Monday, October 1, 2012

One More Fork in the Road


Stop right here; there's a fork in the road,
I don't think you want to get lost.
One way leads to a potter's field;
The other way leads to a cross. -- Ken Medema

I’m at another one of those pesky forks in the road. The car is in drive and I’m looking in all directions . . . waiting for a sign from my GPS: “God Please Say.”  There are plenty of clues in life’s rearview mirror, so it is clear to me that reverse is the worst of all potential choices, and only a passing thought, a wake-up call to the reality that what we see behind us looks just about as limitless as what may lie before us. But the road kill is far from inviting.  Did we really cause all that and see all that and experience all that and  . . . finally, learn all that?

Flip a blinker; put life in gear, look both ways, left foot off the brake, right foot on the pedal. Pray, wait, listen.

Go.  Stay on the path. Don’t get lost.

In our non-spiritual lives, it’s harder and harder to get lost these days. With on-line maps, GPS systems, satellites, Google Earth and cell phones, we should pretty much know where we're headed all the time, anticipate all the forks in the road and know who and what to expect when we arrive at our destination. Wrong turn? Just reconfigure, adjust and move on. Guys don't have to ask for directions anymore; they just listen to the device on the dash.

This is all well and good if you're driving a car. But what if you're just trying to live a life?

Years ago on a Labor Day weekend we made a spur-of-the-moment, sans advance planning, somewhat ill-advised and under prepared trip to Colorado. We needed scenery, we had that road-trip urge and we needed to escape for a few days. We also needed to do it on about $3.75, but that's a different story. I don't know how we thought we were going to "escape" anything with three little boys in car seats and baby carriers, but that's just an example of our thought processing at the time, a midpoint somewhere between carefree and stupid. Imagine putting a baby in an infant seat on the backseat floorboard of the car and traveling through several states into a mountain range and you'll understand the stupid part. Today, that would get you arrested. Still, I remember when I was a kid sleeping in the back window of my father's car as we headed out to Yellowstone, laying on my side and waving at the cars behind us.

We made this Labor Day trip in 1981, the year of our third son's birth. Had we made the trip only a few years later, we'd have had four boys and a daughter all strapped into or onto something.

My understanding of cars -- especially in the late '80s when we made that trip -- is that they run on gasoline and oil and that you also need to keep plenty of air in the tires and water in the radiator. I had no idea that carburetors needed to be adjusted for altitude, nor would I have known how, so when our stressed-out little brown barely-there care started gasping for air and straining its way up the mountainsides, I just pushed the pedal harder to the medal and tried to keep my eyes off the Land Rovers lining up in the rear view mirror. I looked and felt like a prairie geek.

We took a walk across the sky on the Royal Gorge Bridge, dipped our toes and kids in clear running springs, listened to John Denver cassette tapes until we could stand it no more and stretched the patience of the our oldest son, the only one who could talk, but could get no answers to the "are we there yet?" question because I was never sure where we were. I only knew that if I took my eyes off the road for one second we would be airborne.

And that lead us to Ouray, the Switzerland of America, a quaint little town in a river valley in the heart of the
Rocky Mountains. All I knew was that the gas gauge was near "E," the kids were crying, a dense fog was rolling in, night was falling and John Denver was singing about passing the pipe around for the 100th time that day. Hooray for Ouray. It would be a nice gas stop, a quick pass-through, a little diversion on the way to Silverton where we would finally rest.

Sometimes what we think are little diversions are the forks in the road. Night falls fast when mixed with fog flowing down from the mountainside.

On the edge of Ouray, our car gasping, we pulled into a little roadside gas station, just as the sign flickered out and the inside lights went dark. "No," I said aloud, waking the boys. "This can't be." As we coasted in, a tall shadowy figured emerged at the gas station door in the thickening darkness, securing the lock. Dressed in a long black cape, she glanced towards us, paused and waited.

"Hmmmm . . . . " I wondered. Coast on in or coax a little more from the gas vapors? Every scary movie from my childhood came to mind as all the color of the day faded to black-and-white . . . and long capes and fingernails . . . and noses.

She raised her hand and beckoned us to the pumps and met us there.

"Such a beautiful family," she said, peeking into the back at the wide-eyed boys whose lips were pulled back into grimaces of half-smiles as they looked back and forth at each other.

When I told her we were just gassing up and heading on to Silverton, she paused and smiled and said . . .

"You'll never make it in the dark with this fog. There's too many curves in the mountain roads. You'll plunge right over the edge."

I asked about a local hotel, but she said all the college students were down from Montrose and everything was booked.

"My name is Smiles," she said. "And I guess you all better just come home with me." I protested a bit, but she just waved a long finger at me, pointed at the boys in the back and told me I really didn't have a choice. And with that, she pulled the hood up on her black cape and we followed her into the foggy night. My Twilight Zone-based understanding of dark nights and strange places assured me we were doomed.

But of course, we weren't. Smiles was wonderful and her husband just as nice. Their house indeed looked like it was right out of Switzerland and the buckwheat pancakes and homemade syrup in the morning were . . . odd . . . but a really nice gesture. In the morning light, without a cape, she was just a nice lady who saved us from what would have been a devastating and prideful wrong turn at a providential fork in the road.

We went on our way, survived our vacation, changing diapers at every roadside attraction, and the car recovered from its asthma about the time we crossed back into
Oklahoma. In the years since, I've often wondered if indeed I might have gone on in the dark and plunged my family though a fog-shrouded guardrail and into a deep gorge, had it not been for Smiles, beckoning us to pause at the fork in the road. I just needed to trust her, because she knew what I did not.

How many times in my life have I not paused when someone told me I should not go on down the path, along the course I had set out for myself? How many times have I pushed onward through the closing dark and the rolling fog? How many times did I come so close to the edge on the curve before finally plunging through that guardrail, taking my family along on the free fall to the rocks below?

I read a newspaper story about a car filled with young people that crashed through a guardrail in
Tulsa, careening across two boulders placed to block the entrance to a deep rock quarry. The car went airborne and smashed to the earth 60 feet below, killing three of the friends. In an interview after learning of her driver-son's death, the mother said, "I think he just didn't know where he was going."

How many times have I not known where I was going, but insisted I drive on, figuratively, certain I could handle everything just fine . . . until I, of course, discovered I could not?

God's plan for us -- His path -- is not always clear. There is fog and sometimes darkness clouds the vision. But, there are also "Smiles," or people like her who step out of the fog and extend a hand and try to keep us from steering into a detour when we should probably just wait for the fog to lift.

Some of us are driving like mad, headed for a free-fall. Some of us are leaving the lights on just a little longer in hopes the others of us will pull off the road and rest and think and search for direction.

It doesn't really matter if the roads are curved and steep, or monotonous and stretched out long into the horizon, there are going to be forks in them. God knows which way we should go if we trust Him.

Sometimes when I am at a fork in the road, I underestimate the creative element of God. Why would I do that, secure in my belief that he created the world and all that is within it? Why would I think, with all the unusual – from beautiful to frightening –beings and things around me? Why would I think He would choose a path that looks, for all the world, just like a path I might lay out my self? He might do that if he knew me only as I know myself . . . but he knows better.

I’m at a fork in the road. It appears, to me at least, that it is time for a change, that perhaps even this blog has served its purpose for now. And I am very thankful I am not the engineer, laying out something safe and predictable, or perhaps, looking at my past, something dangerous and cliffhanging.

I’m too exhilarated to stop, but I’m not sure yet where to go . . . at this fork in the road.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight. -- Proverbs 3:5-6.
Thank you for reading, whether it was just today . . . or many times over the past three years.

 In Him,


(If you’ve been encouraged by this blog, I think you will find great encouragement in my books. Please click this link and you can purchase both for only $12 for you or a friend or to use in your support of any Christian who struggles with sexual identity or addiction: BridgeBack Books. You'll receive a copy of Surviving Sexual Brokenness and “Who Told You You Were Naked?”)


  1. I found this post encouraging for a dozen reasons. I like the risk of a road trip. I like the unknown. I like the safety found because of Smiles. I am glad you didn't plumet to your deaths or I would have never known you two. It is also encouraging to think that the pause could save our lives.

  2. Your blog has been extremely encouraging to me, especially when I'm make those wrong turns. Thank you