I spread the map out on the ground. The minutes of sunlight were ticking away faster than my mind could process the questions running back and forth across my brain. I sat back on my heels and momentarily closed my eyes, hoping to settle my soul enough to think clearly. In the darkness of my mind those questions fought one another until one won out.
How did I get lost?
Frustrated tears stung my eyes until I opened them to let the wetness out. Through blurred vision I stared at my map. It was frayed from opening and closing it so many times. Dark smudges of mud patched the hand drawn landscape from the many times I had fallen and muddied my hands before checking and rechecking the directions. I reached out and fingered a rip in the right corner where it had caught my sweatshirt pocket when I pulled it out for the thousandth time.
I was trying to follow the directions.
I had checked my compass. I had taken enough provisions. When the map told me to climb, I climbed. Only when I climbed, I also fell. I momentarily studied my dirty jeans. Dried dirt caked the hem. My knees were black with the soil that soaked through when I slipped and fell all the way back down a hill. I had taken another path up to keep from falling again. I absently brushed spots of red clay dirt from my thighs as I remembered falling down a shale embankment. My hips were still bruised and my knee still swollen from the misstep that sent me plummeting 30 feet to the bottom. I had checked the map and climbed back up to what I thought was the right place. It had looked a bit different, but I assumed it was as close as I could come and had continued. I had watched for signs and rerouted myself when I thought I was off track.
Sill, I got lost.
I shook my head as the frustration that wetted my eyes moved down past my throat and morphed into a rock that weighted my middle so heavy that I thought I might loose the contents of my stomach. Keeping it down took so much effort that I didn’t even try to fight the tears that accompanied it. Instead, I wiped my eyes with dirty hands and let my bum fall to the ground. Raising my legs to my chest, I set my chin on my knees. The tears washed away the dirt my fingers had pained over my cheeks.
And darkness came.
Cold air swirled around my uncovered hair, sneaking down my neckline and chilling my back. I could no longer see my map and I had no idea where I was. I wrapped my arms around my legs and gripped myself. I had no choice but to accept the dark. I had no idea where I was. I had no idea how to get to my destination or how to turn around and go back to where I started. My map was untrustworthy. Or I had failed at reading it. Either way, I didn’t know what to do.
As I cried the rock in my gut lifted high enough to free the feelings it was holding down. Failure and frustration mixed with anger at myself and formed a bile that caught in my throat. I swallowed hard and accepted the feelings. Somewhere I had gone wrong. Very, very wrong. Defeated, I determined to wait for sunlight so that I could try once again. The map was taking me somewhere. I knew that much. At the end of the journey I would find my place.
The night grew long enough to release the Milky Way. Through my tears I watched as the black sky was dusted with a million shimmering stars, flowing so close together that a band of light waved over my head. When weariness outweighed the cold, I closed my eyes again, hoping that I could somehow sleep in my unsleepable position. I lowered my forehead to my knees and let out a weary sigh that was a prayer for hope.
The light was soft, as soft as the blanket he wrapped around my shoulders. Warmth surrounded me and then permeated my skin, sinking into me until my bones felt it. I wanted to lift my head and tell him thank you, but I could not make myself do so. Instead I grabbed the edges of the blanket and pulled it tight enough to cocoon myself in its comfort.
He sat so close to me I could feel his chest moving before he wrapped me in his arms. He pulled me gently sideways until my head could not hold its place and I had to shift myself to keep balance. I lifted my head and he caught my chin in his calloused fingers. He lifted it far enough to look into my eyes before letting it go so that I could bury my face in the folds of his white linen robe. I let him comfort me in my failure until the rock in my gut was shattered by his tenderness. The pieces fell away, exposing my heart completely to his love.
He set me back far enough to see him. I looked up into his face to see that he was serious. Dead serious. I dropped my eyes and waited for his discipline. I knew I had done it wrong. All wrong.
He spoke gently, but his words held the power that organized the Milky Way still shimmering over my head.
“Your falls have wounded you.”
The shock of his unexpected statement cut through my knowing of his character. I had fallen. Several times. I knew I had caused those falls myself by not watching where I was going or trying to navigate terrain I had no skill to navigate. I had expected reprimand. I believed hates it when I do it wrong.
I dropped my chin a bit as the pain of my self inflicted wounds rose to the surface. I let go of the blanket and looked at my dirty hands. They were scraped and scabbed from my climb. I shifted myself again, feeling the bruises on my hips. I started to cross my legs but the pain of my swollen knee kept them where they were.
I was hurt.
He gently reached eternal arms around my haggard body and pulled me into his powerful lap. The safety there released unrecognized tension in my muscles and I started to relax. Still, I knew he would have to deal with my failure. It is his character to do so. He does not leave failures untouched. Even so, I rested my head against his muscular chest. No matter the discipline, his love would be the same. This I knew for sure.
His next words were spoken over my head as I listened to his heartbeat.
“I have come to heal you.”
I sucked in my breath. I had expected training, tough words that I needed to hear that would make me better at following the map. Healing? Never entered my mind.
He took my hands in his, brushed away the dirt and ran a finger over my scabs. As he did so the scratches disappeared, leaving only small pink lines. Then he put a palm over my knee. The swelling dropped and flexibility returned. He set his hand on my lower back and the aching in my hips drained from me. When the pain had been dealt with, he set me in front of him.
“Your failures were a necessary part of the journey.”
In the light of his countenance I could see my map. I fingered the rip and asked the question still banging at me.
“How did I get so lost?”
He was almost stern, as stern as love would allow.
“You are not lost.”
I looked around me as unfamiliarity and confusion accosted my hearing.
“I am not lost?”
The question had a ring of absurdity to it.
“Beloved, look at your map. We are here.”
He pointed at a place square within the line the map had set for me.
“I have been trying to stay on course. I thought I was somewhere way out here.”
I pointed at the portion of the map labeled “Uncharted”
He took my finger and guided it back to the place he claimed we were.
“Your falls have played a part in your journey. See here where you slid down the hill? You had gotten off course. Your fall put you back on the right track.”
My chin dropped as he traced my finger back over my route. I had followed the map perfectly.
“Beloved, you are right where you are supposed to be.”
Tears of relief flooded me. So did another question.
“Lord, why did I have to fall? How come I could not see before I fell and avoid the pain of wrong choices?”
He patted my dirty jean covered knee.
“You have never come this way before. How would you know exactly what is ahead of you?”
I tipped my head and thought about that.
“But doesn’t the map lay it out? If I could read it better, I would not have gotten off track.”
He smoothed the map and answered me without looking away from it.
“You are learning. Learning requires falling.”
I didn’t like his answer.
“I don’t want to fall, Lord.”
He smiled slightly as he turned his attention toward me.
He offered no more explanation than that.
I bit my lip and then asked another question.
“You told me when you gave me the map that I would find my place at the end of the journey. How will I ever get there?”
He stood up just as the sun broke dawn’s mountain barrier. He put out a hand and lifted me to my feet. To my delight, I did not hurt anywhere.
“Keep going. You will get there. Your place is waiting for you.”
I reached down and lifted the map by its corners. Holding it up in the new light I pointed at where we were.
“Where do I go from here?”
“Follow the map.”
I sighed and looked up at him.
“I am not sure I know how. I keep making a mess of my journey.”
He held out a hand and I gratefully took it.
“Its time to go.”
My heart jumped.
“Lord, I have been so all alone in this journey. Are you going to walk with me for a while?”
I wanted the company.
He started to walk but did not let go of my hand. I was pulled into step with him.
“I have never left you alone.”
The statement was so matter of fact that it had no response.
I took a deep breath and looked up at the mountain ahead.
“Can you help me do it right this time?”
He chuckled affectionately as we started the ascent.
“You are learning, Beloved.”