I was lost. Well, kind of.
I had spent the last 40 minutes walking along a trail. A trail unmarked on any map. All I had to go by was a rough hand drawn squiggle of a line on a map of the park. This indicated a vague rendition of where the park manager believed the trail to be in reference to the other trails. It wasn't much. I also had the white painted lines every 40 feet or so on the trees, marking the trail.
The trouble was, these we not always easy to spot and the path through the woods itself was hardly distinguishable from the rest of the forest floor. There were times that it was as clear as day which direction it went. Mostly I had to depend on those white painted stripes, when I could spot them. Several times I had been in a position just like the one I was in now.
I stared at the purple ink line on the map a little harder, willing it to tell me where to go. I was surrounded by trees and two possible trails. One went straight the way I had been going, the other turned to the right. Neither of them looked to be little more than slightly more clear patches of leafy ground surrounded by slightly less clear patches of leafy ground. I had been standing here for the past 5 minutes looking from the useless map to the trees, searching for the marker.
I folded the map and tucked it away. It might as well have been a blank piece of paper for all the good it did me. I turned in a circle, squinting to find that white stripe that told me which way was the trail and which way would surely get me lost. There was nothing. Just brown bark.
So I sat down. I guess now was as good a time as any for a break. I drank from my sticker studded water bottle and wiped my brow with my blue bandanna, wondering which way I should take. The trail to the right led into deeper, slightly darker woods. The path right in front of me led to forest that was more open and let in more light. That could be a sign that some trees had been cleared away years ago to make way for a trail.
I didn't sit long. I wouldn't get anywhere if I didn't pick a direction and go with it. I could go down one trail and see if some white stripes cropped up later. With the slightest hesitation I started through the more open trees. It was more open, more inviting, easier looking. I followed what I tried to convince myself was a trail. I walked for about 100 steps before thinking to myself "this can't be right. I'm not picking up any real trail. There should be another marker by now. I have no idea where I am going." So I stopped and turned back around, deciding to try the other, darker trail. When I got back to where I started, I took the map back out. I don't know why I thought it would help. I looked at the purple line again and saw that it made a sharp turn about halfway along the map. I had seen the turn on the map every time I looked at it. I had been there when the park manager drew it. I had known it was there, but assumed that I hadn't reached it yet. It had to be too soon. But this right turn into darker woods that the trail seemed to make could be the start of this sharp turn on the map.
I turned slowly on the spot again and there it was, a couple feet away from me into the dark trees. A white stripe. How had I not seen it before? I sighed with relief, put the map away, and headed down the path with new determination now following the clear white markings on the trees that had been so hard for me to see before. I eventually made it to my destination-the end of the trail (which made a loop and took me to the old bathhouse where I had started)-and was glad knowing that I could tell the park manager that I had made it through the whole trail and that, though it was tough at times, it was passable.
This really happened to me during the summer when I was trying to walk the trails around the old bathhouse that is going to be a nature center in two years. Tara had drawn me the trails in purple pen on the park map. They were rough, but surprisingly accurate. It wasn't until recently that I realized just how perfectly this fits all out lives (especially my life lately). Let me introduce you to the players.
The Hiker-Everyone of us
The Trail-Our lives
The Park Manager-Father in Heaven
The Map-The scriptures
The White Markings-The promptings of the spirit
We all start down the trail confident enough. We believe we can take on anything. The way is clear and we have a fresh start. But this trial, it's not always clear. We were there when Father in Heaven made the map, we were there when he told us about how it would be tough sometimes. We even know now, as we walk in the trees, that it's not always going to be easy. So we refer to the map every now and then. Look at it passively, believing that this trail is going to stay clear enough for us to find our own way. But the less we refer to the map, the less we remember about which way we need to go and what turns may lie ahead. The trail was so clear to us on the map we were shown in the pre-mortal life. But we passed through the veil and things became less clear. We might have a tendency to trust less in those directions that we are given. The trail may now be in purple ink rather than black print but it's still accurate.
And so we come to a hazy patch of trail. It's not clear which way we should go. We might glance at the map, thinking that it won't tell us anything we don't already know. We might give the trail a once over watching for a glimpse of white. But maybe we aren't looking hard enough. Maybe we don't try very hard to see the white stripe down that darker trail because we like the looks of the brighter trail better. We can either decide to go down the wrong trail, believing it to be right for a time and have to back track, or we can pull out that map and really consider it. Look it over. And then look hard for that white stripe on the trees. It's there. If we look hard enough we can find it.
I have done a lot of backtracking in my life. I've gone down many trails knowing that they are the wrong way. They were all down hill. Easy at first. But the further I went, the darker it got. Eventually I realized that I had gone so far that I was in danger of becoming truly lost. So I turned around. Trouble is, now it's a steep uphill climb back to that intersection where I first went the wrong way. Once I get back to that intersection I see that the path I should have taken all along is a steep mountain. Trees at every turn. And so I follow that trail. I refer to my map often. I search diligently for the white trail markings. I can't see the top of the mountain at the end, but I know it's there and the Park Manager wont lead me astray if I just keep on going.
"Lead, kindly Light, amid th'encircling gloom, lead Thou me on! The night is dark, and I am far from home; lead Thou me on! Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see the distant scene; one step enough for me.
I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou shouldst lead me on; I loved to choose and see my path; but now lead Thou me on! I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears, pride ruled my will. Remember not past years!
So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still will lead me on. O'er moor and fen, o'er crag and torrent, till the night is gone. And with the morn those angel faces smile, which I have loved long since, and lost awhile."
When I say "we" I am, of course, not trying to project this on every person who may read this. It's really just me referring to my own personal experiences with these situations in the "we" tense.
The reason all this came out because-if some of you remember-I have been using the "my life is an uphill mountainous climb and all I can see are a couple steps in front of me" analogy to describe how my life is right now. Today in church, the speaker made almost the exact same analogy in his talk about faith and trust in Heavenly Father. It's not that unique of an analogy, but the fact that this man in my ward was using it within about a week of me considering it myself was interesting and heartening. Father in Heaven does know my situation and I believe that was his small way of telling me so.
In other brief news, the stake president was at church today and introduced himself to me. He told me about the institute class that's held at the Concord church building every Thursday. Why didn't I know that until now? It was never posted in a program, no one ever mentioned it, I didn't actively seek it out... oops.
Whatever the reason, I am just glad to know about it to get to go for a week or two before the end of all this.
By the way, this countdown is now officially like the anti-Christmas countdown. 25 days left.