Several years ago while living in Los Angeles, some friends and I left the urban wilds of the city behind and headed into the mountains to the northeast for the weekend. Once there I hoped to surround myself by trees actually native to the state and experience weather more reminiscent of a Washington summer. I’d lived in LA for at least 3 years, but the northwest damp still ran through my veins.
“Don’t you find the constant sun a little bit oppressive?” I learned to share this thought with only the trusted few who knew me well enough to realize that one such crazy idea didn’t necessarily indicate weakness of character.
If you map the road to Lake Arrowhead from LA on Google, it will tell you the 80 mile trip should take about an hour and a half. However, leaving after work on a Friday, we all knew there was little chance of making the trip in less than 3. But a drive with friends will make the time go more quickly, and we knew what we were getting into. At least we thought we did.
As we approached the foothills, some very un-So Cal weather started moving toward us. While it was still light enough to see the mountains, we realized they were partially covered in clouds. As one who had become accustomed to the idea that clouds had forsaken that land, this was a welcome sign. But as the evening darkness closed around us on our ascent, we began passing by and through smoky wisps leaving mist droplets on the windshield.
I love fog. It softens and muffles, it cloaks and makes the ordinary seem mysterious. I love walking in it and catching tiny droplets on my eyelashes. At first that drive reminded me of the last run of the day at Alpental before the lifts closed for the night, or coming home from a family trip to Mt. Rainier.
Soon, though, it became clear this was not a gentle, wispy fog. It thickened the further up the mountain we drove. By the time we turned onto Rim of the World Highway, the headlights seemed to aggravate the problem as they lit up the fog directly in front of the car, creating a wall of white.
The headlights of passing cars would appear suddenly when they were almost next to us. And the ominous name of the highway gave little comfort as we wondered what it was we couldn’t see to the right of the car. Visions of treacherous cliffs mere feet away fought their way into my head.
I was glad not to be driving, to instead entrust my safety to someone else that night. The friend who drove took the turns slowly, and kept close attention on the lines on the road for the few feet ahead of the car they were visible. That amount of alertness is tiring. And so is fear.
I think in the end it was closer to a 4 hour drive when we finally reached our destination. But we made it safely. The next morning I even managed to enjoy a solitary walk through the mist before the California sun burned it all off.
I’m reminded of this trip from time to time when I feel uncertain about the direction my life will take.
As I look ahead, I believe my ultimate destination is clear and decided. But the road I must travel to get there so often seems blurry. I find myself envious of people whose lives appear clearly laid out, who have already achieved some measure of their earthly dreams, or who at least know what those dreams are and have plans for pursuing them.
And sometimes I’m afraid. I look around and can’t see with certainty that I haven’t strayed from the path. What if there is a treacherous cliff nearby, or simply a dead end that will force me to backtrack?
Proverbs 16:9 is a simple verse with a profound message: “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.”
I’ve already decided I’m trusting the destination to Him, so why not trust every step of the journey to get there.
It seems an obvious choice, but it’s not always an easy one, requiring conscious and daily decisions to hold my plans loosely enough to welcome God’s guiding hand, to direct and re-direct each step I take. And I can be stubborn too, holding tightly to the plans I have made, because they’re mine and that makes them seem important. The fear and envy that accompany my attempts at directing my own steps are not worth the effort. It’s much better when I remember to leave each day in Hands more capable than my own.
On the way back down the mountain, heading home, we turned onto Rim of the World Highway, this time midday and beneath a brightly shining sun. To the right of the road, trees and houses, to the left a clear view over the rim of the cliff down to San Bernardino and out toward the San Gabriel Valley. Veering off course even a little would result in an abrupt end to the journey. The lines on the road, visible just a few feet in front of us two nights prior had kept us on track on the way up, had kept us safe. How clear it was looking back over the road we’d travelled, the great value of that guidance.