The third exit was St. Francis Blvd., and I felt a very strong feeling to get off there, so I did. Now almost everyone that was getting off the exit ramp was turning right to go into the city, and that felt right to me, so I also turned right. I should probably mention at this time that within my prayers, I always asked that any decision that I made, I would have peace with it if it were meant by God. After I turned right, I felt peaceful with it, and interpreted that as going the right way. Now, St. Francis Blvd. is a very main street with three lanes going each way. So here’s the picture. I’m on a very main street; it was little after noon and traffic was getting very heavy; I’ve been on empty for about 10 miles now; and I’m in totally unfamiliar surroundings. There was nothing coming to me from the Lord and I began to feel stress; then frustration; then anger; and being in the right lane. I pulled off into a parking lot. It was a rather large parking lot, and I circled around thinking that maybe this was it and that I was led there. But I didn’t have that peaceful feeling, and I knew that I wasn’t in the right place. I felt completely lost and angry. I stopped and slammed the gearshift up into park and had an angry one sided conversation with the Lord that went something like this: “You know Lord, if You would just come right out and tell me point blank to take this to Alaska, I’ll leave right now. But damn it, you got me on this crowded street; riding on fumes; don’t’ have the slightest idea where to go; feeling dumb and lost; blood pressure up; and You do nothing like it’s a big joke to You or something. I did this whole project devoted to You, and drove all over this country to deliver this to where You want to be and You won’t even tell me where to take it! Where do You want this to go?” Then the thought that came back to me actually made me forget my anger, and I began to laugh, because it was so simple. The thought was (as strong as it was being said to me) I never told you to turn off the street. You were doing fine. You turned in here on your own. Well, of course, it was true. I did pull in the lot out of frustration – on my own. “I’m sorry Lord for feeling so stressed and lost. I must put more trust in You.” With that I somehow felt more relaxed and pulled back out on St. Francis Blvd, heading toward the city. I finally saw a gas station, and pulled in to re-fuel. Feeling a lot better now (at least I had gas!) I continued along the was and suddenly found myself in a right turn only lane, which led up to an are of art galleries and museums. Once again, because of the heavy traffic flow, it would have been extremely difficult to get out of that lane without causing an accident, so I went with the flow and turned right. I did not have that peace that I spoke of after turning, so I knew that I was still on the right track – wherever that my lead to! I was, of course, praying hard and calling upon the Lord for guidance continuously now. Suddenly, I received a strong feeling to turn at the next light, but there was no indication of which way to turn – yet. Being still in the right lane, I had to, of course, turn right. But just before I turned, I happened to notice a street sign on the opposite side that read Guadeloupe St. The street sign on the right side of the street read something different. ( I don’t remember what) It happened to be one of those streets that changes names and it changed right at the light where I was at. When I saw the word Guadalupe, I knew instantly that it was that way that I had to go. That meant turning right at the light and then making a “U” turn to go back the opposite way, which I did. I was now going down Guadalupe St. and then an overwhelming feeling came over me. In fact, it was so strong, that I recall answering it. That feeling was that I should stop at the first Church that I see, go inside and pray! I then answered, yeah, that’s a good idea – good idea! I drove down Guadalupe St. and stopped at the first church (at least what I thought was a church). It had a bell tower and a crucifix on top, indication that it was a church. I parked, got out, walked until I found an open door, and went in. After walking around, rather slowly, I came upon a small alcove, which had some vigil lights and a kneeler in it. I lit a candle, knelt, and began to pray. The only feeling, however, that I was getting, was that I was in the wrong place! After I finished praying, I got up and continued to walk around slowly. I can across some reading material, and then realized that I was in an old mission building, which was restored and converted to a historical mission museum. I meet the curator and found out that the parish of “Our Lady of Guadalupe” was originally founded in that mission building, but since, had built a new church next door, leaving the Historical Society to take over the mission. I went next door to the rectory and rang the bell. The secretary answered, and I asked if the church was open after all. I was supposed to pray – that was the message given to me before. She informed me that the church was locked, and that the priest was away for the day. Sensing that I was in some type of distress, she invited me into the office, and offered to direct me to another church, so that I could talk to a priest! I told her that it wasn’t necessary, and very briefly explained where I was from and why I was there.
At that point, I had the feeling that she thought I had a very serious mental problem! She called out for a woman who was in another office to come and listen to the story. After talking briefly, I stressed the point that I needed to find a place to pray. Well, it just so happened (praise the Lord!), I was told that they have a small chapel there, where the parish is involved in Perpetual Adoration (which means that the Host symbolizing the Body of Christ, is publicly displayed at all times). Alleluia! I was ecstatic! Immediately, I went to the Chapel and knelt down on an available kneeler, which was only about 3 feet away form the Host. I began to pray very hard. It was then that I just happened to glance behind the displayed Host to the back wall of the Chapel. There was a picture of Jesus Christ (the one that Blessed Fautina Kowalska did), which across the top had the words “Jesus, I trust in You!” It was exactly when I read those words, that I was filled with a tingling warmth, and openly began to cry tears of joy! For I instantly knew, beyond any doubt that it was here, the collection belonged! Praise you my Lord, Jesus Christ!! I now changed my prayers to those of thanksgiving, composed myself, and went back to the office. I then told the complete story of the sculptures, and how I was directed there. I sensed the skepticism in the woman change, and they warmly received me, even unlocking the church for me to see it! I was then informed of a story concerning their parish, which was rather complex, and both historically and politically involved.
The end result was that there was some dissension within the parish community, causing some parishioners to leave, creating a great concern. Several of the parishioners have been praying quite some time, at this point, for some type of miracle to help bring the parish back together as it once was. Could the collection of “Our Salvation” be the answer to their prayers? I don’t know. I only know that it is there that it belongs.
Afterwards, I unpacked the truck, with some help, and set up the three sculptures on their respective tables in a writing room area of the rectory. I left some brochures, which tell the complete story of how the collection came about. I was there for only about an hour and a half. Being extremely excited, happy, and relieved, I found myself very anxious to get home.
The return trip of this journey, I feel, is not very important, so I will be brief with it. I came home a different route, going through Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana to Ohio. I went through a very bad ice storm in Oklahoma, but came through it okay.
I also saw the words “Trust Jesus” two more times on the way home – this time written in the opposite color of whatever the first two were written in the colors of red, white, and blue, have much significance or not. Can the colors in representing our nation (which has certainly been blessed more than any other), be telling us that we, above all other nations, need to start trusting more in Jesus before it’s too late! Have we become too arrogant? I don’t know.
The Lord brought me back to the church where I started from in Twinsburg, Ohio at about 6 pm, Thursday evening. I was able to spend Christmas Eve with my family (which has always been a family tradition) and my fiance (now my wife). I traveled approximately 3,150 miles on this journey in 4 days and about 8 hours.
In this final paragraph of the story, I would like to express that I feel extremely blessed to have been chosen for this mission. It has brought into me many intense feelings, but most of all has drawn me closer to the Lord. I wish, at this moment only, that I were a more eloquent writer, in that it may help me to convey the happiness that I felt in accomplishing this mission for the Lord. But I’m not a writer. I’m a construction worker, and so I can only write simply you see. Although I have never done drugs, I have drank alcohol quite a bit (too much at times) and I know that many people try many things to achieve happiness or forget pain. But I can assure you of this, never, ever have I imagined that such a pure feeling of total happiness and fulfillment could be attained by any human being as it was with me in doing this for the Lord. Many, many tears of joy were shed on the way home from Santa Fe. For I was in sheer ecstasy with the Lord!
Approximately 2 years prior to this journey, I developed a problem with my left eye, which occasionally left me with slightly blurred vision in that eye. An ophthalmologist told me that the outside clear protective layer of my eye was not attached to the eyeball, the way it should be. Sometimes by blinking, or other means, it would pull away from the eyeball slightly and then become irritated, which caused swelling and consequently, blurred vision in that eye. There wasn’t any cure – only to keep the eye clean and lubricated. But even in using eye drops, the condition still happened – even slightly on the way down to Santa Fe. However, after the collection was delivered, and to this very day (March 19, 2000), I never once used any more eye drops and never once had any more blurred vision! Praise the Lord!
To the best of my knowledge, and once again, to this very day, the collection of “Our Salvation” has not been publicly displayed for unknown reasons. Apparently, the Lord is still working on this project and I am one who can totally assure you that He knows exactly what He is doing!
Praise the Lord forever and ever!