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Our Weekly Devotional

Separation Canyon

Thursday, September 22, 2016 • • General
If only they'd waited just one more day...

For a righteous man falls seven times, and rises again, but the wicked stumble in time of calamity-Proverbs 24:16

     If they'd just waited one more day.

     William Dunn, Capt. O.G. Howland and his brother Seneca, were fed up.  For ninety days they fought the Colorado River with the John Wesley Powell expedition, exploring and charting the river that forged the heart of the Grand Canyon.  At first the excitement of the journey was enough to motivate the trio to stick out the trials, but day by day their enthusiasm waned. 

     They were tired of the unexpected rapids, those boulder-strewn spots in the river where their tranquil float became a life-threatening dash; where the only thing they could do was hold on.  Steering was useless; the river had its own course charted, and boats in that spot would go where it wanted, regardless of how the riders felt.  They were also fed up with the frequent portages, places where they couldn't float but instead had to carry the boats and supplies overland themselves.

     On August 28, the expedition faced what looked to be the toughest rapids yet.  By now the canyon walls were so steep even portage wasn't an option.  They would have to shoot those rapids or abandon the trek. 

     Enough was enough, the elder Howland decided, and on August 28 he took his younger brother and William Dunn and hiked out of the canyon.  One version of the story suggests the younger Howland pleaded to stay, but the elder brother would have none of it. 

     So, Powell and the rest of the expedition climbed back into the boats, and in mere minutes were through the rapids to safety.  Less than a day later, they emerged from the Grand Canyon triumphant.

     Shortly after leaving the Canyon, the Howlands and Dunn were killed, some say by religious zealots in Mormon country, others say by natives to the area who mistook them for another trio of criminals.  The place where the Howlands left the Powell party is now called Separation Canyon, a haunting name for something so close to a happy ending

     History records with sad perspective this tragic turn of events, always with the same wistful words.If only the three had waited through one more trial. 

     Surely there are days when our work lives feel like that first expedition up the canyon.  The thrill of the tasks at hand yield to the hard work those tasks demand.  Difficult people make the trek less pleasant than it could be, and competition often makes it less fruitful, too.   The portages are too frequent, those seasons in our lives where unemployment or failure make us pack our stuff and hike through deserts to the next available place to lay in our boats.  We're so busy doing the urgent that the really important slips on downstream ahead of us.  We wonder how our work could matter to God when we feel like it doesn't matter to us.

     It's the moments when the workplace journey isn't fun that separate the faithful from the flighty.  God doesn't want us hiking out of the canyons to find some softer place to serve Him.  He wants us to serve right where we are, right now.  Accountants and laborers, tax collectors and customer service reps.  Even programmers-turned-pizza-delivery-guys-just-to-pay-the-bills.  God expects us to trust Him in the hard days like we praise Him in the fun ones.  Not just because it's good for us, but because it's good for those around us, watching to see if our faith really means something at crunch time. 

     We have an advantage the trio with Powell didn't.  We know how the story ends.  Even if this life is eighty years of misery, the next eighty billion years are marked by unmarred, tranquil, joyful moments with God.  Fixing our eyes on how the story ends is sometimes the only way to get through the portages and rapids.  It's also sometimes the only way people watching us learn about faith.

    Lord, let the troubles of our journey never cause us to take our eyes off of You; and may the decisions we make and the actions we take in the midst of those troubles help others to see in whom we place our trust. And grant us the ability to see others as You see them, with eyes of compassion and hands outstretched...keeping them close to a place where they too might one day trust in You.

Randy Kilgore


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