Category Archives: Traveling

Three Things to Remember When Facing Regret

Recently my brother and I found ourselves in NYC, on a trip we had dreamed about for years and planned for months. I couldn’t believe we were actually—finally—in New York City. Every step was exciting, every obscure building a photo op.

As the days flew by, I quickly realized things I wished we had done differently. For instance, we didn’t plan as much time for the 9/11 Memorial & Museum as I would have liked, and we had to speed through the last exhibits in the Museum. I also wished we had called our hotel ahead of time to ask about baggage storage after checkout; had we known about that cheap option we would have chosen later flights on our departure day and had one last sightseeing opportunity.

At some point in life, each of us will have regrets about harder things than travel plans. Most of us already do. When the what-ifs and if-onlys in plague our memories, here are three things it helps to remember.

We Are Not Perfect

We will not lead perfect lives. We are not strong enough or wise enough to do everything right, and to be human is to belong to that globally inclusive club of Those Who Mess Things Up. As Christians, we know that one of the Gospel’s central truths is that we will never be perfect—and we don’t have to be.

It is one of the ironic things of life that this truth is more liberating than condemning. Since we know that we and everyone around us will fail sometimes, it is not as much of a shock to us when we do.

God is Bigger Than Our Failures

“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 24-25).

No matter how serious our mistakes and problems, they cannot be greater than the power, grace, and love of God. Far from it: our greatest failure became His deepest gift of redemption. I mean, really. Think you’ve messed things up? Talk to Adam and Eve in the garden, with fruit juice staining their hands and nakedness taunting their conscience.

He knows our hearts. He knows we will never be perfect on our own. No matter how many mistakes and failures occur between now and heaven, our imperfections are covered by His perfect grace.

Because our perfection no longer depends on what we do.

When We Fail We Lose Nothing

So we should have done it differently, and we didn’t. We may be frustrated with our own ineptness, or, in a more serious situation, grieve what could have been had we done things right. We may need to apologize and seek forgiveness, depending on the mess we made this time.

But then we move on. We don’t have to live in that failure, or build up layers of restitution until we earn our way out of debtor’s prison. All the important things are still true, untouched by our inability and failure and stupidity.

God is still on His throne. We are still His people. He is still writing our story and everyone else’s, and no matter what glitch we think we caused in this chapter, He has already made it into something good that we will see with time.

Our faith is founded (partially) on our failure to be good. Catch that? Our faith is founded on our failure. Through the sacrificial death of Christ, our perfection is found in our identity with Him. Our failures can’t touch that.

In all those little and not-so-little messes of our own making, our identity stands strong and firm in the righteousness gifted to us by Christ. We don’t lose any standing with God or drop a rung on the ladder to heaven. Our relationship with Him is a gift, and will stay that way regardless of our stumblings.

When Those Regrets Come

As we travel through life, there will be problems in the journey. Dreams-come-true morph into mild disasters and our best efforts disintegrate into Have-I-Ever-Told-You stories.

We will have regrets. As we lay them at the feet of the God who sees our faltering efforts and knows our weak human hearts, we can trust He will keep us from stumbling too far and that His grace can cover all our if-onlys. Each of our regrets drives us to Him who does all things well, and who welcomes us with all our failures still attached.

Friends Like This

My family and I were late to the party when it came to smartphones. We weren’t into texting yet, and really only used phones for calling, so flip phones worked just fine.

During our flip phone days, we found ourselves traveling home from Texas under a cloudy sky. As we approached the Kansas border, rain started falling, eventually becoming a deafening presence on the roof of our van.

My mom fielded several calls from a friend back home, calling with updates about the storm and giving us information that helped us “see” through the blinding rain. It will get worse, they told us. It was just a hard rain then, but at their advice we pulled over at a rest stop and went inside to wait with other travelers. The rain came down harder, with pieces of hail even, and the winds were crazy. We couldn’t see anything.

Messy Beautiful Friendship

After reading Christine Hoover’s From Good to Grace, I was excited to launch into her newest book: Messy Beautiful Friendship: Finding and Nurturing Deep and Lasting Relationships. As a church-planting pastor’s wife, Christine has many experiences with making new friends and working hard to make those relationships work. Her insights cover everything from our misconceptions about friends and friendship to healing from friendship hurts to learning to give and receive biblical friendship.

Through her book, Christine reminds us that friendship isn’t as easy as we think it is, and it will take work, but the encouragement of Christian friendship is worth the effort.

“May our friendships in the present day be received as gifts from God for us—but may they not be only for us. May they be signposts, guiding any who will stop and seek directions toward what our hearts innately crave most, pointing the seeker toward a Person and a place where all longings will be longings no more. For it is only in true Christian friendship that two people who are different in every way possible—race, background, language, personality, socioeconomic level—can love like this.”

Friends Going Somewhere

Friendship is a universally recognized gift. People from all walks of life, nationalities, worldviews, and life seasons find other people—typically like themselves—that they call “friends.”

What stands out about Christian friendship? How are our friendships different? Our sameness is found in our deepest convictions and our worship of the same God, though in our individual friendships, many of our other interests or passions can be very different. But what is it about Christian friendship itself that might be different from other friendships?

In the pages of Messy Beautiful Friendship, a quote from C.S. Lewis stopped me.

“The very condition of having Friends is that we should want something else besides Friends. Where the truthful answer to the question, Do you see the same truth? would be ‘I see nothing and I don’t care about the truth; I only want a Friend,’ no Friendship can arise—though Affection of course may. There would be nothing for the Friendship to be about and Friendship must be about something, even if it were only an enthusiasm for dominoes or white mice. Those who have nothing can share nothing; those who are going nowhere can have no fellow-travelers.”

That’s it. That is how Christian friendship is different: our destination.

Friends as Traveling Companions

We may not think of our friends as traveling companions, but that is what we are, because while friendship can certainly include common interests and similar daily patterns, it is so much more than that. We are all going somewhere. As Christians, we know that friends are there to help us up when we fall (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10) and remind us of truths we might forget (Hebrews 10:24-25) as we journey to Heaven.

“We’re not at the supper table yet,” Christine reminds us, “and it’s going to be a long, arduous journey to get there.” Friends come alongside us on this journey through life, and in a thousand different ways spur us on.

You may have heard the overused question If you were stranded on a deserted island, what book would you want to have with you?

How about this: If you were traveling on a long and sometimes difficult journey, what kind of friend would you choose to go with you? Are you that kind of friend to the travelers around you?

That Kind of Friend

Christine says it well. “When we sit side by side at the supper table, we will be celebrating that, by God’s grace, we made it to our destination. We made it because of Christ, we made it with the help of our friends, and we made it together.”

As we traveled home that torrentially rainy day, the dangers of flash floods and hail damage and being stranded on the side of the road were lessened because of a friend’s warning. A friend who knew where we were in our journey, shared with us resources we didn’t have (a weather radar map, primarily), and were quick to contact us to warn us of danger. A friend who, when hearing about potentially dangerous weather, thought about us, and spent time studying the weather radar to pass info on to my parents. As if they were traveling on the road with us.

Because, in a way, they are.

Refugees, Exiles, and You and Me

A friend of mine lived overseas for several weeks earlier this year. Not just overseas anywhere, but in the Middle East—in the land of refugee camps and Mediterranean food and, apparently, cold winters.

While she was in the Middle East, my friend visited refugees often, and told me later about their hospitality and eagerness. Families would regularly invite her and the missionary family she was staying with to eat with them – but would wait until their paycheck came in so they could afford to do so.

That floored me. They waited to get paid so they could turn around and buy food for somebody else? Somebody who didn’t “need” the food—not like they did. Who thinks like that?

3 Things Refugees and Exiles Have in Common

When it comes to our modern-day concept of “refugee,” the closest scriptural equivalent I could think of is “exile.” The word “exile” appears 90 times in the Old Testament, but only six times in the New Testament: once in the “Hall of Faith” chapter in Hebrews 11, twice in Stephen’s speech (Acts 7) before being stoned, and three times in 1 Peter (written to exiled Christians during Nero’s reign).

“And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:17-19, emphasis added).

While “refugee” and “exile” aren’t exact synonyms, they do have similarities:

Refugees and exiles live in a country that isn’t theirs. They understand “not fitting in.” Sometimes they don’t speak the language of the country where they live and they may not understand or adhere to the traditions, customs, holidays, idioms, habits, or worldview of the majority.

Refugees and exiles do not have citizenship. While we easily understand the consequences of this as far as voting rights and political say, for many other cultures, citizenship concerns so much more. For some, their identity is wrapped up in where they live and in the land they call their own. To be outside of the geographical area inhabited by their ancestors is to be in a deeper exile than we Westerners really understand.

Refugees and exiles know this is temporary. At least, that it should be temporary. Living in tents or borrowed and shared real estate is rarely anyone’s long-term plan. In biblical accounts, exiles always knew they would go back to their country as soon as they could—they would not claim this strange land as their home forever. The stories are even harder when these natural hopes are dashed and the months in a refugee camp stretch into years.

We Have Something in Common, Too

It goes without saying that modern-day refugees live a hard life. As we pray for their safety and for the salvation of those who haven’t yet trusted Christ, and as we seek out ways to be the in-the-flesh representation of God’s love for them, we can remember that we are refugees, too. And they have much to teach us about our own spiritual reality.

Maybe the readers of 1 Peter heard Stephen’s last speech (or at least knew of it), and they were likely familiar with the rich Old Testament legacy they were building on as exiles. Peter took that literal reality of first-century exile and folded it into a greater spiritual truth for the rest of time: In a way, we are exiles (or refugees), too.

“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God…” (1 Peter 2:11-12, emphasis added).

The difference for us is that we aren’t trying to go back. We don’t want to. We are going forward, on to a Promised Land we have never seen but know is greater than anything we have ever known. We know this earthly country isn’t ours. We don’t stake our hopes on our earthly citizenship. We know this place we call home is only a temporary place to stay for awhile.

“The message of the Bible,” Tim Keller writes in The Prodigal God, “is that the human race is a band of exiles trying to come home.”

We haven’t been home yet. But our spiritual legacy and the believers who have gone before us show us that the promises of home are greater than everything we’ll face to get there.

Christians, We Are Not Tourists

You would think we’d be more alike.

Growing up homeschooled (and 2 ¾ years apart), my brother and I spent most of our waking hours together. We did our schoolwork across the table from each other, racing to finish so we could dash off to one of our rooms to play. Every meal we fought over who would put silverware on the table and who would fill all the cups with water. We know each other in ways no one else can.

A couple of years ago, he went off on an adventure to study abroad for several months. Not wanting to miss this opportunity, I visited him in Germany for a week.

So there we were. We had been in the US all of our lives and had only traveled without our parents once or twice, but now we found ourselves navigating intercontinental flights and exploring on our own.

And wouldn’t you know it. We traveled differently.

As we walked down historic German streets together, I tried to document our entire trip for our parents and anyone else. He would mentally observe his surroundings and describe them in detail later (long after I had forgotten those details).

My brother and me. Being tourists.

“Stop taking pictures,” he would whisper to me as I tried to get a better angle of some random restaurant. He wanted to blend in with the locals and his main goal was to not look like a tourist. I was very comfortable in my identity as a guest and didn’t mind if other people knew, too. (And I figured it was probably obvious – at least with me.)

We were traveling through the same places. But differently.

Not Like in the Old Days

The first mention of “travel” in the ESV Bible is in Exodus 13, the story of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt. It was a wait-on-the-Lord-every-moment kind of expedition, a cloud-by-day-fire-by-night leading to the Promised Land. This was not a joyride. Not a vacation. It was a journey, full of danger and deprivation and more danger. The Israelites would walk for miles every day through the Middle Eastern wilderness, all for the goal of the destination. The Promised Land.

“When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, ‘Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.’ But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea…And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people” (see Exodus 13:17-22).

This intentional, difficult traveling is not what we think of when we plan a vacation. These days, we travel in relative ease and comfort, without the fears and frustrations travelers would have faced centuries ago. We usually have less of a goal in mind—while we have chosen a specific destination, we go there to visit and not to forge a new life.

Maybe it’s easy for us to forget that this modern 21st-century life is not intended to be a joyride. We are on a journey, too.

And sometimes we travel differently.

Here to Try It All

While I walked many miles on that trip to Berlin, my goal was to take in all the sights and sounds and experiences I could while I was there. To live in the moment.

I wanted to see and hear and taste and smell and touch and feel everything I could. I wanted to get up early and stay up late. The time was short and I will likely never pass that way again—I had to fill my time with as much as I could while I had the opportunity.

As Christians, we are called to live with purpose and wisdom wherever God has placed us for now (see Ephesians 5:15-17). We are to seize the moments of each day and fill them with obedience, leading to an eternal reward. Not experience. Not fulfilling our senses. We are not tourists in the journey of life.

To live with the goal of temporary experience or pleasure is to miss all the eternal treasures God holds out for us, if only we will reach for them. How are we getting to know Him better every day? How are we seeking Him? What has He taught us and shown us during the moments of our days? He is with us every moment of our journey, bringing eternal purpose to our daily experiences. If only we could always see that.

Just One in the Crowd

My brother, on the other hand, wanted to blend in and pass as a German. He wanted to be seen as someone who belonged there, someone who knew what they were doing and had learned to live in that culture.

But he didn’t belong there.

The Israelites were different from the people around them because their God was not like the other gods. We may be a few thousand years later, but we are different from people around us, too. Because our God is still not like the gods of this world.

We usually won’t fit in. And as others see how often we stand out, they will venture closer to see why we are different. Therein lies our opportunity to share with them why we are here and where we really belong.

All the Way There

We are called to persevere even when it’s hard, not to seek out only the pleasures of the moment. We are called to be “sojourners,” “exiles” (see Hebrews 11:13, 1 Peter 2:11)—we aren’t going to look like the locals.

To be sure, there is a balance to this: On the one hand, we don’t need to be unnecessary killjoys. It’s admirable to try to adapt to the culture we are living in as long as we don’t compromise our identities in the process. On the flip side, we don’t want to set unnecessary obstacles to the gospel in front of others—we shouldn’t be so preoccupied with living in the moment that we forget why we’re really here.

Even when it’s hard (it will be), even when we feel like the only traveler in a world of tourists (we’re not), and even when we fail miserably at finding the right balance (we will so many times), we will continue on. Because we’re going Somewhere. And God, our guide through every moment, will lead us all the way there.

“This Hill, though high, I covet to ascend,
The difficulty will not me offend:
For I perceive the way to life lies here;
Come, pluck up, heart; lets neither faint nor fear.”
John Bunyan

On the Homeward Road

For as long as I’ve known them, my grandparents have lived in Texas. Nearly every holiday through the years has found us trekking the 7-12 hours (depending on who lived where at the time) from our house to either Nana and Pa’s or Granny and Granddad’s doorstep. Sometimes both.

Those hours of traveling can be tough for a kid. Sure, we packed Odyssey tapes (yes, tapes), books to read, and enough snacks for a week, but there were always long and unbearable hours of traveling mixed in with the easy and fun times.

My brother and I asked how much longer. We asked for more snacks. But despite the long hours and the boredom and the restlessness, we never asked to turn around and go back or to stay at a hotel instead. We didn’t want to go to some exotic place or take a different exit and vacation somewhere new.

We wanted to get to Grandma’s house.

What You See Isn’t All You Get

The Bible is very clear that we will not always be in this world. “I’m going to prepare a place for you,” Jesus told His disciples (my paraphrase of John 14:1-3), “and I will come back for you.”

We weren’t redeemed to live on this sin-scarred planet forever. Through the unending grace of God, there are many very good things about life on Earth, but they are only a taste of our future life in heaven. For those who are saved and on their way to eternal joy in God’s presence, “here” is not the goal. This life is beautiful and meaningful—but it’s not the destination.

Everything we ever face in this life is measured in light of the goal of treasure in the next. This traveling through earthly days, whether easy and fun or hard and hurtful, is not forever. One day we will get there. 

When the Road is Dark and Full of Toil

Years ago, a friend taught me a song with a haunting melody I could never get out of my head:

“I’m just a poor, wayfaring stranger,

A-traveling through this world of woe.

But there’s no sickness, toil or danger,

In that bright land to which I go.”

While our vacations to see grandparents have been remarkably danger-free, over the years we have sometimes had sickness and we certainly knew toil. At least, my seven-year-old self was convinced it was toil.

As our trials grow beyond our childhood sorrows, the hurts may go deeper and last longer. But the principle is still the same: This is not forever. “Remembering eternity really does help me live with a sense of proportion,” Paul Tripp says. “On the other side, what once seemed big won’t look so big.”

Hard days aren’t forever. Whether we face sickness, grief, disappointment, or discontented  boredom with daily life, we are walking through it, not in it. One day we will come out on the other side, stronger for having faced it in our path.

As we walk through each challenge, we learn to lean harder on the God who guides us through them—and will one day welcome us home. “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,” said Paul, who knew suffering and toil better than most, “as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).

When the Way Seems Easy

Hundreds of billionaires live in the U.S. alone. We may point our fingers at the crazy rich, but we forget that we’re still pointing back at ourselves: Even America’s poorest are financially better off than the richest citizens of many countries. We spent over $3 billion in one day on Black Friday 2016, and we now have more TVs than we have people.

As King Solomon tells us, this too will end. And he would know—his riches surpassed all the other kings’ wealth of his time, and during his reign silver was as commonplace in Israel as rocks (see 1 Kings 10:23-27). But what did he tell his sons? “Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist. When your eyes light on it, it is gone, for suddenly it sprouts wings, flying like an eagle toward heaven” (Proverbs 23:4-5).

Fleeting worldly pleasures are…fleeting. We try to pin them down and they evaporate. We try to hold them in our hands and they melt right through our fingers.

In our travels to Texas we have sometimes stopped to spend time (and money) at a store or a restaurant. We didn’t stop often, but we enjoyed it when we did—only to get back in the car and realize how much later we would get to Grandma’s because of the time we spent playing instead of traveling. These side-trips distracted us from our goal and slowed our progress. How often our desires for “the good life” or “the American dream” can do the same.

Either Way, This Isn’t Forever

Those many-hour trips from our driveway to my grandparents’ held many fun memories for me—but also many times of extreme boredom and being ready to just. get. out. and. move. But in the end? It was worth it. All those hours being bored out of my mind. All those hours wishing I could watch a movie or go on a walk or even just fall asleep. All those hours always got us to Grandma’s house.

The twin pulls of suffering and prosperity distract us from the road we are called to travel. In the hard days, we must hold onto this: what He has promised us will be so great that it will be worth everything we faced in the journey. In the good times, we must forever remind ourselves that what He has for us is so much greater than anything we find along the way. In all our days, good and bad, we are still aiming for our destination.

And there is a Destination. He is waiting. He is with us in every step, and no trial or treasure from our time along the way will hold a candle to what He has for us. Our traveling memories will fade away once we’re finally home.