My Uncle contacted me a few weeks ago asking to write a short story for his new book. I was very flattered that he would request that of me and so I got to thinking about experiences I've had in life that feel special; times when words fail and I'm left with only memories. I'm extremely excited to see what he comes up with and I'll be sure to share the information when it's published. This is an attempt at me trying my best to put words to a life moment that really shouldn't have an explanation. I hope you can resonate a bit with me.
Sometimes life presents us with experiences that we can't really explain. Moments we can remember so vividly but rarely have words to describe the feelings that emerge with those thoughts. There's an old Celtic Christian idea that describes a space we as humans can step into where the barrier between heaven and earth simply collapses. They call this a thin place; a place where life feels right and the beauty surrounding us seems almost too much to bear. This is a locale I enter into often and I believe it's a place where God meets me. Not in a condemning way or fearful way but more so a way where I feel embraced. Picture a cold day in the mountains; you step outside and all of a sudden the frigid air hits your skin. The breeze latches onto every bit of you and your body reacts with small bumps to hold in its warmth. Then, in that moment, a dear friend brings you a warm wool blanket; they drape it over your shoulders and pull you in tight. You see your breath escape your mouth, as if you were smoking your grandfathers old pipe. Your skin receives the blanket and sure enough the warmth grows into something greater. You feel the heat expand and your comforted once more.
As I step into a thin place, this is the best way I can explain that feeling. I am comforted, loved, in awe and wrapped up fully in the blanket of the Most High. I was trying to think back to a time recently where I've stepped into that thin place. The first thing that pulled its way back into my memory was the Na Pali Coast on the Kalalau Trail in Kauai. An eleven mile stretch of coastline magic. A trail that isn't just one for your feet to walk along but one for your imagination to run free; like a child in an open field. This trail was a place I only dreamed about one day exploring and then God let it happen and boy, did I meet him there.
The trip was wide open; the kind of trip I live for. We bought plane tickets and stuffed gear in our backpacks; those were the only two secure things. All else was free. Some may say that's a careless, irresponsible way to travel. Some would be filled with anxious thoughts on where they would sleep or who they would meet but to me, that's when I feel truly alive. Free of schedule and totally open to meet new friends or love on strangers without a "place to be." Caring for fellow humans without an agenda. That in itself makes me feel close to a true purpose for living. What I feel like I am meant to do with my life. Allowing God to fill my day with surprises and allowing people to tell their stories. I like to travel without much of a plan.
There was fear of the weather as we stepped off the plane and entered into a tropical rain but throughout the week God blessed us with bountiful sunshine and a cool breeze; I couldn't have been more excited. As we set off for the hike there were some nerves regarding the rangers and the fact that we didn't have permits (yet another "careless" way to plan, but hey, that's adventure for you.) Other than that the morale was high and we set off; like pioneers headed into uncharted territory. We were modern day explorers. I realized quickly that God designed it ALL. The people I was with, the creation all around, and the state of mind I was in. I had a deep desire to run free and find rest far away from everything. Each person sharing the question, "Why?" Why hike out here? Why leave and escape to a far off land? What are you leaving behind or what are you running from? How long will you be out in this wondrous time capsule? There are so many stories I remember and so many faces that flash into my mind as this experience resurfaces. Kate and Casper; a couple battling the flu, determined to keep hiking despite their weak physical condition. Randy from Texas who spent two months out at Kalalau and was now carting his very unenthusiastic girlfriend out to the far off beach. Good ol' Steve who graciously warned us about the rangers who could potentially be ready to ticket us. And even the weird hippy couple from Colorado who conceived their now swaddled baby out at the beach and were bringing little "kale" back to the romantic destination. Yes, they were hiking a treacherous trail with an infant and yes, the baby was named Kale. Nonetheless, stories to share from near and far. Everyone had a purpose and everyone knew this place would be a hub for good things to be found. Each curve and bend brought breathtaking views and beauty beyond what my eyes have seen in my 25 years of living. The skinny trail snaked around cliff sides that dropped off into the crystal clear water below. It was more than I could've ever expected. There were a few times where I'd need to stop and breath, close my eyes and open them again just to be positive I wasn't dreaming. Each green, luscious mountain or raging waterfall felt like an image I would only find in my sleep; a place I never wanted to leave or awake from. Every day brought freedom, conversation, and encouragement. Though the trail was a bit difficult and our 60 pound packs didn't feel any lighter, I could feel my heart soaring. The wings of my soul were truly able to take flight and each step felt as if we were on a journey to our heavenly home. The narrow, winding path was a biblical picture of life and the creation all around was bursting into song of Christ's unending love. The whole trip felt as if the primary reason for the worlds existence was back in alignment. We were sojourners making our way through the garden of Eden.
As we approached our destination I stood at the foot of the Kalalau waterfall and watched it cascade off of the cliff face. I examined that water as it fell and ran into the ocean. Tears began to fill my eyes that evening as the sunset danced across the horizon and the smell of campfire encased my clothing. Hues of pinks and reds collided throughout the sky as the clear water chased us up and down the beach. It was indeed a thin place; a place where I felt the angels dancing and the image of God smiling down on me. My God was wrapping his warm arms around my wandering heart and I felt the full embrace of my Father. I would close my eyes and feel the salty, warm breeze on my dirt coated face. All I could do was receive the joy and smile right back. It's as if my arms were open wide and I was stepping into the rest designed specifically for that exact moment. All the moments leading up to that were of divine design. Oh, how our creative Father cares for his children.
The rest of the trip was full of little and big moments of joy and excitement. There were times for listening and times for laughing. Times for exploring and times for soaking in our surroundings. We were living life fully. If anything this trip reminded me of one solid truth: when we drop our own schedules, our busy agendas and even our lame worries, God will always step in. And dang, does he move in miraculous ways. I truly believe if we can prayerfully and boldly seek his face, he will always meet his kids in those thin places.
Our world has gotten complicated. With the recent shootings and wars going on, it's hard for us to take a step back and see things in a new light. It's difficult to wrap our mind around all the pain and try and see a light at the end of the tunnel. But I have hope. I pray this story and these photos are not received with a jealous heart. We each have our own journey we're living out and my desire is to encourage everyone, myself included, to step into a place of reverence and awe of our Creator and the world we live in. No ones story is better than the rest; we're meant to live this life out together. I believe that we can find the good in every situation and pray for peace despite the terrible hurt all around. I challenge you to pray for our world and ultimately try and find those thin places; find the space that words cannot easily portray the feelings you have and soak it all in.