Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Painful Lesson by Chris Kirby

A Painful Lesson by Chris Kirby
*Photos courtesy of Claire Stanton

Several weeks ago the Youthreach had a retreat to Gatlinburg, TN. Last year, it was dreary, cold, and snowy while we were there. This year it was completely opposite! We had sunny, warm weather that made for a real treat after the winter we’ve suffered through. Also, it allowed us to incorporate a hike in the Smokies into our trip. The theme in the youth ministry this year is “Step by Step” and is focused on growing in our faith and living out a life of worship every day in our journey of faith. We used the retreat as an opportunity to develop this concept. We had a speaker share what it means to make everyday decisions based on faith and what that means when it comes to growing in faith, loving our neighbors, and worshiping God on a daily basis.

This leads us to our hike at “Chimney Tops” in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. In addition to giving us a chance to experience the magnificence of nature in a truly unique way from Central Indiana, it gave us an exercise in connecting the metaphor of a physical hike to what it means to be on a spiritual journey with Christ. And boy, did it connect with me! Especially the next day… We hiked on Saturday afternoon. It was a gorgeous afternoon with tons of sunshine. There was just a little nip in the shadows created as the sun hid behind the mountains, but nothing that hindered it from being a really busy day in the park for late winter. If you’ve never hiked Chimney Tops, which is one of the more popular trails in the Smokies, don’t be fooled by the moderate rating. Unless you are someone who is young or in good hiking shape, the climb can really be exhausting, especially the second half when you are going up the equivalent of a flight of stairs for several hundred feet.

The team that made the Chimney Tops peak!
There was a portion of our group that flagged out. They went back to the vans and waited. But, more than half the kids and myself went to the top. I was a little slower getting there, but I made it. Then, we had to turn around and come down. Have you ever had to hike down a steep mountain right after you went up? My thighs were screaming at me. An old football injury in my left knee was reminding me that I was no longer young, while the opposite ankle informed me that I hadn’t fully recovered from the sprain I suffered about 10 years ago and should have worn my boots. But, I made it! And, it was worth it. The views were amazing, seeing our teens excited about a unique experience was great, and knowing that I had outlasted all our other adults gave me a little room to gloat (though I never would). I felt accomplished and all those little aches and pains went away pretty quickly when we returned to the trailhead.

Then Sunday morning came. I rolled out of bed and waddled to the breakfast room. My thighs were so tight. But, they loosened a little. My ankle was in pain, but it was survivable with some ibuprofen. We had worship and then loaded the vans to set off for a land where we wouldn’t have to worry about climbing mountains, Indianapolis. Each time we stopped, I’d have to stretch out my legs and back a little, but I survived the trip OK. Then Monday came. My legs hurt worse than they had on Sunday! Riding all day Sunday had really tightened them up. I contemplated installing an elevator at the house because the steps brought back such bad memories of walking straight up for so long on Saturday. Tuesday was still bad. I walked like I had a cast on both legs. However, gradually the stiffness faded and I returned to normal, but it was definitely a week that taught me something about my spiritual journey- PREPARE!

You see, the day before we left for the trip I told Jill we were hiking Chimney Tops. She gave me the wife look. When I probed, she laughed and said that I wouldn’t be able to make it. I said, “Well, the hiking website said it was moderate. I don’t think we’ll have any issues”.  Jill grew up about an hour from the Smokies. When she was 12 years old her family set a goal to hike Chimney Tops one Saturday. So, they went out for a few weeks leading up to the hike and walked the hills in her neighborhood. Each week they’d add a little distance and got their legs, backs, hearts, lungs and minds ready to go hike a steep trail. She still complained every step of the way on the trail! I laughed her off a bit. After all, I grew up in the mountains. My football team used to run “hills” (with full equipment) on Tuesdays for conditioning. My friends and I would hike the mountain behind our house without even thinking about it. My lungs were conditioned to higher elevations since I lived there. One 2-mile moderate trail didn’t seem threatening to me. Here’s the thing. It’s been a long time since I lived in mountains. My lungs aren’t conditioned to elevation any longer. I haven’t thought about running up a hill, much less in football equipment, in a long, long time. That mountain that my house in Murphy sits on is still there, but I haven’t been there to hike it in several years. Jill had the last laugh.

I wonder in what ways I’m ill-prepared for in my spiritual journey. What parts of my life need to be more fully turned over to God so I am ready to go where he leads? Am I practicing things like loving my neighbors so fully that Jesus has full reign of my heart? Do I take time to know the Word of God so that my mind is engaged and prepared for challenging questions in a culture seeking Truth? Do I find peace in my soul by communicating genuinely with God through prayer and listening? I hope that my daily life could best be summed up by Romans 12:1-2. I hope that each day I am striving to worship God by allowing Him to transform me one piece at a time and more fully appreciating what it means to lead a life relying on his grace! How about you, do you have something that you need to better prepare for on your journey of faith?

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