Friday, March 16, 2012

Come Walk With Me

Coping mechanisms come in all forms. Some people eat. Others watch old movies. I’ve known those who yell and others who say they bury their frustrations in the ground with a gardening spade. I’ve tried all of those. But, for me, the coping technique that beats them all is to take a walk. A big walk. A get-me-outside, run-away-from-people, let-me-breathe fresh-air walk.
Of course, Christians should find their primary emotional shelter and tension release in God. But sometimes I need a small boost from the natural world to get me fully concentrating on the heavenly and there is no better way to do that than take a long walk in one of the local state parks. Preferably, one with water.

The three mile nature trail around Dangerfield Lake is one of my favorite journeys. One or two circuits are enough to make me feel as though I’ve done something significant but the trail is not strenuous so there’s energy left over to pray and think. This year, when the first week of March arrived, my brain was fried and I couldn’t write one word more. So I stuffed a Bible, prayer journal, hymnal and a couple of apples in a backpack then took off to find how early spring was treating God’s world in East Texas. And, hopefully, to fill my spiritual sails with fresh wind.
Finding wind wasn’t a problem. March was coming in like a lion and the weather required a jacket even when hiking. Much of the landscape was still winter-brown and the sky overcast. Then a bird drew my attention straight over head where the battered, swaying branches of a small tree showed just how stubbornly insistent new life can be.
By Easter, this dogwood tree will be in full bloom. Three inch white blossoms will fight for space among small green leaves. Even at this stage both leaves and blooms are pushing their way out of dead-looking, grey twigs. Although hidden for months and battered by winter storms, life is determined to reach for the light and make itself known. With careful observation the slightly rounded shape of blossoms could be separated from pointed leaves even from ten feet below.
It must be an occupational hazard for writers to see stories, sermons, and symbols in most everything. But as I stood there looking up I couldn’t help wonder about my lack of spiritual stubbornness. I remembered God’s challenge to Jeremiah, “If you have run with footmen, and they have wearied you, / Then how can you contend with horses? / And if in the land of peace, / In which you trusted, they wearied you, / Then how will you do in the flooding of the Jordan?”
I thought, “Girl, what is your complaint?” When I look around at the challenges faced by other Christians, I have it easy. What is writer’s block compared to facing terminal illness? What is having a story rejected compared to being rejected by a spouse? Then, with a little bit more humility, I walked on.
This was my first time to walk the lake since it opened after being closed a year for major repair. Among some of the improvements were new trails and clear, four color maps posted to show the way.

One of the new trails led straight up a steep incline. Although the picture doesn’t show it well, this path rises at about a 60 degree slant. Yet, they had done such a good job of clearing it and I was curious to know where it would lead, so I scrambled up to the top and took a look around. But just over the rise, the trail seemed to abruptly end. There was a less well defined path leading east and according to the map that was supposed to be the way, so I followed it picking my way through occasional spots of underbrush.
Suddenly I was in a small clearing with a broad, easy path stretching away into the distance. It still headed east and although it was obviously cut to clear the way for electric lines, I thought it logical that new construction may have taken advantage of the situation using the clear path for a dual purpose.
Half a mile later, I had the gnawing feeling I might have been wrong. Two miles later, I turned round. I know all electric lines lead somewhere, but I suspected this one might terminate in Mississippi.
On the long trail back, I was tempted to fuss at myself. But as I examined my choices, the logic didn’t seem flawed. The path had been clearly marked going uphill then east. Carefully watching as I retraced my steps, I could find no other trail leading off from the one I followed. Because the map stated the trail would be .03 mile, something was obviously wrong. Perhaps renovations were not complete and the trail unfinished. But, whatever the reason, if there were any fault on my part the only error would have been clinging to a false hope longer than I should have.
As always on these excursions, my natural tendency was to draw a spiritual lesson from this most mundane circumstance. Early in the morning I had been impressed by the stubborn tenacity of the dogwood to bloom in spite of adverse conditions and wondered if I didn’t need more of that quality. Now, I realized the converse was also true. There are times when stubbornly following what I assume to be the right path can take me farther from the goal. It was no great tragedy that I didn’t turn around sooner, but being stubborn was the wrong thing to do.
I studied my feet and kicked leaves out of the way. How does a writer—or any other Christian—know when to press on and when to change course? When are hard situations challenges given by the Lord to strengthen us and when are they blocks put there to turn us? It was a train of thought I had followed many times before without resolution.
I was on my way back to the car when I snapped one last picture. I still don’t have the stubbornness vs. godly perseverance issue worked out. For now, I press on with my writing although circumstances are not smooth and I could perhaps be on the wrong course. But this one thing I believe. If God cared enough about spring wild flowers to cover each detail in beauty, He won’t let me lose my way completely. If my heart is to follow Him, He’ll take care of any honest errors I make.

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