Sonya Finley has a great Freedom Challenge story to share...

This past June, I had the opportunity to participate in the Bryce/Zion Freedom Challenge 2018. I was unprepared for the unexpectedly awesome experience it would be. Who’d a thunk hanging with a bunch of women in the canyons of Utah would be so mind blowing?

Who’d a thunk. . .?

. . . A great love could be displayed in so many small ways? From the very beginning, I felt like God was reminding He loved me in very small, special ways. From being upgraded to Premium Class on our departing flight, to the “I got you” attitude of the young lady working the counter at the car rental office, to the sweet ride (Nissan Armada, fully loaded, leather seats, sunroof…you get the idea) I drove in to Utah, to the women who supportively listen to my story without judgement, to Ms. Barbara whose prayers reminded me to be me because “the who” that I am has purpose, to finding the perfect cluster of trees with a wooden “bench” that made it easy for me to “take care of much needed business” on my first hike, to the surprising connections made, to Pastor Tracy who sought me out one evening to make sure I was okay, to the care shown by the prayer team as they prayerfully massaged the aches and pains from our feet after each hike.

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And even though I felt a wee bit discombobulated (well a lot discombobulated), my Beauty for Ashes painting presentation was well received and gave the ladies a much needed “lightness” after a very heavy day. I gotta say, I left feeling very loved indeed.

. . . A single word could be so powerful? This year the prayer warriors gave each hiker a word. One word prayerfully considered and totally applicable to the woman who received it. These words resonated with the women all week long and, for some, was the difference between giving up and finding strength to keep pushing.  There were also a few ladies who latched on to an “unexpected” word spoken in a manner of power and joy. Hallelujah! Now, I do not recall the context in which I was asked to say it, but say it, I did. And while the women responded in kind, I thought that was the end of it. But for the next few days, I was told several stories of how that word was spoken from the “mountain top” and how it inspired songs of praise. I saw it being intoned at the beginning of prayers and I, myself, used it before my presentation to bring focus in a moment of perceived chaos. A simple word, so full of power, praise and joy. (I have now been dubbed the “hallelujah hiker”.)

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. . . That challenging yourself for someone else’s freedom would lead to your own? We were there to fight for others who were in no position to fight for themselves, but much was said about how we are all overcome with our own versions of enslavement. Issues that hold our identities hostage, filtering everything we believe about ourselves through a lens so dense we lose sight of our purpose, our power, our possibilities. The challenge of the hikes provided an opportunity to put a very physical action to a very spiritual deliverance. The act of pushing oneself beyond your comfort zone put the women (including myself) in a vunerable place, open to healing and deliverance. For the Level 1 group, the “Sassy Silver Sistahs”, we each picked up a burden at the beginning of our second hike. We named it and then literally threw it away when we reached the top, an action that symbolized a burden being released and given to God. There were tears and the released burdens were weighty. We all came down the mountain a little lighter that day.

. . . Someone calling me sunshine would remind me of so much? We met the previous night when I joined her and some old friends for dinner. We had similar tastes in humor so of course we hit it off, right? So it should have been no surprise that the next evening she greeted me by saying “Hello Sunshine”. But it was. I used to be called that a lot, by a variety of people in a variety of circumstances. In that moment I realized that I hadn’t been called that name in a while. It had been explained to me a long time ago that that nickname reflects the light and energy I bring to the room, so if someone new was calling me that, then the light dimmed by less than wonderful circumstances was now aglow again.  It wasn’t until I started writing my prayer in the great book of Freedom Challenge prayers that I clearly understood what God was reminding me of: I set the atmosphere…Me. My emotions, attitude, and perceptions are not dictated by what is happening around me. I am the reflection of God’s heart towards His people and I must shine accordingly!  And shine I will!

. . . Stories of enslavement can be found in our back yard? We were blessed to hear the story of an American woman’s journey from being enslaved by her mother and stepfather to finding a life of freedom that included a long-lasting marriage, children, and a passion to help others out of where she used to be. Her strength to endure being locked in a room where she was practically starved and sexually abused daily and her courage to share her story was powerful. It reminded us what we were there for.

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. . . A professed non-athlete would stand proudly and call herself a hiker? Shortly after I said yes to this challenge, I realized the magnitude of what I had agreed to. Did I agree to hike for three days in a row?! Not one, but three?! Say what now? But I’m good, right? I walk 5ks, 10ks and half marathons, so I should be okay. I thought, until I began training. I felt well out of my depth—unqualified and unable to complete the challenge. I professed this lack—often! I’m pretty sure I annoyed my teammates to no end. My anxiety around this event was high. But I’m no quitter, so I showed up and faced my fears. Fears, which, I must be honest, did not abate until I sat with our Sherpa (Roxy Hicks—she’s awesome!) and she let us know what to expect. I will even admit I got a little excited …what?! And yes, I hiked three days! And three very different types of hikes! It was not a walk in the park (literally), but I got through it and I actually enjoyed it. Our leaders’ approach went far to make all of us feel less self-conscious about our level of abilities and kept our focus on enjoying the journey (and taking pictures!). On the last day of the conference I proudly proclaimed, “I am a hiker”. This declaration received a round of applause, a standing ovation from my dear Sherpa, and I became the proud recipient of the proverbial (and literal) “big girl panties”!

. . .that I am capable of far more than I think? What I didn’t think I could do, God showed me I could. Simple as that.

Who’d a thunk indeed…
A Freedom Challenge hiker, that’s me!

Sonya Finley is a mother of four fabulous young men who "love their momma". She currently works for the San Diego Airport Authority but is active in her artistic pursuits. She is on the verge of a new season in her single life that now focuses on a journey not centered around child-rearing. This journey includes stretching beyond her comfort zone and opening herself up to new hiking for three days. 

Find out more about our next Challenge - The Grand Canyon in October.