Sunday, September 30, 2012

Can you be thankful when things are taken away?

"I'm going to church in God's country tonight."

That is what I yelled two Sundays ago as I headed out on the trail in the Big Horn Mountains and crested the first ridge. This is what I saw!

It was my favorite sermon I had heard in a while! And so began an incredible journey over the next five days. We would ride anywhere from four to eight hours a day, make camp at a new spot every night, and get up and do it again.

I don't generally pay much attention or spend much time thinking about the day a doctor at MAYO told me I had less than a year to live. This trip, I couldn't get it out of my head. I just kept shaking my head at the absurdity of a "terminal" cancer patient going to almost 10,000 feet and doing a pack and trail trip. Not to mention I did it in between chemo cycles without a delay.

This was a special trip. I've been in the mountains before (not these). I've seen incredible country in my life. In the past my response as I come upon another stunning vista was to say, "wow". This trip I constantly found myself saying, "thank you". Every time I thought about where I could be at this time, about my friends who are suffering from this disease, about my family, I said, "thank you".

Every time I saw something that took my breath away, or a trail mate helped me with the labors of making camp, I said, "thank you". (There's a cow and calf moose pair in this pic)

As I looked for a place the first morning to do my devotions, I meandered my way down to the creek we camped next to for water. It was a gorgeous morning and I took my little stool and my bible from my saddle bags and sat next to the running water.

I had been reading Nehemiah, but flipped to the Psalms and stumbled upon the 23rd Psalm. It took on a new meaning for me. A passage I'd memorized when I was in third grade now came alive.

Psalm 23
New American Standard Bible (NASB)
The Lord, the Psalmist’s Shepherd.

A Psalm of David.

23 The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
3 He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

I had just taken my horse off the high lines from the evening and let him loose in the pasture. He was ecstatic.

Now I sat next to the still water, and the imagery hit me hard. Even though I'm in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I felt like my cup was overflowing abundantly  I felt so undeserving of the blessing of being able to make this trip. I felt overwhelmed by all that God has given me over the last year.

Well we pressed on and hit the trail again. This trip was a big risk. We would be riding into the Cloud Peak Wilderness area. Nothing wheeled or motorized is allowed into this uninhabited reserve. Even emergency helicopters have to get special permission to land. We would be about a days ride away from help if anything happened. I won't lie, and I'll tell you that some people in my life were a little worried about how I would do.

I had prayed and listened and in the end felt at peace that this was an okay thing to do. The second day was going well. I felt great, the horses were doing well, and we were seeing some amazing scenery. We came to probably the steepest toughest climb of the entire trip. I was leading, and we decided to head up the windy trail. It was a very steep grade that we were cutting across on about a 10-12 inch wide path. The footing was extremely loose and sandy.  To our right was the incline and to our left was a decline for about fifty yards then a drop off of a couple thousand feet. About two thirds of the way up my horse who is only five and still learning what he's capable of starting to get squirrelly. I could feel it and spurred him hard to keep him going.

He started to lose his footing and slip down the hill sideways. I quickly realized he had stopped listening to me and was in survival mode. I stepped off him on the up hill side and as I hit the ground I lost my footing and slid underneath him. I quickly scrambled up the hill and still holding on to him as he started sliding down the hill backwards began a tug of war with a 1200 pound animal falling off a mountain.

Needless to say I lost and the horse got loose. I thought he might keep sliding down the hill and hit the cliff, but fortunately he caught himself on a small tree and got his balance.

I was running on adrenaline but could already tell I didn't have much more energy to chase him all over this mountain and get him up the hill. The other riders kept going to get their horses up the hill and to safety. My good friend Chad who drove out with me and really made this trip happen for me from a logistical stand point, let his pack horse loose and rode down to my saddle horse. Chad and Cruz were able to grab my horse and get him back up the trail and up the mountain.

This is the view from the top of that mountain!

In the end I didn't have a scratch (a sore arm and shoulder but no blood), my horse had a nick in his leg (a long ways away from his heart) and we all had quite a story. I did however have a another example of how my amazing living God provides and protects. As I sat on the top of that mountain catching my breath the same words came to my lips... "thank you".

The next couple of days were an incredible journey through more mountains, valleys, lakes, and panoramic views.

I asked you for prayer for direction in some areas of my life. It's hard to be in that environment and not feel like God is talking to you. I prayed, listened, and sat still. There was no audible revelation, but there was a growing sense of peace about a decision I needed to make. As I came to that conclusion a familiar phrase came to my mind, "thank you".

This entire trip was a blessing and a privilege. When I start to struggle and get discouraged I often am thinking about all the things I can't do anymore. I can't play sports, work around the house much, think straight all the time, make plans for the future, commit to events with confidence, and so much more.

I often share that if I look at the activities and desires of my life as a right, then I get offended when I don't get to do them. I am resentful and bitter as I feel I've been robbed of certain things "I deserve".

When I look at all those things as a blessing and a privilege, then when God allows me to encounter and experience them, I'm overflowing with gratefulness. It's such an unexpected gift that I can't help but say "thank you".

This is a good place to live. Simple things like an evening with my son, or a sale at work, or a little spurt of energy can make your day. Big things like a trip out west with some incredible friends, the opportunity to connect with a young man newly married who is struggling through cancer himself, or watching your wife pour herself out to those stuck in this terrible cancer journey while she battles her own demons give you such a sense of indescribable thankfulness that you can't help but want to live your life sold out for God.

Whatever you're doing today, make sure you stop and take a few moments to say, "thank you".

1 comment:

Tim said...

All I can say is a BIG AMEN!