“We hike together!” This is my son’s most affectionate declaration these days. He will give me a hug and a kiss and say, “I love you daddio… We hike together!” It is as if the fact that we hike together automatically means that there is a great love between us. He is right. We do hike together. In fact, we live at the foot of a mountain we have hiked together, and he often points from the car on the way home and says, “Daddio, there’s that mountain we hiked together.”
We have hiked up Mt. Vitosha, we have hiked in the Iskar River Valley, we have hiked around the parks of Sofia, and we have hiked to the grocery store, the subway, and playground more times than I can count. I am proud of the way my little boy gets around. We have covered some ground together. But of all the ground we have covered, the most treacherous for my son seems to be the sidewalks of Sofia. This is because they are made of tiles, which are often broken and uneven, and the moment he stops focusing on where he is walking (or running) he trips and adds to his collections of scrapes, scabs, and bruises.
The constant struggle is to make him hold my hand. We were leaving Billa (our preferred grocery story) the other day and the sidewalk was particularly treacherous. I was holding Jude’s hand but he kept squirming in the grip trying to get loose. Finally, I said, “Jude, son, I will not make you hold my hand, but if you don’t you are going to fall. Are you sure you want to let go?” He was sure, so he let go and began running in circles around us as we walked. The inevitable took about 5 minutes. I picked him up, held him, and kissed his hands where he had fallen. Then I said, “Son, you know if you would hold my hand, you could walk anywhere without having to worry about falling, because I am a lot bigger than you, so even if you trip and start to fall, I can catch you and set you on your feet again, because you are light for me and it is no big deal to hold you up. I am not trying to make you miserable, baby, I just hate to see you fall.”
I did not have time to think about what I had just said until we got home, the groceries were put up, and the kids were down for a nap. Then, I sat down and it hit me. I leaned back into my chair and thought, “God help me to hold your hand.” One of my favorite verses comes from Isaiah: “I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, ‘You are my servant’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you. So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:9-10) We are no burden for the LORD. Our God hates to see us fall, and if we will keep hold of the hand that reaches out to hold us up, we can walk anywhere without fear. Even if we stumble in treacherous places, our LORD will hold us up so that we do not fall.
These are incredibly exciting days for us. We are walking in new places all the time both literally and symbolically. We are meeting new people, we are having new conversations, we are starting new things, and really enjoying life and ministry in a wonderful country. We have walked in some crazy places already, but we cannot wait to see where God will lead. We have started a small group and been meeting together for a few months now. We are building relationships with wonderful friends. We are learning the beautiful Bulgarian language. We are journeying in a country in a pandemic. There are many beautiful and hopeful places to walk, and there are some difficult and treacherous places ahead. But no matter where we walk, we will walk fearlessly with the confidence of a child holding the hand of a good father. Where ever we walk, we know that we are held, that we are lifted up, and that we can thrive under the guidance of our Father.
Let’s just see where our Father leads! We can hike in the mountains or the valleys. We can hike in the light or the dark places. We can hike in the easy and in the difficult places. We can journey anywhere and thrive in the hands of our Father. This is a Father who loves to see us run and hates to see us fall. Oh, and in case you are wondering, it is an even better walk with company!