Sunday, August 06, 2006

Mountains where you least expect them...

My friend, Susan, posted a wonderful homily entitled "Coming Down the Mountain". In it she talks about how we must come down from the mountain, a high spiritual plateau, to deal with day to day life in all its struggle and needs. I love how she can bring the spiritual to our realities. Yesterday I had my own mountain of sorts. It wasn't quite what I had envisioned, but then reality seldom is.

My mountain was the desire to be strong and self reliant. God can help with a lot of life's challenges but you need to take care of your responsibilities too. In my efforts to see myself as strong I went beyond what was reasonable. Heck, I went beyond what was safe.

Living near the Hill Country there are lots of beautiful places you can go explore. You can enjoy the beauty of God in the untamed wilderness or on somewhat prepared and marked nature walks. There is such a walk on church property in the town of Wimberley. I had been up there before and wanted to go again. It felt so good up there in that beautiful place that I thought I would enjoy doing the 2 mile nature walk that is maintained by members of the church. So, on Saturday morning I got a bottle of water, put on my hat and walking shoes, and headed off to Wimberley. I thought I had planned carefully.

When I got to the church the time was no longer early morning and the temperature was headed into the 90's. There were breezes blowing though, I had my water, and there were lots of trees for shade so I thought I would be ok. I considered taking my cell phone but then didn't because if I had wanted to call for help I had no one in Wimberley that I knew to call and the town is far enough from my own that 911 wouldn't have gotten me anywhere. So I left it in the car.

The trail starts with a map that shows a couple of short cuts which will bring you quickly back to the beginning. So I thought I would just do the first small loop. It was less than half a mile. What I hadn't known was that along the trail there were Stations of the Cross markers. Those quickly hooked me in and I decided to do the stations. That meant walking the entire 2 mile trail. There were benches frequently along the way so I would be able to rest if needed. One of the neat things about this particular trail is that it is lit at night. You can walk it 24/7. Wow, doing Stations of the Cross by starlight!

I love Stations of the Cross. It is a truly moving and emotion filled ritual that always brings me closer to God. While walking these I found myself considering the need for self reliance and the possibility of being a single Christian. This isn't the type of life I imagine having. I would much prefer to find a lifemate and spend our lives together growing in faith and service to God. But it is a possibility. Enough of one to make me sad. I spent some time on that walk both communing with God about it and trying to come to terms with that possible fate. The stress of that had me in a rather emotional place when I got to the last of the stations. Realizing that you need to depend on God for something, instead of yourself, isn't conducive to feeling strong and self reliant. I didn't think that had anything to do with my nature walk. Maybe I was wrong.

Everything had been going fine until I got to the end of the stations. The beginning of them and the end tend to overlap at that point on the trail. The arrows on the occasional sign didn't really help me decide which way to go and the numbers somehow got confusing at that point. I ended up walking in a couple of circles and also some back and forth along the trail as I would start in one direction and then decide that was the wrong way to go and head back the way I had just come. After doing this a little while I realized I was lost. That was scary.

It is amazing how easily I can get lost. I don't do north, south, east and west. I do right and left. I have gotten lost driving around in a two block area. That is so ridiculous. What on earth can you do in a two block area but figure eights? It makes me really mad at myself when I don't navigate correctly. So here is my self-reliance going down the drain. Sheesh.

I started praying on that trail. Visions of sitting on a bench till anyone came along wasn't making me feel at all safe. Who knew when someone would next decide to walk that trail? By now it was noon and the temperature, my distress, plus a bit of exhaustion had my heart pounding. I started trying to be smart. I looked for those shortcuts. I found them but they didn't seem to help. I would find myself on the same path again but at a different point.

Eventually I found a fence line which showed me a road. That wasn't quite right but it got me closer to the church. I could see the buildings off in the distance. I started looking for a certain sign that had shown me the way had a different type of arrow. I never did find that one but I did find one of the lights that the church had set in. Suddenly I remembered that the lights at the beginning had been really huge and on poles. So I started looking for those. It was the lights that took me to the end of the trail. I was not immune to the thought that God was "being a light unto my path."

When I reached my car it was after noon and I was exhausted, sweating, my heart was pounding, and my foot was trying to cramp. I sat down in the door of my car and just breathed. There was a truck with a couple of church members parked in front of the buildings nearby. That turned out to be the church Sexton and a friend of his. They spotted me and came over. They noticed how tired I was looking and I guess my face was rather flushed. The man took charge (so much for self reliance). After getting the story from me, he had me sit in my car and turn on the a/c. He asked if I needed anything. I asked for ice water so he got in his truck and headed off to find me some. He returned soon with two large glasses full of it. That was so good. I drank one and poured the other one over my head splashing it on my face and arms. I realize now that I had been near heat exhaustion. When I had cooled down, wasn't feeling weak anymore, and had reassured this kind man that I was ok, I got in my car and headed home.

I did make it home safe and mostly sound. After getting some food in me I went straight to bed and slept. Later I emailed the only person I knew that attended that church to ask if he would let my Good Samaritan know that I was ok.

The process of coming to terms with that experience isn't quite over. Part of me wants to deny how real the danger was. Another part of me wants to thank God for helping me through it and keeping me safe. I still have some self reflection to do on the need to take care of the things I can affect and still leave room for God's guidance and intervention whether needed or if it just happens. Most importantly to my self esteem I need to not see myself as helpless or incapable of handling life's challenges. More importantly to my faith I need to find that focus where I listen to that still small voice which tells me when something isn't the best choice.

So there is my mountain, my own self-esteem and God's will. It is amazing how much God's good care will allow us to recover from disastrous situations and still feel like intelligent, capable human beings. The few friends I have told showed concern but not condemnation. That would have been something I might have expected from my father. So in this I am doubly blessed by God's love and the love of caring and clear sighted friends. And Thank God for the occasional Good Samaritan. May I always run into one of those when I need them and hopefully someday I will have the chance to pass that favor forward.


Susan Palwick said...

Yikes, Lee . . . I'm so glad you're okay! And I'm so glad that nice man gave you water. It sounds like the excursion made the Stations of the Cross perhaps a bit too literal? Scary!

Re cellphones: I don't always remember to carry one when I go out for a walk, even though I should really carry one everyplace. We live in rattlesnake country, and I've occasionally seen rattlers even on my very local walks. My husband never carries a phone, and he does much steeper, more dangerous hikes on our local mountain. (We do both carry water, though. Living in the desert makes that second nature.) We boh really need to be better about this.

If you dial 911 from a cellphone, it will reach the nearest 911 dispatcher, not the one in your hometown. It's important to be able to tell them exactly where you are, though. I have friends who've worked with Search and Rescue and the Ski Patrol up near Tahoe, and they talk about 911 calls where people say, "I'm next to a tree," which won't help the dispatcher at all. (Uh, there's more than one tree up here. Can you be just a little more specific?)

Anyway, I'm glad you're safe. And thanks for the kind words about the homily. :-)

Lee said...

Thanks Susan. I wasn't aware of the 911 thing on the cell phone. That will be helpful as I don't intend to let this get in the way of my independance.

Yes, it was rather literal during the Stations of the Cross. Remembering that Jesus walked them alone except for that period when someone else carried the cross makes me think that he relied on the knowledge that he was following the path God had set for him to make it through to the end. Thank goodness I didn't have to give up my life although on the meditation part it felt like it.

We have rattlesnakes here in Texas too...although I didn't see any. I'm glad I'm safe too.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes when we think we've given up our independence because we need help - is exactly when we've gained that independence we're searching for.

Lee said...

Thanks! That is true but sometimes it is hard to see that concept. Would you care to expand on it some? I'd love a discusson of this topic.

Martyn Taylor said...

As a diabetic who appears to have combined hypos with heatstroke, I found the disorientation - the feeling that there were two of me and that the lines of communcation were down - just about the most frightening experience I have ever had. Fortunately, I was lucky in that qualified help (my wife) was around twice and enthusiastic help (my daughter) another time.

Spiritual 'heatstroke' is just as disturbing. Fortunately, I've always had help at hand for those moments when there is only one set of footprints in the sand. What it would be like not to hear that 'incoming call' because of the disorientation, now that is another matter.

Lee said...

Thanks for your comment Martin. Yes, I would think that heat exhaustion combined with anything else would be very scary. I think I was in denial most of that time. I didn't realize how close I had been to it till I was home and absolutely drained. I spent the next 48 hours staying close to my pillow and also drinking lots of fluids and eating stuff to give me back the energy I lost.

Anonymous said...

In asking for help you acknowledge that we are all one body, and that together we effect the common whole. When you strive to always be separate - you become unconscious to the world around you, becuase you become too internally focused, closed off. In admitting vulnerability you humbly open yourself to the world. This isn't to suggest that self-reflection isn't necessary - it is. But it's about finding that balance between self and the world at large.

Lee said...

Wow! That is a really good explanation. Thank you! It is something I really need to work on. My family upbringing was to be self-sufficient. I imagine lots of us are brought up that way, but in my family it was deemed shameful to need to ask for help. If you did need it things were "too hard" for you and you weren't seen as capable. That makes "letting go and letting God", or anyone else for that matter, really hard to enable in the midst of all my emotional baggage. I don't have any trouble asking for help, but I used to have a lot harder time accepting myself as "ok" when I needed it. I am getting better at this as I learn to forgive myself for not being perfect (the implied family standard). Thank God that I have a group of really loving friends to set me good examples for this and love me even when I think I need to be more independant than is practical.