Summer 2009

Curving Along the Straight Path

By Cassandra Van Zandt

I pulled my convertible VW into the Biola parking lot at the back of Sutherland Hall, put the car in park, gathered my books and walked through the double glass doors. I arrived for classes right on time and exactly 20 years later than I had planned. I’ve got a great job; I’m an English professor at Biola, a career that I love and that, 20 years ago, was so far beyond my dreams for myself that the possibility of doing this did not occur to me.

While I may not have envisioned myself as an English professor back then, I could imagine myself as an English major. In fact, I applied and was accepted to Biola. This is where I had planned to receive my undergraduate education, but it is not where I attended. In fact, I didn’t go to college right after high school.

Two months into my senior year of high school, my mom died. The oldest of five children, I was grieving the loss of my mother, putting my then 5-year-old brother to bed and working instead of enrolling in Freshman Composition, P.E. and History. My day-to-day life changed drastically, and my future altered course.

Eventually, I went to college part time for a semester, full time for a year, part time again for several years, and finally full time for the last three semesters of my bachelor’s degree. Four colleges and 10 years later, I finished my B.A. During much of that time, I felt like a quitter. What I know now is that I was incredibly tenacious. I felt like I was walking a winding path rather than a straight one. What I know now is that, well, I was indeed walking a winding path, but it was the right one. The shortest distance isn’t always the optimal route.

My husband and I often use this analogy: Saturdays are typically our errand days. We don’t plot our course by simply determining the shortest route between our destinations - grocery store, bank, Costco, Home Depot. Instead, we consider a number of factors. Hinges from the home improvement store don’t need to be refrigerated, but hamburger does. Therefore, we hit Home Depot before Costco. In our errand running, the best route is not always the most “efficient” in terms of distance or time traveled. There are other things to consider.

The same is true of our lives. Sure, it would have been great to graduate “on time,” but, in retrospect, it was better to walk that circuitous path. God was indeed ordering it. Since I was 6 years old, I have known that I could trust God with my soul. Over the past few years, I have been learning what it means to trust him with my life - my plans, my hopes, my future and my present. I cling to Proverbs 16:9 as I make my plans and know that God directs my steps.

I’m in my 40s now, and things are good. I have a lovely home, a terrific job, good friends and an incredible marriage. I have felt joy, contentment, even triumph. However, sometimes things are pretty tough. I have also felt sorrow, confusion, even anger. Regardless of what I feel - or maybe better phrasing is in the midst of what I feel, in the midst of my circumstances - I have begun to say, “What can I learn? Lord, how do you want to shape my character?”

As I ask these questions, and as I continue to learn to surrender my life to God, my focus has become less about outcome and increasingly about what God is doing in my life and my heart in this moment or season. I set goals; I plan a path; and I work hard to achieve these aims; but I am more comfortable with what appear to be detours or changes in destination.

I read in Scripture that I am to trust God with all of my heart, not lean on my own understanding, acknowledge him in everything I do and know that he will make my path straight (Proverbs 3:5-6). My “straight path” has had numerous bends in the road, but I know that God has ordered my steps. I arrived ready for classes at Biola precisely two decades later and in a different role than I had planned, but I got here right on time.

Cassandra Van Zandt is an assistant professor of English at Biola and will assume the role of dean of humanities and social sciences in August. She holds an M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of California, Riverside.

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