50 – changes in altitude

These changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes,
Nothing remains quite the same.
Through all of the islands and all of the highlands,
If we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane – J. Buffett

In the summer of 2012 my family and I met Ursula the bear in the Rocky Mountains and in the fall of the same year I heard from God at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Neither  happened as I would have expected.

The last time I had seen a brown bear in the wild was on the coast of Alaska, across a small inlet. I was roughly a hundred yards away as she stood up on her hind legs to get a look at us looking at her. We backed away. The brown bears I’ve met have always been quite a bit more intimidating than the black bears I’ve dealt with while hiking or fishing in the Smokies, and Ursula was no exception. We pulled up to our rental cabin high in the Rockies around dusk. We still had enough light to see that the prior guests had left their trashbags on the ground by the bear proof containers at the end of the driveway, in spite of a sign clearly advising against just that. We thought nothing of it at the time though. We pulled up to the cabin, lugged in our luggage, and the kids scrambled upstairs to find their own rooms. This was a 3 bedroom cabin, so each boy got his own space after the past few days of sharing a bed. Hallelujah. But then came the let down. One room had pink sheets. This blog – this particular medium of communication – is insufficient to relate the magnitude of trauma that either of my sons were enduring at the mere thought – no, THREAT – of having their pre-teen manliness suppressed by pink linens. As all four of us were engaging in the throes of familial battle in our efforts to resolve this dilemma of who would be forfeiting their man-card for the night, we saw a brown blob amble by the window. This instantaneously diverted our attention from the less-than-red sheets. I practically flew down stairs to the next window the creature would pass as I instructed the family to turn off inside lights so it wouldn’t see in and we could see out all the better.

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I reached the next window just in time to see a big wet black nose above slobbery lips and sharp teeth about a foot outside the window that I was two feet away from on the inside. My lights were brighter than hers though, and she was focused on the trash bags down the hill. Following the snout was the distinctly massive head of a grizzly, with hair filthy and matted like a teenage boy after summer football practice. It seemed to take 10 minutes for the full breadth and length of this beast to make its way by the window. The rest of the family and I watched in fear and wonder as the train of brown sweaty fur waddled by the window, and then we all went out to the front porch to watch her rummage through the trash at the base of the hill. As we didn’t see any reason to call her a he, we named her Ursula – ursus being latin for bear. The boys decided to share a bedroom (not the pink sheet room) that night, and Ursula visited every night we were there.

Upon returning home from the Rockies, I was retained to work on a divorce case in which a man had left his wife and children for another man. Regardless of whatever judgement anyone may or may not have about the homosexual aspect of this, he left his wife and young children and was being absolutely hateful towards the mother of his children, presumably in an effort to make her want the divorce that he did. But she wouldn’t give up. This bewildered me. For the first time in my career, I found myself counseling her towards a divorce, where I usually tried to counsel clients away from it and towards reconciliation. But she she was convinced that the divorce was not God’s will.  “Even the Bible allows for divorce in the case of adultery,” I urged. But she wouldn’t have it. She loved him regardless of his sin and would not give up as long as God was telling her not to. I respected her position, but frankly, didn’t agree. I was scheduled for a backpacking trip through the Grand Canyon that fall, and she asked me to pray about her divorce while I was gone. I promised I would.

I, along with my brother-in-law and two friends, took shifts driving and sleeping to drive non-stop to Arizona. We arrived at the South Rim, made last minute preparations, shouldered our packs, and stepped onto the South Kaibab trail on our way to “Cremation” – the daunting name of a camp site.  I was praying for God’s guidance as to my role in the divorce case as I hiked. As usual, I pray for a bit, and then shut up and listen for a while.  Sometimes, I admit, I look for God’s voice when it is not present. We were hiking the top of a sharp ridge with heavy wind attempting to blow us off for a while, and I thought maybe God would speak through the wind. But it was just wind. The other guys were far ahead and I was walking slowly, in awe of my surroundings and the weather, but also struggling with why a woman would want to stay with a husband who was having an affair with another man.

It took all night for me to get it though my dense skull that as long as I was struggling to figure it out, I wasn’t LISTENING.

We camped on a plateau about half way down the canyon. “Cremation.” Best camping spot I have ever enjoyed. Starry sky, until clouds moved in around dusk. I was settled into my trusty tent and warm down sleeping bag and reading Isaiah. Still praying and listening, intermittently. But still struggling to figure things out. I drifted off to sleep only to be awakened in the middle of the night by more fierce wind, along with sleet this time. But God wasn’t in it. Just weather.

We woke up to a clear chilly morning with a few hawks flying high overhead and the rims of the canyon casting shadows across the “middle earth,” so to speak, where we were packing up and eating. The sunrise was on the east rim and a quarter moon was lingering, daring the sun to overwhelm it, which it soon did. About an hour or so into the day’s hike, the sun began to burn off the night’s chill and I was unzipping my jacket to breathe. Still no word on the divorce problem. We trekked along two foot wide trails with deathly drop offs, down and down again, until we found the Colorado River. We paused to take in the majesty of where we were, have a snack, and finally cross the river to find Phantom Ranch.

This is an oasis at the bottom of the Canyon. If you haven’t been there, make your reservation and start training. If you have, you know. After setting up camp, exploring a bit, and fly-fishing the creek and the river, I settled in for the night, coming back to Isaiah and my questions of the Creator. I read, I prayed, I shut up. This time, in the quiet, He spoke. He explained that He was using the wife to show His mercy, His grace. He explained that homosexuality is a sin like any other, and that He called her to forgive and not give up, and that He brought her to my firm because I would cooperate given His instruction. My respect for her grew as He confirmed what she had been telling me, and as He reminded me to show love even to the adulterous husband.

“If the only people you love are the easy ones, it’s not much of a love, is it?”

“But it’s not going to work, God. You know that, right?”

“I know that better than you do, boy.”

“So why waste our time?”

“That’s MY business.”

“Yes sir.”

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We woke up before the sun the next day and began the trek up Bright Angel Trail, or maybe I should say “trial.” All the way up in one long day. Some people go rim to rim in one day, jogging. Not this guy. Everything I had hurt. But we made it. And God taught me something about nature, and His nature. His Character. Forgiveness. Compassion. He explained that if I exercise compassion on everything BUT sin, I’ve completely missed the point of grace, and I hardly know Him at all.

I went back to work, and instead of trying to talk her into a divorce, we prayed together for the family. They reunited. They did. But it didn’t last. What we accomplished was her showing him enough love and compassion that when they did divorce, it wasn’t quite as nasty as it would have been, and now the kids have a decent relationship with both mom and dad, which probably wouldn’t have happened the first time around.

This post is not about condoning any particular sin, so much as my story of being reminded that God’s grace isn’t reserved for some but not others. It is open to all interested. Sometimes changes in altitude, rather than latitude, prompt changes in attitude. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And when an individual finds himself arguing against forgiveness, he needs to step back and reconsider God’s nature.

Thanks to an old client and her ex. You know who you are.

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