My son is home from college on his fall break.  He brought a friend home with him who needed a place to stay, since he lives across the globe and can't fly back for the few short days of break in the school routine.  It's been good to have them here, sleeping until almost noon and eating all of our food.  Evidently it's really exhausting being a college freshman.

But, what I've loved most is listening to these guys talk and plan for the future.  Next semester's classes.  Next summer's mission trips.  What comes next, after college.

They're in such an exciting time in life. The time where "next" is wide open and could contain anything.  Nothing is set in stone and nothing is impossible.  And yes, "next" is a little scary, too, since it's wide open and could contain anything.  But, judging from these men's faces, it's more exciting than scary.

And that's where I pause.  Because somewhere in life, excitement for next has a habit of turning into playing it safe.  And playing it safe makes a cozy nest of comfort that becomes hard to leave when it's time to climb the next mountain of next.  And if you choose not to climb the mountain, you become a settler in the village of almost and maybe later. 

And if you stay too long in a village like that, you lose it all.

You lose all sense of zest and wonder over what's on the other side of the mountain.  You lose your joy for the journey itself.

If that's where you are right now, I wish I could box up that tangible sense of next that's been permeating my kitchen table between the hours of noon and midnight this last week.  I wish I could  wrap it, add a shiny gift tag, and ship it to you today.  But, that's the thing, isn't it? 

Next can't come from someone else.  It can only come from the deep places.

The places that make you who you are.  The places you dream about and share only with those you feel safe.  The places you long for, but sometimes can't even find language to give them shape.

Yet, longings have a way of making themselves known, and so they come out in expressions of joy, bursts of happy that rise up when we see our feet leaving the village and heading toward the mountain trail.  The deep satisfaction that occurs when our lives intersect with purpose that is bigger than the running of errands and writing of checks.  

Frederick Buechner writes, "The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet."

And in the very reading of those words, there is a stirring, isn't there?  A sense of beckoning to find the trail that leads over the mountain to the place of your gladness.  To the place where you can pioneer a new village, one that will be a refuge for the weary travelers who come behind you, filling their hunger with good things and helping them find their own deep gladness. 

A place where regret for the years of settling in the village fades away with one question.

What's next?