The Forest Inside
I have heard it called ‘butterflies,’ but to me it feels like a sudden gust of wind disturbing the forest of trees in my stomach, causing them to bend, twist, and relentlessly scrape against my insides. This is the first sign of the coming storm. This disturbance indicates what’s occurring in my emotions before my mind has had time to catch up. Once it does though, the gears begin to turn, and my thoughts go into hyper drive. I have a tendency to over think and over analyze over everything. My mind doesn’t just catch up with my emotions, it shoots past, chasing hard after understanding, becoming more unrealistic with every step. This triggers a contagious heat, as if the trees have suddenly been set on fire. Soon, the heat is rising and resonating in my chest. By this time, my mind is trying to throw solution after solution on the fire, not realizing that its own speed and vigor is what’s causing it.
I feel personally acquainted with worry. Not because it’s my friend, but because it’s a weakness that comes from my personality, one that I constantly have to shake, stomp on, and scream “I DON’T BELIEVE YOU.' However, I’m not sorrowful. The leadership and teaching abilities I was created with are honed as God teaches me to trust him. I’m being renewed, with every disturbed tree, every forest fire. God’s work is incredible.
A distinct season within my life, only two weeks really, brought great breakthrough in this area of my life. I was in a foreign country with my closest friend and her family, finding myself constantly where I never expected to be. Each time, I was presented with the opportunity to work on putting out the fire and making the trees still. Each time it became easier, as I chose to listen and believe the faithful voice speaking peace over me.
Standing in the church foyer expecting an afternoon of only my own company while a whole city was waiting to be explored, triggered the beginning gusts of wind. Disappointment crept in as well, with its black fingers wrapping around my hope for adventure in beautiful New Zealand. Attempting to grab the trees and make them stop swaying, I put on a hat of fearlessness and approached a random couple to ask if they wanted to hang out with me.
I didn’t know these people; the girl was tall, about twenty, with brown hair and a smile that made you think everything she saw was exciting. Her boyfriend, a lanky, dark skinned Maori, could have played the villain in a super hero movie. I don’t usually ask strangers to voluntarily spend time with me, but they liked me. My hope for adventure was fulfilled as they took me exploring through the city of Christchurch with their incredible group of friends that soon became my own. As we sat at a sweet coffee shop with Instagramable lattes in front of us, an entirely different wave blew through my forest.
In the looming forest, with a huge overshadowing of branches, the sun had hit its golden hour. The rays were peeking through the limbs of the trees and creating a light show of the forest floor, streaking my face. I could feel a breeze but not the wind that signaled a storm. Running to the nearest moss patch and laying down, I focused directly on a small section of branch drooping from its own weight, to spot any motion. Nothing. Everything was completely still and beautiful. Maybe I’d won; maybe the wind could no longer tell a myriad of lies to my mind, creating a chain of chaos and havoc.
But it came again. Whenever I was alone at the campsite we were staying at, I would feel so trapped by the limitations of my own understanding that the storm would soon take hold. Was I where I needed to be? I knew that I wasn’t where I wanted to be. At the time, I would have taken anything else over standing solitary by a fence studying the shape of the grazing sheep and trying to get them to look at me by “baaing' really loud. It was a different case, a different circumstance yet the same effect. I doubted whether God was in control, but recognizing how out of control I was caused the worry in the first place, didn’t it?
Something clicked in that moment. Standing in front of the field, my view partly mirroring the forest within me, I put on my music, and I danced. Frantically and heavily with a passion that made my body shake, I spun and jumped and danced my heart out for the sheep and for Jesus. I decided to tell my weakness to shut up. I would cherish this moment and take pictures of it with my eyes to embed it in my mind. I’d never forget that those sheep, that field, and my dance was more than just a moment. It was a gift.
Worry has a weird way of making you do something, anything really, even if it’s completely irrelevant and empty. It can make a sloth catch up with a cheetah. The trick is that if we slowed down our bodies and minds and emotions, we would realize that we’re going crazy focusing on the unknown, a fruitless effort. Worry collapses when we become still, when we are honest with our humanity and surrender to the only One who can actually do something. “I trust You, Jesus.'
The last and most furious storm came when I ended up outside the dance studio in an empty parking lot. Realizing that my phone was dead and my ride was gone, I had to make a choice similar to the one in the field. I had to choose to be still and trust. After I had spent a good deal of time freaking out, a young Kiwi boy, maybe about 13, came running up to me. His hair was gelled to the side in a style that seemed too mature for him, and his face was easily becoming very handsome. Staring straight at me he said,
“Your dad and family are at my house. My dad’s here to pick me up, and we’re leaving right now. Want to come?'
How he knew who I was, I had no clue. Why he thought that I was related to my friend’s family, was actually understandable. We all looked really Swedish. Everything my mom had taught me about not following strangers or getting in their cars, was ignored as I followed him. With one quick sweep over my inner self, I commanded the trees to be still and settle down. I wanted to live like I was in the field, surrendered and free, letting go of all worry. The neon green, squat truck I was led to didn’t faze me. The large man with curly grey hair, a swirled tie-dye shirt, and cargo shorts standing by the opened truck door didn’t faze me either. Not a leaf rustled. All was still, and suddenly, I was squished into the middle seat of the truck between the boy and a couple of paint buckets.
If only I could have bottled that moment up to keep with me forever. It was all a bit overwhelming. This father and son team were so weird yet extremely kind. Engaging, communicating, and seeking to know me in a sincere way, they talked the entire time. The same smile lit up both of their faces. Deep streams of pure, raw kindness seemed to flow through their beings, and it dripped off their every word. To top it all off, I soon found myself sitting on their couch with a puppy under each arm. Is this what happens when you let go and trust?
What then, of all those people who trust for not, who think they know people and end up betrayed, stabbed in the back, and retreating to lives of permanent worry? I knew that the coincidences were not the point; they weren’t even coincidences. Each breath I take is planned out before me. I will never be the driver, because I fail dreadfully at driving the car that is my life. What does the wind do, and what does the fire do other than destroy and fill me with pain? I realized that it’s not about walking with a hand over my eyes, blindly hoping everything works out. I see now that it is about following the path put before me by my Creator, whatever it may be.
This season in my life brought tranquility to the forest inside me. Birds can actually land and make their nests, caterpillars can trust the stillness of the trees and hang their cocoons. As sweet peace flows through, flowers spring up, and a garden is created. Whenever a ferocious wind threatens to blow, I can remember the field where I made a choice and danced before the heavens. Worry is not my friend; I try not to hang out with him much.