The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps Proverbs 16:9 (ESV)
In a moment a fork in the road appears. The highest and lowest points of our lives may come upon us like a hairpin turn. We do not see it coming. I remember one of those.
As newlyweds, we were 20-somethings helping a brand new church in a Southern California beach town. We both were raised in the Bay Area all of our lives so this move was a big fork in our journey and an exciting one. The group of young adults we met and the young pastor we served were full of life and committed to the fantastic cause of reaching people who were not easily interested church.
I remember nightly walks on the beach all the way to the town pier with my new bride. The sandy beach with fire pits, volleyball, and late night conversations with these friends made life rich. We lived by the beach access in a tiny apartment. We had a black and white TV with a cardboard box for a stand and an old sofa that was circa 1962. Both of us could not even fit in the kitchen at the same time.
It seemed that life could not get too much better. We were living for a cause. We had each other. Friends and mentors supported us. This all made up for the embarrassing answer to the question my father-in-law rightfully asked of me before our move. He asked, “How will you earn a living?” The church was to pay a stipend that was not even enough to cover our rent.
My wife worked part time for an office and was finishing her post-college teaching certification and I was taking classes at a local community college while being mentored to teach piano to little kids as well as leading worship for the fledgling church.
One evening our youth leader was watching a beach side mansion and of course she invited us to enjoy the spoils of her side job of house sitting. Here my wife and I were enjoying a literal highpoint simmering in the rooftop hot tub, gazing at the ocean vistas and experiencing the shared bonding moment you just feel when young and with friends your age. I remember breathing in and exhaling, “life cannot be much better.” Then a fork appeared.
Our young pastor called us down from the roof. He sat us down and with great pain and tears told my wife and I that her father suddenly died. We were stunned. My father-in-law was a relatively young man still in his 40s. This event instantly colored things for us. We decided soon after to move back to our old city and be with family, attend Bible school and leave such a life we enjoyed and people who we deeply loved in such a short time.
All it takes is a moment for many things and everything to change. God reminds me often of the beach year. It was a mountaintop. It was not a destination, but a fork on the journey. So many great things and beautiful people have been filled with what was lost. But, yes, something was lost. All in an instant what we experienced before evaporated.
In difficult and challenging times, the lowest points in life can change. I know, not every season offers such a quick ascent or descent. However, both are possible. And, hope says that in the darkest legs of the journey that forks will appear as well. They might emerge through a fog of our pain, doubt and loss. Or, they may come through muddled choices or whimsical decisions. But, they will arrive. And, you can never go back to the way things were—thankfully, for the better as well as the worse.
The beach was a place in time, just like some of the darker seasons in my life story. The joy is in moving forward to the next fork. The next step in the journey will change me. The beach shows me that I need to embrace the highs and lows and the in between times, too. In a moment, any of it or all of it can change.
Are you hoping for that new fork to appear or the current one to end? Or, are you hoping the opposite?