Posted by: JennyRain | August 23, 2010

The Continued Journey: Zambia 2007 (Repost)

There is a beauty found along the trail of a journey.

This week I will be re-posting a series I wrote in 2007 called “The Continued Journey” about a series of hikes that I took throughout the Georgia mountains that literally saved my life.

2007 was the beginning of the most intensive section of my healing journey and the end of what I knew of a life where chaos and drama were the norm (if not in the world around me, at least in my brain). What I know now – but did not know then – is that the day I returned from Africa I was entering into what is called a “Major Depressive Episode” complete with all of its nasty side effects.

In short, I crashed emotionally, spiritually, and physically and could not pull myself out of it no matter how hard I tried. I learned in those days in the woods – this is what depression and anxiety look like and no matter how much you will yourself through it – when depression has lock-jawed itself on your life – you are incapacitated.

By God’s grace, an awesome therapist, a supportive community of faith, the incredible assistance of my family, and the proper diet, medication, and sleep, I have emerged from the dark-hole known as my life in 2007.

This series has been resonating around my heart the last few weeks as I have read countless posts of friends being “on a journey” with God but not really sure where God is taking them… and other friends really suffering from being down and not sure what to do about it.

My prayer is that this series… in a metaphorical way… will be an encouragement to someone out there. God is faithful… no matter where you are. God is faithful, no matter what you feel. God is faithful because He cannot be anything else.

As for God, His way is perfect… Psalm 18.30

Warning: This post is the LONGEST of the four parts so I have enabled “skimming” by bolding first lines. If you are a skimmer, skim away and if anything speaks to your heart… stop and read more.. enjoy the journey!

***

The Continued Journey

As many of you have witnessed over the years, my first day back after a missions journey drives me into pad and paper for the day to story my experiences. This year has been different. I awoke early in anticipation of a day of writing. My heart awaited the inevitable story to begin birthing itself but after several hours the words remained silent, the sentences unformed, and the story yet unwritten.

“Hiking” was the only sense that filtered through my heart and the only direction I felt sure about, so my first day back from the Zambia trip was spent on the trails of Ft. Yargo, Georgia. “Hiking” would not have been so unusual a directive if it were a normal activity for me, but it is not. My last hike was in the year 2000.

Embattled silence

It was a battle to reach Ft. Yargo. First to find a park that was within driving distance of Greensboro. Second, to find a park that had long enough trails to be worth the drive. Third, to escape the clutches of my to-do list that left me strung-out with unsuccessful attempts at the Georgia concept of “helpful” customer service which is fast approaching D.C. standards of service, or lack of them. I began the drive to Ft. Yargo inwardly battling and outwardly exhausted, tears being the only noise I had to break the silence.

I was frustrated that I had to stop for rain-gear. Though I had listened to the preparative directive to bring my rain jacket, in my frustration prior to my departure, I had left it sitting on my counter at home. As rain loomed on the horizon the closer I got to my destination, I knew going without a rain-jacket was not wise. I cursed my forgetfulness as I thought about the rain-gear sitting at my house.

Yellow Trail: Part I

I began my walk solidly unfocused on the nature around me. Much of my time was spent trying to clear my mind from the previous events. The more I attempted to focus on the scenery, the more images of the earlier portion of my day eroded my peace. The more I tried to stay in the moment and attune my senses to the beauty around me, the more my senses demanded that my mind process and analyze for answers. I ruminated on the amount of time we spend in ministry escaping the moments of the present because we are bound up in concerns of the past.

God was silent on the Yellow Trail. I looked for signs of His presence but there were none save a random red-bird that flew around and above me at will. I listened for my Zambia story to begin writing itself, but it was not to be. I simply plodded on, my legs moving my body to the next trail-marker.

There was no goal for this trek. It was simply fifteen miles of trails around a large lake. Portions of the trail etched in closer to the lake than others. I was glad that I could see beyond the trees during this part of the trail. The lake was a centering device for me and kept me from losing my breath in enclosed claustrophobia. I had the lake continually beside me to center me and allow me to escape the clutches of overgrown foliage.

My sunglasses became a hindrance. Because I did not want a head-ache or eye-ache to slow me down, I wisely donned my sunglasses. Within five minutes, the humidity had steamed them so thoroughly I could not see my path. Even during the short time I wore them, the frames bit into my earlobes and caused my temples to beat. I resigned myself to the fact that I would be sun-glasses-less throughout the duration of the trip and committed them to my side pocket. Within five steps of doing so, I entered the shade of the trees. The shade protected me for the majority of my hike.

I had to choose between trail options. On several sections of the trail, I had to make a choice between two or three directions for the trail as it diverged at several points. Though I consulted the map for guidance, it did not list every divergent point. I simply had to make a choice. I chose to remain close to the lake and ignore the paths that led away from it and continued walking.

Only later would I reach the point where these divergent paths would re-converge, often adding a fourth and fifth path into their union and realize that all of the avenues ultimately would have landed in the same ending point for my specific journey.

 

Yellow / Blue Trail: Part II

The trail offers its wisdom. On the second part of my journey, I started to tap into the metaphor of the trail. The lessons came fast and furious and I had to stop to journal, lest I might miss a few. I call this the teaching section of the trail and it was three-quarters of the way through my journey. It rather felt like the trail threw-up its knowledge on me, and then released me to simply walk again. Suddenly the metaphor of the trail revealed itself to me in technicolor and I could only make it two or three steps when a new learning point would drive me back to my journal again.

This is some of what the trail taught me during part II of my journey:

Have the right gear. I was sure footed because of the new Merrill’s I had purchased in Africa.

The trail is not always marked, keep going.

Stopping to read the map often slows you down.

A map cannot be consulted in more treacherous portions of the trail because the trail needs your full concentration. You must come to this portion of the journey prepared and trust that you know your way, or you will stumble. This portion of the journey needs your focus to remain on the present conditions.

The map is not always to scale, trust yourself to know the way.

Plan your meals and rest spots because often the second portion of the journey is much more difficult than the first.

The trail is always longer than you anticipate, and the last leg of the journey will be the most difficult.

Different portions of the path have a different look and feel: Some are rocky, some are mulched, some are smoothly paved, and some are dirt.

Some trails take you to a destination point and then back down, like Amicola Falls, and some trails wind around a central focal point, like Ft. Yargo. Each journey is different.

On the easier portions of the trail (the paved roads) do not leave any indication of your presence upon them. The more difficult portions of the trail (bare dirt and mulch) leave a more pronounced imprint of the footprints of your journey.

 

Unmarked Trail: Part III

The bridge that I thought would take me to my destination was blocked and I sat, eating my lunch, re-planning my journey. It had been pad-locked. Frustration loomed on the horizon as I realized that I would have to find a new path. I contemplated retracing the trail I had just taken, but somehow that seemed like acceding defeat. I wanted to find a new way to my destination.

That is why the third portion of the trail took me into the woods. Because I am notoriously claustrophobic, entering this portion of the journey took a leap of faith. I had no center point (the lake) to reference and there were no markers on the trees. I had only the much-narrowing trail before me to encourage me to continue walking and ignore the loss of breath I felt upon entering the forest’s clutches.

The red-bird of reassurance appears. As I entered the woods, the familiar red-bird re-emerged and flitted before me. I turned away for a moment, and when I turned back, he had disappeared. Only his song indicated to me that he was still there.

A biker speeds by me. He was the first of three to pass and startled me completely off the trail. I was pleased that I had decided not to listen to my Mp3, for if I had, I would have been knocked sideways. I was initially jealous that the biker would exit the woody-eclipse before me. Later as I navigated a rock-terrain wound by a tangled-root structure I wondered if the bicyclist managed ok. Suddenly I was glad to have my feet rather than a bike below me as I mused that it takes a great deal more skill to navigate the terrain at high speed with a bike, rather than on foot alone.

I almost tripped on a root-structure shaped like a cross. I marveled at how nature had shaped the roots naturally into a cross-structure and stopped for a moment to admire it. For a brief stretch of the journey, everywhere I looked I noticed wooden crosses in the roots and fallen tree limbs. I slowed my pace considerably not wanting to miss any of nature’s handiwork.

I had a brief respite from the woody-trail. When the enclosed trail became almost too-much for my claustrophobia, I exited into the sunlight for a brief stretch of the trail. I had reached the desired mid-point destination that the pad-locked bridge had previously blocked and enjoyed a moment of supreme satisfaction for this victory before re-entering the woods.

The woods became a haven. The re-emergence into the woods for the remainder of the trip was much easier than my the first entry. They became a refuge instead of a trap and I trusted the path, even without symbols to mark the journey. I was acutely aware that it was my hearing that was the primary sense I used to guide me rather than the map or my sight. I remained continually aware of the sound from the paved roads to the right and left of the wooden path. The sounds from the roads alerted me to exactly where I was on the path.

Destination Reached

My journey was much longer than I had anticipated. It stretched almost fourteen miles and lasted for three-and-a-half hours. I learned that instead of walking the trail, I needed to allow it to carry me. I had only set out to walk five miles and had I stopped at my initial goal, I would have never found the metaphor of the trail.

I was pleasantly exhausted from the journey and had finally left all rumblings of the morning’s struggles behind. Though still confused as to how hiking had any connection to my Zambia trip, I left the park reassured that the Africa story would come, when it was ready.

 

 

 

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Responses

  1. My dear friend,
    Welcome back. My African brother, a Ghanaian that I have known for several years, refers to America as the land where no one walks.

    This is such a sad commentary on America. Walking through the peacefulness of creation reunites our spirits with the divine. It is a divice we might choose in order to drive out the distractions of our lives. There are so many of them you know.

    I’m certain that you were exactly where you needed to be. You were in a place that reminded you of both the future and the past. The past event of God’s great love was seen in the very creativeness of God’s handiwork. The future was evidenced in the symbols of both that and the human symbology seen here and there along the trail – a reminder of what you will be.

    Lessons are learned all along the path. Some lessons come in the non-productive moments when what we want so badly doesn’t come to fruition, but we must accept alternate events. They happen when we are forced into something we don’t expect. Other lessons come when we shed needless gear, when the path is blocked, when we observe other’s actions, when God’s creativeness radiates from unexpected places, and even in the difficulty of an arduous journey through a day one expects to be rather easy at the onset.

    You are so gifted. The gift of words is a treasure that has been shared with you. The gift of perception is also a treasure that God has blessed you with. What other treasures did you discover today in the land where no one walks?

    Peace,
    Keith Vaughn

  2. Thanks Keith 🙂 I am discovering that my story from Africa needs its own birthing process and that I can’t rush its delivery… much to my chagrin.

  3. Well written!


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