Sunday, July 31, 2011

Hiking Up Long's Peak

For years I’ve heard about Long’s Peak. The highest peak in the Colorado Rockies at 14,259 feet above sea level, it looks down on thousands of other peaks. Our son and oldest grandson have climbed to the summit of this majestic mountain. Tired but exhilarated after an all-day hike, they tell of the amazing view from the top. Today, Simeon, 12 ¾ years old, joins them in a hike up Long’s Peak, this time to the Keyhole, a seven mile hike ending near the summit.

His grandparents (my husband and I) overweight, out of shape flatlanders, decide to join in the adventure. We begin early in the morning at a trailhead 9,450 high, in already thin air. Within the first 100 yards, son and grandsons trek past us. We watch and catch our breath, observing their backs disappear around the bend. We won’t see them again until they hike back down.

We hike slowly, enjoying the view. We breathe deeply, enjoying the heavily pine-scented air and the trees towering far above us. The pleasant odor f decayed pine needles tell us why the soil beneath our feet is soft and spongy. The natural rocks and man-placed logs give us steps to climb…and climb…and climb. We stop frequently to catch our breath and enjoy the view.

Looking back the way we’ve come, we see a tell-tale yellow glow above a nearby peak, reflecting its light on the clouds scattered across the early morning sky. We wait. Our breathing slows. We snap photos. Our hearts no longer race. We watch the sun rise over the peak, and then hide itself behind the clouds.

We continue our climb, step after step after step. It seems we’re walking in a pine forest with no end. We wonder if we’ll ever step out of the forest and catch a view of Long’s Peak. With each step the air thins. At this point we are a little discouraged, for the scenery changes little, we are tired, and we aren’t sure how much farther we can hike. We stop more often, not wanting to overwork our hearts.

After another half hour or so, we hear a rushing in the distance. A stream! Our thoughts turn from our fatigue and doubts to the beauty of the roaring stream we hear in the distance. Now with each step we anticipate seeing the mountain stream, filled with last winter’s melted snow, and we eagerly hike up the path.

Before long we round a bend and see our reward. The stream, eight to ten feed wide, rushes down the mountainside, beating the boulders in its path, clear water flying high in the air, running down from Long’s Peak. We stop to rest and eat a snack to recharge our energy. After a rest, we continue our hike, climbing as far as our bodies will allow. Our hope is to hike above tree line.

How many times in life do we plod along, one step after another, focusing only on the difficulty of the path instead of the beauty all around us? How often do we become discouraged when we take our eyes off of our creator? God didn’t promise us and easy path, but He promised to walk it with us.

Philippians 4: 8-9 (NIV) “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Estes Park

I sit at the edge of the amphitheater where the rangers give their nightly talks. Early in the morning I’m the only one here. The sun has just risen above the mountains, and I stare at the expanse of beauty all around me. Everywhere I look, the majestic Rocky Mountains raise their granite peaks skyward. Even in July they glisten with a heavy winter’s snow fall. High above even the highest of the nearby peaks, Long’s Peak raises its humped back 14,259 feet into the bright blue sky, the tallest mountain in the Colorado Rockies. The Eastern face of Long’s Peak looks as if it has been sheared off like a butcher slicing a large piece from a gigantic roast.

My eye travels down just below the lofty peak to a long expanse of grassy tundra still dotted with snow in its ravines. Yet farther down, another, lower pine-covered peak reaches for the morning sun. Still lower, and much closer to the amphitheater, a long, pine-covered green ridge displays a smattering of the rusty brown color caused by voracious pine beetles destroying the tall trees.

Far below that ridge and about a quarter of a mile below where I sit lays the sun-drenched Fern Valley. At 6:30 in the morning, the sun bathes the flat green valley in a soft yellow glow. This valley spans the distance between Long’s Peak, the lower mountains, and Moraine Campground where I sit. The meandering path of the Fern River cuts through this verdant valley. This summer it rushes so rapidly I can hear its scurrying from my perch high above. Heavy snow melt hastens Fern River’s current and caused it to spill out of its banks, flooding large patches of meadow.

On the near side of the river, elk, 17 of them, graze on the green valley floor. Five of them seem to have eaten their fill, for they lie in the grass, enjoying the early morning sunshine. Others step slowly and gracefully across the meadow grasses, and then lower their heads, ready for breakfast.

I watch the elk grazing for a while and then close my eyes and breathe deeply, enjoying the early morning air. Distant rushing water, the echo of a crow’s caw resounding down the valley, and nearby bird call, “chitter, chitter, chitter” are all I hear in the morning stillness.

I open my eyes and drink deeply from the cup of beauty surrounding me. I breathe in the fresh, pine-scented air. Like the early morning, I’m still….I listen….And then I hear it…the silent shouting of nature all around me. “Glorify God, creator of all heaven and earth! Praise the great I Am! Praise His glorious name!”

I bask in the beauty for a few more moments and then head to our campsite, ready for a new day.

Isaiah 55:12 You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Labyrinth

The labyrinth mutely sits in the middle of the cedar forest. The space above the labyrinth, cleared of trees, provides a clear view of the bright blue sky, dappled with cotton ball clouds. The nearby water of a fountain continually rushes, creating a soothing, watery sound as it splashes to a pool three feet below. The white rocks lining the labyrinth gleam in the bright summer afternoon sun. If I were to step over the rock boundaries straight to the center of the labyrinth, I’d be there in a mere eight steps. I choose instead to follow the labyrinth’s circuitous path. Around and around I walk. My path grows closer to the center, and then it doubles back again, taking me toward the outside edges where I see a sign telling me that the center of this labyrinth represents God or perfection. As I walk in circles closer to, then farther from the center, God and perfection seem very elusive.
While I walk I reflect on how this labyrinth is like life’s walk. God, perfection, lies at the center of life. As I walk toward God and perfection, my path does not lead directly to Him. I curve, drawing near, then my spiritual path doubles back and I walk away from perfection; I walk away from God. As I meditate, I notice the rocks lining the pathways. Rough and rugged, their presence helps me find my way. None of them is extremely large; each is about the size of my hand.

I wonder about the person who placed these rocks in their concentric circles. Although each is small, carrying hundreds of them would be an enormous task! Walking back and forth, lifting, stooping to place each rock on its curved path, standing, lifting more rocks, bending again to place them, an arduous task indeed!

As I near the center of the labyrinth, I recognize the symbolism of the jagged rocks lining the pathway. Each represents my sins. As I walk toward the center of the labyrinth, toward perfection, toward God, I must drop the burdens of my sins. One by one Jesus forgives my sins, allowing me to drop their weight from my soul. As they thud into the dirt, Jesus reaches down with rough, worn hands. He picks up my sins, and places them in rows. These rocks are not placed to remind and judge me, no! They are placed to show me where to place my feet, where to walk next. As I drop my sins, thinking of the grace that allows their weight to fall from my soul guides me ever closer to God. Occasionally I turn around, but Jesus’ gentle reminder that my sin is forgiven and forgotten turns me once again toward my goal, walking toward God. The way isn’t straight, the way isn’t brief, but the way is provided. The way is Jesus.

Friday, July 1, 2011

What Would Jesus Do?

The birds’ singing gradually entered his conscious mind, brushing the last shadows of sleep away. He stretched and uttered a barely audible prayer: Thank you, Father, for a rejuvenating night’s sleep and cheerful wakeup music. Stretching again, he willed his body fully awake. Well, Father, what shall we accomplish today? There is much to be done; I wait on your leading for today’s tasks. After a moment he rose, dressed, and prepared and his simple, yet substantial breakfast. Thank you, Father, for this food. Thank you for the energy it provides my body, ample energy to work for your kingdom and do your will this day.

After breakfast, he walked to his workshop. In the hustle and bustle of the crowded city streets, he wove his way through the throng of humanity, careful not to jostle or push as he navigated the busy streets. While he walked he acknowledged each person, nodding and smiling as he caught someone’s eye. He prayed as He walked, Father, there is much pain in Samuel’s eyes today. Please heal his aching back and make him whole again. Sarah’s face is filled with heartache. Put your arms around her and let her know how very much you love her.

Just before he reached his carpenter’s shop, he stopped at the home of Naomi, David’s widow. How are you today Naomi? I’ve brought something for you and the children. This loaf ofbread and these olives are more than I can eat. I don’t want them to spoil. Won’t you do me a favor and share them with your children?

At last he reached his shop. Walking through the low doorway into the cool, dimly lit room, he inhaled the fragrance of cedar. Picking out the boards and tools he needed to make a table for Ezekiel, he walked out the back door into the courtyard and the bright light. Using his adze to smooth the edges of the wood, he found himself in a reverie from the repetitious, rhythmic work. Running his hand over the smooth wood, he basked in the beauty of its grain. Father, I’m so glad we made cedar trees. Their lovely scent is unlike any other. They provide homes for birds, small animals and insects. They provide beauty and shade for mankind. Now that they’re cut, these trees provide wood for beautiful furniture and a myriad of other useful items for people. How I enjoy working with the wood. It’s fascinating to watch whatever I’m making grow and change. What began as a living tree became rough cut wood that I can transform through the work of my hands into a useful, beautiful object. As it changes in my hands, I think about the people around me. Father, soon my time as shaper of wood will end, and my time as shaper of humans will begin. How ironic that the hammer that joins these pieces of wood will become the instrument to split my hands and feet. Yet I look forward to the completion of Your plan for the salvation of humankind. I gladly make the sacrifice to end separation from you, Father. You have given me the strength and skill to work with the wood, now as my time for ministry nears, give me the strength to finish my work here on earth.

Oh God, thank you for the obedience of Jesus and Your amazing grace in saving us. Guide our thoughts and actions that we too may obey Your every command.

John 14:31 “But the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me.”