Chapter One: Flashback at the Falls

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straightyour paths (Proverbs 3:5-6, ESV).

June 2010

Hiking along the sapphire blue shores of one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, I found myself invigorated and out of breath. The combination of high altitude, frigid morning air, and the thirtypound backpack I was carrying caused me to pause on the trail. Looking back over my shoulder, I saw my little band of intrepid flatlander suburbanites following dutifully behind me as we crossed this magnificent mountain landscape. We were exploring a remote road trip to redemption seven-mile trail to Bow Falls that skirts the picturesque Bow Lake in Alberta, Canada, located only a few miles from the idyllic Lake Louise resort region of Banff. We had left our rental cabin before dawn that day, hoping to get on the trail in time to reach our isolated destination by noon.

I had led my family from Nashville, Tennessee, to Canada on a quest to reintroduce them to the Author of all beauty, the Creator of true life, Jesus Christ. I could envision no place in the world that could convey the majesty and creativity of their spiritual heritage better than this remarkable piece of paradise.

An avid hiker and road warrior, I had visited Alberta several times before with my lifelong friend Brian Hardin. As a professional photographer, he had explored this lake with me, and I had kept one of his pictures framed in my living room ever since. Bow Lake was a sacred place for me. I had wept on the day I first stood on its shores. Dramatic mountain walls swept down into a crystal-clear, glacier-fed lake that perfectly reflected the snowcapped peaks from every angle. This valley had been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. Every summer, tourist buses swept by its shores following the world-famous Icefields Parkway—an ice-trail road running from Banff to Jasper—carrying hundreds of visitors eager to see the sights, buy the trinkets, and pose for pictures. These driveby gazers were content to leave the majesty of the lake’s shores with a few digital memories. In their rush to see more, did they truly understand or appreciate the silent and awesome presence of this pristine wilderness? I doubted it.

When I stand on the shores of this lake, I always feel as if I am standing in the presence of my Creator God. No other place in the world moves me like this place does. It is unique, special, unequaled in its beauty and its serenity. So when I had an opportunity to take a trip with my family, it didn’t take me long to decide where we would go. Now here we were, hiking past the well-worn shoreline of the casual tourist trail and heading to the soaring glacier’s edge, which in summer forms the magnificent Bow Falls, rising over five hundred feet in the far distance.

The trail was long and winding, with very few easy stretches, and we quickly realized it would tax us much more than any trail we had tried before. My sophisticated teens were excited, engaged, and anxiously snapping pictures as they hiked. Exclaiming like little children who had just discovered another new ride at Disneyland, they shared their joy with anyone who would listen. I smiled at their random outbursts of oohs and aahs, their pointing and yelling at the wildlife and mountain scenery around us:

“Dad, this is AMAZING! It’s soooooo cool.”
“Are those elk? Are they dangerous?”
“Is that an eagle? How cool is that!”
“Seriously, are there bears up here? Will they eat us?”

They would each exclaim their discoveries or shout their delight, as if they alone had seen the beauty and we risked missing a critical life moment if we didn’t immediately stop and stare with them before it suddenly disappeared. It was awesome to see my suburban, media-addicted teenagers running around the wilderness like kids in a candy store. It was a prayer answered—and a major passion of my life shared with my family for the first time.