We ventured out on our first journey group hike today. Several friends from the Crossroads joined us on the Cross Timbers trail up north of Whitesboro. People hike for a variety of reasons. Some people enjoy the exercise. Others love the outdoors. A few hike because it's cool. But for me, hiking is a profoundly spiritual experience.
I have not had the opportunity to hike often in the last three years because of our toddler, Abby. She is just now big enough to walk very far without whining. Today she made a little over a mile before she wanted to be carried. That's pretty good for a short dayhike now and then.
Finding my hiking boots was a chore this morning. It's been such a long time since I needed them. I think the last time was some kind of safari theme day at school. As I slipped them on and worked the laces into the various loops and twists that I have to do for the ideal fit, I noticed that they felt stiff. It's been such a long time since I used them that they felt weird on my feet. It can be that way with God....when I get out of the habit of spending time with Him it can feel strange to try to get back into spending time with Him every day.
Abby has been on about 3 hikes that I can recall in her lifetime. Her first hike was on spring break 2 years ago. She was an infant, not toddling yet. We wanted to hike with the kids in the Ozark Mountains, but did not have our baby backpack with us. So I said, "It's fine, I'll just carry her in my arms." And I did. Up and down the hills, around the curves, and through the trees. I carefully examined every place that I put my foot. I tested my weight carefully before I scaled any heights. I watched out closely for tree branches and thorns. I had to be extra careful not to fall because if I did, I would drop and injure our baby. It was at times awkward and very challenging. That's when I realized how important it is to watch our footsteps when we are discipling young Christians. We have to guard more carefully against falling down, so that our young friends are not injured by our bad choices.
Today, God reminded me of some of the same lessons. Abby walked the path on her own, but I had to be content to keep a slower pace than what I am used to. My friends and family were far ahead of us as we meandered through the woods. I showed Abby thorns and how to avoid them, or at least how to step on top of the thorny vines with her shoes so her leg wouldn't get scraped. That's what we do when mentoring new believers. We show them the thorns and give them tools to avoid them.
I also showed Abby a beautiful cedar tree and let her smell the branches. Then she wanted to smell every cedar tree on the trail. We smelled every flower, touched every berry, examined lots of rocks, and tried out digging in sand and mud. We watched waves crash along the shore and saw ducks diving for fish. Even though it took me four times as long to hike with Abby, today she showed me every beautiful thing in the woods. Walking with a new believer is like that. They remind you how beautiful our faith is.
Several times (like maybe 50) I had to remind Abby to stay on the trail. She would wander off to smell flowers or examine mysterious objects more closely. Once she nearly fell off the bluff while trying to look at the water. Fortunately, I was standing right behind her with my hands on her shoulders. This is what God does with me. He has to continually remind me to get back on the trail. Not to be distracted by other things in my life.
So today, I wandered slowly through the woods with Abby and listened to God's heart about loving and growing people in their faith. I am so very thankful for the people in my life who have been content to travel alongside me as I have learned how to walk on this journey.