Perhaps you travel a fair amount of the time in your work. Perhaps you don’t — and you always suspected business travel of some kind of secret glamour. Up until recently, I travelled quite a bit as a guest speaker at churches, as a kid’s camp resource, children’s author and storyteller. On one trip, I remember crossing paths with a fellow business traveller at an airport terminal. He had that “I’m on my 8th day, 9th city, away from home” look on his face.
“How ya doin’? I said as I settled into a chair across from him in a waiting area.
He sighed. Then he said, “Do you remember when you thought travel for work would be fun?”
I have to admit my travel over those 20 years wasn’t often “fun.” And, while my work did take me to a few “vacation-destination spots” — places like Calgary, Ontario, Sneem, Ireland, and San Francisco — mostly my travel was by rental car across the South and Mid-west. Nothing exotic, really. Just a lot of back roads and long hours through states like Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas and Texas.
Traveling to towns like Frankenstein, Muleshoe, Greasy Corner and Big Lake (there’s actually no water at all there. Go figure.), I’d perform in their schools, and then follow with a family concert at a local church. Somewhere along the way I realized I had a choice. I could either fight a looming sense of disappointment in where my career was taking me, or I could get my ego and expectation out of the way and just get lost in wherever I found myself.
The latter proved to be the more spiritually enlightening option. The more I learned to let go of my expectations — and to pay attention with a little humility — the more I discovered about the diversity and wonder of God’s creation.
On one long, particularly tedious road trip across southwest Texas, I decided to focus on resilience of creation. I noted how the trees and grass broke through empty sidewalks and buildings in tiny abandoned towns. I watched the brilliant, fiery display of a sunset across dry, barren landscape. I marveled at the unbroken line of red-tailed hawks, perched at the top of every other telephone pole for miles.
The next morning, I performed at a school in Kingsville, and during a break, I struck up a conversation with one of the lunch ladies. She remarked on how amazing it must be for me to get to travel — and how she’d never imagined as a kid that she’d be working in a tiny school cafeteria on the King Ranch.
“What did you dream of doing instead?” I asked her.
“I figured I’d be a singer or movie star, and I’d get to travel,” she said. “You know, as a kid, you think that stuff — and I liked to sing a lot!” She laughed and then added, “Now I just sing for the kids here as I serve up their lunch, and I tease ‘em when they get too noisy at their tables!”
I thought about this for a moment, and then I smiled. “And here I am, a travelling performer, singing at the same small school on King Ranch,” I said. “And you know what, they’ll laugh and clap — and they may even remember a story or two I tell them for a few weeks or so. But they’ll most likely forget my name before I’m all the way out the door. But I’d be willing to bet that years from now they’ll still be talking about Ms. Ramirez, the lunch lady, and how she made ‘em laugh in the middle of long, hot, boring days at school. And I bet they’ll even remember your songs!”
Ms. Ramirez laughed and took my hand. “Thank you for that…,” she said.
I smiled, then added, “Not at all. This has been a real blessing to me!”
Then she said, “I guess this is one of those God moments, isn’t it?”
I’ve thought about this exchange a lot through the years. And what I’m starting to understand is that they’re all God moments, aren’t they? As it turns out, there are lots of ways to be privy to the Kingdom of God, to be a vehicle of joy or curiosity — or a connection to hope.
To experience this firsthand, I think, must surely begin with getting out of our own way, so that we can find God in the way. I think sometimes we have to get a little bit lost in order to be found — and to find God.
Maybe that’s a little of what Jesus meant when he said, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, but those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” This whole idea also brings to mind the great closing line in the Wesleyan hymn, “Lost in wonder, love and praise.”
This Sunday, in our “Life – the Exquisite Risk” series, we’ll look at a second way to connect more deeply with God: the path of becoming “lost in wonder, love and praise.”
I hope to find you there!