Hiking with Jesus

It's hard to believe it's already been over a month since we left Michigan and traveled here to Albertville, France, to begin language school. It has been such a busy time, the days have flown by. We are enjoying living in this little Alpine town a lot. For those of you who don't know, Albertville is in the south-eastern part of France called Savoie. We are only about an hour's drive from the borders of both Switzerland and Italy. It is a beautiful area full of little picturesque towns surrounded by mountains and rivers. There are also many lovely old chateaux, forts, and churches. However, the main attractions here seem to be skiing and hiking. I have never been skiing before (hopefully I will get to try while living here), but hiking (or la randonnĂ©e, as the French call it) is something I know and love.

Part of the reason I love hiking is that it reminds me of one of my favorite Bible passages, Proverbs 3:5-6, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths." In hiking, just as in life, following the right path is important.

When we were in Togo last May, Seth and I went on a hike up the mountain to see a nearby waterfall (he wrote about it in this blog entry). When we first started the hike, we were just walking along a broad, straight dirt road. It was fairly easy to determine which way we should go. However, after a while, the broad road ended and we were climbing on a little, twisty path through the tropical brush that grows everywhere in southern Togo. We couldn't see very far ahead, and the path often split into other paths that went to other places. Sometimes our Togolese guide got too far ahead for us to see where he had gone, and we would stop at a fork in the path and call for him. We didn't dare go forward without him (especially as he continued to warn us against falling in certain rivers or stepping on swarms of killer ants). Eventually, our path climbed straight up the mountain, with a steep wall of rock to one side, and an abrupt drop into a ravine on the other! It was a little scary. We learned that day that, when hiking in Togo, we needed to stick very close to our guide.

While we haven't gone on any difficult hikes here in Albertville yet, we have found that our life has sometimes felt very similar to a twisted, overgrown path filled with forks in the path, swarms of killer ants, and deep ravines. Just the trip to get to France felt like a series of pitfalls. At one point, Seth and I got split up at the Brussels airport and couldn't find each other until right before our connecting flight took off! When we finally got to Albertville, figuring out how to enroll our children in school, how to do laundry, and how to go grocery shopping each presented their own difficulties. Discovering that our children had been enrolled in a different school than the one we expected-- one with no other American students-- felt like a surprise fork in our path! Trying to learn a completely new language has also presented new challenges. It is inexplicably humiliating to try to communicate with the shopkeepers and teachers in town with the vocabulary and grammatical expertise of a toddler! In these moments, we realize how important it is to stay close to our Guide. We don't know what to expect from this challenging hiking path we call life, but God always does. We have chosen to trust Him, and He has directed our paths. He has provided for all our needs, He has brought new and helpful friends into our lives, and we are so thankful that we can be here, preparing for our ministry in Togo.

Last Saturday, we took our children on a walk up a nearby hill to the medieval city of Conflans. It was a beautiful day and a peaceful walk. I wouldn't call it a hike, though we certainly got our exercise. After climbing the steep road up the hill, we were all a little out of breath, but the view was certainly worth it.

Similarly, the hike in Togo was very challenging, but when we reached our destination, the beauty of the waterfall and the refreshing swim we enjoyed in the pool beneath it made it all worthwhile. Sometimes in life, we don't understand why the path God leads us on is so difficult (though sometimes I suspect He allows it to be that way just so we will learn to "stick closer to our Guide"), but He promises us that it will all be worth it in the end. As Romans 8:28 says, "We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose."

Remember that peaceful walk up to the medieval city I mentioned earlier? It didn't end quite as peacefully as it began. After we arrived home, we discovered that somehow my purse was no longer in the stroller, where I had placed it at the beginning of the walk. We searched our apartment and the surrounding area in desperation. I cried out to God in anguish. I felt like my Guide had betrayed me and left me in the swarm of killer ants. I was going to have to cancel all my bank and credit cards and somehow replace my driver's license. We didn't even know if the purse had just been dropped, or stolen. We were worried.

But God was already at work. Even as we searched and worried and cried (well, I cried... Seth probably didn't cry), a complete stranger was sending me a Facebook message. I got on Facebook to ask the other language students what I should do to track down my purse, and I read with relief, "Please message me. I found your bag in Conflans." God is so good! Not only was my purse not stolen, but it was found by an honest man who was smart enough to use my driver's license to look me up on Facebook and message me!

I don't know what part of the hiking path your life feels like right now. Maybe you are on a broad, sunny road, and your life is a relaxing stroll. Or, maybe you feel like the path is very steep, and you have stumbled, and you are hanging off the side of the cliff! Either way, don't forget to stick close to your Guide. He is there for you and will always come when you call. Nothing about this path is a surprise to Him, and the destination He has prepared for us is something so much more amazing than a waterfall or a medieval city (or even getting back a lost purse).

We thank you all for your prayers and support for us as we continue on this path, following our Guide. We will continue to keep you updated. Happy trails!

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