Some say control is an illusion and if you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plan.
Have you ever tried to prepare for the unknown or anticipated a new situation or challenge and wondered if you had the skill set or fortitude to execute the task at hand?
Last summer, our family signed up for a 7 day overnight campout on horseback through the Teton wilderness in Jackson, Wyoming. At the time, it sounded like an exciting vacation and something totally outside of the box of our conventional choices. But as the date approached, I found myself wondering what on earth I had done! “This was MY idea” I reminded myself. I mean, I was a summer camper and absolutely loved adventures as a child…… but that was 35 years ago. What about the bears? How about taking a shower and washing my hair? What’s it like to sleep outside in freezing temperatures? Trying to prepare for the unknown was consuming and soon I found myself on the floor of my closet, cramming in a week’s worth of riding gear and “survival essentials” into a small duffle bag. Should I take the Icy Hot or Benadryl? Can I take the EpiPen and still have room for the bear spray? I was beginning to realize that the flurry I produced trying to anticipate every possible eventuality, weather condition or unwanted visitor from the wild was a futile effort. Finally, packed with everything I could think of (that would fit), I zipped up my bag…… and just to make God laugh, I forgot my toothbrush.
With pack mules and guides, the Benson four, my sister Mary, my brother Scott, and three of their children mounted horses and struck out on a seven hour horseback ride to our first campsite.
Wyoming is gorgeous and I was awed by the Grand Teton Mountains and their magnificent splendor, and completely enlivened by the beauty of our surroundings. The terrain was diverse with wooded pines blanketed in wild flowers, wide-open prairies dashed with wildlife and the sounds of rivers rushing through the gorges paired harmoniously with leaves that rustled in the blowing wind.
I never worried about the riding part of the trip; honestly, I was much more concerned about encountering a grizzly. After all, I was an experienced rider, and the children were comfortable on horses, so I knew how much fun that part of the trip would be for everyone.
As we approached the south fork of the Buffalo River, we first crossed a bog. My horse sank to her knees in thick, black mud and she swayed back and forth as she suctioned out each leg only to plunge back in to take the next step. We made it to the rushing water where large stones covered the riverbed and we started the trek across. The slip of her horseshoes against the slick rock bottom felt unsteady. We crossed the river successfully and I turned around in my saddle to watch my children following behind, as she heaved steadily to carry me up the embankment on the other side.
There was a quick realization that my previous riding experience paled in comparison to the experience and the solid, savvy surefootedness of these horses who knew the terrain so well. Who was I to rein her into exactly where and how to cross that river?
I began to look at my horse in a totally new way…… trusting her to lead the way through the tenuous terrain, allowing her to carefully choose her steps as we crossed rivers, climbed steep embankments, and crested scenic ridges.
I instantly realized that, not only was I going to have to trust my horse to do her job, but I would trust that my children’s horses would do the same. After all, what could I possibly do to affect the outcome of my children’s experience from atop another horse?
The last day at our first campsite, Garland was riding beside me up a very steep hill. When we reached the top, one of his horse’s hind legs slipped off the ridge and I watched as the earth and rocks dropped to the ravine below. His horse skillfully balanced and effortlessly recovered as Garland continued in conversation with unflappable confidence. Why? Because Garland had trusted that horse all week to do what he was supposed to do. Trust. Child-like trust.
What a humbling reality and virtual reminder that we are to trust God in exactly the same way. Unflappable confidence in knowing that God carries us, and we can fully trust His ability to navigate because His proficiencies are far superior to ours. How freeing it is to be able to enjoy the ride and know we are greatly loved and expertly cared for by the master.
Life is full of difficult challenges, and the amazing thing is, that we are meant to go through them. The muddy bogs and steep hills are not obstacles blocking the path to our destination, they ARE the path! Difficulties are an integral part of life that refine us, and build us into the people we are created to be. What a relief it is to know that God also carries us through the trying times of life. We can rest confidently in His ability to navigate the life HE planned, and enjoy the freedom that comes from trusting Him.
Not only does God carry us through the hardships of life, He reminds us that we are not meant to face these burdens in solitude. He provides the beautiful gift of family and friends and community to accompany us on our journey and reminds us that we are never alone.
Christiane also braved every challenge from the saddle of her own horse. She too, trusted her horse to do what she was trained to do, and the presence and contributions of our family surrounding her, gave Christiane the comfort and security of knowing she was loved and supported along the way. Christiane’s cousins rode ahead and called out to alert her of low hanging branches that she couldn’t see. They helped her build bridges with stones to cross the river and held her hand to traverse the prairie. Her aunt lovingly washed her hair in the water from the spring; her uncle recovered her dropped reins as she waited patiently for him in the middle of the rushing river; and, her father led her horse through especially tricky obstacles we encountered along the way.
I was thrilled to find the adventurous camper inside of me alive and well and delighted to know that a clean face and hands did wonders to offset dirty hair. We never did see a grizzly and I never did use the EpiPen, but I did learn that trusting God in the face of challenge trumps my own perceived skill set and fortitude every time. Relaxing the reins, enjoying the ride, and remembering Proverbs 3:5-6 meant freedom.
Our adventure was a beautiful reminder and metaphor of our journey as a family caring for a child with a terminal illness. Christiane is not alone, our family is not alone and we can trust that God has a plan. He is and will continue to carry us through our own personal wilderness of unfamiliar trials, unexplored territory and unknown difficulties steadfast and with unfailing love. We will perservere through the muddy bogs and rushing rivers, and climb the mountains of life remembering that they are not merely obstacles, but they are the path itself chosen by God and intended for us.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you…