Last week, in an ash filled valley that ran between two volcanic mountains, I stood at the edge of a glistening lake, watching birds land atop the majestic icebergs that had drifted into the water, broken off from the massive glacier we were preparing to ascend. I had never worn crampons before, nor had to carry an ice pick around, and well quite frankly I hadn’t envisioned crossing ‘scale a glacier’ off of my bucket list anytime soon, but here we were. The sights were breath taking and the experience seemed unreal. I didn’t quite understand how we had gotten here, but I was so thankful. The air was brisk and refreshing as we buckled the chin straps on our bright orange helmets and began our ascent. Almost instantaneously, a torrential downpour fell upon us. Disgruntled growls and complaints began to emerge from members of our group but nothing but sheer joy escaped me. I couldn’t help but feel the biggest grin form on my face. Our guide, Sven, looked at the group of grumbling and salty sailors then at me, and smirked. “C’mon, let’s go,” he summoned, and off we went.
The rain was freezing and the slick ice was daunting but Sven had given us very specific instructions on how to walk on the ice and told us as long as we stayed in a straight line and followed his steps, we would be fine. I don’t know about y’all but that sure sounds like the same instructions God gives us. We spend most of our lives just cruising along, in our daily battle rhythms, and next thing we know, we find ourselves ascending a glacier in the middle of Iceland, wondering how on earth we got there. I can tell you firsthand, most of my twenties have felt that way. On one hand its exhilarating and you’re like “Oh my gosh, I’m on a glacier in Iceland! This is amazing!” on the other hand, you’re repeatedly hearing, “One false step into a crevasse and you are dead within 30 minutes.” Ooft. That’s not exactly comforting. One miss step, and its over? That’s terrifying! And a lot of times life feels like that. We’re out having fun, enjoying life with our well thought out and meticulously devised plan, and uh oh, one misstep and it seems as though we’re done for. The last five years, there have been countless instances where I was dead set that I knew the plans for my life. I knew the degree I was getting, the career I was pursuing, the man I was marrying, and all of the places in life I’d go. I had it all figured out. Until I didn’t.
As we cautiously attempted to follow the steps of our experienced and confident guide, the first few hundred feet in crampons was slightly terrifying. It seemed like there was no way we should be able to walk straight up a hunk of slick ice. Somehow, with every step, we grew more assured that perhaps Sven wouldn’t lead us astray. As we got more comfortable, the beauty of our surroundings took precedence over fear. Chaps was directly in front of me and the rest of our group was following closely behind. I couldn’t help but smile in awe of the massive mountains that surrounded us, blanketed in snow and ash like a black and white portrait. “Can you believe how many people will never experience this?” Chaps turned to say to me. Here we were, hiking up a glacier, on top of a volcano, in Iceland, in the middle of winter. How cool! There are thousands of sailors and Marines on our ship, yet only seven of us chose to take this 2.5 hour drive to the southern coast and spend the entire day chasing waterfalls and volcanoes and hiking a frozen chunk of land. How many never left the city centre and the bars? How many never even left the ship? The question I suppose becomes how many people never leave their comfort zones? I have spent 18 out of the last 24 months abroad and every time I post a photo on social media I get comments like “So jealous,” or “I want your life,” or “Living the dream, so lucky!” Perhaps some of that is true. I have been extremely blessed and have gotten to capitalize on some amazing opportunities and experiences. But it’s not about being lucky – it’s about taking a leap of faith anytime one presents itself. How many people have bucket lists? How many people say they want to see the world? But of those how many are waiting for “this” or “that” to happen first before they actually pursue it? God didn’t make us for complacency, He created us to have audacity. It can be scary to step into the unknowns, to chase your dreams, to step out in faith, but living with reckless abandon knowing God is leading the way is the most freeing thing you can do with your life. Don’t live a life filled with “what ifs,” live a life full of “that was awesome.”
Much like having to trust Sven would take us down the right foot path up the glacier, living our life fully and faithfully means trusting God, even in times of uncertainty. Even when it is new terrain, or their is low visibility, we have to trust that with God as our guide we will always safely reach our destination. Imagine if David had lived his life in fear? What if he hadn’t trusted God enough to take on the lion and the bear? If he hadn’t sized up Goliath? Imagine if Esther didn’t have the courage to speak up to King Ahasuerus? What if Paul was too fearful to speak the truth of the gospel? Greatness comes from timidity; we must be willing to stop making excuses and trust God if we want to venture to places we’ve never been.
Recently I have found myself wrestling with God quite a bit. I know that His plans for my life will prevail as long as I seek Him and His kingdom above all else. The problem is, I get restless. My friends all say I have ADD. I am always bouncing around, running from one place to another, doing cartwheels down hallways, and handstand walking from place to place. If I sit in one place too long, I get shifty. I need to move, I need to roam, I need to wander. I need a change of scenery, to smell new aromas, and hear conversations in new accents and dialects. Though California is where I am from, I feel most at home elsewhere – when I’m traveling, when I’m meeting new people, seeing new places, and trying new things. I live for adventure and excitement. I think that’s why the Navy has worked out so well for me. Most people end up peeved and bitter underway, but I love it. There is nothing that puts me at ease like sitting out on the catwalk on a cool summer night, somewhere in the middle of the ocean, staring up at the billions of stars and endless expanses of gentle waves that surround us. I love it. I feel so at peace and connected with God. By the end of our current deployment, we will have spent 253 days out of this year at sea. That’s 70% of the year. Out of that, we have gotten to partake in five international exercises, visit eight foreign ports, and interact with thousands of sailors and civilians from all over the world. Only about 10% of our time on deployment is spent on liberty, out having fun, but those few days here and there, are what keep us driven and motivated during long stints at sea. Every opportunity to get out and explore the nations we wind up in, is time well spent. There is a lot of hard work, a lot of sacrifice, and a lot of harsh realities involved with this life, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
As we climbed slowly but surely up the glacier, we stopped several times to take in the surroundings. It was breath taking. How perfectly God had created the picturesque display before us. From where we stood when we reached the top you could see the glistening lake below, the valley of lush green countryside, the looming volcanic mountains that towered on either side of the water, and the contrasting shades of black and white against the ominous grey skies. It was surreal. It’s crazy how even though we had been rained on multiple times and we were all soaking wet and freezing, at that moment complaining was the furthest from anyone’s mind. Every one was so full of joy and enthusiasm – just taking in the amazing experience we were sharing. Whenever we reach the summit, be it on a hike or in life, it’s easy to look back and celebrate the victory. It’s easy to enjoy the view from the top. Often times we forget the arduous journey we endured to get there. We forget the grumbling and the questioning and frustration that had accompanied us along the way. Sometimes I get so caught up in the temporary aches and pains, that I forget that it is through the winding paths, the switch backs, the slick ice, the times that we start to question if its worth it, that we grow the most. Overcoming obstacles, building our endurance, withstanding the trials, are what strengthen our character. Romans 5 reaffirms just that “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” It takes patience to keep climbing and to trust God. That can be extremely difficult when you are looking at a path that never seems to end. Perhaps there is a deep crevasse to one side, and a mountain side to the other. The trail is thin and your legs are tired.
I am currently in seminary and that’s honestly exactly how it feels. I know that I’m on the right path but I feel like it’d be easier to veer off to one of the other trailheads that keep popping up along the way. Where my trail keeps leading into the fog, the unknown, where it is rocky and steep and there is no clear end in sight, all of these other shorter, visible paths seem extremely tempting. I knew this would be an arduous climb, I knew it would require endurance and suffering and patience. I knew it would require being uncomfortable. But I feel so tried and tired all of the time. The work load for two theology classes is twice the reading I had taking 21 units during undergrad. Balancing a full time job, being on deployment, training, and school is an everyday game of tug of war. Opportunities to grow in my career that I have now, in my athletic pursuits, and in other tantalizing military roles keep presenting themselves, daring me to venture their way. The temptations from other careers aren’t bad, they just aren’t right. Everyone has a plan for their life, but God has a purpose for it.
It feels the longer I push on down the path, the more obstacles fall in my way. Like continuing down that difficult hiking path, it becomes more challenging the further you push on. More isolated, less groomed. Fallen trees, hidden creatures lurking. I have been trying so hard to be “good” lately, like really good. What I mean by that is that I feel like most of my life can be summed up in Romans 7. My nickname majority of my life has been “Trouble.” The last words the CO said to me after deployment were, “make good decisions Jessy.” Whenever we have a man overboard, everyone always expects I must have something to do with it. It must be my face. Okay I’m not that naïve. Beth Moore nailed it in describing her own personal battles – “I struggled in my adolescence and as a young adult with being both innocent and alluring, both godly and deadly.” I love Jesus. I love being a good example. I love being mature and sweet. But I love walking on the edge of danger. I love to test the limits. I love to be wild and free. I’m a wild child with a gypsy soul and a wanderer. Eric says that’s what makes me dangerous. And that’s what makes me trouble. It’s like I know the stove is hot but for some reason I have to set my hand on top of it just to double check. This underway I have been praying incessantly about knowing my weaknesses, knowing my struggles and entrusting God with them, knowing He can turn them into strengths. I have been very intentional in where I spend my time, who I invest my energy in, and where I let my thoughts go. I have been extremely conscientious about perception and setting clear boundaries. But the things is, the more I make good decisions, the more I am being tested. When we were in port, the country we went to was known to have some of the best beer in Europe. Not only that the streets were lined with bars and pubs, full of culture and life. Every night I’d get invited to go out with guys, and I’d say no. I spent my time outdoors, at Crossfit, or with the Chaplains. I only have a few areas of weakness that the Lord has not been able to completely eradicate from my life. Being boy crazy is the big one that has caused me a lot of heartache in the years. I have two huge kryptonites. Marines. And Brits.
I grew up around Marines. I wanted to be a Marine. Everyone always thought I would marry a Marine. I love Marines. This entire year was me surrounded by hundreds, sometimes thousands of Marines. Similarly, last year, was the year of the Brits. Every guy I meant was British, Scottish, Welsh, or Irish (noted Irishmen are not to be confused for Brits). And boy did they make this California girl weak in the knees. First it was a Brit, then it was an Irish man, but it was the wee Scottish boy from Edinburgh who finally captured my heart. I would have renounced my American citizenship for that boy. We were wild for one another. And it was as if every man from Northern Europe had caught that scent and knew I couldn’t get enough of their banter and putting them in their place. However, God knew where He needed me to be, and there was not it. There was a lot of sadness and hurt that followed but as soon as I started seeking God amidst the storm, He led me safely back to His arms and His path.
Well, now in a season of maturity and growth both spiritually and emotionally, I have found myself in the middle of the Arctic surrounded by thousands of Marines and Brits. Everyone expects me to get in trouble. Everyone expects me to give in. Everyone expects me to veer from the path. But God knows I won’t. Every day on deployment I watched sailors and Marines cheat on their spouses and significant others. I sat and listened to them cry in my office after they received “Dear John” breakup letters via ship email or Facebook. In my adulthood I have been both cheated on and the one a guy almost left his wife for. I have been used and played and left for nothing. I have been a bet and a challenge and a box to check. I have had my heart absolutely destroyed and I’ve shattered a few along the way. One of the biggest reasons I made the final decision to pursue chaplaincy was to help change the way things are. Everyone says infidelity is just a part of this lifestyle in the military, but it shouldn’t be. Just because something looks good, something sounds nice – just because it is a short cut doesn’t mean its right. What is funny is that having the two things that have been so crippling for me in the past, now readily available, makes me want them even less. I could easily veer off the path to fulfill some short term pleasure, to take the easy route, but why would I do that when I have something substantial and rewarding waiting for me back home? It just doesn’t make sense. It’s like trading a diamond for some pebbles along the road. It’s like looking at the peak of a mountain, knowing the view is going to be unbelievable, and choosing to turn around and walk the other way. In the face of the trials, both with school and with all of these men, the choices have become easier to make, and the path has become clearer. It’s taken some questioning, some second guessing, some doubting, but once I step back, and think about that feeling on the glacier, once I think about taking that leap of faith and leaning into God, when I remember all of the incredible places He has taken me on this journey, I know to trust Him and His plan. I can honestly be around all these silly accents and fit Marines without thinking twice about it. I know what I already have waiting for me, and trust me if I could run any faster to get there, I would be in a full blown sprint. When it comes to seminary and my career, its a little more difficult because the decisions aren’t necessarily good versus bad, more so good versus purpose for your life. That’s scary. That’s intimidating. That’s hard. With Eric, I trust that I can see him and he can see me. We might have some distance, but I know he’s there. With chaplaincy, I trust that I can see it, but the path kind of disappears into the fog and the end of the trail seems impossibly far away.
One day you may find yourself on a glacier in Iceland, or in a desert in the Middle East, or on a mountain in Bali, or in a new marriage, or in a position to take on a new job, or some place you’ve never been that both excites you and terrifies you. Trust your guide. He’s got this. There will always be obstacles, and hey, from my experience, the more challenges you face the more rewarding the accomplishment will be. They always say the best victories are the ones you have to fight for. I can tell you this. From signing a contract with the US Army on my 20th birthday to hopping on a plane to Bahrain two weeks after college graduation to traveling to Ireland and Scotland last summer with just a back pack and weightlifting shoes to uprooting my entire life to a naval warship that would spend the entire year at sea, most of my decisions these past few years have been made by looking at the cliff and taking a gigantic leap of faith. I have made a lot of mistakes and blazed my own trail a few too many times, but every single time God has led me back. While I’m on the path and it seems scary and I am afraid to fall into the crevasse and be dead within 30 minutes, I just listen to Sven’s directions. I wait to hear God’s voice and remember to just follow his path. It may not be very clear, it may not always makes sense. But if He’s my guide, I know we’ll always reach the top of the mountain. Go climb that volcano. Go hike that trail. Fall in love. Whatever it is, trust God’s got you. Be strong and courageous.