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.
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.
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.