The Overlooked Path

Featured imageHow had we missed it? The sign was right there; a full six-feet wide and at least as tall, directing us right to the trail to the Overlook of the Falls. The trail had been no more than 50 yards from the very spot we would park each time we came to the park’s lodge to be assigned to our reserved cabin. Each time we visited, year after year, the trail had been right under our noses, only to be overlooked as we ventured past it to seek out the primary destination of our visit: Cedar Falls.

“Has this always been here?” my husband asked as we returned to our car from the lodge’s registration desk. We had learned that our cabin wouldn’t be ready for another hour, so we were prepared to drive our car to the Cedar Falls Overlook to amble along the path as we waited. “Surely not,” I answered. “We would have noticed that sign if it had always been here, wouldn’t we?” One would think.

We struck out for the trail, following the direction of the white diamond-shaped markers placed on some of the trees to help guide hikers along the path known as The Boy Scout Trail.  The Boy Scout Trail is the one main trail that ties together all of the other smaller trails throughout Petit Jean State Park; its length in excess of 12 miles. That trail had been a part of the park since long before our first visit to Petit Jean in the early 1990’s; so, yes, it had been there. We had simply overlooked the quickest path to the Overlook.

We had overlooked the opportunity to see some beautiful sights; vignettes whose beauty refused to be dimmed by the waning sunlight and the dreariness of the oncoming winter.

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How often do you get to see a huge boulder that looks like the head of a sleeping Snapping Turtle?

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How sad it would have been to miss the glimpse of a misty fog lumbering its way through the Cedar Creek Canyon.

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How disappointing it would have been to be deprived of the opportunity to walk across this gently trickling stream.

Featured imageSome views… some moments or experiences can be recaptured at a later time. That turtle head rock probably won’t be going anywhere for the next several decades. But some opportunities only present themselves for a moment; disappearing as quickly as the fog when its driven away by the sun.

As we walked along our newly-discovered path I couldn’t help but reflect on other opportunities I may have overlooked in my rush to reach what I considered to be my primary destination. The sad part is that I’ve always considered myself to be pretty good about enjoying the journey. I’ve always tried to enjoy each day as the gift from God that it is.

I also wondered how many times I’ve missed a path God intended for me to travel. There are probably more paths than I care to know, and even more pitiful reasons for missing them. The main reason for missing most of those paths, though, is probably that I just looked past them in my hurry to reach what I thought was something better. I was probably always headed for what I deemed to be more worthwhile, and going in a direction that I had decided would be quickest and best.

Featured imageSometimes quickest and best takes us in another direction. Sometimes quickest and best leads to an altogether different destination. Then again, sometimes quickest and best leads to where we wanted to go in the first place. The long-overlooked path we found that day ended up being the path to The Overlook.

When I finally slowed down enough to see where God had placed me in that moment I was able to see the sign; the same sign that had been there every time we had visited in years past. That same sign directed us right to the trail that led us on a beautiful path that was shorter and easier-to-maneuver than any we had ever taken before.

Featured imageHow many signs does God place right under my nose every day? How often have I overlooked the sign He has placed right in front of me; failing to take advantage of His guidance? How many times have I failed to see the forest for the trees?

Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not on thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6, KJV)

The Best Gift

Grass Karl Forester bloom a 06 05 07She wanted dirt. Of all the things I might have expected my mother to tell me she wanted for her birthday, I never dreamed she would tell me she wanted a wheelbarrow full of dirt. But it wasn’t just any dirt she wanted for her birthday gift. She wanted my dirt; dirt from my flowerbed.

To be quite honest I really wished she had asked for something else… anything else. Not because I didn’t want to go to the trouble of digging up the dirt and hauling it to her house. You see, I’m stingy with my dirt. It’s not something I’m proud of; being selfish about sharing my dirt. I didn’t even realize I had this problem with sharing my dirt until a few years ago when I was helping prepare for our Master Gardeners’ semi-annual plant sale fundraiser.

As I dug and divided my perennials I had determined I would donate for the sale, I would find myself shaking off as much of my dirt as possible from the roots of my plants before I put them in the nursery pots. I went to great lengths to separate the tangled masses of roots, coaxing as much of the soil from amidst the jumble as possible. I bought bags of commercial potting soil to fill the nursery pots so I wouldn’t have to part with such quantities of my own. Why such selfish hoarding of my soil? It’s good soil; really good soil.

For many, many years I have invested time and money in the soil of my garden in order to improve and enrich it. When my husband and I first bought our home in 1992 there were no flowerbeds at all. Our back yard contained nothing more than some monkey bars, a basketball goal and a couple of shade trees. Not much of anything would grow there due to past years of wear and tear from future NBA players and Olympic gymnasts. But over the years it has been transformed into something we consider quite glorious. It didn’t get that way because of the plants we bought and installed or because of the birdbaths and the trellises. It got that way because of the soil; the foundation of the whole garden.

flowering-quince-cameo-a-03-28-08Let’s face it; from the perspective of the garden-lover, a garden is all about the plants. But a plant is only as good as the soil it grows in. Buy an expensive, rare perennial, plant it in poor soil, and you have nothing more than a poor or dying plant. That plant depends on the soil in which it grows and the nutrients contained in that soil. It relies on what it’s rooted in.

There’s good soil, then there’s bad soil. In the Parable of the Sower Jesus talked about the difference, and He went on to point out more than one type of bad soil. There was the hard path, the rocky soil, and the soil with weeds and thorns. His point was that the spiritual soil of our hearts can be good, or it can have a variety of problems. The problems arise when our soil is attacked by the Enemy.

Satan has a particular interest in the condition of the spiritual soil of our hearts. That’s where the seed of the message of God’s personal word to each of us is planted. That’s where the plant that bears the fruits of the Spirit grows. Satan knows he can’t touch that seed from God, but he can give us a spiritual soil disease. If we follow him, he can lead us to a point where our hearts are calloused like the hard path. He can fill our soil with rocks of doubt, leaving little room for proper root development. He can deplete the spiritual soil of our hearts of vital nutrients like faith, joy, peace and trust; leaving us with such poor soil that the only things that can grow there are thorny weeds.

It’s not just the plant bearing the fruits of the Spirit we need to consider. You see, we’re like plants, too. We are only as effective as the soil in which we are rooted. Unlike our garden plants, we have a choice as to what we sink our roots into. We can choose to root ourselves and grow in God’s agape love, or we can choose to root ourselves in philosophy, human tradition, or the elemental spiritual forces of this world.

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. (Colossians 2:6-10, NIV)

In Christ all the fullness of the Deity – the Godhead, the Holy Trinity – lives in bodily form. He was born as a baby more than two-thousand years ago. He died as a Savior paying the sin penalty for each and every one of us who accept that gift. He rose again to conquer death once and for all and seal our victory for us. And He still lives today. Does He live in your heart?

He can, through God’s gift of salvation. God gives that gift freely, abundantly and graciously. He isn’t stingy with it like I am with my good soil. But that gift is only a gift if it is received. Have you receive it for yourself? That’s the best gift you could ever receive this Christmas.

This post is a modified excerpt from the book Break Up Your Unplowed Ground: Unearthing God’s Desires for Your Life, by Janet Benson.