As each year draws to a close, we tend to be a bit nostalgic, looking back to remember where the prior year has taken us. This past year of 2020 marked the emergence of new problems we’d never dealt with before—a contagious world-wide pandemic called COVID-19, perhaps not unlike the Spanish flu problems of a century ago.
Along the way, businesses were burned and destroyed in protests. Cancel culture decided who and what we could remember. Churches closed for a time. Small businesses were shuttered for good after devastating losses from governmental lock-downs to prevent disease spread, while larger stores remained open.
We were afraid to venture out for work, school, and necessary staples; but when we did, we wore masks and sanitized everything we could to help control virus spread. Essential workers became exhausted. Too many lives were lost, while many more of our loved ones survived the coronavirus. And, a new normal was born.
We despaired. We became depressed. Yet despite all the negatives we lived through, we have hope as we face an uncertain future. We have our family and friends, and the love we share will see us through many a change. But we also have our Lord at our side, ready to take our hand and walk with us across the threshold of a new year and into the unknown.
It was a simple photo of a wooden fence taken by my friend, Fran Van Staalduinen (pictured at left). But it said so much. The remaining section of an old weathered wood fence stood without a gate, enveloped by a dense hedgerow of lush green bushes and vines. Nearby stood a tree in full leaf as I imagined ample branches out of view reaching upward and outward, overshadowing all to provide cooling shade.
Sunlight managed to penetrate the thick canopy of leaves, spreading out a dappled glow at the foot of the tree. And through the aperture left by the open gate, my gaze was drawn to a matted path as it wound its way into a bright sunny field of rich grasses growing wild and free. . .beckoning us to venture out into the unknown.
Fran’s photo taken in 2015 instantly drew me in; I loved it at first sight! And it’s literally worth a thousand words. Immediately, I felt the tree resembled the family patriarch with an overarching reach, covering his children and their children and their children (you get the idea) with his love…rather like our God and His love!
And, then I saw the open gate as indicative of life; for life is like an open path set before us. We can either sit back, be afraid to take hold of life’s possibilities and stay safe, sheltered by the familiar. Or we can move forward through the open gate as we find our way out into the world, often by trial and error among life’s vicarious ups and downs.
These thoughts fittingly reminded me of the song by David Gates (of the 1970s rock group, Bread), “If a picture paints a thousand words…”.
Derived from an axiom we’re all familiar with—a picture is worth a thousand words—that phrase aptly fits Fran’s photo. American in origin, the phrase became popular in the early 20th century with its initial use attributed to Arthur Brisbane (editor of the Syracuse Advertising Men’s Club). In March 1911, he instructed fellow newspapermen to: “Use a picture. It’s worth a thousand words.”
As I continued to contemplate Fran’s photo and the imagery the scene created, I realized that we most often gain wisdom along our journey of life when we travel the unknown and difficult paths. Yet we can also simply take that first step forward in faith knowing that, no matter what lies ahead, there is Someone, our Lord, who will guide our steps along the way.
Which, in turn, brought to mind a few of my favorite Scripture verses: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105) as we “Trust in the Lord with all [our] heart and lean not on [our] own understanding. In all [our] ways acknowledge Him and He will direct [our] paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)
For “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.” (Psalm 1:1-3)
Especially as we begin a new year, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace so you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)
What fitting reassurance we find as we look to our Lord to guide and lead us through the open gate of life!
A very Happy and Blessed New Year to you!
You Lead Me On
You lead me on through an open gate
To a world beyond that beckons my heart
Where sunlit vistas and dappled shadows
Reveal rich treasures along life’s journey.
You lead me on over paths unknown
To guide my steps as I learn from You
You light my way that once seemed dark
As joy I find with You at my side.
You lead me on and guide my voice
For only when I seek Your heart
Is wisdom gained to handle life
When darts assail and cares weigh me down.
You lead me on so I may know
That even though my feet may stumble
You care enough to pick me back up
As loving grace and mercy set free.
You lead me on to praise your name
Within the turmoil and waves of despair
For it’s often then I know You carry
My reeling heart through pain and loss.
You lead me on that I may learn
The lessons found in trials faced
For wisdom gained first walks the path
From troubled storm to the heart at peace.
You lead me on to songs of joy
As morning dawns with light of day
Hope in the truth, cleansing for the soul
And faith in Your love to guide my way home.