The Road Not Taken

Today I found God in the most unlikely of places.

I work as a receptionist at my parish and just got off the phone with an 85-year-old woman who was trying to find her way to church.  She was heading northwest on Northwest Highway, but she missed the exit for 68, where she would then find herself on the correct part of Ela Road she needed to be on in order to get to church.  Ela Road is funny, because it splits in such a way that if you are on the part of Ela heading toward Lake County, you have to take NW Highway to get onto 68 to get back onto Ela (I know, totally screwy… obviously designed by men).

So this woman overshot the exit for 68, and she was stuck at a gas station on NW Highway and Ela (the wrong Ela).  She was calling me confused because she knew she had to turn onto Ela to get to Palatine, but the Ela she was going on was not going to go in that direction.  So I was trying to explain to her that she needed to go back and turn left onto NW Highway, then take the ramp up to turn right onto 68, then turn left on the other Ela.  However, she just wasn’t getting it. 

“M’am, look in front of you, what do you see”

“Northwest Highway.”

“Look to your left. What do you see?”

“Ela Road.”

“Okay, you need to turn right onto Ela Road and turn left at the light at Northwest Highway.”

“What? You want me to go left on Ela Road?”

“No m’am. Go right on Ela. Go left on NW Highway.”

“But you said to left on Ela.”

And so it went.  On and on. 10 minutes. All she had to do was open her eyes, look to her left, and see that there was a light she had to turn left at. I know it’s there. I’ve traveled that road many times before. But she just wasn’t getting it.

“Okay, so when I turn on NW Highway, what am I supposed to do?”

“You need to get in the right lane and take the ramp up to 68, and go right.”

“What ramp? What are you talking about?”

“It’s right there, there is a sign that says “Ramp to Ela Road South.””

“But you said I had to go right on Ela already.”

“I know, m’am, but Ela Road will continue from 68.”

“Okay so I go right on 68. Then what?”

“Then you have to go left on Ela.”

“But you told me to go right on Ela. I can’t hear you. I CAN’T HEAR YOU!!! Speak up!!”

And so on. And so on.  I told her she needed to just do it in order to see what I am talking about. But she didn’t trust me. She started crying and saying that she was too old and stupid (her words, not mine). I told her she could do it, she just had to trust me. But she said she would figure it out and hung up on me. And I hung up and exhaled.  I felt so much frustration because this woman just would NOT listen to me.  She was making life so much harder for herself because she kept putting herself down and she refused to open her eyes and notice her surroundings.

And I thought of how many times I’ve done that.  Now. How many times I’ve let those voices tell me that I am worthless, that I have no purpose, that no one likes me much at all.  I give in to those voices because I am stuck at the proverbial gas station, trying to figure my way around after missing my exit.  I just graduated, my life isn’t going the way I expected it to, and I feel lost. I’m not living as authentically, I let my depression get the best of me, and all of this is the result of just not listening to God. But God is obviously on the phone with me, trying to direct me where to go, and I just won’t have anything of it. 

“You’re telling me to open up to my friends, Lord? What are you, crazy? You don’t think they’re all just going to leave me eventually?  Lord you told me to guard my heart… what the heck makes you think I am just going to let everyone take a good looksee at it?  Lord you told me to study theology and be a youth minister… why don’t I have that job yet? What do you mean, bus driving is a ministry? Seriously? I studied theology to be a bus driver? That can’t be it. Are you there? I can’t hear you, can you speak up? Am I stupid?”

But maybe the paths of life aren’t so easy.  Maybe it’s a big screwed up old Ela Road. Maybe in order to get somewhere, I have to make a few turns down streets that don’t make sense. Maybe it will all make sense in the end. Maybe I should just stop thinking, start driving, and trust that God will tell me when I am supposed to turn.

On the phone today with this woman… I knew exactly where she was, I knew exactly where she had to go.  I know that if she had just trusted me, she would have gotten there.

So maybe God knows, too.

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Leavin’ Me Breathless

Minor road leading to Żelechów, Poland.

Image via Wikipedia

Today I took a rather wonderful hour-and-a-half-long walk around my neighborhood.  It was gorgeous out, albeit a little windy, and I had a little skip in my step as the cool hint of Fall gently kissed my cheek.  The sun peeped out from behind clouds which seemed to threaten rain, but managed to restrain themselves.  Justin Bieber serenaded me in my own personal concert (baby, baby, baby, OHHHHH… don’t judge) as I marched along, left, right, left, right, breathing in peace and breathing out all of the pent-up anger and frustration I’ve been carrying with me lately.

At the beginning of my walk, I went at a slower pace to warm up.  Upon starting up my first big hill, my arms swung with a little more intent, my water bottle met my lips a little more frequently, and my legs began moving in power mode.  The hill was pretty large.  My breathing began to feel a little more labored and my side started to kink up a little, but still, I powered through.  Reaching the top was a welcome relief, though my hips were starting to ache and my abs were starting to make their presence a little more known.  My pace started to slow a little as Carrie Underwood sang to me about her cowboy casanova.  I mapped a route out for myself of possible places I’d like to go.  I had a general idea that I wanted to get up to the grocery store before eventually meandering on back home, so I turned down a street that looked familiar from a past bike ride and hoped for the best.

My pace started to pick up a little and steadied itself at a fast walk as I worked my way through the neighborhood.  My surroundings started to look less than vaguely familiar, but Bruno Mars started to sing about how I can “…count on me like 1, 2, 3,” so I kept on keepin on.  I surprised myself  by finding myself on the exact opposite side of the grocery store than I intended, which added quite larger distance than I originally intended on.  No big deal, though.  I just powered through the swarms of moms with their full shopping carts, making sure to smile and say hello once in a while.  Eventually I found myself down by my church and I realized that I wasn’t so tired anymore. My pace was consistently fast, my breathing even, my hips not as creaky, and my smile a little less forced.  I started to feel good about myself, good about the way my body was moving, good about where I was in life.

At that moment, I felt God’s presence just a little more than before.  I thought about the stages of my walk and what I could learn from them.  I thought about how lately things have been rather up and down.  There are days where I’m confident in where I am and where I am going.  There are days where my plan doesn’t work out the way I expected it to, and I am momentarily lost, but eventually wander back on the right path.  And there are days where I am climbing up hills with a cracking knee and splitting side and I wonder if I can even finish what I started.  But then I realized that had I stopped at the first tough hill I had to climb, I would have been left with pain.  The idea was that I kept walking and I kept pushing myself through it, and eventually I found myself in a place where I was experiencing some kind of “Walker’s High.”  Despite the struggles at the start of my journey, I found that my body adapted.  I grew a little more confident in myself and was proud of how far I had come.  And then I grew determined to finish with a bang, so I walked home the way with the other big hill. I knew I could do it, because I knew that God was with me.

So all in all, it was a good walk today.  A necessary reminder of the truth in the saying, “If you find yourself going through hell, keep going.”  It gets better, friends.  Just keep pushing through.  You will make it.