When I was training for a marathon, I would fill my pockets with orange slices in Ziploc bags. As weariness snuck up, one or two slices popped in my mouth would push it back and give me strength to press on another few kilometers. God's words and His encouragement sometimes come in bite-sized slices -impressions, experiences, encounters - and are just enough to push weariness back and keep us pressing on a little further...

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Going Places (March 18, 2009)

I’ve been learning the beauty of the scenic route. You see, I tend to get lost. A lot. Anyone who has ever travelled with me knows this. The phrase you will hear most often in my car on a trip is, “That’s ok - we can turn around.”

I’ve decided that there’s an art to getting lost - those of us with a tremendous capacity for directional reinterpretation have learned that there’s no point in getting in a huff over it. No one gets lost forever. No matter where I end up in relation to where I was intending to go, I am always comforted by the fact that somehow, some way, some day I will see my mother again.

Living in Europe complicates this. Instead of finding myself in the wrong part of town, it is conceivable (and, I admit, has happened) that I may end up in the wrong country. Don’t laugh - it’s very disconcerting when your minimal German proves useless in the face of Dutch road signs.

I’ve tried maps. They’re great for big picture traveling (in the US I always know if I’m generally headed to Canada or Mexico, California or Maine) but if they’re not specific enough, they can get me even more turned around. My dad tries to tell me to look for things on the north or south side of the street, but unless the sun is rising or setting, he might as well be speaking Dutch. I’m generally a “Turn left at the McDonald’s” or “Turn right by the big tree” kind of girl. Let’s just say that when it comes to finding my way on my own, I have other strengths.

Which is why I am thankful to be currently under the yoke of a GPS (Global Positioning System). I confess that I resisted the allure of the GPS for years, mostly because they tend to use measurements of distance that I cannot approximate in my head. Invariably, there will be two roads forking off to the left and I am meant to take the one in 500 meters. How far is 500 meters? Is it this one? That one? Which one? And then I’ve missed the turn off and have to break out the Dutch dictionary again...

But I am learning that the GPS is a wonderful, quirky creature. I am on a journey now, and am comforted that that we have been joined by a calm commanding British voice telling me to “Make a legal U-turn when possible”. Yesterday morning we left Dusseldorf and that calm commanding British voice led us all the way to just south of Pisa, Italy.

She didn’t take us the way I expected, however. Somewhere on the German-Austrian border, she gently led us off the autobahn and onto smaller roads. Then onto even smaller roads. And again. Soon, we were winding through charming German ski villages, brightly shuttered and thick with snow. Great powdered alps loomed in the distance, drawing near on roads that switch-backed through their frosted knuckles, and then ducking back again on lanes that skimmed through white fields, revealing the magnitude of their stark grandeur. My eyes actually hungered for more of them, searching the edges of the sky for every crumb of their beauty, insatiable in the face of course after course of such a feast. The experience was breath-taking. It added two hours to our journey.

Today, our calm commanding British voice led us through a maze of tiny Italian streets - the alleyways she nudged us down were narrow and cramped, the buildings close and tall and yellow; more times than once we refused, frightened at the possibility of not making it through. In the end, after our firm but gentle reminder to “make a legal u-turn when possible”, the impossible cobbled paths of Pisa opened up to a grand view of the city, to bridges and a river, to the leaning tower in the distance and before it, the highway. We were going the right way all along...

The reason that a GPS works so well is that it holds the perspective of the whole world in its hands. Satellites in outer space see all that I am blinded to, trapped in the confines of my little car. My perspective only registers cramped yellow walls - the GPS sees what is beyond them. More than that, the GPS sees the way out of them.

I’ve learned a lot about trust in the past two days. I’ve learned that the GPS knows where it is going, even when I am lost. Obeying the calm commanding British voice may go against everything I think is right directionally, but in the end is the only way I’m going to reach my destination. Going my way will leave me searching for the Dutch dictionary.

I think you see where I am going here. God wants to be the calm commanding voice in my life (no comment on whether His accent is British or not). That can be difficult, because sometimes His directions don’t make sense to me. I resist and put on the brakes, or take off in the direction I think I should go. He doesn’t yell or forcibly turn the car in the right direction. He just quietly asks me to make a legal u-turn and follow Him.

Sometimes, the walls of fear and doubt close in on me and in the midst of them He directs me down a narrow road. I shrink back, afraid of unknown alleyways, not knowing what might be hiding in the shadows. I forget that from His perspective there are no shadows, and that He won’t send me down a path, any path, alone. His calm commanding voice coaxes from the entrance and the exit - He knows what beauty is waiting to open up on the other side.

And sometimes, His directions take the scenic route. I am often in a hurry to get to where I want to be in life; shortcuts or speeding seem to be the best ways to get there. I am impatient to grow, impatient to mature, impatient to acquire patience. In times like that, He often leads me off of the highway onto smaller roads. Then, on to even smaller roads. And again. His route may take me weeks, months out of “my” way, but if I had missed it, I would have missed Him. I would have missed the breath-taking moments of being satiated with the grandeur of His presence. No shortcut is worth missing that.

God’s directions are these:
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

I trust the Lord because He holds the perspective of the whole world in His hands. My understanding is patchy - I see the world through the confines of my little life. He sees it from outside space and outside time. He knows what I don’t know and He sees what I don’t see. When I can live my life in the honesty of that realization, I am acknowledging Him, and as a result, He directs my path - which is really what I needed all along. His good directions cause me to trust Him and when I trust Him He gives me good directions - following Him makes more sense than anything else I know.

Some people think that following God’s directions only leads them down roads that are dull and dreary. Some get intimidated by His directions (how far is 500 meters?) and think they are impossible to follow. Some have followed their own directions for so long that they’ve lost their way home and don’t know if they will ever find it again. I’ve been there - on that journey, down that road. It’s ok - we can always turn around...

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