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Finding God on the Trail #1

I LOVE SUMMER! I love everything about it. The early sunrise, the sound of the blue jays scuttering across my roof as they search for bugs, and the sweet smell of the warm redwood bark in the early evening as the sun sets in the mountains of Santa Cruz. Among the many wonderful summer activities, I’d have to say that hiking ranks among my top 3 (right after leisurely dinners in the backyard and sleeping in). This summer, I am hoping to make hiking more of a regular occurrence.

I recently challenged myself to go on a hike by myself. I know, I know, before you scold me, I fully understand the buddy system and took all precautions before venturing out alone. But the truth is, I wanted to go alone for some important reasons. Firstly, I often find that I don’t hike as much because it is tricky to match schedules with others and I don’t go as a result, and I want to change that. But this time, it went beyond getting outside of my comfort zone. Truth is, I needed some time alone with God. I needed to be quiet. I needed to step out of the noise, the schedule, the demanding list of to-do’s. My goal wasn’t to ask a lot of questions, but instead to just BE with the Lord and find space to connect my body, my soul and my spirit.

What I didn’t anticipate was that in my agendaless quiet, the Lord’s voice was clear and loud. What started as a restorative hike quickly turned into a wonderful exchange as the Lord began to use my surroundings to minister truth and encouragement to my heart. The examples and lessons I encountered on the trail were simple and powerful and over the summer months, I’ll be sharing them with you in hopes of encouraging you along your own trail.

Mayfair Ranch and Longwall Canyon Loop in Morgan Hill is a 4.2 mile, intermediate level trail. My drive was just over an hour which can, to some, seem silly when there are so many trails here in our area. But there is something about the Morgan Hill area that I find so enticing. The rich smell of the grasses on the golden hills, the craggly architecture of the majestic oaks, the dry, sun-baked, wide open trail that beckons me on the deepest level. I had tried this trail for the first time in early spring and I knew immediately it would become a favorite. There are two directions one could take, clockwise or counterclockwise. The first time, I went clockwise. Covid regulations were set so as to make it a single direction. However, the reviews from other hikers strongly suggested the counterclockwise direction which would allow full enjoyment of the 300’+ breathtaking views at the summit. So this day, I planned to go the counterclockwise direction with great anticipation and excitement.

When I went the first time, we reached the summit fairly quickly. It was a very steep, but very short ascent. It seemed that it took only 30 minutes before we could turn and take in the majesty of the views. Then we began the very long, slow, leisurely descent down the backside of the trail. I didn’t really think this through when I chose the opposite direction. That long, slow leisurely descent, in reverse, was a very long, constant, ascent that began to feel like a never-ending climb with few resting points. It was definitely not the magical trail that I had remembered. It was really hot in spots and not a lot of shady areas to stop or rest. I remember saying to myself at one point “I’ll never go this way again!” At one point, I even considered turning back around and going back the way I came. But I knew that the summit was worth it. I had come for that mountaintop experience and I wasn’t going to give up until I had finished the trail that I had embarked upon.

At that moment, God whispered to my heart. “Heather, on some trails you will start at the mountaintop and it will carry you through the descent. Other times, you will start in the valley and your faith will carry you, knowing that the mountaintop is coming”. You see, I realized that every trail by its very nature will have an ascent and a descent. It is built into the landscape. I think that sometimes we forget this. Oftentimes we start out on a “trail” in life that begins with a lot of enthusiasm and we reach our mountaintop quickly. Those moments fill us up and prepare us for the inevitable descent afterwards as we live in the overflow of all that God has shown us. It makes the valleys bearable and gives us joy and momentum to travel onward. However, there are other times when our “trail” starts in the valley. We are on a path that is hard, unexpected and exhausting. We thought things would be easier as we remember the mountaintops of last season. It doesn’t take long before we are worn out and it seems like everything in us wants to turn around and head back the way we came. This is where our faith and the realities of the trail can drive us forward. If we are in a valley, it is certain that we are heading toward a summit.

My dear friend, if you find yourself on a “trail” that seems unexpectedly hard and never ending, let God encourage you today. Every trail has a mountaintop. Go forward in faith. You will reach the summit!

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