"Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted." - Matthew 28:16-17
"What have we gotten ourselves into?" - Keith, as we crossed the suspended bridge over the raging Animas River with our young sons, to the the trailhead leading into the wild
For those just picking up on the story, I just returned from a much anticipated backpacking trip with my 8-year-old son Shade in the Weminuche Wilderness just Northeast of Durango, Colorado. This whole trip was in response to what I felt was God's invitation and direction to go on it...so the journey was full of all the excitement and doubt, anticipation and fear that comes along with the idea that you are "following God". We had a difficult and great time.
Our fellow father-son duo, Keith & Zach (9) from Houston, arrived in Amarillo on Saturday, and after attending church with us Sunday morning, we all four packed into Keith's Corolla, drove 8-9 hours to Durango, Colorado, checked into the Holiday Inn Express that my wife booked for us through Priceline, and got our last night of sleep in a bed.
We were up early the next morning, and after breakfast, went down by the lower Animas River (that our hotel was settled next to). We had explored it briefly the night before, so we revisited a hole in the large fence along the riverwalk that allowed us right down by the water (where we found the raw material for some perfect hiking staffs for our boys, by the way). We began this long-awaited morning by sharing with the boys a story from the Bible in Exodus -- about Moses meeting God on a mountain, calling him to take a dangerous, difficult journey -- one that Moses saw as too difficult and gave God several excuses as to why Moses shouldn't do it. All of them boiled down to Moses thinking this journey was going to be too hard for him.
"What should Moses do here, and on his journey, when it gets hard?" we asked our boys.
"Push through," they said. We've all been talking about this trip for a few months now...ever since Keith and I were together on that other mountain in Colorado and felt like God called us to take our sons to this one...so they both knew the "right answer". They said it like they were in Bible class, knowing that the Sunday School Teacher wanted them to answer correctly, satisfied and proud that they did, but sortof unattached to it's implications, unaware of how personally it would apply to them in just a few hours.
And so now, we delivered our brief words of guidance, and warning. "When we get off that train (the Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Steam Engine that would deliver us to our trailhead in the wilderness), we are going to have a long, uphill journey with heavy packs. It's going to get hard...so all day long, we want you to be asking yourself, each other, and God...'what will I do when it gets hard?'"
We prayed and headed for the station. It was very exciting. There are mostly tourists on this train (the ride alone is worth the trip) and it was sort of cool being decked out in our mountain gear, hoisting our packs onto the freight car, and finding our seats while looking a tad less civilized than the rest of the hundreds of passengers.
The train trip was beautiful and fantastic, like a step back in time. This train has been used in dozens of movies because of it's age (over 100 years old) and it's setting (right through the mountains along the Animas River). After exploring every train car multiple times, Shade came back and settled down with me in our seats, and we entered into an anxious silence, staring at the beauty out the window, knowing that our time in this comfortable seat with the access to cushions, bathrooms, and concession cars was about to be over.
2-1/2 hours later, as we approached our stop where we would be left behind in the wilderness with only our packs and each other, we all took advantage of the on-train facilities to have one last sit down on an actual toilet...since our next experience would be on the edge of a rock or squatting over a hole we dug. (Excuse my being graphic, but this is a major part of multiple-day backpacking. Scores and scores of people (not just women) will never lay eyes on what my 8-year-old son saw because they are unwilling to endure this very thing.)
The conductor came and retrieved us. We were about to stop.
As we walked from the back of the train to the front, past all the people in each train car, we heard whispers and utterances of astonishment and wonder: "They're getting off!". Keith pointed out the whispering and stares of awe by saying, "This is cool," and I smiled...I couldn't help but think of the pride that might be swelling up in our sons as they experienced the "stares of respect" as they walked into their mixture of excitement and fear preparing to finally get off the train and don their loads and start the brutal 3000 ft ascent over 6 miles.
I think every boy (and man) needs moments like this. Moments where he walks courageously into fear, into some sort of danger or adventure, into the wild, if you will, where he will be without all of his "climate controls" and totally exposed "to the elements"...but to have WITNESSES of it, well that is something special. Something gets cemented into the masculine heart when this happens...when you walk away from the herd, and they watch...sometimes in awe, sometimes thinking your crazy, sometimes inspiring someone to do the same, some scoffing at the sincerity with which you do so, or maybe something else, but they do watch. I think this cementing in a boy's heart needs to happen repeatedly (and dad's do well to both set this up for, invite, and be witnesses of it for their boys). Part of being a man, I'm convinced, is being a pioneer of some sort. Bold, brave, courageous...not without fear, of course...but capable of facing it, walking into it, come what may. Of course, we need to be able to do it without witnesses, as a matter of our integrity and inner character...but when there are witnesses, something gets cemented. Developed.
Just another thing convincing me of our need for community in this life.
Charles Mackay said: “Men, it has been well said, think and operate in herds; it will be seen that they go totally mad and even commit suicide in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.”
There is so much more to say, but this quote resonated with me after I got home...I felt a sense of clarity again after this experience. A "recovering of my senses." It was good that we were leaving the herd on the train, and it was good that my 8 year old was learning to do it so early. I pray God cements it into him, and allows him to develop the character that enables him to do so in every relationship, every circumstance, every opportunity and every challenge in life.
And I hope God does the same in Shade's dad.
More to come.