My, how time flies. I am writing this on June 1st. It was one year ago today that I discovered that a bear tipped over a grill on my back deck. As I tried to fix it, I got some dirt in my eye. Instead of my body making a tear drop to wash it out, my body reacted accidentally by attacking my optic nerve. After 15 days of total blindness and a stay in Duke’s Research Hospital it was determined that I had Multiple Sclerosis (MS). The MS was the cause of my body’s improper reaction…it was not the bear’s fault.
I can’t believe it has been a year already. My eyesight is less than optimal. It has recovered some but not enough to ever drive again. Many days my legs don’t work as good as they should. I have also discovered the biggest difficulty with MS is chronic fatigue. Don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining. The good news is that the MS has turned out to be an incredible blessing in my life. I can now focus my attention on those things in life that really matter. I spend more time on my 4thdayletters and my Broken Door Ministry.
I would like to share a recent experience with you and take you on a trip with me. As we sojourn together, allow me to make a comparison between a little trip I took and the journey we all take through life while being disciples of Jesus Christ. From the day we make our commitment to truly live a Christian life we must realize that to be Christian is to be counter cultural. It means we have a difficult uphill climb.
Our spiritual journeys can have obstacles and setbacks along the way that seem to slow us down. My MS attempts to slow me physically as well. I wanted to prove to myself that despite my lack of good vision and uncooperative legs that I could still accomplish a difficult physical goal. I decided to set out on a 10 mile walk on Memorial Day. Please note that some of my family members quipped “dad you can’t walk to the mailbox and back some days.” Also you should know that I don’t get as much exercise as I should and I had no preparation for this crazy idea.
I chose a curvy country road. My route started just south of the state line in South Carolina and the quaint town of Saluda, North Carolina was my destination. Unknown to me at the time was the reality that the route I had chosen was uphill the entire way. In order to avoid being run over I had to walk on the left side of the road against traffic.
As soon as my walk began, God put a thought on my heart, and I realized that our Christian walk is also UPHILL AND AGAINST TRAFFIC and that is the reason for the title of today’s 4thdayletter. As I walked I began to see the many correlations between my desire to walk to Saluda, NC and the desire we all have to journey to Heaven. The rural route I chose was nestled in God’s nature and I remembered this verse from Romans 1:20 “Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made.”
When I began my walk I was quite enthused and excited about reaching my destination. After my wife dropped me off at the designated GPS location for a ten mile walk, I soon encountered a quiet solitude and I felt surrounded by God’s magnificent creation. I think many of us start at a place like this on our spiritual journeys. When we determine to be disciples and followers of Christ we are surrounded by His peace and joy.
Not long after starting out on this rural road my solitude was ripped away when a car, seemingly out of nowhere, came speeding around a corner causing me to jump off the street. On our spiritual journeys things can come at us quickly as well. Illnesses, the deaths of friends and loved ones and other challenges to the inner peace of our faith seem to appear when least expected.
After being startled by the car I was more on alert. I did however have the chance to begin absorbing the grandeur of my surroundings. I walked by a stunning mountain lake. For about a mile I walked alongside a babbling brook. The beauty of the flowers was matched only by their wonderful fragrance. So here I was once again after the near encounter with the speeding car encircled by God’s peace. After the spiritual storms of life we too can regain our lost inner peace by focusing on all that God has done and provided for us.
Soon my walking turned into a series of monotonous steps. I began to realize that the constant uphill climb was really wearing me out. As I tired, I lost my focus on the beauty of my surroundings. I began to look down at the continuous pounding of my feet on the pavement. My muscles were becoming sore. I began to question my ability to reach my desired destination. Has your spiritual journey ever become boring and mundane? During this time have you ever lost your focus on the real purpose of your discipleship?
Despite some soreness, I pressed on. Perhaps it was because I was no longer focused on my goal of reaching Saluda but rather on the uphill drudgery, that now other things began to bother me more. What I at first welcomed on my walk as the bright morning sun, now transitioned into searing heat and the beginning of sunburn. I think there are many times we fail to see the gifts of God for what they really are in our lives. We even sometimes resent His gifts to us. Have you done that?
To combat the bright rays of the sun, I stopped momentarily to take the sunscreen from my backpack and spray in on my exposed skin. This seemed like the right and proper thing to do but it initially did not turn out so well. Almost as soon as I put the spray back into my pack and resumed walking I was bombarded by both bees and horseflies. The scent of the sunscreen drew them to me. For nearly a mile and a half as I walked I swatted at them relentlessly with my hat and walking stick.
During this time I had the thought that sometimes in our spiritual lives we do what we think is right. Putting on the sunscreen was the right thing to do but it yielded unintended consequences. In my spiritual life I have sometimes spent increased time both in reading scripture and in prayer only to come under unexpected increased temptations from Satan. Like a horsefly drawn to the scented spray, Satan is drawn in and he amplifies his attacks to prevent us from drawing closer to God.
I knew putting the sunscreen was the right thing to do. I was soon rewarded when I turned yet another corner where I was greeted with shade and a cool breeze and the combination of these two seemed to chase the pesky insects away. I journeyed on again, rewarded by nature’s beauty. Somewhere around this time I crossed over the state line into North Carolina. I received this as a good sign of progress. We too must recognize when we do the right thing; we are progressing on our spiritual passages.
As I have stated, this road was uphill for the entire ten miles which makes this a very popular road for bicyclists. They love to experience the long downhill ride and high speeds. They would go whizzing by me hardly making eye contact totally focused on their own mission of making it down the hill safely. They had no time to even say high as they passed by me. My mind was drawn to the comparison of the times other people pass us by or we pass others by without as much as acknowledging them. It is so easy to become “me only” focused.
Rounding yet another corner my GPS said that I had only 1.5 miles left on my expedition. I felt something in my left shoe that I thought was a stone. I stopped for a moment and took off my shoe and sock to discover it was not a stone which I could have easily shaken out of my shoe, but rather it was a quarter sized blister on the ball of my foot. It had become quite painful. I was faced with giving up my goal and stopping here so close to my destination or continuing on even with the blister. I trudged on, now with a limp and more dependent on my walking stick.
At this point the pace of my walking was slowed by my limp. I had to laugh out loudas I passed a sign that said my speed was being checked by radar.
We all know that in our lives we will likely encounter pains that we can’t avoid and that cause us to slow our pace. Just like Paul, we may have our own thorns to contend with. We can give up, or we can journey on while being more dependent on God as our walking stick. We may have to limp a little but He is ready to help carry our load.
With now only one mile to go and because I was significantly higher in altitude than when I began I was rewarded for my efforts. I saw some stunning long distance mountain vistas. I stopped to take pictures and to thank God for this natural beauty. While here, I also thanked Him for all of the many blessing in my life. I had to smile again because just after offering up my thanks I passed a picturesque little church on the outskirts of Saluda as if God Himself was welcoming me to the finishing line.
After yet one more curve in the road there it was in front of me, the small town of Saluda. On this day, Saluda was my heaven. It was the desired point of my long and sometimes difficult expedition. As if to add to God’s welcome to my destination there sitting on the sidewalk was an empty park bench.
This was to be my final resting place on this day. I reflected back on the walk as I waited for my wife to pick me up. My trip had taken about 4 hours. During the day many cars passed me by. Out of maybe forty or so cars only two stopped and took the time to see if I was okay and to ask if I needed a ride. I wondered to myself if walking made me realize that maybe we are all going through this life too fast. Maybe we are missing the opportunities to encounter Christ in the other people we pass along the way.
This was an interesting day to say the least and this past year for me has been an incredible adventure. I am blessed that my MS has slowed me down to spend more time enjoying my family and friends and the things that matter most in life. God is awesome. Thanks for joining me on this trip we call life. Thanks for all of your prayers this past year.
I pray that all of your adventures of life can be as rewarding as this one was for me. I reached my destination and with prayer and reliance on God I know each of you will one day reach the park bench God has prepared for you as your final resting place in Heaven.