When I was growing up my father took us on a mandatory nature hike at Waubonsie State Park every spring and every fall. He insisted we go so that we could enjoy nature and take notice of the miraculous signs of spring as well as meditate on the stunning colors of autumn.
I acknowledge the wisdom in this tradition now as an adult. As a child and teenager, such thoughts completely escaped my reasoning. We lived in a very small town with a large span of empty land in our backyard. We worked in gardens, fruit trees, and farm fields all summer accompanied by bugs and noxious weeds and so I was confident we got plenty of nature. But whatever Dad said we did. And so we hiked at Waubonsie consistently to view the change of seasons.
After a few years of this practice, the walks became mundane and my sisters Jackie and Christine and I agreed we could handle something other than the routine stroll of the geriatric park visitors. We convinced Dad we should make our own path and explore the unmarked portions of the park. And surprisingly we also persuaded him to let us be the guides. However, Dad always followed at the back of the pack, presumably to make sure since he left home with five daughters, that he would return home with five daughters. I am certain he had promised Mom at least that much.
Many times my younger sisters Michelle and Kim were helplessly victim to the adventure seeking older sisters. One fall we were on our biannual hike and had gotten severely off course. Much more so than any hikes previous to this one. Our trek had turned out to be longer than expected. By late afternoon, our packed lunches had been devoured hours ago and were nothing but a distant memory in our minds and stomachs.
Finally , we came around a knoll and found a rather steep, mangled hill that we soon realized would lead back to the main trail close to the entrance of the park. We quickly decided we had been gone long enough and we would make the now recognizable return via the direction the crow flies. As in straight up the hill. A task simple enough for a crow, but not so for five young girls. Our steep ascent was complicated by sticker bushes, slippery piles of fallen leaves and branches that although were pushed aside by the person in front of you, would mercilessly snap back in place just as your unsuspecting face passed by. In this manner we made the hairy climb. Finally at one point my youngest sister Kim, who was only five or six at the time, stopped and turned to Dad. Tired, hungry and nearly beaten she implored, “Why did God make this place?”
As I watch the news and read the newspaper, and especially today, on a day set aside for remembering the victims of the Holocaust, I can’t help but wonder as my sister did, “Why did God make this place?”
But as the thought is verbalized in my mind, I quickly know the answer. Just like the hill at Waubonsie State Park, this world was formed because it adds a measure of beauty and joy to our lives and the experiences and trials we are facing will make our final welcome home a sweet and worthwhile one. These trials are ours, and allowed to be so by a loving Heavenly Father.
And when those branches keep slapping my unsuspecting face, I try to keep my sights on the safe passage just over the rugged hill. All the while I am fully aware that I would not be truly happy forced to follow a predetermined path. And though at times my trials seem so impossibly difficult, I am reassured to know someone bigger and all-knowing is watching over me to eventually bring me safely home.