Do you know what’s there, just like here? Deep cool breaths. Sunsets. Shifts in weather that are subtle, but course through you with quiet brilliance. Sunrise, and the hush right before, that makes you ache for the day, but long to linger in the half light. Birds. Flowers. Wind. Wild.
I was hiking somewhere outside Wuxue in Hubei province, China. It was early morning, and our tour guides had decided that the best use of the day off would be a grueling hike up a mountain that we were all very ill dressed for. My breath was hot and heavy, and my tennis shoes slipped on loose dirt as I scrambled to keep up with the long-legged person in front of me.
“My, these birds sound weird,” I thought. Behind me were several other exhausted university students, all of us in China to teach English for the summer and perhaps all grumbling internally like me. What on earth were we doing on this mountain so early in the morning?
The wind swept down the mountainside and whipped our hair wild. Despite my grumbly internal dialogue, I began to notice things around me. The plants that were so foreign and yet were so familiar in their silent stretch up to the sky. The bugs that pestered my face were also unknown to me, but also irritatingly resembling gnats back home.
The smell of the dew and the sun-soaked brilliance of morning presented themselves quietly. I glanced behind me and gasped. “Everyone! Look!” A vista that stretched for miles blanketed before us.
Below me was the steep jagged path through the trees that we had been climbing. But so steep was the incline it felt like I was perpendicular with the ground far below. I was staring at other distant mountains, just like the one I was on, that jutted up from the plains like giants’ thumbs poking up from the landscape.
The sun had risen and I stood there sweating profusely. I suddenly understood why the Chinese oil paintings of mountains looked so dramatic — they were this way in real life! We all paused to take pictures and soak in the dramatic view, each grateful for a break. After a few moments, we carried on our labored ascent.
Here I was on the other side of the world, and do you know what I found in all that foreignness? Familiar. Like stepping through an unknown door and being shocked to find home, I reveled in the presence of the Creator. My Creator. I couldn’t help but ask, “You’re here too, aren’t you Lord?”
The memory of the warm comfort in that exhausted moment touches my soul today. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but with my growing homesickness, culture shock, and exhaustion, the weight of every inch of every mile between my fiancé and I increasing by the day, I was not expecting to stumble upon anything so known and longed for.
Do you know who was there? He was.
I think of this moment often. Little did I know what a solace it would be when as an adult, I met grueling paths, high mountains, or strong winds of adversity. None of these things are limited to traveling to the other side of the world. None of these things are limited to the physical.
The unknown wilds of parenting and marriage. The storms of shame and embarrassment that have no place in a believer’s life but still blow through unexpectedly. The enemy of our souls never sleeps, does he? The mountains that we long to have moved into the sea and still they stand, indifferent blockades to progress we long for. Or dark cold rivers of loss and grief that he promises won’t overwhelm us, but, oh, how they chill the soul. Or the long, boring plains of the same old landscape that makes apathy bloom and discontentment shudder in frustration.
Do you know who is there too? He is.
“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Dear sister so loved by the Father, whatever is gripping your heart today — be it apathy or grief or something in between — know that it doesn’t surprise Him. He will meet you here, in this unknown place, in ways that are as unexpected as the trial itself. And maybe it won’t be with answers or miracles (though it could be), but with the steadying comfort of His presence. And that changes everything.