I grew up five miles outside of a small Texas town. That five mile drive seemed like a huge part of my life for as far back as I can remember. When I was very young, the road was dirt during dry times and a wild adventure of mud and rain-birthed lakes when things got stormy. I remember days of not being able to get to town. My dad would go out in his truck and test the roads to see if they were passable, often coming upon a neighbor who was stuck in a ditch. I recall one particularly adventurous drive where we passed several abandoned cars on the side of the road, their occupants having bailed out to walk the remainder of the way to their homes. We slid past them while my dad stunt drove through impossible conditions, working to get us back to our own beds.
I remember one sunny day when we were headed home–we stopped at a peanut field that had already been harvested. It was a giant playground of dirt that looked completely sumptuous to my brother and me. My mom pulled the car over and helped us climb through a barbed wire fence so that we could run and throw dirt clods at each other. It felt like we had all the time in the world. I remember feeling the grit of that dirt in my teeth and the squirmy sensation of socks filling with it as we jumped across plow rows in our school shoes.
A tree sat to one side of this rugged path home that looked like the profile of a man’s face, silhouetted against the big sky. He had a large leafy nose that jutted out in a friendly way. To my brother and me, he seemed to stand there day in and day out just to greet us, nose-first. We called him Mr. Green. When the county came in and paved over the dirt lane that had brought us so much adventure, Mr. Green was chopped down and dragged away without fanfare.
The paved road marked a new phase of this five-mile trek. Suddenly we could get home quickly and with ease. No rain impeded us. No chains needed to be carried in the back of trucks to help pull neighbors out of the mud. My parents traded in their 4-wheel drive vehicles for something smaller, something more tame. And in some ways the new road tamed our experience of living in the country. The excitement of newly-formed rain lakes on the thoroughfare was replaced by new neighbors, more traffic moving in our direction, and faster and easier trips to town.
It was still a special experience at times. I remember nights when I was 16 or 17 years old, driving myself home from high school football games in the fall while it’s still sticky and sweaty in Texas. Some nights the moon would be so bright that I could have turned off my headlights and easily been led home. I could see the silvery outline of trees and cows and houses all the way to the horizon. I would roll down the windows of the old truck that I drove in those days, and listen to the sound of the country at night. Crickets, grasshoppers, and frogs filled the midnight air with their songs. The wind blew my hair in all directions.
I felt a magical combination of freedom and security, knowing that I was experiencing something amazing, like a special secret, this moment in the night, but that loving parents were awake and awaiting my safe return. It was the best kind of freedom: the kind that comes with a security net. This, too, was an adventure. It was just a different kind than the wild days of my parents fighting our way home through the wind, rain, and mud.
A road makes a great metaphor. I doubt any concept in the history of the world has been more often taken figuratively than the idea of a road. Even Jesus proved the allure of the metaphorical road. Today we often speak of life as a journey or our big decisions as paths. We talk about coming to a fork in the road where choices must be made. We even dream of setting our children on certain pathways to success or godliness. I suppose it’s only natural that when I think about these days of my life I remember the wilds and the wonder of the road to my childhood home.
I have to tell you, God has set me on some wild paths lately. Or maybe the better word is unfamiliar. I’m on a road I’ve never travelled before, and it’s muddy and messy and I’m slip-sliding around out here. I’m not driving. I’m sitting in the backseat white-knuckling this ride, and the only reason that I can sometimes look at it as an adventure instead of impending disaster is because Jesus is in the driver’s seat. It’s like I’m seven years old again watching my dad stunt drive down the washed out road to our house.
Or sometimes it feels dark, and I go back to being 16 again, heading out across a pitch black countryside that is still somehow flooded with light and the music of the crickets, the wind in my hair. On these unfamiliar paths that God is carrying me to, I feel something familiar, too. I feel that special combination of freedom and security. Freedom to make bold choices for the glory of God, to feel joy in the midst of hard times, to enjoy peace when the road bends in an unexpected direction. And security, remembering who is driving, who is providing the light and the music and the wind in my hair when I’m traveling through the dark places.
It’s funny what God brings to mind. He ministers to my heart through the most ordinary things. I remember a dirt road. I remember a dark night. I remember His goodness.