Early last week I was trudging up a 500 foot uphill climb on our six-mile trail over rocks and roots with what felt like 80 pounds strapped to my back (probably closer to 40 lbs.—but it felt so heavy!) The weather was hot. I was drenched in pouring sweat and moving in slow motion—feeling as if my feet could never carry me as far as our first campsite. I cursed every step. I cursed my age—my lack of conditioning—the COVID “19” I had put on in the last year. I wondered why I had, once again, chosen a challenging adventure through which to disciple our newest confirmands. I heard years of complaints echoing in my head. Couldn’t we just camp at the state park? Why couldn’t we stay at a summer camp with fun staff, activities, and campfire marshmallow roasts?
I hardly slept that night. First, we couldn’t stay outside because of so many mosquitos. Then inside my tent, I spent the night tossing and turning on my 2”, barely-shoulder-width sleeping pad with a bag of clothes as a pillow under my head. I did not find the right temperature or the right position. I emerged in the morning to drink instant coffee out of a bowl with a lid, facing no choice but to pack everything up and face more of the same uphill hiking I was already done with the day before. Ugh! Please God, let this be over…had no choice but to become “Please, God, One. More. Step.”
I was not the only one struggling. Each of the 16 soon-to-be 9th graders strained under the weight of their packs and labored with the distance—the heat—the food. They wondered out loud why their parents signed them up for such a difficult and decidedly unpleasant experience. When asked at one evening’s confirmation lesson what is something he had learned about himself, one confirmand responded something like “I guess I can still do something even if I really don’t like doing it.”—obviously referring to his dislike of the trip so far.
God’s holy presence crept in and made itself known. First a hint in the rocks, the cool breeze that came off the cold rushing mountain stream, the grand trees with trunks as big as grain silo and tops so high you could barely make them out above you—then in massive, funny banana slugs, privy jokes. Holiness enveloped each confirmation lesson, which challenged us to notice God, to know Jesus, to experience the Holy Spirit in and around us right there in the highs and lows of the day; and in listening to and talking about scripture out there with only each other, a few necessities, and creation.
On the third day—God’s grandeur hit all our senses when we reached “Enchanted Valley” along the Quinault River in Olympic National Park. Our hearts welled up in Hallelujahs when we reached this most beautiful place. This magical valley surrounded by mountain peaks and flowing with fresh water is where, among other astonishing moments, we encountered a herd of at least 200 Elk and lumbering Black Bears right next to our campsites.
God’s Holy presence radiated in the games and laughter in tents each night, the refreshing “shower” we all had in the mountainside waterfall, the solo time—two hours spent alone in nature with nothing but a Bible and a journal. Our understanding of Jesus and how the kind of abundant life he offers was indeed expanded and renewed.
Despite rough beginnings and exhausting challenges that continued throughout the week, we were somehow still transformed by God’s mighty grace. In faith. In Christ. In abundant life.
Ask the confirmands. Best. Trip. Ever.
Thanks be to God!
Click here to view the photo album of 2021 Confirmation Wilderness