Ok, so I have been in heaven the last few days. Snow and lots of it (at least for where we live). Our kids got a snow day yesterday and more fell tonight. Apparently it is one of the biggest snowfalls we’ve had here since like 2008. Our boys went sledding with friends and our daughter curled up under blankets and happily stayed indoors. My wife had a presentation to do via zoom and so I decided that I needed to spend much of the day outdoors. So 13 miles worth of walking and hiking later on several different walks, I returned home. But it was on one walk in particular that I started to hear and see something beautiful.
I was the first one out on one particular trail and I was loving the hike through the 6” of powdery snow even as I felt my feet slipping on the ice underneath as I went up hills. About 30 minutes in, I came to this staircase and realized that I was going to either sled my way down or very carefully and gently make my way down. This was a staircase that I normally run rather than walk to get a stronger workout but this time, it was one very careful step at a time.
Shortly thereafter I came to one of the three creek crossings and realized that my next challenge was going to be how to cross the creek without knowing where the rocks were and where the ice was. I managed the first creek ok but about a half mile later, the second not so much. Three careful steps led to what turned out to be breakable ice (and a wet foot – thankful for waterproof boots!) and made me recognize that a different route would be necessary.
Backtracking to the new route, I started up a trail I’ve done many times before. But as I headed up, it was much harder than other times. As I experienced as I started out, each step required a bit more effort and more diligence and care. Even so, there were more than a few slips on hidden in. About halfway up, I was starting to feel the snow that had made its way under the cuts of my snow pants and my ankles growing colder. And even though I thought I knew that trail well, I found myself following animal tracks and realizing I had gone off the trail because most of the trail markings were obscured by the deep snow.
But then I came to this bench. This bench that was smiling at me. This bench that blessed all the hard work that had gone into up to that point.
As I was coming to the end of my snowy hike, I began to see how that hike mirrored many things of the last year for me as a pastor. I’m doing many of the same things I’ve done before as a pastor – pastoral care, worship preparation and leadership, community connections, mission and outreach, and so forth. These much the same as having hiked those paths many many times before. But those same things have been so much different – preaching and leading worship more often that not looking into a camera lens and having to think about whether the microphone is picking me up well or whether the lighting is decent. Visits with people where half of their face is obscured by a mask. Decisions having to be made that were never a consideration before. While much of the path feels very familiar it has been so vastly different and, a few times along the way, stepping in places that were unexpected breaks in the ice just like that creek crossing. And yet then there are those moments when an unexpected blessing comes – a message shared about how much God spoke through a sermon or how connected people feel even as they spend much of their time at home, or people reaching out to one another in new ways.
But that journey is far from finished. The last year has forever changed each of us, has changed our society, has changed our relationships, has changed our institutions, has changed the church and we are going to be climbing in new territory even if it still feels familiar in some ways. And the steps will be more difficult and tiring. But there will be the blessings and the moments along the way and for those (and for the tough steps), I am grateful. The new is tough. But it will be worth it.
I am about to do a new thing;Isaiah 43:19
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.