I had the privilege on Labor Day weekend to visit a most lovely place called Devil’s Creek in Erwin, Tennessee. From the onset of the trail the creek is abundant in stunning cascades that are painted with various shades of the greenest moss. The multi-colored rocks and boulders along the way accents the clearness of the water that eloquently rushes over them. Each new step politely demands moments to pause and behold the beauty of the scenery before you. Although you have to take caution to not slip while rock-hopping, the trail is not difficult and it isn’t far until you reach the lower and upper falls that are both breathtaking in their own right. On our visit, we took the time to snap pictures, climb around on some incredible boulders, trek up to the proverbial ‘puckering perch,” smell some rock tripe (well I did at least 😉 ) and explore the natural playground. It’s always hard to leave a place like this, I always feel as if I’m overlooking something spectacular but our daylight would soon be gone and it was time to venture back to the real world.
As we came to the end of the trail, I stepped down into the creek one last time to take a shot of an old rail road bridge. I was enamored by its rustic character, its weathered railing and the way its demeanor stood out against the massive mountain in the distance. I wondered for a moment how many trains had found their way across this bridge over the years. Where had they came from and where were they going? What cargo had they transported along the way? I felt an intense drawing to walk over the bridge and for me, well, let me tell you that’s a strange inclination. As a child I had developed some weird anxiety about bridges and tunnels. I faintly remember being very young and traveling with my family on a bridge that turned into a tunnel and went underwater. I’m sure it wasn’t a very long distance, but in my mind it was cross-continental! I can still feel the burning in my lungs I experienced as I held my breath while scanning the concrete walls of the inside of the tunnel looking for small trickles of water that were waiting to burst into a flood and consume us! I can also remember well into my adult years of feeling that fluttering anxiety each time I would have to cross a bridge in my everyday travels, knowing that the moment I was in the middle it would collapse and send me spiraling to a premature death! (yeah I know, my imagination is quite insane at times but rest assured, I am never bored!) Foot bridges downright terrified me, even the small ones, and to think of the chances of getting me out on some rickety old swinging bridge over water…oh H-E-double hockey sticks-NO!
However I have found that in my adventures in nature, crossing bridges has slowly become a much easier task for me. Several of our hikes have consisted of bridges going over waterways, some of them sturdy, some rickety and downright scary. At first, anytime we came to a bridge of sorts I would cringe a little. I may have appeared calm as a cucumber on the outside, but inside I was screaming desperate prayers to God to not let the bridge collapse under my feet! A few months ago we visited Grandfather Mountain and walked across the mile high swinging bridge. Once I had successfully crossed over and back again I wanted to jump up and down with joy and shout like Dora the Explorer, “I did it, hey, hey I did it!” It’s amazing to me the transformations God has wrought in my soul through being out in His creation. As the months have passed, it has become almost second nature to me and most of the time I don’t even think about the apprehensions that used to bind me. As I stood and looked at this old railroad bridge, though, I felt a familiar anxious fluttering deep down inside my soul and I knew I had to venture up and see what was in store for me.
I walked up to the bridge, standing before it I scanned its distance, eyeballing every railroad tie to the other side. I began to walk out onto it, bouncing a little with each step checking the stability (yeah I know, like my weight was going to break something a train travels across! ). I tried to place my boot in between the spaces of the ties, just to see if there was any danger of slipping and falling through – negative ghost rider. So I ventured on out across, assessing my every step. I leaned over the side, checking out the distance to the creek below which wasn’t very lengthy. I looked up and around at the mountains surrounding me. I walked to the other side and I pondered the meaning of the anxious gnawing in my gut. I thought about bridges. There are all kinds. Some are longer than others, some higher, some wider and more secure. Some you may not even notice that you are crossing over and some may scare the whiz out of you with each step. In all of their differences, they are the same in one sense – they are all necessary. They are a throughway from one place to the next and without them sometimes you wouldn’t be able to reach your destination. I lingered for a moment, searching for some insight but the voice inside was quiet so thus we began our trek back to the car.
I don’t know if you have ever walked a train track, this was my first time and the steps were awkward for me. The ties were close enough together I couldn’t comfortably step them one by one and far enough apart I looked like I was doing the chicken walk if I tried to take in two at a time. I was constantly having to adjust my stride to not stumble. The longer I walked the more I pondered. I thought of my life’s journey, where I had come from. I took a deep breath as I remembered the sting felt in a little girls’ heart from a father who constantly rejected me. I remembered the physical abuse that hurt like the devil but was nothing in comparison to the ugly words that left me feeling worthless and unloved. I remembered the shame that poured through me when my innocence was so carelessly taken from me as a young teenager. I remembered the loneliness that enveloped me even when in the midst of a crowd. I remembered the emptiness, the fear, the pain that had tainted my soul and followed me well into my adult life and ruled my days. I remembered the failures, the mistakes, the lost hope and lost dreams. I remembered the brokenness that stabbed my heart like a knife and the desperate cries to be healed and made whole. I remembered the moments that my steps had been awkward and it was all I could do to not stumble and fall. In that moment I felt it all again like a mighty rushing wind running through every cell I possessed. I felt my composure pouring out of me like I was a shattered cistern and I stopped. I turned around one last time to look at that old rustic little bridge and as soon as my eyes were fixed upon it…..and I remembered.
I remembered the moment I surrendered a shattered heart to a God who had pursued me in my brokenness. I remember kneeling before Him and asking Him, if He could, to take me and make me whole. I remembered the years of shaping and molding, the kneading and sometimes necessary chiseling through my resistance. I remembered the moments my awkward stride hurled me tumbling to my face, yet He was always there to pick me back up again. I remembered the loneliness that He permeated with His presence. I remembered as the darkness fled when His light rushed in. I remembered the moments of joy as His truths became realities in my life. I remembered the moment He unlocked the chains and set me free! And Oh! How I remembered a bridge of grace and unfailing love that has led me from a valley of brokenness to a massive mountain of freedom, healing and wholeness.
I silently bid farewell to that old bridge and the anxiousness that had gnawed at me departed. My focus was no longer where I had come from so I turned back around and began again on my journey to where I was going. Indeed it was another fine day on the trail and I knew that of all the incredible sights I had beheld that day, I had not missed the most spectacular one of all, an old rustic bridge.