Once a world explorer, in my younger days I eagerly spent a year living in Australia, a semester studying in Israel, and three days perusing the English countryside on an extended layover as I caught trains and begged lodging to visit legendary literary haunts. I even spent a month traversing East Africa—solo—on a whirlwind journey to adopt our daughter, Ruth.
Yet somehow, in the last decade, I found it hard to summit the hill behind our house and hike the miles of scenic trails that weave through untold acres of abutting woodland. This is partly due to my reluctance to walk alone, partly due to sorrow-induced fear, and partly due to forgetting just how extraordinary a thing it is to walk beneath lofty pines and alongside still streams and bogs, listening to the silence and the soft fall of feet on a forest trail.
So, this week when a friend, Kez, stopped by after work to take two of my children walking in the woods behind our house, I excitedly laced on my hiking boots, grabbed a baby backpack, and cinched my toddler inside. Up the hill we went, west into the woods.
As the sun set and dusk settled, I was nervous about the encroaching night and of the hunter, outfitted in an orange vest, standing on a ridge as it was the first day of deer hunting season. But I was soon enthralled with the beauty of God’s creation and the happy chatter of my children as my 5-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter plodded beside us.
When my older children were little, we came to these woods often, nature journals in hand, picking favorite trees, searching for treasures such as extravagantly-colored mushrooms, but as they went off to school and work filled my free time and woodcutters felled giant swaths of forest, leaving the land bare and broken, I stopped coming.
In those years, I was broken too. Despite Ruth’s multiple special needs, we thought she’d be here for many, many years to journey with us. Then, four years ago, she unexpectedly died in her sleep. My life got smaller, my paths shorter as I circled from home to the store, from home to church, from home to the children’s school.
Distant journeys that once brought joy elicited unfamiliar anxiety. Rather than enjoying the new and unexpected, I came to fear that which I could not control. If I could not protect my daughter, what else lay beyond my guard?
Slowly, brush grew over the broken soil and blasted rocks behind our house. My children returned to the woods, building forts, picking berries, stalking salamanders. Yet, I stayed home, forfeiting the tranquility and grace of this place for the false security of the familiar.
But as Kez led us over the hill on that warm November afternoon, I realized that by trying to protect myself I had missed the very grace with which God had surrounded me. Whether from fear, or pain, or loss we often lock ourselves into seemingly-safe boxes, abandoning the blessing and beauty that lies beyond.
Scripture repeatedly promises that our lives aren’t random (Jer. 29:11), that God protects those who trust in him (Ps. 91:14), and that he guides our paths (Prov. 3:6). Yet when we have suffered loss, it is easy to forget.
Sometimes it takes a friend to lead the way back into grace and the wonder of the unknown.