When Cal and I first heard about the backpacking trip through the Paria Canyon with our church, we were smitten. Pictures of gorgeous red rocks loomed in our minds, and we knew the journey had to be completed. Nevermind the fact that Cal had only taken day hikes, and my last full backpacking trip was at age 9. We were up for the challenge, and had been waiting all year to make the trip. The pilgrimage encompassed a 50+ mile trek starting in Southern Utah and ending in Arizona, and stretched across five days. There was no trail, only following the river- in and out, in and out, until we were to the desert place. Psalm 23 echoed in our ears as we walked;
even though I walk through the Shadow of Death, You are with me…You make me lie down by green pastures…You sit with me beside still waters.
(first night's campsite)
DAY ONE: THE BUCKSKIN GULCH
(in the Gulch)
Claiming first place as the largest slot canyon in the US (& possibly the world), the Buckskin Gulch has a cave-like ambiance that continues for 23 miles. We awoke in our first campsite after hiking a short few miles the night before, surrounded by red rock and face to face with the stars. Sleeping outside, there were no tents covering us; only the night sky to hold us close. With clear minds, staring in wide eyed wonderment, we realized that this was real and we were here. And so we hiked: from 8 AM to 10:30 PM carrying our 35 pound packs. We wound through corridors so narrow that we could reach out our arms and touch both walls. The gulch showed us remnants of the countless flash floods that had rushed through before us: logs stuck in the walls, and boulders hung- waiting to fall. We waded through ice cold, thigh deep pools, and repelled a 15 foot boulder. Our journey took us into the night, when we were so exhausted that one step more was the greatest accomplishment of our lives. We didn't know when we would come to the next campsite, and we were weary. It wasn’t until 10 PM that night, that tears began to drop, my soul giving way to the metaphors linking directly to my life.
Lord, how long? How long can I carry the weight of the unknowns in this season? How long until we have direction and a clear path forward? This desert place feels so dry.
The canyon had sprung to life, and my dry heart began to melt with the weight of the allegory it had given me. After hours and hours of twists, turns, darkness, and cold- I wanted to just know how long before relief.
(View from our second night's campsite)
DAY TWO: ALTER ROCK
Our hearts still clear and hips now bruised, we were given the gift of Alter Rock on the second day. A place where deep transformation had taken place in others before us, Alter Rock was a paradigm shift for me. The hike there held honest conversation, filled with frustrations that had built up and hurriedly brushed aside.
I have often wrestled with the some of abstract promises that the Bible seems to hold. We are not promised a certain way of life- not entitled to a set salary, location, job, or relationship. The Lord’s definition of good often seems to differ from mine.
But God, that would be PERFECT for me. Why is it a no?! seems to often be the cry of my insides, longing for order.
Allow me to take a detour and explain to you some background to my wrestling. The past year has held far more unsettling moments than I was prepared for. From Cal losing his job (read about this here), to taking a (half) break from our careers to dive fully into what true discipleship in Christ means (more on this here), to Cal officially deciding to transition from accounting to aviation, we have had little stability. I haven’t written much about this season because it has often felt larger than life, and I wanted to keep it close until it was time to share. The truth is, Cal’s transition into aviation means a big move. While we are still figuring out the logistics of where and when (see! I told you our lives are just a puddle of unknowns right now 🙈), we are praying that this transition will take place in the early summer months, and are deciding between Denver, Phoenix, and Dallas. *Que constant job searching.* There is so much we don’t know, and so much we can’t control, and now you know why I desperately wish for a definition of good that is constant. Life has thrown us a few curve-balls this past year, and I keep telling God that I’m ready for some sweet relief.
I took these struggles into the canyon, and I wrestled with the idea of trust: I know without a shadow that you have good plans for us, God. Plans to prosper the Kingdom and to bring life to others. But when do I get to find out what good means? When is the relief and rest in answers?
(view from the top of Alter Rock)
And we reached Alter Rock, and built alters to leave pieces of our heart behind, and I whispered above I’ll trade my definition of good for Yours.
But even in that moment, I didn’t know if I believed that His definition was greater than mine, and then I looked out and saw towering boulders and intricate details, and I chuckled inside. His good far surpasses what I could ever dream. Like healing balm on my heart, I saw God for who He really is: Creator of tiny lizards and blooming cacti and enormous cliffs. Powerful. Majestic. Beautiful. Creative beyond measure. How could I dream up anything close?
(View from our third night's campsite)
DAY THREE: THE ARCHES
(the top of the arch)
The third day held several detours, which included scrambling up rocks to view our tiny backpacks from the highest of heights, and then hiking half an hour uphill to reach a rock arch that stretched across the sky. Halfway through our journey, my ankles were starting to swell, and I had developed a case of shin splints (which I had personally diagnosed). The canyon was still as breathtaking as ever, but every step became more painful than the last, and I began my lament again.
Lord, can you just give us a bit of answers? I know the season of transition is far from over, but I need something to cling to.
In the stillness of my heart, and the aching of pain, I found revelation. God is the Lord of the process. He specializes in keeping us waiting because He delights in the walk of the relationship. He is not limited to be found only in answers, but in the relationship that grows with the searching. His relationship is one that is dynamic: ever breathing, moving, shaping, and molding us. The scrambling in the desert place is a way to hold our beating hearts close to His. We ask how long? but maybe what we need to ask is how do I meet You?
The end goal is not the answers. The end goal is the relationship.
(View from our fourth night's campsite)
DAY FOUR: SOLO HIKE
Ankles wrapped and heart renewed, day four started out sunny, beautiful, and clear. The first three days we were in and out of the river: crossing back and forth close to 200 times. But now we were starting to stray closer to the desert and further from the river. Our feet dry, and hearts pounding in the heat of the day, we continued to inch along. The afternoon held a hike that we were to do alone. Just my aching legs, the expanse of the sky, and the whipping of the desert wind, I took off by myself. What I didn’t know is how rugged the terrain would be. Up and down cliffs of dirt, climbing over rocks, and trying to find my way to the end, I was able to finally pray honestly. Like catching up with an old friend, I discussed the hurts on my heart, the frustrations of the soul, and the questions on my mind. Able to let go of the idol of answers, I talked freely with God. The trail to the end of our solo hike was non-existent, and halfway through, I got lost. Luckily, my husband and a friend of ours was just a few minutes behind me, and as I scrambled up a riverbank to get back on track, I realized that, despite being placed smack dab in the middle of unknown, I was singing
it is well with my soul. And the whisper came from inside my ever transforming heart that perhaps it is possible to find peace in the questioning and hope in the transition.
(after our solo hike)
DAY FIVE: THE END
I woke that morning to wind coursing through my hair and my back throbbing. We were officially in the desert, and the sights were far from lacking. My pace quickened at the thought of air conditioning that the car waiting for us held, and I felt stronger and more alive. We hiked all morning through sand and shrubs scratching our ankles, my thoughts racing. Maybe the desert place was needed for renewal. Maybe the wilderness is a space for the severe mercy of God to shower upon us. The wasteland, despite the name, is not waste. It is instead of watering hole for grace upon grace to be showered, for the discipline of searching to be strengthened, and for the concept of trust to be restored.
(right before the reaching the parking lot)
The canyon gave us sore feet, and bruised hips, and new life. It showed us hail and black widows and red sand. We soaked in the majesty of the pure, raw, and untouched creation, and touched the stars at night. But most of all, the canyon taught me grace. Unexpected rays of sunlight in the deep caverns of the Gulch, and quick gusts of wind in the sweltering heat of the desert. Completely undeserved and completely given out of the deepest love, we are covered. There is nothing like the quickening of hearts and the whipping of wind to remind us that we are alive.
We are animal in our blood and in our skin. We were not born for pavement and escalators, but for thunder and mud. [Jay Griffiths]