I lift up my eyes to the hills — from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.
— Psalm 121 (NRSV)
My first call after graduating from seminary was to serve as the Program Director of Badlands Ministries just outside of Medora, North Dakota. It was wonderful and meaningful work, planning and leading programming for children, youth, and adults year-round in the midst of the rugged terrain with which Theodore Roosevelt fell in love prior to becoming President. The camp's 188 acres are a beautiful and unique slice of God's creation and an inspiring backdrop for ministry.
During the summer months I moved into a simple but comfortable cabin so I could be onsite throughout the youth camping season. With no Internet access or a smartphone during those years, I spent my evenings after campfire "unplugged," with my dog, a can of Coke Zero, the sounds of the grasshoppers and locusts, and my reflections on the day. I treasured the peace and stillness after busy, lively days at camp.
One day I was in the office late, finishing staffing for the following week and watching the weather radar. I missed campfire that night to finish my work for the day and to monitor the timing of a line of thunderstorms moving our way. All the campers were in bed and safe, so I turned off my computer to walk the thousand feet or so back to my cabin for the night. Just as I was getting up from my chair there was a rumble of thunder and there was a sudden downpouring of rain. I thought I would beat the storm, but instead it trapped m inside for the next 30 minutes, because, of course, I had left my raincoat in my cabin. I was not happy. All I wanted was to get to bed after a long day, but I would have to wait a little bit longer. I don't tend to get grumpy very often, but that storm made me very, very grumpy in that moment.
It was 30 minutes of pretty intense rain, lightning, and thunder. I grew more and more impatient by the minute. Finally, I heard the rain stop almost suddenly, and the thunder sounded more distant. I stepped outside, frustrated, ready to walk to my cabin, when I looked up at the sky. The stars were shining brilliantly directly above the camp, and the backside of the line of storms were passing over the butte on the edge of the camp property. The clouds were almost constantly lit from inside by bolts of lightning streaking across the sky. I had never been seen something as powerful and beautiful as this, and I couldn't help but stand in awe, right in front of the office building for the next several minutes.
The office was a classic, white church building with a bell tower that had been moved to camp after the congregation had closed a few years prior. As I watched the sky in amazement, lighting up the butte and the large cross built on its summit, an enormous owl, which had taken refuge in the bell tower during the storm, took flight above and in front of me. Its silhouette traveled silently across the sky in front of the lightning-lit clouds, and every ounce of impatience I had felt moments before evaporated. I had never witnessed something this beautiful before in my life, and I would have missed it all if I had been in my cabin before the rain fell.
The words to a camp song based on Psalm 121 came to mind, and came to life that night for me:
I lift my eyes up, unto the mountains. Where does my help come from? My help comes from You, Maker of Heaven, Creator of the Earth. Oh, how I need you Lord. You are my only hope. You are my only prayer. So I will wait for You, to come and rescue me, to come and give me life. I lift my eyes up, unto the mountains. Where does my help come from?
This lent as we observe the disciplines of reflections, repentance, and seeking renewal in Christ, let us remember where our help comes from during times of trouble. Let us remember in whom we are called to place our hope and prayers. Let us remember the one true source of Life. And, let us remember the storms of betrayal, crucifixion, and death endured by Christ, so that his glory and majesty would be revealed to all God's people that blessed Easter morning. Let us carry the storms of our own lives to the foot of the cross this Lent, trusting in Christ's promise to carry these burdens with us, and for us, that we might have abundant life in his name.