The Spiritual Practice of Trailblazing

Every year I pick a project out at our land.  Two years ago, I choose to build a wood deck out of scrap lumber.  In building the deck, which jets out over the side of the ridge, I learned the importance of balance and I also learned how to use a level and a plumb line.  I have never built anything in my life and though my husband offered to help me, I did not let him.  I wanted to see if I could build something all on my own.  I also insisted on using rocks as well as recycled and discarded materials we had around the property.  One reason is because I am really cheap but more importantly I wanted to put these items to good use. I hate to see things go to waste.

Sunday has become “family day at the land.”  So, I spent my “Sabbath” building this deck.  I once heard someone say that if you work with your hands then engage your mind on your Sabbath and if you work with your mind, engage your hands on your Sabbath.  So, rather than reading books or listening to sermons, I decided to get physical.  And, you know what?  I not only loved it, but miraculously my deck is still standing!

As I worked on this deck, I did so very prayerfully.  It was a season of challenges for me.  I was working both as the director of the CARITAS Furniture Bank and Embrace Richmond and what I realized is that no matter how hard I tried to find balance, it was simply too heavy a work load.  Just like building on the side of a steep ridge, I could not get my footing. I needed to get my life leveled out, I needed to find balance again.  It was that spring when I finally let go of the Furniture bank.  I can now sit on that deck and be reminded of the peace that comes when life is in balance.

Last year I decided to build a rock patio between the cabin and the deck.  It is made up of rocks from our property.  They are all different shapes, sizes, colors and types.  I found great joy in figuring out what sizes and shapes to put together to arrive at a level surface.  Those on the downhill side are more than 9 inches thick while those on the uphill side are less than ½ an inch.  I had to dig in the dirt to accommodate the strange shapes and study the sides to find complementary shaped rocks to fit together.

Through this exercise God spoke to me about the place and value of every human being in the created order.  I was in the process of engaging the residents of Hillside Court with the dream of one day having a team made up fully of Hillside residents who were meeting the many needs of their neighbors.  My new friends were all so unique, their gifts often over looked or undeveloped.  As we began to pull them together, a beautiful mosaic was created much the way my rock patio came together. Like my patio, building this kind of organic ministry is messy and requires that each person be seen as a unique individual with their own special gift as well as a part of a collective whole.

This year, I have taken up trail blazing.  Our property is on a very steep ridge overlooking a beautiful creek.  However there is no easy path to the water.  The shortest path would lead you straight down the side of the ridge and you would likely break your neck trying to get down that way.  I decided that I wanted a path that would snake all along the side of the ridge and would allow people to see all the beautiful scenic spots my family has discovered through the years. I also wanted the path to have a gentle slop so that when I am older, I will be able to walk on it.

Like all my building projects, God begin speaking to me as I worked on the path this past weekend.  The first thing I had to do was clear away the leaves from the portion of the path I started earlier this year. I have learned that if a trail is not traveled it will disappear.  Once I got to the new section of the trail, I had to use a hoe type ax to cut into the side of the ridge then pull the dirt back then pack the dirt down to make a level foot path.  It is hard work and slow going.

As I was blazing away, it dawned on me that not very many people would find trail blazing all that much fun.  I pondered why for me it was so rewarding. I realized that the work it’s self is not what kept me going but the realization that someday, others would walk this path and experience the beauty of this place I have grown to love.  There are parts of our property that are currently very difficult to reach but these places are also some of the most breathtaking and interesting.

There are three kinds of wilderness explorers; the pioneers who prefer to go off the beaten trail and rarely return to the same place twice, the trail blazers like me who find wonderful treasures and want to share them with the world and those who walk the pathways others have blazed.  All are equally important.  My husband is a pioneer.  He told me about some of these wonderful spots and coaxed me into making the effort to see them.  Without him, I likely would never have discovered them.  I have also learned that without those who walk these pathways, my hard work will simply disappear under the debris that collects on the forest floor.

I find joy in being a trail blazer both literally and figuratively.  Life is filled with treasures that cannot be experienced by simply driving down the paved roads of life – they are found along paths that are invisible to most and traveled by few.   Sometimes you have to get out of your car or go beyond you church walls.  You have to climb up a mountain and open yourself up to the mystery that awaits you.

Very few people are going to do the kind of climbing that my husband had to do to find the places on my trail.  Likewise few people seem to be willing to put themselves in the situations that lead to deep spiritual insights.  I have learned that if I want people to discover the mystery of Christ who dwells among the least, I have to build pathways for them to follow.  I also have to create signs along the way so they don’t get lost and places to rest so they can marvel at the beauty of it all.

Some think we have plenty of pathways and see my trail blazing activities as a distraction.  Others think I have blazed far enough and need to build a house and camp out for a while.  However, I realized this past weekend that I was created to blaze trails both physical ones and spiritual ones.  As long as people continue to race past the beauty of God’s created world and as long as there is a gap between this earth and God’s Kingdom come, then there will be a need for trail blazers.

I really wish you all could see all that I saw as I blazed my trail this weekend.  The trees are still without their leaves and I was high up the ridge overlooking a pasture beside a spring fed creek.  It was a clear day and I could see from my ridge to the next.   I pray God leads you all down a few new paths in the near future and that you behold the beauty of God’s creation and experience the mystery of God’s presence in these wild and untamed places.

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