Thursday, April 17, 2014

On Un-Straight Paths

If you want to go west from North Carolina to Tennessee, there are several routes you can take. None of them are straight and none of them are easy.

The most straightforward way to go is via I-40, which follows the Pigeon River through the Pigeon River Gorge in the Great Smoky Mountains. Most everyone now agrees that blasting a route through the gorge was a mistake seeing how, every few years, a piece of mountain comes tumbling down, blocking the road for weeks or months at a time while highway crews clean the mess up and engineers scratch their heads and devise a new way to keep the mountains up and the road clear.

I have driven this stretch what seems like a million times since I first moved from Tennessee to Western North Carolina in 1986. But it wasn't until I had a newer car with a built in compass (I love those things) that I got a real kick out of driving the gorge. You see, you can be driving on I-40 West toward Tennessee and look up at your compass and it says you are heading east. And it is right. 

The road is not straight. It can't be straight. You have to trust the street signs and the map and believe that you will indeed get west, even though you are driving due east.

An even stranger setup takes place 50 miles east. Immediately west of downtown Asheville, NC is the not-so-harmonic convergence of 2 interstates as well as a surface street on the Smoky Park Bridge. Yes, these all meet on a bridge over the French Broad River. 

The Smoky Park Bridge is a dreadful thing and the bane of existence for anybody who has to drive it on a regular basis. I am convinced (but have never had it confirmed) that there must be more wrecks per linear foot of pavement on this bridge than anywhere else in the state. 

Three years ago I road with my newly permitted driving daughter as we crossed the bridge, and crossed three lanes ON the bridge, during rush hour while I was having a hot flash. Nothing scares me any more.

But the interesting thing is that when you leave downtown Asheville and head west out of town, as you cross the bridge, you are on I-240 West and I-26 East AT THE SAME TIME. It baffles the heck out of visitors and, well, going east and west at the same time kind of breaks the laws of physics. 

Driving west yet going east? Going east and west at the same time? It seems counterintuitive but get yourself a map and your bearings and it all makes sense. 

You see that I-40 has to follow the Pigeon River THROUGH the mountains so it doesn't have to go OVER the mountains and that involves, at times, an almost corkscrew level of winding in all directions. 

You see that I-26 comes from the north (even though it says it is coming from the west...sheesh!) and I-240 comes from the east and they have to cross the bridge together before parting ways a few miles down the road. 

With a map it all makes sense. 

As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts. — Isaiah 55:9

I have to remind myself of this. A lot. My life doesn't always seem to be heading where I think it should. There are too many twists and turns. I get carsick. It can seem like everything is going the wrong direction. It can seem like I am going the wrong direction.  I am tempted to doubt God's recommended route and am convinced that there must be an easier, more straightforward way. One with road signs that make sense, not road signs that say west when my compass says east. Not road signs that say west and east at the same time. 

I am on the ground. I can't see the map. God has the ultimate vantage point. He knows where the twists and turns are heading no matter how perplexing and counterintuitive they may seem. 

My job is the stay the course and trust the One who says "This is the way. Walk in it." (Isaiah 30:21)

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