Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Safe Journey

I live near what we in Phoenix term a "mountain" preserve, which would be more aptly named a "hill" preserve, but I guess we like to pretend here that something more majestic is going on. Regardless, it's a beautiful area that I can reach by abbreviated walk from my home. Then I escape into all the creativity of our heavenly Father's handiwork. It's a marvelous and quite vast area called Lookout Mountain. Maybe you can Google­® Map it. I head south right up 16th Street to get there.

While the weather is yet pleasant, and since my "retirement," I have tried to hike into the area once or even twice a week. I had been foraying out quite recklessly with nothing but myself for several weeks before my trainer insisted that I include a cell phone and some water on my trips. I'm not against a certain amount of caution, so at her advice I now drag along two items I really don't want to be carrying. I like to have my hands free for balance and I've never once felt the need to call anyone out there. But I guess there is a lot of loose rock, and on a downward incline I could slip and fall and then a phone would be handy. There have been occasions when I haven't seen anyone for a half hour or more. Maybe if I fell and wasn't sighted for a few hours I would actually need to have a sip of water. So there you have it, now I'm quite prepared. It hasn't cramped my style much; I spend an hour or so appreciating the beauty of the earth, thanking God as I travel for being so wonderful, and huffing and puffing. Often I try to pray, but frankly, it's hard for me to pray without closing my eyes, and that's not a good idea when one is maneuvering around a precipice.

I often receive funny "anti-exercise" emails from a certain friend of mine, so I've been trying to persuade her that exercise is a good thing, and in the case of hiking the preserve, it can also be considered an exercise in art appreciation. After several rounds of emails, I finally persuaded her to take a short hike with me out to the preserve and, in fact, our very first "hike" was basically just walking over there and having a look at it. It was then that all the snake talk started. Now, I'm not particularly afraid of snakes or at least it is not a phobia that restricts me from doing anything. In fact on a hike at another mountain preserve many, many years ago a baby rattler was lying across our path, so we avoided that route for the day. No big deal. And in all my hikes since I'd retired, I hadn't once felt a tinge of fear at the thought there might be a rattlesnake somewhere in the preserve. I've seen bunnies and quail and lizards and coyotes and even some burros (not the food kind) out there, and we all just went our separate ways. However, my friend would just not let up on the rattler talk. "My husband said this is the time of year they come out. They like to stretch out on the paths and soak up the sun after the cool morning. If you see a bunny, there's probably a rattler somewhere behind. This time of year is when they're most dangerous because they're molting and their skins can block their vision and they'll strike at anything. Baby rattlers are the most dangerous because they don't know how to control their venom and they inject you with so much you'd probably die. I have a snake stick I'll bring along...."

The night before our first actual hike up into the hills my friend emailed me to cancel because she was going out of town. I knew that that day I could still have a good walk at my normal speed and I expected that walking with her was going to be a little slow going for a while, so it was fine with me. As usual, I set out with my phone and my water at a nice pace into the beautiful cool desert morning air. But something wasn't the same. The specter of the hidden rattlesnake ready to jump out and bite my ankles was situated dead center in my thinking, and all I could think about was keeping my eye out for hidden dangers. My joyous escapade into nature had lost its luster. My happy-go-lucky attitude was gone because I was wearing an invisible straight jacket of unrealistic rattlesnake fear.

God's Word tells us many, many times that we should not fear. Many times it is in the context of trusting God, a God who even notices when a sparrow falls to the ground. How much more will he care and provide for His children? We are also admonished not to be fearful of sharing the truth of the Gospel. My little experience with fear on my hike reminded me of how fear can steal our joy. We can travel this earthly sod watching our feet, frantically waiting and expecting doom, never lifting our eyes to appreciate so many blessings and so much beauty, or we can travel as if we have the best and most blessed tour guide of the ages at our side, ready to steer us clear of hidden dangers, show us the best sights and bring us safely to the end of our journey.

"Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love." 1 John 4.15 - 4.18
Don't be fearful of anything this world can do to you. Enjoy the journey! It's the only one you get on this planet and it's over before you know it. The next one is a doozy!


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