Saturday, November 5, 2016
“Signs must be read with caution. The history of Christendom is replete with instances of people who misread the signs.” ― Sheldon Vanauken
When I had just been at my new post as pastor of St. James United Methodist Church in Stoneham, Massachusetts (about ten miles north of Boston), for a couple of months, I got a phone call one rainy night in October, 1988. A woman member told me her husband had just been rushed to the hospital and could I please go to be with him as she was bedridden and couldn’t go. Of course I could, I told her. The hospital was in the nearby town of Malden, so it shouldn’t be hard—except it was. I grew up in West Texas where all the towns were laid out like they were on graph paper. You could tell where you were just by looking at one sign post. Everything was square and regular. Not so in the Boston area where they had simply paved over old Indian trails, cow paths, and followed every stream, river, and creek. To make things more difficult, they had a habit of not putting the street you were on up on the sign, they would just mark the side streets. Add to that that it was night and it was raining. Still, I started out full of optimism. I was right to be optimistic because every two or three blocks there was a highly reflective blue sign with a big “H” for hospital on it with arrows to direct me. It took almost a half hour to go just five miles, but I made it to the hospital and was able to pray with and calm the man who had a mild heart episode but would be going home the next day. He thanked me profusely and I left. Going home was another matter all together. There were no big, reflective blue signs with a large “H” for home to guide me back. Did I mention that the Boston area has more one-way streets than anyplace in the world? Sometimes, I could see where I needed to go but I just couldn’t get there. I drove in many circles I’m sure before I got to Highway One in Saugus. There, I found a pay phone (this was before cell phones) and called Karen to see if she could help. Alas, she had no maps and no clue. While I was talking to her, I saw a highway sign that said “New Hampshire 40 miles” and I told Karen not to worry, I now knew how to get home. You see, New Hampshire is only about an hour north of Boston and the main highway coming back into Boston from New Hampshire went straight through Stoneham where I lived. Yes, it was a bit out of the way, but I knew how to do it. About an hour and a half later, I pulled into my home driveway with a big smile on my face. I had been to another state to get back to my house which was only a few miles from the hospital, but by God and thank God, I was home.
Sometimes, God gives us big, blue signs to follow and sometimes God makes us rely on what we already know to figure things out. Sometimes, you have to go in the opposite direction in order to get where God wants you to be. I went to Peru to end up in Africa. Where are you going? Is God guiding you? Remember, you can get there from New Hampshire.