Every day I take my dog Danny for a walk. Usually we just walk around town. I used to walk him a mile out into the countryside and a mile back, but a few years ago we had a really hot summer and on one of our walks Danny laid down in lawn sprinkler puddle and it took forever to get him to move again.
One summer several years ago–none of us can remember just how long ago–I started walking long distances.
I think I started taking longer walks because one morning I looked out the window and saw that EJ had bought another beater truck. I had told him I was tired of old beater vehicles and, yet, here was another parked in the driveway. I was upset so I took a long walk to work off my anger.
I must pause to explain that most of the time I didn’t mind EJ’s old vehicles. They were cheap vehicles and sometimes they were kind of fun. For example, one of our first vans reminded us of an old aunt, so we named her “Aunt Myrtle.” From that time forward, every time we bought an old van, we gave her an “Aunt” name. We had Aunt Mable, who wheezed and gasped up every tiny incline. We would hold our breath and encourage, “Come on, Aunt Mable, you can MAKE IT!” She was a persevering old dear who faithfully got us wherever we needed to go until one day EJ looked at her and said, “Dang, you are UGLY!” After that, Aunt Mable refused to drive in anything other than first gear or reverse so EJ drove her to the junk yard. He still feels bad about insulting her.
Our favorite Aunt was the red van EJ bought from his friend’s brother, who had used it in his llama shearing business. She had a strong engine and was very spunky. We thought it was uniquely funny that she smelled strongly of llama. I mean, how many people can brag about driving a smelly llama van? Of course, most people probably wouldn’t want to brag of such a thing. Anyway, we named her Aunt Dolly Llama. Regretfully we had to get rid of her when exhaust fumes started rising up through the holes rusting in her floor. I think EJ sold her back to the llama-shearer.
As I said, most of the time I didn’t mind the old vehicles, but that one day I did. So I was angry and I went for a long walk. I might have still been a bit angry the next day so I took another long walk. After that, I started enjoying pushing myself to take longer and longer walks each day: 2 miles, 3 miles, 4 miles. EJ thought it would be fun to see how far I could walk by the end of summer so he suggested that rather than walk a ways and then turn back, I just keep walking and walking and when I got tired, he said he’d come pick me up. We had two dogs at the time: old Jake and young Danny Boy. EJ said that if one dog got tired, he’d come get him and bring me the other dog. I love walking with dogs, and walking with a dog is safer than walking without one. I always carried water for myself and a small container so I could pour water into it for the dog.
So I walked. My goal was to walk to the next town 10 miles away by the end of the summer…and maybe even further.
I always tried to walk further each day, but if I couldn’t walk further then I at least tried not to walk less than I had walked the day before.
I started out each morning with a goal: “Today I am going to walk to this place, this road, this many miles.” Sometimes I wasn’t sure I would make it to my day’s goal, so I would “throw the shoe” and say to myself, “Ok, so I will just walk to that big tree.” When I reached the tree, I’d say, “Now I will just walk to that sign a little further down the road.” Sometimes, if I was especially tired, I’d tell myself, “I will just walk one more step…and one more step…and one more step.” No matter how tired, I could always take just one more step. To paraphrase a famous quote, “A journey of a thousand miles…is made one step at a time.”
Sometimes I’d wake up in the morning and groan, “I just cannot walk miles today.” If I thought that, I would just walk one of the dogs around town. I had learned that if I didn’t believe that I could walk for miles then I really couldn’t make it. Victories are won first in the mind or willpower. This supports what the Bible says about taking captive every thought, and renewing the mind, and thinking about things that are good…because as a man [or woman] thinks, so is he.
My most difficult day of walking was the day I decided to walk to our church, which was 9 miles away. I always checked the weather report before I set off so I could dress appropriately. The weather forecast was for a coolish day so I wore jeans, a t-shirt, and a sweat shirt. I walked for a few miles and then called EJ and traded Jake for Danny and continued on my way. The day heated up so I took off my sweatshirt and tied it around my waist. The day heated up more, and I got hot and overheated which zapped my strength. Finally, I called EJ to tell him that I couldn’t make it and I needed him to pick me up. He said he’d be right there.
Rather than just sit at the side of the road and wait for my support vehicle to pick me up, I kept walking. EJ didn’t arrive and I began to grumble under my breath. “Where are you, EJ? I need to you pick me up. I can’t walk anymore. Why aren’t you here?” I kept walking. Eventually, I got closer to the church and my mutters changed into pleas: “I hope you don’t come yet, EJ. Please, EJ, don’t pick me up yet. I am almost at the church. I will make it. Don’t pick me up.” And finally I made it to the church. I felt so victorious. I had made it! I staggered into the church and drank deep from the fountain, then refilled my water bottle and gave water to Danny.
EJ pulled into the parking lot a couple of minutes later. He told me that he purposely delayed picking me up because he knew that I really wanted to reach my day’s goal, and he knew I could do it, and he wanted me to have victory rather than defeat. This made me think of all the times I have complained to God that He was not helping me and I needed His help NOW–then later I looked back and realized that He actually tremendously enabled me to overcome difficulties and grow stronger by delaying His help.
The difficult walk to the church helped me overcome a psychological barrier. The next day I easily walked to the next town. Then I walked six miles into the country and turned around and walked six miles home. No problem. Danny got too tired and insisted on EJ picking him up, but I walked twelve miles that day. By that time summer was nearing its end and I completed my summer of long walks.
As I walked through the summer, I thought about journeys and adversity and faith. I pondered that there are four types of challenges a person encounters whenever he goes on a journey, and each needs to be faced and overcome:
I don’t think this just describes physical journeys–like walks to the next town. It also describes life and spiritual journeys. There, too, a person often encounters rugged paths, difficult storms, internal battles, and difficult people. And as I learned during my summer of the long walks: