Today I went for a walk on the River Trail which is sort of miraculous because last year, I was sure I would never walk that trail again. Steve introduced me to it in the summer of 2009 and it was such a delicious discovery for us at the time. We walked it several times a week while the weather was warm and mourned the end of our evening adventures when the frost set in here in the mountains. Long, lovely hours of our marriage were spent on that trail, sharing dreams and fears and secret jokes. Steve loves nature. He loves it and he never fails to mention the beauty of a day or a tree or the sky. In fact, there is one point on the trail where a bridge crosses over the mighty Deschutes River and every time we would get there he would tug me to a stop and we would lean against the rails, listening and loving the sound of the water beneath us. “The day we walk over this bridge without stopping to let this river impress us,” he would say, “that’s the day we’ve grown too hard to see God in this.” Gulp. So every time, we would stop and really see the world together.
We continued walking it in 2010, but then Steve was traveling to Florida every other week and so we just didn’t have much time to put into it. I refused to go without him because it didn’t seem right.
In February of 2011 came D-day (diagnosis) and by summer of that year, he didn’t feel up to much walking and I didn’t feel up to walking without him. I tackled some other places we had walked together, but I left the River Trail alone for another time in life, or maybe for never. I didn’t really know and I didn’t much care.
Today, I walked the River Trail alone. I’ve gone a few times this summer, but it’s always been with one of my kids. Today was a brave decision, but I knew it was time.
I plugged in my iPod because I didn’t want to talk to anyone and started out and it was lovely for awhile. Then I saw a couple coming toward me on the trail; they were obviously in shape and in love. Now, let me pause here and say: Steve and I used to have a wordless system – a married-couple intuition – that made one of us move behind the other on the narrow trail to let other walkers pass. This couple had no such intuition. As we got nearer and nearer one another, I realized that they were talking and walking and had no plans to let go of one another’s hands long enough to move into single file position so I could share the path with them, so I had no choice but to move off the trail to let them pass.
Such a tiny, silly thing. (It maybe cost me three seconds on my walk.)
But it just about sunk my ship.
I kept walking, wishing I didn’t feel like crying, wishing I could catch my breath, wishing like everything that I could call Steve or go home or just sit down and let the tears come until life righted itself. It was something about their togetherness and my aloneness. I was one and they were two. Two seems more powerful. More worthy of space on a trail or space in our world or something that I honestly have yet to define, I only know that that tiny moment of standing aside to let them pass made me feel very less and very sad.
Around the next corner the beautiful bridge appeared. Steve’s bridge. The bridge that calls us to worship. “I’m saved!” I thought, because it felt to me that I was home. But my heart sunk when I saw that another couple was standing together, right in the middle of our bridge, admiring our view. They were lovely and friendly and nothing bad happened, but I just couldn’t stop. I couldn’t stop and share the bridge with them.
I raced ahead to the other side of the trail as the first strains of “Your love never fails, it never gives up, it never runs out on me…” came on in my ears. And on that stretch of my journey, I got really honest really fast with the God who knows the intricacies of grief in all its funky forms. I cried irrational prayers to Him about how unfair it is that so many husbands are “on the couch right this minute and they could be walking the River Trail with their wives…” I know. Ridiculous. But that’s how my mind reels in this season. It reaches and grabs for anything that seems like it might be a missing piece of my puzzle. God was good to quickly remind me that my issue is not with other people’s husbands or marriages or couples who don’t share the trail well.
My issue? Is with Him. It’s with how this sickness got through on His watch. With what in the world is He doing? And with how in the world does He think I can walk the road ahead if I cannot even manage a scenic trail on a summer day? My issue is always and only with Him and He is forever reminding me that He can take it. He can take the questions and confusion and frustration and failing faith. He’s not afraid of me or my struggles. He welcomes them like the perfect Dad that He is. Sometimes the answer is only that He is the answer and sometimes the answer is more specific than that, but there is always some profound takeaway from these stormy conversations in our relationship.
This time He reminded me that I am fine. Seriously, that’s as theologically complex as it got. He reminded me that I am fine because He will share the trail with me. He will hold my hand and He will admire the view and He will never ever see me as less or little. He sees me as loved and…get a load of this word: trying. He knows that I’m trying. I’m trying to be strong and brave and good for the people who are depending on me. I’m trying to show His beauty to a watching world. I really am trying and sometimes I really am failing, but He sees and knows and that makes me part of a team and not ever alone. Not ever.
So, the River trail ended up giving me more than I bargained for.
And I guess I just wanted to share that with you.