In the old war movies, there almost always comes a scene where the soldiers are waiting in a briefing room for the General to appear to give them the details of the upcoming mission. The soldiers are interacting in a light-hearted, jovial manner, yet still alert and listening for the sound that will silence the room – “Attention!” At once, they scatter to stand at attention as the General enters and heads straight for the front of the room. After commanding them to be at ease, they sit ready and anxious to receive their assignments.
Now in the old movies, the men are always eager and ready to go and rush out of the room with pride and confidence. In the newer movies, sometimes they will let you see that while our soldiers are eager to serve their country, they are human and subject to the same fears and doubts as anyone. Then our attention is brought back to the General who gives the pep talk of the century. “Now, I understand that this can seem like we are facing a hopeless situation. Some of you may be thinking that you won’t be coming back alive, but I’m telling you to put that out of your mind. You’ve been trained. You have the skills and know how to use them. You have the support of the people in this room and you have my word as your commander that we will succeed.”
Why do I tell you this? In many ways, I feel like I am in that room waiting for the assignment to be given. God has used the events of my life not only to bring me to him, but to prepare me. He has put in me the drive to overcome incredible obstacles and in the process has formed in me a heart of mercy that has been so thoroughly broken that it only continues to beat in my Savior’s hands. My experience makes it possible for me to empathize with almost every kind of pain a person can face and God’s grace has made me a lantern of hope for those lost in the fog of that pain. I am eager to learn where God would have me use the gifts he has given me and sometimes that eagerness turns to impatience. I am convinced that every time God uses my past, my experience, to reach out to those in pain with his love and mercy, he is restoring the years the locust have taken. The enemy may have tried to irreparably break me in those years of abuse and loss, but God is redeeming those years, using them for his ultimate glory and I’m anxious to get started. However, I know that whatever and wherever God is guiding me to, it will be done only in his timing – not mine. So I need to pray for patience and be alert while I continue what I’m doing until he calls me to attention.
What has God prepared you for? And are you listening for the call? About the pictures: North Park Blind Trail (May 2010)
Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:17
A few months ago I saw a movie that celebrated the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He is one of the great American heroes of the twentieth century and will always be remembered for his courage and humble service to the cause of social justice. For the most part, we are so far removed from the mindset and hostile environment that he had to face to get us to this point, that we may not be able to fully comprehend just how courageous he had to be. While the movie downplayed the source of his courage – that kind of bravery and conviction can only come of a soul committed to serving the Lord.
For every great leader that stands out, there is a multitude of nameless, faceless people whose actions will never make it in a history book or be made into a movie of the week. Even so, their lives are no less significant and their actions no less needed or appreciated than those of a celebrated hero. One of my favorite Christian comedians, Chonda Pierce, tells a story of a little old lady named Anna who, through gentle, loving persistence, introduced Chonda’s grandparents to Jesus, and in doing so, changed the lives of not only Chonda’s family, but the lives of all the people her family has reached out to.
I know I am not called to be a leader like Martin Luther King, Jr. but I am called to be an Anna. What does that mean? It means that nothing is too small of a gesture when it is offered in the love of Christ. It means that I must have enough courage to step out in faith to follow the path the Lord has laid out for me, wherever it lead. If all that is meant for me to do is help send a mailing or make a few phone calls – then Lord, let me do that with a deep sense of purpose. If the extent of my calling is to cry with someone who is hurting, then, Lord, let your tears of compassion and empathy flow through me. The Spirit works through even the smallest Christ-centered acts of kindness. These things may not seem to be notable, but they may be essential and the lack of them could have repercussions that ripple through generations just as the giving of them can reach out through me to hundred or thousands of people. I need to be attentive and continually seek the Spirit’s guidance to know where I can help and what I am to do. History may forget me, but God never will. About the picture: Blackwater Falls State Park (May 2010)
So there we are, my friend and I, at the bottom of a 300 ft. canyon in Blackwater Falls State Park marveling in the beauty of the hidden falls we had discovered and not wanting to leave so soon. However, it was starting to get late. Our tired muscles were aching from the climb down and the thought of climbing back up was not a happy thought, but we knew it was necessary if we were to get to the top before it was too dark to see. So we began our ascent.
If we had prepared for this trek down the canyon wall, we would have at least had water, hiking boots, and flashlights, but as you read in last week’s blog, we just stumbled into this adventure, so we were completely unprepared. While our cameras were neatly tucked away in our camera bags, my friend had brought her tripod which sometimes left her one hand short in climbing back up the canyon wall. Slowly and carefully, our feet found the next rock or tree root to step on and our hands found the next branch or rock to grab hold of to pull ourselves up. We took turns leading and following - The woman in front keeping her eyes open for the next little yellow tape marker while finding secure footing and the woman in back watching closely so as to place her feet in the secure steps of the other and in readiness to push if necessary. When we got to a place where both hands were needed to pull ourselves up to the next spot, we took turns holding the tripod so the other could make it.
About one-third of the way up, I reached a patch of loose dirt and rocks and began to slide down the hillside. I was helpless to do anything but stay close to the ground and try to dig in with both feet and hold on with both hands. I’m sure I didn’t slide more than a foot, but when you're dangling 100 ft. up on a canyon wall, a foot is a very long distance to slide. Once I stopped sliding, I looked for a way to pull myself up and saw a rock protruding out of the dirt about 2 ft. out of my reach. If I went for it and didn’t make it, I might possibly slide down a lot further than a foot, but I also couldn’t stay there. My friend was below me trying to secure herself against a tree in case I slipped further. She was actually going to risk her own safety to try to stop me from sliding further down – Did I mention she’s a little crazy and the best friend I ever had. I think I closed my eyes as I lunged for the rock and found myself holding firm to it when it was all over. I pulled myself up to a more secure place and then helped my friend up the slippery slope.
A little further up the path, we came to a rock that stood over our heads. I found a smaller rock to step up on and then pulled myself up half-crawling onto the rock. My friend tried to do the same, but her plastic knee (knee replacement) wouldn't cooperate so she wasn’t making it up that rock without some help. So I put the tripod down, braced myself on the rock, and pulled her up. Both tired, but both very well aware that darkness was coming, we pushed onward and upward.
Though we were tired and sore, the last leg of our ascent seemed easier. Maybe because we knew we were so close to the top or because we had made it to the fairly easy, more recognizable path, we knew we could indeed make the rest of the trek before sundown. When we emerged at the top, we were ecstatic and very thirsty. We wanted to know the distance we had climbed, so later we asked a couple of lodge employees how far down the falls were from the observation point at the top of the canyon and their response was that we couldn’t get down to those falls because there was no path. The next day, we saw three park rangers and asked them the same question. They also told us that we couldn’t get down to the falls because there is no path. When we explained that we had already been there the day before they reiterated that there is no path down the canyon wall and that they knew nothing about the yellow tape markers.
God will provide a way through any life circumstance. It may not be pleasant or easy, but he will guide me through it each step of the way. When I am faced with an overwhelming task, I need to tackle it by taking one step at a time carefully placing my feet in his footprints. When crisis hits and it seems that the ground under my feet is giving way, I just need to reach for the Rock of Salvation. No matter how far I slide away from the path he has set for me, he will always be just in reach when I look to him to pull me up and give me a firm foundation to stand on. This path through life is not a path traveled alone. Often, I will need to rely on a brother or sister in Christ to help me along the way or I will be there to help them.
The most important thing I gained from this experience was confidence in God (and maybe in myself as well.) If we had been told before we hiked down that canyon wall that we couldn’t get to that waterfall, we wouldn't have even tried. But not knowing that we couldn't, we did what everyone said was impossible. That's what happens when I trust God to lead me and bring me safely home no matter what the world would have me believe. Our trek down and back up the canyon wall that day may have seemed foolish and even a little dangerous to the casual observer, but never in my mind was there a moment of doubt that God would bring us safely through. The next time anyone, including myself, tells me I can’t reach out in the love of Christ or that a ministry I'm passionate about is doomed to fail or that I can’t do something I feel the Lord is leading me to do, I’ll just smile and let God prove the world wrong once again. I can do all thing through Christ who strengthens me because nothing is impossible with God. (Philippians 4:13; Luke 1:37)
About the pictures: Blackwater Falls State Park (May 2010)
My best friend and I, both amateur photographers, went to Blackwater Falls State Park in West Virginia this past Memorial Day weekend to snap some shots of the beautiful scenery there. We went to an overlook situated on the rim of a canyon on Saturday afternoon to get pictures of the Upper Pendleton Waterfall also located in the park. As we maneuvered around the rim to get a better shot of the falls, we ran into a sign that pointed to what appeared to be a path. The sign said that we should not attempt going any further unless we were in good physical condition. Neither one of us is actually in “good” physical condition. I’m asthmatic and a little out of shape and she’s a (insert mumble here)-year old with a knee replacement and a bad foot.
We may have turned around except that we saw two elderly women walking down the path ahead of us and decided that if they could do it, so could we. We decided that we would go as far in on the path as we could in hopes of capturing that awesome photo we came to get. Well, the two ladies turned around shortly after getting to the first set of rocks they would need to climb down to continue on. The rocks didn’t look impassable, so we decided to keep going. We came around the rocks just fine and continued on what my friend described as a goat path. Every fifteen feet or so, someone had tied a small piece of yellow plastic tape. We weaved back and forth on the vertical canyon wall being careful where we stepped, hanging onto tree branches and exposed roots and each other, and climbing over many boulders as we followed the hidden path not knowing what we would find. We could hear the rushing water of the river getting closer and that spurred us on.
Finally we broke through the forest to discover the most extraordinary sight I’d ever seen. A waterfall was right there in front of us surrounded by the beauty of undisturbed nature. We put our hands in the water letting it stream over our arms as it rushed to the river at our feet. I made my way to a large rock that protruded from the bank out into the river about twenty yards from the falls. As I stood on the rock, the mist from the waterfall soaked into my skin and I raised my hands and shouted for joy as I reveled in the glory of the moment. The God I love and serve, the God who loves me, created this magnificent place and led me to it. Because we had started so late in the afternoon, we were only able to enjoy our little “paradise found” for a short while. After all, we did have to climb back up the canyon wall before it got dark. As we took our pictures, we realized that the skyline was almost completely covered by trees. The only way to see these particular falls was to follow the precarious path that led us here. We knew that we were among the small percentage of visitors to the park who would ever see this special place.
When I think about what God would have me learn from this, I see so many faith lessons in the story. As I travel the path that God lays before me, I can be confident that nothing is impossible with God’s help. I may not be good enough or strong enough or wise enough, but he is. He more than makes up for my shortcomings. When I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10) We are never alone on the journey. God provides a Partner – One who is there to lead the way, to pick me up when I fall, to steady me when I lose my balance. He has gone on ahead of me and marked the way for me to follow. If I seek him, God will draw me toward himself like the rushing of the river drew me ever downward toward the falls. Sometimes God allows my spiritual sense to be keenly aware of his presence and it is glorious. There is no place as magnificent as standing firmly on the Rock of my salvation, Jesus Christ. Words can’t describe it just as the picture of the falls in this blog doesn’t begin to reflect the beauty of those hidden falls at the bottom of that canyon. Never the less, it’s an experience I am compelled to share. I just have to trust that the God who brought me to such a place, the God who opens my heart to his presence, will use what I’ve shared for his purpose and glory.
Next week, I will tell you about the trip back up the canyon wall and what we found out when we got to the top.
About the pictures: Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia (Middle Pendleton Falls)