Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Making the Most of Every Opportunity Cancer Sends My Way

I learned that the practice session for the Olympic kayak/canoe trials was yesterday at the Whitewater Center (WWC). I have wanted to see those for a long time, so joyfully, packed a lunch and headed out immediately. Since my diagnosis with breast cancer, I have given myself permission to do only those things that bring me joy. Life never goes exactly as I hope...and this cancer is a pretty far reach from exactly as I hoped. However, I choose joy.

When I arrived, it appeared that the Whitewater Center had not gotten the memo about the hordes of Olympiads descending upon it.

Not a kayaker in sight, Olympiad or otherwise...and the water did not appear to be turned on for the man-made whitewater river. I looked forlornly over the empty (shallow) water. I had already paid my $5 parking fee. Fortunately, I had dressed for hiking, knowing that there were miles of trails at the WWC and I had never walked them! Plan B now kicked into gear.

The trail meanders along my beloved Catawba river, where I kayak. It was completely deserted. I made sure my mace was at the top of my belly pack so I could defend myself against any foe, be it human, copperhead, or Ursa Major.

As you see in the first picture at the top of this blog, there were obstacle courses all along the trail. I actually took my life in my hands and walked three or four feet on that rope ladder. I sent the photo to my daughter-in-law, who said, "Is the perspective off or is that only about two feet off the ground?"
"No, that is how high it is. But remember, I am almost 60. If I fell, I would likely at least break a little toe." Go ahead, youngster. Mock your elders. One day, you will be an elder.

I hiked on, danger notwithstanding.

The tree leaves were newly unfurled, and everything was bright green and teeming with the promise of life. I didn't have a map, and there were many spurs of trails shooting off from the main trail. I could easily get lost...but I did have my packed lunch with me, water, and my phone. Oh, and the mace. I figured with a whole glorious day in front of me and all those supplies, I had little to fear. Besides, there were arrows nailed to trees pointing me along the way to stay on the main trail. I just had no idea how long a hike I was in for.

The views were wonderful and constantly changing. Sometimes I was along the river, sometimes in thick forest, and sometimes in open fields. I prayed out loud since not a soul was around.
"Thank you Lord for this respite and this beauty."

Today, the respite ends. I head in for another biopsy, and then await results of all my tests and my fate. (and yes, the biopsy is exactly as much fun as you would imagine.) But for now on the trails of the WWC, I was at peace, and utterly joyful, with clear signs pointing my way.

Ruh-Roh. Clear signs...until they weren't. Which way? How like my life this little symbol is. Sometimes you just don't know exactly the right path to walk. Both look equally inviting (or treacherous). I took a guess.

I made the right choice, because I came to a major intersection with trail distances marked for three different loops. I assumed the loops all ended back at the WWC. I chose the middle road, a three mile loop. I know in the real world, three miles is never just three miles. Whatever journey you are on, it is always longer and harder than you anticipate.

This was a beautiful path. Lots of steep ups and downs... but it was perfect weather for hiking, and now I sort of had an idea of how long I'd be traveling. I was getting hungry, however, and unfortunately, had to go to the bathroom. Being a seasoned outdoors person, I always pack tissue for just such an emergency and scooted off the path, careful to avoid crouching in poison ivy. (Don't ask me how I have learned to avoid that particular exact situation.)

As I traveled on, God provided a big tree stump. A perfect place to sit and eat my lunch. The river gurgled nearby, down a steep embankment, providing a stunning view. With all needs now satisfied, I put all my trash in my backpack, and started off again.

More danger! This one was monkey bars. I could not for the life of me figure out any way on God's green earth that it qualified as "extremely dangerous"....not even "mildly dangerous". Still, I didn't try it out other than to pose nearby. I already have enough danger in my life with the cancer. No need tempting fate.

NOW the "Toilet Bowl Loop" appears. I almost hiked it just to see if there was a real toilet bowl, or if that was the name of some particularly uninviting trail section. However, instead I stuck to the main trail.

The only living creature I saw the entire time other than some birds was this little fella. He was very pretty and scuttling along at a good clip. I don't know what he is, but I thanked him for gracing me with his presence. Then I came to a disturbing sign. "End of Loop." The WWC was nowhere in sight...shouldn't a loop end where it began? Isn't that the whole idea of a loop? See. This is what I mean by my observation that no journey is ever what you expect, and usually longer and harder.

Good news! Although the loop had apparently decided not to be an honest to goodness loop, there were still arrows pointing me somewhere. I hoped they were guiding me in the right direction. Soon I ended up back by the river, and found my way safely to the WWC.

So what did I learn from God during my peaceful day? First, we all have plans, but God (or something) almost always interrupts them, or downright cancels them! The good news is the new plan is sometimes even better than what we had originally intended.

Next, I learned that dangers exist on any path. Life is filled with danger, and there are always risks. If we avoid all risk, we will miss out on some pretty spectacular moments. Furthermore, the new trails we travel are sometimes poorly marked, or twist and turn, or go so steeply uphill that we are not sure we can keep going. Sometimes the next step is unclear, and we just have to make the best choice we are able. And very importantly: all journeys are longer and harder than we expect, but the rewards are also often greater if we just hang in there till we make it home.

God is in all of it, always watching. If we are trusting Him to guide us, He leads us even when we are unaware of His presence.

Finally, praising Him in the midst of it all has a way of changing one's entire outlook. Disappointment and fear is hard to muster while singing songs of thanksgiving and joy. If our goal is to glorify God, it transforms how we view the obstacles and the path we have to walk when choices are limited.

I sat and rested, having hiked five miles. (I knew how far I'd hiked because I have a great app on my phone called "Map my Run". I was never in any real danger of being lost. I could always follow the pink line on my app and retrace my steps.) A couple strolled by and asked me if I knew if the Olympic kayakers would be practicing today. They too had seen the notice in the paper. We looked at the low water, without a kayaker anywhere on the horizon.

"That's what I thought, too, but it sure doesn't look like they will be here anytime soon," I said. "But I recommend the trails. They are really beautiful."

The couple nodded, and meandered off towards the trail head while I finished my water, and thought what a blessing life is.

Ephesians 5:14-20
14 This is why it is said: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise,
16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.
17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.
18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit,
19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord,
20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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