Somber clouds seemed to be on the horizon, but suddenly they spread overhead and the sky was weeping. Unprepared, I was still two miles from my goal, the cabin across the lake. No umbrella. No hood. Forty-eight-degree-Fahrenheit water was chilling my head and shoulders, soaking through jacket and jeans, leaving pearly droplets all over my glasses My normal gait turned into an energetic power walk. I kept my path under branches leaning over the road but autumn was passing, leaves mostly crunching underfoot. My calming hour in nature had become almost a run. Would rescue come? Should I keep on keeping on? A voice within chuckled, urging me to notice “this long obedience in the same direction.”* It would take determination; this trial would breed patience, perseverance. I could indeed make it home, drenched but fine. My fast pace thumped rhythms of joy in the challenge, and I sang “Amazing Grace” as I weathered the storm.
Did you notice that serious staring face in the cloud just over the road, in the image above? I took that photo several days before I got drenched by such a cloud, but I should not have ignored the warning. Those dark clouds can sneak up on you and have unexpected impact!
Intermittent rains punctuated our last days at Piatt Lake, so whenever the sun came out we knew it was time to get outside. I am a walker, and the 3.6-mile (according to my step-tracker) trek around the lake was not only exercise but a time for meditation on the beauty of creation. I just had to stop and take pictures along the way: a village of mushrooms, lily pads on the lagoon or by the bridge, and the autumn colors of crimson and gold even as they turned to deep rust.
Sometimes I grabbed the umbrella found in the closet, one my mom had left behind as part of the whole cabin’s legacy. Of course, those days it did not rain. But on this last trek I shrugged off the threat of rain, left the umbrella by the door, and got caught in a long downpour. Two miles of speed-walking a muddy road in that cold weather was not in my game plan. I have often commented that my preferred temperature is 79 degrees and above. The wet onslaught felt icy. It was soaking through my gloves and fall jacket, and there was no forest shelter left over the road.
When joy penetrated the slight panic in my heart I realized that I was being made to see an obvious parallel with that teaching in James:
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. (Jas. 1:2 NIV). Okay, so here is another test run, I said to myself. Can I experience joy in this increasing freezing downpour and make it home? It should be good training!
I did make it home. But to keep myself going, I sang, silently, and “Amazing Grace” repeated itself over and over as I pressed on. I have already been rescued, not only from doom but also from a long walk with no meaning: God’s grace has truly brought me through many “dangers, trials and snares” during my life journey. I do have adventures and challenges to write about, memories that encourage me because every time, it was the Lord who made a way where there seemed to be no way.
Perseverance on the race here on earth will make us “mature and complete” (James 1:4). That is a much higher goal than the desire for physical fitness that keeps me walking! Rain penetrating my hair and coat, I was no longer feeling the intense cold now that my heart was doing a great job, circulating warmth to my body as I pushed ahead with my power walk. Grab that imagery and apply it to the long walk of obedience Home: as my heart beats more and more in rhythm with my Lord’s heart, he builds endurance into my character and walks with me all the way to destination, each time that there is a challenge along the way. And eventually I will reach full maturity, my fears put in perspective, his song breathing joy into the journey.
It was not my idea of a great last circuit of this lovely lake. Underneath my jeans my skin felt frosted. I had to hang up my garments to dry and take a hot shower. But my heart was stirred by the message from my Lord, and I can see that the rain was a blessing, after all.
Something like that cloud-face might spook me, and I might get caught in a downpour, but I just need to remember who is always with me, no matter what happens. He can remind my heart that he is the source of my joy, even in the tough times. He will help me finish the race.
Are you feeling drenched by a storm? Don’t focus on the dark clouds. Rather, remember to exult in the confident hope that those of us who belong to the Good Shepherd share: his goodness and love will pursue us, ALL the days of our lives!
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the LORD forever. (Ps. 23:6 NLT)
Like me, you may have learned that verse as “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.” It was in the process of struggling to translate it into Nyarafolo that I learned that “mercy” was hesed in Hebrew, what is now mostly translated as “unfailing” or “steadfast” love. No English word can convey the whole meaning, but this kind of love is faithful. It can be counted on. And it does not just “follow me,” which I picture as just coming behind me like a shadow. The Hebrew word there is radap, which means “pursue.” That is powerful. My Shepherd’s love is constant, purposeful and chases me down, never leaving me alone; his goodness does the same thing.
He walks with us, and he can give us the strength to do whatever kind of “power walk” is necessary to face the challenges. We just need to be aware, thankful for this amazing grace, and persevere.