The Best Beyond

My family lives in the country, and we love it. It’s how I grew up, and some part of my heart feels plain caged any time I’m in the city or the suburbs for too long.Out here with the mountains winking at me, I can breathe. Something tight releases.

The years after college when I had to live in the suburbs to find a job, something in my spirit always struggled, suffocated by the buzz and hum and alien pace. My husband and I dreamed and schemed about escape, and in God’s grace and timing, He sprung us perfectly.

Our children have never known any other kind of life. Our older daughter frets over waiting at traffic lights and goes deliriously crazy over seeing a Potbelly any time we venture out of the country. For our girls, going for an evening stroll doesn’t involve sidewalks, cookie-cutter houses, and perfectly manicured yards. It’s a romp down a dirt lane to the hardtop, stopping to pull grass for the horses that trot up to greet us, watching to see which calves will spook as they track us with wide-eyed stares, and picking whatever wildflowers happen to be growing along the road.

But every once in a while, we make the 3-hour door-to-door trek to the city, so our girls can experience a museum, ride a train, visit the zoo, or gaze at monuments. It’s a different sort of experience that rounds them out and makes us even more grateful for our quiet life. We tend to do these outings in the winter because we like the cold, and a lot of other people don’t. So that combination makes for less crowds, fewer lines, and a better experience.

Several weeks ago, we took our girls to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. Although they both enjoyed the day, our older daughter LOVED it. She got to see animals from the rainforest and polar regions that we had just covered in school, and she was mesmerized by a model of plate tectonics and water currents, two other subjects we had recently studied. And then, there was the highlight of the day–getting to hold a Madagascar hissing cockroach not once, not twice, but three times. She was in heaven! Yes, my little girl hates butterflies, but is a hard-core lover of creepy-crawlies. We’re still working on convincing her that butterflies ARE in fact bugs.

A few weeks later, we returned to the city again, this time to see the National Christmas Tree. We arrived a little early, so we could surprise our girls by taking them for a ride on the carousel. Our girls love carousels, and we don’t see them too often so getting to ride one is always a special treat.

On on our long walk from the Metro stop to the carousel, our older daughter kept asking if we were going to the Natural History Museum. We told her no, and she fussed because she wanted to go there instead of the unknown destination toward which we were walking. We assured her she would love what we had planned, but she remained resistant and resolutely skeptical.

After a while, we came to the Smithsonian Castle on the National Mall, which looks really cool from the outside but houses the administrative offices of the Smithsonian Institute–hardly kid-worthy entertainment. But our little Frozen fan couldn’t get past the fact it was a castle and begged to go in, certain she would find Elsa and Anna waiting to greet her. We assured her this was no Ice Palace and reminded her again that what we had planned for her was better. But…she wasn’t buying it. The entire walk, she whined and complained because we weren’t going to the museum or the castle. To her child’s mind, we were withholding certain fun for the promise of something better, a promise she didn’t want to trust.

Our oldest daughter AFTER riding the carousel

Our oldest daughter AFTER riding the carousel

Then her eye caught something in the distance. “Is that a carousel?” she asked. And before we could answer, she was begging to please, please, please let her ride the carousel. Of course, that had been our plan all along, and we delivered the parental version of “I told you so,” pointing out that mom and dad really did have a bomber plan going, even though she had doubted us. We rode the carousel with our girls, giggling as the December air snapped at our cheeks, carnival music cranking as we whirled around on our trusty steeds.

But in the midst of all the fun, I couldn’t dismiss God’s whisper. As we had walked, my daughter complaining and resisting, tugging on my hands, wanting her own plans so desperately, I had felt God tap the shoulder of my heart. “Isn’t your daughter just doing to you what you so often do to Me? Haven’t I been the patient parent even as you hesitate to trust My plans and cry for your own?”

Just as my daughter had been to the museum and wanted to revisit the fun of that experience, there are places God has taken me in the past to which I often long to return. Places I treasure in my heart. Places that touch a deep chord in me. Places I wish He would take me again. Places that seem so much better than this endless, wearying walk where all I see is a ribbon of concrete stretching ahead of me. There’s nothing wrong with cherishing the places God has taken you, but sometimes, they are just that–places He has taken you, not places He is still taking you. Our delight should not be so much in the places God takes us. God most wants us to delight in Him, deliriously glad that no matter where He takes us, we are with Him.

And then, there’s the castle. From what my daughter could see, she was certain this was a place she wanted to go full of amazing adventure. But I knew better. That grand exterior cloaked nothing more than dull, ordinary offices. Sometimes on this long walk where God is leading, I see things along the way that I am certain are places I want to go. I tug my Father’s hand and plead to go inside based on what I can see. And when He gently shakes His head and tells me there’s nothing for me in that place, I chafe as He pulls me onward, thinking that just perhaps He’s holding out on me–that my perception is truer than His knowledge. God doesn’t hold our faulty perception against us–He remembers we are only dust (Psalms 103:14). It is we who forget that God makes known the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10). Our trust in Him we cannot see must be greater than our trust in what we can see.

Our littlest munchkin--all smiles just enjoying the journey

Our littlest munchkin–all smiles just enjoying the journey

As we left behind the lights of the carousel and walked back on the same stretch of concrete, I watched my daughter play, happily scampering over every obstacle we passed, making a game out of what had been a weary trudge just moments before. The joy she found on the carousel didn’t stay in that place. She took it with her, trusting herself to our plans for the remainder of the evening. But what about the joy she missed on the way to the carousel? Those moments with us and her sister were gone forever, wasted on wanting her own way when the best was just beyond. Beyond her sight? Absolutely. Beyond her imagination? Perhaps. But mostly beyond her faith–the certain hope that wherever we were taking her, it would be good.

God’s best may be beyond our sight, but it is always within the measure of faith He grants when we choose to trust ourselves to His plans. We can give our trust haltingly, resignedly and worry about the destination. Or we can give our trust unreservedly, lavishly and abandon ourselves to the joy of His Presence, anticipating the best beyond.

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