(Typical disclaimer: includes religious commentary)
My second summer trip was to Crooked Creek, Colorado, altitude: almost 10,000 feet above sea level. Anyone who spends much time with me quickly learns that I'm a sea-level kinda gal. My doctor was a dear and gave me some medication to make the transition easier, possibly because he was sick and tired of having me turn up ill while traveling. Watching others struggle with the altitude, I was extremely grateful, even if it did destroy my taste buds for the duration.
So, why did I go to the top of that mountain? Why to have a mountain-top experience, of course. Crooked Creek hosts events for Ransomed Heart Ministries. The Captivating conference is a women's retreat intended to foster emotional healing and to encourage women in developing a deeper relationship with Jesus.
I chuckle at the religious warning at the top of this post. If anything, I don't think this was a typical "religious" experience. If anything, it has left me so sad when exposed to "religion" in its modern form. This was a weekend spent with a lover. It was a romantic, passionate experience, overwhelming in its intensity. No, it wasn't like a scene from The Shack. God didn't show up in an apron.
Actually, He showed up in music and dancing and a mighty wind that shook the mountain. I had time to ask Him the questions I've always wanted to ask, and to hear the answers He was ready to tell me. No, I didn't like many of them.
I should back-track a bit and explain some things. First, my health had been deteriorating due to stress. Second, now that the aviation shop is closed, I'm sure anyone who knows me can imagine the stress I was under and will be under during this holiday season and extending into next summer. Our lives were radically changing, and I needed to understand what God had planned for me. Lastly, I've been through some nasty bits in my life over the years, and they'd left some terrible gaping wounds in my spirit. I needed healing and direction. And, I needed courage.
On one night, I sat out in an on-coming storm and asked God, "Why?" Why, when He could so easily have solved all of our problems had He not? I'd seen Him work, so I knew His power and how powerfully real and present He can be...so why had He allowed me to fall into such disastrous places? I've had people tell me over the years, "you just aren't praying hard enough." There, on the mountain top, face-to-face with God, I protested. "I WAS praying. WHERE were you?" He simply said, "You had to go through those things in order to write the stories I've given you to write."
I sat down on a picnic bench and stared out over the valley as the rain began to fall. I hated that answer. The books I've been working on came to mind, and I went over them mentally, seeing how each story tied in to the hardest paths I'd walked. Now He was moving me into a place of safety where I could process those stories and produce the books. Vibrant stories, with real-life passion, because they came from the deepest part of my heart.
"I really don't like that answer."
"It wasn't fun for me to watch, either."
The rain fell and mixed with my tears, and we walked through my life together. He helped me understand aspects of my personality that I'd never seen before, showing me strengths I'd never seen. I went inside -- thoroughly drenched at this point -- and went down into a prayer room full of soft candle-light, beautiful fabric, old books open to wise passages, and some truly elegant broadswords. No, the swords aren't fake. (I wonder if the men sword-fight with them at the men's retreat?) It was warm and courage-filling. One of the principles of the Captivating retreat is that a woman is a warrior, and in that luscious room, I sipped hot-cocoa and learned that my weapon is the pen. Not overly-shocking, but the perspective was different from any I've had before.
The next day, I determined not to live from a place of fear any more. To celebrate my new lack-of-fear, I decided to go on one of the height-oriented activities for the day. The first one was closed as I walked up so I wound up joining some new friends on The Claim Jumper. As I climbed the tower, I was amused by the number of warnings posted about certain health conditions that should not go on the ride. My new friends had no idea that I should not be climbing that tower, and merely helped me try and focus on not being afraid. In order to ride, you have to wear a rock-climbing harness. We donned our harnesses and hard-hats (what is a hard-hat going to do if you fall from that height? Do they think it will stay ON?) and stepped onto the platform. One thing I knew: I was not turning back. If that ride was bad for my health, then God was going to have to keep me from doing something stupid, because I was NOT going to give in to terror.
The team before us went, with much screaming. Did I have the courage to get ON the ride? After all, once on it, there was no way off other than to go for the trip...so all I had to do was to take the 3 steps onto the platform and sit on the swing.
The ride operator pulled the swing back up. At that moment, a gust of wind came out of nowhere and slammed the metal bar of the swing contraption into the structure with a mighty clang. "Whoa!" The ride operator grabbed the bar and secured it. (I noticed she was tied into the building by a line.) She motioned for us to wait as she glared down the canyon into the face of the wind.
"We need to wait a few moments for this wind to die down," she explained.
I turned to my friends. "It won't."
When they asked how I knew, I explained my health issues and the now overwhelming sense I had that I would not be allowed to actually go on the ride. I'd needed to prove that I would face the test, but apparently didn't need to actually fall off the cliff. The ride was soon closed for the remainder of my stay on the mountain.
The experience left me with a sense of protection that is hard to explain. I'd lost that sense that God was watching over me during the last 20 years, but now looking back, I can see that He was there, keeping things from getting completely out of control. Protecting me as much as possible. Oh, those years could have been so much worse! Looking back from this new perspective, I saw the beauty in those days, His hand in so many instances.
But He wasn't done talking to me.
During one particularly dark time in my life, I had embraced a song from Phantom of the Opera as my theme and actually sang it with a man I dated. Beautiful song, but the memories of those days are not ones I care to relive.
At the retreat there was an extended worship service with pre-recorded music. I have to wonder what the person who put that sound-track together was thinking, because at one point during the service, God simply whispered, "the next song is for you. This is your new theme." The song was "All I Ask of You" from Phantom of the Opera. Those in the room saw me sit down on a step in the back of the room and laugh like a loon, tears pouring down my face. Not that anyone was paying attention. I'm sure some of them were trying to figure out how that song came to be in the middle of a worship service!
(By the way, if you know the story, you know this is not the start of happily ever after for the couple.)
After the retreat, I spent several days at the home of my dearest friend, reminding me of a story I'd set aside a few years back that I'd based on our friendship. How I longed to pick up that story and finish it! But I was focused on getting a different novel ready for a writing conference later in the summer (trip #4!) and resisted the temptation -- fool that I am.
We had a wonderful time exploring Colorado Springs. I stopped taking the altitude medication and regained my ability to enjoy food.
Also during this time, my dear friend pointed out that I can be overly negative. When faced with a question, I can produce every possible negative outcome or problem in a steady stream. It is as if I feel that I must warn those around me constantly about the potential for disaster. (This reminds me of the day I broke my elbow -- I was watching where my son was walking. I said, "be careful!" and then I tripped and fell, requiring an ambulance to remove me from the remote end of the island.) As I learned from my son that day and from my friend during this trip, watching my own steps is wiser than warning others...and sometimes it pays to look where the ground is stable, not focus on where it is not.
If these first two trips leave you thinking my summer was emotionally charged, understand: the summer was only half-way over.