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I am always amazed at how long it sometimes takes for a great lesson from God to unfold. This one sets a personal record for me. It started as a young teenager living in Walton Hills, Ohio. Upon returning from the military after World War II, my father purchased an acre of land abutting Cuyahoga County’s park system. Sometimes called the Emerald Necklace, a series of parks are interconnected to encircle both the city of Cleveland and the county. Filled with horse trails, rivers, and thousands of acres of woodlands, it would become a dream location for a young boy to grow up. Some fifty-plus years later, it would finally sink in. God was telling me something very important.

At thirteen, my father finally built a home on that land (the home is on the extreme left of the road at the top of the picture below). From that moment on, my world was moved from the inner city of Cleveland, where I had grown up, into lands untouched since the days of early pioneers. Sagamore Creek ran through this section of parkland. The creek produced swimming holes, fishing spots, camping areas, and years of exploring. This stream had cut deep into the land, leaving a ravine with shale cliffs several hundred feet high. Virtually every spare moment of my life from the time I was thirteen to eighteen was spent running the trails within these woodlands. Most of those trails were made by abundant wildlife.


Walton Hills, Ohio, and the Cuyahoga Metro Park System

Now I need to take a few words to explain what my world was like in Walton Hills. The woodland was filled with tall hardwoods, black walnut, maple, beach, and oak trees. It was not unusual to find trees over one hundred feet high. The soil was relatively shallow, so as the stream cut into the land, the cliffs were carved out of shale. The shale was sharp and filled with prehistoric fossils and flakes of gold. Yes, there was a time when I thought I had become rich; I found gold in the shale. My dreams of wealth, however, were quickly dashed by a geological survey test showing it was only “fool’s gold.” The stream bed was filled with large boulders, and the water ran crystal clear. A few small waterfalls dotted the cliffs along the river. It was not unusual to see young deer wandering the banks.

My friends and I spent as many hours as we could exploring the area. We could leave in the morning, walk for hours, and never come to a house or road. This area in Ohio has been home to many native American Indians. We often found flint arrowheads after the farm fields were freshly plowed. We discovered Indian burial mounds nearby. At the end of this section of the park system was a part of the original Ohio Canal, with a section of the lock system still intact. On the other end of the park section was a large tunnel that allowed the river to flow under a single set of railroad tracks, one of the few signs of man’s presence. The tunnel produced a deep hole, the “swimming hole,” that cooled us during Ohio’s hot summer days.

One of my favorite pastimes was climbing the steep shale cliffs and walking along the animal trails to test my manhood and bravery. In this same ravine, my friends and I found the remnants of an old dam and pump house used to feed water up to the top of the ravine to fill the steam engines that ran many years ago along the track above. Today, the track is gone, repurposed by the “Rails to Trails” program. If I were to give any child a gift today, I would give them access to the type of land behind my home. It was peaceful, it was majestic, it was filled with surprises, and it would form my interests for the rest of my life.

I have not been back to Walton Hills for over fifty years, since turning eighteen. Today, however, we have Google Maps and satellite images. So, I found the wonderings of my mind taking me back to a satellite image of that area and a specific day when I learned a very important lesson from my God. There was a daunting cliff made of shale that was right at the end of a horse trail, our usual path of descent into the valley. It was very steep, with nothing but a simple rabbit trail running diagonally from top to bottom. For years, my friends and I climbed virtually every cliff in this valley, but we did not climb this one. It was high, the path was narrow, and common sense told us that it would be too hard to navigate. But as young boys do, our good sense was cast aside one day, and several of us decided to try. Phil, my friend, went first. He was always going first. Phil was brave, strong, and skilled. We all followed him that day because we trusted those skills, and, of course, not going would have branded us, cowards.


The Hill of Fear on Sagamore Creek

I do not remember much about the assent other than following Phil closely. After many minutes of careful navigation on this very narrow and slippery trail, I got stuck at the midpoint of the trail. I could not go forward because the path was too narrow and the slope too steep. I could not turn around either. Looking back down about 100 feet or more, I realized that if I turned around and tried to go back, I would just slip down the hill. There was no doubt in my mind that if I fell, I would be seriously hurt or, worse, killed. Shale is unforgiving. It is just like sliding down on broken glass and would have cut right through my clothes and skin. At the bottom of the hill was the riverbed of solid rock strewn with boulders. That moment of fear is something I can still remember as I write this story.

Phil saw my plight, and he turned around to help. He could not go down either, but he stretched his hand out and told me to grab it. Phil reassured me that he would pull me forward to the top of the cliff. But Phil was just out of my reach. There was his hand, ready to save me from my plight, but I could not reach him. Finally, after what seemed to be an eternity, I realized that I would have to trust Phil and lunge forward several feet. I needed to grab Phil’s hand, trusting in his grip. I did just that, and Phil did just what he needed to do, and both my fear and peril were over in a second. We then continued and made it to the top. Together, we conquered the cliff.

Now for that message from God that I promised you. It would take me the next 50 or so years to understand that our Savior is much like Phil. Christ is strong, brave, skilled, and always ready to extend His hand to save us. But I have a responsibility too. I need to trust and lunge toward Christ with confidence and faith. Had I stayed frozen in fear on that hill, it would not have ended up as a warm memory of a good friend. Today, I look at our world, and it easily brings similar fear and tribulation, just like I had on that hill. I am retired now and as I watch the world news, I find myself asking, will Social Security still be around as I age further, will the U.S. dollars that I worked so hard to save be worth anything in the future, why are my freedoms slipping away or will the terror that grips our planet ever end? But like Phil, what I have learned is that Christ’s hand is always there, extended toward me and ready to hold onto me and pull me to the top. What I have to always remember is that it is up to me to have the faith and trust needed to lunge for Him. God promised me the top of the hill and I have every intention of reaching it by holding on to Christ.