I wrote this piece nearly a year ago, but for whatever reason, it never made it to my blog. This is a piece I originally wrote in the dead of winter, back in January 2017, for the first class of my master’s program. As students in the class, we were instructed to write about our lives, our faith journeys, and the moments that led us to where we stand today.
The story below is about a trip my family took to Arizona. The young girl in this story is a vastly different person from the woman I am today. I wrote this ten months ago, from a place of faith in Jesus Christ. It certainly hasn’t always been this way.
When look back, taking inventory of my life’s defining moments, this is one that profoundly emerges. I remember it vividly, with stunning detail and crisp edges. It was a moment of impact with far-reaching influence; but, I could have never predicted that at the time.
The short story below is a piece of my life.
It’s a part of my story.
We took a family vacation to the Grand Canyon during the summer of 2008. It was June, and I was sixteen. We boarded a red eye flight to Flagstaff, Arizona, suitcases bursting with t-shirts and sunscreen. The plane was silent aside from my father’s calm voice, reassuring me at take-off. He spoke easily and composedly. He said that we would make it there safe. He was right.
The plane touched down, and we crawled out of our seats in Arizona. I could tell, even in the dark, that we were in another world. The airport was quiet and somber as we strolled lazily out, the air heavy with heat and anticipation. We picked up our rental car and drove immediately to find food. To this day there is no moment I look back on, with such absurd fondness, as that one: my family, all four of us, devouring syrup-drowned pancakes at two o’clock in the morning.
We spent a few meandering days at the canyon itself. I had never seen anything like it. I had seen rivers with rapids and even the Blue Ridge Mountains; this canyon compared to neither. It was vast beyond measure, and deep. My mom joked about taking mules down the trail and into the valley. My dad liked the idea. Renee and I, having grown up around horses, knew better. One small slip, one small spook, and we would surely plummet to our deaths. Visions of hooves on narrow rims plagued me constantly. Our parents checked the waiting list for the mule-guided trail ride, and it was two weeks long. My sister and I sighed with collective relief.
One evening, after dinner, we lingered to watch the sunset. Claiming a spot along the southern rim, we waited with fervor. There was a large crowd gathered with us, people of all ages and origins, all seeking the sun. Tourists flocked at the edge, their cameras poised. Couples held hands, and hikers paused. The air was heavy and quiet. The world split open before us, a gap so deep and unyielding. The sun dipped beneath the chasm of the rim slowly, patiently, taking its time. As it sunk, the show began.
The grandeur of the canyon at midday held not a flame to its beauty at sunset. Ricocheting off of the canyon’s ridges were highlights of crimson and gold and fiery scarlet; hiding in the depths were shadows of plum and indigo and violet— shy and veiled, much like my teenage self. The rocks were burning one moment and extinguished the next. Darkness traced the canyon in unpredictable ways; each jutted-out ridge and spindly cliff cast wild, unpredictable shadows on the land behind it. The splendor of the view was unbearable to my adolescent eyes. My hands violently gripped the steel rail at the edge, as my eyes devoured a view so expansive it threatened to engulf me. I looked down and was nauseous: trees were like ants. The valley, cut by ancient waters, wound towards oblivion.
The scene before me was so whole-heartedly captivating, so thoroughly peaceful. It was too great for my five senses to behold. My eyes searched each lonely crevice hungrily, greedily, more, more. My nostrils filled with air, growing colder as the sun went down, more, more.
When the time came for us to leave, I had to peel myself away. The sun, in a dramatic finale, had buried itself in the ground. Even so, I kept glancing over my left shoulder, squinting past people and sidewalks, desperate to detect a bit of lingering magic.
On my family vacation, as the sun set below the Grand Canyon, God primed my heart to know him. I could have never guessed then what I surely know now: that my soul has always searched for something to long after. For years, I wasn’t sure what it was, and I couldn’t put a name to it. The enormity of the canyon spoke to a longing of my soul, a yearning so poignant and heartrendingly childlike. The canyon at sunset, like any great masterpiece, stirred me and moved me and pointed towards greater truths.
All my life, my soul has ached for God. My heart has searched for a beautiful home I’ve never known. God left his mark in many places, but he left it, perhaps most bluntly, in nature. I see so much of God’s beauty in the vast outdoors; I always have. I see it in the wild, rough face of a mountain and in the warm colors melting off canyon cliffs. I spend my life trying to recreate that moment, it seems, that moment of awe— my two hands clutched to a steel rail at the lip of the Grand Canyon. It was a moment of impact, a collision with the God of wonder.