October 22, 2016
Last month, I had the opportunity to join a group of women from my church on a weekend getaway out in the country for what they call an “Encounter Weekend”. The purpose of the encounter, is to encounter God. For some ladies, it may be a first time; for others, it is to renew their relationship with God. For me, I wanted to use this opportunity to dedicate some focused time to listen and receive guidance on the next chapter of my life.
On Saturday, one of the ladies, Airene, agreed to go on a walk with me just to explore some of the countryside. Neither of us had been here before, so we had no idea where we were going but just wanted to enjoy being outside and the warm weather. As we were walking away from our camp, we ran into two ladies who were over-dressed (to say the least) since they looked like they just stepped out of a Civil War era scene as they walked along the dirt road in their southern dresses, feathered hats, gloves, boots, and carrying fancy umbrellas to shield them from the sun. We stopped and had a brief conversation with them since we were curious as to where they came from and where they were headed. There were staying at a mansion (cannot remember name but was named after a General in the Confederate Army) just around the corner and said they were headed to the beach. Airene and I were a little confused at the latter statement but thought maybe they misspoke or we simply misunderstood what they said since we were pretty far out in the country and couldn’t imagine a beach nearby. We went our separate ways and about five minutes later, Airene and I saw a sign that said “Beach” with an arrow pointing towards a trail. We now realized the ladies did not misspeak, and so our curiosity led us right into the woods so we could find this mysterious beach.
Neither of us did not expect the trail would be very long; however, the more we walked, the deeper we walked into the woods. Our doubts surfaced and wondered if there really was a beach, or was it just a small pond tucked somewhere remote and people in that area called it a beach. As we continued walked along the trail, the path got even more unclear. In fact, there was no clear path at all especially since the recent storms that occurred in the area was probably cause for many of the trees and overgrown brush to cover the trail. At one point, we had to climb over a huge fallen tree trunk to continue on what we thought was the path. Several times, one of us would question out loud whether or not we were going the right way or if we should turn around and go back to camp since we were pretty deep into the woods.
After about three quarters of a mile, we finally saw a clearing through the tree tops, so we plunged ahead with some renewed energy. After another 400 meters or so, all of a sudden we saw it… water… a HUGE body of water! We were still in the woods but we could see it through the trees, and so we started running. As we stepped out of the woods, we stepped right onto the sandy beach. And what an amazing scene before us! It was not the ocean with loud waves crashing up on shore, nor was it some tropical white sands smooth beach that stretched for hundred yards til you reached the water. Rather it was a quaint little beach with such a calming body of water and mountains as its backdrop. The scenery was so much more beautiful and serenely peaceful than I expected. I immediately took my socks and shoes off, rolled my pant legs up, and walked knee-high into the water. I was hot after that unexpected long hike through the trails. We cooled off and decided to walk along the water for a bit, talking and laughing about our little adventure, basking in the sunshine and enjoying this pleasant surprise.
As we walked back to camp, I reflected upon this little journey and how it relates to so much in life and work. We may receive a vision from others – our leaders, or maybe even strangers – and many times our automatic response is that we think the vision is too grand, too vague, or maybe they are out of tune with reality because there’s no way there is a beach out here in the middle of the country, so we simply dismiss it. But then we see some potential or positive signs towards that vision, and so we decide to take the journey. We plunge right into the woods and take the trail we see before us, thinking about the destination to motivate us. Along the journey, the trail becomes really muddy and unclear and you have to make several big choices as to which way to go. At times, you even see big tree trunk obstacles that are blocking the path and you have to decide whether to climb over it, or simply turn around and follow the path back to find a different trail.
If you are lucky and smart, you are taking the journey with a friend who pulls you and encourages you to continue moving when you start doubting the choices, and you do the same in turn, reminding each other of what is ahead, the destination. Whether or not you really believe the destination is really there, you are comforted knowing you are not alone on the journey. You continue to follow what you believe is the right way, and you help each other as the destination continues to be the focus. Next thing you know, you see a clearing in the trees and you pick up momentum, the water is within sight… and suddenly, you are stepping right onto the sand! You are finally there and what once was a vision is now your reality – a reality that is so much better than you even imagined!
However, just because you have reached this destination, does not mean it is the end. Do not forget about the celebration and truly enjoy being in the the moment with your friend. Also, take the time to reflect on the journey that got you both there. Most importantly, take those lessons of the journey back with you and back to the tribe. The return hike to camp was so much shorter because we were prepared and familiar with the path now; we knew where the obstacles were and we knew how to get over them. When we arrived back at camp, we shared our journey and we shared our experience at the beach. By the end of the weekend, most of the ladies had taken their own journeys to the beach and they too, shared their experiences with the group.
I came to the encounter with the expectation of getting clarity on the next chapter of my life. But, what I encountered was that I needed to focus on my present journey – the path that I am currently on rather than trying to focus on the destination and/or my next chapter. Additionally, my encounter was the realization that the clarity I needed was not a vision for the future or what that looked like, but to better understand and embrace my purpose of the current journey. The next chapter will arrive soon enough and I have no doubt that it will be great one. Yes, I would love it if I could have it all planned out and I could see how it will all fall into place… But God used this weekend to remind me that sometimes I am too focused on moving on, on that destination, that beach if you will. So much so that I lose sight of my current journey and my present experiences, and that my focus needs to be on the here and now – building and strengthening my current work teams, making connections and relationships with others where I am now – not so much on the next chapter, but owning the current journey and making it my own.