For When We Find Ourselves Waiting

 

Snowshoeing: Observation Point

Bundled against the sub-zero temperatures, we left the cozy warmth of our cabin to brave Yellowstone’s deep winter chill. At twelve below zero, the temperature was up seven degrees already that morning from the previous afternoon’s negative nineteen. After fumbling over my own thick, clumsy fingers to fasten snowshoes to boots, I wondered what kind of people would take their children into the woods in such weather.

My husband and I, apparently.

We set off across the expanse of barren parking lots and abandoned roads toward the pines on the other side, snowshoes slapping the ground under our feet. As we approached the Visitor Education Center, we saw Old Faithful’s crowd dispersing and a ranger posting the next predicted eruption.

We had time.

We walked against the crowd and followed the boardwalk as it curved around the geyser. On the back side, a narrow trail slipped into the woods. We followed it, pausing on the Firehole River’s wooden footbridge to search the water for otter and trout. We didn’t stop for long. Our object was to reach Observation Point before Old Faithful’s eruption, to see it within the context of the Upper Geyser Basin and the sloping mountains which cradled it.

Firehole Winter

 

Before long, the trail began to climb. And not long after that, it took a sharp right turn. We’d arrived at the switchbacks.

By this time, our youngest daughter had ditched her hat and her hood and the rest of us had unzipped the top few inches of our coats. It wasn’t the temperature that had changed. It was us, and the heat generated by the energy it took to keep us moving. It came from within.

We plodded on in the silence forged by the thick blanket of snow and the shelter of the trees until we reached a place where the pines fell away, creating an opening which showcased the valley below and the sky above.

A few people stood on Old Faithful’s boardwalk and a thread of steam rose from its cone.

J checked his watch. “Let’s go. We want to get to Observation Point before the eruption.”

Old Faithful Winter

We turned and climbed the last section of the trail, arriving—judging by the filament of vapor and the cluster still waiting on the boardwalk below—before the eruption. We stood alone at Observation Point and watched the steam dissipate into the clouds.

One by one we pulled our zippers back up and began to shift from side to side, our inactivity revealing just how cold it was. J checked the time. We were at the tail end of the predicted eruption window.

Down below, more people advanced toward the geyser. We kept shifting and shivering and trying to keep warm. Old Faithful continued to do nothing but release a little steam. And the crowd on the boardwalk continued to grow.

“Daddy, I’m cold. When are we going back?” our little girl–the one who’d been first to feel too warm–asked.

J looked at her and at me and at the geyser. “Let’s give it a couple more minutes,” he said, knowing that Old Faithful is predicted, not scheduled, and that it sometimes is—according to our way of thinking—late.

A minute passed. And then another. Minutes in which the profound cold worked its way through the slim shield our down and Thinsulate layers provided against it.

“Let’s head back,” J said, reluctance heavy in his voice.

When we turned and descended the trail, the movement warmed us. And more quickly than it brought us up, it returned us to the boardwalk where we found the gathered crowd still waiting.

We joined them for as long as inactivity allowed. Eventually, though, we had to move on, to accept that the adventure that morning was not seeing what we wanted to see; it was the wandering, the watching, and the waiting in the wilderness in a way we’d not done it before.

It isn’t only in Yellowstone that I set off with specific ends and expectations in mind. I charge into my actual, everyday life that way, too, and I would guess I’m not alone. We set off down our life’s road for destinations we occasionally reach without incident, sometimes not at all, and often after a series of detours and delays.Old Faithful Sign

That’s the thing about destinations. We’re always finding our way and, almost as often, waiting for something. There’s an art to knowing when to stop, how long to stay, and when to move on. I’d prefer a map–one to specify the exact way, pinpoint road closures, designate the fastest detours, and predict my exact arrival time.

But that’s not how walking by faith works. Walking by faith includes, among other things, waiting for what we can’t see.

“Have you been asking God what He is going to do?” asks Oswald Chambers. “He will never tell you. God does not tell you what He is going to do–He reveals to you who He is.” These words help me when I’m impatient to find my way. My hope is that they will encourage you, too.

These still-early days of the new year are often accompanied by the hope of new beginnings and fresh starts. It’s a good hope, one not reserved for a particular day.  Morning brings the promise of God’s new mercies, a fresh beginning for every single day, even–or perhaps especially–when we find ourselves waiting.

And you, Fellow Traveler?  What does pressing on look like in the midst of your waiting?

 

 

The Spiritual Discipline of Expecting Delays and Great Scenery

Because of the invisible cord that ties writing to life, it is with some trepidation I acknowledge that my anticipated writing topics for the coming months center around a theme which can be summarized by a road sign, especially a road sign in a construction zone bearing this kind of verbiage: Expect delays and great scenery.Expect Delays and Great Scenery

Oh, I’m all about the scenery.  I’m just not fond of delays. I don’t want to wait. For anything.

That the roads we wander will need repair is a given. That there will be delays, an inconvenient fact. That they will occur at the nearly the worst possible time seems to follow some universal law. To plant an expectation of great scenery takes a leap of greater optimism.

Expectations almost always disappoint.

Except that we tend to find what we look for. Whether we gaze out the window for the view or at the clock to measure wasted time, that’s what we’ll see.

Here in Iowa, our open roads and flat terrain allow travelers through construction zones to slow down more often than stop. When it does require a full stop, it’s usually short, governed by a traffic light rather than a pilot car. Those are more common to the mountains, where the roads are winding, the stops long, and patience is not simply a virtue—it’s a survival skill.

When my husband and I came upon this sign along the road to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park, it wasn’t hard for me to believe. We were already in the mountains. The Tetons are known for being photogenic. I already expected great scenery. I just wasn’t interested in a delay.

Whether I’m on the road to Yellowstone and the Tetons or a highway in the heartland, I believe that there’s something to see, that it’s worth paying attention to the landscape of our lives, that there is, as Matthew Henry wrote, “a great deal of good to be learned from what we see every day.” All this I believe, but I forget because I am in too much of a hurry to stop and remember.

Hurry focuses on tasks instead of people. On outcomes over processes. On destinations and not the journey. It leaves little room for the slow unfurling of all the good to be found along the way.

Delay interrupts hurry.

On the same trip that we saw the sign, J and I drove into Yellowstone from the Tetons, arriving later than we had planned. We had only one task to complete that day, but it was an important one: find a campsite, something more easily accomplished early in the day than late. J is more easy-going than I. The need to get to the campground weighed more heavily on me than on him. I was in a hurry.

Within a few miles of the campground, we found ourselves in a long line of stationary vehicles. It didn’t have the look of a typical Yellowstone bear-induced traffic jam, but we couldn’t see the source of the blockage. We had no idea what the holdup was. We didn’t know how long we would be sitting there, waiting. After a while, J suggested we turn around and have dinner at a small picnic area we’d passed a few miles back.

The promised delay had materialized, interfering with my rush to get to the campground and procure our campsite. I was torn. We could sit and wait for the traffic to move while I watched the clock, tormenting myself with each moment that passed, or we could wait by the water in the woods, enjoying the scenery we’d driven across the country to see. The truth was, I wanted to go where I wanted to go and do what I needed to do. And I wanted to do it now, not later.

I wasn’t interested in the scenery.

Tree in the Bluff Yellowstone Lake

In the end, we turned around. After we lugged our Coleman stove and a cooler full of food to a table on a bluff overlooking Yellowstone Lake, I prepared our meal to the soundtrack of waves hitting the shore and J moved on to his natural habitat: the rocks above the water. And an hour later, when the snarled traffic finally loosened, freeing vehicles to whiz by, we lingered in our solitary place among the pines long after our leisurely dinner was done. The delay had dissolved my habitual hurry and created space to see beyond the pressure of the clock, to enter fully into the moment rather than simply passing through.

It seems we are always waiting for something. And while I relish good scenery, I’m more comfortable with hustle, with arriving where I want to be according to my own  itinerary.

Maybe that’s precisely why we need delays: there are unexpected things to see and do and learn that don’t fit into the plan. The expectation of delays and great scenery predisposes us to a willingness to wait, to submit to a timetable not of our own creation, to believe there are purposes and treasures in the long pauses of life. Delays can free us from the crushing weight of tasks and outcomes and arrivals, creating space for us to slow down and lift our eyes to the world around us and the God who gives us life and breath and the ability to move at any speed—whether it’s comfortable or not.

And you, Fellow Traveler? Because we are almost always waiting, almost always in the midst of some delay on life’s road, let me ask this: Do you look for the scenery or do you seek the fastest way through? What would it look like for you to pause and embrace the inevitable delays the coming year will bring?

 

 

Sharing stories with the writers at:

Faith on Fire | lylidunbar.com


lylidunbar.com

#FaithOnFire