Column – A hard-hitting lesson

Published 4:26 pm Tuesday, February 6, 2024

This past Saturday, I spent a few hours with a group of guys that I hunt with, clearing some brush in the woods. We were making it easier to walk to, and see from, some hunting stands. Nothing major in scope some branch trimming here and there, mostly. It was a good postseason January day for it. 

Some pruners, loppers, a few chainsaws and a couple four-wheelers. Throw on the work bibs, boots and worn-in gloves. Nothing too mind-boggling, and yet satisfying work. Hard to beat for someone like me.

At one point, I was pulling on a vine, the kind of vine that went way up to the top of the tree. The plan was to pull it all the way down, which I did. Unfortunately, as the vine finally broke free from the last of the branches, so did one of the branches. It hit me square on top of my head. Let’s just say that it “rang my bell” pretty loudly. I mean, it hit hard. It was about 2 inches in diameter and broke in half on my bald head with only a baseball cap. 

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The guys who saw it immediately looked concerned and checked on me. “Are you OK?” My first response was, “I think so.” Because I had felt and heard that hit, it didn’t make sense to me that I would be OK. Turns out, though, I felt a little off the rest of the day, and only a tad bit tender on top of my head; I was no worse off than before the branch hit me. Don’t worry, I checked in with some medical professionals and followed advice. 

I spent the rest of the day walking to the other locations while most of the crew rode the four-wheelers. I like walking and getting to know the land better. Also, I needed some time to process, and put away, what could’ve been a much worse, even fatal, injury. 

I noticed that while I had to be cautious with my steps to avoid sinking in mud too deep or getting water above my boots; some of those on the ATVs were sometimes less cautious. I guess they had more faith in their power equipment than I had in the tape on my old boots. Understandably, they got stuck. Typically, I arrived at the next location on foot around the same time, or even before, some traveling by machine. Also, I arrived having enjoyed the walk and not frustrated by spinning wheels or worried about having broken parts. With the exception of my noggin, of course.  

I’m realizing recently how much closer to the age of 50 I am getting. I am probably well past the halfway point of life. Learning how to be comfortable with realizing that I may need to walk more carefully in some places and maybe not power through some things. 

There’s wisdom in taking a close look at what may fall down on my head, or others, before yanking on a mature vine. It’s smart to look ahead on your path and contemplate the next few steps before trudging ahead. 

I know 2024, and beyond, is going to be tricky for me. As a pastor, a friend, a neighbor, or any other relationship I have. The discussions and conversations of the coming year might have some metaphorical loose branches waiting to hurl toward my head, or some thick and deep mud awaiting a misstep. 

While I wish I had learned the lesson a little less painfully, I’m glad to learn from a branch that broke on my head, instead of losing a relationship that would break my heart. 

Tread wisely this year, my friends. While our passions and beliefs are good fuel for the soul, sometimes our mouths might be moving too quickly toward mud and injury. 

Past the halfway point of my life, I’m more interested in the valued relationships I have than getting stuck in “the mud.” 

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” – Ephesians 4:29

The Rev. Jason Stump is pastor of Oakland Christian United Church of Christ in Suffolk. He can be reached at pastorstump@gmail.com.