Follow the Leader
I've never thought of myself as the "leading" type.
I like to know what is expected of me and just plod along until I get it done.
.....Okay and laugh a whole lot with whomever I am working with. That's true.
I have been in several situations that have warranted me shaking my head and asking myself, "How on earth did I get here?"
But no situation prepared me for the first few moments of my hike on the Appalachian trail.
After we returned from Italy I saw it.
A plea for a lady to join a hike through the Wilderness Christian Camp. A group of ladies hikes a beautiful part of the Appalachian trail once a year IF they have enough ladies to go.
They needed one more lady and immediately I sensed God's prompting to go.
This was absolutely, hands-down CRAZY.
Now, mind you, I had just bitten off a small chunk of hiking on Vesuvius, and was not entirely sure I could even handle a hike of this magnitude, especially coming up in just a few weeks so I sent a text to my husband.
"What do you think of me going on the Ladies Hike this year?"
I somehow wished that I could have been a fly on the wall in his office when that "ding" came in on his phone...
I had heard his stories of how difficult HIS hiking experience on this very stretch of trail had been. I saw in his eyes how much it had meant to him to finish some 40 miles of arduous hiking. This Ladies hike wouldn't even be half of that, but it was still insurmountable to me to fully comprehend.
What on earth was I thinking!
WAS I thinking?
The Lord has prompted me to do some pretty "out-there" things: send flowers to someone I have never met, invite strangers over for dinner, follow my husband to Mongolia and back, but THIS. This took the cake.
There were little butterflies in my stomach when his reply came back:
"I think you'd do great!"
With that heap of encouragement I quickly grabbed faith and ran before fear had a chance to notice and catch up!
And so we prayed for two days and when we had God's mind on it I signed-up to go.
Though I knew without a doubt this would be the hardest thing I had ever done in my life, I had a settled peace knowing that God orchestrated it, would provide the finances for it and somehow, someway, would get me through.
I had seen Him work on Vesuvius.
I felt a wee bit like David staring down the giant in I Samuel 17:37 "...The LORD that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine.
Our next few days were filled with Joel rehearsing all that he wished HE had taken on his trip and many explanations of just why a snickers bar is the perfect hiking "fuel."
THAT was a conversation I was interested in.
There were worries about being able to get an inhaler before I left, and then there was the gut-wrenching worry about the water.
Yes, the water.
Oh the horror stories the men's hike brought back two Summer's previous about this yucky, hot, brown water they had to drink on the hike!
Because you are filling your water containers in streams in the woods, sickness from bacteria is a real threat. To combat that bacteria, you drop an iodine tablet in the water, give it a shake and wait a good 30 minutes for it to do it's magic.
THIS worried me more than getting out there and having a heart attack.
More than sleeping in cramped quarters ON THE GROUND with someone I barely knew in various locations.
More than Bears or bugs or even what kind of food I would eat.
And in the Lord's goodness, He allowed us to find tablets that counteract the taste of the iodine that you add directly after the first tablets. I guarded them with my life and worried more about them than having enough underwear!
Water is a big deal folks.
My husband threw bug spray that contained more chemicals than I had ever seen into our Walmart cart a few nights before we left and I swallowed hard. This was really happening. Folks at church cheered me on and shook their heads and some even sighed for me just thinking about what was coming!
I wondered if we had a plan for who would take the kids if Joel and I both died... because the news of me dying mid-ascent would surely kill Joel too and then where would the kids go?! And Abby didn't know how to cook enough yet. Maybe they could do the whole "Boxcar children thing...?"
I slept in a lovely Prophet's chamber just miles from our meeting point like a kid about to go to the dentist in the morning.
I came to the bag shake-down and orientation looking half put-together and already ready to use my rescue inhaler.
And No, I did not bring enough clothes.
Joel gave me some, "God will use this mightily in your life," Pastor/ husband pep talk speech, kissed my forehead I just stoically smiled so the "HELP! I made a mistake!" wouldn't slip out of my 42 year old mouth.
Yes, Joel had to leave to drive several hours back to the kids, and yes, at 42 it felt like he was leaving me a Summer Camp to be eaten-up by the High School girls.
We fill our packs and water and aquatint ourselves with our new partners for the week. This was a great group of ladies to spend the hardest days with. I clung to that and just pressed on.
We reach the head of the trail and begin our ascent.
NO JOKE I was five steps in and winded.
I thought FOR SURE "not gonna make it" was written all over my face and everyone could see it.
This "small" hike to our first camping site was showing me that I was definitely not cut-out for hiking.
The first thing I really took note of was that all the other ladies chatted merrily while I was completely out.of.breath. Not a peep out of me. My mouth was too busy sucking in every piece bacteria that I missed in my water.
I panted and panted and barely made it ten steps up at a time.
My mind was a whirlwind of thoughts like, "I'm gonna die out here," and "I am so glad my husband cannot see me now!'
It was settled. I was THE slowest in the group.
and quite possibly the whole world of groups.
The only thing quick about me, was realizing that a guide had to bring up the rear (yours truly) and even radio ahead to the front guide if we fell TOO far behind.
This honestly was one of the mentally challenging things I faced.
Hey, be slow, go at your own pace, but hold up a guide and then the rest of the group? To put it plainly, that stunk.
And soon I stunk because though I had water tablets for the whole of Indonesia, I did not have enough fresh clothing.
On yet another ascent, because, you know, we are climbing up a MOUNTAIN and that's just the way it goes... UP.......the head guide made a passing remark to me.
"If you are struggling, the best place to be is right behind me. If I stop, you stop and get the most rest while the others catch up."
Call it lack of oxygen but this took me a bit to understand. If I was in the back I didn't have to keep such a rigorous pace! I would eventually catch up to the group when she stopped.
Then I understood.
When she stopped for a break, by the time I caught up to the others she was ready to go again.
Sometimes I wonder if she would have been able to cook us all a delicious meal or write a few letters home in the time it took me to get to her again.
She may have even been able to had deliver those letters!
If I had been at her heels, I would have had a lot more time to catch my breath.
This was my first huge lesson on the trail.
Stay as close as you can to your guide. Rest is there.
Goodness knows how I tried to stay behind her.
Then inevitably one gal after another would pass me by and I'd be bringing up the caboose yet again on yet another hill.
I was grateful for each stop for someone to take a picture or adjust their pack because it was just a little more air I got to suck in. And I DO mean suck in.
The Lord gave me such a thought that first night around our campfire.
Stay close to me. It's a fight for sure to see my heels every moment, but it is worth the struggle for the rest it brings.
Rest to your mind, your emotions, your spirit full-through.
Isaiah 40:29-31 "He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall:
But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint."
Your mind may race, your heart feel like it's going to come right out of your chest, but drawing close to me will bring a quietness and time to renew yourself again.
Just as on the ascents I didn't always keep the position I needed to, so daily I don't always keep a keen watch that I am right beside the Lord and finding renewal for the daily grind.
How worth it, it is to fight whatever distractions and desires pull us away from His lead.
Things that look promising, but can never give us the soul-satisfying rest we all need and crave.
Good things but not best things that take our gaze and time from Him leading us.
Leading us as wives and mommas and sisters and friends.
The first verse to "O Jesus I have Promised" sums it up:
O Jesus, I have promised To serve Thee to the end; Be Thou forever near me, My Master and my Friend; I shall not fear the battle If Thou art by my side, Nor wander from the pathway If Thou wilt be my Guide.
and then this last stanza grips my heart:
Oh, let me see Thy footmarks, And in them plant mine own; My hope to follow duly Is in Thy strength alone. Oh, guide me, call me, draw me, Uphold me to the end; And then to rest receive me, My Savior and my Friend.
I scribbled some notes in my trail notebook and then tried to hold back tears for all the Lord was teaching me out in the middle of nowhere.
Away from family and comforts I was amazed how little I thought of or even missed. Every ounce of me was lazer focused on what I needed to do next. I had learned on Vesuvius to keep my nose down and just get one foot in front of the other. As I wearily helped set up my tent and shared a meal with my trail partner I was spent.
I shared with my trail buddy just before we drifted off to sleep what was weighing on my heart, how I didn't want my own mind to defeat me and we prayed together bearing one another's burdens.
A new day was on the horizon and I was sure I wasn't ready for it's arrival.