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Category: Faith

On Not Following the Map

December 30, 2020

“I don’t think we want to go this way,” I said to my husband as we headed north on the freeway right outside of town. It was fall, and we were packed in the car, with our kids and luggage and coolers full of snacks and on the road meals, for a weekend trip to Northern California. The road ahead of us stretched out, clear and dry, and yet looking at the news on my phone had suddenly disrupted all of our plans. The weather forecast had worsened from an early winter storm to what they were calling a bomb cyclone, and the pass over the Sierra Nevadas would be closed. In an instant we turned around, our plans in disarray, and headed south towards Los Angeles, an eight hour detour with no hotel rooms, no itineraries, no plans. 

The road between Utah and California is one I know well. Every swell and curve and stop for gas or snacks or bathroom breaks carries with it a kind of familiarity that I cannot escape from. For I have been traveling this road my entire life. Sometimes as the passenger, sometimes as the navigator, occasionally as the driver. I have traversed this road with my parents, my siblings, my grandparents, my husband, and my children. I know it, as the proverbial saying goes, like the back of my hand. And yet, every time we plan a road trip I feel the need to plan, to schedule, to know where we will be when and why. And the longer I travel, the more I realize that you cannot anticipate all of the questions, much less the answers, and this uncertainty, this wandering is a part of the beauty of the journey. 

I discovered I was an explorer late in life when I traveled alone, for the first time, for a work conference. We arrived the day before our meetings, and while my companions settled into the hotel room declaring they were ready for a nap I grabbed my tennis shoes and jacket and headed out to explore the city, with no clear plan, no destination in mind, just knowing I wanted to get a sense for the city spread out below us. I walked to shops and through parks, past tourist destinations and into small neighborhoods. I wandered into museums and grocery stores and talked to strangers on the street. And by some miracle (because I am hopelessly directionally challenged) I eventually found myself back at our hotel. And it was a moment for me—one of those infrequent moments where things change in almost indefinable ways—where my awareness of the world shifted and suddenly I was unafraid of getting lost. 

So when we had to change our family vacation plans on the spur of the moment I was unphased—what was a little longer in the car? We would just go the long way around, avoid the mountain passes, and maybe see a few new things along the way. And we did. We stopped in LA, and, since we were so delayed anyway, decided to wander up the rainy coast. We stopped to find a hotel when we were tired (and when that one was full wandered a little further along the road until we found an available room). But what does this story of our interrupted vacation have to do with anything, you ask? 

These ideas of planning and exploring and unexpected moments of grace are wrapped up in my thoughts in an inseparable way with the concept of faith. There’s a question no one asks, even though to me it seems to be always at the front of every conversation about the future, a question that hovers at the fringes of our expectations and hopes for what tomorrow will be and can be and should be and it is this— “How do you have faith?” Or, more accurately, how, when you know all of the unanticipated things that can happen, things sometimes terrible and sometimes delightful and sometimes an unexpected mix of the two, do you believe in the future you are hoping for? This last year has been a test of this question—with empty classrooms and parks and auditoriums and canceled plans and isolation and loneliness and grief but also eye-opening moments of joy and discovery.

 I want to create experiences with my family that bring us closer together, those lovely spaces planned out like I am crafting a storyline that everyone else should follow. And yet, some of my favorite moments with my husband and children have been unplanned—the kind of instantaneous, serendipitous happenings that tinge everything with a golden glow and the immediate thought that this will be something you will never forget. The bursts of laughter and peace that seem difficult to achieve when you are trying too hard. 

Faith is a type of map, but one with no clear or decipherable key for reading it clearly. It is an angle. A nudge. A moment of curiosity. Optimism. Resilience. Abundance. 

These are all things I think of when I think of faith. I trust that I will get to my destination. But that does not mean that I know where I am going. And that seems to be a part of the beauty of it—the wandering, winding path that takes you past tall trees and dusty gardens and hidden meadows, winding lanes with turns that reveal startling vistas that I could never have imagined on my own.  Faith is a kind of awareness—a listening. A fierce and complete attention to the small and holy things. Especially when those things are unexpected and unplanned.