The Path

Summer had just begun, and I had left behind all the chaos of my life at home. I now had a sort of adventure waiting. I was staying in a cabin for a couple of days by myself with nothing on the schedule.

I looked through the brochure and saw there was a nature trail that led to a swimming hole. It was a one and a half mile hike. I had been on this trail before with my family, but we had not gotten far. We had my boys and all the cousins in tow. Nobody knew exactly how long the trail would take and nobody wanted to be stuck out in the wilderness with a crowd of tired and hungry kids.

I had heard that the place in the river where the trail ended was beautiful. I decided to do the hike all by myself. Alone.

Wait, alone? That little voice in my head started to scold me.
“Never hike alone. Never go places alone where you can’t call for help if you need it.  When you going running, always run close to a road or civilization. Take a friend with you. Call me when you get back so that I know you’re safe. Do you have mace? Be aware of your surroundings AT ALL TIMES! If you encounter a bear, freeze so that he doesn’t think you are his lunch running from him. Or is that what you are supposed to do if you encounter a mountain lion? No, with bear you yell really loud and make your-self big to scare him. Bears are more afraid of humans than we are of them. ”
Let’s face it… My solution for any and all scary animals will be to run like heck and scream like a banshee. I’m the “flight” when you talk about Fight, Flight or Freeze.
Ok, my “safety freak self” had clearly taken over.

I will be fine. I mean how many bears are really in Missouri? Fortunately, I did not google this information at the time because evidently there are several bears in our Show Me State! Ignorance is bliss.
The next morning, I grabbed a water bottle, my phone, Bible and journal. As I was approaching the trail head, I had the kind of excitement like I was about to meet up with a friend I hadn’t seen in a long time.  An old friend, but a new adventure. I stood in front of the sign that said 1 ½ mile hike. I was ready.

I quickly got on the trail because a girl scout troupe had just pulled up. Suddenly my fears of bears attacking seemed unimportant compared to the herd of Girl Scouts that I actually saw gathering in the parking lot.
The morning dew was still on the ground, as the little girls and their leaders bounced and giggled out of their cars. The air grew thick with the scent of thin mints but I had to be strong.

No, I was determined to have the peaceful time alone. I didn’t want to get lost in a stampede of badge-hungry scouts hyped up on gatorade and samoas. Before I knew it, my leisurely hike became more like speed walking at the mall.  Out of breath, I slowed down. The girl scouts must have taken the other path because they were not in sight. Crisis averted.

Finally, I could enjoy this. I slowed down to look around and listen. The birds chirping with the buzzing and humming of the bugs. Breathtaking scenes and sounds. The trees were draped with leaves already and wild flowers were peeking through the ground cover. Every time I walked around a bend, there seemed to be a surprise waiting for me.

About half way down the trail a waterfall made me stop in my tracks.

As I looked up at the ridge of moss covered boulders, I saw that the water had begun to twist and turn way before it ever trickled down into this little pool. The sounds from that waterfall were so calming. I spent a long time listening and taking it in. So glad that I had found this little haven.

I almost didn’t go on the hike that day, because it was so far away from the road and the park. Far away from help if I needed it. I had felt unsafe going this far, alone. The what if’s had almost prevented me, but I decided to take the risk. That path took me deep into the woods and the farther I went, the more beauty I saw.

Nature is breathtaking on its own, but it was the fact that it was tucked away, that made it so irresistible. It’s beauty could not be seen by just anyone. It was for those who walked the path and took the time to notice.

I realized that for me, naming my fear was necessary so that I could take the path. Recognizing that there was a place in my heart that did not want to take risks because I didn’t want to get hurt. I had grown up in an over protective home which worked great for keeping little ones from harm. But I was not a child anymore.

Walking on the path that day, I began thinking about overcoming my fear of bears and girl scouts was much easier than facing the fears that had wreaked such havoc in my life.

Afraid of being…

Rejected.

Alone.

Invisible.

Not enough.

These fears had all been large boulders in my life that were difficult to get around.

Naming the fear of Rejection, showed me that I was afraid to be honest with myself and with others. I had a hard time recognizing my feelings. When others hurt me, I came up with reasonable explanations and excuses. I was afraid to show them my hurting heart, fearing it would push them away.

When life was hard, I internalized it. Instead of allowing my self to feel, I blamed myself and saw me as the problem.

I was careful not to upset others because I thought that their approval meant relationship. I worked hard to stay out of the way while others got their needs met. As long as others approved of me, I felt valued and happy.
But after a life time of walking on egg shells and people pleasing, I wasn’t happy. I was miserable.

It came to a head when several years ago, depression had teamed up with my feelings of inadequacy as a wife and a mother. I was left in a puddle of my own tears next to a pile of my own laundry.
I remember that day in November. I had brought the basket of clean clothes down to the play room so that I could fold laundry while I watched my 3 ½ year old twin boys play. Building with legos and their wooden train tracks. They were wrapped up in play, creating and building a city. Unaware that I was crumbling. I was at the end of myself and felt hopeless.

As I cried on the floor, I just kept thinking…

“I cannot do this.” I don’t know how to be a wife and a mom. I was not enough. I was disconnected from my husband and continually lost my temper with my boys. It seemed like parent-hood had brought out the worst in me. It thrust me into the woods on a path I had never taken before. Far from the road I had always known. Far away from help if I needed it.

Finally, that path brought me to the waterfall of my own desperate tears. While on the floor, I stared into the pool that had formed in front of me.

I saw my reflection. The real me.

Not the big sister, the rule follower or the 1st born good little girl.

Not the teacher’s pet or the star on the stage.

Not the college graduate or the loyal employee.

Not the worship leader or drama ministry leader.

Not the church member or the bible study attender.

Not the girl who can keep her cool and her makeup done.

Not the stable one who had the advice to give.

No, those were all roles I had played. Not bad or wrong. They were necessary at times. Even noble. But I had mistaken these things that I did, to be the essence of who I was.

Those shadowy figures were now gone. My reflection revealed a face, flushed from anger and a jaw clenched in resolve to understand. Who was this person I was looking at?

The sweet little faces of my boys that I had waited so long to hold, drove me to the edge of frustration. I found myself going from 0-10 in a flash. No matter what I did, I could not get them to eat their vegetables. I could not make them wear a coat in the car without a tantrum.  The tantrums. I didn’t understand them and I couldn’t stop them. But why were these things pushing me over the edge? They were little boys in cute little boy T-shirts from Target.

Why was this so hard?

I was no longer the loyal employee. I wanted to give my 2 weeks notice. I was a complete failure in the job of mother.

Before kids, I had worked full time and was good at my job. I knew what to do and when to do it. It was stressful work but it had rewards like …. a paycheck and accolades and lunch breaks. A fulfilling life.

After 3 1/2 years of staying home with my boys, I felt empty.  A hollowed out feeling that created space for one thing to echo in my heart.

I was a terrible mother. Unfit and not able to love like other mothers did. I was sure that I was going to screw up my kids.

Out of desperation, I made an appointment with a counselor and began to look at my story for the first time.

I began to see what was underneath the heavy blanket of my anger. Hiding deep beneath the covers was a little girl, terrified of being seen.

My journey of getting to know her began that day. I began to take steps on “The Healing Path.” 

Through the process, I have read many books that have been instrumental in navigating the paths of my heart.

I had just finished reading “The Healing Path,” by Dan Allender, before taking my personal retreat and hiking the trail alone.

“We have all faced such moments—times when we recognize anew that we are called to a journey that will shape us and change us. The journey has the potential to heal us or harden us. It will harden us if we attempt to do an end run around the desert, valley, or craggy peak where God compels us to walk. It will soften, break, mold, and heal us if we choose to take sorrow and suffering by the hand and walk by faith into the damage of our past, the struggles of the present, and our fears of the future.”  (The Healing Path, Dan B. Allender, Ph.D.)

There has been so much beauty on my healing path. The deepest healing has come from looking at the deepest hurts.

This path required me to open my eyes to truth, slow down and take in whatever was in front of me.

I named my fears and asked God to walk with me on the path.

Along the way, I found that some of my fears had come true.

Experiences of rejection, alone, invisible and not enough have all been my reality at one time or another.

But this brokenness continues to bind me to Jesus as He leads me on the path. It was my brokenness that He was after.
Isaiah 61: 1

“…he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,”

He illuminates the path, pointing out what He wants me to see.

He lifts a stone to reveal what is underneath; a painful moment in childhood long forgotten.

He helps me over the fallen tree of shame that obstructs my path.

Removing the tree to allow me to walk freely and unhindered by my past mistakes.

He shelters me from the storm that comes unexpectedly. Holding me firmly until it passes. Growing my faith.

He gives me time to rest. Reminds me to care for myself.

Psalm 103:14 For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.

His word renews my mind, helping me to align my thinking with His.

This path is where God walks with me.

I see Him and He sees me.

Perhaps you have been thrust into the woods by your pain.

An unbearable circumstance that was not your choice.

A diagnosis, an illness or a prognosis.

A betrayal by the one who at one time held your heart.

A separation from those you love.

A tragedy that came out of nowhere.

Another job, relationship or opportunity that just didn’t work out.

You have found yourself standing at the trail-head of the Healing Path. Afraid of what you will see if you walk on the path.

The path will take you far from the road you have always known.

What will you have to risk?

What will you gain?

Maybe your first step is to name what it is that you most fear?

Confess your fear and your brokenness to Jesus. He is big enough to hear all of it. All of your anger and concerns. Name what is true about where you are right now and ask Him to help you take the first step.

Psalm 139:3

You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.

  1. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
  2. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.

Jeremiah 6:16

Thus says the Lord: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.”

If you decide to take the healing path, you might see me. I’ve been on it for a while but I have a long way to go. When you find me, I may be sitting by a waterfall, gathering wildflowers or walking towards the next bend. See you on the path!

Jennifer Sarino
(For a list of my favorite books click here)

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