“Dude, this place is epic!” exclaims the guy next to me in the parking lot of the dune field at Great Sand Dunes National Park.
“Man..oh man! This looks like the Sahara!
My new friend eagerly takes out a sand board and begins to scan the behemoth hills of sand.
“Hey I’m Austin!” reaching out to shake my hand.
And this is Caitlyn and Tracy..Come on out girls! He exclaims as he peers into the doorless and sandy jeep.
Out pop Caitlyn and Tracy and they smile as we all change into study hiking boots.
“Nice to meet you guys! Wow what a perfect day. I eagerly add as I look at the stickers on the back of their van.
“Are you guys from around here?” I ask.
“We’re from Boulder!” The trio says in almost unison as Austin interjects and says Colorado in such a way as to suggest that Boulder was a state all to its own.
“Whoa…New Jersey!!!!” We have been doing the license plate game over the last few weekends and we definitely don’t have New Jersey so yay!” “Hey, I was there once! Do you know where Morristown is?”
“I live about 20 minutes from there!” I add in shock that someone in the middle of absolutely nowhere has heard of New Jersey, let alone Morristown.
“That is so cool! Tracy adds. We were there for a Christian Ministry Program.
“Wow awesome! I smile while looking down at my pack.
Tracy follows my lead and turns to the rest saying” Hey let’s get hiking!”
We begin to walk out onto the warm soft sand.
“So what brings you here?” Austin says as we begin to walk up the huge hills of sand.”
Not immediately sensing the depth of his question, I answer; “I’ve been to every park in Colorado, and this is my last one I’ve yet to hike!”
Looking a bit let down by my answer, he says; “This place guides my ministry and helps me let go. I mean look around; isn’t this incredible?
“It sure is….are you are a minister then? I ask inquisitively.
“I hope to be if that is my calling; both Caitlyn and Tracy are called too. We are part of Impact Colorado and we work with the students at Colorado State to bring Jesus to everyone we can.”
We continue to walk in silence for a moment as I contemplate how in the middle of the Colorado desert, I could find a way to run into three evangelists! Even the landscape, for all practical purposes, looks biblical. As we walk on ridge after ridge of sand, I fully expect to see a camel train. As I walk, it is as if I am in a completely different place or time. We begin to become separated by several hundred yards as we hike at our own pace up the cresses of Star Dune, the tallest sand dune on the continent. Perhaps due to exhaustion or higher spiritual powers, I begin to hallucinate. The rolling hills of sand in the distance become a vast sea with giant waves crashing upon the mountains. Heavily in thought, I keep up my pace thinking I will be swallowed up by this vast sea. At times, the sand sinks me down well over a foot, and I crouch down to regain my balance, not willing to give an inch to the impending ocean below. I have glimpses of a vision of large numbers of people fleeing the water filled valley below and climbing with me up the sand. Some seem to fall into the great watery abyss while others continue up along the sand. My depth perception changes to such an extent, I see what looks like the top of the ridge and bolt up a few yards, only to see another ridge, even taller and steeper. On a short semi-flat incline, I find the group waiting for me.
“Hey wow, you look like you just saw a ghost!” Tracy says as she hands me water. Drink drink! You look dehydrated!”
I gulp the water down as we rest and it begins to occur to me that I completely forgot to drink my water heading up the sand dune. Could I have climbed the tallest sand dune in North America with no water? I try to shake off the image of the vast ocean below me, but it lingers for quite a while and then slowly fades into my thoughts.
We all rest and share some snacks while looking at the vast landscape before us. In every direction for miles, rolling hills of sand cover the landscape and create shadows in what appears to be a vast abyss in ever valley. The parking lot where we parked our cars is completely hidden with the only sign of where we came from being a faint green line of trees on the edge of the sand to the south. How easy it would be to get lost here; I ponder.
After lunch, Austin preps his sand board and with a quick wave and a loud “woohoo!” he starts sandboarding down the sand. He flies down the sand and hits an embankment, goes 5 feet flying into the air and lands face down in the sand. After a few seconds of panic, we all see him get up give a “thumbs up” and start heading back across the base of the dune.
“Well I don’t know if I can beat that but here goes!” Tracy says excitedly as she prepares her board on the sand.” “Oh my gosh, I’m nervous!” She says peering over the sand ledge into the vast abyss. Caitlyn jumps in; “You can do it you can do it!” Tracy takes a breath and with a “waaahoo!” she rides down the waves of sand. She slides more gracefully than Austin and ends up on her stomach in the sand and starts laughing.
“Hey where’s your board!” I ask Catelyn who is now sitting in the sand next to me and eating a banana. “Oh, I am just their moral support! she smiles. They will be here all day! I just want to journal a bit and take all this in...I cannot believe God has made all this.” She takes out her journal and I leave her be for a while, as I take out my camera and begin taking pictures of the sand dunes and Tracy and Austin as dots in the distance. They both now are on opposing sand dunes and I capture a picture of them high fiving each other as they fly down in opposite directions across from each other. I think about how incredibly in love with life they are.
I return to where Catelyn is sitting and she has her journal out and a small, tattered blue bible. On a small papyrus journal she has written;
You, God, are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you,
my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land
where there is no water.
I have seen you in the sanctuary
and beheld your power and your glory.
Because your love is better than life,
my lips will glorify you.
I will praise you as long as I live,
and in your name I will lift up my hands.
I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods;
with singing lips my mouth will praise you.
Catelyn smiles and says; this simple little book has everything we need. We all thirst for God and he is right here-all surrounding us and quenching our thirst-filling our hearts with His unconditional love.
“That’s so true!” He’s everywhere. I answer with a joyful tear in my eye.
Catelyn senses my need for a hug and gives me a long hug and then playfully says; “I love giving free hugs!”
I start chucking to myself and smile over at Catelyn; “This is too awesome! I can’t believe we’re doing a bible study on top of a remote sand dune in the middle of the desert. We definitely have to keep in touch. Mind if we trade contact information.
Definitely; Catelyn smiles back as she hands me over the bible and writes her name and contact information in it.
“Here take this bible with you too. It has a special story with it and it will protect you on all of these hikes.”
“Aww thank you so much!” I smile as I look over the tattered water logged pages of the bible.
“What is the story?” I ask inquisitively.
“This Bible has been my protector in all of these wilderness hikes. Just last year, I was hiking alone up Mt Elbert, when I got caught in a thunderstorm above tree line. I thought I was okay when I went below tree line, so I did not think too much of the storm overhead. No sooner did I let down my guard, than I saw a huge flash in front of me and a tree literally explode down its trunk. I must have been only 100 feet away and pieces of bark went everywhere and the tree started smoldering. I mean if I was just a foot or two closer to that tree…” “I stopped so quickly when I saw that flash that the bible in my pocket went flying out and into a puddle. I picked it up, threw it in my pack and continued down the mountain. Everyone’s been telling me how lucky I am but I know God’s protected me that day. I want you to have it.”
Thank you so much and I’ll always carry it in my pack; I respond nervously as I think about how miraculous her story was.
“Hey, it looks like Tracey and Austin want to head down for lunch at the van. Want to have some hot dogs?
“Sure, but let me take some pictures around here for a bit. I’ll definitely meet you down there. Does around 3pm work?”
“Sounds great! I’ll meet you down there Sean.” Catelyn excited replies as she gathers her journal, puts back on her hiking shoes and gives me another hug.
Within a minute, she was a small dot upon the landscape, waving and playfully hopping through the sand on the way down. I put the water logged bible in my pack and cross the ridgeline of Star Dune to get some panoramic landscape pictures across the horizon. I follow the three disciples with my eye for a while as they walk through the sand, but soon they vanish and I am in the vast wilderness of sand. I continue hiking amongst the sand dunes for over an hour, taking a roundabout way down up and over the huge hills of sand. I think about my chance encounter with Catelyn and her friends and the meaning of Psalm 63:1, she so happily shared with me.
“I thirst for you.”
With a tear in my eye, I realize that God provides us all of the spiritual water we need. He is ever present waiting to quench our thirst. In the middle of the Colorado desert, I felt a peace that the Creator has nourished me with His life-giving water. Not only was I provided with this life giving water at the right time, I found a friend that could share the Creator’s love with me. She was radiant with God’s love and I felt purified by her friendship and presence. Isn’t that what being a follower of Jesus is all about? We need to rise out of the sea of our own thoughts and see the spiritual realm of God’s eternal love. If we allow God to work through us, we will radiate and others will notice. It happened to me with three hikers and a bible in the Colorado sand dunes.
As I return to the parking lot, to my surprise I am the only car left. The van and the three evangelists are gone. I look at my watch and it reads 3pm and begin to feel sad; why haven’t they waited for me? Then I realize that I forgot to change my watch from Arizona time, an hour earlier. It was now really 4:05pm. I had missed them by just over an hour. As I reach my car, I notice a note on the front left windshield wiper. I open the note and it reads;
“I hope you have a wonderful and blessed rest of your trip! We left you some dinner on top of your trunk. It was so nice meeting you today. If you get a chance, we’d like to welcome you up to Impact Colorado’s music night. We are having some music and fellowship this upcoming Friday night. We’d love to see you again! Peace out and enjoy the drive back!”
I open the lunch bag and there are two perfectly warm hotdogs inside aluminum foil and a box of animal crackers. Written on the box of animal crackers is another note which reads; “do not worry these are actually still good!” I eat my dinner and then begin the long drive back to Colorado Springs. I roll down my windows and let the breeze roll past my face. My mind races in thought and I think about how different the day would have been, if I had not met my hiking companions. I’ve always believed that everyone that comes into your life comes for a reason- but the reasons always seem so superficial. I was not prepared for God to bring three disciples. I came thirsty and was provided with the essential water of life. I was not judged and my three friends even let me walk at my own pace; sometimes a hard thing to do when you are hiking in a group. They simply took the time to share the Creator’s unconditional love with me. I was unprepared, but was loved anyways. In the radiance of my new friendships, I found God guiding me to a new life; with Him. My spirit was reborn that day.
Less than a week later, and after preparing mentally for over five years, I started the climb up Longs Peak, one of the tallest and deadliest mountain peaks in Colorado. The weather was calm and unusually sunny-perfect weather to summit this mountain in mid-August. There was no wind and it was mild-two other factors contributing to a perfect climbing day. After a 1am start, I reached the Keyhole, a promontory point less than 1000 feet from the summit at 7am. From this point, the trail becomes technical through a feature called the Narrows and then levels off into a homestretch. Based on timing and perfect weather, I could summit within 90 minutes. I was feeling well hydrated and rested, and had strong energy to continue on. Yet, something was tugging at me. I felt an irresistible urge to stay put and admire the scenery from the Keyhole. I started to hike up a 100 feet from the Keyhole into the Narrows and the urge got suddenly stronger. Without even thinking, I turned my body around and started hiking back down. My mind could not come to grips with why I was not feeling ready to climb through the Narrows. When I returned to the Keyhole, two hikers came frantically running down and said that someone had slipped off the ledge and plunged to their death off the mountain. There had apparently been a rock-fall just moments before, caused by the melting ice on several huge snow cornices above the Narrows. The hikers were able to get cell reception and call 911, but the grim reality set in that there really was not any urgency. No one has survived a fall off of Longs Peak to this date. There are sections of the narrows with near half a mile vertical drops. It was the first hike where I carried Catelyn’s water logged bible with me. I have carried it with me ever since.
I had to return to work the following week, so I never had the chance to meet the group from Impact Colorado. Eagerly opening the front page of the bible to get Catelyn’s contact information, I found that the page had completely fallen out. I searched my backpack for weeks after trying to find the loose page. It must have fallen out somewhere on the hike or in my travels. I have thought about gifting it to some random hiker on my next adventure, but part of me keeps opening it up hoping to find the lost page. Am I ready to be a disciple; to do what Catelyn did? Am I ready to tell my story through biblical principles and share it in such a way as to be the spiritual guide of others? Can I be Catelyn to someone else?
We read a lot about Jesus going up a mountain to pray or to a high place in the village. Yet, all of his work took place in the valleys and towns-away from the contemplative solitude of the mountain. He took time to receive His spiritual water and then brought it to all he came in contact with. Jesus places a great trust in us to do His will. We each are given specific gifts by God which can impact the lives of others Fellowship is a very important part of the journey.