We’d like to thank Barbara Evans for sharing her experience with us in the reflection below. She details here part of her “Hard can be Helpful” story after her 2022 Chuck Wilson Memorial Backpack for BENCHMARK 3-day hike:

Independent >> Dependent, Hard can be Helpful

I have always considered myself to be quite an independent person. Being independent is not necessarily bad unless it is taken to the extreme. And I have certainly done that. I have even gone so far as to convince myself that if I need help, I am a failure and not good enough. Let’s not go down that path, because I have lived there often enough that I know what it can do to my soul.

As I grow and mature, I learn to recognize that leaning into the help of others is a good thing. It allows me to utilize both the strengths I have and the strengths others have and to encourage each other in the process. This is something that I have been slow to appreciate and incorporate, both personally and professionally. However, God has a wonderful way of reminding us of the need to allow others to share the loads that we have.

The annual Backpack for BENCHMARK hike has always been a great challenge for me physically. Most often, there are those on the hike who are far stronger than me physically. I work hard in the days before the hike to train well and be prepared to at least keep up with those long-legged strong men who I know are quite capable of leaving me behind on the trail. My fellow hikers often offer me the chance to hike ahead of them, encouraging me that they will hike with me and ‘keep my pace’ with no judgment. In reality, I often like to be in the back, because it allows me some alone time to think, pray, and evaluate things that I have allowed to overwhelm me and ‘worry’ me.

2022’s hike was no different in that capacity. I was mostly hiking in the back, alone, by my choice. I had done well, though, mostly keeping up and not requiring them to wait for me for long periods of time for breaks throughout each day. I was very pleased with how I had prepared for the ups and downs of the trail and my ability to persevere through the ‘hard’ climbs, steady and slow, but not too slow.

On the last day, I was in the back. There were a lot of acorns on the trail and we were hiking some significantly downhill sections. At one point, I slipped on a large patch of acorns and fell down. Not injured, just a little dirty, I got up and kept walking. It reminded me of a scene from one of the “Winnie the Pooh” cartoons where Rabbit (I think) got swept away by a rush of acorns that had been stored away. It made me chuckle as I kept walking down the trail. We met up in a gap soon after that for a break and a snack. As the day progressed, of course, there was another uphill section, but we were now under 10 miles to the end, so I knew I could do it. After that, it was going to be downhill, truly my favorite trail to hike.

With a little over 5 miles to go, I came upon a section of trail where there were a few downed trees. There was one tree that was forked and I needed to step into the middle of it and cross one section at a time. I stepped over the first limb without any problem. When I stepped over the second limb, my right foot hung on something and I fell flat on my face. I heard a snap and now my foot was hurting. My immediate thoughts were that I had broken my foot and there were still 5 miles to go. I was crying. I wasn’t sure how far my companion hikers were in front of me, but I yelled “JAMES, JOSH, KINLEY” as loudly as I could. I lay there a minute more. Then I told myself I needed to get up and test the foot. It was still hurting pretty bad, but I needed to find out. So, I got up slowly standing on my left foot. Then I put down my right foot. It hurt. I took a cautious step. Okay. I can move on it. I don’t think it’s broken. Must have been the limb that snapped. Thank you, God!

I kept walking and crying. I needed to catch the guys. I knew there was a shelter close by and that they would likely wait for me there as we were also changing trails at that point. I just didn’t know how far it was. I also knew after I got to the shelter, it would be all downhill. I walked slowly and after a bit figured out I could move better than I thought. When I got to the shelter, the guys were there as anticipated. I carefully walked up trying not to let on that I was hurt. There’s that independence showing up. You see, I knew that if I told them I was hurt, they would offer to take some of my weight, and then I wouldn’t be finishing the hike as planned.

After I sat down for a bit to have a snack and then got back up, the pain was back. James saw it on my face and asked me what was wrong. I told them I had twisted my ankle pretty bad, but thought it was okay. As expected, they asked if they could take some weight from my pack. I said NO.

We started down the trail, James staying close by me and my inner self battling and trying to hold in the tears that were coming, not just because of pain. But because my self-sufficient soul was beginning to tell myself over and over what a failure I was because now I was slowing everyone down. I struggled with it. Going down hurt more than going up. But I kept moving. Slow but moving. James stayed with me. I kept hearing in my head that he was upset with me because I was going so slowly. A lie that I was forcing myself to push down. But, it kept coming back.

Soon after that, we stopped again and someone asked if less weight in my pack would help. I knew it would. But, my stubborn self did not want to give it up. I did, however, reluctantly say yes it likely would. Between the three of them, they divided up the heaviest things in my pack. When I put it back on, I felt like it had nothing in it. We continued down the trail and I continued that inner battle about not being good enough. Yet, I knew that it was our combined strength that was helping me to finish this hike, and ‘leaning’ on them was what I needed to do for us to finish in a timely manner and perhaps not injure my foot any worse than it was already injured. James remained with me and, for the most part, we all finished together in the end.  We finished at a creek, so I took off my shoes and soaked my foot in the very cold water while James went after the van.

The theme of the hike is “Hard can be Helpful”. For me, it was not about the physical demands of the hike. For me, the ‘hard’ was recognizing that WE were a team of hikers and it was good that I had the strength of others to carry my weight when I was unable to do so. We are intended to walk this life together in community, not alone. I sometimes rely entirely too much on myself, both personally and professionally. God provides me with the strength both through him and others to face the challenges life brings. I need to lean into God and the strength of those around me to face them and walk through them and continue to learn that I don’t have to do it alone.

When we got in the car, I thanked them for taking my weight and assured them that it allowed me to finish. Kinley reminded me that though it was hard, it was needed, and even acknowledged that he would have struggled with giving up weight as well. You see, I also believe I am not alone in that struggle with a balance, or tension, as my husband likes to say, of being both dependent and independent. It is a battle I will continue to fight, though perhaps this will be a reminder to me of the benefit of being a little more dependent.