Daily commitment to hike reminds hiker to rejoice
Yub Nub, my energetic Pomeranian, was pulling me up that last hill towards the Rocks of Sharon in Dishman Hills. I had been up it multiple times, but it never gets easier. I was tired. Zak, my son, was not far ahead of me, yet nowhere in sight.
Then, "Joy-in-a-Dog-Suit," Zak's seven-pound Pom, R-2, sprinted down the hill with a goofy, happy look on his little fur-face. He ran up to me, pranced around my feet, then disappeared again back up the hill. I laughed and trudged up the rest of the hill. He was waiting, perched on top of a rock.
Being at the top of that difficult hill was good. It was gorgeous, but the sense of joy that overwhelmed me came from that little dog.
R-2 loves to hike and never seems to get tired. When he accompanies us on hikes, he fills the world with joy. No matter how difficult or how daunting the hill, R-2's presence makes the expenditure of energy worth it. R-2 is "Joy-in-a-Dog Suit."
Our hikes started 281 days before I wrote this. We have hiked every day since March 17, 2020. COVID-19 had come to Washington and was spreading. To try to curb its spread, the governor decreed that schools, gyms, theatres, sporting events and every place people gathered for food and entertainment had to close. We were told to go home, work from home and quarantine at home. That day, many churches, including the one I serve, Rockford United Methodist, closed to indoor worship until further notice.
It felt as if the wind had been knocked out of me. We were entering a time of fear and uncertainty with this crazy new pandemic. I could understand closing most places. I reminded myself that this was just for a few weeks, maybe. What got to me was that the places I went to fuel my body and alleviate stress—the YMCA and the Jiu Jitsu gym—and the place I have gone my entire life to feed my soul—the church—were closed.
If this was causing panic in me, what was it going to do to the sanity for others? I felt alone and helpless. For my church, I felt useless. This was way too difficult!
That was when we started our hikes, 281 days ago, as of when I sat to write this.
We started because we wanted the daily exercise. We started because Zak was just getting into photography and wanted to go places to use his camera. We started because it gave us an excuse to get out of the house in a socially distanced way. I take photos with my phone, too. I share them on Facebook hoping friends see them.
What has happened is I have discovered joy in the most unexpected and surprising places in the midst of—and even because of—some very difficult times. Getting up each morning at 5 a.m.—and I am NOT a morning person—and going outside armed with a phone and a daily devotional has been life-giving. It is my sanity to intentionally walk inside the artistry of God's creation looking for joy. It reminds me of the awesomeness of our ever-present God, no matter how difficult life can be. Even when it is freezing cold or pouring rain, or I am struggling up a killer hill, it is the most joy-filled part of my day.
The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Thes. 5:16: "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus."
It is easy to find joy when times are good. It would be joyful to return to life the way it was a year ago, but it isn't a year ago. Life has changed. We are tired. We have lost friends and family members. We are scared. We are on edge. We can't celebrate holidays together. My church can't worship in our sanctuary, and we have been doing this for nine months. At least 281 days! Still the Apostle Paul tells us to "rejoice always" and "give thanks in all circumstances!" How do we do that?
"Joy-in-a-Dog-Suit" brings me joy as I struggle up a difficult hill. I smile just thinking of it: Joy is found in some of the most unexpected and surprising places.
In the last 281 days, I have learned that climbing the toughest hill always leads to the mountain top. On the coldest days, the frost creates lace patterns on dry weeds. On the rainiest days, the soil is nourished and seeds flourish. After the death of foliage on the coldest winter days, spring returns with glorious color. Even after the longest and darkest nights, the sun rises.
God created the world this way—a way that reminds us who holds us in loving, creating, comforting hands—a way that reminds us that even in times of deepest despair, we are not left alone. That by itself is cause for great joy. That is a promise from God: "Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning." (Psalm 30:5)
Our hikes started when everything closed because we wanted exercise. We continue out of joy. I share my photos because I want to take friends along with me. So, hang in there. God has this. Things will get better. While we wait, let's keep our eyes open. We will find joy in this difficult time.
Lauri Clark-Strait - Fig Tree Board
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, January, 2021