"Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy." – Jude 24
A few hikers were over a hill in a different direction, but we had followed a steep stone walkway up a shaded path and then side-stepped down a dirt hill off the path. Nearby, a stream joined the main river. That river, a water many arm-lengths wide and shallow on its edges, with a rocky base, was to the side of us—with the separate stream directly in front of us, crossing down the mountain to the river.
Bears could have been watching us, seeing us touch our fingers to the bark of the river’s trees. The Smoky Mountains and towns situated nearby in eastern Tennessee have occasional black bear sightings. Many residents, from a photographer we met to a local shop owner, seem to have their stories.
“When I was taking photographs up in the mountains, I looked behind me and…”
“A bear was in the warehouse downtown, and it had to close until the bear could be vacated…”
I put my feet into the moseying stream water, its frigidity up in those mountains and in the early months of the year was no surprise. My shoes were set aside on a flattened boulder—the stream was lined with these places for us to sit and form some rest before walking farther. We threw rocks into the little waters coming from the mountain-forest, giving their unending heed to the main waterway below.
Soon, we were clamoring for hiking sticks—the ideal heights for each of us: my husband, daughter, and me. Once father and daughter were off in the direction of the path—daughter brazen to the wood, no fear of bears—I stood behind them, photographing their merriment. And, I turned to my side to see more of the little waters, whose destination I knew—all made for a wide mouth, a transparent and smooth flow. In one attentive motion, I pivoted into all the still, ominous, and yet-smiling mountain air which was infused with all I could see and all I imagined was there but could not.
I stop, and I look. I think of what has been required for me to arrive here—of all I have been forgiven, particularly. True life hadn’t started until that moment when I could move, until it was all by faith—until I finally knew that my time in the woods would be taking me home, no matter how far into the dim branches I was led or how many times I outgrew my walking stick. I would arrive at the river too.
I gaze at my surroundings and accept the pine air, a full inhale of the view—with trees nearby and far away. The air holds refreshment and life, but with the twinge-taste of unseen danger. Still, it is what enabled my movements—as what this life’s lungs need. My breath exhales its own—fittingly—to a place yet imperfect.
I am on God’s ground, and He has made me to walk. So, He can keep me. Moving now, I throw more rocks to the stream. No stumble can remove me to the place I was living—no, dying—before my start in Him. He will stand me. And so, I throw stones to the river, as if to say, “Here, I remember how I have been given much—how thoroughly I belong in a treacherous woods, but yet, how I now don’t.” I breathe and step forward alongside the stream—though, my breath is sometimes labored and other times sharp, flying into my lungs after a noise that makes me curious with questions about the woods’ inhabitants I would rather not ask.
I see this: the Christian fight is the travel up rock stairs, the side-stepping down hills, and taking steps into the veiled forest. The bears are the lurking dangers of the world I hear discussed. They are part of the air—perceived and not necessarily seen. Everyone seems to be talking about them. Being disenchanted from the waters by the sting of chilled feet: no experience of this life is flawless, no matter how refreshing. For, I am not yet fully attuned to that glossy river. The best in this place is merely penultimate. I am not yet made to wade in a big water’s flow; it would overtake me as too much for me. Ahead is the dim forest: my unknown future. But there, I will still be hugging, in my steps, the stream of life whose eventual home is in the river I will one day reach. What contributions of grace, life, forgiveness, and good works will I throw in the stream’s water in times ahead through the forest will have more of me? I have hope. More, how will I one day interact with that singular river of glory into which goodness feeds? I will stand in it; He has made me stand.
The sins and evils here, the mysterious woods—I know this all must end with His glory and finally serve it. Of breath and of green needles nearby or in the seen but untouched distance, all His forest; of the bark I receive to my fingers daily in the form of solid stream-side trees or walking sticks that come with me; of those wild eyes that could be watching that He knows too—I walk. I throw my stones into the little waters now and see only what brief splashes I can make in all the pure that is driving itself home. Until there, I breathe the both pristine and imperfect air and wait for eternal mercy—and for every new moment’s mercy—that keeps me from falling.