The Wilderness Detour

The day before I left for my last summer of Seesalt, I drove to Caesar's Head in northern Greenville County and hiked by myself. I went partly for inspiration. I was finishing up the Bible studies and the dramas and I figured some time hiking would help with writing for the summer's Appalachian Trail-inspired theme. But it was also to clear my head. Knowing it was my last summer filled me with apprehension. I hiked as far as time would allow me. I stopped. I prayed. Then I stacked two rocks at the spot where I prayed--my own little Ebenezer--before hiking back down.

Being in the wilderness forces me to be more real with myself.

Sunday morning in Portland, the plan was to go eat at brunch place in the Northwest quadrant that a local couple recommended to us the night before. But while doing research, we found out that place was super expensive. Either EA or her mom then mentioned that someone told them that we should really check out Multnomah Falls, which was less than a hour outside of Portland. I think we realized that it would be wrong to go to the Pacific Northwest and spend all of our time in the city, so off we went.

Interstate 84 travels along the Columbia River, which serves as the border between Oregon and Washington. Once you get outside of the metro Portland area, the road seems more like a scenic highway than an interstate. So after making a stop at a local chain called Shari's (famous for its award-winning pies and totally named after my sister), we wound along 84 until all of the sudden the falls appear in a crevice between two mountains.

We parked and walked underneath the interstate. The first thing that came to my mind was simply, "Wow." We walked several hundred yards to an observation bridge where tourists from all over snapped pictures of this ever-falling tower of water. The spray from the falls showered everyone trying to snap pictures and take video. EA and I stood underneath, took some pictures, and talked about the mile trail that went to the top of the falls; an elevation gain of about 600 feet.

"So are you going to go?" EA asked.

"I don't know. I'd kind of like to. But if you don't want to go..."

"I'm going to stay down here, but I think you should go."

To be honest, I'm not sure why EA felt that I needed to go or why I felt compelled to hike up to the top. But I started the process of climbing eleven steep switchbacks to the top of the falls.

The path was paved, but it was not easy. As I continued to climb, it struck me that I had no clue what kind of view I would see at the top. Was this even going to be worth the climb? The people coming back down the trail didn't look disgusted that they took the time to go to the top, but they also did not have looks of beatific contentment from some life-changingly awe-inspiring view. I was climbing in hopes that this would all be worth it, but I admit that at least a part of me was skeptical.

My thoughts went back to the hike that I took in May and the anxiety I felt about what was coming after the summer. Several months on the other side, I was still feeling those moments of anxiety. I left my job and a community that I had known for nearly my entire life. It had been frightening. It was necessary because I felt called in a different direction, but scary nonetheless.

And to what was I being called? Scaling up the path, that question traversed through the peaks and valleys of my mind. And slowly a knot of fear tightened because the answer even these months later was, "I don't know." I am writing and I want to do that. I am finishing seminary. I believe my calling involves ministry in some form. But I don't know what any of that looks like. I feel like I am in the wilderness. And just like I was climbing the falls path that day, I'm climbing in hopes that whatever is up "there" is worth it.

The difference between the trail to the top of Multnomah Falls and the vocational trail on which I trod is that there were signs to the top of the falls that let me know how much further I had to go. The metaphorical trail does not provide me any such luxury. I have no idea what lies ahead of me in this wilderness. There could be an answer tomorrow or it could be something that I am still searching for months or years later as I take on various odd jobs to survive.

It is sometimes a lonely climb as well. EA is there with me. So are our boys. My family and some friends walk along the path with me as I go along. But there are times--lying awake at night or as I wonder what to do next during the day--when it feels like I am the only one out here. Since leaving my job, my world has gotten smaller. My responsibilities at church have presently taken me away from my Sunday school class and, though I love being able to serve in the ways that I have been this fall, I feel that missing community.

Of course, there is the cliche answer that God is walking with me along the trail and I believe that is true. But the truth of the matter is sometimes God seems as real as a friend beside you and sometimes God seems like the mist coming off the falls; real but more of a atmospheric presence. It's kind of hard to feel like the mist is good company.

I kept climbing up the trail. Switchback 8 of 11. 9 of 11. At some point, I realized that I was actually higher than the waterfall and that I was going to have to traverse back down to get to the top of the falls. At this point, I was going to make it to the top. I had come too far and, though the trip had not been easy, I was enjoying the beautiful scenery all around me. And though I was having an existential pseudo-crisis, the time to think was good as well.

I finally made it down to the observation deck on top of the falls and it was pretty amazing. I could lie to you and say that it was this moment where my life changed and everything I had been thinking about became clear. It wasn't. But the view was worth the hike. I could see the people on the observation bridge hundreds of feet below looking like tiny ants. I could see the Lego house-sized visitor's center where EA and her parents were waiting. I looked out at the horizon and saw mountains bursting forth from the Columbia River. I had hiked a long way.

"God, look at what You can do." I remembered the prayer at Caesar's Head and my little Ebenezer: the acknowledgment that God had brought me safe thus far. I deeply breathed in the cool, moist air.

And I felt gratitude. Five months after my last solo hike, I was standing on top of a waterfall on the opposite side of the country in a place that I did not know existed a few days prior. I would have hated to miss this opportunity because I was too tired or scared or didn't have the time or didn't listen to EA's encouragement to hike to the top. I had hoped that it was worth it and that hope was realized.

And though I am sometimes scared and sometimes lonely, I will hold on to hope.

A Sun Came

Monday Question: Do We Keep Doing This?