I can do all this through God who gives me strength. - Philippians 4:13
Hello Bethany Lutheran Church! I have been back for a few weeks from Arizona, and I am preparing to leave for the last trip of my sabbatical. Tomorrow I am traveling to Panama City and then to Achutupu, Panama where I will participate in Mission Save a Smile with Chris and Patty Burseth from our congregation.
Arizona was a time for me to listen, learn, vision and reflect on how Bethany continues to build upon Setting a Place for Everyone and my role in leading our congregation. I traveled to Spirit in the Desert in Carefree, Arizona to attend a conference called Leading Well. I was inspired by many leaders through deep conversations and connections. I also had ample time to hike and reflect on my own leadership. I was fortunate to have my whole volleyball team travel from Illinois to spend time with me after my conference where we ate lots of food and I had lots of belly laughs which was good for the soul.
I have lots of stories to tell from my time in Arizona and I look forward to sharing things I learned with you, but for now I am going to share one story that made me think about Bethany’s Lenten theme Life Endures. It was a hike that I probably shouldn’t have done alone. The hike was described as “hard.” How hard could it be? It was only a little over a mile up and then down the mountain, easy peasy, right!?! Well, what should have been a 2.2-mile hike turned out for me to be a 5-mile hike according to my phone's calculation of steps. The hike was on Black Mountain. I started my hike after lunch. It was a perfect day for a hike, low 60s. I told a friend at the conference, in a joking manner, I was going on the hike and if I got in trouble I would call.
Off I went, with a good pace and a smile on my face. I was only an 1/8 up the hill and I was breathing heavily, still no problem. I bumped into a couple on the way down and they said the climb was hard but worth it. I told myself, “I got this.”
Then I bumped into a grandmother and a girl about 8 years old. I asked if they made it all the way to the top, and she said with a big laugh, “No not even close.”
As I continued up this steep hill, my breathing became heavier. How was I going to make it to the top? But, as some of you know, I am competitive and bound and determined. One foot after the other and concentrating on slowing my breathing, I had a good pace and rhythm to make it. The path seemed a little unclear and I found myself reaching up to climb up bigger and bigger boulders. This couldn’t be right. Even with that said, silly me kept going forward. Then I looked up at the mountain and then down the mountain and thought to myself, I am in trouble!
I thought to myself I don’t know what to do and prayed for help to get out of this situation. I took a deep breath and thought I can’t stay here. After some time sitting and wondering what to do to get out of my predicament, I decided I needed to try to remember where I came from and see if I could find another hiker. After great effort and a few tears, I got back on the path and low and behold there was a live body. An answered prayer? A sign of God’s presence in our life? He had a large walking stick in one hand, a long ponytail, and had a 60s vibe. He explained that it was important to stay in the middle of the two ridges and said that it is worth it to get to the top.
My competitive side kicked in again and headed back up the hill, and again I lost the trail. And again, I made my way back and came across the path of another hiker. She said that it was a trail that I was on, but it wasn’t the main trail, and she gave me some advice on how to stay on the trail. Still bound and determined, I kept walking, by this time my feet and knees were sore from trying to maneuver loose rocks and trying not to fall. I kept going and I bumped into more people along the way that gave their two cents on how to manage the path, they were a reminder of God’s presence in our lives. It felt a lot like life, how we endure life. In the times we feel like we are walking alone, if we just look up and pay attention to the path, we will always find our way through the work of Christ supporting us through others all around us.
I made it to the top with a spectacular view at almost 1200’ elevation. The way down was no small task either, but it was worth it! Life Endures in Christ!! See you at the end of the month!
Peace and love to you dear Bethany,