Joy shook the drops of her mad dash across the lake all over me. I looked back to our campsite from the previous night and marveled at the impossibility that had become our dance floor.
“Shall we?” Papa motioned to the trail.
Joy kicked the sand and shot up the path, her tail wagging like a motor. Papa and I followed, carefully placing our feet on the rocks and exposed tree roots. It was more of a climb than a hike today and with each step we rose higher above the Restlands. I felt like the land was watching me. The trees and streams, the waterfalls and wildlife all watching like proud grandparents, gabbing to one another about how quickly I’d grown. I half expected the trees to pull out polaroids to share and laugh about my days in the Restlands.
“What is it, Sara?” Papa asked.
“I feel like I’m being watched.”
“You are.” Papa whistled calling for Joy, she always liked to go before us. “Good girl, stay with us.” He knelt down and scratched her ears.
“All of creation is watching you. Waiting.”
“Waiting for what?” I knelt beside Him while Joy watched our conversation like a tennis match.
“For you to remember who you are.” He smiled.
In this moment His smile was my sweet confidence. I stared at Him until a knowing resided in my heart, an assurance that remembering who I am was something I could not miss, something I could not fail. Staring at Papa was like remembering a childhood I had forgotten. I was sure, if I kept looking at Him, I would remember me. The real me. The free me.
The wild me.
I nodded and we rose for the final ascension up the trail, each step a declaration that I was here – walking with Him, making the Restlands my own.
The wind resounded like a standing ovation as we stepped out onto the lookout, and then quieted as if it awaited an acceptance speech. The lookout was larger than I expected, a round wooden deck with railing all around. In the middle stood a curious round pillar. Papa placed the hiking pack beside it and took my hand, leading me to the railing.
The Restlands. All of it, stretching in every direction like a quilt of landscapes, each patch telling its own story. I wanted to hear them all. I spotted the highway. I traced it trying to find my car, thinking back to that day when Papa’s interruption had changed everything. I followed the distant line of the road as I walked around the lookout, expecting it to trail off into the horizon, pointing to all my dreams. But it didn’t trail off. It followed me all the way around the lookout until I met Papa again and looked at Him with my mouth agape, “It’s a circle?”
The smile lines around His eyes crinkled, “The highway?”
He leaned his elbows on the railing and looked out, “Round and around it goes.”
“I was never going anywhere? Just driving around in a circle?” I felt swindled. How could the road have been so cruel, so misleading? Had I been chasing after dreams that were never going to happen?
“Do you remember what I said to you – at the beginning, Sara?”
“I wouldn’t find what I was looking for on the road.”
He turned to me and gently held my face, “The road is just a way to get around. Eventually everyone turns off the road. Because this is where dreams live. The Restlands. This is your home,” He winked, “and your great adventure.”
I placed my hands on His and closed my eyes. I saw myself back on the road and realized His love had hedged me in from the beginning. But I had never seen it this way. I had always seen life on the road a trail of second-guesses and probable missed opportunities. A place where you won or you lost. Where you were behind or you were ahead. Where hopefully I’d find Him in the end – and then at last rest. But it wasn’t true. The road was really just 101 ways to discover His love. Just one more way of exploring the land. I felt Papa’s forehead against mine as the sweetest words dropped deep inside me. You will not miss out.
And like a hot air balloon releasing each rope to take to the air, I felt a breaking inside. Things that had been anchored for years began to lose their grip and rise. Fear and rejection and confusion and every dark thing that had ever tried to give me a false sense of the land traveled up through my heart until I gripped Papa’s hands like a woman in labor and screamed.
Ferociously. Not in sadness or anger, but in acceptance. Acceptance of truth, like someone had given me a new mind and I was audibly releasing the old one. Papa never drew away. Even as I screamed, His words continued to flow deep. You are loved. You are Mine. You are free.
And suddenly, His words were louder inside me than the scream coming out of me, and I felt His tears wash my cheeks. I gasped for air and opened my eyes. I looked around, stunned, like I had somehow forgotten where I was, and then I looked in His eyes.
He smiled. “You’re louder than you think,” He whispered.
I shook my head and smiled back.
“Feeling better, Wild One?”
I nodded. Wild One? I did feel wild. I felt free. I felt alive. I felt like I could have wrestled the old me – and felt my shoulder ache in response.
“I have something for you.” Papa turned and headed for the backpack.
I followed him and stood beside the pillar, which I noticed now was more of a barrel with leather pulled across the top. Papa stooped down and unzipped a pocket. He pulled out a pair of pristinely carved sticks, thicker on one end than the other. Along the sides were etches of places we’d seen along the trail. My fingers found the laughing bird and Joy running with her tongue out. If I looked even closer I could see words swirling amongst the pictures, the inside jokes and revelations of our time together.
“For you, Wild One.” He turned towards the leather-covered barrel and beat it twice with His hands.
My eyes widened as I looked down at the whittled wood, “Drumsticks,” I realized.
“Find your rhythm, kiddo.” He held His hands out towards the drum as an invitation.
The sun set to an uproar of celebration on the lookout. Papa had carved our story and placed it in my hands. This was my instrument. This was my worship. Our story – this is what satisfied.
Joy howled, Papa sang, and I found my rhythm, arms blazing at the top of the lookout.
It was the sound of one who is loved.
The sound of one who is free.
The sound of one who lives in the Restlands.
Join Papa, Scribe, and Joy for the Epilogue on Monday.