The Illinois farm where I grew up perched on prairie so flat I could actually see the lights of trains piercing the country darkness four miles away. Dozens of freight-trains passed daily through the town where my parents retired, and on trips to visit Mom and Dad the urgent blasts entered our sleep.
During seminary years Mike and I lived on the north shore of Boston in a spacious apartment made affordable by the Boston & Maine tracks running noisily through our backyard. Cape Cod, home for our young family for 13 years, had a tourist train not taken seriously by the locals.
Still, a train has tracks and tracks always take you someplace, intended or not.
In 2002 we moved back to Wheaton, exactly 25 years since Mike and I had a newlywed apartment here three blocks south of the Chicago & Northwestern tracks that carried me to my first job near the city. Our present home is in the historic district just north of the tracks, and we can hear the rumble of the Metra disgorging commuters downtown.
But I’m thinking about rails of a different sort today – the sort of tracks that intersect all our lives. In the three weeks since we returned from sabbatical, our extended church family has experienced five deaths. Two families lost a mother and grandmother; three others, their father and grandfather. Sometimes death rides the rails.
Several years ago, pastor and author Rick Warren spoke reflectively of his wife’s cancer diagnosis occurring around the same time that his mega- bestseller The Purpose Driven Life was published:
“I used to think that life was hills and valleys – you go through a dark time, then you go to the mountaintop, back and forth. I don’t believe that anymore. Rather than life being hills and valleys, I believe that it’s kind of like two rails on a railroad track, and at all times you have something good and something bad in your life.”
The funerals we’ve been attending have been a poignant reminder that there are two rails on life’s track and at all times they carry both joy and sorrow, blessings and burdens. Joy because our faith tells us our loved ones are safely home. Grief because we miss them so much. Death brings sorrow, even to the One who is Lord over death (John 11:35). Jesus wept. So do we.
A shoe store in downtown Wheaton has a toy train in its window that cheerfully chugs its way around the same prescribed track day after day. Real life isn’t like that. Real rails carry cargos of pain and problems as well as payloads of bliss and beauty. But here’s the thing: the hard times and the supremely happy moments of life both work together for good in our lives and to bring blessing to others.
Have you ever stood on a railroad track and stared into the distance? The rails converge. The cargo they carry – joy or sorrow, blessing or burden – is eventually delivered. It reaches its destination. It accomplishes its purpose.
And so will we. The One who engineers our lives has promised to take us safely home.
“The Lord will deliver me from every evil attack and will bring me safely into his heavenly Kingdom. All glory to God forever and ever! Amen.” 2 Timothy 4:18 NLT