Since becoming a Christian, I have been taught about, and I am learning to embrace, the reality of God as my Father. It was difficult since I grew up in a fatherless home, but over the years I am slowly learning how much God loves me as His cherished daughter. He is a father to the fatherless (Psalm 68:5-6).
Besides growing up in a fatherless home, I lived with a mother who was emotionally absent.
This week I experienced a side of God that I never have before.
I went on a three-day hike with 160 other women, all hiking for the ministry of Freedom Challenge. Freedom Challenge is a ministry that rescues and restores women who have been victims of human trafficking or modern-day slavery.
Upon entering the auditorium, I quickly became aware that I was not like many of the others. There were many fit, young women. I did not meet the stereotypical model of the avid hiker. Being the largest woman in attendance made my insecurities resurface. What was I doing with a group of women that were there to stretch themselves physically? I had trained to do this but I was feeling very intimidated. I was not in my comfort zone. It was as though I was living on a whole new planet.
From the time I had left Ohio, I had been asking God to show Himself to me. How was He going to do that in this very uncomfortable scenario?
Day one – no turning back now
It all began on day one of our hike. We had 16 women in our beginning hiking group. Even on the shuttle bus on the way to our hike, the tears started. Would I make it the whole six miles? Will the group have to compensate for me because of my physical pain? There was no turning back now.
As we started out on our first hike, our leaders shared that no one was going to be left behind. Each person on the team was important and that their goal for us was to experience God and His community of women. Each one of us have value and they challenged us to learn about each other’s stories. Their words brought me comfort and I longed for them to really be true.
Sharing my story
The day proceeded along excellently. The hike was very doable and I was asked to lead for most of the hike. During our lunch break and after our time alone with God, I was asked to share my story with the rest of our team. Women were challenged and God was glorified! Blessed be His name! My feet were in such physical pain when we were done that I could hardly walk after we had rested. But this was the first time in my life that I had walked six whole miles. And to think that I had two more days of this. I limped to dinner that night and hoped that it would not be too obvious how much pain I was in. I did not sleep well that night because of the pain and I so dreaded the morning when it arrived.
Day two – feeling vulnerable and weak
I went downstairs the next morning to a group that was eager to go. I was approached by JoAnn, our spiritual leader and told that if I needed to take the day off and rest that it would be OK. She told me that there was no shame in resting. They wanted me to be able to attend the third day’s hike. I decided to risk it and go on Day two’s hike.
The tears again started as we rode in the shuttle bus. What in the world was going on in me? Again I felt vulnerable and weak. That’s right where God wanted me. When we arrived, I started out strong but the hike was not as level as the day before. I found I was tiring easily and was experiencing the altitude difference.
'I was not in control'
Daria, one of our sweet leaders from SROM (Solid Rock Outdoor Ministries), offered to carry my backpack for me. It didn’t seem right that someone else would have to carry my load. This was my responsibility! I am the one usually helping others. But in this new element, I was not in control. My load was wearing me down quickly and my heart was beating out of my chest with each hill that we climbed. I humbly handed over my pack.
Our group ended up breaking into two and there were five of us who walked behind the others. Our little group was encouraging and allowed the hike to be more fun and less regimented. We continued to make slow, forward progress.
On top of the world
At one point we came to a very large boulder and Benthe, our Netherland girl, climbed it quickly. We took her picture along with the others. Daria asked if I wanted to get up on the rock and I told her that I wasn’t going to be able to because of my knees. She assured me that I could with their help. She step by step showed me where to put my feet and, as a team, they helped me up this rock. I felt as though I was on top of the world!! I sat on the rock with arms of victory as they took my picture. Little Daria ran up the rock and sat down right next to me and we celebrated.
Getting off the rock was a challenge too. Daria knew exactly how to help me and she asked another one of the women to help. We worked together and I got off just as easily as getting up it. That experience gave me a sense of dignity and I really began believing that these women did care.
In our time with God that day, we were asked to contemplate the phrase, Retreat, Pray, Hear, and Obey. One verse that God also had impressed on my heart that week was,
Psalm 27:14. “Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous, wait patiently on the Lord.”
Waiting on God
The verse did not seem to correlate with any of the verses that we talked about during our group time but I still went with it, waited on God, and contemplated the phrase, Retreat, Pray, Hear, and Obey.
What did obeying look like for me during this hike? God impressed on my heart that obeying, most times, includes taking risks. “Will I trust Him to be enough? Will I trust His provision?” One way I had exercised trust on this particular day was to allow the expertise of others to show me how to climb a rock. What seemed to be too difficult became easier when I submitted and trusted their judgement. It was another way I had to lay down my self-sufficiency, and allow others to help me.
My main take away for the day was, “Will I choose to trust God when it seems like what He is asking is too difficult or impossible? Will I trust in His wisdom and allow His daughters to enter into my weak areas? Will I allow myself to admit to my weaknesses so that He can make me strong?”
I felt challenged by God that day but I did not feel as though I had experienced Him in the way I was longing to. Again, I was reminded of the verse that God had impressed on me.
Psalm 27:14, “Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous, wait patiently on the Lord.”
Day three – facing my biggest physical challenge
Day three arrived and, with two days of successful hiking, I was excited about this third day. We were going to Inspiration Point and I was excited to see what God had in store for us.
I was told that the majority of the hike was fairly level but that we would climb the last I/3 about 800 ft in elevation. In my ignorance I did not comprehend how much 800 feet actually was. Benthe quickly offered to take my pack but I was feeling good and chose to carry it myself.
'Would I be able to do this?'
The hike was going along so smoothly with gorgeous views of waterfalls and mountains. The trail was busy with people which slowed us down a little. We hit the last third, ugh! I climbed up a lot of stairs, turned at the curve and climbed a whole lot more. There was switchback after switchback. My backpack was taken off my back and was handed to Benthe once again. We climbed and climbed and climbed. We saw people far up the mountain and I was told that was where we were headed. This was my biggest physical challenge. Would I really be able to do this?
My team cheered me on with each switchback. Daria kept telling me that I was doing a great job. Mia would hold her arm out to me to lean on if I needed to. Then we hit the most difficult, rocky part of the path that was all solid rock wall on one side and straight down a few hundred feet on the other side.
Relieved and in shock
All I can say is that it was a good thing that I did not know ahead of time what we were going to face. One foot in front of the other, trust my experienced leaders, trust God’s wisdom and protection. After what seemed to be hours, which really wasn’t, we made it to the top. I was relieved and in shock. Are we really here? It was glorious being so high up and overlooking the lake from a totally different view.
During our time with God, we were asked to contemplate several questions. One of them was, “What have I learned in this temporary community to take back to my permanent community?”
Before we had our time of sharing how God spoke to each of us, JoAnn anointed us with oil and spoke over each one of our lives. Our SROM leaders then told us that they wished to wash our feet if we were open to it.
Being ministered to
I have never been a part of a foot washing before. My feet were filthy but I put my pride down and asked Daria if she would wash mine. As she did, she spoke into my life and I, in turn, had a chance to speak into hers. It was a humbling, beautiful experience. It was another opportunity to allow myself to be ministered to. I had nothing to offer these beautiful women except vulnerability, weakness, and to reflect the strength, love, and healing of God that I had received from Him.
It was at this point that my eyes were completely opened and I realized I was experiencing the other side of God. He clearly manifested Himself to me through this community of women.
The other side of God
When it came time to share our hearts with the group, I shared what the other side of God was for me and how He used this community of women to be a part of that.
By not receiving motherly nurturing growing up, I never experienced, in totality, what female love, and nurturing really was. I had a husband and two boys but they could not offer what only healthy women can. These past three days, God used his community of women to physically, emotionally, and spiritually minister to me in such Godlike, pure ways. There were no strings attached, there was no demand that I be a certain way. I was accepted, challenged, encouraged, and “loved on” in a way that could only be from God.
Sure I have had friends minister deeply to my heart, but what I experienced this weekend was much more profound. I was never made to feel that I was their “special project”, but they offered help if I wanted it. They didn’t force their agenda on me and I never felt that they were trying to rescue me. They cared enough to help me experience God in a more, complete and refreshing way. I experienced the motherhood and sisterhood of God. The nurturing tender hand of His love.
Their love was strong, yet gentle. Their love was not dependent on how well I performed.
Feeling more complete
I experienced what only a nurturing mother could have given me growing up. This week helped me grow in a way I would have never dreamed of. I feel so much more complete and I feel I know God in much more of a holistic way. I found Christ’s tender, loving side with a community of women who reflected Him so well.
“God sets the lonely in families….” He set me in His family of women that perfectly reflected His other side.
“Wait patiently for the Lord” I waited and He made Himself known to me. I am changed by His perfect and complete love.
Then at the end of the week, they honored me with an award for outstanding effort. They were the ones that needed to be honored because of how well they reflected the love, mercy, and tenderness of Christ.
Ginger Taddeo took part in the Wyoming Freedom Climb in August 2016.
You can join our next hike in Machu Picchu - sign up here.