Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Traveling the Narrow Road

My good buddy Doug who served on staff with Mike at The Roots Community as the Teaching Pastor, recently made the move from central FL to northern IN. He is an amazing and insightful teacher, and so full of wisdom. The following post are his thoughts about his journey that are really worth reading.

"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."

Recently, I moved from Central Florida to Northeastern Indiana. I had made the drive between those two locations on a number of occasions, but I had always taken Interstate Highways. However, last Christmas Eve while visiting family, my kids and I attended an evening service at a church in Berne, IN, and discovered that U. S. Highway 27 runs through that part of Indiana. That may not mean anything to most people, but my kids and I found it fascinating since U. S. 27 also ran right past the neighborhood in Davenport, Florida where we were living at the time. I checked an atlas, and discovered that the highway does indeed run from Miami, FL all the way to Ft. Wayne, IN. So when we learned that we would be moving and since we were not on a tight time schedule, my kids and I decided that we would make the drive north an adventure; we decided take U. S. 27 the entire way from Florida to Indiana. We knew that the drive would take longer and that there would be much more starting and stopping, but we wanted to experience the trip from a different perspective.

As anyone who has moved can attest, there are many variables that pop up throughout the process of packing and moving. Ours included, my son finishing up his sophomore year in High School, my daughter having to give up her job, and me leaving the church that I had helped to plant. In addition, we had lived in Florida for 14 years, and it was hard for my kids to say goodbye. I wanted to accomodate their desires to spend time with friends as much as was possible, and so they were not always present during the final days of packing. The days leading up to the actual loading of the truck were filled with a great deal of activity: end of school programs, going away parties, trips to West Palm Beach and Cocoa Beach with friends, and one final outing to Disney. During that time I did most of the packing and sorting, so by moving day I was ready for the whole ordeal to be over.

The day set aside for loading the truck started out a bit rocky. I had received an e-mail confirmation from the rental company which indicated that I could pick the truck up at 6:00 A.M. So, my plan was to pick the truck up as early as possible and start loading right away. My daughter was at an overnight birthday outing at Cocoa Beach, one of my sons had made plans to spend the day at Disney with his friends, and my oldest son had to be to work by early afternoon. But I firgured that if we were able to get a majority of the items loaded in the truck by the time that Josiah left for Disney, Caleb and I could finish up, and then when he had to leave for work I'd spend the afternoon cleaning the house. Ah, the best laid plans of mice and men...

I arrived at the rental agency bright and early, only to discover that they did not even open until 8:30 A. M. A bit discouraged, I headed back home, and Josiah crawled back into bed to catch a few more Z's. I used the time to check emails and get some final online work completed. At 8:30 we headed back to get the truck, but upon arrival discovered two people in line in front of me and still no one to open up the business. At about 20 minutes past the posted open time, an emplyee came ambling up to the agency entrance and discovered that he did not have the right keys to get in the front doors. He walked around back, but it took an additional 10 minutes to get the back door opened. By the time I was waited on I was now more that 2 hours behind schedule, in addition, I discovered that they did not have the tow dolly that I had reserved. Instead, all they had were trailors to carry a person's car, but they were much more expensive than the dolly. By this time I was starting to be a bit on edge, and made it clear that I had reserved a dolly and that I was not paying more for their lack of service and preparation. In the end, I got a trailer for the price of a dolly but I was now far off of my projected time frame. (Oh, and by the way, there were only two seats in the truck, so one of my kids would always be sitting on the floor for the two day trip. But more on that later.) As soon as we got back to the house Josiah had to get ready to leave, I had trouble manuvering the truck and trailer into our neighborhood, and my nerves were started on a downward trajectory. Without boring you with all the details, lets just say that by the end of the day I was utterly exhausted, and though the truck was packed the house still needed to be cleaned. My two youngest arrived home later in the day, and were put to work immediately at cleaning and finishing up packing the odds and ends. By midnight I was about to collapse. Rebekah said, "Dad just make a list of what still needs to get done and go to bed; you have to drive in the morning." So a list was made, and I passed out on an air mattress. It was just before 6 A. M. when I regained concsiousnes, and the house looked great. The kids were dead tired, but after a quick prayer thanking God for our time in Florida and asking for His protection, we were able to hit the road.

During the first leg of the journey the kids slept, which gave me an opportunity to enjoy some quiet alone time, to pray, and to appreciate the landscape as I drove. The first difference that I noticed by taking a U. S. Highway were the stretches of driving, where I saw no other drivers. At first I thought that it was probably due to the fact that it was early Sunday morning, but as the day drew on it became very apparent that we were journeying on the road less traveled. The second thing that I noticed, was how close the houses were to the road, especially in the rural areas that we drove through. At times during the trip we could have literally pulled into a persons driveway right off the highway, and often times would see people on their porches or in their yards. The third variance from Interstate travel that was very striking for me was the almost total absence of billboards. It was a welcome relief from the constant barage of messages telling me where to stop and what to buy. I was free to simply soak in the beauty of the surrounding countryside.

Interstate Highways are designed to either bypass downtown areas of cities, or make a path through them in as direct a fashion as possible. Driving on a U. S. Highway took us right into the middle of towns and cities. We had to navigate the constant stop and go, changes in speed limits, and the possiblity of the route making a swift direction change. I had to be much more vigilant; always on the look out for the posted Highway signs to make sure that we were staying on the correct route.

By the end of day one of traveling, we all were tired; me from driving and the kids from having to keep switching back and forth between the floor and the other seat. A good friend had made arrangements for us to spend the night at a hotel in LaGrange, GA, and so we all appreciated the soft beds, a full night's sleep, and the free breakfast the next morning.

We started our second day like the first; praying for God's guidance and protection, and thanking Him for what was ahead of us that day. The final leg of our journey took us through northern Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, a small portion of south western Ohio, and Indiana. Driving through the Smokie Mountains has always been my favorite part of the drive north, and this time was no exception. However, the rate at which we were able to navigate through the mountains was a much different story. Outside of Chattanooga, TN there is a steep climb up the mountains. On the Interstate the assent has only a few switch backs, but on the U. S. Highway it was a constant winding back and forth up the mountain side. The pace was much slower and the road was much narrower with very sharp curves. In addition, there was almost no margin for error off the side of the road. There was no shoulder, and just inches past the painted lane lines was a severe drop; the drive was both very scenic, but also very nerve wracking for one not used to driving a loaded rental truck pulling a trailer. That same scenario played it self out on several other passes through the mountains of Tennessee and Kentucky. It required a great deal of concentration on my part, which in turn slowly sapped me of energy.

After a second full day of driving I was ready for our "adventure" to be at an end. We were stopped just south of Cincinatti, OH at a truck stop. I filled up the tank for our final push north and we filled our stomachs with some fast food from Taco Bell. As I sat at the outside picnic table, all I could think was, "I will be so glad when we finally reach our destination; I am so tired." Three full days of first loading and cleaning, and then driving had finally taken there toll on me; I was physically whipped.

On the north side of Cincinatti our situation became a bit dicey. I could see lightening all around us, and was hearing on the radio about a line of severe thunderstorms that was passing through that area. As we continued north, we ran smack into a torential rain storm. The radio broadcast then said that in addition to the rain and lightening, there were also 60 mph winds and the possibility of hail. Then shortly after that, a tornado warning was issued. By this time I had no place to pull over to wait out the storm, and to top it all off there was a detour on U. S. 27 that forced me to begin driving east away from where I wanted to be heading. I was now driving down unfamiliar, narrow country roads in pitch blackness, except for the constant flashes of lightening, navigating the truck in a driving rain storm with gusts of wind up to 60 mph. Everytime a vehicle approached from the opposite direction all I could do was attempt to hold the steering wheel steady and hope that I stayed on the road since my visibility for that moment was down to 0. That combined with the glare and reflections in my side mirrors gave me the illusion that there was something right next to my window. More than once I reacted to a reflection thinking that I was avoiding a possible collision with another vehicle. I have driven in some pretty precarious situations, but I don't remember ever being that frieghtened as I drove. After several miles in the wrong direction, the detour finally headed back north again and eventually reconnected me with the highway that I wanted to be traveling on. As we moved north, all I could do was whisper a prayer of thanks for being kept safe through that dangerous stretch of driving, but the adventure wasn't quite at its end.

We made it as far north as we needed to travel on the U. S. Highway, and for our final leg west we had to take Indiana State Hwy. 26. Just east of Hartford City we came upon our final barrier, the road ahead was completely submerged in water. Now had I been in a passenger car, I would have immediately turned around and back tracked and taken a different routed, but I was simply not skilled enough as a "truck driver" to turn around while pulling the trailer, plus by that time I was so close to exhaustion that there was no thought of turning back; I just pushed forward. The water was at least 3 feet deep and as we slowly moved through it, all of a sudden it was as if a wave of water swelled up and completely wash over the front of the truck. Water poured into the cabin compartment; it was like a mini tidal wave. I was so thankful that the truck didn't stall and I was able to drive on through. I was also grateful at that moment that the rental company had not had the correct type of tow dolly, because my car would have been flooded. A few minutes later we were pulling up my parent's driveway in Upland; we had finally arrived.

Jesus said that there were two possible routes through this life: The broad highway with a number of lanes crowded with a great number of fellow travelers, and the narrow road with only a few choosing to take that route. My trip north gave me a new perspective about life lived traveling along the narrow road. First of all, there will be a significant portion of that journey when one will feel as if he or she is the only one journeying along that route. He will have ample time for reflection and solitude; times of listening prayer when the only voice she hears is the still, small voice of Jesus. It is during those times one will be able to find a refreshment for their soul that is simply not avialable to the person who is always surrounded by a crowd. Secondly, the narrow road will take one to where people actually live. Sometimes that will be in a rural trailer where individuals live in severe poverty, and other times it will be in opulent mansions where the occupants want for no material comfort whatsoever. Jesus calls his followers to love people, and so the narrow road will lead to where people are. Sometimes the narrow road will lead a person right into the heart of a city. It will lead into the congestion of a place where a great number of people live all crowded together. It will pass by the homeless person and the prostitute, it will travel past the banker and the stockbrocker, and it will pass by the strip club and the pentecostal holiness church building. God's love and compassion for all people at every level of society will be constantly displayed as one travels the narrow road.

I have often heard the phrase "straight and narrow," and yet Jesus never said that the narrow road would be straight. Sometimes it may wind through dangerous mountain passes, or make aburpt left turns in the midst of inner city traffic. It will require great diligence at times, and a careful attention to making sure that there is no straying to the left or the right, and the one who desires to stay on that road will be constantly paying attention to the signs along the way; if God gives a clear direction to turn left, than one must be alert so as not to miss an important change of course. But there will also be times along that road when God will give his follower a view of His glory, a vista of His beauty that can only be seen from the narrow road point of view. Journeying along the narrow road will provide times of rest and relaxation, but the trip will at times be exhausting; it will require every once of energy that one can muster, but it will always be the Lord's strength that ultimately sustains that person. As the Apostle Paul says in Colossians, we are to labor, struggling with all of His power, that works so mightly within us.

The irony of the narrow road is that there is no promise that things will get easier as one nears the finish line; in fact life may become almost unbearable towards the end. One might experience storms that require every ounce of one's attention and energy just at the time when that person feels the most vulnerable and physically exhausted: health issues, the death of a loved one, or financial upheaval. Thoughts may arise such as, "I don't think that I am going to make it." Yet at that point there is no option, there is no turning back, there is only pressing ahead deeper into the storm clinging to the belief that God really is in charge and that in the blinding rain and the utter darkness the Good Shepherd's rod and staff are still guiding and protecting in the midst of the chaos. For every once and a while God will show that he knew what was ahead, and as the waters of turmoil wash over one's head, she will be reminded of how God's provision in the past is the assurance that he will continue to provide to the end. And when the destination is finally reached, the narrow road warrior will know that he or she is finally home.

The broad highway will look appealing. The traffic will be moving at a high rate of speed, there will be many others traveling along that road, and there will be plenty of opportunities to have one's immediate needs satisfied with fast food, fast fuel stops, and plenty of rest areas along the way. The Interstate Highways of life are always about being the first to arrive at one's destination, but Jesus warned that the destination is ultimate destruction. On the other hand, the State Highways of life may wind and turn along the way. The pace of travel may seem slow at times, will require great attention, and there may be detours from time to time. But if one is committed to the journey, committed to following Jesus, then he or she can be confident that the road will eventually bring them to that place of ultimate rest; that place that is uniquely prepared for the children of God.

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