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  • Patti

A Tale of Two Trains

Trains hold a certain adventurous mystique for me. I’m not really certain why. I don’t necessarily recall living by a train track as a child, but our family did have a humble miniature train set. I can easily count on one hand the number of train rides I’ve taken during the first half of my life. Even now, the sound of a train whistle in the distance or its rumble from a track nearby will nudge a smile to my face and blanket me with comfort.

In recent years I have had two very distinct and memorable experiences on trains, which taught me things I never imagined would come from the iron horse.

After a 10-day trip across Europe, my husband and I boarded a train for a 35-minute journey out of the heart of Rome. We would stay our last night in a hotel closer to Leonardo da Vinci International Airport to accommodate our early morning flight.

We boarded the Leonardo Express and found seats that allowed room for us and our baggage. As the train departed, I suddenly realized I would be facing backward - opposite the direction we were traveling. Ironically, this seemed so inconsequential to me in that fleeting moment. However, as the train chugged out of the station and began building momentum – moving through the city and eventually into the outskirts of Rome - a melancholy abruptly settled over me like a thick London fog. Watching the view whir past me in a blur emphasized the fact that I was leaving this place - these experiences - behind. My mind started replaying the tapes of our wonderful moments – captivating my memory like snapshots and slow-motion - but with the Italian trees and countryside flying by, it only served as an exclamation point that this was the end – of our trip. So, why did it feel like the end of so much more? Or, even just like the end… period? And, why the sudden sadness and desperation to stop the train and go back to where we had been? I closed my eyes. In part to stop the tears from coming, but also to interrupt the visual of the speeding blur outside the window. God met me in the comforting gray stillness of eyes closed… and His reminders first appeared as gentle questions.

My child, which direction are you facing? Where are you looking? Where is your focus? Yes, honor the memories and beautiful experiences of your time but don’t linger and live in what has already been. Look ahead to what will be… the new things… the new places I’ll be offering you. If you are stuck in looking back, you’ll end up missing all the beautiful that’s next… all the wonder still up ahead.

If you are stuck looking back you'll end up missing all the beautiful that's next.

Sixteen months later. Another train. Another choice. We boarded the Westbahn with first-class tickets. This time: Vienna to Salzburg. As we climbed the stairs to the upper deck, I remembered Rome - vividly. This time I chose thoughtfully. This time I chose wisely. This time I chose well. Little did I know, this train would carry one of my favorite memories. Soon after leaving the station we ordered coffee for four. My husband read to my mom, my brother, and me from The ChosenDay 1 - Before. And then...

We talked about the indescribable gift (2 Cor. 9:15). Redemption of our before(s). Even those marked with a childhood faith in God will have before(s) or in-spite-of moments. We talked about unworthiness. Refinement. Covert fears. And, the "But God" of Ephesians 2:4-5 and His unfathomable, glorious after(s).

I melted into the movement of the train and the feeling of the gentle rumble as the wheels stayed true to the steely line of the rail. The beauty and charm of Austria unfolded before me… welcoming me… enchanting me. Facing forward, I could see the track just ahead as the train wove a graceful and perfect pattern through the countryside. I remembered the sweet experiences and memories of our recent days… the times now beautifully imprinted deep within me. But this time I didn’t really want to go back… there was so much more still up ahead… so much more to see and discover on this incredible journey.

It is not uncommon to find we have become stuck in the natural grief of missing a season that has passed or is passing. Our focus can linger on what is no longer and the season we have lost. We stubbornly - and futilely - wage war against the hands of time, not wanting to let go of what was. What it meant to us. How it defined us. How it fulfilled us. We can so easily forget that embracing the season of today and investing ourselves fully in each moment, also serves to honor the seasons of yesterday. Our stories and seasons have shaped us, and they forever remain part of God’s gift of formation and growth for us; but don’t forget that God is still leading us… into new beautiful nexts.

Choosing the right seat helps us choose the scenery which impacts our perspective. The real magic happens when we choose to face forward and focus on the unfolding horizon {Philippians 3:12-14}. Life is a one-way ticket. We can’t go back – but we can create the most of all we’ve experienced - gathering wisdom along the way and exploring each new day, season, and adventure. The Great Conductor still has a delightfully inspired, epic journey stretching out before us.

All Aboard!?!?


Ephesians 2:4-5 (ESV) - But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ - by grace you have been saved.

Philippians 3:12-14 (v. 12, The Voice) - I am not there yet, nor have I become perfect; but I am charging on to gain anything and everything the Anointed One, Jesus, has in store for me - and nothing will stand in my way because He has grabbed me and won't let me go.

Fun Fact: Although the oldest railways date back to Greece in 6th century BC, it was German engineering that commenced rail transport in the 16th century with horse-powered funiculars and wagon-ways. {Yep… things were once really horse-powered, before horsepower was just that measurement thingy!!} But in terms of the modern steam locomotive, we can thank the Brits of the 19th century, who now boast the oldest railway system in the world.


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