Blessings in the journey

Last week I was given an incredible gift.  A 4-day worship retreat in the mountains of North Carolina.  It was very unexpected, last-minute, and I honestly didn’t think I deserved to go; however, Leo encouraged me and all the pieces came together to work it out.  I mean, it just “happened” to be Fall break for the other therapist that works with my kiddo, so she could cover me at school for the 4 days I would miss.  Crazy!

From the outset of the trip, I was excited.  It turns out that I’m a faster driver than most (big shocker, I know), so the folk I went with wanted me to drive.  No problem.  Driving is like breathing for me… especially when it’s driving through the mountains of West Virginia all the way to Asheville, NC.  I was giddy the whole drive!  The colors, the hills, the curves….  it was amazing!

Now, I’ve had some major health issues the past few years that have kinda all come to a head here in the US; so I am on a VERY strict diet (it’s easier to tell you what I CAN eat than what I shouldn’t).  When traveling with a group over a long distance, it’s pretty much a given that there will be crap food eaten along the way.  We stopped at a Bob Evans, and I looked in disbelief that I couldn’t eat ANYTHING on the breakfast menu.  I was the girl who ordered a no-cheese, no-egg omelet.  Crazy.  I was a bit overwhelmed and disheartened thinking what the rest of the week would look like, to say the least!

Blessing #2 came when we sat down to eat our first meal at the retreat center.  They had food I could eat!!!  I filled up 2 plates with salad, veggies and fish… and was SO relieved.  Throughout the week I could eat at every.single.meal, and not just salad!  It was amazing!

I could go on and on about how amazing the week was… music, food, beer, conversations, laughter, rest, the mountains…

But, there was one experience that stands out above all the rest.

A group of us decided to hike up a “mountain” during our freetime one afternoon.  We called a friend of mine who used to live in the area to see what he recommended, and we set out-  hiking up the road to the trailhead.  We heard that this trail was “moderate”, but that the view was incredible.  Upon getting to the trailhead, there were warnings of bears, so we quickly decided that we should just make noise the whole time up… which wasn’t really a problem for us VERY talkative women!  Ha!

The trail started uphill pretty easily.  Left foot, right foot.  About 1/3 up, it started getting steeper, with steps laid out in front of us.  We’d go up one set, and then the trail would curve around a bit just to reveal another set of stairs.  This.kept.happening. I started to just get frustrated.  We could see through the trees enough to know that we were in a cloud forest, and the folk coming down the trail warned us of rain…. but they all said that if we could make it up before the rain hit, the view would be worth it.

About 4/5ths of the way up, with a bad knee and a current struggle with anemia, I was slowing down.  I’d turn another curve, see another set of stairs and just get more and more frustrated.  I just wanted to get to the top!  I used to walk all.the.time., and had no idea why this was such a hard hike.  I used to love hiking!

As I stood and paused at different points to catch my breath, I caught myself thinking,
“I’m tired of the struggle.  I don’t know if I can keep going”.

I wasn’t talking about the hike anymore.

“Why does this always have to be so hard.  Why can’t I have the strength I used to?  Why does every turn reveal another #$*&%$%* set of obstacles?”

The girls up ahead would call down to me to make sure I was still coming.

I’d go up another set of stairs.

Frustration.

They’d call out.

Up another set…

The difference came, however, when I heard them yell out “OH MY GOSH!!! THIS IS INCREDIBLE!!!  We made it!”

I knew I was only 2-3 climbs away from the top.

They then yelled down “Lilia, it IS worth it!  You gotta get up here!”.

As I rounded the last bend, I saw a rock face that was standing between me and the top.  One girl was there, talking me through how to climb it.  We walked together to the summit.

I then realized that I need to find more people in my life who aren’t just experiencing my struggles alongside of me, but who have been on my journey, with my struggles, and can yell down at me from a higher vantage point than I have right now. Who have struggled up to the top, possibly swearing as they go; and through blood, sweat and tears can proclaim that it really IS worth it.

As we all stood there, looking out at the beauty, we could see the retreat center way below us.  We had no idea how far we’d come until we saw that landmark.  Later on, at dinner, we were able to look out the windows from our table to the top of the mountain we’d climbed, and with absolute joy (and exhaustion) we told of our journey.

We made it.  Together. 1780755_10152322503470841_921857032589956806_n

That night we sang songs of mountaintops and valleys.  Each time, we glanced at each other and giggled under our breaths “we climbed one today!”.

Jesus is enough for me… and I am so grateful that He allows trips like this one to remind me that I still have yet to fully grasp that.  He put people around me to comfort, encourage and love on me so that I am less likely to forget that He really does love me.  He will work all these struggles out for my good… someday.

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Reflection

My first year living in Colombia, I had to learn how NOT to remember things by seasons. I never realized how important seasons had been to my midwestern mind, heart and body; but I quickly found myself trying to break the school year into Fall and Spring Semesters, and I was met with quizzical looks from my Colombian friends.

I remember walking home with Beth one day, talking about how much I missed Fall. She looked at me, and said that she loved the 65-80 degree weather year-round. I didn’t think I’d ever get to that point. I’m not from California. I’m from Ohio. Seasons are in my blood.

I remember as the first “fall” was passing in the US. I was glued to Facebook, taking in everyone’s comments about the colder weather, grieving that I couldn’t experience it for myself. I tried to explain the phenomena of the changing smells, colors, foods and scenery to Leo; he smiled but didn’t really understand.

And, as much as I never thought I’d get used to the seasons NOT changing, I DID get used to it. I liked the simplicity of not needing a change of wardrobe for each season. I liked the monotony of the sun rising and setting within the same 30-minute window each day. There were always flowers blooming, always fresh fruits and veggies, and I could walk outside every day. Even “rainy season” was predictable: for the most part, if it was sunny in the morning, you’d get a downpour sometime in the afternoon/evening, and if it was rainy in the morning, vice versa. I got used to life without seasons.

But along with gaining the contentment in that, I think I lost the idea that seasons DO change. Each day kinda rolled into the next with only school breaks or service trips to count time with, and I think I forgot that the season would someday come to an end. I forgot to take in each day for what it was. The monotony of the familiar lulled me into forgetting that time passes quickly, opportunities might never come again, and things really were changing whether the weather marked it or not.

Coming back to the US was a hard transition in many ways, and I remember getting angry that the seasons were changing so quickly. It seemed like just as we’d finally have what we needed for one season, we’d need something for the next one and be behind again. I felt so out of place. Again, I was met with quizzical looks. I’d lived in the land of seasons for 28 years of my life… but the during the 5 seasons of living without them I’d so adopted a new way of living that I couldn’t remember how to go back.

However, I did eventually adjust. I had to remind my husband who wanted to give away all of his winter clothes halfway through summer (he looked at me and said… I haven’t used that in MONTHS), that winter would be back, and we were finally prepared.

Somewhere around December last year, shortly before Leo’s family came to visit us for Christmas, it hit me. There are certain things we can count on:

The sun will rise tomorrow to a brand new day.

Seasons will change.

We aren’t guaranteed to see any of it.

It allowed me to sink into the Truth that each day, conversation, opportunity, experience has its purpose, and most likely will never be repeated.

I am learning to savor everything, knowing that it might never happen again.

I am trying not to take anything for granted, because
this season, too, will change.