Many of you know my feet are working less and less and less. Neuropathy. The sensors are no longer carrying the freight. And the pain causes me to walk like Walter Brennan on a bender. (sorry, the reference is worthless if you're younger than me) Anyway, it all embarrasses me. And I imagine when it gets revealed in public, it ignites my shame. And fears. And anger. And so on...I so do not want to be that doddering , slowed, stumbling person who can no longer do long hikes with my wife. I so do not want to be that person who others are watching, with muffled awkwardness, poorly navigate normal functions. But I am that person, seemingly far too soon.
This last week we were up in Sedona and Oak Creek. I so wanted to hike! Sedona is beautiful. I've fallen in love with it after taking it for granted all these years. So Stacey and I went to Westfork, on Oak Creek. The walk is out of another part of the world. High cliffs and majestic oaks shading each step. There are thirteen stream crossings within the first three miles!
And for the most part I did alright that day. I was slow and careful, but Stacey is patient and caring. She would love to hike must faster and further. But she has learned how to enjoy the hike I can now offer her. It was a beautiful day. We probably made it through half a dozen streams, walking across the water on smooth, dry, stepping stones.
Several days later we were back again; this time with Amy, Cody and their three month old "raccoon of goodness", Ridge. But now the water was high from the rains of the day before. And my "smooth, dry, stepping stones" were now mostly submerged. Instead of river sandels, I had on shoes I needed to keep fairly dry for the rest of the day up in Flagstaff.
I looked around and quickly realized I would now be the issue. The doddering man who would keep our party from a glorious hike. (my mind can still be a dangerous neighborhood) I was sulking and self-protecting when Stacey said, "What if I walked next to you and we held hands as you walked the stones across the stream?" What beautiful words. What a gift she offered. But my embarrassment was impacting my interpretation. I heard, "I wish you weren't dragging us down. But you're here and we have to deal with you. Could I yank you across this stream in front of all these total strangers?"
Somehow I made it by myself. It wasn't pretty and the assembled crowd audibly sighed relief. ...On the way back I came to the same crossing. And I knew I couldn't make it. The crowd was larger and someone must have stolen several of the rocks there minutes before. And a lifetime of familiar shame came rolling in. "You are fading away. This is the beginning of the end. You are still not enough." (read the above statement about my mind)
Then I looked over at Stacey. And she smiled a blanket of protection at me. In a moment I realized what she was offering before. I looked at my wife and said, "This is what you wanted to help me with before, huh?" And then, in half a second, absolute nearly unquestioning trust. "Do you want to help me across? Lets do this together." She smiled and stepped knee deep into the creek. She held my hand and allowed me to successfully navigated the stones with totally dry shoes. It was a sacred moment between a wife and husband, between two life-long friends, and ultimately between God and His child. (If I'd looked back, I might have seen grown men weeping) :)
At least for a moment, I was allowing my wife to love me, protect me and guard my heart. Whenever I do such, I not only receive Stacey's love, but I allow her to do what she was created to do. Love. When I don't allow her to actively love me, because of my pride or fear, it breaks and deadens her heart.
I usually think no one knows best for me but me. In truth, I am the only one I cannot protect. But I am maturing and healing and learning to trust. Slowly, but truly.
Reflecting later, the moment had all those recognizable traits of grace and allowing myself to receive the love, protection and strength of my God. Its a familiar cycle. He offers everything. I refuse most of it, not believing anyone can possibly care more about me than me. So I blunder through, carrying out behaviors carved from embarrassed shame. I eventually run out of game plans. And I see him next to me, smiling. And I realize all along He has been waiting for me to take His hand. He steps deep into the river. I take His hand. And we stroll. Anyone watching might be tempted to worship.
Afterwards, there is no mocking, no, "when will you learn?" or "I told you so". Only the exchanged glances of deep love. New life wins again.
And it feels like nothing else on this earth.