Wednesday, November 4, 2009
The Children Shall Lead
Monday's sunshine beckoned warmly through towering maples and birches. The vibrant display of yellow and gold made it impossible to stay indoors. So I rushed the children through their afternoon schoolwork with one eye on the trees, the other on Aesop, eager to embrace the woods out back.
This Woodcreek hiatus has been an incredible blessing to my family. As we wait for our next home, we pilgrims find rest here at my parents' -- a refuge on our journey. Here we find peace and quiet. The woods embrace us, and we are comforted by its strength and beauty. An occasional airplane drones overhead, but other than that the only sounds that penetrate our world are the chattering of busy squirrels and the quarreling of territorial jays. Even the deer step by gingerly, as if to say, "We don't mean to intrude, but may we bed down quietly here for the afternoon?"
So Monday we joined the deer in a romp through the woods. The children tossed on sweatshirts and rubber boots, while I grabbed a pair of old tennis shoes and a jacket, hoping they'd be sufficient for the stroll.
Now the kids were apparently prepared to head all the way down to Salmon Creek. They promised to lead the way, the boys fiercely taking on the roles of Aragorn and Legolas. I assented, naively expecting to follow a nice, winding little path through the autumn foliage, which would lead my merry party to the banks of a sparkling creek. So my hand found Avery's eager grasp and we shouted, "Wait for us!" as the others bounded ahead.
The leaves were thick underfoot, blanketing the forest floor with a distinct soggy brown. It had rained heavily two days before, but the sun seemed to have filtered through the canopy above to begin the process of drying the ground below. We trudged on, carrying ourselves deeper into the thickening trees.
As we rounded the first bend we encountered a crude but charming little footbridge. As no troll barred the way, my billy goats tramped gaily across. (I seemed to be the only one who noticed its rather slippery surface and the presence of a surprisingly deep gully.) We continued our descent toward the creek.
The boys remained in the lead and soon called back, "Grab onto the rope!" As Avery and I caught up, we saw the rope tied to the base of a large fern. Apparently its purpose is to guide travelers over the rather steep slope. "Dad put it here last time," was their encouraging commentary. Not one to back down in the face of a challenge, I led Avery along the path, showing her how to hold the rope and then reach for Drew's hand once she reached the bottom. Without the slightest hesitation, my baby shimmied down that rope.
Although a bit more challenging than I had expected, I was finding the hike to be exhilarating. The brisk air that filled my lungs felt rich and pure. I regretted not having boots, but so far I had been able to maintain fairly steady footing. Maybe we could make it to the creek after all.
We rounded another bend, and the children narrowed into single file ahead of me. "It's a bit muddy here, Mom," they called back. "But not bad!" I followed their lead and found that it was, indeed, rather muddy -- and sloped. They had the benefit of rain boots, and squelched merrily through the gooey mire, not minding an occasional slide.
I, with Avery in tow, stopped to assess the situation. The problem before me was not so much the mud. The problem was that there wasn't much to hold on to. I tried to grab a couple of branches, but they were either rotting or too flimsy. Avery would need my help, but how could I lead her down a narrow, muddy hill if I didn't have a way to steady us?
"Kiddos!" I called ahead. "I'm not sure if Avery and I can make it. It's too steep and muddy." Bethie looked back, and with steady eyes turned to me and solemnly said, "It's like Pilgrim's Progress, Mom. It's the hard but right way."
I smiled at her association, and realized that she was probably right. I might get a little muddy. I might even land flat on my backside and pull Avery along for a ride. But it wasn't impossible, and it was in no way dangerous. It was just hard. And it was the only way to get to the creek.
So I grabbed Avery's hand and stepped forward. My shoes sank. They would never be the same. My pants were soon splattered with unique mud patterns. But we kept at it. I clutched at a branch here and a bush there, thinking all the while how crucial it is to have something -- Someone -- firm to hold on to, especially when undertaking the guidance of a child.
We finally made it out of the mud and into a little clearing. The children joyfully announced, "We're almost there!" It seemed we merely had to duck through some decayed blackberry bushes and climb over a log or two. After conquering the slough of despond and choosing to remain on the straight and narrow path, I figured it would be foolish to stop now. So with a timid caution to look out for poison ivy (whatever that looks like -- lots of plants seemed to be chanting, "I have leaves of three, so let me be!"), we tackled the final leg of our journey.
The children dashed ahead and soon called back, "We made it!" Avery and I came puffing up behind, and sure enough, there it lay before us. Salmon Creek shimmered below, its swollen waters pulling the tips of thick, arching grasses into its current. The sun was just beginning to sink beyond the trees, casting a rose hue over the graying landscape. I breathed deeply, savoring the heady aroma of leaves and mosses. And we stood there together, my pilgrims and I, gazing contentedly over our Beulah.
Thank You, Lord, for guiding us faithfully. Thank You for giving us Your strong arm to grasp hold of as we traverse the straight and narrow. Thank You for the promise of beauty to come, and the presence of beauty here as we journey toward the Celestial City. And thank You for my children, who step bravely ahead, challenging me daily to follow the hard but right way.