Life is like the trail, and the trail is like life.
This is the analogy I used to tell high schoolers while we were hiking through the San Juan Mountain range in Southwest Colorado. The campers had signed up for a 6-day backpacking trip with Young Life’s Wilderness Ranch, and I was their guide.
Usually, on our second day of hiking, after two hours of trekking uphill, I’d get a question like:
How long will we be going up?
And I would answer with the classic guide answer that every camper loved:
I don’t know.
And then, we would continue hiking. Because the trail continued on. After a few more rounds of this exchange, I would bring out the analogy during a water break. Life is like the trail. The trail is like life. There are going to be periods of your life when all you feel like you’re doing is struggling your way up a giant mountain. There are going to be times when you’re skipping and running joyfully downhill. There will be mountain top experiences that can’t be reached without the struggle of going uphill. And there will be times in the valley when you look up and want nothing more than to view life from a mountain peak. There will be times of flat ground, where you are just moving through life. There will be slight moments of relief in the uphill battle, and slight moments of struggle in the easy times.
And you’re not really ever sure what’s going to happen next. Sure, you can have an idea. You can think you know. There are trails that I’ve been on enough I could do them without a map. I can picture them in my head. I know the best places to camp and where to find water. But in the entire two summers of guiding, I did not guide one trip where everything went exactly as I thought it would. There were random lightning storms, snow storms, moose charging our campsite, altitude sickness, injuries, a rockslide, a drought that dried up all the water sources. I came to learn that the only thing I knew for sure, the only thing I really had any control over was what was happening right in front of me. I know what the trail looks like right now, with these people, in this situation at 2:04 pm. I have very little idea what will happen around the bend. I certainly have no idea what will happen tomorrow.
The trail will change your plans, but you continue to follow because it’s leading you. And in the process, you let go of the expectation that everything will go according to plan. It absolutely never goes how you think it will.
Taylor and I are heading to Colorado on Saturday. Our original plan was to visit two places we call home. Places we know like the back of our hands and could picture in our heads. Places we can get to without maps.
But this time it will be different. Like every trip out on the trail, it will be different.
Both of these places – Wilderness Ranch and the Bixby family cabin – are right in the middle of the West Fork Complex Fire. One part of the fire is roughly a mile away from the Bixby cabin; another part is sitting on top of the ridge across the lake from Wilderness Ranch. Our family and friends were evacuated last week, and we’ve spent the last 96 hours watching MODIS maps, checking Twitter for updates and trying to do things to take our mind off the fires.
Every sense of control we try to fabricate is shattered. The fire is so unpredictable that thinking about it in terms of tomorrow is almost laughable. Our only hope is in today. Our prayer is for today. Because that is what’s in front of us. We are growing in gratitude for each new day that our beloved places are still standing because we are realizing more and more that it may not be the case tomorrow.
This is the last thing I ever expected. In my mind, those places were invincible. Nothing bad could or would ever happen to them. As much as I love them, I took them for granted. And the last five days I’ve been on my knees begging from the depths of my heart for God to protect those places. To protect the firefighters bravely battling day after day.
The fires changed our plans. We won’t be seeing Wilderness and most likely won’t be visiting our cabin, but we are still going to Colorado. We have no idea where we’ll be or what we’ll do when we get there. We don’t have a plan anymore, we’re just going to be. Because that is where we belong: in our home, in the midst of the broken and beautiful mountains, with people who love these places too. Because home is not so much a physical place as it is people you love, and the stories that bond you together. Because God is still God, even in the unexpected. And because the trail continues, and we’re just trying to put one foot in front of the other.
This morning we received an email update from Taylor’s grandmother, Ann, who was evacuated from our cabin. Her email ended like this:
Expect the unexpected and anticipate miracles, for with God all things are possible.
And pray anyway,
And so here we are. Heading home knowing it will be different, only expecting what our minds can’t think of, and begging God for a miracle. No matter where the trail leads, we will choose to believe that God is still God. We will pray anyway.