Thoughts while Driving

I practiced a bit of metacognition on my lunch break today.

I left campus for lunch today, and while driving to TR to pick up a sandwich, I thought about life, about conversations that happened at girls’ night last night, about thoughts that are persistent, about Jesus and the Gospel, about heaven and hell.

I also thought about how I think about all those things. Metacognition.

I thought about the fact that my thoughts are so harsh and unrelenting, and I thought about the fact that if I say those words out loud, they evaporate as if sound waves infiltrate the lies. I also thought about the fact that I have so many great thoughts while I’m driving, but by the time I get back to my computer or to a place where I can sit with a notebook, those thoughts are gone. I have composed manifestos and memoirs in my head on many occasions, only to lose them when I arrive at my physical destination. On rare occasions, I manage to arrive home with an experience that fills up so much of my existence that I cannot rest until I have written those thoughts down, and I stay up late writing about storms and sunsets.

Mostly, though, my thoughts while driving are replaced quickly by emails, tweets, Facebook notifications, breaking news, and responsibilities. When I’m no longer alone with only my internal dialogue to keep me company, I move out of the role of a thinker and a writer and into another role with, seemingly, more urgent needs. I can rarely recapture the thoughts I found so beautiful when I was alone.

Today, however, I thought, once more, that I should invest in a recorder to leave in my car for those moments. Then, I remembered that I’d discovered that my BlackBerry actually has a voice recorder (let’s stop pretending I’m technologically advanced, shall we?). I pulled it out and spent almost 7 minutes just talking to myself (let’s pretend like that doesn’t make me sound crazy).

When I sat down to write this post, I listened to my recording. Once I got over that initial weirdness of hearing my own voice unfiltered, I found my recording to be amusing and poignant and revelatory. I spent the first minute or so commenting on the oddity of talking to myself, but when I finally settled into my train of thought, I discovered that my own words, speaking Truth back at me, are powerful in vanquishing a negative mindset. The result is that I reminded myself of just how big God is. I reminded myself that the plans I had were not the plans He had, and I recognized (audibly) that His ways are not mine, and His kingdom is more important than my puny plans.

In those 7 minutes, I thought about Jesus’ words, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” And if the Kingdom is here, but not fully here, then the kingdom of hell is warring against the Kingdom of heaven. When I choose to focus on the ways that the kingdom of hell is present–in heartache and loneliness, in difficulties and darkness–then I’m making a choice not to focus on the glory of God and His Kingdom on earth. My friend Jane said as much to me last night; she essentially told me that when I look at the future and think, “there’s no way that will ever happen,” then I’m not allowing God to work. There is conviction in that statement, and as much as I hate to say the words aloud or type them in this post, I live my day-to-day life trying to make things work in my own way, in my own time, and with my own power, and I don’t acknowledge the ways that God could be leading me. And when I cry out in anger and frustration that I don’t have an answer and things aren’t working out the way I want them to, He is always there reminding me that there’s a better way: “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”

This is not a new struggle. These are not new truths. Every day, my own sin and stubbornness and willfulness create a barrier between me and my Father. Some days, I let the barrier remain. Other days, I drive in my car, talking to myself, reminding myself of the truth of God and that the blood of Jesus and the grace of God have covered EVERY ONE OF MY SINS. In these moments, I can recognize that, ultimately, the goodness of God will win out over the blackness of evil.

I write these words for my own sake, more than anyone else. This will be a post that I will turn to on the days when the Kingdom doesn’t seem so near, when I forget that He is enough. Moments of clarity like this will remind me on those days when my thoughts are muddled and confused and fearful.

My Father is a living God, and His grace is sufficient for me. His mercies are made new every morning, and there is nothing I can do that can separate me from my Father’s love.

Your Hand in Mine

Before you start reading the rest of this post, pop your headphones on and click play on this YouTube video. Don’t watch it–there’s nothing to see except the name of the band and the song title, but let it play while you keep reading.

I spotted the first half of the rainbow as I pulled out of my parking space. Class was out an hour and a half early, and even after standing in the parking lot with my classmate Freddie talking about Ph.D. programs and the lack of African-American writers of and characters in science fiction, there was still plenty of daylight left. When I reached the one traffic light in Boiling Springs, waiting for the light to change, I saw the other side of the rainbow, beautiful after the violently windy storm that had raged just two hours before.

When I turned left and continued down the curvy road past old homes and farmland outside of town, I realized the rainbow had only been a prequel to the majestic show I was about to experience. Suddenly, I realized that the music playing on my iPod (The Gaslight Anthem–almost always the perfect summer drive soundtrack) was brashly inappropriate. Only one song would suffice: Explosions in the Sky’s “Your Hand in Mine.”

When I turned onto Highway 74, I was overwhelming grateful that living in Travelers Rest now enables me to travel west for my drive home at night. The highway stretched before me, framed by rolling hills and pine trees, straight toward the beloved Blue Ridge Mountains. And surrounding the hills and mountains and trees was the most spectacularly beautiful, majestic sunset I’ve ever witnessed. The bright yellow t-shirt I was wearing seemed blandly colorless in contrast to the rich oranges, pinks, and reds spread across the sky. I even passed a fire burning in a backyard that seemed powerless and tame against the sky. A bank of post-storm clouds chased the sunset across the sky, settling around the mountains.

I decided once that if I ever marry, I’d like to walk down the aisle to “Your Hand in Mine.” I cannot imagine a more lovely moment than a bride walking to her groom to the most beautiful song I’ve ever heard in my life. Still, even this imagined possibility pales in comparison to the love I felt for and from my Heavenly Father tonight. As this song played on the highest volume, I lamented briefly that I was alone with no one to share this moment with. My chest had tightened and tears flowed down my face in the presence of the unexpectedly beautiful glory of the sunset over the mountains. I even reached down to pause my iPod so that I could call someone before stopping short, realizing that no one could possibly understand the moment I was experiencing. For who else in my whole world was traveling down a highway on a cool summer night after a storm with this exact vantage point of the sky and clouds and mountains and mist? Who could understand That Moment?

Only One. “Share this with Me,” my Father whispered.

So often, my heart succumbs to the empty loneliness of a dark night on the road. So often, my strenuous academic schedule, merged with the petty frustrations that plague everyday life, overwhelms my weary soul, making it seem as if life will always be this way, as if I will never find real rest, as if the loneliness is permanent. But tonight, the glorious creation of my Father–a vibrant, blazing sunset over these mountains I love so dearly–vanquished every doubt and worry and flooded my heart with incredible joy and peace.

I’m inside now, typing away in the soft glow of my computer screen and a string of Christmas lights, wishing the sunset weren’t over. I also know, however, that even that glorious sunset would lose its majestic in becoming ordinary, and I’m grateful for the ephemeral moments that I had tonight. I wish, too, that language were not so limited, that words actually existed to convey the beauty of my drive home tonight. This post, however, must suffice, but at least now, I have a soundtrack to remind me of a moment when God’s glory shone brightly across the sky, reminding me that I am powerfully loved by an awesome Creator.

“I will lift up my eyes to the hills–From whence comes my help? My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth.” -Psalm 121.1

After the Storm

I met my family in Columbia for dinner tonight, and I left the restaurant around 8:30. As I pulled onto I-26, the last rays of sunset illuminated the sky just enough for me to see an ominous cloud sprawled across the horizon. As the sky darkened and I started the long drive back to Greenville, I realized the drive was going to be intense.

I couldn’t gauge how far away the storm was. The lightning lit up the cloud almost constantly, growing stronger and stronger as I continued my drive. Traffic was scarce, and once Columbia was behind me, the road was dark and empty. The massive cloud was always just ahead of me, and eventually, I realized I was paying more attention to the lightning–so powerful and mesmerizing–than to the road. With the trees rising on either side of the interstate, and with little else to distract me, I could only focus on the impending danger ahead. The white lines became a secondary concern to the brilliant streaks of light. For 50 miles, I could only watch the sky, wondering when the rain would come.

As the split to I-385 approached, a few raindrops began to hit my windshield. I turned on my windshield wipers on low speed as the road curved left, and suddenly, the storm hit with little other warning. The rain was so heavy that my wipers, now set on their highest speed, did little to combat the water. The reflectors and white lines of the interstate disappeared under the flowing rain. And I leaned forward as far as I could, desperately praying that I didn’t run off the road and telling myself not to cry because, really, is a raging thunderstorm in the dark when I’m alone really the time to lose it? I also knew that there was no point in pulling over to wait out the storm; I knew I would just have to drive right back into it if I did attempt to wait it out.

Sometimes, the storm is so big and terrifying that I spend ages watching it approach, knowing that the only way out is through, and praying that I reach home on the other side. And when the storm passes, I watch it fade away in the rearview mirror, and I still see the lightning in my peripheral vision; I try to convince my hands to stop gripping the steering wheel so tightly and my heart to stop beating so quickly, and I search the dark, empty road for light or some other sign of civilization to convince myself that the worst has passed. And when I arrive at my destination, I breathe a sigh of relief and I pray that some time will pass before I have to face another challenge like that. I tell myself that the next drive will be better, and I try to embrace hope instead of fear. And I also recognize that the lightning, with all its power and terror, was actually beautiful.