All Points North

Travel on Interstate 95 from Boston towards Maine and you will come to an area where a large green sign gives you the directive “New Hampshire, Maine All Points North”.

It is clear and without ambiguity. It gives direction to all who travel the highway, letting them know where they’re headed. It gives guidance.

Life doesn’t always give us those clear markers; the big green signs that declare to us, without question, where we are and where we are headed.

Every Thursday night my husband and I meet with a group of people who are asking some of the big questions of life.  Questions like “Why are we here?” “What is our purpose?” “Who is Jesus?” “If I am created by God, what does that mean?” “How am I supposed to live?” The conversation is lively and engaging. But it is also hard. This past week the question was “How do I receive guidance”.

It was this I thought about as I made my way on Friday morning to Freeport, Maine. I had never been to Freeport, but it didn’t matter. The markers were clear and there was no question that I was heading the right way. As long as I followed the highway and the Google Map I had printed on and 8 by 11 sheet of paper, I would make it to where I was going on time. And within minutes I reached that big green sign that said “All Points North” and I continued on my way.

Guidance in life is rarely as clear as large green signs on highways. There are many times when I wish there were giant signs that said “All Points North”.  While there are occasions where it is clear what decision I am to make, there are other times when I feel nothing, I have no direction.

Those are the times when the compass is absent, there is no map and Heaven is silent. The green sign, large with white lettering paid for by a state transportation authority, means nothing. While it may get me to Freeport, its purpose is limited to one highway, one trip, one conference.

Years ago while living in Cairo we came to a point where there was no sign.  We had simply circumstantial evidence that we needed to make a move. What that would look like and how it would be accomplished was impossible to predict, impossible to see clearly. Four years earlier we had been at another decision-making point and it was clear what we were supposed to do. The second time it was like someone put a blindfold on us for a child’s birthday party, spun us around three times and said “Go pin the tail on the donkey”. We were blindfolded and without our  bearings. We stepped out and slowly by slowly made our way to the path.

These two times couldn’t have been more different, yet they were both times when we were seeking guidance; where we prayed for guidance; where we begged for guidance. In one situation we had a big green sign that declared “All points north”, in the other – nothing but feelings.

It’s in retrospect that we can see signs. Not the big green one, but small mile markers that when driving fast you miss altogether. They are there, but small and hard to notice until you’ve arrived at your destination. It is then that we realize that there was safety at every mile, “proceed forward” at every hill and comfort at every turn and as unlikely as it seemed at the time, that was our guidance.

How are you guided and who do you look to for guidance? Have there been points and times where there is no map but you knew you were supposed to move forward? I would love to hear how others are guided in life. 

12 thoughts on “All Points North

  1. So I found this blog thanks to a couple of women I met the other day here in Cairo. I had the chance to tell them a little bit about how I came to volunteer here from a TCK background and they immediately pointed me in this direction. There is so much irony in that this last post of yours is talking about decisions.

    I just graduated from university in WA in May and am spending the year volunteering here and have found myself really floundering, trying to understand what it is that I’m doing. And what on earth I’m going to do when I get back to the states next year (my brother lives in Bolivia with his wife and my parents live in China – not exactly somewhere I can move to). I have been told so often to look to God to open and close doors, and I know that he will (he definitely did to put me here), but it scares me not knowing what direction my life will go in. Especially when I don’t have a goal that I’m working towards, or a dream.

    I guess there is a large part of me that is afraid of what God might ask. For once, I feel like I’m craving stability and just being in one place for more than three years, but I don’t know if I can do it. Does that make sense? I guess at this point I had a big green sign telling me what to do.

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    1. Oh this makes so much sense. I’m so glad you came by to read. What you describe feels very familiar to me. One memory in particular comes to mind — I had gone back to Pakistan to work as a nurse and ended up deported. I was terrified about what God would ask, kept on wondering why it happened – all of it. And I wish at least some of this could be easy but it’s not – none of it. I daily cried “God -show me the way” and that’s all I could do. At times like you describe I need the simplest of all prayers “Lord have mercy, hear my prayer, show me the way”. Thinking of you through this and so delighted that you came by.

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  2. Hi Marilyn,

    Just a couple of thoughts on your wonderful post above:

    Firstly, let me say that while not exactly a TCK, I did spend 30 years living in Massachusetts after being raised in England (I am now back home in England), I can appreciate a lot of what you say. Might seem odd, as British and American cultures are not as different as those you have crossed, but there were still adjustments to make, and leaving everything and everyone I knew was certainly a formative event in my life!

    On the subject of guidance, When I was in the very difficult time just before I came home I was thinking about my spiritual journey. A very good friend, who had read a poem I had written about seeking/being called to something, asked if I felt I had arrived and I realized that in some sense I had. It was like the Israelites who, after wandering in the dessert finally arrive at the promised land and God says to them “wherever the sole of your foot touches, that I have given you”. In other words, God has given us all things and we are, in a real sense, free to explore and possess. I think we often get too much into the mindset that God has this strict path for us to follow and we better not miss it. I am getting less and less of that opinion.

    The other thought on that topic is this: It is only possible to steer a ship when it is moving. Sitting still until you know the way to go is like a ship at dock waiting to be pointed in the right direction–isn’t going to happen. Start moving in the way that seems best and listen for that subtle on-going guidance moment by moment that may cause you to change your course. Our destination is not always (perhaps only very rarely!) the place we think it will be when we set out.

    God bless,
    David

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    1. So much insight in this comment – this is one of the reasons I love blogging. This in itself could be a blog post. I think I too went through a period of time where I felt like guidance was a strict path, any deviation would result in punishment, or worse, absence of God. I too feel I’m at a completely different place. Though there are times when Heaven still feels silent, I am far freer to move forward on faith. And I love your analogy of the ship. Thank you so much for taking the time to write this.

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  3. “. . .the sense that we live between worlds, never truly a part of either.” Marilyn, there’s a line from a Sharon McCrumb mystery (of all things) that I wrote down years ago and still love: “There is power in the borders of things:in the twilight hours that separate day from night, in rivers that divide lands, in the caves and wells that lay suspended between the earth and the underworld. The ancient holy days had been divisions between summer and winter and that border in time created a threshold for other things, , ,

    Sometime after reading that I learned the word “interstices”–the spaces between: no longer this but not quite that either. I guess I have always felt drawn to interstices because I have fallen into them so often, never quite fitting in anywhere.

    Not to romanticize your place as TCKs, but I do think there is power there. To be able to cross borders is magical.

    It is my experience that living in the cracks can be both exciting and secure. It has its own peculiar sadnesses and disorientations but everyone has difficulties of some kind or another.

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    1. This is such a perfect reply. You have articulated the job of the TCK – to become comfortable and secure living between worlds. It’s interesting – I don’t know many TCK’s who wish they had different backgrounds – we all love that we flew before we walked. For us the biggest difficulty comes when we are not crossing borders but are “sitting still” and “settling down”. Most of us have experienced deep community from birth and communicating across boundaries in our passport countries is the hardest of all. If you’re interested in more thoughts on TCK’s you may want to look at my post Saudade – a word for the third culture kid. People shared deeply in that post about their experiences of longing and belonging. Thank you – when you comment I always feel like I get to have a “let’s go for coffee” conversation instead of just a brief hello.

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  4. I have always been a quick decision maker. I come from something inside me and don’t spend a lot of time worrying about there being a right and a wrong way. As I have gotten older I have come to see this as a form of (my) faith. I trust the spirit inside me. I trust the goodness, love, and creativity in the world. I believe that every decision “works” and shapes my life in a particular way.

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    1. I have to say I envy this – although I’m far better than I used to be, it can still be a struggle to just make that decision and say “Ok – it’s done, now we move forward.” Others in the family (Namely spouse!) are far better at decisive action. I think it’s partially a TCK thing. Because of viewing the world from all these angles, I tend to view decisions from all different angles as well. I remember saying to one of my daughters a couple of years ago when she had a decision to make that I didn’t think there was a right or wrong decision in that case, that she had freedom to pick either and relax with that choice. She, having worked herself up, was incredibly relieved with this. It made me realize how crazy we can make ourselves. Thank for this and love your last sentence!

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      1. Third Culture Kid – it was a term coined in the 1950’s by a sociologist (David Pollock) “A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of [their] developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture may be assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background” so I would have more in common with the person from Finland raised in South Africa (and he or she with me) than either an American or a Pakistani because we both share the common experience of living a significant part of our lives in a culture other than our parent’s culture. There was very little research until the past 20 years. Now the term is common among expatriates whether they be business, diplomat, missionary or other. There are amazing things about this journey, but also the sense that we live between worlds, never truly a part of either.

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  5. YES! I SO understand what you’re saying! Right now I am at that very place – sensing in my heart that God has something more for me. That I need to step forward, to GO … and my human nature wants to know all the details. Sometimes I think we’re called just to simply step out, be willing to run the risk, be willing to trust a God that calls us out onto the water to walk by faith.

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    1. Love this comment Jessica. I’m right there with you. A nagging that says “There’s something more” but it won’t be realized until I step out. Thanks again for sharing your heart!

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