Celebration from an audience of One
I'm fully persuaded that if you allowed me to take you to the coffee shop and buy you a hot coffee with crunchy raw sugar dusting some foam and a warmed chocolate croissant, you would be ready to spread the love of the Lord to the farthest points of the earth.
These are the best days of my life.
When I, one sentence in, need to go and look up how to properly spell Croissant.
These days the chocolate is flowing and if it has any sugar in in whatsoever I am eating it with glee.
My oldest is graduating.
I cry these days over good hymn singing, over people smiling at me, over little brown bags with my name spelled correctly on them and warm chocolaty things inside them.
These days bring out the best in me, and find me rubbing a perfect stranger's back and telling her that her green shoes look SO awesome on her.
I might have also asked her to tell me that it was alright to eat that Croissant.
Oh yes I did.
And Oh yes SHE did.
These days also bring out the worst in me.
If you come at me with some sappy Ron Hamilton, "Say I love you while the heart can feel" song I will not be responsible for my actions. It might look like full smack-down mode. It won't be pretty, so keep it to yerself.
And yes I purposely spelled that wrong.
(This is for my 17 year old spell checker... Though I still love you.)
Today I put my son's display board together and hung those iconic baby pictures, those same ones that years ago I remember thinking that they would be what I would choose to be on display on a week like this one.
And I don't want to say those iconic phrases like, "Where did the time go?"
Because I am so much cooler a mom than that.
But serious, that's what comes to mind.
My blood, sweat and tears is right there on a wooden board for all to see in the form of my first born son and it's enough to warrant another Croissant.
My oldest girl is getting braces off- braces that were literally prayed down from heaven to be financially possible. They are coming off and I am just sitting here saying, " Why don't you all just start buying stock in Kleenex for Pete's sake?!"
The ugly cry will show up soon and so we just wait for its arrival.
And so much has me thinking about our best. About what matters in life and about looking back.
At 18, if your life flashed before your eyes, it would just be some car keys and a whirlwind of diapers, but at 42, well you have a heap of living already there.
Kids and ministry and marriage and hard and good and crazy fun and stupid ideas.
And I was explaining to my girl recently, preparing for a difficult piano recital, that you can only do YOUR best. You can only give YOUR all and look up and see the Lord's approval on YOUR absolute best all done for Him and Him alone.
And this brought me to the very last day of the hike.
My very last day on the AT.
We were aghast to hear that the place where our guides would have taken us to camp for the fourth night was not available and so we would have to cut our hike ONE WHOLE DAY short. We just wouldn't be able to hike past that spot in one day's time. It was just too much ground to cover.
At first I was relieved. REST! A shower! A bed!
And then I was worried.
I literally choked the words out through tears, " Is it because I am so slow?"
And then I just burst into tears.
No, it wasn't because of me, but because WE couldn't hike that much in one day. It was just beyond what we all could do.
So we went to bed realizing that this was our last camp fire, our last night on the ground, our last night hiding our toothpaste and deodorant HIGH up in a tree to keep it from attracting bears.
Friend, if you haven't had to "bear bag" have you even lived?
There was still a hike ahead of us but honestly the best views were to come so we laughed and rejoiced in what the Lord had enabled us to do and headed to bed.
Off we were the next morning after enjoying some oatmeal and ready to go.
This was the last hike.
And it proved to be a doozy.
All day I thought about contacting Joel. With no cell service I hadn't contacted him since he dropped me off.
Up to this point he was there but I was too spent to really dwell on missing him.
Today it was all about getting down this mountain to just sending a text to tell him that I was still alive and I longed to hear just how proud of me he was.
At least I hoped he would be.
This day was grueling and hot and then we made it to McAfee's knob. Cliffs that give an amazing view of the trails you have huffed your pack up and down.
I have to interject here that I was still bringing up the rear with my guide who had to stay with me and make sure I was alright. I have to laugh out loud here at the coffee shop thinking about how many times I asked her how far up ahead the cliffs were. Truthfully I asked her a zillion times how far everything was!
Not that I have some internal gauge that can tell my body how far a mile or even half a mile will feel or look like, but somehow I just knew that if I had a goal to shoot for, I could hone in on it and it would propel me on.
She had these crazy mile measurements like, "Oh it's only 4/10ths of a mile" and such. I am telling you that I KNOW that once she told me that we were 12/10ths away from a campsite, but she will deny it to this day.
I'm about 9/8ths sure that she really did though.
We got to the very top of this crazy hard ridge and the view really took your breath away. THIS was what I came to see. This was the very hill I wanted to climb and sit on top of and just enjoy.
It was a HUGE accomplishment for me though I didn't feel so much of that then in that moment.
Pictures were taken, some almost too close to the rock's edges and one with the whole group celebrating this milestone together.
This was as high as we were climbing.
We took a good bit of time to really take in all that we were seeing- every place that we had been to get to this mountain top.
It was hot and muggy but so beautiful.
This was the first time I thought that the view was worth the effort in getting to it.
We were standing in a place that not many will make the climb to see for themselves. Google images is good for some but that day I wanted to see the real thing for myself and get there with my own two feet.
We now began our descent.
This was the beginning of the end.
We took a fire road most of the way out and that left us exposed to the sun more than we had been on the whole hike. That made it that much hotter to get to the finish line.
One thing I distinctly remember from this day was feeling like even on the last day we were never done! It was still difficult and hot and miserable at times and super super hard.
Finishing is usually that way, isn't it?
My most memorable moment on this hike came just at the end of it.
The sky threatened rain all afternoon but so far we hadn't even a drop to worry about.
My friend was just ahead of me and now almost out of sight as she crested what would be my last hill.
She called back to me to encourage me and shouted to me that she could hear cars.
Instantly the Lord reminded me of one of my most loved poems, "Call Back."
"If you have gone a little way ahead of me, call back; 'Twill cheer my heart and help my feet along the stony track; And if, perchance, Faith's light is dim, because the oil is low, Your call will guide my lagging course as wearily I go.
Call back, and tell me that He went with you into the storm; Call back, and say He kept you when the forest's roots were torn; That when the heavens thundered and the earthquake shook the hill, He bore you up and held you where the very air was still.
O friend, call back and tell me, for I cannot see your face; They say it glows with triumph, and your feet bound in the race; But there are mists between us, and my spirit eyes are dim, And I cannot see the glory, though I long for word of Him.
But if you'll say He heard you when your prayer was but a cry, And if you'll say He saw you through the night's sin-darkened sky, If you have gone a little way ahead, O friend, call back, 'Twill cheer my heart and help my feet along the stony track."
The Lord began to bring different stanzas to my mind as I slowly climbed and teared-up step after step.
What she did for my heart and really for my walk with the Lord she will never fully know, but her call to me reminded me how very dear it is for us to let one know that Christ is still good, still looking on and there is still victory to be had up ahead.
We may be the one in the back too tired to make the hill or we may be bounding down in a grace-filled pace.
We will all need a call back from one who has been there, and we all need to be the one cheering someone on who feels that they will never make it.
That poem just rang so true to me that I could hardly share it with anyone.
It was a moment when I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that God had me on that trail for that exact time and was speaking to me as clear as if He had been beside me.
Matter of fact, He was.
I began to quote some to my guide and got too choked up to finish.
I've never been able to recite this poem even to my own heart silently without a few tears trickling down and keeping me from saying anything for a few moments.
Finally I saw the end of the trail.
We met at the bottom and all crossed a busy road together as the sky opened up with rain.
It was honestly too emotional to even find the words to paint a realistic picture for you here on this white page.
The group rallying to cross the road together, the men greeting us and telling us how great we did, the relief of it really being the very very end, the sky opening up with rain,
It all just cannot be adequately summed up.
One thing that smote my heart was sitting in the van (on a real seat and not on a piece of wood!) listening to one of the gals talk about getting an "I hiked the Appalachian Trail" T-shirt. I was so tickled for her and smiled as she thought out loud about which color she would get for herself as a memento.
I was so proud of her. She should get herself a celebratory shirt! She did amazing! She conquered her fears and ran her race and finished well!
And the Holy Spirit came and wrapped his arm around my sweaty shoulder and said, "What about you Deena?"
"Didn't you finish well? Didn't you do your best?"
No! I scolded Him.
No. I was last. I was slow. I was complaining in my heart. I was the one with the sorest legs and swollen and kept our guide from being with the group.
I didn't deserve a medal or anything but the pinecones that I snuck in my bag to put on the shelf at home just to remind me of where I had been.
He reminded me that the race isn't to the swift. It's not even a race, but a slow, constant, faithful hike- grueling at times. Sometimes it seems all uphill with a heavy burden to bear. But it is a race that each of us are called to.
We are just called to remain faithful whether we are on the ascent or the downhill drive.
I finished to the absolute best of my ability, but my best sure looked pretty sorry next to my pals.
And that stung.
I carried this sting that afternoon while we enjoyed pizza and pop with heaps and heaps of crunchy ice, and even while we all sat on our hotel beds and laughed at swollen ankles and sun burns after hot showers.
It wasn't until the Lord prompted me to share how hard it was to allow myself to rejoice in my accomplishments that I realized just how foolish my own heart had been. How it had sold me a pack of lies and I swallowed them hook line and sinker.
I had done my best and that was amazingly great.
It was the hardest physical activity I had ever put this old body through and hit me deep down to the very heart of what I believed about myself.
Here's the kicker:
If I had been the only one on that trail that day, I would have believed myself worthy of rejoicing and celebration, but because I was always looking to keep up with someone else, I would never feel I had done as much as who I was competing with.
I deserved to be celebrated just as much as every other person in my group. I finished. I had my ups and downs and I.finished.
I asked my daughter how she would feel about her piece if she was the only one playing the piano? She told me without flinching that she would feel great. She would feel accomplished.
And I told her what I had learned that last day on the trail:
The finish line is worth the climb. You will always be thankful that you finished as strong as you could, and it will be cause for celebration.
We are walking the road set before us to do our very best for an audience of ONE. It will be worth it to see His smile. Every step of it.
Of course we know the Lord would be pleased with us if he gave us a task to accomplish and with the very best of our talents and physical ability we finished it.
Why should that change if we are the last one off the trail?
If it's my course to take, my hand-picked path, than nothing less than my best will be worth giving Him and I can know with every step that I am pleasing Him.
He's so proud of me.
I may not have a shirt to prove it, but that's okay.