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Stops along THE WAY: Coming home

 “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” (Prov. 16:9)

It has been a long time since I wrote a STOPS article, and that’s largely because I took a detour for my own convenience and not His will. Ever since starting my employment with the school district, I had wanted to be located at the west terminal due to its proximity to my home. Drivers typically have a morning and afternoon route, with several hours of off in between. I chose this scenario because of the many pursuits I have outside of my driving duties, and most of them I do from my home in Englewood.

When I graduated from the training school and was able to bid on my first assignment, there were no positions available at the west terminal due to its limited size and great popularity. Only the central and east terminals had routes open, so I took the central terminal because it was the next-closest to home. However, that meant two round trips per day of anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour round trip depending on the time of day. Being stationed at the west terminal would saved me around 45 minutes per day driving to and from home.

Drivers can re-bid their routes monthly, and so every month I would try to bid on to a west route, only to be out-bid on the limited number of openings by people, oh, 100 places or more in front of me in tenure. Sigh. Oh well, I kept bidding until finally, last November, to my utter surprise I got a west bid! I was very excited about this until a week later when it actually came time to make the move.

As you know if you’ve been following these STOPS articles, the route I had since day one was at a middle school known as the toughest school in the district. The reason I was able to get a bid there was because no one else typically wanted them. Therefore, only new recruits and standby drivers drove there. When I first started the route I thought I’d never get these kids under control, but was determined because I saw my job as a ministry as much as a vocation. Through much trial and error, the help of a wonderful assistant I used from time to time [see STOPS II: Jarvay]and God’s intervention and blessing, my little monsters slowly came around. When the day came for me to tell them I was leaving I wondered what their response would be, hoping it would be the same indifference I was typically met with as I shuttled them to and fro.

Not wanting to belabor the event, I waited until the last day at the stops where they got off. When I said, “Well guys, looks like this will be our last trip together” I heard several gasps of disbelief, a lot of “no’s” and “you can’t go’s!” Then Juan [fictitious name], a tall, good looking, charismatic kid who always sat in the very back of the bus and had been my biggest challenge of all of them, got off the bus and walked around to my driver’s side window. He stood there in the middle of the street pounding on my window shouting, “You can’t leave! You can’t!” I could tell some of them were in a mild state of shock, and I couldn’t look at them for fear they’d see the proverbial grown man cry. Brutal.

I left them there, torn up inside and really hoping it was all over. But no. There was still my elementary route to go. I had decided not to tell the little ones, thinking it would be no big deal to them. Everything with elementary kids goes in one ear and out the other. What I hadn’t counted on were the 3-4 of my middle school kids who always came to walk little sisters and brothers home, for I stopped at the same large stop on both my middle school and elementary routes. When I pulled up to that stop, there was a young woman there picking up her sister. I didn’t even know her name because, unlike most of the kids who I did get to know because I had to constantly call them out, she had always been the model rider. She always got on, sat quietly, and got off. After all the little guys had gotten off the bus, she just stood there at the door. I could tell she was debating doing something. And then all at once it was decision made and she walked up the stairs, stood on the landing next to me, and bent over and gave me a big hug! Again, not a word spoken. She just got off the bus and walked away. Needless to say, this all left me wondering if I’d made the right move.

God has a way of answering such questions, and from the moment I arrived for my new assignment at the west terminal I felt uneasy. “No problem,” I would answer. “I’ll hook up with my new students and forget all about the old group.” God had different plans. When I left my first assignment, I knew the names of around 60% of the kids on my bus. After two months of driving my upper middle class suburban kids on the west terminal route, I didn’t know the name of a single one of them. Why? They were polite, got on, kept the rules on the bus, and got off with a “thank you” [something I rarely hear on my old route to this day]. The first thing God wanted to show me through this experience was the real relationships we form in life contain an element of adversity.  Why did I know so many of my former kids? Simply, I learned their names by having to discipline them.

When I came back to my old route, the response of my kids was as wonderful as it was tragic when I left. It wasn’t three days later I was pulling off the side of the road to call them out again. So much for warm reunions. But it was a part of continuing to build on those relationships, and I was loving every minute of it. I think they were too. Those are always opportunities to meet new kids, get to know new names, and start building the relationships ministry is made of.

While I often complained about my undisciplined hooligans on the old route, it was because of those disciplinary moments I had gotten to know them. Think about it: don’t all the truly deep relationships we form in life contain adversity? Aren’t our true friends those we’ve gone through thick and thin with? Through it all I rediscovered the reason I took this job in the first place: for the relationships. Anyone can drive a bus, and truth is it’s boring driving the same route day after day. It’s only the relationships with my kids that make it worthwhile, interesting, and even rewarding.

The other lesson learned here was one I’ve had to be constantly reminded of over my life as a believer: it’s not about us. It’s never about our convenience, which is always the trap here in Laodicea. It’s about others regardless of the cost to us. I had wanted to go to the west terminal for the simple reason it would be more convenient for me. I had forgotten it’s about the kids, not to mention the great relationships I had formed with many of my fellow drivers while at the central terminal. I discovered after the first month at central God wasn’t going to let me form new relationships at west, with kids or the other drivers, because that’s not where “He was directing my steps.”

So I’ve come back home: back to my inconvenient commute and my wild bunch, and I’m so much more content than I ever would have been at my convenient, cushy west route with all the good kids. I had made my plan, but now God had directed my steps back to His will. I won’t forget again why I’m doing this job, for without the challenges God presents us to form and grow relationships with other messed up human beings life may be convenient, but it’s boring and unfulfilling. Are you bored with your Christianity? Guaranteed one cause is the Great Commission isn’t operational in your life. Ministry is messy, inconvenient, and rarely instantly gratifying. But one thing it’s not – not ever – and that’s boring. Make a plan, and then let Him direct your steps back into His will of ministering to those outside of it. That’s what real living is all about!

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