Unexpected Change of Course
Just a week or so ago, I left work with the intent of running a quick errand across town before heading home to share dinner with my awesome wife. But as I traveled down the road I felt would be best to quickly complete my task in the way I wanted, I came to a railroad crossing.
Now I have crossed these tracks an infinite number of times over the years I have lived in this area, and never once have I encountered a train passing through during any of the times I have passed them over. But on this day, just as I approached, the signal lights began flashing and the rails came down. Not only did a long train slowly pass through at its snail-like inner-city speed, but it actually came to a complete stop with the final car of the train parked right across the road in front of me.
In a short amount of time a significant amount of cars piled up on the road behind me. Very quickly many of those drivers lost patience and whipped their cars around to find another possible route to wherever they were going. But I felt a mixture of both stubbornness and patience (if the two emotions can exist together at the same time). Patience in that I felt I really wasn’t in a super big hurry to get where I wanted to be, and yet a stubbornness that I wasn’t going to let the train deter me from where and how I wanted to get there.
10 minutes went by, and no movement from the train whatsoever.
I began to reason to myself, “Well, surely as soon as I turn around the train will move away and then I will feel foolish for having given up and lost patience right before the way I desired opened up before me.” But eventually, after about 15 minutes, reason won out and I decided that perhaps someone was trying to tell me that I should go a different direction after all.
I began to ponder upon these events as I drove away, and wondered how many times unseen hands direct our paths, perhaps averting us from potential danger without our ever even knowing it. “Am I grateful for such tender mercies beyond my comprehension or do I grow impatient because I didn’t get my way?”
I also wondered how many times I had wasted precious moments and opportunities of my life by waiting stubbornly for “my way” to come to pass. Thinking that by just willing things to be, it would surely happen. “In those stubborn times I try to impose my will above God’s will for me, do I miss priceless opportunities that were waiting to be claimed if I had been willing to go another path?”
Let me give a recent example of what I’m talking about:
Last week I was conducting some employee interviews with some of my co-workers. Most of these interviews were scheduled for about 15 minutes in length to discuss some pertinent work-related issues for each employee. But on this day, my discussion with one particular co-worker ended up being about 45 minutes in length. The interesting thing was that the conversation ranged from not just work related issues, but also covered how basic, decent human relations mattered, and how our perspective can change our lives not only at work, but in our families and with those we love. It was a wonderful, uplifting conversation (at least for me) and although it spilled over into both of our lunch break time, I left feeling it had been truly beneficial for both of us.
After leaving that prolonged interview, I left to run grab a quick bite to eat in the short amount of time I had left. Now usually, during my lunch break, I drive to a quiet location not far from work, where I can have some precious moments of peace and solitude to ponder, read from a good book I always keep in my car, or something else relaxing and rejuvenating. This personal, uninterrupted time is very sacred and important to me.
On this particular day, despite the fact that I had little lunch time left, I felt I should swing into a local gas station and grab a quick drink to take with me. Upon entering the convenience store, I ran into a woman from my ward, who is good friends with my wife. Her and her husband had just recently returned from out of state, where they had been consoling their children whose young son had passed away unexpectedly in the night. It was the second grandchild lost in this small family, and the tragedy struck deeply to all those involved.
Instead of my plan to grab a quick drink and retreat off into my moments of solitude, I spent nearly 15 minutes conversing with this wonderful woman as she expressed the still raw emotions of what their family was going through. I offered what pitiful words of comfort I could, but mostly just mourned with her, and shed tears for that brief period of time. As we were about to part ways, she shared a simple but powerful testimony with me about the eternal nature of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and how that gave her strength to keep going on. I am not sure if anything I had to say affected her in any way, other than offering my heartfelt condolences at their loss, but her inner strength and testimony affected me deeply.
What I learned that day, is that sometimes we have goals in our life, or in just a simple part of a normal day. We want to go somewhere and get something done that we think is important. And we want to do it when and how we want it to be done.
But those railroad markers sometimes come down, and our lives are directed along a different route than what we initially desired. Sometimes we may never know the reason why, and other times the reasons become very clear in wonderful and deeply moving ways that we are so glad we got to experience them.
That day at the train tracks allowed me to realize that I should remember to just be grateful for the journey, no matter where that road takes me. In the end, I still got where I most wanted to go.
I got to see some different sites along a different route than I normally might have taken.
And I still made it home to share a wonderful evening with my beautiful wife.