There are times in our lives when we just really don’t want to do something we know we have to do. Some of them involve choices, some involve indecision and getting the last straw, some involve anticipating horrible outcomes, pain, or perhaps even boredom. Sometimes we feel like little children, digging our heels into the ground and pouting for days or weeks on end, telling our friends and family about the horrible thing that someone else or some rule is forcing us to do. And we assume we’re the only ones who have to “do that,” “go there,” “experience this.” The Everybody Else in our lives seems to be cruising I-95 with the windows wide open or flying across the world to exotic places like India and Honduras, given amazing opportunities to do amazing things with amazing people.
And I ended up in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
As part of my intercultural immersion requirement in seminary, I needed to spend ten days in one of the locales that my school offered in order to receive credit for the experience. Nearing graduation in 2013, I realized that I had one more opportunity to get that done in January, 2013, in between semesters. Early in the fall, I followed the arrows on the wall in the seminary office in order to check out the list of offerings. Lo and behold, all except one were already filled with students’ names—some with waitlists. The choice that chose me was the Carlisle Truckers Ministry: ten days in what is known as the “Miracle Mile,” the intersection of two major trucking routes, I-81 and I-76 (a.k.a the Pennsylvania Turnpike), ministering to truck drivers and truck stop people with the Truck Stop chaplain. Carlisle is in the mountains of Pennsylvania, a town established in the 1700’s that played a role in the French and Indian War, the American Revolutionary War, and the Civil War. Every year, hundreds of thousands of people visit the Carlisle Fairgrounds for seasonal car shows—including my dad. As for me, I saw little personal draw to the place. At first, I assumed perhaps God needed a good laugh by placing me, a 30-year old female, doing ministry with truckers in a place in the mountains in January. My eyes zoomed over the list of the other immersion experiences, imagining photo-ops, delicious cuisine, and interesting cultural presentations for each of them. When I thought about Carlisle, my mind drew a blank.
Then my mind drew a tire.
I sucked it up and smilingly took the registration paper home, finding myself turning into one of those characters with road rage on the Beltway. Someone else’s words also had colored my anticipation of a boring experience at a cost of $750, plus course credits. I hoped and prayed something would change, but it didn’t. I attended one of our required intercultural immersion orientation sessions where we went around the table like an AA meeting to share where we were going and how we felt about it. I came in late and claimed the last spot, many words showing up for the audition in my mind, but none making the cut. When it came time for me to speak, I moseyed around the question, not stating how I felt, but then it was asked directly. “Interesting,” I responded. “It should be interesting.” A mentor of mine had given me a pointer to use the word “interesting” whenever something was beyond words. Then December and its glitzy Christmas frame sauntered into the church scene, distracting me from my January sentence. My friend Stephanie would also be doing the Truckers Ministry immersion too, and she offered for us to stay at her house in Chambersburg to save money on motels and food. I thought that would work, especially since we would start on January 1st, the first day of 2013.
A unique start to any new year.
A unique way to end the Christmas season.
A unique experience of the Epiphany.
It was soon New Year’s Eve, and I was packing my bags for the early-early morning drive up to PA from my home in VA. Sorting through thermal shirts and jeans, my Christmas lights twinkling in my little basement home, I had an epiphany. Of course, in the church calendar, the Epiphany is celebrated on January 6th or the Sunday proceeding it. It is characterized as the event of the coming of the wise men, or magi, to follow the star and see the Christ Child after crossing the wilderness of Persia and beyond as told in Matthew’s Gospel. But for me, this epiphany, or sudden insight, involved no giant glowing star, no wise men, and no Bethlehem. And God passed on speaking to me in a dream or sending anyone to my sliding door with gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Sadly, Jesus’ face didn’t appear in my laundry either. Instead, it was a different kind of epiphany—one that changes how you think, and how you see.
Kind of like the Fed Ex logo.
If you look at the Fed Ex logo, it’s nothing spectacular. We would see plenty of Fed Ex trucks on my immersion experience. It’s easily recognizable, especially plastered on white. But what most of us don’t pay attention to is the space between the E and the X. Our eyes are too busy looking for letters that add up to words, looking for familiarity, looking for brilliant color, too busy that we don’t “see” the space. It’s in the space that a directional image is formed.
A modern-day star.
Sitting on the carpet, packing my bag with thermal shirts and jeans, I “saw” the arrow here. I realized that I could be looking for letters and familiarity and expectation in the upcoming experience—all which would soon fail me, tarnish my attitude, cause me to dig in my heels and pout and get road rage. I could choose to fold my arms and go through the motions, check off the box for a ministry immersion in order to graduate. I could choose to see my ten days as a waste of time in the middle of nowhere. Or, I could see the faint directional arrow in the blank space, where arrows aren’t supposed to be.
Where God isn’t supposed to be.
Kind of like a house in Bethlehem.
Sure, it really takes time to train ourselves to “see” the arrows in the places where God may have them—in the places we don’t want to go or have to go or have no choice but to go. But like the wise men, once you’ve experienced an epiphany, you find yourself listening to God more. You realize that despite the wilderness up ahead in a place you’d prefer not to be, you start to see arrows everywhere.
And you just may end up in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
Kris Beckert is a licensed minister in the Nazarene Church, a 3nd-year M.Div. student at Wesley Theological Seminary, and a current member of the Northern Virginia Mission-Shaped Ministry Learning Community. She serves as discipleship minister to the Herndon United Methodist Church in Herndon, Virginia
Kris Beckert is a Mission Strategist/Trainer with Fresh Expressions US. She serves as Pastor of Innovation and Multiplication at Salem Fields Community Church in Fredericksburg, Virginia.