Baseline Weekly - What It Takes to Reach the Promised Land

Recently our daughter called to invite us on a hike with her family. The weather was warm and I was excited to do something outdoors that felt safe and far away from the masses. We met at a trailhead in San Clemente and began our trek. The first thing I noticed was the enormous hill in front of me and the unevenness of the dry ground ahead. There were plenty of foxtails and no shade in sight. I was the only person in the family who had never hiked this trail before, so I did not know what to expect. But I was with my granddaughter Violet, who grabbed my hand and said, “Let’s go Nana!” I conquered the first hill, and as I stopped to take a drink of water, Mark mentioned that there were more hills to climb. I thought, “Oh brother!” I thought this would be a wonderful meandering over level trails with plush and beautiful greenery. Instead, I trudged up the hill, traversing the steepest parts and heeding Violet’s warning to not go too close to the outer edge of the pathway where there was a steep drop. After many, many hills, with Violet delightfully running up each one of them, we finally approached what seemed like the crest of the hill. That’s when Violet told me she knew a secret about what was over that crest. As we hiked she said, “I’m not going to tell you the secret, but we’re almost there, Nana!”

We weren’t yet at the top of the hill when I discovered only part of the surprise: a rock garden. At some point in time, hikers familiar with the trail decided they would go home, retrieve a palm-sized rock, paint a message on that rock, and bring it back up to create that rock garden. One rock read: “He collects your tears in a bottle”, a reference to Psalm 56:8; another one said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Another simply read: “Listen.” It reminded me of the altars built by Abraham on his journey of faith.

Like I mentioned, the rock garden was only part of Violet’s secret surprise. We crested another small hill, and there it was in all its glory: Dana Point Harbor, with its launching ramps and docking points, its wonderful shops and hotels, and the gigantic palms swaying in the breeze. What a glorious vista that I would have missed if I had decided to turn around prematurely. Dana Point is beautiful and significant to me for another reason: There is a little coffee shop that sits literally right next to the harbor. Mark and I frequented that place many times while dating. We had significant conversations there. And on a late night in July of 1985, Mark asked me to marry him right there at that spot. Thirty-five years ago, we both pledged ourselves to each other and to an unknown future only God had full knowledge of. And it was not lost on me that the little girl sitting next to me on the bench that day was part of the story God decided to weave into the fabric of our family. But the first required faith commitment was for Mark and me to say “Yes” to each other, not only on that first day of our engagement but for every day after that. Those days have included the glorious births of four children and a scary journey through cancer.

A life of faith begins when we say “Yes” to Jesus, not knowing how He might weave His story to include us, not knowing what joys and sorrows might join us on the journey. I’m reminded of the many Psalms that start out something like this: “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1). Perhaps you too are facing some “hills” in your life, some rough, barren trails, and you too wonder, “Why does life have to feel so hard? When will my ground feel level again? When will life get easier?” Be encouraged by the Word of God as a lifeline. Start your own rock garden. His covenant with us is for the long haul. He is for you and will “keep you as the apple of His eye; He will hide you in the shadow of His wings” (Psalm 17:8). The promise of His presence is real. I close with Brian Hardin’s words in The God of Your Story, a devotional that is guiding me through the Bible this year: “When we find ourselves in a long season where our faith feels as if it has bottomed out, we must remember the long view. There is more going on than we can see, and our Father is good.”