It was a beautiful clear morning in July giving no hint at all at what was to come. A small group of my high school students plus a couple of us leaders got an early start as we headed down Bright Angel trail in the Grand Canyon. Our destination was Indian Gardens where we planned to look out over the Colorado River and then hike back up. The trek down was uneventful. The trek back up ended up being the one and only time in my life thus far where I thought I might die—and not because of the strenuous climb. Out of nowhere came a monster storm that soaked us to the bone and bruised us with an onslaught of hail. Visibility became so restricted that although we were right in the middle of the Grand Canyon we could no longer see it. Everything was white as hail poured down. Suddenly two of our guys who were ahead of the group ran back toward us from around a switchback, grabbed us, yelled “Rockslide!” and unknowingly pinned us into a thorn bush in a small ditch on the side of the cliff. (It is amazing how you do not feel thorns when you are terrified of falling rocks!) Next there came a roar that I will never forget, it sounded like a freight train. We could hear the slide but we could not see it. Steve, one of the students, yelled out in pain—his leg had been struck. Once the slide stopped I realized we were dangerously close to the bottom of a sheer rock wall with the very likely potential of more rocks falling on us. I yelled for the group to run back down the switchback to a more safe location. We grabbed the thorn bush to pull ourselves out of the ditch. We would feel those thorns later (and would be pulling the thorns out for weeks to come) but for now adrenaline coursed through our veins. Steve couldn’t walk and had to be carried by his buddies. When we stopped we huddled together for warmth and comfort. Some were crying. Some were praying. We were all bewildered. With the immediate danger past and the adrenaline subsiding I began to feel an amazing calmness come over me. I didn’t know how we were going to get out of this. I stepped away from the group to the middle of the trail, looked up into the rain and had a little conversation with God. “I don’t want to die down here. Please get us out of this hole.” Yes, the beautiful and majestic Grand Canyon had become a “hole”. My prayer was calm; there was no panic or anxiety. It was a simple prayer, like I was having coffee with God.
I am not afraid to die—not that I am looking to go anytime soon. And to be honest, how I will die is a little concerning to me. I think I am part of the masses when I say I would prefer it would be in my sleep. But I am so assured that God is real and knowable and good and that a life surrendered to him becomes part of a bigger story that doesn’t end here that, as the Apostle Paul wrote, “death has no sting”. But that doesn’t mean I (or anyone else) never face fear, anxiety or panic. Of course we do—that is just part of being human. But what I learned in the “hole” was how God’s peace can trump these things. When the rock slide occurred there was fear and panic everywhere. This is just like life. We are going along and minding our own business when seemingly out of the blue we get hit with something (a chaotic situation, a negative report from the doctor, a blow to our financial stability, a threat—whatever) and it knocks us silly, off-kilter, consumed with fear and anxiety and struggling to regain balance. It can take a moment to catch our breath. Here is what I have found. When I will step away and look up, focusing on Jesus, peace floods my spirit even when the storm is still raging. The key here is focus. As long as I focus on my circumstances I magnify the fear. But if I will focus on Christ who is the hope of my life I find peace. Please note that I did not earn this peace by being “good enough” or deserving it. It is given freely. Jesus is known as the Prince of Peace and in the book of John he said, “My peace I give to you.” Later on in the New Testament Paul writes that the peace we have transcends all understanding. In other words this peace doesn’t always make sense as circumstances would dictate a completely different outlook.
Now just because we have peace does not mean things are not still hard and possibly even dangerous. This post is already too long so I do not have time to go into detail, but eventually we had to have a search and rescue helicopter fly in to get Steve out of the “hole”. His sister, Loraine, and I were still with him when rescue arrived (the rest of the team had climbed out). The rescuer looked at Loraine and I and told us that he would take care of Steve but that we needed to get out now because we were getting hypothermia. So I asked if it was safe for us to climb out—perhaps the rock slides were over. He gave me a strong look and said, “No. I didn’t say that. What I said was you are getting hypothermia and you need to get out now!” As we climbed out we saw other hikers huddled alongside the trail. When an obnoxiously loud clap of thunder hit, a woman hiking up with us screamed, her eyes filled with terror and she turned around and ran back down into the “hole”. I tried to stop her but she pushed me away. As Lorraine and I were getting ready to step out from one of the tunnels located near the rim, a man yelled for us to stop and a large rock fell right where we would have stepped. Things were still crazy, but we had peace. Peace does not mean that everything is calm on the outside. Peace brings calmness to the inside even when all hell is breaking loose around you.
This is a far more serious post than what I normally write, but it ties in with what we are talking about on Wednesday nights. If we will cry out to Jesus he will show up in the midst of our situation and walk with us through it. He did it for Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (one of the stories we looked at last week in the Bible study). He did it for me in the “hole” and many other times of my life (which I do not have time to write about) when it seemed like the world was going sideways. He will do it for you!
Here is the verse on peace from last week’s Bible study. See you next week as we look at Daniel 5 and 6.
By the way, if you like the Grand Canyon and trail stuff you might want to check out these posts. A couple of years ago my friends and I ran rim to rim to rim in one day (a double-crossing of the Grand Canyon – 46 miles) and it was epic–with no rock slides! Here are the links and they are filled with pics. I am not sure if they will work by clicking or if they need to be copied and pasted into the browser: