You have been on the trail for a few hours now. You are beginning to feel it in your calves and lungs. But, you are nearing your destination. You can’t wait to experience the rush of reaching the top- to stand high among the peaks where the mountain’s ancient knowledge seems to surge through you like an icy current.
As you come around the final bend, the sun breaks through the trees and the wind rushes past you. Victory at last. Sore from the steep climb, you wander slowly across the timeworn rocks, avoiding the sinewy brush poking up through the granite.
But, you are not alone. Ahead of you, standing on the edge of a great precipice, with his arms stretched out wide, stands a man. His back is turned toward you, and you cannot see his face. His hands briefly form a fist, then open upwards to let the forceful mountain wind sweep over them. Without turning around, he whispers, “Beautiful isn’t it?”
Is he daring and victorious? Or is he desperate and reckless?
You step out onto the sidewalk. The sun tries to warm your skin, but the rays move sluggishly through the brisk autumn air. Your feet enjoy the luxurious cocoon of foam and rubber separating them from the merciless pavement.
Your heart beats a little faster in anticipation of the coming exertion. Your joints brace for impact. You slip in your ear buds and instantly your blood races to the beat of your favorite song.
You have a few blocks to warm up before you reach the trail, and your run begins in earnest. You start with a refreshing jog that has you bouncing down the sidewalk to the music. You are just waiting for your lungs to catch up to your heart.
Suddenly, you hear the measured thuds of someone running behind you. You turn your head and see, not one, but two people are quickly overtaking you. The front-runner is a young woman. Her chest rises and falls quickly as she races past. She doesn’t notice you when she passes; her whole being is focused on speed. She is pushing her body to the limit.
A few yards behind her sprints a young man. Sweat drips down his face, but he doesn’t wipe it away. He too is completely focused. Not on the trail, however, but on the woman ahead of him. His muscular legs reach forward in long, grasping strides. But, as they both disappear around the bend, the woman continues to outpace him.
Did you just witness a woman fleeing an abuser? Or did you just see a woman winning an aerobic challenge?
You hear the rumble of the ocean waves outside your cabin. You are tired from the drive here, but the warm ocean sands and cool waves call to you. Besides, the sun will set soon, and you don’t want to miss it.
When you reach the beach, the sun has already begun adorning the sky in ravishing colors and regal patterns. As you sink your bare feet into the sand, you realize how small you are in the grand scheme of existence. You make your way, awestruck, to where the water meets the sand. You splash your feet flirtatiously among the army of waves waiting for the moon’s command to storm the beach.
A little further up the beach a woman, dressed in rippling linen with her auburn curls tied loosely over one shoulder, wades knee-deep into the surf. She doesn’t seem to realize, or care, that you are here. You can just make out her expression in the fading light. She is gazing, as if completely mesmerized, out to sea.
She falls to her knees and bows her head as the water rushes around her. She stays there, immovable; her eyes shut and her head bent down – seemingly at peace.
Has she come here and collapsed among the waves in despair? Or is she here on her knees before God?
You finally made it. You felt sure your friend’s driving would mean that an off-ramp would be the last thing you saw on this earth, but happily you survived the freeway. After a cordial farewell at the drop-off zone, you head to the check-in kiosk with your carry-on rolling behind you.
As you print your ticket, you are tempted to re-check your bag to make sure that your laptop is snuggly nestled where it won’t be crushed. But, you assure yourself it’s fine. Besides, it will have to come out when you go through security anyway.
You’ve finished at the kiosk. Fortunately, you are not as techno-challenged and irritable as the woman the check-in agent is trying to assist. You make your way casually to your gate. You’re very early and will most likely have an hour to spend drinking coffee and playing on your phone, so there is no rush.
As you find your place in the security line, a couple catches your eye. The man is dressed in military camo as is the bag beside him. He is clinging to a slender woman in heels and a red dress. Her face is buried against his shoulder, and his chin rests on her head. A few tears fall down his face as he tilts his head to kiss her. The TSA agent is ready for you, and you don’t get to see the outcome of the embrace.
Did you just observe a tearful homecoming? Or did you just watch a heart-wrenching farewell?
The alarm goes off again. You look at the time, trying to calculate if you can push snooze just once more. You realize that if you don’t get up soon you won’t have time for a cup of coffee. This is enough motivation to turn off the alarm.
You stretch out in bed, hoping to preserve the last moments in your sanctuary. You reach over to turn on a lamp near your bed. The light assaults your face, and you recoil with a grimace and an injured moan.
Finally, you force yourself to venture out into the real world. You shuffle across the carpet eager for the two pleasures of the morning – hot coffee and a hot shower. You turn on the water, allowing steam to accumulate while you brush your teeth. When you approach the sink, you meet your disheveled reflection in the mirror.
What do you see? Do you see a person exhausted and defeated by yesterday’s battles? Or do you see a person eager and preparing to conquer today?
Perception defines you and becomes the filter through which you interpret your world, your God, and yourself.