The sun was high, it’s beams breaking through the trees; shadows danced at my feet as the leaves and branches swayed with the gentle breeze. Though the air was cool, the jacket slipped off my shoulders, tied around my waist as I walked. It was as if the woods were drawing me in, inviting me to stay a while.
I inhaled deeply; the loam under my timid steps was damp from recent rains, rich with the scent of mud and wildflower blossoms. The river was just steps away, the color of my morning coffee and scattered with limbs downed by the weight of the past winter’s snow.
A plastic grocery bag was tucked into my pocket; it’s the season for morel mushrooms and this was a great spot to hunt. I determined to pay close attention to every detail as I wandered this plot of ground, wild and yet mere yards from a house filled with many beautiful and well-appointed rooms. Wilderness and refinement are neighbors on this Midwest homestead.
I was not alone. My cousin, a skilled hunter and woodsman, hiked ahead of me. I followed his lead as we broke the thicket and entered the deeper brush. I had slowed to take in the details. I thought he might have intentionally passed a patch of the prized morels as a test. He’s like that… a teacher and trainer at heart. It would be like him to set up an opportunity for me to succeed.
Other family members went off in various directions. I couldn’t resist stopping for pictures of flowers, or downed logs and animal burrows. I fell behind, no longer within earshot of the crackling of branches and leaves as my companions trekked through the brush.
For a moment, a tremor of panic welled up, threatening to overtake my joy. I didn’t know my way out. While I had carefully surveyed every tree and wildflower in the shady thickets and examined hollow logs and the play of light with the curiosity of a child, I paid no attention to the direction I had wandered.
He would never leave me here, I reminded myself. And almost to the moment, he called out. I responded, assuring him I was fine, moving in the direction of his voice.
There were others in our small group and we occasionally caught site of one another, always hoping for a report of a find.
Finally we regrouped back at the trucks, driving out. We hadn’t gone far when he stopped and we jumped out again, this time walking to the end of a long thicket. “This is a good spot. I’ll clear the way for you to step in.”
Skillfully he parted the thorny, twisted branches and held them back as he led the way. He continued to coach and lead as I finally entered a clearing. Again I ventured off, exploring and searching but staying within earshot of my trusted guide.
I heard creaking overhead and looked up to see a huge log perched precariously between two trees – a widow maker, I would be told later. I wondered how many eyes were peering out, watching me as I was completely unaware of them. There was some calculated risk in this place, but it was beautiful and wild. There was no need for fear, rather awareness of potential danger.
Once home, I surveyed the scratches; they were superficial. Tick checks were conducted by buddies, since they tend to hitchhike in hard to locate places.
Later, as I lay quiet in my bed before sleep came, I reviewed my wonderful day. There were glorious reunions with loved ones, the simple joy of watching a dog work like a champ for a master he adores, and the peace found in a place of worship seated between two people I love.
I remembered the hike in the woods and I was grateful, even thought we never saw even one mushroom. As I thanked God for a walk in the woods, he used it to speak to me about my often misplaced hunt for affirmation.
“I’m clearing the way for you to step in. Just follow me. You’ll get some scratches, sure…but I’ll be just ahead of you, making a way. Call out to me; I’ll be listening for your voice and I’ll respond.
I’m giving you some space to explore; I want you to experience all that I’ve created for you. There is danger, sure. You may get some wounds, but they will pale in comparison to the beauty of walking with me.”
Friends I know he is leading me toward something new. I’m scared that I’ll get hurt. And I might. This life was not intended to be easy.
He is teaching me to think less about myself in the midst of a selfie culture.
I’ve found myself returning to the empty cistern of people to get my tank filled, looking for likes and loves and affirmation that only he can give. I’ve asked friends (while not openly because that’s just weird) to fill me up, to refuel me for service and I’ve come back empty. Every. Single. Time.
It’s not his plan. He’s the one and only one who never tires of me, who calls me beautiful and beloved. He will literally leave the entire flock and come searching for me (Matthew 18:12) as I wander, trying to find my way, sometimes getting lost in the distraction of the pretty things along the way.
He never tires of you. He is waiting for you to call out; I’m convinced he’s setting up scenarios for your success. He called to Peter to step out of the boat, knowing he would not sink as long as he kept his eyes on him!
Your salvation and honor depend on God alone. He is your mighty rock; pour your heart out to him and never fear rolling eyes or impatient sighs. He is trustworthy. Go ahead, lay it all out in front of him, your REFUGE. Follow him, even if you fear a few scratches. He’s got you and he’s got something beautiful for you just beyond the thorns.
By grace alone, I’m following into this new thing,
Yes, my soul, find rest in God: my hope comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in him at all times, you people.
Pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.
Psalm 62:5-8 (NOV)