A Personal Journey
One month ago yesterday I turned 48 years old.
The last time I was in Lone Star, TX for a stay was 30 years ago when I drove a local church van stuffed with several kids to meet up with the rest of the group and its Pastor, along with several other youth groups, for a long weekend at this facility about this same time of year.
I love Lakeview Baptist Assembly but not because of fond childhood memories, although I have some; not because I particularly love the great outdoors or camp food, however, it is stunningly beautiful there and the staff always served good meals (aside from those powdered eggs); and not necessarily because of the “God-moments” I remember having, even though of the 3 times I went as a teen some amazing things did happen on those grounds. I love Lakeview Baptist Assembly because of a certain place within its perimeters.
On one side of Lakeview is the beautiful Lake O’ The Pines. Cabins, assembly buildings, and caretakers’ houses dot the heavily wooded area. In the middle of this facility is a natural, very steep, iron ore hill called Prayer Mountain. The first time I went to camp there, I was pulled, along with several others during free time, up this hill. I felt so lost and disoriented–sort of like not being able to see the forest for the trees. Yes, there were foot paths but they were obscure because of saplings, fallen limbs, leaves and pine needles. It was easy to get off course, especially since I didn’t know where we were going or what we were looking for. I don’t remember really but knowing me, I imagine I was more concerned about bugs, wasps, snakes, slipping on those slick leaves that blanketed the top of that iron ore and clay, or really getting lost in those woods. I remember hearing one of the girls say that she thought we had missed ‘it’, while one of the boys was positive it was just ‘right up there, past that rock’.
Sure enough, as we came around that stone outcropping we stopped climbing as the trail opened up into a wide, flat hard scape, void of trees or underbrush. Stones were stacked on top of each other, gently curving, creating a beautiful amphitheater. Once on top of this steeply sloped hill it was obvious there was a lot of foot traffic up here. There was a little trash where some had not been careful to pick up after themselves and there was some graffiti on that one stone, making it obvious that people spent time here. Looking around you could see four distinct paths that led to and from the place causing me to wonder why it was so difficult to see these paths while we were trekking up here. But there was no indication from below of what we would find at the top. The other side of this open area dropped off abruptly and right there, just as you came to the end of this level area, someone had erected a rugged wooden cross. Someone explained that many services had been held on that hilltop, although I was never part of one.
All three of my youth trips to Lakeview involved going up to Prayer Mountain, yet I never went alone, nor did I go more than once per trip. You see, my group was not really into that sort of thing, and once per trip was enough for them. I wanted to spend a lot of time up there once I found it, but I was afraid to go up there all by myself, so I always stayed with the crowd while pining to be ‘up there’.
I didn’t know how much free time we would have yesterday, especially since we were only going to be there for the day. I wasn’t able to attend last year’s retreat and I couldn’t spend the entire weekend this time so I felt like I needed to be with our ladies as much as possible. I did not expect to have the amount of time after the morning service and lunch that we were given. The hosting church set up a relaxing ‘spa day’ and “queen for the day” dress up and photo shoot. Of course, I was not prepared for this! I was only going for the day so I didn’t bring makeup and hair stuff! Some of our ladies opted to nap after lunch and some chose to do the cardio-workout of trekking up that hill….Me? Well, I chose to go shopping with our fearless leader and four other ladies before we were all going to meet back up for the photo shoot! Seriously spiritual, huh?
We weren’t gone long and when we got back the women I was with wanted to take advantage of the spa time and the women who had ventured up the hill were back. Now was the perfect opportunity for me if I planned on going up Prayer Mountain at all.
From the moment we drove into the Assembly, everything looked different — I was looking at 30 years of changes that I had not been part of. I guess now is as good a time as any to tell you I didn’t even remember the Lake being such a prominent part of the grounds — but how in the world do you miss something that large, never mind the NAME of the camp? So I was rewinding my memory banks and trying to get my bearings, but there must be some buildings that have been replaced and relocated, along with all the added ones and features. I had to ask where Prayer Mountain was because the cabins and small hotel changed the entire look of that side of the drive for me. Once I was pointed in the right direction and I saw the trail marker, I was on my way….
Walking from the main areas and cabins is all straight up. Once you set out on the path it is a steady incline that this body with all its issues over the last couple years was not really ready for! I was concerned with my heavy breathing and burning thighs and how stupid I was for doing this alone, but I just could not stop. I was paying close attention to the scene above me, looking for any out-cropping of stones that would indicate the old amphitheater, to no avail. There were several overgrown paths, a couple I even started up, but thought better of because this is springtime in Texas and snakes are coming out of hibernation. I came upon resting benches that were not there in the early 80’s and there was an area that was marked with caution signs warning not to use this challenge course without supervision. I submitted to the warning, but am still wondering if a group (maybe Boy Scouts) use this as a training facility. Walking on a little farther only caused more questions as I came upon a really intense looking obstacle course and climbing wall…but no summit sanctuary. In fact, had I kept walking I would have been descending instead of ascending.
An old fear tried to sprout from long dormant roots that if I kept going I was going to get lost in these woods. I have a fairly good internal direction keeper, so I quickly dispelled that fear. I started up several trails, but they were so overgrown that I just couldn’t come to peace about trying them out. At one point I was paralyzed in my tracks by the fear of going forward and the thought of returning not fulfilling such a simple goal I’d set for myself. With tears rolling down my face I headed back the way I’d come, defeated but still looking up to the hilltop. Then I saw it through the over-growth of trees and limbs. A wooden cross! It was so easily missed among the trees if you were not looking for it, and I had not been. I’d been searching for the out-cropping of rock or stacked stones. There was a glimmer of hope in my heart that I still had an opportunity to make it to the summit. I ended up back at the yellow caution signs warning me that this trail was difficult and should only be taken under supervision. Again I hesitated, looking straight up, considering my shoulder/neck/head issues and that I still had a long afternoon and evening ahead of me, then I started climbing. My athletic shoes were slick so foot placement had to be thought out. The path was still overgrown and at one point, it was lost altogether and I just took a chance to go to the right. The difference was I had seen my desire. Although I could not see it at that moment, my faith was in the fact that I had been up there three times before and that I’d had a glimpse of that cross through the trees this time. And so I continued on. The next thing I know I had come upon the backside of that cross; the drop-off side of that level summit! But I was there! Thirty years had not changed the location of Prayer Mountain! The amphitheater was still there, although I don’t remember seeing the rock with the graffiti on it and park benches have been added (I believe that has taken away from the natural beauty of the place).
As I stood in the center of this outdoor sanctuary I turned slowly in all directions and I noticed that there are still four distinct paths leading to and from Prayer Mountain, which still confuses me since those same paths are so obscure when you are climbing up that hill. But it was as I was coming down from my time at the foot of the cross that I may have learned the most important lesson. You see, years and years ago whoever decided to make that natural retreat also decided the best path to go up to Prayer Mountain, complete with natural stone out-cropping steps. That path is very steep, but the steps help you navigate from the bottom to the top. There is a fork in the path and if you take the other path, it is just as steep but no way to get your footing if you begin to slip. I want to reiterate here that the path is straight up and some of the steps are set too high for me to just step down like a staircase. I had to scoot down in two places but there was solid rock rather than clay covered in leaves and pine needles. I stopped and turned back to look up the trail I’d just come down and it was just as difficult to see the path back up to the top! A few minutes later I heard a woman’s voice, but saw nothing at first. A few steps more and I saw some benches, and as I looked past them I realized where I was. I saw the sign that read “Prayer Mountain” and the cabin where our ladies where staying.
I turned and looked back again and that is when I realized it: I had taken the wide, well-traveled trail. I had followed it to a very demanding obstacle course, but that did not lead me to my desired destination. I ended up having to turn around and come back. I did find a path to the top, but it wasn’t well marked, it was slick, over-grown and was more difficult and steeper than it really needed to be to get to my destination. And going the way I did took me 45 minutes to reach the summit, not to mention the fear I experienced and real possibility of giving up. Had I not seen that cross through the trees I would not have bothered going on and I would not have reached my destination at all. But if I had not chosen the wide path to begin with, if I just taken the path that looked so daunting that was directly in front of me at the base of Prayer Mountain, I would have been up on top of it within about 10 minutes!