Walking New Paths

Margie Donaldson, Client Services Manager

God has a way of bumping us out of our routines. He writes changes into our days that create opportunities for us to choose to trust him more fully, depend upon him a little more than the day before. As a result of one of these patterns of change, I moved away from a place I called home that I dearly loved. While there, I was surrounded by woodlands with hiking trails and quiet little ponds to sit alongside. After a couple of years away, God has brought me to a new home just a little down the way. I still get to hike my old familiar trails, but when I head into the woods to sit a spell at pond’s edge, I enter from a different trailhead. It took me a few tries to find my way through from this new spot, but I eventually I did it! It isn’t a terribly long hike, but it’s enjoyable and has a lot of interesting obstacles with several stream and brook crossings, a nice big hill, and a couple old beaver dams.

Over the many journeys I’ve seen bobcat tracks, spotted a momma bear and her cubs, surprised a couple coyotes, sent deer gracefully leaping deeper into the forest, flushed out many ducks and Canada geese. I have been blessed to sit pondside and watch river otters at play and beavers anxiously slapping their tails upon the surface of the water in warning. One of the most special gifts was when I happened upon a newborn fawn!

Recently, with all of the pandemic craziness going on, I have taken to the woods more frequently than I had been able to for many years. In a strange way, the pandemic is what spurred me on to take the time to wander in the woods more often. I am one of those who needs alone time. I can get carried away by the demands of the world and toss aside my own needs for the needs, or assumed needs, of the many. This global event gave me back the solitary hikes with Jesus I so enjoy taking and desperately need.

While hiking the trails it is natural and even good to keep our eyes out for the familiar. It is good to look for that enormous white pine tree that looks like it is a family of trees all wrapped into one as it shoots off in seven different directions low in its trunk. In order to stay on course, it is necessary to look for the fallen, moss covered pine of years gone by that reminds me of a big green porcupine. Go left there. There’s the metal bridge that crosses the brook that burbles below, the winding ledge that leads you happily along the wiggly brook who shines like emeralds in the spring sun because of the algae growing on the rocks. When I see these things, I know I am on the right path.

One day last week I decided to take a new path, to venture down one of the other forks to see where it led. I was a bit nervous but not scared, and surprisingly excited for a creature of habit like me. I found myself delighting in seeing new things, and being faced with different challenges, new crossings and climbs that had me traversing ridges through stretches of hardwoods I had previously not meandered through. It was fun…and beautiful!  

God has been taking me on a spiritual journey through Exodus. He brought me back to that book of the Bible with intention. Most likely for more than I realize even now, but in these moments what I recognize is how in my faith walk I cannot keep trying to hike and re-hike the same, safe trails with any expectation of forward propulsion or growth spiritually.

I have been faced with some challenges recently that blindsided me. Thrust into a new role that was not mine to walk, or at least I didn’t think it was, and while trying to navigate the newness of it all, the pandemic hit bringing even more challenges. In the mess, I tried to find my bearings by gravitating towards the familiar. I tried to navigate new terrain with an out of date map, or more accurately, a map from another trail from another time. I found myself trying to navigate the promised land with the old mindset and tools of the slave girl my God delivered years ago.

2 Corinthians 4:16b says, that “our inner self is being renewed day by day” (ESV). In the things of faith, we will not only be faced with new challenges, but we must also seek out new challenges, or we will not continue to grow. By faith, we must always seek out the transformative and unfamiliar territory of our God and King and not the ruts of the familiar offered to us by this world. Transformation is the process of becoming something new. We cannot be made into newness without walking into and even embracing it. Paul tells us in Ephesians that we have a part to play as we are “to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (4:24, ESV).

Serving here at Branches has been an important part of my journey of faith. Just accepting the position of Client Services Manager was something I had to do by faith and in reliance on God. He has continually challenged me, and after going through these last few months as the acting director, through a pandemic, it was plain to see that I could not venture into new realms grounded by “old me” thinking and ways of coping. The prisoner released from her cell but bound in spirit is not free. To walk in true freedom, we must continually and consistently allow the old self to pass away making room for the transformed self, the self that is free in Christ! It is by walking new paths with a renewed mind that leads us into new growth, new strength, new dependence on Jesus, and fantastic new discoveries that fill our hearts to overflowing!

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