I had the greatest morning. I put on the oldest pair of jeans I own, a ratty t-shirt and a soggy pair of old tennis shoes. I walked about a quarter mile through a muddy corn field after a rainy night, which graduated my shoes from soggy to soaked. My destination? A woods. But not just ANY woods – a mushroom woods. The very best kind of woods on a springtime day in Southern Indiana. Since I was a child I have been captivated by the little morel mushrooms that begin to appear around the middle of April. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of jumping streams and finding turtles and learning how to hunt these little treasures. If you’ve never hunted them you may not understand, but imagine the most exciting Easter egg hunt of your lifetime, mix in a dose of the untamed great outdoors, multiply it by about 100 and you’re getting close. I realized something today. A journey of faith is a lot like a mushroom hunt. For instance:
1. If you look too far ahead, you’ll miss what’s right in front of you.
When I enter a woods I instantly begin to scan it for the “good” places. I look for the right trees, the right ground cover and even sniff for the right smell, and then I take off towards it. I can’t count the number of times I’ve walked right past, or worse yet, crushed mushrooms that were right at my feet. And today as I sat my foot down just inches from a perfect little gray gem it hit me. I do the same thing in my life. I get so preoccupied with the “big” opportunities and the possibilities for the future that I miss what’s right at my feet. I miss the tiny moments that are precious gifts. My son’s laughter. My husband’s smile. A friend’s encouragement. An opportunity to help someone. Puppy breath. I dismiss them as merely things along the path to the greater thing – but I think they’re a part of the greater thing. In fact, I wonder if maybe they ARE the greater thing.
2. No matter how much we fight it – things change.
I’ve hunted mushrooms in the same woods for 15 years now. I have vivid memories of finding patches of 20 to 30 shrooms in a certain spot or two. I go to those spots every year hoping I can relive that joy. But it doesn’t happen every year. I’m told that morels grow from spores that come from both the ground and trees. Where they grow each year depends a lot on the weather and the direction of the wind. Some years they are plentiful and some years they are sparse. Rarely are they in the exact place. Although I realize that things in my life have to change too, I still find myself instinctively going back to the same spots time after time. I’m naturally drawn back to the people, places or circumstances that once brought joy. But on the rare occasion that I actually can return, it usually isn’t really the same. I find that those people, places and circumstances have changed – and so have I. In order to find joy I have to be willing to embrace change and enjoy the challenge.
3. If you look too hard, you can‘t see it.
Any seasoned mushroom hunter knows that they come in pairs. When I stop to pick the first one I see I don’t want to get up until I find its mate. But sometimes I can’t see it. I look all around and see only leaves and grass. In those frustrating moments I will stand, take a step or two and then come back. Most every time I’ll see it. All it takes is a look from a different perspective and poof – there it is. Sometimes I plant myself firmly in one spot, determined to find the next blessing from God too. I get discouraged because I can’t see it. I convince myself it isn’t even there. But then I move myself. I make a change and my perspective changes too. Suddenly what seemed to be non-existent appears clearly and I realize it was there all along. Jesus called this the unforced rhythms of grace, which is brilliant, because grace that is forced isn’t really grace at all.
4. Sometimes it takes bad things to lead us where we need to go.
Today I saw a good looking mushroom. I hadn’t found any for a few minutes so I was thrilled. Unfortunately there was a snake only inches from it. After a few seconds of internal conflict and a short, one-sided conversation with the snake, I decided to pick it anyway. Then I quickly turned and walked in the other direction. I was disappointed at first because I thought there would be more around it. My disappointment was short lived though as I stumbled into the next big patch opposite where I would have been had the snake not changed my plans. Again I couldn’t help but catch the parallel. There have been so many “bad” things happen in my life ranging from the death of loved ones to cancer, miscarriages, job changes, and friendships gone wrong. But regardless of how painful each has been, all have pushed me in directions that led to necessary next steps in my life and in my faith.
5. Even when we give up, there’s still hope.
There comes that moment in the mushroom hunt when I’m done. My feet hurt, I’m itchy, I’m thirsty and it’s a long way home. I haven’t found one for several minutes and I’m convinced there can’t be another left in the woods. But almost every time I start to leave I will find that one last mushroom, or even better, that one last patch. The ironic thing is that I always leave the way I come in, so that means I had to walk past them when I entered. I wonder what the end of my life will look like. Will I start to give up hope? Will God give me that one last gift when I do? Will I realize that I’ve overlooked it up until then?
My obsession for mushroom hunting was a gift from my mom. She was the master. She loved hunting them and eating them and she taught me everything she knew about it. She died when I was seventeen and now twenty years later I still miss her like it was yesterday. I feel closer to her for about three weeks in April though and today was no exception. Lately, as I’ve been in a season of spiritual searching, I’ve found myself wishing that Mom would have been more open about her own relationship with Christ. She taught me about God, but not about her relationship with Him. I wonder now if part of her love of the hunt wasn’t about the mushrooms at all, but rather about the lessons they taught. And I wonder if she knew that eventually I would learn them too.