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Friday, April 28, 2017

A Long and Winding Road

Sometime in 2016, during the Holy Year of Mercy, I found myself making a pilgrimage to different parishes outside of town. It was almost noon when I left Sacramento. I started at Our Lady of Mt Carmel in Fairfield, CA, which was about a 45-minute drive on Interstate 80. Whenever I need to recharge mentally and spiritually, Our Lady of Mt Carmel is where I always go. First, because the drive affords me the time to reflect as I unwind and release all the built up tensions. Second, it seems like all my prayers are almost always instantly answered there. Almost always. I'll get back to this later.

Our Lady of Mt Carmel is my special happy place. As I was driving, I made a list of all the prayer requests I was going to offer and seek answers to, but I settled for one prayer that I felt was the most urgent and told myself that this will be my only prayer intention on this pilgrimage.  

After a visit to the Blessed Sacrament (they have Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration) at the Chapel of St Therese of Lisieux, I set out for St Joan of Arc in Yountville, a cozy little town in Napa. Whenever I visit Fairfield, Napa is always next on the itinerary, if only for a quick stop at Gott's Roadside for their chocolate shake or Bouchon Bakery for their macarons (Usually both. As I'm typing this, images of Three Twins Chocolate Shake and pistachio macarons taunt my senses. I think a trip to Fairfield and Napa needs to happen soon). This time though, I was on a pilgrimage so I didn't make any side trips to satisfy my sweet tooth. I uttered the same prayer intention at St Joan. It was about 2:30 p.m. when I finished there.

Unfamiliar with the other churches in the area, I searched for other churches nearby and since I wanted to travel a bit further, I settled on St Eugene in Santa Rosa. According to my navigator, it's about 27 miles from where I was at. I could just take St Helena Hwy to Oakville Grade. No problem. It's Napa, I told myself. Enjoy the scenic route. I just love the sight of perfectly straight rows of vineyard vines, plus the leaves on the trees where starting to turn gold, orange and crimson. It'll be a beautiful drive I told myself. Convinced, I set my new destination on my map.

I've traveled St Helena Hwy many times, but never really noticed the turn to Oakville Grade. It was only a few miles from St Joan and it wasn't surprising when a vineyard greeted me as I turned the road. Up ahead, I could see the lush green mountains. It always excites me whenever I go on an adventure and discover new roads. I was so distracted by the beauty around me that I dismissed the thought that the mountains up ahead were an ominous sign. I was oblivious to what lay ahead since I was surrounded by endless rows of grapevines and fall foliage. Never mind the fact that the road was beginning to ascend. It's just a small incline I told myself. But the road is getting narrower. Just this part. It'll widen again, you'll see. Totally dismissing the tingling I was getting on the back of my neck as I started to firmly grip my steering wheel. Well, according to my trusted navigator, this road is only about 11 miles. How bad could it be?

I wished I turned around right then there because as soon as I rounded the corner, it was too late when I realized it was the point of no return. There was no place to pull over and with cars behind me, I had to keep driving. Starting to panic, I tried to calm myself. It'll be okay, just stay in the middle of the road so you don't fall into the ditch (a.k.a. cliff since I can't see the bottom and the road is completely alien to me so I don't know how high or low the drop is in case I do end up careening to the side of the road). That road was so narrow that you'd think the cars are only going one way, at least until one comes towards you with flashing lights warning you to get out of their lane!

The road started to twist and turn and here I was driving to almost a crawl with a truck wanting to ram my rear bumper. It was a monster truck that even if I pulled closest to the cliff, I doubt he would have been able to pass by me. Instead he rode my bumper until he reached his road. Maybe that's where he lived. I mean, really? Who lives there? How do you even know where to turn? Did the residents there have rocks and mountains to mark their driveway? How do they give directions to their visitors? "Oh, at the third protruding rock, just right after the single giant redwood, you'll see an inconspicuous road. Make sure to honk your horn to alert incoming traffic before you round that corner." 

I started crying and praying, saying Lord please help me! Jesus please help me! Please don't leave me. Get me out of this road. I don't want to be on this road! Please help me, please help me, please help me. Through tears and sweat, I must have prayed this a thousand times over. Every turn was blind as I either had the cliff on my side or the mountain at some point. I drove in the middle of the road, giving way to oncoming cars every now and then that zoomed past me like race car drivers! Clearly they've driven that road since they were 8 (I'm kidding, but you know what I mean). I was white knuckling my steering wheel as I prayed my mantra and wiped away tears and sweat. I've never been so scared in my life! After what seemed like two eternities, I finally came to the end of the road and got on the main highway. The rest of the drive to St Eugene was uneventful as the road was pleasantly flat! Despite the gut-wrenching, white-knuckling drive through the mountains, the redwoods at St Eugene kind of made up for the horrific drive. What should have taken me only an hour, probably took me a little less than two. Did I say I crawled those 11 miles? Well, I asked for an adventure and I got one! On the way home, I made sure to really look at the terrain on the map and chose the straightest path for my drive back.

As I was driving home, I looked back at my experience. Whereas I cried my way to St Eugene, I laughed and smiled all the way home, amused at God's sense of humor. I tried to find the lesson in all of this. I thought Lord, really, couldn't You just have had me read a passage on the bible or pointed to an inscription somewhere? Why did You take me on that road? Then, an image of St Therese of Lisieux flashed back in my mind. Remember what I said earlier that my prayers are almost always instantly answered at Our Lady of Mt Carmel? Well, I saw an icon inside her chapel but I vaguely remember the inscription. Something about persevering in prayer. I was so engrossed at repeating my prayer request that I didn't pay much attention to it. If I had, my adventure would have ended right then and there. He had already answered me through St Therese but in my stubbornness, my heart was not open to His words at the time. Instead, I pursued my own path, not knowing God had a better lesson for me. 

That winding road was my entire life presented before me, with its twists and turns, ascending and descending, gaining confidence when there were no cars (trials) and slowing to a crawl when obstacles were present. All the while, I was praying, Lord please help me! Don't leave me. Please help me! Then an impression in my heart said "You of little faith! Why are you so afraid? Don't you know I've been with you from the beginning? What made you think I will abandon you now?" I cried at the realization and for  good reason this time. It made me realize that no matter what the obstacles are, no matter how difficult and unpredictable life is, I can always count on Him to stay with me. During the drive home I was praying a different prayer, one of praise and thanksgiving!

I will never forget that adventure I shared with Papa God. It makes me smile in amazement each time I play it back in my mind.

--with faith and gratitude,

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