When I was 10 years old, my father took me on my first, over-night backpacking trip.
Our family had always gone camping every summer since I was 5 years old, partly out of my father’s love for the Colorado mountains and partly out of their limited financial resources. When we started out, my father was still going to college on the GI Bill, and my parents had 5 children, all born within 6 years and 4 months of each other. Money was tight, but after they bought a tent and 6 sleeping bags, it wasn’t too financially taxing. The only thing it cost us was a tankful of gas and a couple of dollars a night to use a campsite in a National Forest Service Campground. To save money my dad slept in a bedroll made of blankets right in front of the canvas door. He always got up at the crack of dawn (I think because the blankets were thin and he was cold) to build a campfire and cook us scrambled eggs, bacon and hot chocolate. That way we could roll out of the bags and stand around the fire until the sun grew high enough to keep us warm.
As you can imagine, my mother was a saint to rough it with 5 kids all under the age of 6 and some of us still in diapers (and they weren’t disposable either). All of our meals were cooked over an open campfire or a Coleman white gas stove. The days were spent in playing and hiking. At night we roasted marshmallows and sang songs around the campfire. Once a week we drove into the nearest town to shower at the local municipal swimming pool and enjoy an hour of swimming. The rest of the week we took warm water sponge baths out of a metal cooking pot.
Five years later my father decided to take the next step in our wilderness adventures. Early on a July morning the two of us drove 90 minutes to Indian Peaks Wilderness Area which is about 30 miles south of Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park. Driving up a series of sharp switchbacks, we arrived at the trailhead around 9:00 in the morning. The sky was bright blue with just enough bright clouds to accent the cleanness of the sky. The temperature was in the 50s and I sensed a holy presence enfolding me. To this day, whenever the sky is bright and the temperature is crisp, I am taken back to that day and feel again the presence of God.
We hiked for three miles, gaining 2,000 feet in elevation, following a stream that ran through the forest and opened out into meadows filled with wildflowers. The stream tumbled over rocks and occasional waterfalls, bright with flashing light and sweet with the sound of running water. When we got to the end of the trail, we saw Lake Isabelle nestled below three mountain peaks and camped at the head of the Lake
The next morning, my father was eager to get back home, so we left early without eating breakfast. Part way down the trail I began to get discouraged, thinking that I couldn’t keep going. We stopped to eat an orange and my dad told me a story that changed my life. The story went like this.
Once there was a little boy who was running a long race. On his final lap, he began to feel very tired, so in order to keep going he started to pray:
You pick them up, Lord, and I’ll put them down.
You pick ‘em up, Lord, and I’ll put ‘em down.
You pick ‘em up, Lord, and I’ll put ‘em down.
As he kept repeating this prayer his strength returned and he picked up his speed until he crossed the finish line.
My father never told whether the little boy won the race, but it didn’t matter. The lesson was not about winning but about endurance.
When we started back down the trail, I prayed the same prayer, repeating it over and over again, “You pick em up, Lord, and I’ll put them down.” Soon my weariness and complaining disappeared and I found the strength to finish the hike. I realize now that what I was laying down a cadence, like soldiers who march to the beat of the drum. The rhythm of my prayer distracted me from my weariness. Nevertheless, this was still an answer. It didn’t give me a miraculous dose of strength but it did something even more important—it changed my attitude.
Years later, when my fourteen-year-old son became disheartened during a backpacking trip, I told him my father’s story. About 30 minutes later he turned around and said to me, “You know what, Dad? That prayer works!”
This past summer, my own son, now grown, took his daughters, ages 10 and 8, backpacking and told this story with the same results. Someday after I am gone, I expect that my granddaughters will tell their own children this story and they will also find, “It works!”
In Isaiah 40:30-31 God makes this promise Even youths will faint and grow weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
I learned the truth of this lesson the first time I went backpacking with my father and it has been a prayer that I have prayed many times in my life. “You pick em up, Lord, and I’ll put ‘em down