I awoke to a sealed envelope with my name inscribed on it sitting on my dresser, eager for me to release its secret. The demands of the day prior had left my body yearning for more sleep, so I embraced the fact that my youngest had decided it was a sleep-in kind-of-day too. But before he could make his presence known by barging into the bedroom, I gave the envelope the opportunity to fulfill its duty, opening it to reveal a message my husband had written. 

“Pack a bag… you deserve a break. We are leaving tonight for a surprise adventure.” 

If anyone knows me better than myself, it’s my better half. So, when he tells me I need a break, I listen, for he usually can detect it before I can. That evening, after we tucked our three littles to bed at their grandparents’ house, we hopped in the car and he drove me to a place only he knew of. For once, the end destination didn’t matter. I knew I was in for a journey, and I fully embraced it. 

The car slowed as it weaved through windy curves up a large hill I could only expect would have stressed this “fearer of heights” out during the daytime. But what I couldn’t see wouldn’t hurt me. And the closer we got, the more I found myself relaxing in the truth that I was about to embark on an adventure that was much needed. 

Promised to see beautiful sights when the sun peeked over the horizon the following morning, my heart became full when I saw the welcome sign to General Butler State Resort Park. I had been to this park before, many years ago when I was in a different job and a different headspace. But I was excited for the much-needed quiet time, the slower pace, and the promise of what some outdoor photography could do for me. 

My husband knew that I needed a good, rigorous hike, but I didn’t. I didn’t know how much my soul needed to inhale the crisp, spring breeze. Or how much my body ached for some outdoor use. I just wasn’t aware how critical the pause was in my life until I took it… not until that morning we bundled up only bringing with us several layers of clothing, a camera and each other as we embarked for a morning hike. 

Some may have preferred a night get-away to a major city where the night scene could drown out the week’s worries. Others may have wished for a day immersed in a spa or a trip to the nearest casino. We all find ways to relax differently. And for me, it happens best when I’m outside, one with nature, holding my camera. 

We should have known we were in for an experience when we struggled finding the entrance to the path that we had opted to take. It was promised to provide us 5 miles of exercise coupled with several site seeing opportunities perfect for my camera to capture. What more could I want? After a few minutes on the path, I decided I would give anything to have another blanket, more muscle strength, and a flatter path ahead.

My husband and I used this time to talk about life – our kids, our new house build, our upcoming projects at work. It was easy to talk when the path was in a decline… when each step was easy to take. But, as with most hikes and with most things in life, what goes down must come up. The hill that had welcomed us the night before had quickly become my arch nemesis as I had nothing more than my wobbly legs to carry myself back up it this time. 

With every step up the steep incline, the voice I used to speak was silenced. At first, all I could hear outside of my quick breaths were a few birds singing. I tried to focus on listening to their beautiful music as I sought anything to take my mind off of the pain I felt in my legs while I tried to encourage them to continue climbing. While my voice others typically hear quieted, my other voice – the one only I can listen to – began to fill the empty space. 

I’m talking about the voice that lives within us. The one that we use to help us discern situations… the one that tells us our gut reactions… the one that has the power to propel us or the power to break us. This voice is the one that can build us up or be the loudest voice that rips us apart. It can be our number one fan or our own worst enemy. And this day, my inner voice started to tell me how I couldn’t make it up the hill. That my legs were going to stop. That I wasn’t good enough. 

That voice may have been right. Maybe my legs weren’t made for the steep incline. Maybe I wasn’t going to be able to complete this hike. But instead of listening to that voice, I kept going anyway. I didn’t stop until my audible voice spoke something more profound than I originally noticed. “Thank heavens for the roots.”

I didn’t know how I was going to get up the hill. I had tried to use my arms to support my legs with each step they took. I was about to give in until I looked down and noticed I was beginning to get some help. It had been a sloshy, wet kind-of-hike. As if the incline wasn’t challenging enough, couple it with uneven ground and the challenge was more than tough for this out-of-shape gal. I would have given up if it weren’t for the roots… the strong tree roots that grounded the tree itself also was grounding me. 

As I spoke thanks to the roots for providing me some stability, a wave of clarity washed through me and I immediately knew why my husband brought me to this park… why he took me away from our busy life… why he brought me to this hike. Nothing on its path was coincidental – not the valleys that lead to the beautiful scenic peak, not the depleting path which pushed us to travel on uncharted territory, and definitely not the five deer that stood in awe of us just as we were standing in awe of them. 

The moment I noticed the roots, I began to notice how my roots – my past experiences – were embracing me for the challenges I was currently facing. My root system was purposeful, giving me the additional strength needed for each step of my life’s hike. 

When I stopped looking down as to where my feet were stepping, I noticed that the path was leading me, not me leading it. You see, my husband had picked a dreary day for our hike. Very little life was found on our trail, until I looked up and realized that the only glimpse of green was the luscious moss that paved the way. If I were to stop questioning each step, I could notice that the path is clear, is purposeful, and is inviting me to take it. 

I gained much more than sore hips and a blister on my toe during that surprise weekend-getaway hike. A full camera and a full soul reminded me that it’s just as important to fuel the voice within, as it reminds you that where you’ve been can give you the strength you need to traverse the path that’s awaiting ahead.

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