“This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.” – Jeremiah 29:10-14
Tarkio, Montana is a beautiful place.
Up until last week, I had never heard of it. With mountain peaks, towering pine trees, the Clark Fork of the Columbia River, and endless skies, I was prepared for a week of connection and support with like-minded cancer survivors and fighters, learning how to kayak and take on a few rapids, and be surrounded by God’s creation.
I had no idea it would be so much more than that. Or how much I would learn about myself through the river.
It’s hard to truly explain the week spent with my First Descents family, and all of the incredible moments we had together. But the overwhelming sense of peace and the faithfulness of God through every season is what stands out to me. And the beauty of being an overcomer. The feeling of being held, a support system that truly, deeply understands, and the reassurance that I am not alone.
Here’s the thing about the river: it mirrors Life. The fear of the unknown, and yet the exhilarating feeling of courage and determination as you glide (or wobble!) out onto the water and enter the flow. You can’t control the river, but you can respond to it. You have control of your response.
And in the times when you aren’t strong enough to conquer the river on your own, you have beautiful souls around you cheering you on, rescuing you from the rapids, hugging you in your tears and laughter. The river makes you think about the challenges you’ve faced head-on; how sometimes life happens so fast, you make a split-second decision and hope for the best. You don’t always know the outcome, but the river takes you through it.
The week was full of new relationships, processing emotions that had been buried too deep, and opening my spiritual eyes to the intense beauty all around me. The promise of God in chapter 29 of the book of Jeremiah (which people love to latch onto verse 11, but ignore the rest) is that you will have hardship and pain in this life. But He knows the plans He has for you…and they are good.
September 9th marks one year since my diagnosis. It feels like a lifetime ago, and yet every step is marked with the promises and plans of my Heavenly Father. Never once have I ever walked alone. Even in the darkest times, even when it felt like an impossible mountain to climb, He was right there. And no matter what lies ahead for the next place of promise that He’s leading me to, I know that I don’t have to stress, or strive, or make these mountains move in my own strength. I can let Him just be God. And that is enough.
Soaring purple cliffs, white-capped waves, calm eddies, and majestic eagles keeping watch from the heights; the incredible and indescribable feeling of being more than just alive…it’s not something I can shake quickly and get back to real life again. I feel changed. I feel more vulnerable and also stronger than I’ve ever been. It’s complex, and it’s beautiful.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord…
One of our final nights, we were asked to collect two rocks. One was for all our broken, ugly things. And the other was for all the things that are beautiful and true about ourselves. We each got alone with our rocks and a marker, and let the words spill out. And then, when we had allowed ourselves time to just sit with those feelings, we threw the broken things into the river, holding the truthful and positive things in our hands.
The idea of leaving it in the river…reminded me of God’s promise about our sin and our shame. About our brokenness and our weakness. As far as the east is from the west…forgotten and at the bottom of the ocean floor…
We are the ones who constantly reopen the wounds. We are the ones who dwell on the broken places and hurts, instead of the pure, clean, redeemed. We have an Enemy who whispers these things into our hearts, willing us to listen and throw us into confusion. But the Truth that comes from God is peaceful, building us up and never leaving us in pain or in the past.
God’s will for us is wholeness. To be made new, every single morning, to be molded and shaped into the likeness of Christ.
I still have so much to process. But this trip was absolutely meant to be, and I am so thankful for the First Descents organization and the amazing donors who make it possible for others like myself to gather, to experience, and to find healing.
I will never forget Tarkio, Montana.