On The Road: Abilene & Beyond
But in looking back at the places I've been The changes I've left behind I look at myself to find I've learned the hard way every time. ~Jim Croce~
Life naturally comes with some uneven terrain. Its landscape is seldom flat, easy, or without jagged outcroppings. There are always steep mountains to climb and low valleys to traverse.
The trick, if that’s an acceptable way of phrasing it, is to bank all the energy and wisdom gathered on sunny mountaintops so that it is available to be drawn on while wading through troubling canyons.
Long ago, by virtue of bumping over lots of nasty potholes, Anita and I determined that life is process and preparation for the next turn in the road. We also came to understand that there are neat moments along the way when the metaphor and reality come into perfect alignment--we're in the midst of experiencing that just now.
We are on a cross-country journey, which is enjoyable and full of sweet surprises. We've already reconnected with old friends, met new ones, and cut through territory we've never seen before--there are places ahead that we enthusiastically anticipate.
Currently we're in the heart of the Great Plains, spending a few days with fellow sojourners in and around Abilene, KS. Named from a reference in the third chapter of Luke's gospel, Abilene means city of the plains. It surely fits that description--a community surrounded by immense open spaces of gently rolling terrain.
Abilene is situated in the Flint Hills area on the north bank of the Smoky Hill River. It had its beginnings as a stagecoach stop in 1857. Ten years later Joseph G. McCoy established large stockyards, which were soon a flourishing business. The Chisholm Trail, on which cattle were driven overland from Texas, ended in Abilene--it is estimated that while it was in operation five million longhorns from Texas arrived in Kansas via the Chisholm Trail.
As the original end of the trail cow town, Abilene developed a reputation for being full of spit and vinegar. It put the wild into the west, becoming turf where the line between law and disorder was an ever shifting and oft-times erasable boundary. The infamous Wild Bill Hickok served a short stint as marshal in 1871.
The characters and events of that bygone era have been mythologized, but the legacy has not vanished. In twenty-first century Abilene, the independent cowboy mindset and culture is alive and kicking.
Deep in your blood or a voice in your head On a dark lonesome highway It finds you instead So certain it knows you, you can't turn away Something or someone has found you today. Genius or Jesus, maybe he's seen us But who would believe us I can't really say Whatever the calling, the stumbling or falling You follow it knowing There's no other way, there's no other way. . . ~Mary Chapin Carpenter~
There are zealots and preachers And readers of dreams The righteous yell loudest And the saved rise to sing The lonely and lost are just waiting to hear Any moment their purpose Will be perfectly clear And then life would mean more Than their name on their door And that far distant shore that's so near They'd hear the calling And stumbling and falling They'd follow it knowing There's nothing to fear Nothing to fear. . . ~Mary Chapin Carpenter~
- The Desert Wind￼
The Navajo Mission was established in 1947 for the purpose of reaching the Navajo People (Dinh) with the love of Jesus. Since that time, the mission has experienced many changes but all have led to a deeper relationship with the Dinh.
As the miles disappear behind us there's a spiritual aspect that keeps staking its claim on our attention. We read each other with a comfortable ease that comes from decades of sharing secrets and sorrows that no one else can ever truly know. When our life together is deeply considered, the highs overwhelm the lows--the joys certainly out-weigh the difficulties.
Most recently Anita and I have been in a crossroads season, which began as a sabbatical of sorts, but then morphed into a mondical and tuesdical. We've had a couple bouts of demanding answers from God, which were not forthcoming--overall it's been a peaceful and reflective time.
In this interval we've rediscovered that the sense of calling has no limits or self-imposed conditions--it never fades into the background. While we travel and savor the wonders of the countryside, what keeps capturing our musings is that we must appraise contemporaneous happenings in the context of God's Big Picture.
As always, the soundtrack of my life is an essential resource to tap into whilst engaged in wanderings. Mary Chapin Carpenter's The Calling is an exceptionally evocative song that gets inside my brain to scratch spots I didn't even realize were itchy. It's the first cut on the album by the same title, which was released in March 2007.
In the last few weeks I've frequently taken opportunities to give it another listen because it both soothes and challenges me. This may seem like an entirely silly idea, but it's as though Carpenter wrote it specifically for such a time as this in our lives.
As the words and images do their thing in my soul, I boldly toss it all up before the throne of grace, with full assurance that my grasp on what's up around the bend is severely restricted. I cannot say whether the next opportunity is an interlude to regroup and recharge, or some wondrous endeavor that goes far beyond my capacity to think or imagine. My responsibility is to keep the lines of communication open with the One who sees around every twisting turn.
The brand new adventure coming up on a near horizon has us antsy with excitement. We are heading to the Navajo Mission in New Mexico for a six-month term of voluntary service. There's been much encouragement, but also, we've been given several sideway looks that made me want to go check the mirror to see if a third eye had grown in my forehead.
Some have wondered if we're merely bugging out. And by the way, have we really given all the factors serious deliberation? With every financial asset in the pot, what will we do when our savings are gone?
Call me crazy, but there's a radically honest response to money matters: In contrast to the seductive American dream of affluence, there was a onetime carpenter named Jesus who stated that riches are not about accumulating stockpiles of material wealth--life is much more than the sum total of retirement plans and pension funds. The only relevance that remains is this: Do we really seek to allow the words of Jesus to shape our lives?
There is no easy way of explaining what God does in an individual's heart and perspective. A former comrade in arms once explained it to me with a flare of astute clarity: When things change, things change.
It really comes down to a sense of call. As we wrestled with this decision we prayed a handful of questions that emerged at previous intersections and quite likely will be revisited at some future juncture: What if this IS the open door God is providing and we do not walk through it? If not us, who? If not now, when?
It's strangely exhilarating to live for a spell at a crossroads.
I don't remember a voice On a dark, lonesome road When I started this journey so long ago I was only just trying to outrun the noise There was never a question of having a choice Jesus or genie, maybe they've seen me But who would believe me I can't really say Whatever the calling, the stumbling and falling I followed it knowing there's no other way there's no other way. . . ~Mary Chapin Carpenter~
The calling. It is intensely personal, and nearly impossible to define for others. Sometimes it can feel like one's antennae is picking up stations that no one else can tune in. Once it becomes settled, only those who have had similar episodes can relate.
A case study of the dynamics would reveal that the specifics are different for each one and often uniquely designed for the personality involved, but there is a common denominator. The calling always comes down to the fine-point of blank-check obedience, which sounds simplistic, but in all actuality, it's tightly wrapped complexity, which requires a lifetime to peel away all the layers.
With God's grace-saturated help, we'll faithfully persevere forward with no regrets. It can be problematic to move on, but in our life, it seems that it's always good-bye time somewhere, though instead of a lonesome farewell, we prefer, God be with you until we meet again.
Our short-term destination is set, but where the beyond is we have no clear direction. We are, however, in agreement with Mary Chapin Carpenter: Whatever the calling, the stumbling or falling, you follow it knowing there's no other way, there's no other way. . .
- Wanted Man
Wanted Man a.k.a. Ken R. Abell, seeks to be a blessing to others. He's a rake, a rambler, and a teller of tales who understands that there is strength in a story well told and well lived. To learn more, inquire or schedule him, visit this web site.
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