By Tom Ehrich

HARRIMAN, TN -- Who knew that the small town of Hartford, KY, could have such a fine restaurant as Capers Cafe?

Or that Bowling Green, KY, would be such a large city? Or that Route 53 across the top of Tennessee would progress through such interesting towns and then become an almost-icy menace east of Livingston?

Or that I would cross 3,000 miles and almost immediately lose my appetite for dawdling and exploring? I am ready for a break from the road. My scheduled long weekend at a cabin in eastern Tennessee is coming at just the right time.

I am ready to think deeply and write it all out, reflecting on the entire experience to date. Just keep me out of a Chevrolet for the next few days.

The last miles of any trip are often the most challenging. Road fatigue sets in. Alertness declines. The destination seems close enough to taste but still far away.

As my wife wisely put it last evening in our daily telephone call, it's good that I am stopping before the end to reflect on the trip. For once I reach home, I will get into being-at-home mode and will put on-the-road behind me.

In that same way, the Hebrews paused almost at the end of their wilderness wandering to reflect on it. Once they crossed the Jordan into Canaan, everything would change.

Jesus gave his Farewell Discourse in the Fourth Gospel when he was still some distance from the end.

We think of journeys in three stages: beginning, middle and end. But maybe there is a fourth stage, inserted between middle and end, called "almost there." This is the life-stage where Baby Boomers find ourselves: on the gray side of middle age, on the active side of old age.

In "almost there" we can reflect on our journey without dreading its conclusion. I know how much work awaits me in Upstate New York. Settling into a new home, completing two book manuscripts, and working with my wife to figure out a new life style for this next phase.

For the coming weekend of "almost there," I can continue in the carefree role of vagabond. I can stay entirely within my thoughts and curiosities. I can look back at 3,200 miles and not need to look ahead at the final 800.

I think faith has the same four stages. We tend to feel most alive in the middle phase, when we have tons of energy and questions and networking interests. This is when we pour ourselves into churches and mission projects.

"Almost there" seems to be a pensive time, when the mad pace of church life seems unnecessary, and we want mostly to be making a difference. We aren't slowing down as much as we are shedding load.

Each phase has its value and integrity. None is better than another. The key, it seems to me, is to recognize where we are in the journey and to live into it as fully as possible.