I took time before my last meetings of Thursday to do a quick hike in the hills. Mud sucked at the heels of my boots. A valley lake was blanketed in ice-turned-mush. If I hadn't watched the weather reports, I would have thought spring was beginning its thaw.
Yesterday, my day off, I made it two days in a row in the woods. The thermometer had not yet succumbed to the freezing mark. Having forgotten my trekking poles, I searched the sides of the trail until within the first mile, I'd found two downed branches--perfectly flexible and tough at the same time. My gloves soon soaked through with the snow and rain that saturated them.
I had layered well, and the rain proof outer layer worked perfectly...excepting my boots, which needed another coat of water-proofing. So I walked through a mixture of wet snow and rain, the dark sky unable to make up its mind. My toes were damp, but I decided to ignore them. The boots were warm, and my spirits were warming.
I'm beginning to think I need to be in the hills everyday, even though that is impossible. Time spent there multiplies the effectiveness of my working hours, and the pleasure of my day off. A friend once told me that our physical stress levels should match our mental ones. That makes a lot of sense, and explains why so many teach exercise as a stress reducer.
While meandering in and out of valleys and up the sides of slick hills, I sense a stillness I rarely enjoy. The world was still, and yesterday--with a storm imminent--even the skittering squirrels must have been hunkered-down. I took a couple of opportunities to stop in trail-side shelters to pause in their dryness. I found myself fighting guilt for just enjoying the view. Then I settled further into the gift of the hike and took it all in, relishing a gift that only I was opening.
When I arrived at the trail yesterday, I was in a foul mood. I should be ashamed, but must admit my self-pity. I'd forgotten my poles, the rain was steady and the snow that had already accumulated on yesterday's mud was--well, it wasn't all that inviting. But after a few gurgling streams, and allowing myself the arrival tantrum, I was able to smile--glad that you could not see me, and realizing that the ONE who did see me, still loved and embraced me in that place.
It took longer than normal to cover the distance I walked yesterday. I stood and watched rain turn to snow and snow to rain, allowing it to drip off of my hat and into my eyes. And I asked God to wash them of the selfishness that resents difficulty.
This week I've read A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life, by Donald Miller. And last night I started (and this afternoon should finish) Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron. Both of these are instructing me about various aspects of my very blessed life...and how I can make my story a little less selfish and a lot more meaningful to others.
Today I will read, work on my Sunday teaching, handle an administrative task or two and call on a few hurting people. And sometime this afternoon, I hope to put on my boots (that dried by the fire last night and now have a fresh coat of water proofing), and head into the much deeper snow, covering a much colder earth. I hope to listen to the places where tiny streams have not yet submitted to the freeze. I plan to sit down by the lake and see if the snow is mush on the surface, or if the water has refrozen and supports the white blanket just as the earth around it. I will revel in the snow clinging on dark branches that define the horizon in every direction. And I hope in some way the ONE who sees me and knows me, will prepare me to be a better shepherd for the people I love and spend my life with. (I have some pix from the hike if you care to see.)
Grace and peace to you.