Ponder the Path of Your Feet

October 18, 2017

“Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure.” Proverbs 4:26

This past summer God gave me a rare and precious opportunity to spend three days by myself totally alone with Him. I rented a tiny room in a small inn hidden in the quiet hills of my home turf: the beautiful mountains of Vermont.

The first morning of my retreat I packed my journal, Bible, some snacks and water in my backpack and went out for a hike around a lake at a nearby state park. It was a bright, cool morning and I set out on the marked trail eager to spend time alone in nature with God.

After some time, I began noticing something unusual about the trail. As I slowly circled my way around the lake, the path kept changing dramatically under my feet. For a while it was wide and flat, scattered with sweet brown pine needles; then it turned into a bright carpet of thick green grass. One stretch of the trail was rocky and studded with boulders I had to climb over; another was narrow and tangled with large tree roots threatening to trip me up.

At one point the trail dead-ended completely and dumped me out onto a hard-packed country dirt road. I had an easy walk along the road for a little while before I saw a clear trail marker directing me back into the woods.

For the first half of my hike, I was within clear view of the twinkling lake. Someone was floating out there in a canoe, trying to catch some early morning fish. The view of the lake made me feel safe; as long as I could see the water I knew for sure where I was.

The second half of the hike, however, veered out away from the lake deeper into the woods. Eventually I lost sight of the water completely. Even though I still had occasional trail markers to guide my steps I felt pricks of fear. Was I still on the right path?

My initial zeal for the hike waned. My legs slowed. I still couldn’t see the lake, and began to wonder how much farther I had left to go. Right about then, the trail got messy with stretch after stretch of thick, deep mud. Between two of the mud pits I almost stepped on a small snake that slithered across the trail through the wet leaves under my feet.

As I tiptoed around and through the mud, trying to save my shoes, I vaguely I noticed that growing along the edges of the mud pits were the brightest and most beautiful green plants I had seen all day. Their beauty was astounding and for a moment they cheered me on.

Still, I couldn’t see the lake. Was I lost all by myself in the woods? Panic started to rise up in my chest, and then I heard it. I heard a distant shout, first; then a sweet ripple of laughter floating from the other side of the lake. My breath came easier. I knew I was on the right path and near the end.

Sure enough, after a few more steps I caught glimpses again of the water off to my right. I wasn’t lost. I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

Then…abruptly…it was over.

With one step I was still in the darkness of the woods; with the next I was entering a wide-open, grassy clearing streamed with sunshine.

I smiled.

Straight ahead, a walking bridge spanned a small inlet of the lake. I could see that the bridge led back toward the parking area where I had left my car. To my left, however, another path broke off the main trail and wound up a steep, short grassy hill to a striking old gate. I couldn’t see what was beyond it.

I paused for a short moment, then veered off up the hill toward the lovely gate. To my surprise, it swung open into an old Revolutionary-era cemetery. Its leaning, faded stones marked the existence of men, women – and a surprising number of children – who lived and breathed their last breaths in the 1700’s and 1800’s.

Quiet and peaceful, it was a bumpy, hilly, rambling old resting place – almost completely shaded by stately trees and overgrown with ferns and plants.

On one side of the cemetery, a small grassy knoll rose back a bit away from the grave markers. After reading many of the stones, I climbed up the little hill and sat cross-legged in the grass for a while to soak up the peace and beauty of that place and to rest from my hike.

I took out my journal then. It was one of those coloring journals…blank pages for writing interspersed with pictures to color and decorated with words of Bible verses and hymns.

What do you suppose was printed on the next open page of my journal? What do think God had carefully placed there for me to ponder as I sat in that lovely old cemetery?

There was a picture of a beautiful, shining open gate!

And then the words of this old hymn…take a moment to read them slowly:


Sing the wondrous love of Jesus,
Sing His mercy and His grace.
In the mansions bright and blessed,
He’ll prepare for us a place.

While we walk the pilgrim pathway,
Clouds will overspread the sky;
But when traveling days are over,
Not a shadow, not a sigh.

Onward to the prize before us!
Soon His beauty we’ll behold.
Soon the pearly gates will open;
We shall tread the streets of gold.

Let us then be true and faithful,
Trusting, serving every day;
Just one glimpse of Him in glory
Will the toils of life repay.

When we all get to heaven,
What a day of rejoicing that will be!
When we all see Jesus,
We’ll sing and shout the victory!

Then God’s message came clear:

Weary Beloved, I know the journey feels long. It is full of so many twists and turns. The path keeps changing drastically under your feet. Are you deep in the woods right now? Is the sparkle of the lake nowhere to be seen? Are you trudging through thick mud today…is the Serpent hiding there in the leaves?

Just a little farther, Love. Just a few more steps. You are on the right path, and you are so much closer than you think.

Have faith! I am using the same seeping water forming those mud pits to bring to life all around you some of the brightest, most brilliant plants in all the forest!

Now – listen. Can you hear the echo of their voices? The faraway shouts of joy? The ripples of musical laughter of those who have already made it to the other side?

Keep marching! One step at a time. One day soon you will step out of the dark woods forever. You will step into Eternal Sunshine, and you will smile. A beautiful gate will stand open before you.

You will be finally Home.

What happened next felt surreal. There I was, sitting in the grass at the edge of a peaceful old cemetery, contemplating the brevity of life and overwhelmed by the presence and goodness of God; all at once my peace was shattered.

I heard loud voices approaching up the hill. Before long a group of five raucous tourists appeared at the cemetery gate. They entered together and walked a fast loop through the old gravestones, joking coarsely and laughing roughly all the way. I picked out some foul language.

One woman, seeing me there with my open journal, rebuked the others mildly. “This is a sacred place,” she chided.

They didn’t seem to hear.

The rowdy little party left as quickly as they had come. Soon their voices faded and peace was restored. But I was left with an ache in my soul. They had missed the sacred message of the old resting place.

Dear friend, will you hear it today?

As I walked down off the little green knoll to leave the cemetery, I paused to copy down an inscription from one of the stones:

James Anderson died 1770

All you who read with little care
Who walk away and leave me here
Should not forget that you must die
And be intombed as well as I.

Are you ready? Have you found God’s beautiful path of Life?

“It is better to go to the house of mourning
Than to go to the house of feasting,
For that is the end of all men;
And the living will take it to heart…
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
But the house of fools is in the house of mirth.” Ecclesiastes 7:2,4

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son; that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” John 3:16

“‘O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?’ The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain.” I Corinthians 15: 55-58

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