A dozen white lights zig-zagged down the switchbacks. It looked like stars had fallen to earth, illuminating the way to go. I was towards the back of a group who had started their pre-dawn hike across the Grand Canyon.
Sunlight hit the top layers of the Canyon walls and seemed to call forth the colors. Wake up red, stretch wide orange, lift up your face pale yellows and tints of gray. Slowly sun filled the canyon and, like a spotlight, finally found us.
Two years ago I hiked the Canyon with my step-daughter. The hike, roughly 23 miles, took 14 hours. This weekend D and I were supposed to do the same hike from the North Rim to the South Rim. But 2020 had other plans.
My step-daughter and I trained for two months for the event. I knew I was physically ready. The hike could not get here fast enough.
The Grand Canyon is a top three favorite place on earth for me. Every time I go it is different. The light hits it differently, the fog rolls in, seasons change its colors. It is one of the best testimonies to God, who made this incredible canyon in the desert we get to enjoy.
The group we hiked with told us to be ready. You do not leave the Canyon the same. If you are open, God will do a work in you. You will leave baggage behind, be renewed, find truth, be remade.
I went into the hike with such anticipation. God, take this experience and change me. I had no idea what He wanted to do but I was open. Lord, we have 24 miles – let’s get some stuff on (and off) the table. I’m ready!
And then… Nothing!
I enjoyed the hike through the Canyon. It was breathtaking and full of laughter. I got to enjoy the hike with my step-daughter. I knew my family was at the top. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the floor, the secrets of the Canyon, the miles upon miles (and miles!) of color, foliage, beauty…
I have to admit, I never hit the wall. I never thought I could not finish or questioned what I got myself into. Mile after mile I was transfixed by the Canyon and enjoyed those I was with.
Yet even within the walls, I kept waiting for the “God moment” to come. While we hiked, I questioned if I should not be feeling more. I prepped myself for this aha experience! God was going to find me there and we were going to get stuff done!
But, nope. So, did I miss something?
On the floor, at the river (the actual Colorado River!), they had us pick up a rock and think about something we wanted to throw symbolically into the surging river. I found a rock and thought about what to throw away. I have been wrestling with some choices in my past. But God revealed what I was holding onto, thinking I needed to “process,” was not the point at all. I needed to seek forgiveness for another aspect of it, so I did. In a couple of steps towards the bank, what I had made a big deal of turned out to be nothing.
So that wasn’t it.
I questioned what to toss into the river. The only thing I could think of was the lie I’m not enough to love those around me. I am somehow not enough to love my stepkids, nieces, sisters in a real and authentic way. I can’t show up consistently because I don’t have the answers. I can’t take their pain. I live too far away.
In a moment of do the action and the emotion will follow, I threw those lies into the river.
It was satisfying. But not life-changing. I was distracted in that moment, my thoughts on grief, moving on, and showing up. I also didn’t want to hold up our group. So I threw my rock in and moved on. The thunder rumbled and out came the ponchos – which we had been putting on and off all day.
I kept climbing, elevation getting higher. We stopped for water with four miles left. At three miles, D joined us. At 1.5 it started to POUR! My focus became staying positive while getting out. My step-daughter started to get sick. I worried about my family somewhere at the top. My poncho was tearing and the last .5 mile felt like forever!
One foot in front of the other. One switchback at a time.
Then we saw the lights of the South Rim. We turned a corner and saw our group standing there – cheering us on, hugging us, with such joy!!! I don’t think I can express the disbelief, joy, amazement I felt seeing them there in the deluge. They were the voices we could hear two miles back pressing us on. They stayed in the rain, still excited and there, smiling, hugging us… It’s humbling and still overwhelming.
Then it was done. Showers taken. Fingers numb. Hasty somewhat coordination with my fam to see them in the morning.
I went to bed, got up, told my family all about it, and realized – I felt the same. I was the same person I was Friday night. The same girl who struggled with isolation and doubt. I spent the six hours flying home writing, trying to ID what was different.
“You won’t come out the same,” we’d been told. But I was the same person. My mountain top (or valley floor) experience had left me unchanged.
At home, I was bogged down. I was short-tempered, moody, distracted, fuzzy-brained. I felt discontent, exhausted — quite simply, done! I stopped working out. I stopped journaling. I zoned out and just got by. Part of it was recovery. But a big part was annoyance. I was frustrated to still be me. I was angry that I didn’t get my “canyon revelation.” I got a lovely hike, don’t get me wrong. But that is not what it is about, was it?
In a moment of frustration, I posted on Facebook. “It’s a hard time friends, and I don’t know why. I feel unqualified and overwhelmed, alone and adrift. But God sees. He knows. He loves. He is there. Don’t forget that though the river rushes around you, God is making the journey with you. He is there.”
My mom wrote back: Tell yourself daily – I am qualified – I am properly “whelmed!” – I am not alone nor adrift – I am on the path that God has placed before me for this season and I will survive and be victorious! I survived 24 miles of the Grand Canyon and left fear on the valley floor. God and me together – we are enough!!!
I left fear on the valley floor.
I never told her that. I mentioned how I was able to maintain my emotions within the Canyon (a year-long journey for me). I was able to not get down and pull myself out of the ruts when they started. I felt proud of myself for not giving up when the rain started. For exiting the Canyon not in a bad mood. I was able to pull myself back from the abyss – something I have not been able to do before. But even to her I lamented not feeling different. And the conversation moved on.
I left fear on the valley floor.
I did. The rock I chucked into the river was for my inadequacy. It was the lie I am not enough.
The funny (but not) thing is I’ve had chances to show up for my family since the bridge. Almost right after my step-daughter and I started talking and I stayed quiet. Even after I just told satan to take a swim with his lies that I’m inadequate for those in my life, I gave into the lie again. And I have since – with my nieces, who are struggling. With my father. With myself, really. I threw the lie into the river and picked up a fresh pack of insecurity on the other side.
Satan is clever isn’t he.
But God is better. And bigger. And if we stop long enough to listen, His still small voice can be heard.
With Elijah, it wasn’t the rain or thunder (or the river) God used to speak. It was the whisper after the storm. Elijah had the choice to listen to the rain, to let the thunder distract him. But he knew those were not God. So when the whisper came, he listened.
I realize I let myself get distracted by the thunder and torrent, and missed His voice entirely.
But God is not a one-shot God. He does not try once and then move on.
He has been there this whole time, waiting.
I read recently that the amazing thing is when we get off track, when we veer off the path, we don’t have to retrace our steps and look for God. We don’t have to call His name on the valley floor until we find Him waiting at the juncture. He is there, in the weeds, on the ledge, beside us. We just have to turn and see Him.
My mom’s words helped me be able to turn and see him. They helped me remember what a stone thrown almost casually into the river meant. It exposed the truth that this fog was not recovery or ennui, but satan’s latest lie. He does not want us empowered. He wants us scared. He does not want us to believe. He wants us to doubt. So when you call out one lie and chuck it into the river, he will find another way to get at you.
I walked into the Canyon expecting the burning bush. But in my looking for the divine I missed the still small voice.
Two years on, I am still wrestling with it all. I feel like there is unfinished business. I did not complete the quest. In the valley, God prepares a table for me. He anoints my head with oil. My cup runneth over. He restores my soul.
With faith, it’s never a one and done. All of it is a choice. All of it is a return, again and again, to the One who created us for communion with Him. God did not build us for transaction, He built us for relationship.