If there’s anything I learned from this story, it’s this: Plan, but leave a little space for God to work, because that’s really where the magic happens.
Even when I try to be spontaneous and follow where the days lead me, I can’t seem to do it, unfortunately, especially on vacations. I don’t plan everything to the last details, but I like to know where we’d be each day and what we can possibly do there. I find that it helps to set expectations, especially when we’re travelling in a big group.
As a family, we outdid ourselves in 2019. The Santoso Family, 14 people in total, including our 1 year old baby niece, attempted an East Coast road trip, passing almost 11 states, in cars, in 3 weeks – and succeeded! Personally, it was one of the most memorable trips I’ve ever been on. There were low-key moments spent with family, random moments spent at scenic overlooks, exciting moments discovering what each cities held, and much, much more. But, if you asked how memorable the 2019 US Trip was, his account might differ slightly from mine, because that trip was where one of his childhood dreams came true: the day he met Karl Malone in person.
Even to this day, I can’t believe how everything just fell into place.
A few months before leaving for New York City, Budhi got in touch with Kay Malone (she didn’t have to reply to his message but she did and we’re so grateful.) They spoke about setting up an appointment and to meet them wherever they are. At first, they spoke about potentially meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah, but then decided to to meet up in their hometown in Ruston, Louisiana. Since both cities were not along our routes during that trip, we knew from the get go that it had to be intentional. We needed to get a date, get a plane ticket, and make our way to see the Malones. We checked the airfares and quite honestly, it blew us away… because it was more than we could ever afford. Honestly, I was discouraged then. But your dad wasn’t, not even in the slightest. I remember he told me one evening, as we sat in our front porch, after checking out the airfares, “Just plan the trip, babe. Let’s just get there first. And let’s just get a date with the Malones, and then we’ll think about how to actually get to Ruston later. I believe that things will fall into place.”
We still didn’t know how to get to Ruston, Louisiana a week before our date with the Malones. We were in Toronto at that time and we drove over to Mississauga to catch up with friends who recently moved there. In fact, it was during this visit that we finally confirmed our plans to Ruston. Our friends helped us to arrange for the best possible route to get to Ruston. The kids would stay with my parents in Orlando, Florida (where would have been at that time) and Budhi and I would fly from Orlando to Atlanta, then from Atlanta to Houston, then rent a car and drive from Houston to Ruston. It sounds like a long hassle, doesn’t it? But you gotta believe me when I tell you that when your father is powered by faith and adrenaline, there’s really no stopping him!
So that was what we did.
We reached Orlando on 15 June at 9 pm. We checked into our Airbnb and had a quick dinner before I had to settle whatever you would need for the next two days when we’d be leaving you with Grandpa and Grandma. Dad and I left the house at 3 am the next morning to catch the 5.30 am flight to Atlanta. There was an hour layover at Atlanta airport before we boarded our flight to Houston. And when we got there, still sleepy-eyed and groggy, we headed straight to the car rental to pick up our car. We made a quick stop at Church’s Chicken for a lunch, then at a gas station to pump and to fill our backseat with cold drinks, cold coffee, and all kinds of snacks to keep us awake.
All I could think about was taking a nap. The roads were straight and wide, and it rained heavily too when we drove through Nacogdoches, a town with such a memorable name because I remember having to google how to pronounce it. It was the perfect nap situation, but I looked to your Dad in the driver’s seat, smiling so wide like he slept with a hanger in his mouth, shouting multiple times, “We’re meeting Karl Malone, babe! Can you believe it?” and my tired eyes faded away.
His excitement was beyond containment when “Ruston” appeared on the road signs. The intensity of it all was almost tangible and it really felt like we flew right into Marriotts Courtyard where we would be staying that night. It was 4.30 in the afternoon. Your Dad texted Kay Malone to let her know that we’ve arrived. She texted him their home address. And he told her that we’d be there before 6 pm. He rushed me into the shower and made me promise not to lay down or I’d fall asleep for sure. (Don’t you just love how much he knows me?)
Ruston is a quiet, small city with warm vibes. As we drove on the quite streets adorned by luscious green trees, I thought about how we’d never come here if it weren’t for this once-in-a-lifetime invitation. Google Maps directed us straight from our hotel to the Malone’s estate. I looked at my phone, “Are you sure this is right? This is like a dot in the middle of nowhere.” Deep inside, I was afraid that google was going to screw us over like it had a couple of times before during this road trip.
“No, I think it’s right. This place is just as I imagined it, babe. I read in an article once that Malone’s house is nestled somewhere in between a large land. And judging from this, it looks like we’re heading in the right direction.” He looked so serene, like he was trying hard to remain composed. He couldn’t fool me.
As we stopped in front of Karl Malone’s gate, he heaved a huge sigh. His breath and his heartbeat almost cut through the silence in the car. He let down his window to ring the bell but hesitated for a split second before heaving another sigh, as if to gather the courage. This was it. He was literally just inches away from making his dreams come true.
There was nothing, though. “Are we in the right place, babe?” I asked him. We both checked our phones. My google maps was searching. There was no connection. We just stared blankly at the gates for a good few minutes before pressing the bell again. Suddenly the gates opened and there we were, just cruising into Karl Malone’s home.
And there he was. Karl Malone, on the front porch with his daughter.
We parked the car, gathered our stuff and stepped out. Kay Malone gracefully greeted us at the door with open arms and a big smile on her face. A few seconds later, Karl came out. I remember feeling like a hobbit next to him, because I in fact was. I looked at your father who was not in the least self-conscious. I thought he’d find it hard to find his breath, but he didn’t. He shook Karl’s hand and said, “It’s an honor to meet you, Sir.” And I know just what an honor it was.
We spent the evening with the Malone’s. We told them the whole story… his affinity with the number 32, his answered prayer, and God’s good grace through out his life. And in turn, they told us about theirs. They spoke of life, of joy, of family, and of history. Sure, there were brief talks of basketball and lots of talk about the lessons life has brought them. We met his children and beautiful grandchildren. He took Budhi through his medals and memorabilia, and while he looked so calm and composed, I know he was squealing with delight deep inside. Especially when Karl personally handed him a memorabilia from his personal collection. That beat any great eBay bids, for sure.
We left the Malone’s a few minutes before midnight. The next day, just before we had to leave Ruston, we stopped by Teriyaki Grill to meet them for lunch followed by a quick visit to their cigar bar. I don’t know how many times we said, “We better get going.” before actually getting into our car that afternoon. To this day, I still feel like Budhi was trying to soak in every moment he had with his childhood idol, still stunned in between sheer happiness and utter disbelief at his humbleness and the warm welcome of his family to a stranger who travelled from the East with a mission and a whole lot of faith. They didn’t have to welcome us, let alone entertain us, but they did. They didn’t have to spend more time than what we agreed on months before this even happened, but they gave us much, much more than we ever dared to expect.
At one moment in the midst of their many conversations, Karl asked Budhi about why he started collecting his cards. “Why me? Why Karl Malone?”
Your father replied, “because of this, Sir. Because of your life story and your respect for your family that I find admirable. There are many great basketball players out there, but to be a great husband and father is a legacy that I would like to follow.”
So children, I pray that you may also follow in your father’s footsteps – to never stop believing, to plan, but to leave space for God to work because you know that He is faithful and His timing is perfect.