Sunday, January 4, 2015

Hiking a Volcano Is Hard

 So we decided to hike a volcano to celebrate the new year.  We chose the volcano, Acatenango, one of three that surround Antigua. We went to the travel company and we were assured that it would not be a problem for our family of four to summit this particular volcano.  It would take four hours to hike up to camp, where we would have a perfect view of all the fireworks in Antigua and the erupting neighboring volcano, and then we would sleep there, wake up at 4:30 and summit on New Year's Day.   Sounds perfect, right?

    Let's just say that things did not go as planned.  The weather here right now is about as perfect as can be--sorry, friends who are cold and wet in Shreveport!  It is dry season here now and it is about 70 degrees and impossibly sunny with a nice breeze.  One of the reasons we chose to do this was that the weather was so clear, we were sure we could see everything from up there.  We began our assent around 11 am and, from the beginning it was almost impossibly steep and the trail is just a collection of loose volcanic soil and rocks.  With every step we took forward, it felt like we slid down two.  We ate a lot of dust.  Our hearts were pounding, we were short of breath and, to be honest, we weren't sure we could make it.  It is a very physically grueling hike and we weren't really prepared for it.  The going was very slow.  Thankfully, we had a very patient guide, Santos.  He encouraged us along the way from up ahead, he sat down and waited beside us when we couldn't take another step, and he prodded us along from behind when we needed it, as well.

    About three hours into the hike we entered the cloud forest.  We were surrounded by huge trees and crazy vines in the midst of the chilly cloud mist.  The clouds stayed with us and, as we climbed higher, the winds picked up.  The weather continued to deteriorate, and we were fading with the light. At five hours into the hike, we had to stop and set up camp at a secondary site because our guide feared that we wouldn't be able to make it to the regular site.  We "slept" at 12,000 ft, in a tent on an incline on top of hard, volcanic rock/soil.  It was primitive to say the least.  With the exception of Elijah, none of us slept great, me, almost none at all.  The wind howled all night long.  It was so strong, I felt for sure that it was going to blow our tent off the side of our ledge.  Being in the clouds, moisture accumulates on everything and the wind was blowing water into our tent.  It was a long, cold, damp night and nary a firework or volcano was seen.  In fact, visibility was so low and the winds were so strong that we weren't even allowed to attempt to summit the next day.  It was deemed too dangerous.  So, we packed up, tried to thaw out in front of the fire and hiked/fell our way back down the mountain. Thankfully, the descent only took two hours.  We were back home by noon on New Year's Day.

    It was hard.  It was disappointing.  It was discouraging.  But, God was with us, and after a few days of reflection and nursing some very sore muscles and bones, I am amazed at the blessing of this trip.  He has helped me to see His truth in the difficulties we faced on the side of that volcano and I believe that they are lessons that He needs us to know before we move off to LIVE on the side of a volcano.

   1) God will take our willingness to go and our heart for adventure and He will supply the power and the strength.  We were not prepared for that trek.  We prayed on the side of that mountain for His strength and perseverance.  Without it, we would not have made it.  We cannot move into an unreached people group that speaks a dead language with no word for forgiveness and think that we can offer them anything.  But God will accept our "Here I am, Lord. Send Me"  and He will supply what we lack.

    2) God doesn't send us out alone.  He provided us with Santos on this hike, and he was a good guide, for sure.  But God gives an even better guide for all of our days.  He sent us the Holy Spirit and He is a faithful companion and guide.  Like a "lamp unto our feet", He will lead us.  He will go before us and behind us, He will hem us in.  We will hear His voice behind us saying, "This is the way, walk in it."

    3) We were very disappointed that we weren't able to summit the mountain and we wanted to disregard the warning and try anyway.  We couldn't imagine doing all of that work and having nothing to show for it.  We had already told people that we were hiking this thing, for goodness sake! Thankfully, we listened to Santos and made it home safely.  Now, I believe that God is helping me learn that we will face many "disappointments" in the coming months and years that we serve on our volcano.  Furthermore, as humans, we often see failure and disappointment (not summiting that mountain) where we should see success or hope (we made it so far!).  Our vision is short-sighted.  May He give us His kingdom-perspective anew each day.

   4) We began to stir around 4:30 am and learned that we were not going to be able to summit.  It had been a difficult night and we were all cold and sore from sleeping on the hard ground.  It would have been so easy to be grumpy, frustrated or angry.  But we were laughing and giggling about the lunacy of this adventure.  Of course we were disappointed that we had not ended 2014 or begun 2015 as we had intended, but we were all together.  This Guatemalan adventure will certainly be difficult, but our family is full of love, for one another and for our Lord.

    Honestly, when put into proper perspective, this camping trip was little more than an uncomfortable night out.  It is a gentle reminder of the truths in the Bible, though.  God has not promised us an easy life where all of our plans and dreams come true.  We are not promised food, water, shelter, community, happiness, good health, financial blessings, physical safety or security.   In fact, the Bible makes us some very different promises.  "Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." 2 Timothy 3:12  "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you face trials of various kinds" James 1:2  Jesus tells us that to follow Him, we must take up our cross, deny ourselves, content ourselves with the idea that we will have no place to lay our head, that we will be hated, reviled, persecuted for His names' sake.  We are called to live obediently, in the midst of difficulties.  We are instructed to be content in ALL circumstances in this life.  Because this life is short.  We only need to endure it, but a little while.  And then!  "After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you."  1 Peter 4:10  Now that is a promise!  I pray that we can keep this perspective when we find ourselves up against the disappointments and difficulties of this life, and I am thankful that I serve a God who shows me patience when I lose that perspective for a moment.

Look past the haggard people and get a look at that tree!

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