Today when I woke up, I laid in bed for a few extra minutes, thinking about the roller coaster weekend Traci and I just finished. I didn’t have to get out of bed right away, because -- with the exception of many glorious vacation days -- this was the first Monday in my adult life that I didn’t have to get up and go to work. On Friday, God put up a giant stop sign on our present journey!
Have you ever had those kinds of experiences? You know, where you had your life well planned-out in one direction, but then God steps in and mixes things up? When our family moved out to Michigan 22 months ago, Traci and I had the sense that this was going to be a long-term partnership with potential for our family to stay here for many years. We have come to love the camp and the people we work with, love the churches, youth pastors, pastors and students that we see throughout the year, and we’ve even come to embrace the snow (yes, all five months of it!) that covers the ground all winter. And Spring. And part of Fall.
So our plans included a long-term stop at Lake Ann Camp, but God’s plans were different. I thought we’d be at the camp for years to come, now we will be wrapping up our time here in the next six weeks. This morning I realize that there are key moments in life where our plans and God’s plans come into conflict, and the question we all must answer in those moments is simple: what do you do, when God puts up a stop sign in the middle of your plans?
As many of you know, I have really grown to love the sport of baseball. It’s a great game with such a rich American heritage, and it is full of life analogies (non baseball fans just stay with me, there’s a good analogy here!). A few days back I was watching a documentary about this beloved pastime and I saw some footage of famous plays in baseball history. I watched many classic baseball storylines like this one:
Bottom of the ninth, the home team is up to bat, and they are losing by two runs. There are runners on first and second, and of course, there are two outs. The pitcher and batter are dueling, it’s a 2-2 count (two balls and two strikes), but the batter has fouled off four extra pitches. So on the ninth pitch of the at-bat, the hitter made contact and sent the ball slicing into the right field corner.
The right fielder played the ball poorly, it bounced over his head and hit against the wall. The runner from second rounded third and scored easily, but the runner from first stumbled at second base before picking up a head of steam as he got to third. Seeing the runner’s mistake at second, the third base coach held up both hands as his player came to third, indicating he wanted him to stop running and not try for home. I don’t know if it was just the adrenaline racing through his veins, or if the noise of the crowd blinded him to the motions of the coach, but the baserunner ignored the stop sign and raced toward home plate.
At this point, the defender in right grabbed the ball after it bounced off the wall and made an amazing throw to the second baseman. The second baseman caught the ball, turned, and rifled it to the catcher at home plate. As the runner slid into home, the catcher blocked the plate, applied the tag and held on to the ball. The runner was out and the home team lost by one run. The roaring crowd was instantly silenced and everyone -- with the exception of a few visiting fans and 25 visiting players with their coaches -- went home deflated.
Stop signs are important.
I get that baseball is just a game (although I’m inclined to agree with George Will who wrote, “Baseball is just a game. And the Grand Canyon is just a hole in the ground.”), and ignoring a stop at third generally won’t cost you your life. However, I’ve driven in countries where stop signs were treated as vague suggestions, and the amount of accidents and traffic fatalities was astounding. Ignoring a stop sign while driving could be fatal!
God doesn’t throw up stop signs lightly. He has a plan and a purpose for every stop sign, every detour, every U-turn, every dead end and every part of your (and mine!) journey. When He turns the green light, red, when He abruptly (abruptly to us) halts the flow of traffic or changes the map you’re following, He is sticking to a bigger plan that you and I don’t have the privilege of knowing. God knows where He ultimately wants us to finish this journey, and our job is simply to trust Him and hold to the course He has given us.
Sometimes, God lets us see far into the future of where a particular path leads. Sometimes He throws up a giant stop sign and gives you six weeks to figure out what He’s got in store for you next. In either case, God is still leading.
And while we wait I’ve discovered something not that remarkable, and honestly, a bit boring (I was really hoping to have one of those profound spiritual Ah-ha’s that would lead to a best-selling book). When you wait, you do the same things you should be doing on the journey. You pray, and seek God’s wisdom, favor and direction. You pray believing that He is in control, He is good, and He will not leave His children without purpose or direction. Waiting isn’t an excuse to abandon our roles as believers (Love God, love others), it’s an opportunity to serve in ways we couldn’t while we were in motion. You read the Bible and draw comfort for your aching heart, you gain wisdom for future work and you keep letting the Word reveal areas of your life where you need to grow. You surround yourself with God’s people and let them help you along the way. Traci and I have truly been overwhelmed throughout the weekend by the number of people who have offered us housing, jobs, money, wisdom, food and most all, friendship and prayer during this unexpected stop. Having habits of prayer, Bible reading and true Christian fellowship during the journey, make it easier (easier...not easy) to keep them while hanging out at a stop sign.
We don’t know what’s next for us on this remarkable God-given journey. Right now, we’re at a stop sign waiting for some new direction. What we do know is this: following God’s stop sign is better than making our own path. So we’ll wait for Him to show us what’s next.
Thanks for your prayers, friendship and support. Over the next 42 days we look forward to seeing what doors God will open, what doors God will close, and where our family will land next. Everything is open right now, and that’s what makes this time so exciting. Yes, elements of anxiety and fear can exist, but there is also a great sense of expectation as we wait for a new adventure to unfold. Yes, we’re working through a whole range of emotions during this break-from-the-action, but we’re resting firm in our faith in a God who loves us deeply.
The Overboard Life -- living the life of faith out of the comfort of the boat, and out on the water where Jesus is building His Kingdom -- is a daily commitment. While I wait for God to remove the stop sign, I’m renewing my desire to follow His lead where ever He chooses to take us. How about you? Has God thrown up a big stop sign in your life? Has the path suddenly taken an unexpected detour or U-turn? Will you commit anew to trust Him?
Go ahead and take the plunge, life is always better on the water!