There’s only so much rain a “rain-resistant” jacket can resist before it waves a white flag and gives up. I realized that fact as my husband and I sat on the side of the Appalachian Trail choking down soggy bagels for lunch and wondering if we would ever see the sun again. Since early that morning, we had hiked fifteen miles in six hours and hadn’t seen a single ray break through the sea of clouds that hovered over our heads. As the rain poured down, Will suddenly stood up, chucked his terrible bagel into the woods and said, “Let’s just keep going.”
When I got up to follow him, I slung my pack onto my back and sent a shower of water cascading down my no-longer-resistant rain jacket and onto the backs of my muddy legs. My shoes sunk deep into a puddle, and I could feel the water that had drenched my socks seep up between my toes. A constant stream of water dripped from the brim of my beat up old Red Sox hat and flung into my eyes at the slightest gust of wind. With no shelter for the next thirteen miles, there was nothing to do but keep walking.
If God took a vacation, I don’t think He would choose a miserable wet walk through the woods. In my mind, I imagine Jesus out on the beach with an ice cold Coke in one hand and a sandy Twizzler in the other. Imagination is a fun tool to use in your spiritual life, especially when pondering something like this.
Maybe Jesus likes to head to Disney World to ride a few roller coasters and eat a chocolate covered banana or two.
Perhaps He prefers to sit by a waterfall and admire the splendor of His very own creation.
I imagine He would be more willing than my own children to pose for a family photo with our vacation destination in the background.
Does God go on vacation? When I consider this question, what comes to mind immediately are the lyrics of Rita Springer’s song “Home:”
“Everywhere I go that’s where I find you / Everywhere I go that’s where you are.”
God is everywhere, always, end of story. That’s one of the things I like best about God. And although it took awhile for this truth to really take root in me, I remember the exact moment that it became crystal clear.
Back in 2006, my husband, Will, and I were attempting a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. On March 4th (March Forth!), we left Springer Mountain in Georgia and hiked about 950 miles in just over three months to wherever-we-were in Virginia. The moment I want to tell you about happened on a day when we planned to hike a little over a marathon – 28 miles to be exact – as we headed into Pennsylvania in time to spend a long weekend with my parents, who live not far from a popular trail town.
The day of our long hike, naturally, we woke up to rain. Although we weren’t thrilled about it, three months in the woods had made us pretty familiar with pulling on our rain jackets and just getting on with things. Breakfast still had to be made and cleaned up, water bottles still had to be filled, backpacks still had to be packed. At that point, in addition to the many beautiful sunny days, we had hiked quite a few miles in snow, ice, and even one memorable top-of-the-mountain hail storm. But this was early June. Warm rain wouldn’t be that bad, right?
By 5:30 that morning, Will and I were packed up and heading out into the dark, wet woods. As the rain came down, we hiked up and down and around the mountains on our path, following the famous white blazes that adorn the trees along the Appalachian Trail. The day wore on, and we fully expected the rain to let up at some point. Every other day that we had hiked in rain, we had eventually walked out of it. But that day ended up being very different. That day, we hiked over 20 miles in constant pouring rain.
Let me quickly stop here for a second and acknowledge that yes, that last sentence may sound like an exaggeration. But let me assure you, it’s not. I have never been more miserable in my life. Our feet were soggy and squishing in our shoes, our fingers looked like prunes, our clothes were soaked, our packs were dripping.
It was AWFUL.
After continuing on from our terrible lunch break, around three o’clock that afternoon we were about 22 miles in and I had just about had it. Although we had made good time through the rolling Virginia Blue Ridge, I was soaked to the bone and we still had six miles to go with a never-ending wall of clouds overhead. Nature has a calming effect on me but that day, the calm had been beaten out of me by the steady thrum of rain. As I followed Will along the trail, I found myself angrily spiraling in my head. “What the heck were we thinking? This is crazy. I’m completely soaked. This is the worst day of my entire life! I hate backpacking, I hate this stupid trail, I hate everything! When is it going to STOP?!”
A few steps later, I tore my eyes away from the muddy trail and looked up into the trees. I love trees. I love how rain makes the leaves seem to sparkle as they dance in the breeze.
As I looked around at all those shimmering leaves in the woods, I took a deep breath and felt something shift in me as I remembered this one simple truth: I love to hike.
When Will and I decided to spend an entire spring and summer walking a trail through the woods, we did so knowing full well that we would have to make peace with the elements. We wanted an adventure, and spending an entire day hiking mountains in pouring rain was definitely an adventure. We CHOSE this! Why was I being so ungrateful?
I looked up at the clouds and whispered a prayer: “God, thank you for this trail and the time to be out here hiking. Thank you for mountains and trees and flowers and rain. I’m sorry for complaining. Forgive me. Thank you thank you thank you.”
Hear me now, this is the absolute truth: Seconds after praying that prayer, the clouds parted over our heads, the rain stopped and a brilliant sun shone down on us.
After all those sopping wet miles! You could almost hear the choir of angels singing in the heavens. It still gives me goosebumps to think about it.
Stunned, Will and I both stopped in our tracks and looked straight up at the sky. After a minute of standing there with our mouths hanging open, we looked at each other for a second, and then wordlessly resumed our trek through the dripping trees with renewed energy. The break in rain only lasted a little while; we finished our marathon hike just like we started it – wet. But those moments of sun helped us finish out our thirteen hour walk with a spring in our step.
Some people would call what happened to us that day a coincidence. But I call it God. Over the years, I’ve gone back to that moment over and over, and I’ve imagined God sitting up in heaven, hearing my words and then, with a side-eyed smile, saying to all the angels around him, “Hey guys, watch this!”
But as I’ve spent more time with God, I wonder if it was different than that. I wonder if God was already beside me, already walking with me and understanding my frustration. I wonder if He looked at me knowing just what I needed in that exact moment, and decided to give me a glimpse of it. He didn’t take the rain away completely. He just gave me a few minutes in the sun. A few minutes to show me that He sees me, He knows me, and He loves me.
Now when I imagine that day, I imagine Jesus beside me, whispering, “I am everywhere, always. If you look for me, you’ll find me.”
“Everywhere I go that’s where I find you / Everywhere I go that’s where you are.”
That moment in the woods began a new story for me, one that I continue to live out to this day. One in which God is with me always, and I know it.
Perspective changes everything, doesn’t it?
Going on vacation tends to be a time when we push pause on certain things in our lives. We set aside our work responsibilities, we order out so we don’t have to cook, maybe we leave our Bible at home and fall exhausted into bed at night and forget to say a prayer. I know that was the case for me for many years.
But once I learned this truth about God – that He is everywhere always – I began to see Him everywhere always. Not just when I was in church or reading my Bible or saying a prayer, but actually everywhere and actually always.
Even on vacation.
Our family tends to vacation in places where we can hike or bike or paddle or swim. Since that day in the woods fifteen years ago, I remember seeing God in the sunrise over the ocean in the Outer Banks, and one unbelievably beautiful morning at the top of Cadillac Mountain in Maine.
I saw God in the sea of mountains from a trail on the side of Mount Washington, and from a rock outcrop on a trail near Killington.
I’ve seen God in a rushing waterfall, and a creek along a mountain bike trail in West Virginia.
I once caught a glimpse of Him through the car window as I watched the sun set over a lake in upstate New York.
I even saw God in a tiny flower growing in front of an old stone wall, and in a grove of birch trees swaying in the breeze in the middle of Vermont.
Maybe you’re thinking that it’s pretty easy to see God in nature. After all, He’s the one who created it.
But I submit to you that God can also be found in the smile of a stranger on a busy street, in the patient kindness of a flight attendant, in the helpful suggestions of a hotel clerk, and in the smiles and laughter of children (and adults!) at an amusement park. God has shown up in some pretty surprising places in my life, and I bet He has in yours, as well.
So yes, God does go on vacation. No matter where we are, God sees us, He knows us, and He loves us. He offers us the gift of Himself in the beauty of His creation and the people and places that surround us.