As I stepped on the unmerciful trail, the rocks beneath my feet became helplessly subject to the force that pulled every moving body toward the peril called the Grand Canyon. I lagged behind the other members of my youth group, traipsing uncertainly along an unforgiving path. Several times I fell, my 60-pound backpack crushing me so I couldn’t even get up on my own. My frustration brought me close to tears; I was humiliated like never before.
Yet an outstretched hand welcomed me back to dignity. My friend Heather, whom I had met days before, devoted her care and talent into my restoration. She guided my steps, adjusted my equipment, offered her encouragement. On the first day of my week-long journey, I was learning true humility – not through myself – a girl only worried about her own well-being – but through a selfless stranger who served this inexperienced student on her first backpacking trip. Perhaps the workers from Solid Rock Outdoor Ministries hosted this adventure to teach us much more than hiking.
The trials did not cease all day. Our dinner consisted of a bland, rather glutinous attempt at macaroni-and-cheese. A gorgeous sunset swiftly faded to a cool, lonely darkness on the vast esplanade, and clouds loomed above us, threatening to release their contents before we had even pitched our tents. I trembled throughout the bitter night on uncherished rocks; flurries of wind, raindrops, even snowflakes stung my warm cheek. I was afraid and alone. I had no refuge, no escape. I had come from the cushy suburbs to raw reality, and I couldn’t go back.
The distant sun once again observed us, but it had not yet breathed its warmth on our numb and shivering forms, reconvening on the edge of the dry riverbed. We gaped at the monster canyon surrounding us, unworthy of its strength. I glanced over to my friend and role model Ren. She had braved the wilderness too, but like Heather, she had selflessly served us all the day before. She raised her hand – Andrew had asked for volunteers. Seeing her willingness, I raised mine as well. And thus we became the leaders for the day.
Our combatant, the Red Wall, threatened us with heedless winds, unstable switchbacks, and sacrosanct splendor. These conditions echoed the cliffs of yesterday, yet somehow my fear had fled. Today I had a duty to something greater than myself. Along with Ren, I interpreted the map, evaluated potential obstacles, and encouraged my fellow hikers. That day, the service of leadership reminded me of my purpose. I recalled the words that Christ spoke thousands of years ago: “For he who is least among you all—he is the greatest.” I had come on this journey in part to find myself. But I realized that to find myself, I must first lose myself; I have to humbly serve my friends as they had served me.
Our grand journey had barely begun; we awaited more wonders and trials: showering in a chilling hundred-foot waterfall, quelled to cliffside sleep by rushing waters below, a silent night-hike courtesy of the full moon’s light, sharing the most scrumptious pepperoni pizza of our lives. I led myself and my friend Tambra astray, but by some grace Heather retrieved us. And Ren, her brother, and I discovered that when Heather accidentally gives you garbanzo powder instead of pizza dough mix, you get gag-inducing bean cakes for dinner. My every experience slowly converted me from selfishness to service, from fear to comfort. The landscape of my own world was completely transformed. And I couldn’t go back.
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