I turned 46 the month I led a group of college students on an Outward Bound trip through the Costa Rica rainforest. Twenty year olds can go all day on enthusiasm alone, but my middle-aged middling fitness brought multiple challenges, the least of which was just keeping pace with my students.
The rainforest is as unforgiving as it is beautiful. On the first day, we hiked UP for 4 straight hours in a relentless rain that made the 90 degree heat unbearable. (Most people don’t even know that Costa Rica has high mountains with rugged wilderness terrain, and that you can easily get altitude sick and lost in the same day). Everything inside of me was, as the Brits say, upsot. Lungs desperate for air, sweat joined to raindrops with nowhere to evaporate, leg and back muscles screaming for relief from the 50 pound pack. Hot spots on both heels you pray are not becoming blisters. All while the young ones traipsed with joyful abandon happily shouting out lines from the Princess Bride movie.
It was hard for me to get outside of my own physical misery long enough to appreciate the stillness, the deep emerald greenness in a fine mist that nearly assaults the senses, the cheerfulness of my companions to finally be underway, and the teeming, fecund, inconceivable LIFE at every turn. Sapphire-tinged moths as big as your hand. Armies of leaf-cutting ants-whole platoons of them winding their way through the jungle, carrying, like me, a heavy load with unwavering duty. Cockroaches as fat as mice. Birds singing. Birds winging. Birds, birds, birds!
In matters of faith, it takes a willful choosing to be outwardly focused. To look at this hurting world with compassion and care even when we ourselves are hurting is, I think, the most difficult, and stridently unnatural thing that God calls us to do. The secret is in the abandon. The giving over in order to give out. To give out and not give up.
Much of what Outward Bound teaches is how to keep going in the face of physical challenge, and how to embrace a physical challenge that you know will bring pain, tears, doubts, and, always, the bedeviling whisper that you can’t go another step. What God teaches is that there is a strength from unwavering belief that no man, certainly no devil can match. And it is true for all of our difficulties. In the midst of life’s wilderness of hurt, fear, doubt and misery, God is there to be our strength, our immovable rock. But, only if we let Him. Climb on, and BELIEVE that you need never climb alone. It is INCONCEIVABLE!
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(more posts about the Costa Rica experience are in the offing, stay tuned. Oh, and lest you think me wimpy, on Day 2 of this trip a student asked if he could take something from my pack to lighten my load. I was so grateful! Only later, on the plane home, would I read his reaction in his trip journal: “I took Dr. Walton’s food sack on the 2nd day to help her out. HOLY CRAP!! It was heavy!”