The stars in Montana, the ones right above Rising Sun Campground in Glacier National Park, are some of the best I have seen to date. I noticed them while on my walk to the bathroom. Sore and stumbling from hiking miles and mountains, I ambled along by the glow of my head lamp. The path before me, lit by one steady stream of light, was flanked by darkness at each surrounding side. As I walked, the gravel under my feet shifted like sand.
I have a natural tendency to stare at the ground while I walk— even more so while hiking, still more as I stroll through the dark. So I don’t recall why I chose at that moment, on my walk to the Rising Sun bathroom, to look up; yet, for some reason I did. Perhaps it was curiosity. Perhaps it was boredom. Or perhaps it was the same old, subconscious longing I’ve tried to recreate a million times, a million ways— the longing to feel small and awed.
I’m thankful to God for a thousand things, most of which I resent at first, and nearly all for which I don’t express my thankfulness enough. One of them is for the stars. Another is for his faithfulness, and for his ability to sustain us so wholeheartedly in life’s difficult seasons.
For reasons unknown to me, 2016 was a horrid year. It was a year marked by painful transitions and awkward change, a faith that was stretched and a reliance that was broadened. I could create a long list detailing the numerous ways I wished last year went better. But, that is a song my heart has already sung, and one too many times at that.
This past year taught me the validity of running to God in our hurt and in our failures. It also taught me that, while it is perfectly all right to express anger or unhappiness to God, it is not all right to stay there. It is not all right to linger too long in a place of self pity or defeat; it is not sustainable to live from a place of joyless discontent. Christ has purchased us for a far greater call. We can lean in to such a greater hope. Our freedom is richer and realer than anything that’s found in these circumstances, in this world.
I see a year marked by unlikely, blessed community. People, especially those we surround ourselves with, are precious. I am deeply grateful that I get to spend time each week with souls far wiser than my own, and possessing faith much deeper, to live with and learn from. So much of how I have experienced Christ this year has been through his people, his hands and his feet. I have learned so much about Christ’s love for me by the way his followers— my brothers and sisters— have cherished me, valued me, encouraged me and pursued me. Jesus told his closest friends, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35) I have never known this to be so true.
I see a year marked by friendship. Friendships continue to look and feel differently the older you get. I no longer wake in an apartment filled with all of my college friends. Rare and precious are the moments I get to hold dear friends close. Relationships are sustained by sporadic texting and occasional phone calls, rather than daily encounters over tortilla chips and guacamole. My friends are wonderful humans with big dreams, and have spread themselves out over every corner of the world. Friendships look differently these days, but I am thankful for God’s grace in sustaining each one of them.
I am thankful for jobs that pay the bills, for entry level positions with benefits and vacation time. I am thankful for gracious coworkers and understanding supervisors, for people with real lives and families behind the work place veneer.
I am thankful for adventure and mountains, for days spent in the sun and nights spent in tents. I smile, remembering my irrational fear of black bears while backpacking in the Smoky Mountains. I smile harder, remembering how Lindsay and I climbed atop a stranger’s car, using a stranger’s binoculars, to catch a fleeting view of a grizzly bear on the shoulder of Going-to-the-Sun Road.
I’m thankful that Jesus is the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2) and that it’s no longer entirely up to us.
I’m thankful that Jesus has promised to never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).
I’m thankful for Jesus who is the Word, who spoke all the million, tiny stars into existence (John 1:3).
And just like with the stars at Rising Sun Campground in Glacier National Park, I, too, am astonished by Jesus Christ.
We each have slight tendencies to shuffle through life, staring down and out through a stream of light two feet wide and ten feet long. We stumble along in the dark, oblivious and joyless, until we are humbly caught off guard by God’s patience and kindness towards us. All our greatest hopes find their sustenance in his son. In him, our souls find that same star gazing, mountain beholding reverence.
Somehow, for whatever reason and at just the right time, we look up. A million, tiny stars. And our hands are clutched firmly in his, the one who set them there, sparkling.