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The Rougher Path

 


Yesterday I visited a beautiful walking trail. The path was clearly defined, making it an easy route. After walking a brief while, I noticed a clump of mud caked on the edge of my boot, likely leftover from our weekend trip to get our annual Christmas tree.

I scraped my boot against the smooth grass multiple times, but it didn't remove the mud. Then I stepped into the rougher section next to the easy path, an area riddled with reeds matted to the ground and low, weedy jagger bushes. With one definitive boot-scraping swipe on that surface, the mud was gone.

I'd like if there were no life lessons embedded in this story. I'd love to report that my current life paths are all easy and smooth. But that's not quite true. As soon as I saw that mud removed -- that exact moment the ugly clump dislodged itself when I applied some rough friction -- I sensed God's nudging:

Robin, the rough paths you walk often do the best job of cleaning you up.

The current struggles I'm facing? They're not for nothing. Hard times have a way of developing faith and building fortitude. I'll be honest: I like smooth, easy paths. But when I have to walk rougher ones, then I pray God will let them do the important work of removing some crud from my life.

The Pie Crust Cookie: A Thanksgiving Tradition

Each Thanksgiving when I was little, my mom used to roll out the extra pie crust she had trimmed from the edges of her pies, sprinkle it with cinnamon and sugar, and give us a "pie crust cookie." The tradition continues in my own house, except now I make an entire extra batch of pie crust to roll out for this purpose. We eat it for breakfast. It's amazing.

Long live the pie crust cookie!


That Final Time Cutting the Grass

 


No matter what's happening in my life, I always feel better after I cut the grass. Perhaps it's the hour and a half where I can simultaneously think and not think all at once, the prescribed walking back and forth along a perfectly charted route, the satisfying lines left in my wake, the sense of accomplishment from taming an unkempt and wild space and having just one thing in order.

Grass cutting changes with the seasons. I love it in the spring, when the greenness nearly hurts my eyes and the smell of fresh, earthy life feels so novel after months of dormancy. I love cutting grass in the summer when being outdoors is a natural extension of living. And I love cutting grass in the fall when the trees blaze with color and the lawnmower blades mulch the fallen leaves underneath my feet as I walk.

But that final time cutting the grass each season? That's another level of special.

All through the month of November, I raked leaves, dragging them on tarps from the backyard to the curb for the township leaf-sucker truck. The raking process moved in waves -- faster for the red oak in the front yard than the poplar, slower still for the Bradford pear trees in the back and side yards. And then at one point after an especially windy night, all the leaves that still had been clinging to their branches tenaciously were down.

Everything was perfectly poised: it was time for the final raking, the final blowing, the final time strapping on the cross-body leaf-sucker. Once all of this was complete and the flower beds and gardens had been cleared from the residual crackling-brown fall debris, it was then time for the best moment: the final grass cutting.

I can't tell you how much I savored this. The weather forecast had called for a dusting of snow later that afternoon, and I wore a tossle cap and heavy-duty hoodie to ward off the damp pre-snowfall chill in the air. With each line back and forth, I felt like I was tucking in the yard to sleep. Rogue leaves that had escaped the reach of my rake were chopped up, mulched into the grass, crunched underneath my feet as a perfect nutrient to lie dormant until next year's spring.

As I reached the final section of yard, the snow began to fall, first tentatively and then in earnest. My neighbor walked his dog past my house, his head tucked down to protect his face from the onslaught, perhaps looking at me crookedly for cutting my grass in the snow, and I shouted to him over the drone of the lawnmower and into the swirling snowflakes, "I am having SO MUCH FUN!"

And I was. It was an entirely true statement, one that gushed out of me and made me laugh. At one point (not too long ago in my mind), I was young and (maybe) even a little bit cool, and suddenly I'm 44 and inordinately excited about putting my yard to bed for the winter.

Oh, the simple things that bring joy! I'm probably right on the cusp of getting interested in bird-watching or some other middle-aged hobby. (Stamp-collecting? Pickelball? Who knows.)

I'd like to tell you that I reveled in the symmetrical lawnmower lines as I sipped hot tea after storing the lawnmower in the shed, but those lines quickly became invisible. That forecasted "dusting" resulted in four inches of snow that buried my final freshly-cut grass. But I knew. I knew those lines were there, that the yard was in order, that the leaves had been tamed, that our small parcel of land on this vast earth was perfectly poised to settle into its winter slumber.

And that was exactly what I needed that day.

You've Got to Go Through


I spoke with a friend at the gym this morning who's going through a hard time. The details she offered weren't overly specific, and they didn't need to be. In between our sets of TRX mountain climbers, rowing, and sit ups, she simply told me the bare bones of her complicated and challenging circumstances.

I mostly listened. At the end, I offered a comment which felt rather lame it was so obvious. "I'm so sorry that you're facing these challenges. You're really in a tunnel right now."

She nodded and shrugged, then said, "Well, when you're in a tunnel, you've got to go through."

Such true words. I sometimes wish they weren't, but I think we've all found that we must walk through some long, dark tunnels before we see light again. We have to go through.

Not around. Not over. Through.

Later today I thought more about her statement. A verse from a beautiful psalm rose to my thoughts: "Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me."

Tunnel. Valley. What-have-you. The exact type of cavernous route doesn't matter. What matters is that even if we feel alone, we're not. God is with us. He's there in the tangled circumstances. He's there when we feel weary and confused. He's there when we're in need of comfort. He's there with his rod and staff, those kind offerings of his support to lean upon and his guidance to direct our steps.

When we're in a tunnel, we have to go through. Thankfully, we never have to go through alone.

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