There is a trail that I walk most days. It is not a difficult trail but on it I can see the horizon in all directions, the open skies all around me refreshing whether or not those skies are blue or gray. Nature and open spaces have always made my heart happy and this trail never fails me. I’ve found that a good walk where I can 1. Be alone (which of course does not happen often) 2. Pray out-loud if I want to and 3. Break a sweat REALLY helps me manage stress. It took ages for me to realize that super late nights binge watching Netflix and drinking red wine and eating chocolate from a secret stash doesn’t really help me at all with my stress levels and in fact leaves me tired and unhealthy and so increases my stress. No judgment if that works for you though!
One day this Fall while I walked that trail I had a run-in with a runner (see what I did there?) that revealed something to myself about fear and growth. On this day I had the preschooler with me, which means that I was pushing the stroller, not my favorite thing but I think it helps my arms get a workout so yeah, there is that so yay. I didn’t know that he was on the trail with me. I had seen two other people out there with me that day. Mental notes were made: I am not alone, one black shirt there, one gray shirt there. Check and check and I walk on determined to sweat.
The sound that the wheels of the stroller made were the loudest. Tiny stones pushed aside by the turning wheels leaving two lines to show just where we’ve been.
The sound of the toddler and my music from my phone because I guess I took my ear buds into the house? On this day the air is heavy with the promised afternoon rains. I’m praying just above a whisper for the team that we are taking from our church to Asia this Summer ((Yay!!)). I am Praying for myself and for my Husband, for our hearts. I am asking Father for wisdom and courage.
The four-year old is singing songs from the Trolls movie. The wheels are turning and the stones are being pushed aside. The gray sky hangs all around me. I am focused on my prayers. Then, he flies past me, the runner that I did not know was on the trail with me. His feet beat at the tiny stones hard and the sound startles me as he passes. So much so that I cry out like a frightened old lady, “Ohhhhhhh!!” This of course startles him (poor fellow) and I hear him, “Oh!!” and after a moment to gather our respective whits we both call out an apology. His, less mortified than mine, I am sure. I’m so embarrassed.
As he runs on his way and I push the stroller ahead of me I continue to pray but I keep an ear open and an eye out for him. I don’t want to be startled again. So I am praying as I walk and listening to my girl sing her songs and ask her questions and feeling the stones move as we go but I am keenly aware of e-v-e-r-y-o-n-e else on the trail now- especially the runner. After another half mile on the trail I know that he is coming back around soon and so I keep looking back. Checking.
The runners second pass goes without a hitch. I was aware of him coming up the trail behind me. The third time he passes the breeze has gone away and the sun is hot on my skin and I have lost myself again in my own thoughts and this pass does give me a little start. Not enough for any embarrassing yelps but Just enough to get me thinking about fear. About how I work hard at knowing what to expect because I struggle with the unknown. I struggle with fear, I always have. I am remembering something that I heard recently though and I am connecting dots on the pretty tiny stones all along my path.
The week before at Bible study Pastor Mike had asked if we were reactionary or proactive in our walk with Christ. Honestly, I think that I am both. Sometimes when the unexpected things fly past me I react and panic and fly off of handles. Other times I am prayerful, strong and full of hope and wisdom. I’m growing, really I am but growth takes time. I am thinking that the unexpected will come by on this trail I walk: as a follower of Christ, as a wife and mom of three bio kids, one adopted wee one and one soon-to-be adopted big kid. I might cry out in fright or I might be ready for it (enough not to freak out). Either way I can keep on walking and make the choice to not let being afraid or embarrassed throw me off the trail.
These days the unexpected things flying past me that make me catch my breath are many. When my oldest tells us about getting bullied or when the son we are just beginning to know struggles. I hear the startling footfall on the stones around me at the thought of leaving my 8 year old at a birthday party without me or taking my first team to Asia. Everyday bringing its own surprises. My careful planning and the unexpected promise to mingle beneath the gray skies all around me.
Here is the thing though. I walk that trail almost everyday (and I really have to fight to get out there) because I know that it is good for me. I need it. It is to take care of my heart and the body, the body that God entrusted to me (and I’ve been total crap at taking care of it most of my life so yeah). I don’t like to sweat. I hate that the older I get the harder it is to do it. I don’t like the feeling of the extra pounds when I try to jog. I don’t enjoy the pain of exercise at all. I do love how I am and feel after. It is good to get my blood pumping and the my body moving. No matter the discomfort and the pain it is good and helps me to manage stress. It is also obedience to care for this body and heart. It is here where the stones start to take another shape…
Hubby and me, we have struggled in isolation for a time. Sometimes it is just how things are when you move city so often. It can be difficult to let people in, to trust people enough to really know you and to take the time to really get to know them. It can become what you do by default. We craved fellowship but we let it fall to the bottom of our list of priorities. Babies, work, moving and starting again – the basics was all we could handle. We clung to each other which was good but we also needed community and we knew that we did. We prayed for strength and wisdom to change and grow and at some point in life that change came. Something planted, watered, sun and time and growth. Walking with Jesus transforms.
These days we live with open doors. It doesn’t come natural for us but our capacity to love others, to let people in and to live in our community has expanded greatly but it has taken time. Nine years ago it would have been a solid no from me. Let me keep my babies safe here in our little home. Seven years ago it would have given me a stress rash, wait I can’t control the new. Four years ago it would have only been babies, I know how to handle babies, and this year it is ten-year old boys and college students and church people. I’ve thrown my hands up in defeat and danced in the freedom of it. Our hands coming unclenched, hearts softening, minds changing and room was made for others…
Honestly, opening our doors and hearts to others is hard for me. Sometimes I just don’t want to do it because a closed home is less complicated, safer, quieter and easier. I’ve prayed for Father’s heart for ages and man oh man did He deliver. Obeying Father’s call to care for the vulnerable IS to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. An open home (full of Joy a friend said recently) is a surefire way to discover Father’s heart yourself and for the whole world!
The unexpected flying past me on this trail of life (yeah I did that) may frighten me. It may give me a start and make me catch my breath but the unexpected will be found beneath the footfall of obedient feet, willing hands and open hearts and by the grace of our Good Father, I am down. How about you?