Sticks and Stones

Vacations are wonderful things. You get to go to new places, see new things, try new experiences, or simply see old places in a new light. And sometimes you get to learn things about yourself that you don’t learn in your everyday world.

My family and I just got back from our annual visit to Texas. I was born in Texas, and my mom and brother both still live there. So at least once every year, we pile in the car and head back for a down-home Texas visit. And now that my sons are almost grown, we find ourselves re-exploring some of the places we lived when they were young and my hubby was stationed at various Air Force bases in Texas. There’s always a “new” place for us to explore.

This year we headed back to the southwest border town of Del Rio, where our first two sons were born. It’s a desert-like area three hours west of San Antonio. I have never experienced a more remote and secluded area than the five years I spent in Del Rio. But it is a great place to enjoy nature at its most desolate.

While there, we headed a little further west to the Seminole Canyon State Park to give the boys a real taste of the West Texas desert…raw, rugged, barren and beautiful. We decided to take the hiking trail, which was 3 miles out and 3 miles back. A bit of a hike but not undoable if you pace yourself. It was after 4pm when we arrived, but still a hot 101 degrees with the sun still bright in the sky. We gathered our water and our protective clothing and headed out.

For some reason, my guys–the hares–all think that a hiking trail is for sprinting. I, on the other hand, am the tortoise. They head out at a very fast pace and when I fail to “keep up” they have to stop and wait for me. During the first mile, every hundred yards or so, my hubby or one of my sons would ask if I was alright. After all, I was walking so slowly and I looked miserable. I agree I must’ve looked quite a sight: my Irish ancestors show up in my face as soon as I begin any exertion and I turn a lovely shade of red. Not very comforting to look at, I am sure. They were certain that I was unable to handle the strain of the trail. After about a mile of this, the two older sons got fed up and just kept going.

I’ll be honest. There were moments when I agreed with their doubts. But deep inside I knew I could do this. But after almost an entire mile of hearing them question my ability, I began to question it, too. So much so that I no longer wanted to continue. When we came to the only cutoff that took you back to the parking area, I asked my youngest if he wanted to return. He was having some temporary difficulty with his asthma and I thought he might want to go back and rest; but my offer put new wind in his sails and he took off after the older two. So Brad, ever the gentleman, said he would return with me. Uh…no. You do not leave three teenagers on the hot Texas trail alone…duh. And he said that he would not let me go alone.

So, I sucked it up and continued. Except their doubts were now floating around my brain with quite a few of my own intertwined. It was hot, it was sunny, the wind was blowing straight in my face, and the rocks kept tripping me up as I trudged along. I no longer focused on the barren and rugged beauty of the canyon around me. I focused on my stumbling feet. I focused on the ever-shifting rocks. I focused on my miserable weakness. I even wondered why I should have been “kept alive” when I couldn’t even manage a silly little walk in the desert! Yes, I had now degenerated to the lowest levels of self-pity–and it was a horrible place to be.

The further down the quagmire of my own misery I fell, the harder it was to drag one foot in front of the other and fight the winds that mercifully blew. Yes, I got that word right. The winds, as strong as they were, were merciful, not “merciless” as I thought them to be. They kept us cool on that hot canyon ridge. Without those cooling winds, the trip would have been treacherous…for more than just me. God in His mercy, sent us a lovely, steady breeze to keep us cool, and yet I continued to wail my pitiful laments up to His loving ears.

My wonderful men, realizing that we were no longer anywhere close to the end of the trail and that I was nowhere near emotionally (and therefore, physically) able to handle it, kept trying to rally me with kind and uplifting words…all of which I ignored. After all, weren’t these the guys that had continued to question my ability in the first mile of this journey and had then run off and left me? Obviously, they were now only trying to humor me, since it was obvious I had to continue or else they would have to carry me out. These words of encouragement were obviously not truthful; their earlier words of doubt were the real truth…right? That’s what I convinced myself, anyway.

We managed to finish the trail–no thanks to me–in right at 4 hours. And after all was said and done, we discovered that we had actually taken the mountain bike trail, which meant we travelled over 8 miles instead of the original six. And for some bizarre reason, Brad had thought we started the trail at 2 instead of almost 4:30; so we really hadn’t been out there ALL day like he had been saying all along the way. And glory of glories, my legs weren’t even remotely sore the next day. So I was obviously in better shape than I had convinced myself I was in.

All that to say this: when life leaves you on the canyon rim–with the hot sun beating down and the raging winds pushing you back–focus on the sky, not on the ground. Focus on the strength you find in yourself and in your Heavenly Father, and not on the discouraging words that float inside your head and out of others’ mouths. You are stronger than you realize–sometimes stronger than others realize–and with God to guide you and His breezes to cool you in the heat of the day, you will prevail.

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