As a student leader in college, I was required to attend a month long training at the beginning of every school year. The first 10 days of this training were spent in the outdoors, on a backpacking trip through the Ansel Adams Wilderness in Yosemite, California. Not only was this leadership position completely unrelated to anything that would have a need for physical training, I myself am not a particularly outdoors-y individual. This is important, dear reader, because you need to have a visual image in your head of an already-awkward girl who is used to the luxuries of air conditioning, flip-flop-friendly sidewalks, and the availability of diet coke at any moment.
Ansel Adams has none of these things.
What could I possibly learn from an experience like this?
The things I bought, did, and read in order to prepare for this trip are pretty much textbook “rookie.” I memorized dumbed-down books on camping, and then I bought everything that the outdoor store had in my size. Underwear that lasts 2 weeks without needing to be washed (um, EW.), wool socks, and upwards of 50 packages of second-skin bandages.
I was padded up, weighed down, and wholly ready for anything that wilderness had waiting for me. I was basically ready to just grin-and-bear-it, and get back to my real life.
During the trip, I avoided sickness by drinking tons of water and swallowing pain pills at the first sign of a headache. I managed to not fall while scaling a mountain, or get eaten by the bears I read about in the guidebooks.
But I did get a blister on my pinky toe.
Minor injury to most, this little contusion became the bane of that trip for me. It throbbed so painfully that my whole ankle was in agony; I could feel my heartbeat in my heel. Every night, I threw out the old bandage, cleaned out my wound, and wrapped my aching pinky toe with new bandages. I kept it tightly covered up from all of the bacteria and poison hidden in the air that I read all about.
In the middle of the trip, we took a two-day break. Forty-eight hours of undisturbed silence and rest; an intermission to a very exhausting adventure.
Since I wouldn’t be hiking for two days, I was able to take off my very confining and uncomfortable hiking boots. Almost as soon as we stopped to rest, I kicked them off and let my toes feel the cool green grass. I let them soak up the sun until the skin turned pink again. I stared down at them, and saw that little bandage. I remembered the pain that I had been ignoring. It was frustrating that it had been five days and my toe still wasn’t healed. I had been covering it up with all the proper material, drowning it in all the right medications, and putting very little pressure on it. And that silly little toe Just. Wouldn’t. Heal.
I decided to remove all of the wrapping. I wouldn’t be walking on it, so it seemed appropriate for me to let it be. I went to sleep, finally allowing my body to recharge.
The change I saw in the morning was remarkable. Not only had my toe almost completely healed, but the swelling in my ankle was also gone, and the pain had disappeared.
As crazy as I might have sounded, I said something out loud to myself. No one was there to hear me, but no one was there to stop me either, so I just said it.
“Maybe some wounds just need to breathe before they can begin to heal.”
It shocked me how badly I needed to breathe in and out the pain in my heart. I needed to talk about it! I needed to wrestle with the emotions in my heart, I needed to feel the grief in my soul. And I needed to breathe in the peace of forgiveness and grace.
And that’s when I learned about the power of story telling; it heals me.
“But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed.” [Isaiah 53:5]
Christ’s wounds bring peace. And His wounds have taught me how to find healing from my own wounds,
I used to cover up my stories, my truths, my mistakes. I wrapped my broken heart in heavy-duty bandages and ignored the throbbing pain.
I used the heavy medication of rebellion to numb the ache I had in my soul. And the rebellion, the mistakes, the choices – those were not accepted in the small Christian atmosphere I was in. So I didn’t tell anyone; I kept them wrapped up in bandages, suffocated by regret. I dare not let the words of my story escape into the air that surrounded me. In an effort to bite my tongue, I lost my voice. And I stood on the shaky stones of approval as I hid parts and pieces of the real me.
I did not believe that the air around me was thick with freedom, grace, and the power to change lives.
I kept quiet and pretended that I was the exact same as everyone else.
It is an incredibly sobering moment when you realize that you have been completely blinded by the very spotlight you demanded.
By telling my stories through words on a page, I open myself up, one stitch at a time.
And I just breathe.