by Laura Johnson
I knew the road was there, it was just doing a spectacular job of hiding. Like buckets of cotton balls pouring onto my car’s windshield, the snow ravaged my surrounding landscape, allowing me to see only a few yards in front of me. White-knuckles clenching the steering wheel, I crawled slowly down the highway.
Often the only way for folks who want to see each other in the Midwest during the holidays is to drive in conditions the state highway patrol would advise against. Crazy, yes. But we do it to be together.
This particular Christmas I was driving to see my grandparents in northern Minnesota. What typically took seven hours turned into a 12-hour car ride of desperation. This was my first winter in Iowa, and I had never driven in snow before—let alone a blizzard. When the storm warnings were announced for the night before Christmas Eve, I got in my car and headed north, hoping I could beat it. Not the case. About halfway there, the weather turned even worse. But it was either move forward or go back, so I kept going. The only thing to do was roll at a turtle’s pace, stay in the middle of the road to follow the yellow line, and pray. Either I was getting through it, or I wasn’t. That was it.
Tripping on road
Say you want to find yourself. The best way to do that, if you take the word of writers Jack Kerouac and Hunter S. Thompson or film director Cameron Crowe, would be to get in the car and drive. (These American artists might also suggest including drugs but I disagree.) What you need is good music and a good companion to talk to, and even the companion isn’t necessary. Talking out loud to yourself and God can be enlightening.
Road trips happen for two reasons: Either you’re too poor to fly or you really want to experience God’s glorious earth firsthand. As someone who has logged many miles in the car for both reasons, the latter one is where the most opportunity for spiritual growth awaits.
Saul found himself on the road to Damascus, and two disciples discovered the resurrected Jesus walking on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24: 13-32). The Bible shows that the act of traveling and not the actual arrival has the power to change lives. Unfortunately, for most people who take road trips across North America, God is not revealed through a bright light or in the form of Jesus. It just isn’t that obvious. And this is the frustration of the call to faith. Why doesn’t God appear to us on a regular basis? How can we really know who we are if God doesn’t tell us exactly what God wants from our lives?
So what do you look for?
Take the yellow line in the center of the road I followed on my snowy drive through Minnesota. It was all I could see. Yet I knew if I stayed with it, I would eventually get to my destination. Jesus has made his followers a few promises. He said he would come again, and he said all who believe in him will have a new life. If we follow his teachings we will eventually make it to the ultimate destination—everlasting life. But before that comes life here on earth.
In the real world in which we live daily, it is difficult to break free long enough to hear your calling. But you must. And what better way than to be in the middle of nowhere? Summer is an obvious time to take a road trip. Those with adventurous spirits are the ones who persevere through conditions of the winter.
I don’t know if it was the all-wheel drive on my car or the fact that so many people were praying for my safe arrival, but on that horrible night in December I made it to my destination. I stumbled into their home after midnight and my grandparents greeted me with open arms. They told me how happy they were to see me, how glad they were I had braved the journey many would have avoided and how they loved me.
The road isn’t always easy but God will be there waiting for us when we reach the end. What we learn about ourselves along the way is what matters most.
In memory of Paul V. Hansen 1930–2012.
Laura Johnson is a Lutheran who lives in Sioux City, Iowa. There she edits the local alternative weekly magazine. She is originally from Seattle, went to college in California, has a lot of family in Minnesota, and has a boyfriend in Cleveland. She takes road trips often.
This essay give me hope that I too will find my way. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed, lost and wondering what my true purpose is, here on earth. I guess if I just keep following the ‘yellow line’ God will lead me to my true calling.
I used to drive from Saginaw, MI to Midland, MI every Tuesday and Saturday evenings for Bible Study. Your essay reminded me of one of these road trips when the 45 minute ride turned into almost two hours. There WAS no yellow line visible–only the slight indentation of the snow along most of the side that showed me where the road ended and the tops of a few of the mileage markers. I could not agree MORE that such times do indeed provide amazing ways to learn about oneself *and* God’s faithful generosity! My hosts had tied several red plastic bows at the end of their long driveway and their tails were whipping in the wind when I spotted them–they so reminded me of the red rope Rahab used to help Joshua escape! …and, then I escaped the storm in their warm home of love and hospitality!
What a wonderful observation! I have experienced many similar experiences in the past when traveling to Grandparents with our small children after Christmas (husband is pastor). Tt was always a 10 hour drive to Osage IA from Nebraska. The ride was beautiful in the glittering snowbanks. A heavenly homecoming greeted us when we drove up in the dark of night to the home of grandma and grandpa….a lighted candle in every window and warm hugs for each of us!
Thank you for this reflection, I am sharing it at my young women’s/people who care about young women Bible study tonight, and giving you credit of course. I’m also from the Seattle area, PLU and Luther Sem alum. I’d be thrilled if you stopped to have coffee with me on your next drive from Iowa to north MN, I’d love to hear more about your story! (I had a similar experience swearing through my first blizzard in MN, first winter in MN with my newlywed husband, first year of my grad program. Talk about ‘learning as you go’ and God being present whether you want God to be or not!!)