Perhaps the most therapeutic thing this therapist could do on a rare day off from both of her jobs is to meander down a well-known and beautiful trail alone. The West Fork Trail was an important part of my childhood and is now an important part of my adulthood. I walked through that canyon time after time with my family, and with my Girl Scout troop, and now with friends both new and old throughout the years. I have memories there with my grandparents not long before they died, and we also walked this very trail to scatter the ashes of my dear great-aunt. I’ve seen it covered in icicles, and I’ve swum in its cool waters on warm summer days.
Today, though, it is a perfectly Spring-y Spring day, and I go it alone. I go not with the intent of going far (I’m hiking alone, after all, which they say isn’t smart), but with the intent of sitting by a creek, which has been my highest goal on this otherwise-mostly-filled-with-tedious-tasks-“vacation.” I feel silly at first, with my skinny jeans and freshly pedicured toes and girly flip-flops, carrying a bag-that-is-mostly-a-purse, and bringing only a small plastic water bottle that ends up leaking halfway through. I cross paths with hiker after hiker in their boots and sneakers, wearing backpacks and hats and using walking sticks and canteens. So yes, at first I feel silly, but then the mood changes. I feel instead like a weathered veteran among novices. I imagine to myself that all these others are from other states and countries, and consider that my native Arizonan feet are accustomed to this trail, to the slippery rocks and sandy shores. I feel simultaneously old and young – old because unlike years ago I drove my car here, by myself, like a grown-up, on a week off from my two professional jobs, and because I have walked this trail maybe 20 times before. Young, though, because there is a spring in my step and I feel carefree, and I quickly hop from stone to stone to cross the cool creek where it intersects the trail. I’m briefly saddened by the effects of last year’s forest fire – there are charred logs in many places, and the foliage is much changed at the beginning of the trail – but am quickly cheered by how much hasn’t changed, and by the resilience of the forest. There is still green, everywhere! The paradise that I’d feared would be destroyed forever has only been altered a bit, and its beauty is still astounding. There is new life springing up already, too, and I’m reminded of the One who gives life abundantly.
After a couple creek crossings, I find a perfect spot by the water, just as I’d hoped. I read a few chapters of a novel, I pray, I close my eyes and listen and rest. I open them again and take pictures of the creek and of the trees and of my toes, which make standard appearances in all of my pictures of streams and oceans. I watch a fly who gets caught in the current, I notice a butterfly in the sky above. I notice, also, that some of the brown and grey that remains in the forest is not after-the-fire brown and grey, but is actually not-yet-fully-spring brown and grey, and that the trees are covered with tiny beginnings of bright green leaves. I have my phone with me but am relieved that it doesn’t work in the canyon. After a couple hours, it is time to go, and for once it isn’t because of a pressing to-do list or a scheduled meeting, but because the sun is getting lower, the canyon is getting darker, and it feels right to head back out.
I keep thinking, on the way out, about the familiarity of the trail, about the different landmarks that I’ve passed here during so many different seasons of life, about how the landmarks change but are in so many ways the same. I know the trail so well that I feel like even the flowers are in familiar places, though of course with the changing seasons they are different flowers than I’ve seen before. I’m again reminded of a God who gives life, who is constant through change, who alone can create beauty out of nothingness. I think of how many people find Sedona to be spiritual in a new-agey sort of way, and how others may feel they are closer to God here. I think of the God that doesn’t dwell in Sedona specifically but is omnipresent and has chosen to dwell in the hearts of men, and I’m thankful.
I’m thankful, too, because while it may be easier to reflect on God and on His nearness here, it is also good to be reminded that he is just as near when I am NOT on vacation. He is near when I sit at my desk at work, fighting a never-ending battle with a to-do list that just keeps growing. He is near when I battle against discouragement in conflict with our staff or in pressure from upper management. He is near when anxiety rears its angry head again and I awake with an unwarranted sense of dread. He is near when I ask hard questions about a future that looks different than I might have once hoped. He is near when life is just plain hard. He is just as near in those metaphorical valleys as He is in this luscious green one.
And yet…He does not reprimand me for needing reminders like this one, for needing a break from the tedium to better rest in Him. He does not criticize the need for rest; no, He is the Lord of the Sabbath. I think of Thomas, who would not believe until He placed his fingers in Jesus’ wounds, and I think of Jesus, who did not reprimand Thomas or force him to try harder to believe without seeing, but instead allowed him to see and to touch, and then commanded belief. I think of how Jesus similarly has allowed me, today, to see what I needed to see. I think of His kindness and am thankful for who He is, and for His choosing to lavish His love on me.
Yes, I think today was just what I needed.