Spring has arrived in the northern hemisphere, and along with it signs of rebirth and renewal. For Christians, the weeks leading up to the celebration of Easter act as a lens to focus on the death and resurrection of Christ. Death and rebirth. For the next four weeks we’ll look at how this time of rebirth can help us renew our commitment to self-care—to stay on course with MAPS.
Meet the Devil’s Corkscrew
Every April for the past five years I set out on a journey to do hard things with a group of willing
victims students. Everyone crawls out of bed while the roosters sleep and stumbles bleary-eyed towards the bus. As the only morning person in the group, I flit around and make sure that we have sack breakfasts and lunches, water packs, and sunscreen.
We load up and take off into the inky blackness towards the Grand Canyon. As the sun peeks over the pine tops, we near the park entrance and make our way to the Bright Angel Trailhead.
“Along the way, you’ll see signs that warn you not to do what we’re going to do today,” I tell my students. “But ignore them. You have prepared for this trip.”
Each year, I wonder the same thing. Really? Have they really prepared to do hard things? I wonder the same thing this year as I pass out water packs, lunches, and salt packets.
“Save your Gatorade for coming out of Devil’s Corkscrew,” I caution them. “Add a packet of salt to it if you feel really hot and worn out.”
“How will we know when we’ve reached Devil’s Corkscrew?” someone asks.
“Your body will feel like a baked potato and your legs will feel like leftover spaghetti,” I joked. “Seriously, though, when you return from the river, you’ll go up a really steep part of the trail with hardly any shade. That’s Devil’s Corkscrew.”
Beat the Teacher Up
I take one last look at everyone’s footwear and do an internal ‘tsk, tsk.’ Only one of the 12 students wears hiking boots. Most of them have worn-out sneakers. One girl sports a pair of low-top canvas tennis shoes. I wish I could purchase a pair of sturdy hiking boots for all of them.
“It’s cold up here—”
“Freezing, you mean,” one of the students interrupts.
“—Freezing,” I concede, “but the thermometer on the bottom of the canyon will probably register around 90˚. Don’t wear too many jackets and sweaters, you’ll just have to carry them out.”
A few kids peel off a layer or two. Most of them look at me as if I’d sprouted a third arm.
“What do we do when we get back up?”
“Glad you asked. Anyone who goes all the way to the river and beats me up gets a double scoop of ice cream. Let’s hike over to the place that sells it. We’ll meet there, ok?”
A few kids cheer, and others snicker at my choice of words. I know how motivating two scoops of ice cream and bragging rights for making a faster ascent than a teacher will be.
What Goes Down Must Come Up
Four hours later, I lift my foot and place it on the next step. Devil’s Corkscrew. The freezing morning on the south rim has turned into a convection oven in the narrow canyon near the bottom. The frigid Colorado River running over my toes seems like a distant memory in the heat of the morning.
The cheerful yellow brittlebush wave their shocking flowers in the slight breeze. Puffs of dust erupt under my hiking boots; the particles cling to my sunscreen-slathered legs. Rivulets of sweat evaporate before they reach my eyes, forming a crusty ridge of white on my forehead.
I pace myself, knowing I still have a long way to go. Again, I wonder why I choose to do hard things like this.
The hike through Indian Garden cools and soothes me with the joyful sound of running water in a barren desert wasteland.
The rosy-purple of the redbud trees in bloom contrasts with the red canyon walls and pop against the darker green of the cottonwoods and native grasses. Two lemon-colored swallowtail butterflies flit around a stream crossing. By the time I reach the spring at Indian Garden, the thermometer reads 86˚.
After I check in with the other chaperone, I push on. I remember a sign or a warning on a brochure about hiking in the Grand Canyon, “What goes down must come up!” Going down didn’t take much. Careful placement of feet, hiking poles for balance in the sketchy areas, and gravity on your side.
The Dark Side of the Story
Coming up? Not so easy. The pungent odor of sunbaked mule urine lingers as a testament to those who brave the cliffs from the backs of mules. The drone of bees in the gooseberry bushes sounds like a dirge. The canyon wrens let loose a mournful cascade of notes.
The climbing out of the canyon story takes a darker turn. My mind battles with my body as tedium sets in. I remind myself that I have prepared. For the past four months of dark winter, I had risen before dawn and worked out. I had started running again after a horrible ankle injury had sidelined me for ten months.
By mile 14, I make friends with a couple from Toronto that keep passing me. They rest while I walk, and I rest while they walk. By mile 14 I wonder why I even do this hike each year. I remind myself that I had birthed two babies—hiking the Grand Canyon is a piece of cake in comparison.
By mile 14, I need something to focus on. I’d left the pretty trees and flowers behind at Indian Garden, and now I face switchback after switchback incrementally rising along stolid cliffs.
A Footprint of Hope
And then I see it. A tiny footprint (in comparison to my size 11 boot prints). I smile. My student with the canvas sneakers is ahead of me. My heart swells with pride at her accomplishment. Me, with my Vibram-soled hiking boots, high-tech trekking poles, and foolish optimism that I can do this hike again. Her, with her borrowed water pack, her canvas tennis shoes, and her determination to ‘beat the teacher up.’
She has never attempted something so ferocious as a 16-mile extreme hike. But she has endured other hard things over the school year. Unspeakable things that bring tears to my eyes.
For the last two miles of the hike, I grin each time I see one of her footprints in the dusty trail. I know her best friend walks along with her—another survivor. Of the over six million visitors to the Grand Canyon, these girls can now claim membership in the ten percent who actually visit the river. And they did it on their own power. One wearing flimsy canvas sneakers.
As I round the last bend in the trail and see the Kolb Studio perched high on the cliff, I know I will make it. When I pass through the final tunnel hewn out of solid rock, I can’t help but think that it looks like the opening to a tomb. My jubilant mood carries me the final quarter-mile to the ice-cream shop, where six students await my arrival.
As we chatter about our journeys, I feel reborn—full of energy. Tomorrow, I know we will all ache with weariness, but today, we rejoice in our accomplishment.
When Jesus Chose to do Hard Things
My thoughts turn to another time in earth’s history when what came down had to come up. Jesus, the only Son of God, gave up everything to come down to earth. Going down must have seemed easy. Born into a loving family unit, cherished son, bewildering brother, fiery crusader.
Returning home presented a darker story. He got advice about turning back and not carrying out his task (Matthew 4:1, Mark 1:13, Luke 4:2). At times, he felt overwhelmed by his mission (especially when his best friends couldn’t stop sniping and whining about silly things like position and power).
He suffered physical torture. His enemies jammed a crown of thorns into his head. People spat on him. The Roman soldiers ripped flesh off his back with their lash. Crowds mocked him.
But as he stumbled up the hill towards Golgotha, he saw me. And you. The vision of every person he would die for danced in the heat pouring off the dusty trail. His heart sang with happiness as he looked ahead to my future, your future, our future together with him.
When Sunday came, and an angel rolled away the stone in front of the tomb, Jesus came forth with jubilation. The dark trial had passed. Resurrected so we could experience rebirth.
Doing hard things—especially physical things—reminds me of the hard thing that Jesus did. He left the comfort, relationships, and position in heaven to do the ultimate hard thing here on earth.Doing hard things–especially physical things–reminds me of the hard thing that Jesus did. #Easter #resurrection Click To Tweet
Q4U: Do you ever challenge yourself to do hard things? Why?