Saturday, January 5, 2013

A Year of Faith

On New Year's Day the four walls of my house and the lazy feelings in my soul were smothering me, so I took a trip to my secret spot at the New River Gorge. I've probably mentioned this place on my blog before, because it's one of those sacred places where significant things always seem to happen. I've been there on piercingly beautiful blue-sky days, starry nights, hushed snowy mornings and storm-clouded summer afternoons. This day, the Gorge was hidden in fog and my spot was a dripping gray blanket of melting snow and hovering water vapor. The fog obstructed the view before me and softened the lines of the trees behind me.

Before I ran away to my spot, I had been trying to put into words the events that have shaped me over the past year and a half.  My mind was jumbled with images too beautiful to explain and memories too sharp and painful to share.  But the fog of distance is already blurring my history, and wrapping both the harsh and the beautiful memories in a soft gauze of forgetfulness, so that only the significance of each event stands out like the dark boles of the trees at my spot. 

My spot plays a role in many of the most important events in my life.  In July 2011, my best friend Timothy Huguenin and I visited the spot for the first time as a dating couple.  We were both experiencing tragedy that we didn't know how to deal with and the spot was a refuge for my hurting heart. I remember the feeling of peace creeping in with the dusk as we watched the sunset on that summer evening.

Seven months later, Tim and I returned to my spot on a brilliant and warm February day... my birthday. My old friends the chickadees and possibly a far-off vulture watched as I accepted a diamond ring from my best friend and future husband that perfect afternoon.  I remember the colors all around us as winter seemed to be melting away and hope made the world look like it was in high-definition.

I can't remember the next time I returned to the spot, because spring and summer 2012 were an exhausting marathon of wedding planning, working at Alpine, and working on the masters degree I had started in May 2011.  (Side note: by God's grace I graduated with a Master of Science in Environmental Education from Montreat College in December 2012.  I don't think my spot had much to do with the accomplishment of this task, although it did provide the occasional reprieve when I was wise enough to take a break!)

In midsummer 2012, I had the awesome privilege of spending two weeks in Alaska with my masters' cohort. This trip was a mountaintop experience in my life, but I returned to West Virginia to have to make the heartbreaking decision that my beloved dog, who was my constant companion and dearest friend, was no longer safe to live with (she had become unpredictably aggressive).  Anyone who has ever loved a dog can understand the pain and guilt I am still dealing with after having her put down. Anyone who has not experienced this cannot understand what I am saying, so I won't try to explain further.  But the reason I share this story is because it marks one of the deepest moments of my life in understanding faith.  In January 2012, I had determined that I wanted to understand--by experience--how to walk by faith.  Over and over again, God brought difficult decisions into my life that spoke the same message to my reluctant heart:
"Faith means daily obedience, even when obedience contradicts your own will." 
The decision about my dog was the hardest and most clear example of this.  I begged God to show me another way, to relieve me from this pain, and He simply said, "Obeying Me is walking by faith."  The day my dog died, Tim took me to my spot and shared my grief.  I barely remember this visit to my spot, because my eyes were blurry with tears, but I do remember knowing that walking by faith--obeying God no matter the pain--was my only option.

Hearts do heal and joy does return, and on August 25, 2012, Tim and I stood in the rain at Blackwater Falls State Park and read our wedding vows to each other.  Walking by faith is not always painful, and sometimes it is a thrilling adventure.  We've been married a little over four months now, and the adventure of learning how to grow in Christ together has been a joy. The busyness of married life, finishing my masters, training for my first half marathon, and working kept me away from my spot for a long time... until January 1, 2013.

This New Year's Day is enveloped in fog. I don't know exactly how God wants me to live out this day, let alone this year.  I don't know what He has in store for Tim and me, how He will want to use us, or if we'll be faithful to the task. But as I watch the fog creep in and hide the snow-covered rocks, I can feel the anxiety and restlessness that was plaguing me at home disappear into the mist.  This is a sacred place because it is where I intentionally slow myself down and set myself apart to hear God. And today, He is telling me: "Fog is nothing to fear.  I enclose your path ahead and behind with fog out of my gracious love towards you.  You can rest in the fact that I hold you even though your past may not make sense to you and your future is a mystery.  I can pierce through the fog and I know all that is to come in your life, but I protect you from knowledge that is too wonderful for you.  It is high and you cannot attain it.  But what you can do is rest, here in my blanket of fog, as I guide you toward My goal for you, which is your goal too: Conformity with Jesus Christ."

The path ahead is often foggy, and the path behind is shrouded with questions.  Rather than fighting to clear the fog, can we truly say that we rest in the knowledge and guidance that God has given us, without begging to see more than He allows?  Someday... when we're ready for it... all will be made clear. But for now, let's walk this year through the fog in the faith exemplified by daily obedience.

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