Finding your True North

by Steve Brock on February 15, 2017

The challenge

I was challenged by something I just read a few days ago in Dan Kieran’s book, The Idle Traveller: The Art of Slow Travel.

He quotes these lines from Philip Larkin’s “Home is So Sad:”

“Home is so sad. It stays as it was left,
Shaped to the comfort of the last to go
As if to win them back…”

Kieran then asks himself, “In my love of travel, had I begun to view my home as a means to an end, a destination I occupy but don’t really understand?” He continues:

“Wherever you happen to be geographically, travel actually takes place in your brain, so applying the mindset of the traveller to where you live is an interesting way to think about what it means to go on holiday.”

The journey

With that thought, Kieran heads out one day to explore areas around his own home that he has driven by, but never really experienced. The story of his journey inspired me to do the same thing. To get to know the place I call home better in the same way I would if it were some exotic, distant destination.

I drove to a parking lot not far from our home. Then I left behind both the car and my presuppositions about an area so close and yet so far away.

Finding your True North - The Interurban TrailThe trail

The Interurban Trail  runs both north and south of Seattle in two separate segments. I chose this day the southern part, an asphalt path that follows the route of the old Puget Sound Electric Railway trolley that ran here from 1902 to 1928. I’ve biked other sections, but not this one. And today, I walked.

Discoveries old and new

I’d traveled a few miles when I had my first hint that the discovery wasn’t necessarily to be found around me. Sure, there were interesting sights. Low areas now behaving as ponds from the recent snowfall and rain. Playful ducks cavorting in these waters. A shy rabbit darting across the trail when the coast seemed clear.

Industry abuts the trail as do houses, railroad tracks and, eventually, the backside of a shopping mall. All of these were somehow more interesting today than I would have thought. But revelatory? Not really. Surprising. Nope.

An unlikely find

What was unexpected was what I felt as I encountered the sheer normality of these places and sights. I was happy. Content beyond words. Downright joyful. Why?
I could try to rationalize the effect of coming home last week from a long overseas trip. Or the simple pleasure of being outside after a week indoors. Or a host of other factors. But as I walked, I found my answer.

True North Control

Embedded periodically in the trail are these shiny metal disks, markers that, I assume, serve as engineering guides:

True North Control marker

True North Control. This one stumps even Google. I can’t find the actual definition of what these are for. But here’s what they meant to me.

On this day, I had found my True North. I was given not what I thought I wanted — a day to explore and understand better the world around my home. Instead, I received what I needed. Presence. To my settings. To myself. To God.

What do you really want?

Recently, I’ve also been reading James K. A. Smith’s intriguing book, You Are What You Love. In it, he makes the case that it’s not what you know that causes you to live the way you do. It’s what you desire. And the scariest part of that? What we think we desire and what we deep down truly do may not be the same thing.

I left today thinking I needed adventure, albeit of the local kind. I thought I needed to engage my external world. But instead, what deeply satisfied me occurred more internally though I believe it was triggered (as is almost always the case in great travel) by the external surroundings.

What I found along the way was my True North, a mixed up sense of direction, desire and even the Author of all those.

Hidden all around us

God hides in plain sight all around us. Our True North is always available to us. But we forget. We lose sight of what matters. We get confused and we cease to understand what our True North is.

I personally think it’s one of the great tragedies of our age. We pursue what we think we desire without understanding our deeper longings. We travel aimlessly supposing that happiness comes in the journey without realizing that we are made for a direction, a destination.

Remembering what matters

Today I was given the gift of presence. Of peace. Of joy. Of remembering and rediscovering that God gives us what we need even when we think we want something else. And when he does, we find that indeed, that was what we truly longed for but didn’t realize we desired.

So what do you desire, deeply long for? Do you really know? Or do you, like me, need to take the time to just head out on a journey of discovery — perhaps as close as your own backyard — to find that everything you’re pursuing around you isn’t what will satisfy you. Only your True North can both lead you there and meet you there.

But when you find it, you realize that though you may have journeyed far, you have in fact reached your true home.


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The mystery beyond

by Steve Brock on March 27, 2016

Mystery stepsLately, I’ve been curious about curiosity. I’ve wondered about different types of curiosity and how to (and why one would want to) enhance your curiosity. But I’ll be honest. Curiosity, while critical to learning, innovation and discovery, has always felt like the superficial cousin to the deeper concept of mystery.

A curiosity, like the right response on Jeopardy, may be fun to know. But mystery invites us in on a deeper level.

When I travel, I am relentlessly curious. I want to know more about the people, places and cultures I visit. On most trips, my desire to learn remains at the curiosity level. Where I regularly cross over into the world of the mysterious isn’t when I’m exploring some ancient ruin or a dark forest. It’s when I return from my trip.

The greatest mysteries of travel tend to occur after we get home when we’re trying to figure out what the whole trip meant. It is in the return when I have to confront the bigger questions: How have I changed? What do those changes mean for my life moving forward? What have I become and what am I becoming as a result of this trip?

These questions can lead to others (and even, occasionally some answers) that both make complete sense even as they don’t.

Which leads me to today. I write this on Easter morning. I used to see this day not as one of mystery, but of revelation. Mystery was wrapped up in the darkness of the Cross on Good Friday. Resurrection Sunday, in my mind, has always been the bright day when all the answers become clear.

Now, I’m not so sure. As with travel and coming home to confront all that we have learned and are becoming, I think the mystery is just beginning. We’re given enough to grasp the basic story of death, resurrection, the forgiveness of sins and the hope of everlasting life as a result. But for me, what lies beyond the Resurrection now holds the deeper mystery. Not on a cosmic or theological level so much as on a personal one.

Simply put, what does it mean to live in light of the Resurrection?

Easter reminds me that just like returning from a trip, I have to be curious enough to engage the mystery. I have to wrestle with the tension of not knowing. I have to keep pursuing answers even when the questions themselves aren’t clear and to realize that the few answers I do get may be as uncomfortable as they are ultimately satisfying.

So why do I do this? Why pursue the mystery that lies beyond the trip or beyond the empty tomb? Because in the journey, in the struggle through the mystery itself, is where we find life. It’s become almost bumper-sticker trite to say that the value of the trip is found not in the destination but in the journey. But I think the Resurrection reveals to us an added and often missing dimension.

The deeper value is not in the journey on the trip and nor in the destination, but in the journey after the destination. The stone rolled away from that tomb reveals both the completion of one story and the beginning of an entirely new one. The mystery of both travel and the Resurrection is that the journey we thought we were wrapping up is only just now starting. We have entered a place of closure only to find a doorway to a brand new adventure.

It’s a mystery we’re not meant to solve. Instead, it’s one we’re invited to celebrate, be part of, discover – and live.






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An excellent meal

by Steve Brock on March 10, 2015

Kings Kitchen InteriorAlmost a year ago, my colleague and I are in Charlotte, NC for business, hungry and confused by the various recommended food options on Yelp. So we find a restaurant the old fashion way: We drive around and see what is crowded.

We spot an intriguing looking restaurant on the corner, The King’s Kitchen. We double check on Yelp. Great reviews. We park and go in.

Even at 1:30 p.m., the place still has the ambient hum of multiple white collar workers finishing up their lunches. This is uptown Charlotte, blocks away from the headquarters of financial giants like Bank of America. We are seated. The menu is “new Southern” and inviting. I order something I’ve never had in a restaurant before, pot roast with three sides of various vegetables.

I can’t verify that my eyes close when I take the first bite, but I can say I’ve never tasted a better pot roast in my life (sorry, Mom). Every aspect of the meal generates excited comments between my colleague and me. As our plates are cleared and we’re waiting for the check, however, I look around and realize something seems out of place.

The restaurant has a great vibe, modern with an island-like bar surrounded by tables which in turn line the two large walls of windows. But something seems different from other trendy restaurants and that’s when I realize what it is: the music.

The background music is contemporary Christian. Not something you hear in cool restaurants where I live.

The manager comes by and asks how things are. We rave about the food. Then I ask about the music. She smiles. “We’re not just a restaurant. We’re a ministry. Stick around another hour and we’ve got a bible study starting at 3:00. Come here Saturday morning and you can help distribute food to the homeless. Come here Sunday, and the owner, Chef Jim Noble (who is also an ordained pastor) will be preaching at our church service. And your waiter and all the others? Most come from the streets or out of rehab programs or prison and are trained here.”

As we leave, the manager introduces me to Jim Noble He’s here meeting with an architect, one who, it turns out, designs restaurant interiors all over the world. They’re discussing ways to make further improvements to the space. I tell Jim how impressed we are, how it not only is a great ministry, but great food.

He nods. He runs several other award-winning restaurants in the area. “You can have the best intentions, but if the food isn’t up there, you won’t succeed,” he says.


Last month, I’m back in Charlotte with another colleague. I tell him about the King’s kitchen (I only notice the intentional capitalization later) and he eagerly agrees to go there for dinner. I order salmon with a winter squash puree, glazed oyster mushrooms, brussels and bacon. If possible, this meal is even better than my first.

Afterwards, we talk to Steve Hendrick, the general manager (pictured in the photo). I tell him of my previous experience, of our praise for what they’ve done here. He’s appreciative. He informs us that they are now fully self-supporting as a business (even though 100% of profits go locally to feeding the hungry). That they are packed most every night. That they’ve just been nominated as one of the top restaurants in Charlotte.

We congratulate him. And most of all, we thank him for what he, Jim Noble and all the staff and volunteers have accomplished: They have done ministry with excellence.


Excellence. It’s not always a word we associate with ministries. But when I see a place like the King’s kitchen doing good and doing well with quality, I’m deeply inspired. It makes me want to apply those same standards to all I do. Not just in my profession, but also at my church or in my volunteer work with other non-profits I know.

Most people say excellence matters. But if you’re ever in Charlotte, go to King’s kitchen and see what it looks like in action. Or even better, go and taste it for yourself.

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Traveling in new directions

by Steve Brock October 17, 2014

New opportunities lead to new directions. Find out about the new changes coming here on The Meaningful Traveler.

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The way of meaning

by Steve Brock September 25, 2014

Meaning is easier to define than it is to describe as a tour of various artists’ studios reveals.

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Eliminate your variables

by Steve Brock September 4, 2014

When learning a new sport or any new skill – even learning to travel well – you’ll increase competency faster when you tackle each aspect or variable one at a time.

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Knowing and doing

by Steve Brock August 14, 2014

Learning to fly fish reveals that knowing something without doing it is incomplete. Some things can only be grasped experientially through doing.

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