Staring Down Train Tracks

That's a long way....

That’s a long way….

The view is daunting; overwhelming, to a degree. Staring down train tracks – specifically the ones in this picture – can be as intimidating as they are miraculous. The long rows of steel and iron have sat where they are for decades, giving the impression that whatever has passed through here has done so without fail and without interruption for quite a while. Longer than many people’s lives, no doubt. It’s a fascinating realization, at least to me; one I claim due to my heritage. My grandfather worked on trains, my father made a living in steel, and now my youngest brother wishes to make trains some day. There’s definitely some “steam and iron” in our bloodline. And that’s a really cool thing.

My family’s path hasn’t always been as clear as these train tracks though. In hindsight, sure – we can look back and see the patterns of chosen vocations – but human foresight is not always so resolute. Physical train tracks, however, can be planned out, laid down, and carried forward so that we may see the entire journey. And if there are trees, rocks, a small crevasse blocking the path – well, we simply remove them. Obstacles are no longer obstacles; only the track remains. The distance between Point A and Point B is bridged.

I’d love to get super-philosophical with this concept. Straight roads; man’s desire for clarity; man’s need for land domination; man’s inner struggle for authority – there’s a plethora of ones I could go into. But I’d rather not go down that route. None of those topics apply to why I took the picture. Rather, I snapped it for quite the opposite: to remind myself of how I should not be thinking.

Men, in general, have an innate yearning to be visionaries. To claim what’s been set before them and make it their own. I feel that pressure daily and at times, it can be utterly maddening. But in some sense, I enjoy the challenge. After all, it’s freeing when a plan comes together. And equally frustrating when it does not, but it’s even more frustrating when the plan is hidden from your sight. I used to think that the last option was the most difficult one to deal with – to work around; to navigate. But I have since come to understand that there is a fourth road, one that’s not as easily discernible unless you find yourself in the midst of that road: it’s when a vision is cast ahead of you, the road is open for the taking, and all that need be done is begin. But once you start, and you see the path is without deviation, you begin to wonder to yourself – is this a trap? Am I seeing the big picture so that I can be trapped by it?

Alright, so I’m getting a tiny bit philosophical here.

I say this only because I know so many who are staring down train tracks, wondering if where they are headed is some sort of a trap. They see the finish line, but for some reason, that’s the problem. Is my career going to fulfill me? I’m a single parent, what does that mean for my dating life? Some external force seems to be dictating the path. Point A to Point B appears to be set in place and the journey doesn’t look to be a “enjoyably-manageable” one. “What will I do if I get stuck halfway?! I won’t be able to go anywhere!”

Don’t be discouraged by this. External pressure should not dictate internal longing. Using my own life as an example, I didn’t want to be controlled by external forces. So I asked if He (God) could help me out with that. That seemed like a good place to start. What’s funny, in retrospect, is that when I asked God how to do this; asked Him to set a vision before me – He actually did it. He gave me a clear path – devoid of those external pressures – showing me where to go. But here’s the strange part: I buckled. For when I saw the enormity of that vision in its entirety, I got frightened. Whoa. “What if I get stuck on these tracks? Is this all you have for me?!” The clear path was there, but now it looked like a one-way ticket to a trap. And I hated feeling that way, especially since I asked for it in the first place!

So what gives in this scenario? Why did I suddenly feel this way? The answer is actually very simple: I still wanted to trust in my own devices, which in turn, made the destination appear impossible to get to. And that sort of thinking can lead to immobility; it can also lead to “trap-mindedness”. It’s an invitation for external forces to once again play a factor – the very thing you asked to be guarded against. “If I get stuck though,” you may say. “I can only go backwards, right?” Well, and this will sound cliche’, you have to trust that the obstacles will be removed – just as they had been when you first asked for help. You see, God hasn’t changed; only our perception of where we are on the tracks has changed. Getting “stuck” can merely be a matter of losing faith, disabling ourselves based on an experience we had. The key is – and by no means is it an easy one – reengaging the original vision. Reminding ourselves of who brought us there, who cast the die, and who set the path for trotting. It wasn’t a family member who told you aren’t good enough; it wasn’t an article you read about the impossible nature of dating;  and it wasn’t a bad experience that you believe should define you. None of these things bring life. And none of these things take you further down the tracks.

If that much is true, then do not lose heart wherever you are on the path. I’m forever learning this myself. Slowly, it’s becoming clearer to me how God desires us to have faith in His foresight, not our own. Getting caught up in the vision, its size and scale, invites too many factors that shouldn’t matter. So do not entertain what lies in the woods. Instead, be encouraged by the path that’s calling you forward. Whatever that may be.

 

When you witness others fail

I’ll admit it. I’ve had times when I enjoyed watching another person fall short. It’s not that I am an evil person; I just feel like people should get what they deserve. And what they deserve, is a swift hand of punishment for their crimes. Crimes against me or someone else, of course. Like justice has been served, right? Who says that this person should have everything that he wants? Why not me? Those are the initial thoughts and feelings I may have, depending on the situation. Sound familiar to you? I’m sure it does.

And I’m also sure that in those fleeting moments, you find two very distinct voices crying out from the inside. The first one says something like this: “Yes, he finally got what was coming to him. Bout time too. Now I can get back to feeling better about myself.” While the other voice says something like this: “Why would you even think that? Imagine what he is going through or if that were you. How might others react if that had been your failure?”

Well, what we have here are two very different responses to a singular event. Let’s take a closer look.

Indeed, a question of character is raised depending on which of these voices you hear first. Moreover, which of these voices is more audible to you is also of concern. Why? Well, think of it this way: what we feed, ultimately grows. And what grows, beckons more attention so it can continue to grow. So if you’re always indulging in voice number one, then you are continuously reinforcing a concept that people get what’s coming to them. And to take this one step further, that you alone are a proper judge as it pertains to proper punishment. Yikes. God complex, anyone? But, if you are feeding voice number two, then your immediate reaction is not so self-serving. And it’s not as cynical either. Heck, it may make life more manageable too. What a thought, eh?

So which sounds more appealing? I’m sure that most people would agree with the second option. It’s a “win-win” for all parties involved, but it’s also that much harder to do. Why? Because inwardly, we can hide our intentions towards others. We can witness someone falter and keep our hidden agendas to ourselves. We aren’t required to parade around with our inner thoughts plastered to our foreheads (what a thought though!) – so we can “fake” it, if you will. There is certainly a fear of being exposed, but that fear is discarded since we know that no one else can see what we see. And what we see are our truest of intentions. Kept for us, and only us.

This appears to be the safest route, but it’s actually the most treacherous. What we keep hidden remains close to our hearts and what remains close to our hearts eventually dictates all other facets of our life. In a way, we slowly destroy relationships with others just because of a little jealousy. If I’m really honest with myself, I can say that I feel that way at times. But wouldn’t it be such a relief to not have those secret agendas? To not be worried about who you gossiped to about who? I, for one, would love to experience that daily if I could. I know people who can’t wait to share the latest news on someone else’s problems. I’m sure you know of some yourself. And they burst like a flooded dam when they’ve got the “goods” on somebody. Why though? What did this other person do to deserve such ill favor from someone? The failure alone is usually harsh enough, isn’t it?

So why not kill that self-righteous monster before it rears its ugly head? Sounds idealistic, right? As in, “it can’t be done.” Sure, of course it sounds daunting, but it’s an idea that everyone would admit to wanting while few will admit to trying. So once again, why not try it? It’s something that warrants our collective attention. Internally, externally, and all the way through.