by Natalie Ogbourne
About a year ago, I spent the morning disc golfing with my husband and our kids. This meant I was out with my family (which I love), on a path through the woods (which I also love but not as much), trying to hit a target with what amounts to a heavy frisbee (which I am no good at), looking for things (which I despise). Still, it was in every way but one a lovely morning.
That one way was an actual dark cloud that appeared on the horizon when we were playing the ninth or tenth hole. It looked a little ominous but it was a long way off. We kept playing.
After we finished the seventeenth hole, my oldest daughter looked at the sky and said she thought maybe she’d skip the last one. It featured a weed wasteland and she didn’t want to be stuck searching for a disc when the rain started. I didn’t want to get soaked, either, so I did the same. We sat partway up a short, steep hill between the final basket and the parking lot, watching the rest of the family wade through the weeds looking for an errant disc.
We also had our eyes on the sky.
That dark cloud had been gaining steadily as we played one hole after another and now it was almost upon us. The closer it got, the less it looked like a cloud. Its edges were frayed and disorganized—like the haze that surrounds Pigpen in the Peanuts comic. And, unlike a typical storm, it didn’t seem to be rolling in. Racing would be more accurate. It was as though we were watching it in fast forward.
Standing, my daughter said, “I think we should head to the car.”
“We’re heading to the car,” I called to the rest of the family.
But the wind had hit. My voice was lost.
I ran up the hill. At least, that’s what my brain told my body to do. And my body seemed to be complying. I felt like I was running but I wasn’t making the expected progress.
Is this how aging happens? Like the flipping of a switch? I wondered. I’d felt normal enough before I tried to run up the hill.
When I finally reached the top, I saw that rest of the family had abandoned their game and were running up the hill, too. We straggled in a scattered herd toward the shelter of our SUV. Only I couldn’t seem to hold a straight line. My son had fallen in step with me but I was drifting off course and couldn’t fix it. He could. He just reached out, grabbed my arm, and pulled me back.
What is wrong with me? I wondered.
At the vehicle, he let me go and we each went to our respective doors. When I tried to open mine, nothing–absolutely nothing–happened.
“I think the door’s locked,” I shouted.
Again, my son appeared at my side. After a little time and a lot of effort, he muscled the door open. I felt so weak.
What in the world?
What in the world was a derecho. That dark spot on the horizon wasn’t a cloud or even a storm. It was a system of storms banded together like a gang of unruly thugs bent on destruction. And it was in the process of racing across Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, and into Indiana with strong sustained winds and gusts over 100 miles per hour.
No wonder I struggled up that hill. No wonder I got blown off course. No wonder I couldn’t open the door.
It wasn’t my age. It was the conditions. You’d think I would have recognized that—especially in something as obvious as a freak weather event. But no.
Recognition isn’t always my first response.
A few weeks ago I told a friend I’d been uncharacteristically unmotivated. I suggested all kinds of reasons why this might be—large and small life transitions and age (of course) among them. The next morning I found this quote from her on my phone: “You are not lazy, unmotivated, or stuck. After years of living your life in survival mode, you are exhausted. There’s a difference.” A one-word message followed: Maybe?
It isn’t just age and life stage. It’s the conditions. You’d think I would have recognized that—especially in the wake of covid and chronic health issues and the pace of modern life. But no.
Maybe you can identify. Maybe you, too, have been busy cruising your normal life and found yourself surprised by a sudden struggle to keep up, stay on course, complete simple tasks. Maybe you’ve been traveling tough terrain for so long you’ve stopped seeing it for what it is.
Can I encourage you to look around?
That change in our ability to function may come not from a failing within us but from something at work outside us. Whether we name it stress or storms, trials or tough terrain, recognition of the conditions we’ve been traveling is crucial to walking wisely and well. These are trying times and rare is the individual who is moving through the world unscathed by present or just-recently-passed difficulties.
Green pastures. Still waters. The valley of the shadow of death. The presence of enemies of every kind. These are features of the landscape of our lives, terrain our Shepherd will lead us through. Awareness strengthens our ability to follow.
Awareness makes the difference between finishing the race and gradually giving up. The difference between walking wisely in the wilderness and looking like lunch in mountain lion territory. The difference between knowing we need God’s ever-present help because these are times of trouble and not understanding why we just can’t get it done on our own.
So let’s pause for a moment to consider the conditions. Here are four questions to help:
- Where am I now? (What’s going on today?)
- Where have I been? (What was going on yesterday, last week, last month and the one(s) before that, last year…)
- Where am I headed? (What changes or challenges are looming in the future?)
- What help do I need or change do I need to make to get up that figurative hill, stay on course, open the heavy door?
If you’re the written-processor sort or would like a little structure, you can download the Engage Your Terrain: less autopilot | more life printable PDF here.