a trip journal
We are going west, and I-80 is a ribbon glowing with taillights and moonlight. Semi-trailers and summer travelers creating a caravan at 75 miles per hour, maybe, like us, seeing how many miles we can cover before midnight.
I read books this summer instead of writing my own, mostly because I felt afraid and underequipped to produce my own words. I’m not sure why I’m suddenly obsessed with qualification when that has never been a prerequisite for God to work in my life in the past, but here I am. Regardless of how or why I am here, the progression of books that landed in my lap over the past few months have been critically formative for me and I am thankful for how God saw fit to lead me in spite of my pride and insecurity. I started with Safe All Along (Katie Davis Majors), then Create Anyway (Ashlee Gadd), What if It’s Wonderful (Nicole Zasowski), and then Adorning the Dark (Andrew Peterson). From Katie, I re-learned that God can. From Ashlee, that He does. From Nicole, that He will, and from Andrew – that He still can, even in spite of me.
And that’s what gave me the courage to start putting words on paper again. “Hope maketh not ashamed”, but I have been living as though it does, detached and wary, fighting for peace but not confident that it’s possible in this here and now… knowing what my calling is but doubting that anything I could do would be a means to that end.
But the voice of truth tells me a different story – that “being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”
Glory, Andrew Peterson writes, is “when something does what it was made to do”. God, doing what He says He will do, and me, doing what He has told me to do, and that is how His creation works. Any other way, and it’s true – peace is not possible in this here and now.
To be painfully honest with myself, our summer travel destination is not as exciting to me right now as I had hoped for. I reserve the right to retract those words later, because we aren’t there yet and we haven’t actually done the trip yet. But I had hoped for a new state, a new place, a new national park – something to really check off my mental bucket list. In the end, we’re not going as far as Arches, and Sedona is too hot right now, and the Tetons are for another time. So we’re back to Colorado, where we’ve been before. It’s a different place, actually – all of it will be new to us. But it just doesn’t scratch the bucket list itch for me.
What it has done, however, is made me much more intentional and preparatory for the journey. If I have been here before, I should know what to take, and I can focus on making the journey a smooth one – instead of the journey being an afterthought. The destination is known enough for me to do the journey well. And so I pulled out four Eddie Bauer duffel bags that I had passively ordered at different points in the past year when they went on sale, and four matching Eddie Bauer hiking backpacks, and made sure each child was individually equipped with what they needed. And now we are on the road.
I wonder if Romans 5:3 (“And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also, knowing that tribulation worketh patience, and patience, experience, and experience, hope…”) can be applied to more of my life than I have ever thought before. The points of the journey that cause grief and distress, the pressure points, the forgotten things, the frustrating setbacks – those are, of course, the very things that we do differently the next time. Put simply, we learn from our mistakes. And so there is always hope that the future could be different than what we have experienced before, because we are never approaching any new situation without the experience of the old one. Hope is not aimless or naïve – it is a quality produced out of and within every single rough patch – big or small, that we have ever found ourselves in before. Hope is not the blind faith that I believed it to be when I did a symposium project in AP English on “faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of these is love”. Hope is hard-won, produced out of struggle – and so when we are experiencing hope, we can trust it to be something that will take us somewhere – not something we need to be afraid of. Hope compels us forward.
And so, I set out hopeful this time – remembering past mistakes, where I didn’t put enough time and energy into the journey – the road trip itself, and everyone ran out of things to do by the Iowa border. Hopeful not just for the destination, but also that the journey could be part of the beauty. Our trip is too short for us to be going only for the destination, honestly. We are driving out for a day and a half, spending three whole and two half-days in Colorado, and then driving back home for another day and a half. With the journey comprising that much of our trip, the journey needed to be done well in order for it to be a good trip.
I count it as a success that everyone was surprised when we reached the Colorado border. Grant was surprised by the gas prices. I was surprised that we could still sort of maneuver around the van – it wasn’t totally trashed yet. The kids were surprised because we were in Colorado. “Already?!” they exclaimed. The trip had not yet grown tedious. Maybe it never would. And maybe it was because we are learning to view the journey as an important part of the trip – worth preparing for, and worth doing well.
Hope does the journey whole-heartedly.
Evening sweatshirt weather and morning hot coffee weather were part of our draws to return to Colorado for this family trip. The temperatures this week haven’t disappointed. It turns out that the place we booked our Airbnb was really a place much like our hometown, just in the mountains instead of the cornfields. Not a touristy place at all – just a place centrally located to the areas we wanted to visit. We rolled in on Monday night, stuck supper in the oven, and ate it on the front porch. Then we set out on foot to see what there is to see in Green Mountain Falls. The local bulletin informed us that there was music in a pavilion on Monday nights, and so of course we followed anyone who was walking with chairs on their backs to the place where we could hear banjo and violin. We tapped our feet appreciatively a little while, then wandered further to a local park, bordered by a fishing pond on one side and an icy cold creek on the other. We played and listened to music until threatening thunderstorms made us question how quickly we could make it back to the house. It was the perfect way to get our bearings – to be part of the local culture for a couple of hours.
We got home from our first day of hiking the next evening and flung the windows open to let in the fresh highland air and bundled up a little bit. Grant graciously took the kids out to the front porch for a card game or two so as to put a bit of distance between me and them. On one hand, I am so thankful to be, it seems, the center of their world – the person they must tell and who must hear everything that they have ever said. If they told it to someone else and I didn’t hear, or at least they think I didn’t hear, they will come and repeat it to me. If they found a wildflower, got a scrape, have a rock in their shoe, or just are tired or hungry or thirsty, I must know. I am grateful for this glimpse into their minds, and I wouldn’t want them to feel like they need to go elsewhere with these seemingly minor details. At the same time, on our way back down the mountain this afternoon I found myself very weary of the details and also very weary of one particular child who seemed to be unable to just be without my attention.
Exhaustion doesn’t tell the whole story though.
Truly, the whole story was that we had such a good day. The morning was neither fast nor slow – the kids did some hot-tubbing while breakfast was cooking and then after breakfast we didn’t linger too long before packing lunches and setting out on the agenda of the day. I had happened upon online reviews for The Crags Trail and decided it looked like it would be perfect for us. We arrived and there were restrooms at the trailhead, which was the first good sign that indeed, it might be perfect for families. From there, we began a steady incline that had me doubting for a few minutes… but we reached a bit of level ground just in time to catch our breath. The red, gravelly path wasn’t at all marked by signs but was just distinct enough to make the route clear. It took us steadily uphill through first pine woods, then past a large area full of granite slabs and stones, massively impressive to the boys and perfect for climbing. Out into a meadow we wandered then, a little flatter and finally with views that suggested there was much, much more ahead.
“Is that where we are going?”, the boys pointed ahead and wondered. I didn’t know. We hadn’t ever traveled this path before and neither Grant nor I were certain what the summit would look like. About at that time, another group of hikers came down toward us, and we asked them how close we were to the top. “Close!” she responded, but then hesitated when Grant wondered if we were for sure over halfway. “But it’s so fun at the top!” she assured us. That, and the intrigue of what we could see ahead compelled us all forward; we had caught a glimpse at least. It was enough to compel us to keep moving.
It was woods again then for a while, clouding our view of where we had set our hope, and the path was steep. It may have been that about that time the weight of the three-year-old on my back was beginning to feel heavier. Horizontal roots across the path formed a staircase of sorts, holding back the gravelly dirt and preventing us from just sliding down with every step. We climbed, climbed, climbed. Another traveler we passed suggested we were only about a quarter mile from the top. Keep going, keep going, keep going.
All along we followed a mountain stream, gurgling and rushing over rocks and pebbles. It was leg-numbing cold when we waded for a few minutes, but it was a constant reminder of movement and life. It tumbled along, slowly over time smoothing anything in its path, carving its own way, always in pursuit of where it was going.
Gradually, the trees got shorter (the species changed) and the woods gave way to enormous boulders. “You all are troopers!!” a fellow encouraging hiker called to us. Her words propelled me forward, further toward the top. Pine and tufts of wildflowers and grass still sprung out from between the rocks, little and big, but more and more clay-colored stone appeared, and finally, we broke out of the woods. The path continued, but widened, and Grant wondered, “Is this it? Like is all of this the top?”
“It seems like the trail is still going…?”
We followed it because it was still going, still not sure what it would look like to have actually accomplished what we set out to do. And then we found it. The summit was clear, there were people there – taking in the view – but even if there hadn’t been, we would have known it was the top. You could just tell we had arrived.
We summited as a family and it was a beautiful experience. The kids were so delighted at the view and felt so accomplished. It was breezy and chilly, but sunny and clear skies, and “you can see the whole world from here!”, or so the children claimed.
There were actually a few other hikers up there without companions. I found it striking that some of them were in Facetime conversations, sharing the view with whoever was significant to them that was not present. I’m certain that being on the other side of that screen was absolutely nothing like actually being there at 10,800 feet. I’m certain the hikers themselves knew that. But what is it to reach where you’ve wanted to go, if there is no one to share it with you?
We enjoyed the views for a while, but it was precarious with the five-year-old who doesn’t know his limits, and so before long we started back down to find a flat and sunny spot for lunch. We opened what we had packed in preparation for this part of the journey. Sandwiches, almonds, carrots, nectarines, and sports drinks were consumed quickly. I laid back on a rock in the sun, soaking up the rays and stretching my weary legs. The same fellow hiker walked by again on her way back down… “not all superheroes wear capes, Mom & Dad!! Not all superheroes wear capes.”
Her words blessed me. She saw us in our journey. She commended us. She encouraged us. She saw that what we set out to do was good. She gave me hope – that the effort of choosing trails over theme parks was worthwhile. Maybe this would be formative for our children, even in more ways than I can anticipate right now. Her words were directed not only at the kids but also at us – she saw us behind our children.
This evening I browsed through pictures that my oldest child took on her camera during our hike today. I was pleasantly surprised to find some sweet photos that gave me a glimpse into her perspective on our day. She has much to learn about what to put in the screen and where to focus, but she has begun the journey.
Hope gives purpose to the pain.
“It’s an act of faith,” Grant told us all, as we hovered over the railing, staring far, far down to the rumbling Arkansas River at the bottom of the Royal Gorge. He was referring to the gondola ride across that we were about to experience – trusting that the cable would, indeed, suspend us in the air for the proper length of time and for the proper distance.
It’s all faith – the taking a child by the hand and leading them to a place neither of us have ever been before, a hope that trusts we’ll be better off for having experienced this. The gorge itself, truly a segment of Creation to marvel at – it takes faith to believe that it was created by the Creator who did it on purpose, and not over the course of 16 billion years like the historical film predictably told us it was. Creator God gave us that gorge as an act of love, an assurance of His presence, and an evidence of His Majesty. “We believe in the one true God, Father, Spirit, Son!” the kids had sung as we trekked along the previous day, taking the trail step by step. “One church, one faith, one Lord of all – His Kingdom come.” It’s all Him – the Creator of the gorge and the Creator of the man who had the idea to span the gorge with a long and tall suspension bridge, and the Creator of the math needed to make it safe to walk across. Not one thing happens without His command. Hope, believes that.
We walked to the center of the bridge and stared down, tracing the path of the whitewater rafts below with our eyes. It hardly seemed dangerous, the kids thought. From so far away, the rocks weren’t threatening. But the power of the water to thrash you over those rocks and send you off-course, they had never experienced. Once you’ve experienced something, you know the danger. But you also know it’s possible to make it out alive. And so when we keep going, it’s not because we’re naïve, unaware. Sometimes it is – God uses naivety. But often it’s because, whitewater rafting aside, we know the God who has brought us out before.
Sun-tired, we piled back into the van and began the return trip back north to the tiny, tucked-away village we’re staying in. Our path takes us through the highlands – literally, the higher land. Hills roll gently into one another and the road through is anything but straight, curving, rising, and falling with the land, leading past ranches, “Cow X-Ing” signs, and fences. Every shade of green is represented among the grass and trees – the land is anything but parched. Muted blue clumps of wild grass, brambly bushes with yellow flowers, and long stems of lavender and white make every square mile unique, and make known, again, that every square mile was intentionally designed by a Master Landscaper. It makes me want to go home and plant some more wildflowers.
Occasionally, the hills dip enough or the mountains rise enough to make them visible, gracing the backdrop of the highland with deep blue, gray, and brown. I should have tried to snap some pictures either this morning or the afternoon, but the depth and color have just felt impossible to capture. “Creation sings the Father’s song”, and here we are too, as His Creation.
Hope embraces His command.
The first half-mile of any hike has been the most difficult for us. That’s how it is anytime you start out on something new, I suppose – the first part is where you’re not sure if you have chosen the right course of action, if it will be worthwhile, if the pain will be purposeful. This is the part where everyone is stretching their legs again for the first time after sitting for a while. Sore muscles from yesterday re-appear and we remember again how we are at 8,000 ft. It takes our bodies a bit to settle back in to the rhythm of walking, to breathe evenly again, and for the steps to become second nature. After that we can begin to enjoy ourselves – observe the surroundings, greet our fellow travelers, and consider what the end will be like.
So it was at Garden of the Gods. It wasn’t until we made it around a bend and started climbing and everyone settled in that we actually started making progress. We climbed up, up, up over red rock and red dirt, rising above the road for a better view than we’d have been able to have just by staying in the van. Winding through yucca plants that we’d just learned to identify at the visitor center and between other green plants, we hiked to where the view gave way to the whole garden. Again, it was decided that the climb was worth it. We routed off into the park then, descending down into the crowds and rocks to climb before finally making our way back to the van to find a place for lunch.
It had been a good morning, but the heat had worn us out and it showed up suddenly when a shady lunch spot began to seem elusive. The minutes ticked by and the maps weren’t showing any good options and the attitudes were descending quickly. Backseat griping resulted in complete fallout when we finally stopped.
Lunch is definitely one of those things that is better late than never, though, and we got enough food in our systems to make good souvenir decisions at the Trading Post. Then we took off across town to find a good place to play mini golf. Rain threatened to ruin those plans, but ultimately it didn’t. We changed into dry clothes and made our way back across town to the Flying W Wranglers.
I had read about the history of the Flying W Chuckwagon suppers, how they had started in 1953 with a ranch wife feeding a handful of paying customers for $3 each when they came out to take a tour of the ranch. The humble beginnings inspired me – what she had done with what she had. I think their vision was always bigger than that, but they were willing to start right there where they were, with what they had. Years later when the Flying W had become a significant event, wildfire destroyed the property. I think I sometimes get the idea that if my ideas are worthwhile enough, they will be safe… but this was a worthwhile idea and it was destroyed. It didn’t mean there was something wrong with it, or it shouldn’t be there. It’s just that it was being made into something different.
I viewed the dinner and show through the lens of having just finished Andrew Peterson’s “Adorning the Dark”. It was art in so many forms, and it was art that pointed to God, if you were looking for it. It was a story of culture that resonated with each member of the audience in a different way, and it was music performed live by talented people. In an age where you can “watch” anything and think you’ve had the full experience – it was amazing to see the value of being present in a place with other people, appreciating and enjoying the same thing all together. Andrew’s book had mentioned that artists need audience participation and appreciation, and that was reflected in the show that evening. Were there no audience, there would be no show… and the energy comes from the interaction between performer and listener.
That’s why God involves us. He isn’t a show. But He is a Creator with a Story. And He wants us in the audience, calling back to Him, letting Him know we hear Him and we see ourselves in His Story. In the case of God, it’s a call to worship, to join with the church in gathering around His plan, finding our strength in it, and then going out and making it known to others. “If you liked this show, tell others about it!”, the owner asked us. God is glorified when we invite others to come, and taste, and see.
“I didn’t want it to end,” one of the children commented as we left the pavilion for the parking lot. Realistically, it couldn’t go on forever, not at the speed that that fiddle player played “Orange Blossom Special” but we were all sad to see it finish. It wasn’t a dead-end activity though. It wasn’t entertainment that you consume and it still leaves you a little bit hungry afterwards. It was entertainment that pushed you to pursue your own talent, whatever it is. It filled you, and sent you out ready to tackle a project. Tin plates and cups are their calling, and what is mine? What is it that God is asking me to do with my kitchen as it is and our family as it is?
Hope believes that when I follow Him, I will not be ashamed.
The last remaining bucket list item was to find a creek and a bridge and play in the creek, per the youngest child’s request. The title “Seven Bridges Trail” implied that it would maybe meet those criteria, and it did. We drove up an old railroad bed first, hugging the side of the rock carefully so as not to lose half of the minivan off of the steep edge. Rounding one bend in particular we found ourselves approaching a tunnel through the rock, indicating that this was a true adventure. We kept driving until finally there was a parking lot. Lunch in the backpack and hiking carrier snugly strapped, we searched for and found the trailhead.
The littlest and I stayed at a bridge to throw rocks in the water. The big kids and daddy headed on up the creek, climbing through water. Grasping for sticks and rocks and spaces wide enough to plant their feet, they took one step and then another up the creek. It was all fine, they reported, until they turned around and started coming down. Movement was much slower, and “gravity wasn’t on our side,” Grant offered as he attempted to convey why the five-year-old returned soaking wet. Almost without missing a beat, the five-year-old added, “but good thing you were on my side!”
That’s the way it is with new territory… it’s not about where we are but it is about whom and Whom we are with. And God taught me that in a powerful way on this family trip – this one where I wasn’t sure about our destination. God went before us… He showed us where to take the kids and how to schedule our time and where to stay and what to say in order that we might be able to spend quality time together.
It was a good trail, and it was hard to say goodbye to it. We knew as we walked away from the creek for the last time that after we left Colorado Springs, there would not be much more to see. Vacation was more or less over when we returned to the van. Cameras, and especially not IPhone ones, couldn’t capture the light the way it was coming down through the hole in the treetops onto the red, gravely creek bottom. It was a place you had to be. We could carry it home in our hearts, but that was all.
As we began our trip east, we began to find home life crowding back in again. It made me realize that this had truly been a sacred time together. Our elevation came back down slowly as we descended toward Kansas, and I found it comforting. We had come to these mountains and begun climbing almost without realizing it. I’m afraid sometimes of the mountains I see ahead of me in life, but it occurred to me that when I reach them, the climb will likely be gradual. The foothills will be first, and I’ll walk them maybe almost without noticing. My legs will start to hurt after a bit, but there is a God who goes before me and plans my path. He does nothing abrupt, and nothing without purpose.