Revelations through trial create the deepest tracks from the steps forward that I have made through life. I value each trial which has ground away at the person I once was to forge a stronger, wiser, heartier self than the one left behind. With each dune of desolation and despair that I crest in victory, there surges a hope, a faith, a life flowing with water. For I know with each moment of thirst that an ocean of life awaits me at the end of a long journey’s path.
Eight months have passed since a transition I experienced into a greater place of faith. That day marked the development of a choice within myself to live out my belief in the philosophy of: God’s plan over mine without the eyes to see what end of the story might await. This philosophy means much in theory, but without legs of faith to carry it forward during times of deep discomfort and unknown outcomes, the feet have no weight to make footprints in the sand and, thus, leave no path to follow.
My feet themselves were, in fact, failing me. As a runner, I value the importance of my feet in a very acute and conscientious way. I rely on them and monitor their health closely for the sake of my overall well-being and fitness. These less-refined of my phalanged friends are, indeed, my life source in times of great stress and turmoil. Now my feet were my source of greatest despair and turmoil.
With growing fear I experienced with increasing frequency a wide range of troubling health struggles; among other symptoms, my cheeks, my legs, and my extremities were becoming all-too-often numb and desensitized due to no apparent cause or medical explanation. Blood tests, doctors’ visits, an MRI, and all the researching I could do on my own shed no light on the circumstances, which left me feeling helpless and confused. My best guess left me guessing the worst I could imagine: for me, this meant multiple sclerosis.
Having known several people through the years who suffered and warred their way through MS, at age thirty-two this runner knew no answers except to hope, in faith, that whatever future my life was consigned to, my Creator knew how much of this desolation I could tolerate.
I will spoil the ending now by saying God provided in His mercies other far less scary answers, which eight months later have meant near complete healing. He, however, allowed me to journey through the desolation and despair to provide me with a lesson without which my life could not have journeyed well forward.
As all things were confusing and developing without any answers, I traveled during this time to The Dunes Recreational Area in Oregon. I had been commissioned by local Portland folk rock band Chasing Ebenezer to take their photographs for their upcoming debut album.
The band’s songwriters and musicians Benjamin and Heidi Beth Sadler conceived of the idea of a boat in the midst of desolate dunes as the focal point for their album's artwork. Their songs remind their listeners of the promise that even the hope of water can hold to the thirsty and lost wanderer if only he can find his way to water.
"Come and drink from the water. Come and drink for free.
The streams that flow are priceless.
They're what you really need to wash away the greed.
(Come rest your weary feet and wash away your need.)"
-The Water, by Benjamin and Heidi Beth Sadler.
Traveling to The Dunes the day before the shoot, I spent several hours exploring the area to find an appropriate shoot location. After conversations with local residents, I was told of a place several miles outside town that would require hiking in order to be reached but seemed best suited for minimally traversed dunes isolated both from the oceanfront and ATV traffic common to the area. I planned a run for early the following morning to scout out the best place for setting up shop.
Cresting that first sand dune on that quiet morning and looking out at the rising and falling mountains of sand stretching endlessly before me, the stress and internal turmoil began to diffuse as it mingled with adventure and excitement, adrenaline coursing through me as I embarked on this thrilling escape.
I climbed and crested the mountains of sand, marveling at their magnificence. They are miraculous. They shift. They curve. They allure. They conceal. They beckon. They create thirst in spiritual ways, calling to wanderers to traverse always just one more peak of incredible, intriguing beauty.
Hearing the ocean’s roar in the distance, I eagerly ran forward, deciding quickly upon the plan of reaching the ocean's edge and turning directly back around.
I felt my feet cover dunes, climb dunes, sink into dunes, sand sifting uncomfortably through the mesh of my running shoes. This brought a certain delight - to know I could feel the discomfort for at least now. I thanked God for my discomforted feet, for today with these feet I could run.
My breathing became heavier as my thoughts turned to my feet and overall health concerns and my heart filled with grief. I ran absorbing the idea that this could be, conceivably, one of the last years of my life in which I could run, explore, climb in freedom and with ease. And yet in the moments and prayers that passed, I found in grief peace, knowing any trial He may ask of me I could handle through His strength and in faith if I could willingly give over my plan into His plans for significance.
I wept as I ran. I told God that His plans were not mine, and I thanked Him for his even greater plans. I told Him He could make whatever use of my feet He chose in order to accomplish His will, in my life and, more importantly, in the lives of others who did not yet know Him. He could use me and my suffering, and He could use this grief for His glory. But if - I prayed - He could accomplish His plans without taking my feet, would He please heal and preserve me?
The minutes which passed on the run towards the ocean's edge brought healing to my soul and a peace which refreshed my weary heart.
A good thirty to forty minutes into the run my contemplation shifted from the internal to the physical work of the day. I thought ahead to the morning's duties, and I knew I needed to reach the ocean's edge soon if I were to make my photo rendezvous. Yet with each dune I crossed my destination seemed further away.
After two or three more dunes - which were surely the last dunes to cross before answering the ocean's call - I realized how deceptive and endless these dunes truly were. Their infinitesimal stretch became real in a very poignant way. Sobered, I knew I had come as far as I ought. So I turned, unsatisfied, and began the journey back.
My plan of return all along had been to travel straight up and over the dunes, retracing my steps back home. As I turned and crossed the first couple dunes on the return route, the deceptive terrain no longer seemed a simple matter of straight or not. In need of some guides to find my way, my peace of mind was further rattled by what I had not realized until now: sands change and shift constantly with the mere settling of sand and drying of the night's moisture by the day's breaking warmth. As I sought to re-trace my tracks, I discovered with a sense of foreboding that many of my imprints were indistinct and some barely there at all.
With growing disorientation, I found myself staring helplessly out over an unfamiliar crossing. At my feet was a mess of indistinct and obscured tracks from previous travelers – all going in different directions. And I felt unsure of which, if any, were mine.
These mountains had changed as I ran after the ocean’s call, and the beauty that only half an hour before had been so alluring now frightened me. A mild panic rose within, and my heart beat even faster than its already quickened pace.
A respect for my surroundings and the power of the dunes filled me. Despite the growing sense of fear, it dawned on me that though I knew not these dunes, I know their Creator. A twinkle stirred, followed by delight that blossomed into an exhilaration that surged through me. I became excited at the thrill to overcome a threat I could not handle but that He surely could. If I could trust the Creator of my feet to take my next steps in life - even if it meant without the full use of my feet - how easy could it be for the Creator who knows each mountain, each hill, each curve, each spec and grain of sand of these miraculous wonders to take my feet back home over them?
Now, instead of the ocean's call, it was the call of home and its waters that beckoned to me.
I felt myself guided internally, and I saw the dunes with new, widening eyes. I felt understanding increase within me and inspiration carry me over the shifting waves in what felt like an unfolding structure and deliberate plan. I knew I was traveling over new ground, having wandered earlier off the path I had crossed previously. But it all made sense within the framework I saw laid out within and before me. I adapted and re-directed my steps each time I felt clarity wane, and the further I went, the closer I felt to finding my way. Things grew increasingly familiar, and as I crested one final dune on that new path I had forged, I saw ahead - off before me to the right - deep, dark, and distinct tracks that clearly marked the path I had taken before, the tracks which would now lead me the final stretch of my journey home.
I cascaded with elation down that sandy mountain to those tracks ahead, and with conquering power I victoriously climbed that dune as the morning sunrise climbed high with me, with the day’s opening light shining before me. The sun broke sharp and blinding over the dune's horizon. But through squinting eyes I could see with clarity the marked path stretching undeniably before me.
Running alongside the tracks in the sand, they no longer were my footprints. They were His. I was watching God's feet lead me. I was on the course His feet had already forged, and I eagerly followed.
My feet are not what guided me home. The tracks I made were not what guided me home. My plans, my tracks, my feet are what had failed me most in my time of dependency on them. But the dunes with their Creator, they guided me home.
My heart swelled with worship towards God that day, and it has swelled in worship in the eight months since that life-altering run. The path unfolding before me has become not my own path but a journey reaching the life God created in me for His worship and to complete the story He has written. I see my days as beckoning calls to follow His course to the destination He chooses. His path creates mine, and His are the only tracks I now look for.
My feet could not take me where I wanted to go that day, never having reached the ocean and nearly losing my way home. But God took me to Him, the greater source life, with the footprints of His own feet. He left those prints I needed to see the way, but He also let me lose the tracks I relied on in order to send me searching for Him.
So now I run. I run with His feet. I race. I race without fear. I embrace empty sand dunes with no trace of myself, because those dunes hold the answers and pathways that I cannot choose for myself. I run on the feet of Christ who gives me life for a purpose far greater than my purpose, your purpose, our purpose. But according to the Great Purpose of our Father - the Good Father - to bring us Home. At His feet we will find waters flowing.
The Way Home
by Rebecca Schnabel
I will run this race. I will not grow weary. I will give Him my feet.
No more will I run after oceans' calls to ignore the voice that stirs within my soul.
He will take me not where I dream to go but where I need to be.
He will take me to a place my soul knows, for by His feet I will find the Way home.
1 Timothy 4:7-8 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the
faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the
Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to
all who have loved his appearing.