Every year around this time, I can’t help but remember an experience…
It was in July, about 6 years ago; I found myself trekking 60 miles in the Peruvian Andes; clearly out of my usual comfort zone in which I live. Way out. No roads or road signs, no hustle bustle, let alone any decorated rooms, or fresh sheets washed in Tide and Downy, no feather beds, no hot showers to start and end your day, no cute little capri’s and summer shirts with the matching earrings, bracelets or necklace which of course coordinate with a favorite pair of flip flops—nothing remotely like that! Stark wilderness, snow capped mountains, silent serenity interrupted occasionally only by the sound of an avalanche thundering in the distance. Here and there were faint footpaths. Our gear included muted colored sleeping bags and earthy green, brown and gray tents. Our clothes looked like they were out an REI catalogue shoot—like zip off hiking pants and clunky climbing boots, bandanas, and Patagonia jackets.
Furthermore, I had never camped out in the backyard let alone in high altitudes! I had wondered if I could even “survive”. The whole time I trained prior to our arrival, I would get bouts of fear. But it really surged terror through me when this athletic, young, twenty something cross country marathon runner passed out face first in front of me onto a rocky street while we were just unloading the bus to go into the mission center! Yikes! I am going to die! If she doesn’t make it getting off the bus, how will I ever climb mountains? I have no hope! She is young and fit—ught oh, what does this say for a body with patina, to put it in a nice decorating term? I don’t want to find the ground by planting my nose in it. Help!
That was only the beginning of many similar thoughts throughout the days to follow. Over and over I contemplated death— I knew I was surely going to perish before I got home. In a moment of brilliance, I realized that because I was so green to the whole trekking, backpacking, tent thing, I needed to look for someone who had experience and previous knowledge of survival in such conditions. Out of our team, I, along a handful of others, was by far among the older generation—and I was totally out of my element—did I mention that? Sooooo far out, like another galaxy.
I spotted a young man in his early 30’s (I guessed) that was incredibly kind that obviously had done this hiking thing before. His compassion oozed as I saw him rescue some man that was clearly as much or more of a novice than I—which was hard to imagine. But he didn’t even train or break in his boots before coming. He was wearing brand new boots—another whole story. But just a snip it of it… we had all gotten spaced apart as a group, and I heard someone crying behind me, but no one else was in sight. Just then, over this ridge, this guy (perhaps my age) came into view; he was the one that was crying! Oh great! The only person in sight, and it’s a crying man! This is not good. I am going to have to help him—me, the going to die any minute one!! We glopped through some mud that just about sucked the boots off our feet until finally we came upon the other part of the team, taking a break. So this angel sort of man—Kevin, helps this guy undo his boots and bandages his bloody feet. Okay, I have seen movie heroes, but here was a real life super hero—Kevin was my new best friend.
More than I can write about, I saw Kevin help other team members through all sorts of crisis as the week went on. As much as possible I walked with Kevin. I not only walked with him, I imitated him—when he ate, I ate; when he drank water, I drank water. When he pulled off his jacket, I took mine off—Kevin knew how to make it in this alien world of narrow foot paths, high mountains, and walking 12 miles a day. He knew which rocks to cross a stream on, when to rest, and how to assess the land ahead. I was so glad to be with him—he had done this before; it was second nature to him. No panic, no sniveling, and no tears. We talked endlessly in that week. Mostly he was in front of me and I kept my eyes on his feet as we climbed increasingly higher. When I thought I could not take another step, I would just watch his feet. I would put my foot where his foot just had been. Each step he took gave me strength to step one more. Sometimes I was too tired to talk—that’s really tired for me!
But I got to know him, more than any one else on the team because I stayed with him. I knew I needed him. I had way more questions than we had time or energy to find out while we were trekking. You can imagine my delight to hear that he was going to speak the night we returned to the city. We were all gathered in a huge squished circle in the house where the missionary lived, and Kevin began to tell his story. I was across the circle from him, and as he shared, I realized I was familiar with his voice and some of the story, but not his face. I watched his expressions and his laugh and thought “ Hmmmmm, I didn’t know that is what he looked like when he said those words or laughed; I only know him from behind, only his feet, not his face. That’s funny; I have never met anyone in quite that style. Usually you know someone by their “face first.” I realized I thought I was enjoying his face more than anyone else; I knew him best. I knew a lot of his story already, and now I could see his face. It was so surreal connecting it all and enjoying it so much, him sharing things I had wondered about, but could not ask it all and still walk. I automatically loved his wife and children because that was what he loved, sounds pretty strange, huh?
Minutes later we began to worship, and I heard God begin to speak to my heart. He said. “One day your walk will be over, Jody. One day that trek through hard places will end. You know how it felt foreign and you didn’t know how to do it so well? Well, you will be home and rest will fit you well. The cries, the bloody feet, the fears, the panic will be done. You have walked with Me. You knew you needed Me, I’m so glad you chose to follow Me. My steps showed you where to walk. You saw me lovingly care for others. You imitated Me—you made it! You knew I was the only One that knew these paths, these mountains, and how long each daily journey would be. But Jody, there is one more thing; you have only known My voice and My feet— one day you will know My face. And you will enjoy it so much. You will see my face as I speak your name, you will see My expressions, you will see My face curl with laughter and the lines form around My eyes as I delight in my creation. You will sit with Me as I tell stories and we will enjoy one another fully forever face to face.” Tears filled my eyes; I went upstairs to be alone. I cried uncontrollably until I could cry no more. The sweetness of that thought still overwhelms me years later because it is no less true, in fact, we are that much closer to that moment, and I can hardly wait. He alone knows the way; He’s done all this before. There is nowhere and nothing that throws Him off. There is nothing to fear.
Weary? Afraid? Nothing look familiar? Do you feel out of your element? Do you feel alone or abandoned? Your feet bloodied and your shoes hurt? Are you out of shape for the journey ahead? Is your patina showing? What ever it is, keep your eyes on His feet, listen for His voice, and know one day it will be His face at which you gaze. Our faith will give way to sight! Our journey over and we will be with Him forever—face to face.
Now we see through a glass dimly but then face to face…