I had a life plan and I absolutely expected to achieve great things. Over the last four decades, I’ve learned that a life plan is not all that different than commencing a road trip using GPS (global positioning system). Without a plan/map, one could drive in circles. With a plan (GPS) what could go wrong?
Driving from Central Washington to the Washington coast during late fall presented two options for the 260-mile trip. The first option was to take a major interstate, across the mountain pass, through the Greater Seattle area, down through Olympia and west to the ocean beaches. The second option included a two-lane highway, more scenic, through a host of small towns, and according to the app on my phone, it was ten miles shorter and ten minutes longer – all roads being perfect and traffic free.
So I decided to take the scenic route, not knowing there was a 20-mile detour around Rimrock Lake, and not knowing the speed limit on the detour was 35 MPH instead of 55 on Highway 12. At first, I enjoyed the detour. The myriad of trees and shrubs beside the lake offered a full rainbow of fall foliage hues. I enjoyed a waterfall, deer, birds and mountain vistas. (I’ve included pictures below.)
At one point, with no cell service, I had no idea if I missed a turn and stayed on the route. There was no one to ask. Just before the detour around the lake ended, I was feeling stressed, impatient and frustrated that the road was so long. I wasn’t even a quarter the way to my destination and I was suddenly asking, “Why did I take this route? I can’t even call anyone or figure out where I am.” And once the detour concluded, I still didn’t have cell service. At one point I almost turned off to Mt. Rainier because the road wasn’t marked well. I started to worry about things that hadn’t happened: what if my car breaks down? What if I hit a deer? What if I have to go to the bathroom? What time will I arrive?
An hour later I stopped at a little motel in a tiny town with no cell reception and asked the clerk if I was on the right road. She confirmed I was and I would be able to access cell service a few towns ahead. GREAT! I totally should have taken the interstate through Seattle, I thought. But then, a mile down the road, I pulled over to find a family of deer. They were magnificent. I’ve never been so close to large wild animals in their natural habitat. I was awestruck by their beauty.
I did actually get lost in Aberdeen, Wash., and I pulled into a McDonald’s parking lot to reconfigure my GPS, where I flagged down a police officer. I explained to him that I was lost, and he gave me back road directions straight to my destination.
To make a long story short, none of the things I worried about happened. I enjoyed the most incredible views and took some beautiful fall pictures. I had time to think, pray and cry (which is sometimes very cathartic, especially after what happened this past week at home.) I enjoyed my downloaded music and sang along. And with all my stops, and even getting lost, I arrived in two hours less time than my parents who took the I-90 interstate through Seattle and down I-5. You see, they hit rush hour traffic from Bellevue to Olympia, and crawled more than half their trip.
Twelve years ago, my life took a detour. At first, it was awesome. I enjoyed the slower pace. I enjoyed time with my family and life in a small town. I touched a lot of lives, and honestly, that felt good. It’s affirming to make a difference to someone else, especially someone who is not in a position to return the favor. But over time, I felt like a hamster on a wheel, spinning and going nowhere. None of my great plans came true. My dreams were dying and while I knew my prayers were heard, I certainly didn’t see or hear any answers. God used me to help others but I didn’t think there was any way I could ever get my life back on track. Doors closed left and right on me, and my personal GPS stopped working. I felt panicky and hopeless. I was surrounded by loads of advice but no one who actually took my hand and said, “Here, let me help you.”
Then it occurred to me. What if my life wasn’t off track?
What if my destination was the same – and I could have taken the back roads with the great scenery, time with my family, the chance to make wonderful friends, and the inspiration to write my first novel, with my personal GPS disabled – or I could have taken the city route and sat in traffic, with my GPS working? What if this life detour that I have been lamenting was actually a hidden treasure?
The truth is – I don’t know how my story turns out. I haven’t arrived at my destination. I’m still traveling. I have faith that God sees and knows a future for me that right now doesn’t look that bright. I have hope that doors will open that right now are still closed. I trust that my life has mattered beyond just the measure of achieving my own personal/professional goals, plans and hopes. And beyond that I just breathe and stay on the road – pulling over occasionally to marvel at our beautiful world, or to cry. Because even in the midst of struggle, loss, disappointment, and uncertainty, there is beauty. There are reliable friends and kind strangers. There are open windows and indelible views.
We are all traveling. As long as we’re alive, we’re traveling. And the truth is, everyone has detours and most people spend at least some time with their personal GPS disabled. I don’t even know what today holds, let alone tomorrow. But my faith is in the One who does, and I choose to trust that while I may not be able to live the life I planned, I can still live a life that matters and makes a difference. One step and one mile at a time.