She stood on the path, blocking our way. We approached her slowly. She stepped to the side. She was pretty, but she wasn’t as energetic as others that wandered nearby. I took note of her belly…swollen. She must be pregnant I thought. She blew air out of her nose lazily, making a long puffing sound. Her head was down. She wasn’t bothered by our presence, but her eyes watched.
“She’s pretty”, I said.
“She looks old and tired”, my husband added
“She’s PREGNANT” I rushed to her defense…she was too tired to speak up for herself…to winny at him in protest…to rear up on her hind legs and show him her real strength.
“Let’s go”, he said, taking my hand…let’s find some shark’s teeth!”
We headed down the path to the small beach the ranger had said held the treasure we sought. We already had a bag full of beautiful shells we’d found on the beach but there were sharks teeth on the other side of the island and we wanted to find a few to add to our collection.
We arrived at the beach to feel the earth giving slightly under our steps.
“It’s muddy” we echoed each other
We could see the beach just a few yards away but the mud – which was invisible under a layer of sand and grass – was like quicksand. We kept trying, walking up and down the area surrounding the beach. We discovered that if we walked very quickly, the ground wouldn’t have time to give. We scampered over the grassy, muddy, sandy stretch to the beach. Our shoes were covered in dark gray mud. We wandered onto the sand until…it started to give way. I quickly jumped to some more solid-looking sand…it was sinking sand too! My shoe was sucked under and I struggled to pull it out as my other foot sank. My husband was sinking too and he quickly ran to the safety of the land beyond the beach.
“If you go fast, you won’t sink! Hurry!” he called to me.
“ACK! I’m sinking!” I yelled
“Run over this way” he called.
“I’m coming” I replied as I stretched my legs as far as they would go, leaping from where I was to more solid ground.
Our shoes were muddy and so were our pants. We were a mess!
As we walked the path back to the dock, we noticed the horse again…this time she was lying down. She looked up at us as we got closer but she didn’t get up. Why was she just laying there? I worried. Was she okay? She didn’t seem THAT close to delivering. As we got closer, she finally, very slowly, and with great effort, rose to her feet. It was then that I noticed her legs. They were muddy all the way up to her swollen belly. She had been stuck in the mud too!
“OH look at her legs!” I said She looked at me. I could see the exhaustion in her eyes. How awful that must have been…pregnant, heavy, struggling to get free from the sinking sand. She must have been frantic. No wonder she looked so old and tired. She’d spent every ounce of her energy! I talked to her, telling her we’d been stuck too and how scary it must have been for her. She was muddy, very muddy, but I hadn’t noticed. It wasn’t until I’d wrestled with the mud myself that I was able to see evidence of her struggle.
I thought about that on the walk back to the dock. How often do I ask God to show me how to serve others and in the same prayer, ask him to keep me from discomfort and struggle. Trials can be the answer to the first part of that prayer. Trials are not wasted. They are often the tie that connects us to someone else. Enduring a struggle can help us see a brother or sister in the midst of one, or the ability to tell them where the mud is…to warn them against the danger. A shared trial can be a comfort to someone who feels utterly alone.
Perhaps when we pray for opportunity to connect with others, we could also pray for grace to withstand the inevitable mud we wander into every day...to be thankful for the trials that grow our faith and draw us nearer to God…for eyes to see the value of mud and empathy to care for those who are stuck.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
Cumberland Island is a barrier island on the Florida/Georgia border. http://www.nps.gov/cuis/index.htm