I got yelled at on a recent visit to Colorado; by a park ranger at Garden of the Gods. I didn't set out to break their rules, but I somehow still found a way to cross the line. But my error turned into one of my most intimate engagements with God and His creation.
I set out around 9:00AM on an absolutely gorgeous day in south central Colorado. I originally was headed to Blodgett Peak but it was closed due to some recent fire warnings. So I continued on to Garden of the Gods (a place I believe is more appropriately named by dropping the 's'). The air was crisp and cool, and I was ready for a good hike. My backpack was supplied with snacks, water bottles, my Bible, and a notepad. I parked my car in one of the canyons and began my trek up the hilly terrain.
In Garden of the Gods there are many marked trails going every direction across the vast landscape. Unbeknownst to me, the park rangers expect hikers to stay on these trails. I have never been one to stay on trails, literally or metaphorically. So, within about 10 minutes of my hike, I headed off through the woods, weaving in and out of rock formations and underbrush. As I came to a clearing I saw the tip of Pike's Peak off in the distant horizon. There were several mountain ranges between it and me. I thought to myself, it sure would be nice to get to higher ground so I could have a better view.
As I surveyed my surroundings I noticed just to the south of me about a quarter to half mile away a spectacular rock formation. There were these three huge, flat red rocks jutting out of the ground at about a 45 degree angle. They looked like a massive, rocky airplane wing signaling which direction to go if one wanted to head toward Pike's Peak. The tip of the formation would be the perfect spot from which to survey a nearly 360 degree panoramic view. I quickly mapped out my route to the rocks in my head and started trudging toward my destination.
As I got to the bottom of the rock formation I realized that things seen from a distance are much larger up close (that's probably a rich principle for another article entirely). But I wasn't deterred. I took a deep breath (or as deep of one you can take at over 8000 feet elevation) and climbed up the rocks. At the peak I took off my backpack and sat down with my legs dangling over the edge. I looked down (reflexively) and realized it was a 50-60 foot drop to the ground. But when I raised my head to look toward Pike's Peak, it was breathtaking! The climb was over. I made it to my summit. And taking in the panoramic view was simply overwhelming. I sang out praises to the Lord, remembering His Words, "In His hands are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are His also..." (Psalm 95:4) It was beautiful. I took a picture (see above).
As I was drinking in the moment, I felt water dripping down my back. This seemed unusual since it was barely 50 degrees outside and zero humidity. I turned around to look at my backpack and noticed a wet corner on the bottom. I opened the pack to discover that one of my water bottles had leaked out onto my Bible and notepad. Ah, man! I started pulling all my stuff out of the backpack and laying it out on the rocks to dry. As I'm doing this I glance down to the road that winds through the park. It's about a half mile away. I see a white truck driving slowly down the road. Then I hear this bull horn honking and a guy starting to talk over the loud speaker. But it sounds like the teacher from Charlie Brown; just muffled and gibberish.
I continue to work on drying all my soaked goods when I hear the bull horn sound again. This time I look at the truck and pay more attention to what is being said over the loud speaker, "You, sir, in the red shirt. Get off those rocks and get back on the trails!" I look down only to be reminded that I was wearing a red sweatshirt. Unconvinced that I could be breaking any rules, I look around to see if there just might be somebody else in a red shirt standing on some off limits rocks. Unfortunately, no one else was seen. I politely waved to the rangers in the white truck and started packing up my wet gear to begin my trek back down the rocks and onto the approved pathways. But before I left, I took one last long look at the view; a true masterpiece of artistry from the Creator.
I was a bit embarrassed for my blunder, but I'm not ashamed of what resulted of my error. I drank in the majesty of God's creation from a vantage point that, apparently, few ever have.
I think God is in the business of making mistakes majestic. We wander off His trail in life, sometimes because of sin, other times because someone leads us away. We find ourselves lost in the woods or stuck in a valley. Then we see a marker, like that rock formation in Garden of the Gods, a signpost reminding us which direction we must face in order to once again see God's glory. And when we reach those markers we drink in the majesty of our Maker, thankful for His faithfulness to never leave us nor forsake us, even when we step off the trail.
Oh, and the best news is that in God's "garden of life" He never yells at us for getting off track. Instead, He encourages us to pause, embrace His grace, and press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Phil 3:14). He is able and willing to turn our mistakes into something majestic. His grace really is that good...