“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
I went home this weekend; home to my bone country. That place where I was born and my feet can walk without stumbling, in darkened woods they’ve walked for decades. It was my father’s birthday. And while he doesn’t walk as fast or as far down those woodcutting roads and deer trails, he still loves to amble through the woods with me in search of bittersweet and holly to decorate the home for Christmas.
It was my father who introduced me to the likes of Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and of course Robert Frost. There were others who accompanied me on my rambles into the woods, Tennyson, O’Henry and the lyrics of folk songs from Pete Seger, Peter, Paul and Mary, New Christie Minstrels and the ballads of my Ozark heritage. My walks were steeped in folklore, existentialism, ecology and poetry. The words and stories became as much a part of me as the bark on the trees or the stones that gave voice to our creek. They added texture, depth and richness to my life as a young woman in rural Missouri. I only imagined I might be able to go to college; it was never assumed and certainly not something my folks could ever offer. Folks in our neck of the woods just didn’t do that as a general rule.
But two roads diverged in that wood, and I took the one less traveled by. That road led me to central Africa in a time of war, to China to train auditors of factories, to listen to soldiers from the School of America’s while training in Canada, to share ideas with staff at the United Nations and to be present to the lives and stories of men and women who worked in prostitution. If I had a hard time imagining college, this life has been beyond anything I could have ever dreamed. For this simple gal from the Ozarks I probably would have never willingly walked that path had I known where it led.
But that is the Way of the Holy Spirit, to take us to places unknown and unseen, to give us strength and breath when it feels stifling and dark. So it is with the grace of that past journey that I stand yet again at the diverged path; even though this one is more traveled, it’s new to me. At one point during an academic advising session in undergrad, my advisor asked, “Where do you see yourself in 20 years?” At the time, all I could think of was, “I’d love to be a 40 year old potter with a PhD.” She wasn’t impressed and I regrouped. I am 40; I can throw a few “primitive” pots on my wheel, but I never did get that PhD – a masters but not the doctorate.
Looking back, I can see carefully mapped career plans were never going to be my path. God led me where I needed to go – no map or Trip Tik, just a meandering journey into frequent unknowns. And so I am led once again. Now, I’m going back to school to learn to become a nurse. If all goes well, I’ll be working as a nurse by fall of 2016. Things have changed, as they are wont to do. My family needs me as they did not before. And this is an opportunity to be available to them.
My wanderings had something in common, the awakening those authors and poets planted in me. Seeds gifted from my father, seeds that grew into the opportunity and awareness of the ministry of presence. And so I hope I will carry that forward in my nursing, my care for my family and on those walks in the woods with dad. So while, I’ve trodden a few leaves on this path and I will miss the adventure it promised, my new path will lead on to another Way and that will make all the difference.
Taking another path but still with you on the journey,