What Happens when you Face Hard Things?

Updated: Mar 28, 2020

“‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, turn, and I would heal them.’" Matthew 13:14-15

"I heard and I forgot, I saw and I remembered, I did and I understood." In other words, you may hear something or see something, but the understanding comes when you experience it.

JH Ranch, a guest ranch I've served at for two summers, is full of "isms." Including the one I just mentioned. Matthew 13 has that particular ism ingrained in it's very core. "Otherwise they might see with their eyes"- I saw and I remembered. "Hear with their ears"- I heard and I forgot. "Understand with their hearts and turn"- I did and I understood. Or, I did and I was healed.

The majority of the people who come to the JH Ranch, come broken. Sometimes physically but mostly emotionally. Which takes some digging. We cover them in prayer and fill them with mental material which will hopefully help them along. But in my two summer at JH Ranch, the most breakthrough has come in the doing. Because, "I did and I understood."

I want to share a story where I did and understood.

It was my first summer at JH Ranch and the second week of training. With me being on programs for the summer, it was time for the mountain bike trail training. I had been through a program before, but their training is special because they format training like their Second Wind leadership program. Which I had been through a few years earlier meaning I experienced it all over again as a crew member.

We started off by getting acquainted with our bikes, our leaders walked us through how to use the gears, adjust the seats, etc. We prayed, the trail leader and caboose took their places, and we were off!

Those who know me, know I am a slightly competitive person. BUT, know thyself. I knew I could not hang with the people in the front but surely I wasn't the weakest of the bunch, so I took my place in the middle.

As soon as we began, we were going uphill, and only a minute in, we were going uphill on gravel. Suddenly I entered into what I call, "a slight panic mode." I couldn't quite get used to the gears. Because of that, I was exerting too much energy. Which lead to losing my breath quickly (which never really came back, by the way) and I was slowly becoming one of the last ones in this bicycle pack.

"I don't think I can do this."

Those bleak words popped up within seconds, and then repeatedly went through my head. There were a few times I said them out loud too. I remember saying to others, "this is so much harder than I thought it would be." They threw out encouraging words... as they passed me up.

Suddenly I felt alone. Things started to get real.

"I don't think I can do this."

Those words would not go away and I felt like I wasn't making any distance. My thoughts progressed to, "I know I can't do this." The Caboose had officially become my best friend. I was grumpy and embarrassed. Out of nowhere, I heard, "Ashley, but what if you can?" Something about this shook me to my core, something within me broke and I knew the Lord was using this to illustrate a real life point.

From then on, every-time I thought, "I cant." I heard, "what if?" And the ride continued.

At times the riders ahead would stop collectively and catch their breath, I would ride in on tail-end just in time for us to be off again. We'd go uphill, sometimes straight or down, but mostly up. I treasured the moments I was able to go downhill for a bit. Despite the pain I was in, there's nothing like California in the summer.

The rest of our two miles followed this pattern. Up, down, up, down, up, up, up straight, up.... a.k.a. dying, surviving, dying, surviving... you get it. As we went, the "what if" was constant. So I started talking back. I got sassy too! The final conversation went something like this...

Me: I cant.

Voice: What if?

Me: No seriously, I can't.

Voice: You can!

Me: My body is aching, I am embarrassed, this bike makes NO sense, I just want to be with everyone else, I hate being left behind, I never asked to be here and doing this, I should be up there! So no, actually, I REALLY cannot.

The next response came in the form of a memory, and the memory sparked a realization.

Months earlier I experienced a loss. It wasn't through a death although I had experienced that before. It was the loss of a dream. I had painted a picture for what my future was going to look like and I was invested in it. But because of one person walking away, I temporarily lost it all. It was one of the loneliest and deeply disappointing times of my life.

The memory was an instant replay of all of the days I woke up grumpy, disappointed, hurting, lonely and embarrassed, and of each time I said, "I can't do this, I didn't ask for this."

Leading up to this bike ride, I really had made a lot of progress! It had been about a year since it happened. I didn't miss the person anymore, and I had healed for the most part. But grief is funny like that. It doesn't last forever, but for a while it'll come back when you least expect it. It had been back for the past two months leading up to JH, and I had just shoved it to the side instead of facing it. Mostly, because I was tired of working through things. I was ready to be done with it!

That was the attitude God was speaking to in this moment. He was speaking to the "weary" in me. He was using this bike ride to illustrate the journey I had been on. He was telling me that I can do it. I can have a full and complete victory.

Hope was ushered in. Tears were also ushered in, which I could have done without considering my blurry vision wasn't helping the ride.

The rest of the ride wasn't easier. But I had been healed. I understood the state my heart had been in the months leading up to this moment. I heard God clearly speaking to me.

When we made it to the top we had time to drink water, actually get off of our bikes and catch our breath. The view was breathtaking.

After resting for a bit, we got back on our bikes and the area lead shouted over his shoulder, "the hard part is over!" and he was right, the hard part was over. It was all smooth sailing from there. I didn't have to exert any energy, I was able to rejoice in the fact, I made it. It was finished.

The relief internally was overwhelming as I processed how relatable this was to healing.

When my loss first happened, it hurt so badly I had "I don't think I can do this." running through my head every day. My life had suddenly changed in a way I hadn't expected. A way I hadn't asked for. I felt miles behind my friends and family because when you're wounded you just can't operate as well as you'd like to. Everyone encourages you saying you can do it, they don't understand what you're going through, and they usually say it as they pass you up and continue on with their lives.

All you're trying to do is catch your breath, and learn how to operate this 'bike' so you can get the ride over with. Nobody wants to experience the pain of grief or loss. But, the truth is, you can't rush it. You experience days where it feels like an uphill battle, it is so difficult. Then there are moments of rest where you get to catch your breath. Starting will be the most difficult, you're learning to operate the gears of your new life. But you will get the hang of it. There will be beautiful moments. Most importantly, you have a leader and a caboose who is with you always.

Psalm 139:5 says, "You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me."

God is before and behind you. He is both leading you and also picking you back up when you fall or need a break. Be encouraged.

I am so thankful for this day when I did and understood. I am so thankful God met me where I was. I am thankful He has healed that loss of a dream, and filled me with a new one. I am thankful He will do it over and over again.

My note to you:

If you're the struggling rider, there will be days to catch your breath. Those days are physical representation of God's grace. Until then, and when that time comes, talk with him! Let your conversation be sad/sassy/uncertain/overwhelmed/discouraged/hopeful/patient.

He can handle it. He isn't an insecure God! Your sadness doesn't deter his love. Remain faithful with him. He is close throughout this process. Just don't give up.

If you're the one who is in the bicycle pack and thriving, slow down for a minute, be an encourager and the hands and feet of our loving God. Look for the one lagging behind, and don't make them come to you! Go meet them where they are.

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