Photo and Commentary ©2024 by Shelley Schurch
Sunday, April 7, 2024

You are looking at a photo of an underfoot blessing.

The bark in the foreground fills in an area that was previously a sprawling treacherous tangle of roots, ready to trip you up unless you very carefully picked your way through them. The stretch of large gravel beyond the bark covers a path that was prone to many muddy puddles.

This gravel path continues out of sight to the left for a total of 145 feet, as I paced it out. It links our neighborhood sidewalk with the Lake Youngs Trail, which loops around for a total of 9, 9.5, or 10 miles, depending on which website is describing it.

My husband and I tread this short connecting path to the trail almost every day, usually twice a day. The bark and gravel appeared several weeks ago, a lovely surprise on our post-breakfast walk.

I exclaimed over it, and wondered aloud who had so generously improved our path. To the left is a wetland that I think is county property, and to the right is a homeowner with a fenced back yard. Did county workers bring in the bark and the gravel, or did our HOA committee use part of our dues for this improvement? Or maybe the homeowner – although why would they want to encourage foot traffic which always excites their two dogs into a barking frenzy, whether they’re inside the house or in the back yard?

My husband listened to my speculations without choosing a likely answer, and continued to listen patiently as on subsequent days I continued to mull over who had seen the need and literally filled it.

And then this week as we walked the Lake Youngs Trail we came upon a neighbor walking her elderly dog and slowed our pace to match theirs. We chatted a bit about the weather and Easter celebrations and her dog’s health, and then as we approached the short path leading back into the neighborhood, asked if she wanted to take that turn.

She said she did, and I began my customary applause for the new bark and gravel. To our surprise, she said she was glad to hear our appreciation – she then shyly admitted to being the one who had decided to bring in the bark and haul in 20 bags of gravel to improve walking conditions. Her home is several blocks away, but she uses the trail often, as do so many of us. But only one of us thought to invest time and money and energy to make the path better for all of us!

As the four of us emerged back into the neighborhood and with one more round of thanks went our separate ways, I couldn’t keep from smiling. How satisfying it was to now know who to thank.

It reminded me of a quote that I had to track down to assure accuracy of both source and wording:

“The worst moment for the atheist is when he is really thankful and has nobody to thank.”
–Dante Gabriel Rossetti, poet and artist

I approach this quote cautiously, because depending how I use it, I can sound either smug or grateful. I would rather be grateful – grateful that I had a mother who took me to church each week and prayed over me and lived her life in such a way that I thought the God she faithfully worshipped was Someone worth knowing.

And I’m grateful that He considered me – and all of us – worthy of His sacrificial love, and was willing to come down to our small speck of a planet and walk a path that we will never have to travel.

We could say that He improved walking conditions on our path, so that we could avoid the tangled roots and muddy puddles of life, but I think this might not be true all the way through. Some of the last words Jesus said to His disciples before Gethsemane and the Cross were:

These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. (John 16:33 NKJV)

The bad news is that because we’re living in this world, we will experience trouble. The good news is that Jesus’ name is Emmanuel, God with us. Always with us, no matter how rough the road.

We will never travel a road as rough as the climb to Calvary.

I’m so glad I know Who to thank for that.