I wasn’t sure I would be able to do it. The rain and wet sleeping bags seemed like the perfect excuse to find some other way to the top, namely the truck. But I knew that this would rob us of the blessing of the struggle to get there on foot. And a struggle it would be. Nearly 6000 feet in elevation to hike up with full packs in order to reach our final campsite. I knew the hike was extremely hard, even when in the best condition, and I was weak. Just ten days had passed since spending two nights in the hospital with two amoebas and hepatitis all at once, and I had lost a lot of muscle.
Luckily the kids were undaunted by the rain, and decided to attempt a campfire with soggy wood, and when that didn’t work, to simply tough it out and hoof it up the hill. We started late in the afternoon; not ideal conditions for reaching our campsite by dark, but the first blessing came in right at nightfall. I was slightly disoriented in the fog, not sure exactly how far away the site was that I had scouted a year prior, we had fifteen minutes of diffused light left, and everyone was exhausted. Immediately we stumbled upon a pasture; it was the only patch of dry ground for miles in any direction. We dropped packs and set up tents while mist gathered and dispersed around the jagged peaks of the verdant ridge-line. The scene was epic and gorgeous. A crystal clear stream gurgled just yards away with water for cooking and drinking. We even got a fire going to dry out bags and socks. I was floored.
The next day was just as hard; same incline, same weather, same distance. But we got to the top just before noon and set up tents just before the rain hit. A late afternoon hike proved fruitless, as the mist obscured every view, but the mist itself was magical and a thrill for the guys. In the morning, the fog lifted and I hiked up to the nearest peak, and was awarded with a spectacular view down the valley we had just climbed, looking back toward the Amazon Basin. I was floored again. Unable to move or tear my eyes away, I had an hour of silence before God, just soaking in his blessing and majesty.
Having packed up the tents, we huddled in the shelter of a rock from the wind until the mountain bikes arrived and we proceeded to bomb down the hill in a spray of mud and sheets of rain. It was epic, we were cold, and nobody cared. We crashed in mud and were so jostled by rocks that sores opened up on our hands from knocking against the handle bars. But nobody would have traded it for anything.
Given some time to reflect, I considered how God had been hounding me with blessings over the past few weeks, but that the blessings hurt. The sickness hit me in the worst spasm of stomach convulsions I have yet known, and it scared me. I lost sensation in my legs and arms and all I could think was that somehow I had contracted Polio or some nonsense. But my roommates found me sprawled on the floor of my room, and carried me down four flights of stairs to get me to the hospital, where I threw up on myself and convinced the nurses I was not well. But the guys stayed with me all night, and took charge of obeying the doctor’s orders, fixing meals I could eat and generally displaying an affection and care I had not known existed before the sickness.
The trek was hard, especially with atrophied legs, but God awarded us with breathtaking views and perfect campsites. The sickness sucked, landing me in the ER over Christmas right in the middle of our busy season, and forcing me to cancel the “fun trip” to La Paz for ziplining and mountain biking. But as I slowly recovered, God gave me the strength I needed to do the rest of the camps, and provided great helpers to handle physical tasks when I ran out of steam. It was a classic example of being forced to let others bear my burdens and allowing God to show himself strong in my weakness.
There were of course other blessings. The first night we camped in a beautiful clearing in the woods, only to find that in the rain, the trees fall over at random because their root systems are too shallow and cannot grip the soggy ground. God protected us that first night, and provided a better spot in a safer place nearby the following night. My new tent has proved a champ, keeping out every drop of moisture, just as my boots have done. God provided two contract camps this season, filling the calendar and bringing in work that pays for itself. As a result I got to spend several days with my friends Jesus and Olivia in Toro Toro, adventuring and catching up, and finding out that they have had a very hard year, which gave me some perspective on my little health issues. On our trip last week, one of the boys was baptized in the canyon, and it was a joy to be able to focus the entire camp on discipleship. On Christmas Eve I was asked to read the story of Jesus’ birth to the boys at the BLC, something which is very near and dear to me. That night I was moved to tears (probably in part by the fever) multiple times by the joy, and peace, and unity.
God never promises us a life without problems, in fact he guarantees that we will have them. Sometimes the difficulties come straight from his hand, and are designed to strengthen us, build us, to tear down what needs fixing and help us refocus. But he also promises to be there with us in those tough times, as his name Emanuel implies. I have been blessed to have him accompanying me, carrying me, and pushing me in the past few weeks, and on that testimony I can assure you that he will do the same for you this year, no matter what comes, if you trust him to.
Grace and peace to you this year, and abundant blessings, even the ones that hurt.