Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Woodland Wonder

Today I said goodbye to the woods for the year.

When we first moved to Ohio so long ago now, God planted us just a few miles away from one of His great treasures, Hueston Woods State Park. After four treeless years in a suburb of Dallas, I rejoiced to be living so close to forested acres once more. From the time the first wildflowers pop up in the spring till the last leaves drop off the trees in the fall, I go there on a regular basis to have my spirit refreshed and my soul restored, to sip coffee by the still waters of the lake and hike through my favorite stand of trees, conversing with God all the while. My enjoyment builds from the beauty of the wood violets early in the year to the refreshing green canopy overhead in the summer, till I’m exclaiming with wonder at the splendor in the treetops in the autumn months.

My route to the woods this morning began with a stop at the local Starbucks, where for some reason I was blessed with an extra shot of espresso in my pumpkin spice latte, perhaps just to celebrate the day. As I came to the stop sign that marks the park’s boundary, I looked down the road and saw that it was flooded with sunbeams streaming through the trees. Standing in the midst of them was a deer, grazing on the berm. The view held me spellbound until the doe bounded away at the sound of an oncoming car. I carried my donut and coffee treat to my favorite seat at the picnic table at the edge of the lake. The fish were jumping at this early hour, their scales reflecting the rays of the rising sun, resulting in flashes of light all over the body of water. Off in the distance a rainbow was captured in a patch of morning mist that lay over the lake. A loud squawk heralded the arrival of a great blue heron that flew lazily away in front of me, completing a scene of exceptional peace and beauty.

Coffee gone and donut consumed, it was time to hike in the woods. Leaves rained down upon me on a trail already invisible under a carpet of their yellow offerings. I never leave the woods on this last hike of the year until I’ve caught one in mid-air, a task usually much harder to accomplish than it sounds. So I was surprised when this morning it happened almost too easily and a leaf simply landed in my waiting hands. Normally I would’ve just dropped it when I got to my car and then driven on home. But this one seemed to have a message attached. I felt impressed to take it with me, and soon God told me why.

In recent years my “farewells to fall” are all the more poignant because I know what follows. I simply dread the onset of bitterly cold temperatures, the difficulties of navigation on roads made slick by ice and snow, and the constant worry about the weather. Even the joy of the holidays and the beauty of the season are diminished to some extent by my distaste of the dark and dreary days of December, January and February. I’m simply not a fan of the winter months.

The wonder that I found in the woods this morning was not the beauty of God’s creation surrounding me so much as the revelation that God is very much aware of the cares of my life, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem to others. In His plan to deal with my distaste for this coming time of year He told me to take the leaf home with me, keep it in the pages of my prayer journal and then bring it back with me to return to Him on my first visit back in the spring. As I move through winter I was likewise to move the leaf through the pages of this book I open daily, its passage reminding me of God’s presence in my dark times and His promise of an eventual end to them. It’s a visual reminder of other times when a specific word from God that I found in the leaves of another Book I likewise refer to daily carried me through the difficult days of my husband’s radiation treatments, the turmoil of my sons’ teenage years, and trouble in changing church relationships. Having that hope to hold on to is what made the difference each time in my getting through the difficulty to the joy and peace on the other side.

Surely God doesn’t need the leaf I would return to him, and likely it will be little more than a crumbling mass of cellulose by that time. But I need the promise of an end of the season to look forward to; hope that I can hold in my hands. Likewise many people struggle with situations so much more serious than a mere dislike of the colder months of the year. And they likewise need to know that God cares about what they’re going through, that He’s willing to walk through the dark days with them, His Word a hand they can hang on to each step of the way.

If you don’t have a forest outside your door as I do, know that God will come to your neck of the woods, wherever that may be. Whether you’re the caregiver of an aging parent who no longer remembers your relationship, a mother on a sleepless night watch with a colicky baby, or a lonely widow navigating the first days and weeks of life without your spouse, He’s no farther than the mention of His Name. God will drop hope into your heart as easily as that leaf fell into my waiting hands this morning. The trick, however, is to catch it… to wrap your belief system around it, tuck it away in your innermost being and then carry it with you until you reach your spiritual springtime on down the road. On the stormiest days in your struggle, pull it out and remind yourself that sooner than you think you will be rejoicing with me as we repeat the words of Solomon, “See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come…” (Song of Songs 2:11-12 NIV).

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