Updated: Apr 3, 2019
This wasn't like waking up with a headache or a bad hair day. I was counting the pain in terms of years, lost in it, feeling it suck me under like the black mud of a boggy marsh on a starless night. Some of you know what I'm talking about--maybe many of you. My only sense of relief came when I set one foot after another down the same dirt trail that wound itself around and between loblolly pines and old black oaks, feeling the soft cushion of pine needles and fallen leaves beneath my feet in fall, or jumping muddy puddles in spring. The season was not important, the weather never stopped me. I had to run to feel anything but the pain.
I ran to forget. I ran to feel alive. I ran to argue with God--well, if there was a God. I wasn't sure anymore. If God existed, why hadn't God stepped in to help me? Why had God simply looked away? In those days I knew hell wasn't some other reality where we writhe in pain after we die. I knew hell in the present tense. I was angry. I was broken. I was alone. "Where are you?" I cried silently, tasting the salty mixture of tears and sweat as I raced hard trying to leave the knot in my stomach behind in the dust.
My feet knew the path by heart. They remembered each reddish root that broke through the soft grey soil or the dips that ran low along the glassy blue reservoir's edge. So they stopped almost without my knowing, just one step short of landing on top of a smooth brown and green helmet slowly making its way from the shallow water to tender green grasses on the other side of the trail. Unaware that I'd almost crushed the life out of him, the lumbering turtle simply paused and turned his head toward me. Rather than ducking inside his shell with fear, he seemed as if to hold my gaze. I smiled. He blinked once, then plodded off to the sweet green garden breaking through decaying leaves of winter. My heart lightened--but only for a moment.
I watched him disappear between tall grasses which danced with the breeze alongside the trail. Feet on autopilot once again, the ball of my right foot landed lightly onto the smooth grey bark of an old tree stretched across the path. Struck down by lightning in some previous storm, it lay splintered at its base. "The wrath of God," my thoughts accused, while my left foot passed over the once strong trunk, landing firmly onto the path again. "I'm sorry," I whispered to the fallen tree, "I feel your pain." The trees had become my closest friends, my only trusted confidants. Along with the animals, they were a single glimpse of hope.
I felt sadness again, this time for the tree, rather than myself. I was climbing a slight incline where low branches not yet broken by the BMXers brushed my legs, when again my feet stopped abruptly as my eyes met the direct gaze of a lone deer. She stood among the trees, turning just slightly to watch me. I seemed to be more startled than she as our eyes touched and my heart raced from the chance meeting rather than the long run. Expecting her to flee, instead her watch embraced me in the silent forest. I felt awe. I felt love.
"Was God here, after all?"
Again my trail shoes scattered small rocks and dry leaves as the soft breeze cooled my sweat coated cheeks. I was running now with the leaves a little greener, the blossoms a little brighter, and the feeling in my heart slightly lighter. I'd make it one more day and one more day would turn into the next. The journey would not be smooth; like running the trail I might snag a root, trip on a rock or even fall face down in the dirt. But little by little, I knew I'd make it.
I would make it because I could yell at God, I could scream and cry and question. But the blinking eyes of a turtle and the trusting gaze of a doe somehow pushed me forward, silently calling through their very presence, "Don't give up!"
The following spring I ran past the sawed stumps of wood stacked haphazardly at the edges of the trail where the old tree had fallen. As my eyes glanced over the pieces, it's base revealed the shape of a heart at it's core and through a pile of broken limbs I glimpsed the bright green of a sapling raising its tiny head to wave tender new leaves in a gesture of hope. Moving beyond the tree, a large fox darted into the path in front of me. I could only glimpse the white tip of his tail as he ran just yards ahead before stopping to face me. I stopped too. For an eternal moment we stood, his long winter fur almost fully shed, his soft new coat glistening in the morning sun filtering through the treetops. Then he darted into the trees, his tail brushing the soft new leaves of the tall grass in a brief song of expectation.
I made it to another spring as each day turned into another season because
I discovered hope in a sanctuary alive with the voice of the God I'd believed had abandoned me, but whom I discovered was whispering into my being all along.
Note: Wherever you are as a place and time in life, seek out a space to walk in the snow or lie in the brown grass or sit among the trees for even ten minutes. Listen. Focus on any sound in nature--a bird or the rustling of a breeze. If you can watch a squirrel or a tiny leaf or a snowflake or cloud, let your mind be in this moment, placing the voices of coworkers, demands of clients and needs of those who depend upon you aside for these few minutes. Focus on being in this particular space and time, in the presence of the divine whisperer who is both within and among you. Try this daily if you can, or at least weekly. You are not alone.
Thoughts or suggestions? Please contact me!!