“Oh, won’t you take me, from this valley
To that mountain high above
I will pray, pray, pray
Until I see your smiling face…”
– From this Valley, The Civil Wars
There is something magical about being at Alkulana with people you enjoy. When you’re there, the only things you hear are the sounds of nature and the melody of your community. Children laughing, creek babbling, fire crackling- these are the sounds that filled my ears and that I will carry with me as I begin another busy season at my current church, FBC Decatur.
Last weekend, I got to join together with 86 of you for the annual church-wide retreat. As I sit in the Richmond airport waiting to board my flight to return to Atlanta, I scroll through pictures (both on my phone and in my mind) from the weekend. In the weeks leading up to the retreat, I grew more and more excited as it drew nearer. But once I made it to Richmond and journeyed to Alkulana, I could feel my body begin to relax and the weight that I’ve been carrying over the last few weeks to slip away. I was so grateful for the chance to be back with my TBC people, and to be in a place where I was forced to unplug (I’ve never been so thankful for spotty cell phone service).
During Saturday’s free time, I chose to do the Harper Hill hike. One of my goals for my 30th year is to do 30 different hikes, and this was the first one. If you’ve never hiked Harper Hill, you should. The beginning is a little tough- it’s a pretty steep incline. Once you make it past that, things get slightly easier. As our group of twelve wandered through the woods, we took time to stop and notice things; our guides pointed out different types of leaves and plants along the way; The kids searched for the perfect hiking stick for their journey; we listened for nature sounds that were different from those down at camp. We warned each other about slippery places and encouraged one another as our legs started to burn. And then…we made it. At the top, the sky was clear and you could see all the way to West Virginia (at least that’s what we told the kids). We stood there and took in the amazing work God created around us.
And then we journeyed back down. We made “sandwiches” of people to help the younger kids from slipping as we walked over rocks; we talked about what we were going to be for Halloween and learned the ABC’s of Halloween; we pointed out things we missed on the way up; some of us got a little separated from the group and took a wrong turn, but ended up back on the path; we got to that super steep incline (now decline) and the very beginning (now at the end) of the trail and took it slow. And then we were back, legs tired, a few scratches and bug bites but all of us smiling because of the trip.
The lyrics I shared at the beginning of this post are to one of my favorite songs by the band The Civil Wars. I’d borrowed a friend’s car this weekend while I was in Richmond, and this was the CD in the player when I got in. When this song came on, I knew that is was going to be the theme song for the weekend. The past two weeks have been really tough and exhausting for me for lots of reasons. I needed time away, and the retreat provided that. I needed to be with people who love me and know me, and you are those people. And I needed to be reminded that there will be tough times that will be mingled with joyous times, and that those moments together make up the tapestry of our lives.
So friends, as I sit in the airport waiting to return to the place I now call “home,” this is my prayer: That you will continue to find connections to those around you; that when you’re facing a mountain in front of you while you stand in the valley that you will remember the smiling faces of the people in your life that get you through the tough times; and that you will surround yourself with people who will help you get to the mountain top so that you can be reminded of the good things God has, is, and will do in your life.
Blessings to you on the journey,