And Now for Something Completely Different…

Two of my daughters recently had a culture fair at their school. There were booths with information on many different countries around the world, crafts, activities, and the chance to write letters to soldiers stationed in Afghanistan. It was an interesting evening. Then, we made our way to the school cafeteria where there was a mixture of smells emanating. We each received a plate with tiny portions of various dishes, fruits, and treats from various cultures, and that was truly the most interesting part of the evening.

Thankfully, we have long been fans of the show Bizarre Foods, I have tried to instill an acceptance of different foods and variation in my children, and none of us is put off by strange textures. There were a couple different slippery Asian noodle dishes, a fruit like a berry with a husk that we had to peel, sour (pickled?) gooseberries, tubes of jelly, and tamales, among other things on our plates. Naturally, some of the foods were better received than others. The whole experience broadened our palates and our minds, and gave us some new tastes, textures, and experiences. The next time we are presented by something unfamiliar, I hope we rise to the challenge.

If only things worked that way so easily with life’s little sample plate. We are exposed to change more times than we are often  comfortable with as we move through the many courses and snacks of life. Some times, we’d love to be able to send our meal back to the kitchen. Sometimes, we are left with a taste of something we would gladly have consumed without end. Life, however, is full of strange dishes and we are given an opportunity to sample them all. It is to our benefit that we take in as many of these life experiences as possible in order to feel satisfied and enjoy a full existence. It is not uncommon for many people to be so stuck in their burger and fries ways that they miss out on something truly spectacular.

God, you see, has many menu items laid out for us in the Grand Buffet. Some things we will like more than others; however, the less than exciting oatmeal is just as good for us as the plate of fruit, or steak, or chocolate. We DO all need a little chocolate from time to time during the Feast of Life, after all. Don’t be afraid of new things. Every good and necessary change you are looking toward in your life will require some difference in the way you act and think, even the way you live, or where you live. As the French say, Vive le difference!”

“Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.” Isaiah 43: 18-19

The Chosen Road

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost (American poet, 1874-1963)

That is a poem I memorized and took to heart when I was a junior in high school. For all the many varied and diverse roads I have traveled since then, I think I would have to agree with Mr. Frost in some regards. There are many thing you could have done that you chose not to do, and those things, taken together with the things you chose to do have shaped you to be the person you are today.

Some roads we find in life are straight and sure, free from debris and any visible threat or danger. They stretch on and on with little change or drama. Many people travel these roads, for mile upon uniform mile. These roads can seem tedious, and surreal, like you’re not actually going anywhere at all. After one hour, two, five, ten, the distance seems as distant as it did before. It seems you’ve made no progress at all. You sometimes think this MUST be the wrong way. You should have gotten somewhere by now, right? Eventually, though, you find that it was the right road after all; and thank goodness you stayed on track all the time it took! These roads seem to take up the majority of the journey.

Other roads are full of bends and sharp corners and shrubs in the middle of the path. There can be downed trees, or rock slides, or animals in the road! There are cave-ins, pitfalls, potholes, and brambles to fight our way out of and through. This road can be exciting, but it is never safe to let down your guard completely. It’s enough to make your hair turn grey! So much to see along the sides of the road, but you dare not take your eyes from in front of you! This is white-knuckle-way, Baby! You’d better fasten your seat belts here! Thankfully, these roads don’t last as long as they seem they will .

Still other roads we take are much slower, over roads that meander from side to side, and up and down over hillocks and through meadows. It’s so easy to get lost on these roads, and no trouble at all once it’s happened. These kinds of roads are full of change and surprise, but rounding a corner brings something delightful and new, some new perspective to consider. On these roads we encounter sunny glens, foamy river rapids, mountain peaks, the scent of orange blossoms, and enchanted forests we want to get lost in and never come out of again! Traveling down this road is never a trial or, unfortunately, very long.

“In the name of the best within you, do not sacrifice this world to those who are its worst. In the name of the values that keep you alive, do not let your vision of man be distorted by the ugly, the cowardly, the mindless in those who have never achieved his title. Do not lose your knowledge that man’s proper estate is an upright posture, an intransigent mind and a step that travels unlimited roads. Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark, in the hopeless swamps of the approximate, the not-quite, the not-yet, the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish, in lonely frustration for the life you deserved, but have never been able to reach. Check your road and the nature of your battle. The world you desired can be won, it exists, it is real, it is possible, it’s yours.” Ayn Rand (Russian born American Writer and Novelist, 1905-1982)

The path you are traveling leads to a place you have never been before, the future, that unknown, strange, and mysterious thing. Don’t think that the ways you have been down up until now are the ONLY ways. That would be as silly as saying the people you have known up until now are the ONLY people. It  may seem, at times, as though you were fenced in, prohibited from choosing  any other road but the ones you have already traveled. Just keep in mind, that sometimes to get somewhere new, you have to hop a fence, or swim a river, or climb a mountain. There is a lot of work in making new roads. Think of new sights, smells, flavors, feelings, loves that you will never know until you build those roads.
“When all’s said and done, all roads lead to the same end. So it’s not so much which road you take, as how you take it.” Charles de Lint (Celtic folk musician and story teller, b.1951)
No matter what road you have had the fortune, or misfortune, to travel, always there has been someone who walked the same road or a more difficult road. You are not in this world alone. No matter what the catastrophes and terrors and tragedy, there are many who have overcome these obstacles and lived triumphant afterward. Your road can be as new as your very next step. This life is full of another chance, and another, and another. The road you finally travel, is the road you CHOOSE to travel, and none of us has to walk alone.

“In the time of my favor I will answer you, and in the day of salvation I will help you; I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people, to restore the land and to reassign its desolate inheritances, to say to the captives, ‘Come out,’and to those in darkness, ‘Be free!’ “They will feed beside the roads and find pasture on every barren hill. They will neither hunger nor thirst, nor will the desert heat or the sun beat down on them. He who has compassion on them will guide them and lead them beside springs of water. I will turn all my mountains into roads, and my highways will be raised up. See, they will come from afar —some from the north, some from the west, some from the region of Aswan.” Shout for joy, you heavens; rejoice, you earth; burst into song, you mountains! For the Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones. But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.” “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me. Your children hasten back, and those who laid you waste depart from you.”  Isaiah 49: 8-17

Spring Has Sprung (at last!)

A couple of weeks ago, our family took a trip to Seattle to visit the Aquarium….at least, this is what we ended up doing. It’s funny how a day can be planned in our minds but we see things come to pass so differently. Life is a lot like that too. We have our plans and our hopes and expectations. Sometimes we are disappointed and sometimes we have amazing and delightful surprises. As many people have learned throughout the entire history of family road trips, there is almost infinite potential for disaster, carsickness, hurt feelings, lost tempers,  “no fair”, and the dreaded “I’m-not-touching-you” game. (Sibling rivalry has been around a LONG time. Remember Cain and Abel? )

When we’re little, we have some idea of what we want to do with our lives when we are “all grown up”. We always imagine ourselves happy, with lots of money, plenty of friends, and the ability to do fun and amazing things whenever we want. The trick is that we somehow fail to see that we can be the biggest obstacle to this becoming reality. We get in the way of our own dreams more than anyone else ever has or ever will. One reason for this is fear. It’s a big, scary world, after all. We remember so many times before when things didn’t turn out the way we wanted. We can recall the hurts, the wounds, the feeling of loss, the humiliation. We would do just about anything to avoid ever having to go through that again. So we avoid situations, people, memories of the past, events of the present, and plans for the future. What are we left with but a dark, stinky cave (and PHEW, by the way, open a window already). We are all alone with our fears.

That doesn’t have to be the end for us. Things can be different. Each breath is a choice. God makes a choice to give us another chance, and another chance, and another…..inhale, exhale….and another chance…inhale. The future is not written in stone (or dried on Cream of Wheat, which may be more permanent) and as long as there’s life, there’s hope.

So what did we do with ourselves in Seattle with a crew of 5 kids, ages toddler to teen, in tow? We decided to invest some time in making memories with our kids, and enjoy one another for the good part of the day. It was one of the best times I have had in a long time. It was a really lovely day. Yes, there were little quarrels and the kids pushed a few buttons, but we all came together as a family, which is what family trips are all about, in the end.