Years ago I went to Asia with a group of people to experience God in a different way than I could at home and to see if I could learn from and help the people we met along the way. I was 20 and as most people that age I thought I had a pretty good chance at impacting the world in a positive and probably large scale way. My fellow travelers, for the most part, probably felt the same way. We were excited and proud to be visiting Bhutan, although we had been warned that the church there was underground and we were not going to be able to share our faith as freely as we could in other countries. Our plan was to pray our way through the country; we would walk through the monasteries, markets, and mountains praying for those around us. I felt like a spy carrying top secret information.
Thimphu was quaint and clean, the hotel was beautiful with intricate architectural design to marvel us. The food was delicious and different. And it was cold. Quite the welcome change from Bangkok’s stifling heat. I was excited to get out of the city and start our 8 day trek that would take us along the border of Tibet (we could throw a couple prayers over the border in passing), through a 16,000 foot pass, and wrap around to the capital again.
We began the trek in high spirits, laughing and singing along the trails. We felt the burn in our thighs as we climbed in elevation. We took pictures of the children who materialized out of no where with their rosy, chapped cheeks insisting they were on their way to school – we never saw their villages or their schools. And we prayed. We prayed and recited scripture all along the way. It was glorious.
Until the storm hit us. There was enough snow falling that we had to stay together because the trail and our footprints were disappearing so fast. My hiking boots got wet and my fancy wool socks got wet and I got grumpy. When we finally stumbled out way, half frozen, into what would be our camp for the night it turned out the tents and our packs were wet and worst of all, the firewood had gotten wet. Our porters were desperately trying to fan a flame out of a soggy, smoking woodpile. I peeled off my wet socks and climbed into my cold sleeping bag with a hungry belly. I woke in the night lamenting my state of damp frigidness. The next morning I was far from the first days of my self-denying and devoutly prayerful self and I walked the trail in a fog, trying to piece together any prayer I could that didn’t revolve around my own sorry self.
Sometimes the journey is like that. Most times, I think, there is probably that point on the trail where we are exhausted and frustrated and just ready to sit down on the hillside with a Snickers bar and that yak and call it good. This week was a bit like that for me. I appreciate that this Lenten season is a journey and this week does not predict next week. We can’t sit in that cleft in the rock for too long; we have to get out and face the weather and hike the mountain. The view from the top of that pass in Bhutan was incredible and I know the view from this Lenten hike will be as well. Let’s keep at it.
Photos courtesy of Camille Hatton, my lovely sister and one of the youngest people to have hiked that pass.