One of the hardest things about living 1,200 miles from home is knowing which emergencies are worth packing up the kids and the van and starting the drive.

Some situations are obvious, like heart attacks and funerals. But others, like my brother-in-law’s motorcycle accident in February, left me second-guessing myself for days. The emergency room doctor said he was OK. Bruised and scratched, but miraculously OK after being pushed off the road. We already had a trip planned to go home in a week, so we stayed put.

Then, there was the second trip to the emergency room because he wasn’t acting quite right. I started the laundry and had Brian get the suitcases out, just in case. Again, the doctor said he was fine and sent him home.

And he was fine, until my sister had to call the ambulance because he collapsed. She was in tears when she told me that night that the brain injury was more severe than they thought. We started toward Oklahoma the next morning, a few days earlier than we had planned. Along with the usual vacation excitement, we felt nervous. Anxious. Worried.

When we got there, we went to the hospital right away instead of going to get our favorite ice cream or stopping to play at a park. There were several other trips to the hospital and eventually to the rehabilitation center as we watched my brother-in-law gain strength and memory, and all the while I tried to keep vacation feeling like vacation for our boys.

This was our best shot to comfort my brother-in-law and our best shot to enjoy Oklahoma. And we could do both.

It meant that there were plenty of days when I felt like sitting still. Going to bed early. Sleeping in late. But I knew that I had to make time for what we had come for — what we had planned for. I knew I had to make time and space for joy.

So, we went to the aquarium and hiked at Keystone Ancient Forest. We had cheese fries at Eskimo Joe’s and rode an elephant at the circus. We did the fun things that we had planned, even though pain and worry were nearby.

Joy didn’t flee when the tough times came. It stuck around to strengthen us. To let us see the full picture. To remind us of our purpose.

When we loaded the van to come back to New York, I made sure to pack that lesson, too.

— Marketta Gregory is a former religion reporter who can’t stop writing about what is sacred and holy. She is a native of Oklahoma but makes her home in Rochester, New York, with her husband, two crazy boys and one very vocal Pomeranian. Find more of her writing at SimplyFaithful.com or check out her book, “Simply Faithful: Finding the Sacred in Everyday Life.”