This summer, I started walking my dog.
To be clear, we’ve always walked her. But this summer, I started taking her on daily, 1+ mile hikes that made me breathe heavy and helped me close the exercise ring on my Apple watch (anyone else compete with themselves to close those darn rings??). We’ve walked one trail in particular in heat and scorching sun, we’ve walked it in cold drizzly rain, and now we’ve begun walking it as it’s covered in snow. My nine-year-old golden retriever much prefers the cold and snow to the hot summer. In August she would start to lag behind me after a mile logged, but now in December she trip-trops right alongside me all the way.
I asked my Instagram friends what I needed to wear to keep warm on these winter walks. I live in Minnesota, so outdoor walks bring us into ten or twenty degree weather, but I’m not willing to give up. In case you’re curious, I layer a poly-blend shirt, a fleece, and a down vest and don fleece-lined leggings with a pair of windbreaker pants over top. Wool socks keep my feet and ankles warm, and a hefty hat covers my ears. If the windchill dips below ten or so, I add a fleece scarf over my neck and the lower part of my face. And yeah, sometimes I make my dog wear a hat too.
Recently, I took to Instagram again to find out if there is such a thing as snow tire attachments for tennis shoes. Something to put on my footwear that would stop me from slip-sliding all over the snowy trail. Turns out there is such a thing (here’s looking at you, YaxTrax), but while I wait for my order to ship, I’ve walked in boots.
As we walk, we breathe in the cold air and quiet. We look at the slow-to-freeze-over lake, and the geese who cram onto the one open strip of water left. We peek in living room windows at decorated trees and dogs barking at the windows as we walk by. My heart rate is up, but I’m sure my blood pressure is down. There’s beauty around every turn, placed there by the One who created beauty in the first place.
Then one recent day, I saw beauty placed by a person — a wreath on a lamppost beside a lake and Christmas lights strung on evergreens that face a cornfield. Touches of holiday cheer placed solely for their beauty.
The people in the nearby homes can’t see the lights or the wreath, and the lake and cornfield won’t care either way. But the passerby on the trail will see. Our hearts will be brightened. And for whoever hung the wreath and lights, that thought was enough.
One good deed. One act of going out of their way. One thought of “maybe this will brighten a day.” One impulse or tradition followed. And because of it, I finish every walk grinning. I’m hoping one day to see the lights actually lit on those trees. I’m considering adding candy canes or something to the wreath. I’d really like to thank their owner and bring them a peppermint mocha, because I think the kind of person who hangs lights and wreaths just for the beauty of it is the kind of person with whom I want to be friends.
God too leaves little traces of beauty on our trails, just waiting to be noticed. He sends cardinals to bring pops of red into cold grey days. He offers beaming children to remind us of the joy in this season when that very season may be painful for us. He inspires the heart of someone to pay for the car behind them at Starbucks. That cup of hot tea at the end of the day, the wonderful fiction book that delighted our heart, and the friend who sends a text “just because” — all hallmarks of God’s quiet, unassuming beauty.
Reminds me a lot of one such birth, one such gift of don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it beauty.
A young unwed mama placing her hours-old baby in a manger. Heaven breaking through while donkeys and sheep look on. The mess of childbirth mingled with straw and holiness. As it is, childbirth is about as far as you can get from glamorous. Add in a stable, a young couple far from home and without a place to stay, and shepherds following a star? Sounds pretty messy.
But we know that’s how God works. God is a pro at making beauty from our messes, at mixing together holiness and ordinary, at surprising us with good things just when we least expect them.
And God does it for our joy. Not only that, but God delights in us because He made us, and God sees that little baby — His Son — in our hearts. Our joy, God’s glory.
So hang that wreath on the side garage. Hang lights on a tree in the backyard. Pay for the coffee order behind you. Do a few good deeds no one will ever give you credit for. Keep your eyes open for the wonder God speaks into our everyday ordinary.
And take your dog on a walk. You never know what you’ll see.
God's a pro at making beauty from our messes, at mixing together holiness and ordinary, at surprising us with good things just when we least expect them. -@annaerendell: Click To Tweet