Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The View From The Top (Part III)

Awhile back, I shared a mountaintop experience I had one Sunday afternoon several weeks ago, along with some of my closest in our Singles group at my church. We climbed Pinnacle Mountain, right here in Little Rock, together, on the last weekend in October.

The second weekend of November, we had yet another mountaintop experience together! We'd planned a camping trip to Petit Jean Mountain, near Morrillton, AR. It's a beautiful state park, with campgrounds, cabins, and a lodge at the top of the mountain, and beautiful trails to hike. The most popular one is the Cedar Falls Trail, which leads you on a hike of just over a mile, down the mountain, to a beautiful waterfall.

Over the past couple of years since I've been in my singles group, we've had a tradition of going on a type of camping retreat, where we stay in a nice lodge, and there are plenty of outdoor activities to do. We usually go the second weekend in February. But this is the first time we've ever gone any type of outdoor camping trip together! It was exciting and eventful, and once again, I had some opportunity to learn quite a bit about some of my favorite passages of scripture!!!

My friend Jennifer, who climbed with me to the top of Pinnacle, was also the one I was privileged to ride up to Petit Jean with! When we arrived on Friday evening, it was about 8:30 or 9:00, so it was already very dark out. A few others had arrived early and set up several tents, and several others had arrived later than that and were still gone to eat dinner at the lodge when we showed up. As Jennifer and I got there, the others arrived back from dinner, and one more guy showed up, we realized that we would need one more tent set up, in order to sleep everyone comfortably.

As we worked to put up this last tent, (did I mention that it was very dark?) several of us pitched in and helped, although each of us had different jobs. A few of the guys...Stephen, Shane, Don, Bill...they actually put the tent together. A few of us girls...Cynthia, Jennifer, and myself...we held onto the flashlights & directions. I can't speak for the rest of the girls, but I know that I, myself, would've had quite a time trying to actually put the tent up myself. Without the help of the guys, I wouldn't have had a tent to sleep in. The guys, on the other hand, would've had quite a time trying to put up a tent in the dark. Without the assistance of flashlight-holders, instruction-readers, and flashlight-holders for the instruction-readers (because it was windy enought that the person holding the directions needed both hands to hold them still!), the guys would not have been able to assemble the tent. As we accepted our roles and worked together to achieve a common goal, we were successful...together!

I couldn't help but be reminded of Paul's letter to the Corinthians, in which he describes the importance of diversity in the body. He writes, "But now there are many members, but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of you'; or again the head to the feet, 'I have no need of you.' On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it."

When we had completed the task of assembling that last tent, we spent some time just sitting around a campfire, telling stories, laughing, and just enjoying each other's company. We sat out there till well past midnight...I believe it was closer to 1:00 a.m. when I went to sleep. Or, I guess, more accurately, it was closer to 1:00 a.m. when I went to my tent, for I had quite a bit of difficulty falling asleep. Let me remind you that we were camping out side in tents...in the middle of NOVEMBER!!! (However, I guess that doesn't always mean much...after all, two weeks ago last Tuesday, we had ice on the ground, then by the following Friday, it was a balmy 70 degrees. The following Tuesday, there was a tiny bit more ice on the ground...only to be followed this past Friday by temps that reached a balmy 75 degrees...and that in the middle of DECEMBER!!!) Regardless...we were a little bit late in planning a camping trip. We started talking about it in August, so by the time it was finalized and there was an available weekend, it had to be November. Unfortunately, a cold front moved in a little bit early, and the temps dropped down to about 34 degrees overnight, not to mention the fact that it was VERY windy all weekend. The next day it only warmed up to about 55 or so, before dropping back down to the mid 30s again.

As I lay in my tent, fully clothed in socks, pants, a couple of shirts, a hooded sweatshirt and gloves, underneath 3 large blankets, I had difficulty keeping warm. It was definitely a tossing-and-turning kind of night. One of the many times I woke up in the middle of the night, it was shortly after 5:00 a.m., and I needed to use the bathroom. I fought the need to go with the desire to stay in my tent, underneath my 3 blankets (what little good they were doing), rather than getting out into the cold, windy dark of night to walk to the restrooms. But my bladder won out, so I left my tent around 5:15 or so. I returned around 5:45. No, I did not fall in. There was just heat, blessed heat, in the restrooms! My tent was cold. The bathroom was warm. So I stayed in there awhile.

Needless to say, that evening I couldn't help but think of one of my favorite passages from Ecclesiastes, "Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift him up. Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone?" This Teacher knew what he was talking about...because I am here to tell you that it was VERY cold, lying there alone.

The next morning, however, was when I had one of my favorite experiences, which reminded me, once again, of my favorite passage of scripture! It was such a small, seemingly meaningless moment, but I still think about this metaphor from time to time, and how it applies to my spiritual life. After eating a breakfast, we went over to the lodge, which is where most of the hiking trails branch off from. That morning, we hiked a shorter, easier trail. It was only about a half mile or so, I guess, over to the Bear Caves. There's no actual cave, but rather, some very large rock formations that could provide some sort of shelter. You can wander through them and even climb up them--though I preferred to keep my feet on the ground! It was a GREAT experience that morning, and a lot of fun, to stay on the ground and take pictures and cheer for my friends as they climbed to the top! However, as we were walking over there, it was still pretty early in the morning. The trail was pretty easy to follow, with some rocks as steps. But the ground was still wet, and since it was fall, there were leaves all over the ground. As we hiked, I tended to follow, staying close to the back of the group. It was easier for me, to be able to follow in someone else's footsteps...to be able to see from where they had been whether or not a rock was going to be wobbly, or if wet leaves would be slippery. At one point, even, there was a large step down off of a rock. As I approached it and hesitated, my friend Michael, who had just crossed this very tiny creek-like area of the path, offered his hand to help me down that large step. At that point, it hit me...

I've known for awhile now that Hebrews is my favorite book, and there are many reasons for that. However, even within that amazing book, my favorite passage of scripture is where the Faith Hall of Fame comes to an end at the beginning of chapter 12, with the instruction and encouragement to continue on, running with perseverance the race marked out for us, as we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.

At that point, it hit me...I was, in a way, living out this experience. I was getting to learn, first-hand, the comfort of being able to follow in the footsteps of one, just like me, who has gone on before. At the same time, I was able to be surrounded by people who were willing to help if necessary. There is an incredible amount of strength to persevere, that can be gained from just being able to see that someone else has been able to do it too...they've gone through the same things I'm going through, and they were successful, and I've got their example to follow to help me on my way. That's why I love Hebrews 11-12, and gain so much comfort and encouragement from it.

However, it leaves me with a question, as I close this series of mountain-top experiences. I think of people like Gideon, who asked the Lord for the signs with the fleece...he just wanted to see those things done. Or I think of people like Thomas, who just wanted to see the risen Lord, and put his hands in the scars, then he would believe. The Lord grants Gideon's requests. And He grants Thomas' request, but then He tells him, "Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed."

It just makes me wonder...by being that person that just wants to see...what blessing might I be missing out on?

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