This Monday School post is inspired by my backpacking trip over the weekend. According to the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club there are 165,000 or so white blazes on the Appalachian Trail. A blaze is a 2 inch by 6 inch vertical rectangle painted in white on trees, rocks, posts….even bridges to mark the AT. Some hikers forgo a map and only follow the white blazes to guide them on the trail.
I never knew what a blaze was until I had to know what it was. It’s a good thing our guide shared about them because they helped as I trekked the trail alone in the snow on my first AT hike. It seems simple enough, doesn’t it? Follow the white blazes.
It makes me think of the exchange between Jesus and Philip in John chapter one.
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” John 1:43
What Jesus didn’t say is just as important. He didn’t tell Philip to get his act together. He didn’t give him a checklist or any instructions. He didn’t require him to quote a large section of the Old Testament or ask him about his past.
Jesus said, “Follow me.”
Philip followed. Then he told his friend Nathanael and he followed Jesus.
Is it that simple? Follow Jesus and tell our friends about it?
Or are we like the teachers of the law and the Pharisees called out by Jesus in Matthew 23, adding heavy burdens and strict rules? Have we made it something it’s not supposed to be?
The white blazes are easy to follow usually, but hikers miss a blaze and get off course. This past weekend a young hiker asked us if he was on the AT. When we told him we were, he asked us to tell the young lady following him at a distance that she was on the right course. She smiled with a sigh of relief when we assured her she was where she was supposed to be.
That’s what friends are for.
It’s a hard place to be when nothing goes as planned. When everything falls apart. When all your expectations are unmet.
I expected the first day of our backpacking trip to be cold but not icy. I expected the hike to be difficult but not treacherous. I expected good conversation around a blazing fire the first night in camp. Instead, the icy wind storm forced us to set up and enter our tents early where we ate our dinners alone and tried to stay warm and dry. The long night was made longer as the storm continued through the dark morning hours. The wind howled, trees crashed to the ground, mice scurried around our tents, and we turned over and over in our sleeping bags. The morning brought relief from the storm, but ice covered everything.
It was so cold we didn’t want to move out of our sleeping bags, but we ate breakfast and began the long process of taking down tents and repacking our packs. Some in our group left because of sickness or injury but some more of us thought of quitting. Some of us wanted a toilet, a warm bed, and just not to be on the adventure any longer.
Maybe more of us than I knew wanted to leave the trail, but we stayed with it. We hiked through one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen. The frozen forest was other-wordly. Two or so hours into our hike we were out of the ice and ascending the mountain where the sun shone bright on our faces. We ate our lunches on rocks warmed by the sun, then we climbed Little Hump and Big Hump Mountains.
The three day, two night backpacking trip far exceeded my expectations and turned out to be one of the most difficult, joyful, and memorable adventures for me. The hard parts of the trip made the good parts really good.
It’s like that with most anything, isn’t it? The challenges of a thing make the finish that much sweeter. We’re made stronger by the challenges. We learn more from difficult situations and we find out what we can really do.
The hard parts are worth it.
As a young girl, I did this thing when I looked forward to something and especially when I dreaded something. I’m unsure why, but the time passed better when I did it.
The day before the fifth grade spelling bee I said to myself, “This time tomorrow I’ll be spelling these words.”
A week before my family’s move to Chattanooga, “This time next week we’ll live in a new house.”
A few days before an oral presentation in my senior English class, “This time next week my presentation will be over.”
I still do this. All the time.
Before a job interview. Training for a race. Preparing a speech. Looking forward to a trip. Writing my book. It’s just this thing I do.
I’m doing it now.
This time tomorrow I’ve hiked five miles, set up our camp, and I’m sitting around a fire with friends and family. This will be my first backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail. It’s a three day, two night adventure. We’ve been preparing for weeks for the trip and I anticipate it will be everything I expect and then some.
We’ve gathered our gear, practiced the tent set up, and some of us hiked on Sunday to get the feel of carrying our loaded backpacks. The closer it gets the more excited I get.
The weather says we’ll be hiking and camping in snow. What beauty awaits us!
This time tomorrow……..