How to Face a Fork in the Road

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

~Robert Frost

We fanned the college materials across the kitchen table. Competing school colors and fresh young faces stared up at us, offering an invitation to a future full of unknowns. My husband sat behind his laptop lost in a world of spreadsheets and cost projections and numbers with too many zeros behind them. I sat lost in a reverie of little girl laughter and long-ago conversations about growing up. He lives for the spreadsheets, while I live for the story behind every promise bound up in those college letters. Our daughter, seventeen and on the cusp of forever, sat across from us. On the table, the road split and forked in every direction.

We’ve approached this decision from a great distance, enjoying the long road leading up to it. Our firstborn lines the path of her life with delight, like a path covered in yellow daisies. We knew the road would split and splinter away from us eventually, but most days it seemed more like a rumor than a reality.

Just as it should, our daughter’s daisy strewn path widened quietly, while alternate avenues tunneled away from our feet overnight. The paths appeared in all manner of directions: the foreign or the well-traveled, the mysterious or dream-like, the ordinary or the distinct. They appeared with every kind of descriptor, but none of them appeared with a sign pointing “This Way.”

So, we found ourselves around the table with our spreadsheets and our Rory Gilmore pro/con lists. We laid out our research and our preconceived notions, our arguments for and against, and our core beliefs. But, it’s our dreams and our tender hearts that want to lead the way forward into this future. Discernment is difficult when the heart longs to lead one way, and the head leads another.

I find myself facing these kind of alternate path decisions often, and I second guess myself, wondering what “other” life might wait for me on the reverse side of my decisions. I’ve learned to keep a few guiding principles in mind when my emotions run away with the should have/could have beens. As we take tentative steps towards our daughter’s future, we’ve kept these same thoughts present with us as we approach this fork in the road.

Few decisions are perfect.

Perfect paths don’t exist. If they did, we would look for the magic that would lead us to them without fail. Every decision will have drawbacks and rewards. We can pro/con our way to some of them, but in the end, only God knows the end result. Someday, we will too, but until then, faith will help us take the leap into imperfection.

Few decisions are permanent.

My husband reminds me of this all the time. With the exception of having babies, very few decisions can’t be undone. It may be painful and costly, but it may be the undoing that is our re-making. There may be more lessons learned on the return trip home, than lessons learned on the initial journey.

Few decisions predict the ending.

We can’t know the end from the beginning, and this is a gift. Few of us would choose the road less traveled if we knew exactly what pain, heartache, and rough roads lie ahead on it. We must make our decisions knowing there will be challenges, but there will also be wild beauty.

My daughter will choose a path soon. It may be strewn with daisies or weeds, but my hope is that it’s lined with roses. Thorns, while painful, help us grow, and by them we recognize all that is fragrant and soft and sweet in the blooming.

When Small Talk Isn’t So Small After All

The vets staying at the Veterans Hospital in town hang out at the local strip mall. We see them every time we stop for milk and a five dollar bunch of flowers. Often, there will be one or two vets smoking on the corner, leaning heavy into a cane or crutch. They call to one another across donuts and coffee, or chat in the aisles of the Rite Aid. Sometimes their wounds are obvious–lost limbs, disfigurement, a limp. And other times, it’s the faraway stare, the nervous glance over their shoulder, the war-weary eyes that hint at invisible damage.

I pulled into the parking lot last week, and an older veteran stood on the corner of the Stop and Shop and followed my car with his eyes. I got out, grabbed my bags from the trunk, and he continued to stare. His face told a thousand stories, and his leg, permanently damaged in one skirmish or another, told a story too. I tried to look away.

Minutes earlier, I’d huffed my way out of the house after hours of household chores, while my husband lay prone on the sofa with a cold drink and an ipad in his hand. My annoyance led me to speed my way to the store, slam the car door, and attempt to sneak by the man without so much as a nod hello.

He called out to me, “Hey there! I used to drive a car just like yours. Do you love it? Is it a stick shift?” For a split second I wondered if I could walk by and pretend not to hear him. His left leg held all of his weight, and my polite, fake, smile held mine. I turned to face him.

We chatted cars for a minute, and while I considered how much time this conversation would cost me, he considered sharing a piece of his history. His story tumbled out. He spoke of the years he was stationed in Germany, the multiple languages he speaks, and his love for European travel. He told me of a car just like mine that saved his life in a head on collision with two other vehicles on a German highway. He told me a story of near misses, something akin to salvation.

After we chatted for a while, and I turned to enter the supermarket, he called out a blessing on me and then again on my family. I mumbled a brief thank you, and I walked away thinking I should say something to bless him too, but the words buried themselves in my own discomfort. The conversation was as awkward as you imagine it to be between a war vet and a harried housewife, but I walked away feeling as if I was richer for this chance meeting with a stranger. Near misses can cause one’s fake smile to transform into a real one, and one’s harried heart to enlarge in size.

I am so quick to dismiss the gift of a timely conversation. I almost missed out on a opportunity to see God in the face of another human being that day. I almost rejected the gift of a blessing from a stranger. When the man reached out in conversation, I wondered what he wanted or needed from me, not realizing I was the one with the greater need. I needed to stop tending my small wounds, exit my own story, and receive the gift of another’s.

Fame Doesn’t Satisfy the Soul’s Hunger

I read an article recently in which a handful of famous actors and musicians shared their thoughts on fame and life in the public eye. Overwhelmingly, they saw fame as a curse, resulting in a lifestyle they never would have chosen for themselves had they calculated the cost. In most cases fame cost them their friendships, their faith in fellow man, and their freedom.

The soul isn’t made for fame, and yet many of us seek some form of it, thinking it will fill all of the empty places inside of us. So often, we already have everything we need to feel full and satisfied, but our eyes grow larger than what our souls can hold. We stretch against an ever-growing hunger.

While fame isn’t a primary motivation in my life, wanting to be known and admired is important to me in ways that, left unchecked, can become unhealthy. It is the sickness of being fallen and human. I have the love of a good man, the blessing of my children, the support of extended family, the soul-connections of deep friendship, and yet I continue to grasp for more.

When will I sit at the banquet table of my life and taste the sweet abundance spread before me?

“Enough is as good as a feast.” A friend wrote these words, and this truth continues to reverberate in my heart like the clear ringing of a bell. I don’t like this word “enough” and like any good American, I have set my life in opposition to it. I like more, bigger, better. Forget “enough”, forget satisfied. I want excess. Fame. Fortune. Feasting.

My idea of fame and fortune looks different than your average starlet’s, no billboards or magazine covers for me, but it is rooted in the same discontent. It is rooted in the belief that my life should add up to more than the everydayness of it. I forget that when I accepted Christ, I chose to live in an upside down kingdom where the last shall be first and the first shall be last. I am called to become less so that Christ may become more in me.

Enough is as good as a feast, my friend told me. This is love expressed through letters, reminding me to be satisfied in my smallness.

When Our Weakness Becomes A Strength

A few years ago, I joined my daughter’s class for a school field trip to Thomas Edison’s former laboratory here in New Jersey. The word laboratory sounds very clinical and boring, but in reality, it’s a large warehouse of a building, full of rooms fitted with dark wood paneled walls or heavy machinery or musical instruments. It is a delight.

The music room in particular held my attention. Painted strips of wood covered the walls which were lined with black and white photographs. Beneath our feet, worn oak floors bore the scars of a thousand visitors. The room itself held all sorts of instruments and multiple versions of the phonograph. In fact, the number of phonographs sprinkled throughout the entire complex bordered on overkill, until I learned that Edison spent fifty-two years perfecting this particular invention.

He called the phonograph his “baby”.

I thought all of this was amusing, charming even, until the docent made an almost throw-away comment. She said Thomas Edison, inventor of a device that reproduces the sound of music, suffered from extreme hearing loss since his childhood. While not completely deaf, he was severely hearing impaired.

Edison’s biggest weakness became the impetus for birthing his “baby”–his favorite invention plucked from his imagination.

I’ve thought about this off and on for several years, especially during times when I feel ill-equipped for the task at hand, whether it be a challenge in my parenting, creating, working, serving or simply in loving others well. My weakness can be a place where I flourish in spite of myself. This is counter-intuitive, unless I believe, as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians,

“For this thing I sought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said to me, My grace is sufficient for you: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest on me.”

Allowing the power of Christ to rest on me results in strength, in courage, in tenacity. Edison showed a single-mindedness for fifty-two years, to create while wrestling against his own shortcomings. This is the kind of gumption I want for myself and for my kids. To stick with it. To dig deep into the well of my weakness, and find Christ there offering me a cup of living water to drink.

I read later that Edison could’ve chosen corrective surgery to improve his hearing, and certainly he could have invented a hearing aide. But, he’d grown comfortable with the quiet his weak hearing afforded him. He allowed books, deep thinking, creation, and invention to fill the silence. And we, the recipients of his long labor, are richer for it.

On Cultivating Gentleness

I noticed it in the way she smoothed the hair from Kaitlyn’s face. Her fingertips slipped over the sheen of sweat and tucked the girl’s damp curls away from her contorted features. She touched her child’s body with a gentleness I couldn’t summon after two years of being her daughter’s registered nurse.

Watching her, I realized I’d lost this sense of tenderness in caring for my patients…

To read the rest of this story on the art of gentleness, join me at In Touch Ministries.