Prayerful Lessons from Hiking

Since my children have different Spring breaks this year, we weren't able to do a trip. And as I was sick when I had intended to do a solitude camping retreat last fall, I headed up to our Bible Camp for a couple days of solitude.

Today I headed to explore the trails at Savannah Portage State Park. I intended to have the time for prayer for my upcoming marriage, family, and life. After four hours of hiking, I don't feel like I did that much significant prayer time. I feel like most of the time I was distracted or mindlessly looking at my surroundings. I don't often feel like I'm a good pray-er.

The hike was also not what I expected. There was little wildlife around. Granted, it's the beginning of April in the North Woods of Minnesota. It was near 60 degrees today, but there was still ice on the lakes. But all I encountered were a couple of robins, a couple of crows, a couple of geese, and, surprisingly, a few butterflies. No moose (sad face). Not even a single squirrel.  
(Okay, as I was leaving I did see a chipmunk and a pair of swans as well.)

Also, my map did not correspond well to the trails. I picked up the park map at the park office to know the trails. The maps along the actual trails were for the winter cross-country ski and snowmobile trails only. They did not show any hiking trails. My map did not show any winter usage trails. More than once I wasn't sure what trail I was actually on. It wasn't easy to compare the paper map to the ones on the trail, since the trails didn't often overlap.

Which is how I ended up on the trail to the bog. Which was not on my intended route. But I found myself headed that way nonetheless, so I decided to explore.

Bogs are mainly formed in colder climates where geographical conditions prevent water drainage. The cold and lack of water outflow prevent plant decay so few nutrients exist in the ecosystem. A ten foot tall black spruce tree with a trunk that I can almost encircle with my hand may be close to 100 years old because its growth ends up being so slow. This is where carnivorous plants like pitcher plants and Venus fly traps grow because they need insects to provide the nutrients they're not getting from the soil.
I eventually found the trail to the Continental Divide Overlook. It's the shortest distance between waters that flow to the Gulf of Mexico via the Mississippi River and the Atlantic Ocean via the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway. The park is named after the portage fur trappers had to make with their goods between those two riverways. It's a 5.5 mile hike from the West Savannah River which flows directly into the Mississippi and the East Savannah River which eventually flows into rivers that go to Lake Superior.

At some point in the recent past strong winds felled most of the trees along the ridge. The trail was all mud (most of the trails had been wet and quite soft, but they often had plant growth covering them--at least dead pine needles). Little plant life grew. It was all brown with dead trees and no grass or moss. The overlook wasn't accessible. Bulldozer and logging truck tracks created large pools of water. I finally made I to the next trail intersection. Only to find that trail was in the same condition. I was frustrated.

Then God reminded me that this hike is a lot like marriage/a relationship. It's a journey. Sometimes it's beautiful. Sometimes it's not. But I'm on the path with the one I love, just as God was on the trail with me.

The trail isn't always going to be great. When it's messy and muddy and not where I want to be do I give up, or do I forge ahead? (The trail did get better again.) There will be storms that come through, so will I clear the damage to foster new growth? Sometimes I will choose the wrong path. Sometimes God leads elsewhere. Do I submit to the map or be stubborn and continue on my own way? Do I trust God with the trail ahead?

And that bog--am I going to encourage bog-like conditions in my marriage--cold and devoid of nutrients--or do I nurture growth and a warm environment?

I was also reminded of the Lenten journey Jesus took to the cross. He took the path forward, even when it wasn't easy, even when He didn't necessarily want to. But He was focused on His purpose. He was focused on love. He put His selfish desires aside and focused on a selfless ambition.

So my hike wasn't what I hoped for. I didn't stumble across a moose. I didn't explore the trail I initially planned on. I didn't spend four devoted hours in strong prayer. But I have to trust that my hike was what God intended. He let me experience His creation. He heard the prayers I offered, but He also got me to listen to Him. He taught me what I needed to be taught.


Milestones of Gratitude

Several years ago (regrettably, I did not date things at the time) a friend from church gave me the book One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. It challenged me to count my blessings, so to speak. Gratitude, as I have blogged about several times before, has been a central focus in my life. Keeping a gratitude journal was a logical step. Ann Voskamp shares in her book about how being thankful is essential for carrying you through tough times and keeping focused on God.

I have not been diligent in writing in my journal every day. Often I get to a place in a weekend where I have a moment to breathe and catch up for several days of things to be thankful for. Tonight was one of those times. And tonight I breached the 1000 mark (1003, to be exact).

I know there has been much I have overlooked. I could easily be at 5,000 or even 10,000. I could also neglect giving thanks and spend much more time being bitter, resentful, or sad. I will continue to focus on thanksgiving as much as I can. It is good for the soul. And good for the heart.