My devotional tonight is from the pen of my one of favorite people, the amazing Casey Burton. Casey is a terrific English teacher as well as a WCS alum. I have bugged her for several years to write an entry for me. Here is her masterpiece!
Somewhere on a New Zealand highway, on the east side of Mount Tongariro, traveling in a direction away from the intended destination, the climate in our rental car was boiling to a point. I, perhaps being the most agitated as I had just been scolded in yet another distant country by yet another uniformed official, crumpled my newly awarded speeding ticket and turned the rental car around to head back into Tongariro National Park. The silence in our car was deafening. Three hungry, lost, related women in one car…You get the picture. Scary business.
The plan was to stay at the renowned Chateau Tongariro Hotel. The 1920 Georgian-style hotel sits atop the remarkable and contradictory landscapes we had grown accustomed to during our travels. Despite the absence of travelers seen anywhere else on the North Island, the hotel, of course, was booked. Just down the road, however, was the not so 1920’s, not quite Georgian-style Skotel (think scuzzy ski Motel 6). Vacancies galore.
Days run long in New Zealand, but once the sun is done, he’s quick to dismiss his duties. An hour and a half before sunset, we headed out on the “moderately difficult” Mangawhero Falls Trail—Side note: my students know me well: I am a nerd; the geeky kind who gets goose bumps whilst listening to movie scores; the kind who gets emotional during previews geek fandoms on the precipice. So, it would not surprise any of them (or you) to learn that the Falls were used in Peter Jackson’s The Two Towers…hence the eagerness of forcing a TWO hour hike into an hour and a half of day light. Probably not the wisest idea—and our moods drastically improved. The fresh air, the setting sun, the native, lulling birds on branches singing their most valiant songs, the almost nearly gone sun…
With most things we are eager about in life, we rush towards them without thought to very many other matters of concern. The closer you come to your goal, the more the rest of the world seems to fade out of importance. My nerdy heart fluttered at the sound of water cascading into the recess below as I carefully descended steep stone steps. My prize: The Forbidden Pools, Gollum’s grotto. My party joined me. We basked in the awe of such an old thing; we graciously allowed the spray to soak our packs and cameras, and then realized that no one had a flashlight.
In our haste, in our mess of frustration, in our silent treatment, in the debris of day residue, we ventured out on a trail without essential equipment. New Zealand is wild. They pride themselves on this; they preserve everything and pollute nothing. So there we were, realizing that we would have to make the hour trek back in the dark. Literally, the DARK. One has to admire the tenacity of the New Zealand landscape…the trees so ardent to greet one another above the hiking trails…it’s a beautiful canopy—or, at least, during the day, I have no doubt it’s a beautiful canopy. We initiated the long, unlighted hike back to town assuming that eventually we would find our Skotel home. Arduously, slowly, cautiously, we fumbled in darkness on a mildly discernible path. Life lessons abound when traveling the unfamiliar:
It’s difficult to find your way in the darkness. Even more so if you’re unprepared. Bilbo’s advice to Frodo, after all: “It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.” It’s not necessarily a new idea: Jesus was our torchbearer: "You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where they are going.”
- Don’t forget to look up. It’s no surprise that our prayer lives drastically improve in times of distress “Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
After darkness-walking for almost two hours, and when our fear started to truly creep in, the amalgamated trees separated and we came upon a clearing. God never ceases to amaze me, for the great expanse of the Milky Way had unknowingly been above us the entire journey. When we are so steeped in darkness it can be and feel impossible to know that God’s light is never that distant. And what a light it is…
God bless, Steve Luke 18:1
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