All My Roads Lead Home
Fifteen years ago, the roads rose up to meet me.
My wheels turned onto the main drag in Bolivar, Missouri—drag the operative word with a speed limit at 25 miles per hour—before brushing the pavement of a two-lane highway.
Thoroughfares with familiar Midwestern character squired me through blink-and-you’ll-miss-’em towns, past false promises of endless summer made by T-shirt shops and boating suppliers. Eventually, the roar of an actual interstate lent its momentary sense of progress before the roads turned small again.
I passed provincial neighboring churches, each using their marquee messages to up the ante of a Catholic-Protestant debate raging since who knows when. I turned at Junction AD and, in a day when I still searched for signs and wonders, took comfort that the road leading her way bore my initials.
A few minutes to town, through town, and past town to a house I never lived in, and a girl home from college who felt like the only home I’d ever known.
She was the reason my hand turned the radio dial, trying to hear a familiar song through all the crackle and pop. The inspiration for the mixtapes I made to see me through the dead spots. The only cure for the gas station coffee before-and-aftertaste on my breath.
Late in his letter, Paul assures the Philippians “to write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.” After 15 years with the same woman, 13 as husband and wife, his words assume a strange resonance. Sometimes they send me to the verge of laughter.
To be married for any measure means attending the same argument hundreds, if not thousands, of times. Not word-for-word, but the same substance. Treading the same path, my wife and I have worn a groove between our differences, defenses, and arguments.
She deliberates and calculates; I dream and speculate. She follows through; I follow my gut. She keeps her cool; I tie and untie the same knots in my stomach. She breathes free; I cling. She expresses—and receives—love through problem-solving exercises and promises kept; I crave affirmation through word and touch.
These asymmetries make our marriage hum. Each of us admits the prospect of living with a spitting image would drive us mad. And yet, in the heat of a given moment, our differences irritate the skin and initiate a variation on an enduring fight—though we hope to evolve into slightly humbler, kinder combatants each time we approach the battlefront.
Paul knew rehearsing the same gospel would anchor his listeners. Tapping out the same rhythms of repentance and faith like a piano teacher drilling major scales—eventually his spiritual pupils would preachit to themselves themselves.
My wife and I preach to one another too, though I still struggle to identify the text. Our worst sermons rumble through the language of hellfire and brimstone. Our best exposit, verse-by-verse, proverbs of security and psalms of pardon.
These sermons trouble the waters, but remain safe for us. Like practiced liturgists, we revisit our sins of omission and commission, then lead each other to the altar of gospel assurance.
Fighting the same fight and not breaking our covenant—fragile like glass, fortified like steel—we remember who we are. Two runaways who retrace the prodigal’s path to an arms-wide-open father. Glimpsing our true selves drives the sermon points home, then ushers us out heavy church doors back into marriage. Love will stay and fight another day. The Lord bless and keep you. The Lord make his face shine upon you. Amen.
John 6:67-68 ranks among my favorite Scriptures. Jesus belabors his identity as the bread of life, turning off disciples unable to wrap their minds around feasting on his flesh and imbibing his blood as communion wine.
Gazing upon his twelve closest companions, he asks, “Do you want to go away as well?” Peter, usually first to speak, comes through in the clutch: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
They—the ever-present they of proverbs and royal pronouns—say marriage primarily exists as a display case for the gospel. I hold definite ideas about what that means, but lack confidence to project them onto everyone else’s marriages. I feel safe expressing one truth: while the gospel and marriage intersect, both run like roads leading home.
Sin, doubt and circumstance spin me out into dizzy circles, throw me off course, even prompt thoughts of exit ramps and roadside curios. But when a voice within or without asks, “Do you want to go away?” the compass points due north.
I lose my bearings in my marriage. My sense of direction suffers. But where else would I go? Jesus rips up all my old maps, drawing new ones in which every inch of faith equals a mile closer to him. He has the words of life.
This all sounds terribly un-romantic, but it never feels that way from the inside. I know a love that stays. That sticks by me. That leaves a light on for me. I know home is a person.
The poet Sarah Kay once promised a love “I will Hansel and Gretel you home.” The more bread crumbs I collect, the more I love going home.
These days, if she ever sets off for her parents’ house, the road winds easy. Highway 70 most of the way. No GPS necessary. And, big surprise, I’m the worst map-reader in the family. It helps to know I could drive this route in something like my sleep.
Most travelers who take the interstate east desire the sights and sounds of St. Louis. Not me. This July 4, I pointed east to join her and the son we love in a celebration already in-progress. To meet up with fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters in-law and in-love to pass the sweeter things between us for a day or two.
On the road again, my lack of concentration fractured. I tried and failed to count the hundreds of times I’ve made my way to her. On roads that feel like the back of my hand, but always end with the same sense of surprise and a prayer of thanks to God for a woman, and all the roads that lead home.
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