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Walking Through the Woods: Facing My Fears (Part II)

Updated: Jan 20, 2022

Every hike begins with a question for the Master of the Universe. And then, a plea.

“Lord, what do you want to say to me on this hike today?” And then: “Lord, please hold my hand and walk with me.”

Whenever I walk in the woods, I remember where and when I first fell in love with nature, a place that has somehow always gifted me with clarity, serenity and understanding.

I grew up on a farm in Shinnston, WV, a former coal town. Our three-bedroom farmhouse sat between two steep hillsides. A narrow winding road, heavily traveled by rumbling coal trucks, divided the hillsides and a sulfur-scented creek called Shinns Run carved a shimmering swath through our property.

My three brothers and I spent most of our childhood exploring the hundreds of acres that made up our farm. From the cattle pastures and the steep hillside to the hidden caves and the creek, our vast playground in the great outdoors provided us countless opportunities that stretched our imaginations, challenged our growing bodies and ignited our love for nature.

A bounty of beautiful memories was born and banked on that little farm in the middle of coal country. So many times, we hiked the hillside to reach the grove of apple trees at the top, rewarding ourselves with the nectar of fruit plucked from low-lying branches. We logged miles and miles on our bicycles as we bumbled along beaten paths that led to the abandoned mines on the edge of our property. Our laughter echoed through the valley, skimming the surface of the creek, ricocheting against the redwood barn and filtering through the canopy of hardwoods and evergreens on either side of the sloped terrain flanking our two-story house.

When the wind swept through the valley, we used to say we could hear the trees whispering for us to come out and play as the air circulating through the leaves, branches and spindly limbs created what sounded like a hushed lullaby in the hills. And often, we answered the call of the wild.

As we meandered along the trails, one after the other, we climbed over fallen trees and decaying branches. We were a quartet yet one with the forest—on a mission to nowhere but captivated by the journey. Destination? Not particularly important. More importantly was simply the jaunt through the woods when nothing else mattered and where freedom lurked behind every twist and turn on the trail. Just a hike shared among siblings in the woods, serenaded by a chorus of chirping birds, buzzing insects and wind-whipped trees. It was a symphony of sound that pitched and waned amid the clamor of footsteps, banter, and crackling twigs trampled underfoot. And we walked with abandon.

Finding my footing

Fast forward a half-century. The quartet is now a trio; life, death and circumstances have scattered us. Now, we walk separately, sometimes alone, if ever we bless ourselves with a hike through the woods.

When I became single 10 months ago, I found myself completely discombobulated. For the first time in my life, I had no one to share my home with save for two fur babies: a cat and a dog. Most of my adult life was spent taking care of other human beings, cleaning up after others, keeping the peace, and striving to ensure everyone else was happy. Somehow, my needs got pushed aside, buried beneath a heap of other people’s stuff and what was important to them. I became a cheerleader, the biggest fan, the score keeper standing on the sidelines. When I was coupled, I had allowed myself to become less than what God had created me to be.

Finding myself alone at this stage of my life, uncertain about my future and what it holds for me, kept me stuck in what felt like a whirlpool for many months. Until a friend suggested a walk through the woods with him one day. And it was as if I woke up and found much-needed refreshment for my soul. In the woods, where it’s mostly silent and beautiful and unassuming, I discovered a way to find my footing and forge ahead.

First, I had to face the fear that I could actually endure an uphill climb. Even though the past few months have felt like scaling Mount Everest because of the mountain of emotions I’ve shouldered, the prospect of embarking on a hike with an incline frightened me. Why? Because years ago, while on a hike to see a waterfall, I fell sick on the trail and thought I might die there. I later discovered after medical tests I suffered with hypoglycemia, a condition I suspected I had all my life. That day, my blood sugar had likely dipped way below what’s safe. It was enough to scare me and keep me away for years from the trails and the hunt for waterfalls, something I loved and longed for, that for me was like an elixir for my spirit.

Asked and answered

Knowing now how to treat and prevent my hypoglycemia and a deep yearning for peace and tranquility have compelled me to return to the woods that once held me. I’ve decided that facing my fears is well worth the wealth of goodness I feel when I’m walking in the woods. Prayers are uttered there. Tears are shed. A painful past is revisited and processed. Childhood memories are reborn. Confusion and sadness dissipate. And hope is restored with every step firmly planted on the rugged terrain ahead.

Famous physicist and genius Albert Einstein coined it best: “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”

Today, on this hike, a question was asked and answered. When I doubted whether I could keep climbing and fear threatened to turn me around, I heard in my spirit: “Keep going and trust Me on the uphill.” I imagined taking my Creator’s hand and Him pulling me up the incline.

Whenever I walk in the woods, I remember where and when I first fell in love with nature, a place that somehow always gifted me with clarity, serenity and understanding.

As I neared the end of the hike, my eyes brimmed with tears. I’d faced my fears, met my goal and connected with my Creator, who reminded me to trust Him in all things and especially when I am afraid.

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