Yesterday was the first day of spring break. When the weather forecast changed at the last minute to mostly sunny in Florence, my family and I made a semi-spontaneous decision to go to the beach. I thought we should try a new beach, and I remembered a hike my parents and I had often done when I was a child. I looked up Tahkenitch Creek on my phone, and it showed a kid-friendly 1.4-mile loop. Sounded like a scenic and easy way to get to the beach by hiking through some dunes!
After paying our $5 at the parking lot, we grabbed some snacks, towels and beach toys and set off on our walk. We brought one small water bottle, figuring we could drink more water when we got back to the car. The hike wound through dunes and coastal forest, and after awhile we came to a sign with a cryptic trail map. “You are here,” it said, with a red dot showing us on a looping trail that did not appear to lead to the beach. The sign also showed a picture of another, larger loop, which also did not appear to lead to the beach. Then there was another, much longer trail that looked like it might lead to the beach.
The map didn’t show distances. I tried to scan my childhood memory. I knew we had hiked to the beach on this trail many times. But how long was it? And hadn’t my mom recently recommended I try this hike with my 6 and 3-year-old children?
It couldn’t be that long.
We decided to keep hiking in the direction that we guessed led to the ocean. Eventually we did come to a sign that said “Beach” and had an arrow. Someone had scratched “1.7 miles” into the sign. Did that mean the beach was 1.7 miles from the sign? Or that it would be 1.7 miles round trip to the beach and back from the sign?
We had already been hiking for awhile. But the beach had been promised. We reasoned we might as well keep going, although our small water supply was dwindling.
James 1:2-4 (NIV)
“Consider it pure joy my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
Persevering, eventually we did reach the sea. We made it! Our kids had walked the whole way with only mild complaining (and a few tears). We enjoyed resting in the sun on the beach and playing in the sand. Spencer and Marie walked off to explore. Paul, our 3-year-old, started following them and I stayed near him to make sure he was safe. Suddenly Spencer called to me and pointed behind me. A freak sneaker wave had come up to where we’d been sitting, soaking all of our stuff and pulling some of it back towards the waves. We ran back and grabbed everything. Nothing was lost or ruined, but I now had to carry a bag of heavy, soaking wet towels 3 miles back to our car.
So we decided it was time to head back. By now I had a raging headache, and the straps from the canvas grocery bag I had turned into a makeshift backpack were digging into my shoulders. Still we kept going, with Paul being carried much of the way. Now that we had figured out the trail, we went a slightly different route home. Part of it was through hills of sand dunes, and we pretended we were hiking through the Sahara Desert. It helped that I was very thirsty. The tension from my headache was now radiating through my whole body and my back was burning with pain. But, walking through the dunes, Paul and I decided we were Star Wars jedis and that we had light sabers out to protect us. Then Marie created her own story about being a mermaid. Eventually, our rag-tag Jedi/mermaid team made it back to our car where we had more snacks and water waiting for us. It had been a 6-mile hike, yet my kids had barely complained.
I was suffering in pain for a lot of that hike. I have a high pain threshold — I have experienced natural childbirth twice — but the headache and back pain I was feeling during this hike was still pretty awful. I could have complained a lot. Or just gotten really cranky. That would be a legitimate reaction to pain. Instead, I did what I often do in challenging situations, which is to try to make things easier for those around me. I entertained the kids by telling them fairy tales. I made sand castles on the beach. I made jokes about how silly and typical it was that my mom would recommend such a long hike for our wee children. I became a Jedi knight, wielding a light saber and using The Force for good. My husband also was a good sport, not blaming me for the misadventure and carrying our little one for miles on his shoulders.
As a result, I don’t think this day will be recorded in our minds as a bad memory. It will be remembered as an adventure, one of those “remember that time when?” stories that will bond us together.
Last week, I spent an entire day in a training about trauma in early childhood. The presenter talked about how we may not experience difficult events as traumatic if we have adequate support during those events. The way that the people around us support us – or don’t – during challenging events, affects the way that our memories are encoded. Not that hiking equates to a trauma, but it still could have easily ended up a bad memory.
Suffering can be beautiful in that it gives us the best opportunity to develop perseverance and character. It gives us an opportunity to choose to turn towards God when things are hard. It can also bond us together, giving us the chance to give and accept help as needed. Remember, the greatest Jedi warriors have turned their suffering into strength.
May the Force be with you.
About the Author
Ursula and her husband Spencer have two young children, and their family enjoys playing hide-and-seek and dancing in the living room. She works as a communications and events coordinator with the University of Oregon. Ursula is also CitySalt’s Children’s Ministry Director.
You can read more from Ursula at motherbearblog.com.