Praying Over Those Two Roads

Funny how those little decisions you make with hardly a thought have a way of redirecting the rest of your life.

Best friend J. L. Rice and I were coming up on our junior year at Winston County High School in Double Springs, Alabama, and thought of something that might be fun. We had come through the science fair together and loved to kid around, imitating Don Knotts on the old Steve Allen program (with a wide-eyed, “Nooo!”–okay, you had to have been there), when one of us had a bright idea. We would take short-hand the following year.

Gregg Shorthand was taught in almost every high school in the land back then, always by the “business” teacher, the lady who instructed in typing and office skills. Shorthand class was intended to prepare future secretaries to earn a living, and thus no one but girls enrolled. J. L. and I became the only boys in the school’s history–before or since–to sign up. We took the class for two solid years, made excellent grades, and loved every day of it.

Had you asked, we would have told you we were preparing for college. Neither of us knew anything about college, but we had always imagined there would be lots of lectures which necessitated note-taking. J. L. went to work up north after high school and never used his shorthand, whereas I found out pretty quickly that you don’t need shorthand for college classes.


My sophomore year at Birmingham-Southern College, I had a little Saturday job selling men’s clothing for the National Shirt Shops downtown, earning perhaps $10 a week. Just enough for spending money. Remember, this was 1960 when a coke cost a dime. I didn’t have a car, but lived next to the campus and rode the city bus everywhere for a quarter.

When my father was forced to retire prematurely from the coal mines and go on disability, I had to get serious about finding a part-time job. On the “jobs” bulletin board in the college administration building, I found the index card, thumb-tacked in the center where I couldn’t miss it.

“Clerk-typist wanted for weekend work. Shorthand required. Must be male as you will be working alone near the railroad terminal. Contact the Pullman Company. C. F. DeNinno, Agent”

I was the only person to apply for the job. It paid union scale, which felt like I had won the lottery. For the next year and a half, I worked from 8 to 5 on Saturdays and Sundays, in a little block building a hundred yards from the cavernous and majestic railroad terminal. Sometimes the agent came in and dictated letters, but mostly I was there alone except for the porters and conductors and an occasional mechanic coming and going. It was the perfect job for a college student. I did a little work, studied my lessons, typed papers, and walked around the railroad yard. On Sunday mornings, I listened to worship services on the radio, and after closing the office, rode the bus to my church where I sang with the youth choir, and attended training union and the evening service. After church, a group of us would head down the street to Constantine’s restaurant for supper. It was a great life.

My college major was history and political science with a minor in English and speech. With plans to teach in high school immediately after graduation, I took a teaching certificate. Just as I finished the final class in March of 1962, I received a phone call from a superintendent of education in a nearby county inviting me to start teaching the following Monday. For the rest of that semester, I taught English literature and biology to 11th and 12th graders at Dora High School. I bought a car, signed a contract to teach history at Ensley High School that fall, and Margaret and I got married.

The problem with teaching school is you need a summer job. My bride let me know in no uncertain terms that she would not be married to a man who sat around the house drawing unemployment checks. So, I went looking.

The employment agency said an iron plant in Tarrant City was looking for a secretary to the production manager. He must be male–he would be working inside the plant with 300 ironworkers–and must be able to take shorthand. I was the only one to apply for the job. It supported us for the next two years while we organized our lives, had a baby, and prepared to head to seminary in New Orleans.

Funny how a choice made by a 15-year-old influences his life for years to come.

I look back and wonder how my life would have been different had J. L. and I not taken shorthand. I would not have had the jobs at the Pullman Company and James B. Clow & Sons cast iron pipe company. But I would have worked somewhere, presumably. Where, I wonder, and how would that have affected the future course of my life. I don’t remember praying over these decisions. Was God guiding me anyway? Was it my mother’s prayers God was answering in guiding me?

In his wonderful little poem “The Road Not Taken,” Robert Frost wrote:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth.

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that, the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

And now you know where Scott Peck got the title for his best-seller.

I pray for our three children–all approaching middle-age at the speed of light–and for our eight grandchildren who still have the bulk of their life-decisions looming before them. I know something of how small decisions made with scarcely a thought can lead to other crossroads and detours and dead-ends, and to adventures great and awful. I know how impossible it is to return to point A and choose the road you left behind the first time.

So I pray for these little ones. I ask the Lord to guide and protect them in the choice of where they shall go to school, the subjects they take, the friends they select, the best friends they hang out with, and the boyfriends/girlfriends they match up with. I pray for God to guide them as they decide on college and careers and life mates, on churches and temptations and commitments.

I think about the time–college days again; I was living in a boarding house near the campus–when I casually invited a new resident, Joel Davis, to Wednesday night prayer meeting at our church. That led to a life-long friendship. Joel and I ended up moving out and sharing a furnished apartment, and he played a major role in matching up Margaret and me, then became best man in our wedding. We keep in touch to this day. He’s retired from the business world now, but works almost full-time as the senior adult minister at the wonderful Annistown Road Baptist Church outside Atlanta and plays golf more than Tiger Woods. We don’t see each other much–we e-mail back and forth a lot–but I shall never forget something he and his lovely wife Wilma said to me once when we were together after a ten-year separation.

Joel and Wilma Davis said to me, “We pray for you every day.”

What an incredible gift God gave me in these friends. And it all began with the most casual thing in the world, inviting a new friend to church.

“He leadeth me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” (Psalm 23:3)

“Lead me, Lord. Lead me in thy righteousness. Make thy way plain before my face. Amen.”

9 thoughts on “Praying Over Those Two Roads

  1. Dear Dr. McKeever,

    Thanks again for a beautiful article. There were a lot of items in your article that brought back some wonderful memories. One of the best was the certainty that my Mother was praying for me every day of my life because that was the last thing she did before going to bed. She waited until everyone else was in bed and then it was her turn in the bathroom and there, on her knees, I have found her on occasions when I interupted her accidently, thinking I had left the light burning.

    It is a wonderful feeling knowing that your Mother is praying for you, and I really miss it. Now it is my turn to pray for my daughter and her husband and my grandson, now 6 years old. God does guide our paths so many ways that we don’t realize until we have gone much further in life. And there are some big mistakes that I have made by not really praying about it in earnest.

    Hope our health is doing O.K.

    Bob King

  2. Bro. Joe

    Since we have our first graduating from High School this week I want to pass this on to him. Thinking back over my years there seems to have always been a key person or two that meant all the difference along the way. That person gave the right advice or directive at just the right time. I think also of a principle I see in scripture that could be called “Blessing By Association” whereby such folk were blessed indirectly by standing in the right shadow of another. Noah’s family or Abraham’s family or those original apostles could testify.

    On the flip side, my friend Rick Hughes points out that “Bad Decisions Limit Future Options.” Ponder the depth of that one. Whereas your decision to take shorthand opened doors, many a decision is made that shuts them tight. May God keep us looking at the bigger picture and not just the immediate snapshot.

  3. I, too had praying parents who prayed for me often. That may be why I am so convinced I have a guardian angel(s).

    A shorthand story:

    During the depression my dad was the only male of his seniority level who remained employed at Hercules Powder Company because he was the only male who could take shorthand. He made sure I did. (I loved shorthand, too. Wish I had kept it current — don’t know how much I would use it, but there are times . . .)

    There is a story I will always remember. I was doing my shorthand homework when I came to two short vertical lines, obviously together. I knew that was the “sh” symbol, or “brief forms” for ship and short. Neither fit the context, which was about football tickets. I could make no sense of it and waited until Daddy came home. I explained the dilemma to him, and he said, “Honey, it’s 11.” The tickets were on row 11!

  4. Dear Joe,

    You don’t know me, but I think you know my son, Rev. E. Keith Jones who now works with North American Mission Board. Your essay about “The Road Not Taken” is superb. It illustrates how “way leads to way,” and how–even when we are unaware–God is directing our paths. I am a minister’s wife, a minister’s mother, and a long-time teacher (now retired). It is gratifying to hear from many people in our past ministries that tell me now how something I was doing just as part of my job (at school or at church, albeit it, I took both as God’s plan for me) meant so very much to them in later life. These are some of the rewards of following God and doing what you need to do as “part of your job.”

    I guess we will never see the underside of the wonderful tapestry and how it all fitted together into one great whole, or (back to roads) all the map and how the main road, the byways and the lanes fit together to lead us in directions we should go. Thank you for the inspiration of your essay. A praying mother,

    Ethelene Dyer Jones

  5. Dr. Joe,

    Just a short note to tell you what a wonderful, talented writer you are and how you inspire so many with your words and faith. Thank you so much.

    Warmest regards, Linda Patch

  6. HI JOE; BOY, that stirred memorie and also hit home….isn’t it exciting when we reach the age where we can LOOK BACK and see what God was doing in our early lives…I just love it!

    KAY

    DO HOPE YOU AND MARGARET CAN COMEM TO THE WEST END BAPTIST CHURCH REUNION ON JUNE 10th..>Joel and Wilma came last time!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Hope you are doing well! Prayers with you KAY

  7. I just stumbled on your website and i have indeed been blessed. The words were just the ones i needed at this time of my life. God bless U again and again

  8. I loved this one, Bro. Joe. Praying about which road to take in life, can be difficult at times, but the best road I’ve chosen to go down is the one that led me to my husband David, I thank God everyday, for that “road.” Thank you for this article, especially the poem, my dad loves Robert Frost too. I love you too Bro. Joe.

  9. Do you know a railroad retired now conductor out of tarrant alabama named william henry pyles or short name Billy Pyles who lived in Mt olive Alabama from the 1970’s? He is my Grandfather now in a nursing home in centerpoint ala.

    just wondering he talked of a man named Joe. Is that you?

    michelle beck