When the Way is Hard

His hand felt so tiny, so trusting in mine as we paused at the entrance to the cobbled path. I stooped beside him, our brown eyes meeting, and whispered, “Let’s go on an adventure.”

“Yeah—adventure!” His eyes lit up and his face broke into a broad grin. I giggled as his three-year-old legs began scurrying up the sweeping slope. Matching his pace, I loped easily beside him on my lanky twelve-year-old legs. Arching branches rustled overhead and magpies filled the air with their lilting melody, urging us on. Come and see, come and see.

Up a winding curve we climbed, away from our parents and picnic blanket—into the land of the unknown. Lush ferns waved their curving fronds, blurring the path edges, and palms stretched tall, reaching for the sky. Our eyes grew wide as we crept through their shadows, intrepid explorers trekking through the jungle. Hand in hand, we scaled smooth stone steps, worn by the tread of countless feet, puffing a little and pausing to rest those tired toddler legs. Spreading trees and orb-like bushes hid our view of the way ahead, adding fire to our curiosity. Sometimes we stopped, leaning close and whispering as I pointed to a delicate flower, a buzzing bee or colourful butterfly. At one point, when my little companion grew so weary he didn’t want to go on, I swung him onto my back and bounced along the path, grinning as he giggled and chanting, ‘Wait till you see what’s up ahead.’ When he was rested, I lowered him gently to the ground and on we marched, eager to finish our course.

Photo by Marco de Winter on Unsplash

My heart thrummed a happy rhythm as vivid images from my own childhood flashed through my mind. Many times, my family had come to these gardens for holiday picnics and birthday celebrations. Many times, I’d run along these paths behind my older sisters, unsure exactly where we were going, my eyes searching for familiar landmarks along the way – the timber bridge arching over the duck pond, the stately Japanese tea house or the wishing well full of shimmering coins. The first time my parents told me I was old enough to explore on my own, my spirit soared. I stood at the edge of the lawn where several paths branched off in different directions, my mind pulsing with the possibilities. Which route should I choose? Where will they take me? And what will I discover on my way?

Time passed, leading to this day. Now I was the older one with a young sibling in tow. It was my turn to share that wonder with my brother, to open his eyes to the thrill of new adventures.

Those memories have left a permanent imprint on my heart. Because of them, I’ve always felt drawn to gardens with tall hedges, winding paths and hidden corners. The memories themselves have been tucked away in a corner of my mind reserved for precious things, drawn out only when I’ve seen old photos or driven past the gardens, which still reside in their place on a hill—until a few weeks ago, when God brought them back so vividly it was as if I was walking those paths once more.

This year—so far—has been one of challenge.  I’ve been asked to do things I didn’t think I could and ventured well beyond what I thought was my happy place. My ‘legs’ have grown weary and sometimes I’ve been afraid of what might lie around the corner. Sometimes, I’ve been head-spinningly anxious. Yet, as I’ve pressed on, I’ve marvelled at the way God has—every time—brought peace, blessing, joy and growth through those things I would rather have avoided.

Again, I’ve been reminded of how little I really understand of His ways. Like a little child, I’m not ‘tall’ enough to see very far on the path He has for me. Sometimes I question the value in the direction He takes me and, in my tiredness, want to stop, to turn back or take a shorter, faster route.

But He has a plan. He knows the best way. And challenges are vital to the journey.

This is what He spoke to my heart the morning He revived those images:

‘Continue to trust Me, to put your confidence in Me, to follow My lead and press forward in My plans. It is a great adventure. And just as you delighted in exploring all the winding paths of the gardens in your childhood, so you will delight as you see what I have around each bend for you.

I have many surprises in store, much unexpected beauty. There will be passages that seem long, steep and, at times, even dull. In those I am building your muscle and mind for the parts still to come, teaching you to drink deep from my reservoir.

Hold fast to Me and let Me take you to those unexpected places where you will experience the beauty of My presence in ways beyond what you’ve known.’

Things are not always as they seem. Like children, we are limited in our vision. God sees the whole picture and has good reasons for everything He leads us into. At each stage of our journey, we can trust Him to give us what we need to go on. And when we grow weary, He will carry us, chanting, ‘Wait till you see what’s up ahead’.

Knowing Him, it will be worth the trek.

Photo by Kyler Wilton on Unsplash

“You do not realise now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”   John 13:7

“In all things, God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

“Even to your old age and grey hairs I am He, I am He who will sustain you.

I have made you and I will carry you;

I will sustain you and I will rescue you.”

Isaiah 46:4

When the Straight Path Takes an Unexpected Turn

I gripped the pages with trembling hands, reading and re-reading the words that had made my heart plummet. This was my final evaluation, a summing up of who I was as a twenty-seven year old woman. How could it be that my time at this place was ending on such a bad note?

I’d spent the past two years at a bible college in Tasmania, living in close community with staff, their families and other students—working, studying, eating, sleeping, laughing, singing, crying and praying together. This well-regarded training centre was not merely a place for academic learning. It was a pressure cooker, a refining fire where the jam-packed schedule and melting pot of cultures and personalities drew our well-hidden flaws to the surface.  

Every four months, each student met with a staff member to reflect on our progress and pray over any areas of struggle. As part of that meeting, we reviewed a checklist—already completed by staff—which offered detailed feedback on our character. The form in my hands that December morning was my final checklist, my graduation ‘reference’.

Up till that moment in my life, ticks always meant I’d done something right. On the form I was holding, most of the ticks affirmed positive attributes—as they had on my prior reviews. My eyes drifted over them quickly, then came to a screeching halt when they saw ticks beside comments like, ‘Somewhat over-emotional,’ and ‘Struggles with change’. To me, those ticks might as well have been glaring red crosses. If the staff who had journeyed with me over the past two years chose to highlight these flaws so late in my training, they must have felt they had potential to impact on the years that followed.

How right they were.

The ten months leading up to that day in early December had been one long roller-coaster ride as I began a wonderful relationship with my now husband and quickly became engaged. Swirling inside me was a dizzying mix of blissful dreaming and sheer terror. Along with the joy of beginning life with this man came the need to let go of my carefully formulated plans for the future. Just five weeks after our graduation, Mark and I would marry. Beyond that, our future was unclear.  For me, that was a very scary prospect.

My growing-up years were as firm and steady as a hundred-year-old oak. Almost all my family’s favourite memories were made in the same house at the end of the same quiet street in the same tiny Sydney suburb where my parents still live. We holidayed in a predictable pattern, heading inland for a dose of farm life at Easter and driving a few hours north in September to swim, fish and sunbathe. My parents followed consistent routines in what time we ate dinner, what days the lawns were done and what tv shows we watched each night. Life was stable and predictable and that gave me a great sense of security. It was no wonder uncertainty made me nervous.

The funny thing was, the closer I grew to God, the more change He brought into my life. The idea of living in total abandon was alluring—I wanted to follow God’s call, not shrink back from His purpose for my life. Yet every time He led me into something new, the drastic changes required had me panicking, wondering if I’d cope. He led me to leave my family and friends to look after orphan babies in Taiwan for six months, spend some time with missionaries in Africa, move to Tasmania to study, marry right after graduating, start a family as soon as we married, homeschool our children for more than a decade, move house six times, move interstate again to an unfamiliar region—this time with three of our four children in tow, unveil my secrets in a memoir and publish it for the world to read . . . and the list continues to grow.

Photo credit Esther Brown

There’s a little habit I’ve noticed I slip into whenever I face major change. I grab onto control wherever I can. It’s kind of a battening down of the hatches ready for a storm—probably in an attempt to control the storm roaring inside me. Thirty years ago my desperate clutching became self-destructive when I focused all my energies on extreme dieting. These days, through God’s healing, it manifests in smaller, more constructive ways. I become more determined to keep the house tidy and the day-to-day routines flowing smoothly. It’s my way of fostering a sense of security, despite the upheaval going on in other areas.  

A few weeks ago, I realized I was doing this again and stopped to ponder why. There were staff changes happening at work, my responsibilities were increasing and my husband’s schedule was becoming crazy-hectic. Then came some news from my publisher that meant my book would soon be distributed a little differently. These changes, while challenging, offered potential for good results. But none of them were expected—and I was thrown. I thought, after our crazy COVID year, my life was finally settling down to a manageable rhythm. Yet, everything was still changing and my sudden fussiness about the house showed I wasn’t coping.

I kept telling God I was scared of being overwhelmed and asking Him to give me strength and show me His way through, while on the inside, some part of me was bucking against the whole situation. Why am I always having to change and adapt, Lord? Can’t everything settle down now?

When I finally stopped talking long enough to listen, here’s what I felt God speak to my heart:

“Trust Me. I love you and I am working all this for your good. Every change has a purpose and is set to move you forward. Even closed doors are part of the forward progression, re-directing your course in line with My plans.

None of the journeys of My people have been straightforward. All have had unexpected turns and winding convolutions. It’s all part of the mystery and wonder of adventuring with Me, of learning trust and dependence and security, even when you can’t clearly see the way ahead. Those times when you think you’re settled on a certain course, then everything suddenly changes, confront you with the fact that you’re not in control—you’re not God. They bring you back to that place of child-like dependence, of thankfulness for every provision, every reassurance. And they reveal to you that I am well able to fulfil My plan, even through a different avenue than what you envisioned.”

It’s hard to describe the peace that came with that shift in perspective. Of course, God was working it all for good. Wasn’t that always His way? Every change He’d led me into so far had come with great cost, yet such richness of His presence and goodness that, in hindsight, they became the high points of my journey with Him.

So, again, I made a choice to embrace the adventure, knowing that with it comes growth. It’s all worth it. And really, life would be very dull without God’s unexpected turns. Those ‘surprises’ stretch us and take us to a place of greater intimacy with Him, greater thankfulness and ultimately, greater joy.

‘I will lead the blind by ways they have not known,

along unfamiliar paths I will guide them;

I will turn the darkness into light before them

and make the rough places smooth.

These are the things I will do;

I will not forsake them.’

Isaiah 42:16