New Year, New Hope (Part 2)

Over the last week I’ve been thinking more about what this new year of life may bring, and indeed what has already come. In my last blog post I shared how I've had to give up certain activities due to chronic fatigue syndrome, including mountain walking, and I outlined a couple of ways I’m learning to enjoy creation more deeply and intensely as a result. Although unexpected it is actually turning into a fantastic adventure! Here I share some more of my experiences which show how it's possible to thrive in apparently adverse circumstances. 

On my most recent visit to Launde Abbey, as I walked in the countryside I had some powerful insights. On arrival I was greeted by mist hanging low over the fields, a watery sun piercing the grey veil only to be hidden once more as wisps of fog danced across the sky. I just had to get out and enjoy it. There was such beauty in the scenery. The naked trees took on an ethereal look shrouded by the swirling clouds and sparkling water droplets sprinkled in all directions as my boots swished across the lawn.

Misty view from Launde Abbey

Later that day the mist had really thickened into a blanket of fog. You could barely see 100 m at times and the sheep merged into the grey landscape. 

View from Launde Abbey

It struck me as I was walking that even though I couldn’t see very far I could still see the next step. I knew there was beauty beyond because I’d caught glimpses of it only that morning; I just couldn’t see it at that particular moment. Yet even within the murk there was beauty – the reflections of the trees in the quiet pond, the calmness and stillness. And I was able to focus intently on what I could see because there were no distractions.

We can so often be distracted by unimportant things in life that hinder our journey to achieving our purpose. In this moment I felt God speaking to me through His creation:  “you only need to take one step at a time and focus”. I have recently come to realise that my passion for mountain walking was distracting me. It was using up a lot of my time and energy so that I couldn't (or wouldn't) slow down, hear God's voice and be guided towards my true purpose and a fulfilled life. Since mountain walking is currently not an option due to chronic fatigue I have been floundering and really wondering what to do with my life. Yet this powerful revelation showed that taking one step at a time is okay, perhaps even the best way. It's not necessary to know every detail of what is coming because further steps will be revealed as necessary. And don't forget, it’s the journey that’s the exciting bit - how boring would life be if we could always see right to the end? No excitement, no adventure!

So how am I beginning to see beyond the fog to the beauty? Well, I am certainly enjoying creation more fully. Slowing down has enabled me to notice and experience it more deeply and intensely bringing me great joy. Previously when out for a walk I was hardly ever able to slow myself down because the feeling of exhilarating exercise was just too good! But now I have the time to really see and learn things about my natural environment – something I have craved for a long time. Loving it!

I’m also engaging with creation differently. As I can't enjoy it exactly how I used to, I've found new opportunities and new things to do. Photography and writing are both activities I've enjoyed for years but never focused on because of mountain walking. However, the time for these is now and I see many opportunities for taking these interests to a new level. There are also hobbies I may have time to pursue including painting and drawing. I’ve often said to myself how nice it would be to actually sit in the mountains and paint the scenery live rather than using hurriedly taken photos later. But the sad truth is I've always been too interested in exploring the next hill or bagging another peak thus have been unable to allow myself stop, contemplate and be creative.

I’m now really enjoying a different type of walking with friends - slower paced, sometimes meditative, investigating things that I see and just enjoying being with others. One thing I love is sharing information about the outdoors with people – plants, animals, weather, landscape and geology for starters. Now I have the time to fully engage with learning so that I can share more knowledgeably.  

There are actually so many ways out there to enjoy creation using minimal energy that I’m only just discovering. This process in itself is an adventure, yay! Here's a few of the things I've been enjoying recently:

So really, life is good! In some ways think I can even say I’m glad I’ve been forced to let go of my energy for a bit. As Amy Carmichael reminded me in the following quote, letting go can be a very positive part of the healing process and it is often necessary to leave some things behind in order to move forward:

“The thoughts of the son ran thus: ‘My hopes painted beautiful pictures, but they are fading one by one.’

His Father said: ‘Destroy all those pictures. To watch them slowly fading is weakening to the soul. Dare then to destroy them. You can if you will. I will give you other pictures instead of those your hopes painted.’”

(From: Celtic Daily Prayer Book One, 2015. The Journey Begins. The Northumbria Community)

Although we certainly don't have to let go of all our hopes (for what is life without hope?), it really can be more painful holding on to things rather than letting them go and trusting that something better will come. Letting go of mountain walking has been a painful process for me. Although I’ve accepted I can’t climb them (for now…), it has been enormously difficult to come to terms with because I enjoy being in the mountains so much. It has sometimes felt like the end of the world if I'm honest – not to feel the exhilaration of summiting that challenging peak with the wind in my hair and amazing panoramas stretching for miles around. There have been many tears. It’s just not the same driving to a high point or getting the train to the top! This is where I really have to remember that there will be things that I can learn to enjoy as much as my mountain walking, perhaps even more so. Fortunately I've already had glimpses of these 'new pictures' and focusing on these opportunities is definitely more pleasant than constantly agonising over things I can no longer do.

I hope you now understand why I am more joyful and fulfilled than ever before, despite my seemingly rubbish circumstances. Isn’t it funny how the best things in life often come as a result of difficulty and struggle? Whatever happens in life we can all endure and even flourish, just like a tree planted by water (e.g. Jeremiah 17: 7-8, Psalm 1: 3).

The River Wear in Spring, Durham

As Anne of Green Gables said:

“I don’t know what lies around the bend, but I’m going to believe that the best does. It has a fascination of its own, that bend... I wonder how the road beyond it goes – what there is of green glory and soft chequered light and shadows – what new landscapes – what new beauties – what curves and hills and valleys further on.”

(L. M. Montgomery, 1908. Anne of Green Gables)

I don’t know whether I’ll ever get better or whether I’ll ever hike up a mountain again but actually, the future still looks golden. I’m at the bend in the road and looking forward to all that lies beyond. We will all reach this bend at some point and I hope and pray that you will be able to approach it with confidence. Let's all be like Anne and enjoy the adventure beyond. Wishing you a bright and hopeful future with plenty of new opportunities to come.

Susan xx