A few weeks ago we were away in Devon on a family holiday. Heni came with us (along with two carers).... and my son and daughter in law flew in from America to join us for a part of it. It was lovely to escape the crowds, enjoy the beach and sea... spend some time as a family... and also celebrate Heni's 21st birthday.
On one of Heni's "stay in" days we visited a really novel places called "Tunnels Beaches" in Ilfracombe....
.... it's an aptly named location as you have to walk through a 200m long tunnel (hand carved by hundreds of welsh miners in the 1820's) through the mountain side to get to the only remaining tidal bathing pool on the other side.
For some reason, it reminded me of the time I took Daughter Number Two to Austria a few years ago and we visited the salt mines in Berchtesgarden. You had to travel quite a bit further (about 1400m) in to the cavern of the mountain trough a tunnel on a little train.... then slide down two slides (34m and 40 m long) and the guided tour lasted about 1.5 hours... and the worst bit was that I didn't know these facts before I started the experience.....
I don't know about you but I don't particularly like the thought of having a mountain with thousands of tonnes of rock and earth above my head (I'd rather be on a mountain than in one!) At one point..... about ten minutes in to the tour, I realised that if I wanted to get out quickly, I highly likely wouldn't be able to, and I started to feel all hot and bothered and became aware of panic setting in.... something I had never experienced before (I think the overalls didn't help either as I was boiling!)
After a prayer and also giving myself a good talking to, most of the thoughts of doom and gloom were pushed aside and I started to feel better. I managed to make it through the next hour and forty minutes and even enjoyed some of the rest of the tour... (especially when we rode a boat over the salt lake in the middle of the mountain). Thankfully we eventually emerged out of the tunnel, and I was relieved to see the flutters of snow outside and feel fresh air on my face again. In the end I was even grateful for the experience.
.... these two tunnel experiences have got me thinking about the different tunnels that most of us experience at some point in our lives.
At the beach there was a series of about three tunnels that covered the 200m to the emerge at the beach... and you could still see the faint light at the end of the longest one in the distance. You knew exactly how far you had to travel, and you could see when you would emerge again in to the bright light ahead. Some of life's trials can be a little like this.... you know that you are in a difficult spot but you can see that there is light at the end and know that although you may be in the dark right now you are going to come through it O.K. in the end.... it's just a process of keeping moving forwards one step at a time until you get there.
In Austria I was travelling blind. I had gotten myself in to a situation where I had no idea how long the tunnel was and how long I would have to endure it... and in my mindset at the time.... I didn't know if I would ever get out of it again!
Sometimes there are long tunnels like this in life too. Maybe you didn't exactly know (or agree to what you were getting in to) and it feels like there is a mountain above your head that is about to crush you to pieces. Maybe the panic has taken over and you feel doomed to be buried alive in the depths of the earth! You feel like you have been in the tunnel long enough and you want to come out into the light and feel the warmth of the sun and fresh air on your face again..... but you have to carry on in the dark and discomfort, not knowing when it is all going to end or when you will emerge... if ever!
However life has a way of teaching lessons along the way....
At the end of the tunnel at the beach we came across a beautiful little bay with a tidal bathing pool that we got to swim in.....
....And in Berchestgarden we emerged to enjoy a lovely wintery Christmas card scene where we drank hot kinder punch as we walked around in the snow.
These two experiences taught me that no matter what tunnel we may find ourselves in, we WILL eventually emerge and there is usually something good waiting for you at the end of the tunnel.
I also learned a few other points.... namely.....when you can't see the end of the Long tunnel, you have to exercise faith,trust, patience and endurance and rely on something greater than yourself (I didn't get through my panic in the salt mine without the help of earnest heart felt prayer)..... AND a change in mindset was really helpful to keep the thoughts of imminent death and destruction at bay. I even learned that there are many things that you may even quite enjoy in the tunnel if you are open to receiving it...like the fun boat ride on the lake in the middle of the mountain and even making new friends on the tour.
I have been in many very difficult and dark tunnels throughout my life.....both real and metaphorical....and they are not very pleasant. If you are currently in the middle of your own tailor made tunnel/trial and are struggling to see where the end is ... keep looking for the light at the end... and when the darkness of the tunnels engulf, know that there is one source of light that we can always look to for help and comfort along the way.....the greatest light of all... even Christ. I would encourage you to keep calm, keep moving, keep praying and trust that the mountain above you will hold firm. I know that light will come and you will eventually emerge in to day light ..... AND when you get to the end, there will highly likely be something amazingly beautiful waiting there for you.