You may know that I am a walker, which I do mostly for health reasons, both physical and mental. My typical companion is our fifteen-pound household pet Gizmo, whom we adopted from an animal shelter a few years ago. He is a papillion mix of some sort, and his petite structure contrasted with my rather imposing stature makes my wife taunt us on a regular basis. "It just looks so funny for such a big guy to be walking with such a little dog; you should have a chocolate lab or something," is kind of how it is communicated. I can't imagine housing a chocolate lab in addition to the seven children we have at home, nor can I imagine of dog of that size would be very happy living in a community of 55,000, so Gizmo and I have become walking partners over the years. Occasionally one or more of the kids will join me, but as summer gets stickier and more uncomfortable, they are less likely to be with Gizmo and me as we walk.
Last night as Gizmo and I stepped out of the car to begin our saunter through the woods, he stopped, looked up at me with his black shining eyes, tongue already hanging out of his black-and-white spotted face, as if to say, "Are you serious? We're really going to walk when it's this humid and stifling?" But unlike a human walking companion, Gizmo gets beyond what appear to be his misgivings and picks up the pace quite admirably.
Striding along the Sakatah Singing Hills State Trail I realize that this is my least favorite time of the year. I have two least favorite times of the year in my Minnesota abode: late January and middle August, both of which are stale, tired times of waiting for the next seasonal changes. By late January the holiday festivities are over, the cold and snowy weather are here to stay for at least another six to eight weeks, and it simply a test of endurance day by day. Mid-August means few scheduled summer activities (in terms of the community) for our out-of-school kids, the ever increasing tension on their parts for starting a new grade level in what is still a new school system and community for them, and the mounting pressure in my vocational life as the relatively carefree days of summer slip way into a busier, more routine way of life during the school year.
When the humidity hangs heavy in the air (this morning's dew point is 72 with a temperature of 72) the oppressive feeling it brings conjures in my mind those things I dread in the days to come. There's school clothes and supply shopping (which, blessedly, Claudia has traditionally orchestrated). There's fall schedule planning for my pastoral work, which includes worship plans, confirmation plans (four age groups this fall numbering about 45 students in grades 7 - 10, which is my primary responsibility), and the last minute scurrying to cover the bases for a successful September beginning.
I am grateful on days like these for my Christian faith which has taught me (and continues to teach me) of the value of endurance through these monotonous days of tedium. In less than a month, I remind myself, the kids will be back in school, we will have begun our fall worship schedule (it changes from one service in the summer to two in the remaining months), and the confirmation process for the year will have been described and embarked upon. Endurance is not necessarily a cultural value in our western civilization. We are more attuned to closure, surface commitment, and escape as ideals that form our lives. As a culture we don't want too much responsibility, involvement or monotony. We want mobility and independence, yet we yearn for something deeper and more meaningful in our lives.
During my least favorite time of the year, I am grateful to God for the gift of enduring, knowing that soon the crispness of fall will greet my eyes with myriad colors and shades in the woods surrounding the valley community in which we live. Soon the voices of children I hear during the day will be those that filter into my car windows as I pass playgrounds at schools. Soon I will not have to battle heat and humidity to enjoy my daily three miles with Gizmo. And so, until then, I will endure, grateful that the endurance will open the door to the pleasures of fall, now just weeks away.