The (not-so) Boring Straight and Narrow Path

So, I should start with the basics: I have started acting again. This is kind of a big deal, as I felt that when I got married it wasn’t a good idea to pursue acting. There were a number of reasons, but the biggest one was that my husband thought I would spend so much time fake-kissing boys that I would fall in love with a co-star. None of these things were true, but my husband had only been married for a few years and I was a wild and crazy gal.

Now, we’ve been married for almost 18 years. Yikes. Our marriage is literally graduating high school this year. Our marriage has stopped being a turd all of the time and has actually picked out some cool colleges that are both affordable and interesting. Our marriage is dating a very nice boy who is about to leave for Guam for two years, during which time I will spend every day convincing it to focus on studies or travel, or both.

I wish that when I was 18, I had been given some of the same advice. It would have been nice to have someone sit me down and say, “Willow, it’s okay if you don’t go to college. Travel. Join the Peace Corps. It’s better to find out what you want to do and who you are in a place where you don’t have to pay $450 for every Advanced Trampoline course you take.”

Seriously. I took Advanced Trampoline. I think I got a B. That’s the grade you get if you can bounce, but not very high.

I also took Fencing, Jazz Dance, and all the acting classes I could get my hands on. Because I have always, always wanted to be an actress. Since I was a tiny child tying up my barbies to barbecue stakes and painting fake blood on them with nail polish. Since I was a 8-year-old with a cassette recorder, creating impromptu newscasts and radio dramas with my brother. That’s what I always wanted to be.

Now, I wanted to be a writer, too. My first published book was a book cleverly titled Poems that I created out of a piece of shimmery silver cardstock folded over a handful of plain white paper and stapled in the middle. There was no dedication page, but there was a quote that adorned the first page—a quote that I created. It said: Poetry is art, except with words. I’m pretty sure I was 6.

These two desires fought over my soul and still do. Even as I sit here, I’m thinking about the next anthology that I’m putting together over at Weird Little Worlds Press. And at the same time, I’m thinking about how I auditioned for the Nauvoo Pageant almost 6 weeks ago and I still don’t know if I’m in or out. Both of these things are ever-present in my mind, but the truth is neither one of them really matter.

Today, I had a terrifying thing happen to me that put it all into perspective.

My 4-year-old daughter was with me all day long, having puked up most of the food she’s eaten over her entire lifetime in the past three days. Truthfully? I’m not even sure that’s accurate, since I doubt any living human has vomited that much zucchini, so maybe her puke included prior lives. Only God would know.

Anyway, it was just after lunch and she was crying and wailing about not being able to have dessert. I understand that pain clearly, I assure you. But, as moms are wont to, I kind of let her have a cry session in the living room while I went about my business working on putting all the millions of pieces together that go into creating an award-winning dark fiction anthology.

It was only a few minutes later. Maybe 5, maybe 10. But I suddenly realized that the world had gone very quiet.

I felt that mom-alarm go off. I called her name. Nothing.

I looked in the living room, the kitchen. Upstairs, downstairs. All the time calling her name, all the time getting more and more frantic.

I pulled my husband into my frenzy, my pitch getting higher, my voice more ragged. I called her friends. My husband jogged the only place that we could imagine her walking—to a friend’s house around the corner. Panicked, I called 911 and they tried to calm me down even as I became more and more agitated.

“She’s not here,” I sobbed. “If she was here, she would have heard me—”

“I’m going to need you to calm down, ma’am,” the dispatcher said. “Have you looked everywhere? Under the beds? In the closets?”

“There are no places for her to hide. I’ve looked everywhere. She would have heard me if she was here. What if someone found her? What if someone picked her up?”

Even as I said it, the reality dawned on me. If someone had picked her up, that would be the end. I could not bear to lose her.

“We’re sending someone over right now. I want you to keep looking.”

As if she hadn’t spoken. “I didn’t hear the door open or close. The dogs didn’t bark. Why would she leave? She wouldn’t leave, she’s been sick.”

And as the phone hung up, I realized that it might be even worse than that. If she didn’t leave the house, but she wasn’t responding—

I got on my knees and I prayed.

God please find her. Let me find her. The book, the auditions, none of that matters. Nothing matters but my kids and my husband. Please let me find her.

As I got up, I looked over to the couch, where my pug had been sleeping on the pillows. Below, in a sliver between two cushions, was a little hand.

I pulled the cushions off her and she was there, whole. Sleeping. Fevered. But just fine. Knocked out by sickness and fatigue like only my daughter could be. She could have been sleeping beside a jet engine and she wouldn’t have woken.

But by now, the neighbors had been called. People were scouting the streets. We already had cupcakes delivered and friends showing up in their mini-vans. And the police arrived just in time for me to tell him that she’d been sleeping on the couch (under the pillows and dog, of course), the whole time.

What is the point of this?

Way back a long time ago, I used to look at people who did things like pray or go to church or read the scriptures like sad little brainless zombies. Sheep who just couldn’t function on their own without someone to lead them along. The world was gorgeous and wild and wide. Why spend life walking this arbitrary straight and narrow path? Why not forge off into the jungle and find your own way, your own adventures and destiny?

What I’ve learned over a lifetime of adventuring off the path is that, the adventure off the path looks fun until you realize that you’ve put yourself in grave danger. And because getting off the path means you’re on your own, sometimes there’s no one there to pull you back from the ledge. Or maybe, there is always someone willing to pull you back from the ledge, but often we are too stubborn to listen to the voice that’s trying to keep us safe.

What I didn’t know as a younger person is that, no matter how arbitrary and boring you think the straight and narrow path is, it’s not. In fact, that path of doing good and doing right—following what you know to be true even when it’s hard, living to love others and bring joy to the world within the rules and laws that God has outlined—is not really boring at all. In fact, the straight and narrow path goes over mountains, below oceans, and through the very jungles that you feel you must leave the path to explore.

The straight and narrow path takes you through the adventures, friend. I promise you that it does. The ecstasy of love and passion, the depths of sorrow, the near-misses and the huge wins. And like today, it takes you through the terrifying moment where you fear most. It is all there on the straight and narrow path.

The difference is, when you’re doing what you know to be true, the adventure is exactly what it’s supposed to be—an adventure. It’s falling with style, flying on invisible airstreams that you can have perfect faith will set you down exactly where you need to be. Even when the worst happens—and it sometimes does—you know that you’re on the path and that the path is leading you to where you need to be, step by step. Through hell itself, if necessary.

The alternative is not safe. Spiritually or physically. When you’re trekking away from that simple, straightforward path of discipleship, it might be fun at first. But the odds of you getting lost in the woods is good. And you may get to a place where you no longer care that you’re lost, putting you in real danger of accidentally falling over a cliff or permanently losing your way.

Speaking out of metaphor, I’m talking about how little flirtations can lead to big infidelities. How small doubts fed and nurtured by anger and fear lead to apostasy. How grudges can lead to lifelong hatred and impenetrable rifts between people who might otherwise love one another. These are the little steps off the path that take us deep into the jungle, unwilling or unable to hear God calling us back to the safety of the path—love, light, and forgiveness.

But it’s up to you. You can choose the difficult task of fighting through the weeds or taking weird side roads, or you can choose that simple, straight path. Either way, there will be adventure. And no matter how you do life—whether on the path or off of it—God is always there, calling you to come closer. Calling you to become what you’re meant to become. And then, calling you home.

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