Has life ever offered you a gift…but you just couldn’t believe it was that easy? So often we make things hard on ourselves; so much harder than they need to be. This lyrical story from Nichole illustrates that beautifully.
A couple of years ago I was invited to Bob’s lodge.
Bob is a guy who is basically a professional people lover. He does other official things vocationally, but his real life’s work is spent loving people, connecting them to each other, and reminding them of their real passion and purpose, often lying dormant and buried. He points out God’s fingerprints on people’s hearts. I’d connected with (and instantly loved) Bob a little over the years and we seemed to run in mutually shared circles. I had heard about the coveted invitation to Bob’s lodge way up in Malibu, British Columbia, about 100 miles north of Vancouver at the mouth of the Princess Louisa inlet. The lodge was built into the side of a cliff, accessible only by boat or sea plane. He built it. He steers the boats. He flies the sea plane. Bob does things. But mostly, he loves people.
The idea was to join a handful of folks who were also invited to come and swap stories and sorrows and feed each other with the bread of community. To encourage and be encouraged. To dust off our hearts, a little. To remind ourselves and each other that God is actually crazy about us, in case we forgot. Bob is particularly good at that part. He’s kind of cross between Tigger and Santa.
Now, hear me on this. I’m not a group retreat kind of gal. My idea of roughing it is the Marriott with the windows open. I tend toward being a loner. I don’t do team building or trust falls, or ropes courses in the forest. Most especially with people I don’t know. I loved Bob, knew a total of two people who were coming (out of 20ish), and was more than a little anxious about spending a lot of Kumbaya time around a campfire feigning vulnerability.
I probably don’t have to tell you how life changing it was. Everyone but the skeptic can usually see the end of the story right away. It was life changing. Genuinely. I was walking through such a dark time during my divorce, after a decade of deep loneliness, had essentially cut myself off from any community and support. I’d been hiding. Over the next few days, I probably cried and laughed harder with those total strangers than I had in a lifetime with my closest friends. Jumped off cliffs into freezing water. Climbed and rowed and slept on mattresses under the stars. My son would have laughed in disbelief at the improbability. “MY mom??” It was everything I’d heard about but couldn’t actually imagine experiencing at Bob’s lodge. I experienced it all.
Toward the end of the trip, we met in the morning overlooking the breathtaking inlet and reflected on a few passages from the Psalms. You’ve never truly experienced morning devotions, until a bald eagle flies by. There was a heavy unspoken awareness that our time was coming to an end. It seemed impossible to me that I’d have to go back to real life now, where the spell would be broken. Bob asked the group to gather some pen and paper and hop on the boats so he could take us someplace special. He steered around the inlet carefully and methodically and then would pull up to a certain spot, call your name and announce that this was the place you’d be getting off. He’d be back in an hour.
He had painstakingly picked out a spot for each of us, to sit alone in this staggering natural beauty and take deep inventory of what God had shown us…was showing us. He seemed utterly unconcerned about bears or Yetis or angry caribou (my concerns), and just left us, one by one, in the middle of nowhere with our journals. Every time he pulled up to another spot, I would think “maybe this is my turn!” and I’d get all angsty and excited and nervous, but as the numbers dwindled, it was clear I was dead last.
Bob’s supremely gentle and beautifully whimsical daughter (seriously, think Tinkerbell) was helping steer the boat and organize who got off where and when, turned to me and actually winked and said, “You’ll be last. We saved a special spot for you.” Um, okay. Sure enough, we pulled up to this jagged bit of rock…just enough to step onto from the boat, and Bob hugged me hard and told me he loved me and would be back in an hour. I was so busy awkwardly fumbling onto land, and making sure I had my pen and paper and sunblock and lip balm, (slightly distressed that I hadn’t thought of emergency beef jerky and hand sanitizer), that I hadn’t even really seen WHERE I was. I just stood on the rock, waving to Bob with a nervous smile as he disappeared around the bend, leaving me alone with my deepest thoughts and the menacing coyotes.
Once I couldn’t see him anymore, I finally turned to assess my surroundings and found myself standing at the very bottom of the most stunning waterfall I’d ever seen. To this day I have trouble describing it. It wasn’t huge and mighty, like the kind in Hawaii that you’d have to yell over. It certainly wasn’t a trickle, like some vertical brook, but it was somewhere in between. Enough falling water to soak me if I got too close, but gentle enough to sit nearby and see every drop pooling or spraying or swooshing around my ankles. It was truly the most breathtaking moment of my life. A personal waterfall, I thought. For me.
I looked around quickly for a dry enough, flat enough place to sit with my journal and do the suggested reflection time. There really wasn’t one. I was already pretty wet and I noticed there seemed to be an area, up and away from the waterfall that looked more practical. Certainly more dry. I figured this would be a better place to reflect and write from. So I started the rather arduous climb. I was wearing Gap shorts and flimsy old Converse, making me susceptible to scrapes and slips and a decent cut, for which I had no band aid. I was determined. I was not going to be only who showed up with no reflections. I climbed on until I finally reached, albeit a bit battered, the spot far enough from the waterfall to actually get some work done. It was some sort clearing where everything looked…dead, actually. A tree had fallen, so I sat on the dead log. There were a lot of pebbles, and gravely sand and what seemed like endless dead branches just laying around, ready to scrape what was left of my shins. So odd, I thought. It was unbelievably stark and desolate, just around the corner from the beautiful waterfall where Bob had dropped me off, though it felt like miles after my efforts getting there. I sat on the log for second. Poised for reflection. Kicking dirt.
Something deep inside me, stirred like dread. And then, something inside me, snapped. In a moment I realized that the trek I had made away from the beauty, away from the miracle and magic that was intended for me, was what I had been doing for years. Bob picked out a waterfall for me. I headed instead toward the most desolate, difficult, dead piece of land I could find, injuring myself in the process. Letting more and more distance grow between the beauty I was meant to experience, and the difficulty I felt I deserved, instead.
I couldn’t breathe. Almost instantly the tears came and came, and with them the realization that this was how I saw myself. This is how I’d allowed myself to be seen for long. Undeserving of anything good. Committed to toughing it out in the dead places. That’s what practical, disciplined faith is supposed to looks like, right? You get the work done. Sure, you might get scraped up in the process. That’s perseverance. Commitment. All the grown up words. Until you realize you’ve walked with determination in the opposite direction of the one who says,
I was suddenly keenly aware of how much time had gone by. I knew the boat would be back to get me soon. I had long given up the goal of actually writing anything down, and was far more determined to get back to the waterfall. I wanted just a minute to experience what I was meant to. A few more bumbling scrapes and nicks on the way down, but I made it just in time to stand fully under the fall, at last. To let it soak every part of me. It was utterly freezing, and I wanted to feel all of it. I started crying again, barely able to distinguish my own hot tears from the water rushing over my head. They were coming as fast and hard.
By the time the boat picked me up, it was full of my new friends who were quiet and reflective about their own encounters. I was grateful to have sunglasses to hide my swollen eyes, and I still couldn’t say much. Bob merely pulled me on board, squeezed me hard and let me sit down and rest. The way Love does.
I wondered if he knew that the waterfall would be both the most beautiful and most difficult place for me to stay. If he knew how hard I’d make it for myself, after he’d chosen something so special for me. I wondered if he knew I’d figure it out, eventually. Almost too late. I think he knew. The way Love knows. The way Jesus does too.