Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost

It was Easter morning in Kenya and we were in a bus making our way from Kisumu to Kijabe. All along the road we saw groups of people walking and running to church. Some were singing as they went while others were almost skipping in anticipation of the service. There were congregations meeting in churches while others were simply clustered in open fields around a large cross planted in the ground as a sign of the place to worship.

Every Sunday – every day – is colorful in Africa but that day was especially so. Robes, headdresses, suits and ties were brilliant everywhere and on everyone. Had we not been so far from home on Easter morning it would have been perfect. But we were not really a part of it. We were driving through all of it on a bus and everyone was quiet and preoccupied with the beauty of the people, the hills, the road, and the morning itself. All of us were thinking about missing home on Easter but everyone knew however special our own celebrations would be this morning they would be mild compared to what we were witnessing. It seemed like all of creation was joined together this morning in rejoicing.

The best kind of travel provides a space for reflection in between the visits and experiences. The words of J.R.R. Tolkein are true: “Not all those who wander are lost.”  Yet, all morning I had been chewing on what a friend had described earlier as “losing the plot line of his life.” For him, he was experiencing what Wendell Berry said so well:

It may be that when we no longer know what to do

we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go

we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

That did not reflect what I was feeling as we bounced along between mountains and streams. I had not lost the plot line and knew I had actually found my real work. It was not desperation or even restlessness. It was not an identity crisis or half-time anxiety. It was a sense of wondering how to describe – to myself and others – what my real work was. Every ten years in one way or another it was an exercise I would go through. I never planned it but it always came around every decade or so. 

If you know anything about my work you know it is fairly amorphous. Since I left the easily defined work of teaching I have not had a career that fit into a category. I remember once mentioning retirement and my friend said, “Retirement? What would you retire from?” It’s true but it also has made it difficult to answer that first question in any conversation, “So, what do you do?”  I’ve used the metaphor of being a quilt maker or a weaver at times. I put pieces together and try to find the patterns between people, resources, ideas, and opportunities. It is satisfying – just difficult to explain. 

The Messenger

It was especially so that morning for some reason. I wanted to either find a new metaphor on the trip between Kisumu and Kijabe or get a clearer sense of the value of my work.

The bus pulled into a filling station for gas and we all jumped off for drinks and a stretch. I went into the little store to look around and wait to get started again. Grabbing a soft drink and going up to the counter to pay I was distracted and thinking about Easter morning and my own conversation with myself. As I reached out to pay, the woman at the register held my hand for longer than necessary. She looked me straight in the eye and said “Bless the work of your hands, my brother.”

Tears suddenly welled up and I was just barely able to thank her without telling her why. She had been the messenger that morning. That is what I was missing. It wasn’t the definition or a new metaphor. It was the blessing of the work of my hands – whatever that might be. I have never wondered since what I was meant to do.

I say all this because there might be someone reading or listening to this who is having the same experience. It may not be on a bus in Kenya on Easter but you are wondering what you are doing and whether or not you too have lost the plot line of your life. I would just like to say to you “Bless the work of your hands, my friend.” 

I wish I could be there in person to speak that to you.

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