By Diana Dawson
Stepping over gnarled roots of ancient oaks and navigating rutted dirt trails, I cast my eyes toward the cobalt sky and thank God for painting her canvas. Nowhere do I feel closer to that Something Bigger than I do in nature.
When life has been especially stressful and work unmercifully draining, I sometimes choose my church of the woods over the one I love with worn wooden pews, taped hymnals and stained glass. God is not just in one place and, sometimes, we need to meet her where she best infuses us with that peace we need, that passes all understanding.
My concerns evaporate about 15 minutes into my hike. Even though the bank messed up our mortgage payment, we need to hire someone to eradicate squirrels from our attic, and I have days of grading students’ papers awaiting me, I feel only gratitude for what I have and I am filled with love for the world around me. As my heart shifts and fills, I see love everywhere.
In those moments brimming with gratefulness and a recognition of the good in the world, I have observed a pattern: I find heart-shaped rocks. Just as Hansel left breadcrumbs so he and his sister could find their way out of the woods, I believe God is leaving tokens of reward to keep me moving on the path toward what’s good and right and true.
I think I found my first heart rock on a rough shore of Orcas Island, a small community off the coast of northern Washington state. It’s where my husband whisked me off to our surprise honeymoon after the carrot cake was cut and the champagne emptied. We’ve returned so many times over the last 35 years that it has evolved into our family’s special place. Bald eagles swoop into the tops of towering Douglas firs and, on the best of days, Orca whales or dolphins break the water’s surface. Any breath I take is deeper there and I feel a greater sense of peace and calm than anywhere I’ve traveled. It’s where my puzzle piece fits that makes the picture of me whole. Walking on the rocky shore below the llama farm where we were staying, I watched my children collect purple-lined clam shells and poke at starfish in tide pools. My husband rested on a weathered driftwood log and my heart was full. As I carefully made my way over the pebbled granite beach, I admired the beauty of the rocks and gasped as I saw one that captured my feelings.
I picked it up, gave it to my husband, and told him love meant he had to hang onto any heart rock I gave him. He quickly picked up the practice and would sometimes find one on our hikes to hand me. Once, several miles from the end of a trail, I found a large one on a carpet of pine needles. It had to weigh 10 pounds. I laughed, handed it to him and he took the challenge, bringing it back to Austin as carry-on luggage.
Years later, I still only find them when my heart is full. If I’m fretting or grumbling as I walk, none appear. When I’ve looked at life through that rosier lens, I’ve pocketed heart rocks from the woods, on beaches, along creeks and beside campus sidewalks.
But love isn’t love until you give it away, right?
When the occasion arises, I pull a heart rock from my collection to give someone who needs it–a friend receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis, a person heartbroken over a lost love, a co-worker lacking confidence at a critical point, a grieving widow, the mother with a child suffering from a chronic illness.
Giving away my heart rocks takes me to a deeper place. Maybe that’s why I’m here? Does God help me find the heart rocks so I can help others see the love in their world? If, with the gift of my simple rock, I show them that I love them, will they be better able to see the love around them? Might they find their own heart rocks and see God at work in their world?
Like love itself, not every heart rock is perfect. I see hearts where others have to squint at the abstract geological chunk before them. My son once said he’d keep a heart rock from me\, if I found one he agreed looked like a heart. During a hike a few months later, as I retold that story to my niece, I found the most perfect heart rock ever waiting on a fallen oak beside a creek. When I’m certain my son will keep it, I’ll pass it on.
Some wise person said the love you get equals the love you give away. Mine has been returned many times over. Someone on an Italian cruise saw a heart-shaped shadow cast across the hilly Adriatic coast, snapped a photo, and sent it to me. Two friends sharing a summer lunch in Maine saw a heart-shaped leaf fall to their table and let me know they thought of me. When I hear someone say, “I found something for you,” I smile, having a good idea what it may be.
After decades of collecting my share of heart rocks, I now tend to leave one where I spot it, hoping a wandering soul who needs it more will find it. May they, too, recognize that Something Bigger has surrounded them with love.
May they open their hearts to find it.