The Slow Road to Intentionality

“We’re all en route to wherever we’re going.” -Yours Truly

For the past five months, as most of you know, we’ve been traveling across Europe in a campervan. We’ve visited 22 countries and driven over 11,000 miles. While we’ve stayed in a few places for a couple weeks at a time, the majority of our trip has given us a new horizon each morning. Google Maps has been the soundtrack of our trip and Siri has been the prime recipient of our verbal abuse, as she regularly sends our slightly-larger-than-normal van down impossibly narrow and winding single lane European roads.

Each day presents new issues to be carefully navigated, choices quickly made, and plans intentionally crafted. While visiting a friend in North Bavaria, Germany this weekend, she had us draw our route on a printed map of Europe (yes, millennials, they DO still exist!), and for the first time, I saw the aggregate of our decisions and accomplishments in one beautiful visual. It was moving to see this wonderfully squiggling black line winding across the continent, encompassing all we’ve known on our journey in La Tortue Blanche. This, perhaps, is the most tangible depiction of how I’ve come to think of Willfully Living— mindfully designing a lifestyle and working to ensure that daily practices, habits, and choices are in alignment with those broader ideas of living. Seeing this vast route, which is now four short days from coming full circle, allowed me to reflect on the journey thus far, and I must say, tears come to my eyes and pride swells within me to see the personal growth and transformation that has taken place.

Prior to the trip, intentionality constantly filled my mind space. I wanted to curate a lifestyle in the van that was aggressively focused, deliberate, and measured. I wanted it to be a season of richness, both creatively and intellectually. I intended on developing the habit of waking up before the sun to read and write, an event that has happened infrequently enough in my life that I could probably count it on two hands. I imagined the songs I would write, a creative output I’ve not been able to achieve in over four years. I envisioned the clarity I would enjoy, allowing me to begin writing the book that I’ve wanted to complete for a while now. I was determined to get back into the best shape of my life, despite having no access to a gym on our travels.

So how’d that turn out for me? Well, I still regularly sleep past 10 am, I’ve yet to write a single verse to a new song, the book only has a halfway completed outline, and my abs more resemble a pan of dinner rolls than a six-pack. Epic failure, right? Not so fast…

What I’ve learned on this trip is best described by a podcast I listened to recently from Rob Bell, entitled “Seeds and Switches.” Check it out. The main idea in this podcast is that our modern culture has conditioned us to expect transformation like a light switch where with one swift motion, we flick a switch and achieve results. We are obsessed with finding the next huge life hack which will radically make us into something we long to be. Not only can we have what we want in today’s world, but we can also have it conveniently when we want it. However, “there is no switch when it comes to the soul,” according to Bell. He states that these sweeping changes we long to make should be looked at more like seeds, which through hard work and sweat are carefully placed in prepared soil, where we then must have patience, hope, and trust that they will grow.

As these seeds are covered by the Earth and we cannot see growth, but we must continue to care for them, ensuring the weeds are pulled and that they are receiving enough sunlight and water on a daily basis. We must actively choose to invest ourselves in their growth, trusting that our small consistent acts of care will yield a sprout, then a healthy plant, and eventually fruit.

While I have not written a new song, I play my guitar daily and have become much better at improvising in the keys of E and C than I was before the trip. While I have not developed the habit of waking up early to read and write, I have developed the habit of reading as soon as I rise before setting off for the day’s activities. Although I have not written even the first chapter of my book, I am developing the habit of writing something every day. Although I’m not in the best shape of my life, I am in better shape now that I have been in the past five years. These things are all to be celebrated! Joy often comes in movement, not in the final result.

I have learned on this trip that intentionality is not always an epiphany that results in instantaneous life change, but a conglomeration of active, tiny, and daily choices whose ripple effects have long-lasting and fulfilling results. I’ve found that intentionality is the act of mindfully curating goals and pursuits and making the small choices in daily life, which, in the aggregate, produce a life well lived. I feel I am well positioned for the life I desire after this part of our trip, even if I do not see tangible fruit produced yet. I’m not yet where I want to be, but I’m en route.

Intentionality is not teleportation. It is taking the slow road—trusting the map and the voice that directs each step along your chosen route; It is making each small turn as it comes and not worrying about those to come; It is actively looking around at the beauty of each singular moment, knowing you will never be in that place at that time again; and it is a deep knowing that if you drive just a little further each day, you will get you to your final destination eventually. Then, someday, you’ll look up and draw a dark line along your full life route and realize that it all came full circle, after all. Then, you’ll also find that every moment along the route is filled with beautiful memories and events, which in the aggregate, have you back to where you wanted to be all along. The seed has finally sprouted.