Maybe the best place to rediscover the kingdom of God is bouncing on Jesus’ knee. For me, praying for pixie dust was an expression of childlike receptivity. More than anything, I wanted Jesus to catch me up in his arms and twirl me in the air.
The next morning, like a bottle rid of the cork, we began our hike bubbling with energy and overflowing with enthusiasm.
After the first kilometer or two, each of us settled into a steady pace, discovering our individual cadence on the trail. We also discovered we weren’t alone. The Scottish masterminds behind the Highland Way were not concerned with drawing clear lines between public and private property.
We grew accustomed to walking through strangers’ backyards. I even caught a pair of 7-year-old blue eyes peeking from behind a fence post. We managed to sneak in a wave and grin before the figure disappeared in the shadows.
The more entrepreneurial locals along the trail had turned their backyards into trading posts. Add a few makeshift bathrooms to a piece of property, and you’ve got a hiking destination, or what I prefer to call a “running destination” because I ran for all of them along the trail.
The first trading post we visited was an add-on building to the back of a brown wooden barn. A weathered picnic table embellished with fresh rain droplets provided a limited seating area.
After using the “glory hallelujah,” my new name for anything that resembled indoor plumbing, I scoured the limited inventory shelf-by-shelf for the perfect comfort food.
Next to the door rested a plywood storage shelf with a dozen cubbies. Each cubby displayed a basket of produce ranging from potatoes to cabbage, dark lettuce leaves to green beans. I grabbed a translucent orange carrot on a whim and circled back to the counter to pay the bored teenage salesclerk.
Brushing off a few grains of dirt, I bit through the carrot’s skin to discover a mouthful of confectionery nutty crunchiness. Returning to the basket, I purchased the remaining stock and shared them with the team. None of us could remember when a common carrot had tasted so good. With each bite, we savored the sweetness of God’s creation.
Midafternoon we passed by the moss-covered ruins of an abbey and an ancient cemetery. Soon after, our feet began to ache with the kind of soreness that whispers the next step will hurt even more. Our pace slowed, and other travelers began to pass us.
One of the team members struck up a conversation with a pair of 60-somethings whose worn boots and tan lines suggested they’d been on the trail much longer. To raise awareness for an incurable disease, they were hiking from the tip of England to the tip of Scotland.
They passed us on day 53 of their three-month journey and left us effortlessly in their dust. Invigorated, we forgot about our feet.
The sun flirted with us throughout the day, glancing from behind clouds like a child playing peekaboo. For more than two hours, the golden orb, which seldom makes an appearance in the United Kingdom, graced us with its presence.
One of the ladies, Peggy, responded to the royal treatment by lying down on a soft patch of grass on the side of the road. I brushed the annoyance at the delay far, far away and took the spot next to her.
One by one we lay next to Peggy, eyes closed, bodies melting into the land. I don’t know how long we were there, embraced by the holy moment of rest, but my cheeks felt warm and my head tingly when we returned to our feet.
We stepped back on the trail with a divine awareness we didn’t have before – the discovery that when journeying with God some of the best parts of any pilgrimage are the detours.
Our fearless leader, Joel, had arrived in Scotland with a cough and bronchial ache that intensified with each passing day.
I became overly conscious of what for him were unconscious actions: coughing, sniffling, rubbing his nose. Joel conceded to seeing a doctor but not until medical help was hard to find.
After persistent phone calls, he located a Scottish doctor who agreed to see him on short notice. Joel sat patiently in the waiting room before being ushered into a small office with dated equipment.
The doctor wore a typical white coat, stethoscope hanging like a horseshoe around his neck. For more than an hour after his quick exam, the doctor peppered Joel with questions that had nothing to do with his medical condition.
The doctor wanted to know about the expedition, the team members, the peculiarities of the Highland Way. When Joel was dismissed, the doctor shoved a bottle of antibiotics into his hand then told the receptionist to charge Joel one pound for the visit, the equivalent of about $1.65 at the time.
God’s provision surprised us all.
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