On the Dark Path

In the spring of 1996, the two of us started hiking down a trail to a place we’d never seen. It seemed a comforting, intriguing natural wonder, this “Bagby Warm Springs”. We realized a half hour in, though, that we had not planned sufficiently for this hike as we noticed the sky turning dim. He walked on. So I kept trekking the path by his side; it was too late to turn back. 1 1/2 miles seems a breeze! It can’t take that long to walk, right? “Adventure awaits!”, he convinced me. He had no idea how right he was.
Under the right (and bright) conditions, this journey would have proven simple, even beautiful. But as dusk shrouded the sky, the thought of us getting abandoned to a bleak fate clawed at my mind. Every minute that passed, a shade darker. Until I placed my hand 5 inches before my face and could not determine even its outline. I was guessing we were half way there. At least once we arrived, I thought, we could sink into some hot water and soak there until well past the raisin-fingertip stage. At least we had the comfort of our fingers interlocking, and a well-defined pathway that we could feel with our shoes, if not see with our eyes.
He was a smoker at the time, and it dawned on him that he had a light source in his pocket. A lighter. A stick. A T-shirt. Ingredients for a torch. YESSS! We were madcap gamblers, opportunists at large! And off we went…until the wind stole our thunder. He pulled his brother’s old Texas Longhorns sweatshirt out of his backpack, wrapped it around the stick and Torch #2 was lit…for another 5 minutes. We walked on, with vision and determination, and an old Amy Grant song came to my mind and out my lips, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. And nothing will I fear, as long as you are near. You are near me to the end…”
But where was the end?
We sat down and tried to create a fire with moss, sticks and lighter fluid. It was too damp to burn. So we just sat there in the middle of the path, surrounded by the fated darkness. The sounds of harmless animals, breaking twigs and wind sent chills down my spine that would only be comforted by his kiss and the fiercest of side-hugs. I would not let him let go of me. I began to cry.
And then a prayer and perhaps an hour later, we heard noises that were not from animals or wind. They were the fast footsteps of college kids who were heading our way with flashlights in tow. The one item we regretted forgetting most. These kids were definitely on “speed”, but they were also on a mission. And it was all we could do to gather our things and call out for permission to follow, before they’d pass us by. So without their permission, we were on their tail. A slow run and just ten minutes more led us to those hot springs. We couldn’t believe it. How could a 1 1/2 mile hike take us half the night? Just like that. We sunk and we soaked in a huge barrel filled with water from the depths of the earth…until well past raisin-fingertip stage.
We resisted sleep, but we knew the light of dawn would lead us back. We planned to take turns sleeping in the car as we drove home. And with each passing minute, the sky was a shade lighter. Our journey a shade brighter. Our love for each other a shade stronger.

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Courage Creek

Yesterday was the first day of Spring Break. And the last day of sunny weather for this Spring Break. So Ricky and I took the opportunity to let the kids have some fun on the swing Ricky made the day before. The swing that takes them, feet dangling, over Hess Creek, hovering the grass on the other side and then back to a slippery hillside where, with wide smiles, they hope to gain their balance once again. This day, in an effort to share the adventure, we invited the neighbor kids, T & E to join in. E went first with excitement in her eyes. She adjusted the rope-length and went for it – no issues. Then my two had their turns, while T stood by on the launching spot and watched. At first, he politely declined, but his sister E kept asking and encouraging him to try. I understand his hesitancy though. Although younger, he is on the bigger side. So the rest of us didn’t pressure him. He was just so unsure. But we all watched him as he gathered the courage to just go for it, and thought he’d get the idea after watching the rest of the kids give it a-go, that you need to run down the hill as fast as you can to build up the momentum needed to soar across. But something was missed there. He kept bending his knees and calculating the risks, and then before we knew it, he was walking nervously down the hillside, and pushed off.

He made it across, reached the other side, and started to come back, but hadn’t the momentum to get back to the launch hill and stay there. So he drifted back over the creek and just hung there. Ricky was close by (thank God!) and grabbed a rake to pull the rope above T closer to the bank…just close enough for for him to reach his legs and find his footing again. He was pretty worried as he hung vulnerably over that 12′ wide creek. Even though it was just waist deep water, it was muddy and cold. His hands gripped that pair of handle bars that Ricky had disassembled from his old bike, as he yelled out, “I’m gonna fall!” So when he made it back, we were all pretty relieved. Especially T. As the sun warmed us through hundreds of branches, Braylon, Angel and E had several more turns and then an unexpected “I want to go again!” came from T. We all looked to him to see if he was serious, but didn’t want to discourage his burst of risk-taking in action. He just wanted to have the same fun as everyone else. All we could do was stand there and watch. And of course cheer. And clap…until about 2 seconds later when he lost his grip…directly over the creek.

SPLASSHHH!

Our eyes all widened, I covered my mouth, then yelled out to him, “Are you ok?!” with near certainty that the only thing hurting was the sense of pride he had upon jumping. My heart was thankful and sinking at the same time as I watched him struggle to get his footing on the slippery mud that only added insult to emotional injury. Those couple minutes seemed to morph into an hour as my mind recalled when I was about his age, struggling with my own weight, and dreading all water activities for this very reason – for fear I would be left to flounder as I tried desperately to retain an ounce of grace as I found my way to solid ground. As I stood watching by the big tree, I was glad T was facing the opposite bank and didn’t see the inadvertent smirks that I saw. In an attempt to redirect those initial muffled outbursts of giggles, I solicited Bray’s help in going inside to get some towels. Once inside, I muttered a quick prayer for T as I ran upstairs to grab him a soft, dry shirt he could use our garage to change into. After he took me up on the offer, he came out sportin’ the clean shirt -backwards- and these few remarkable statements of gratitude,

“Thanks for the Tee shirt. Hey, at least I didn’t get my hair wet!”

…he said with the cutest half-smile ever. And that was the exclamation mark on our swing-time fun, the first day of Spring Break, 2014. I’m determined to get him a gift this week from all of us, to honor him for overcoming his fear. When he looks back at this day, I want it to be marked with a sense of pride and courage more than just an embarrassing moment. I want him to feel accepted, even celebrated.