Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised
in the city of our God!
His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation,
is the joy of all the earth,
Mount Zion, in the far north,
the city of the great King.
Within her citadels God
has made himself known as a fortress.
Psalm 48: 1-3
On a Thursday in November, 2017, we drove east. In Santa Ana, to drive east is to drive toward the desert. And so to the desert we went: the high desert beyond the San Bernardino Mountains, the long stretches of Mojave, and eventually to the red rocky cliffs of Southern Utah, on the edges of the Colorado Plateau. We were headed to Zion.
There is something about deserts that is clarifying, calming, and replenishing. That November, Kira and I needed to be replenished.
It had been a long journey of trying to fall pregnant, and we were starting to feel hopeless. God had given us both a deep longing for a baby, so why was it not happening? Would it ever happen? Was God teaching us a lesson by withholding this good thing? Nothing was wrong health wise; there were no apparent fertility issues. Yet no baby. Month after month, cycle after cycle, we asked these questions. It became a familiar, roller coaster pattern: hope would build up, faith would rise, and then it all came crashing down. We would cry together. I’d say something about the value of waiting or the nature of a gift. We would recover, then repeat.
That November week was particularly rough, so we decided to take a spontaneous trip to the only place that made sense, a place whose name alone communicated the refuge and hope we needed. We packed up the car and headed east, to Zion.
I had been to Zion about a half dozen times before, and a few times with Kira. We had hiked The Narrows and Angel’s Landing; tubed the Virgin River; enjoyed coffee at Deep Creek and chipotle enchiladas at Whiptail Grill. We had our favorite spots: laying on the grass in front of the lodge; watching the sunset in Kolob Canyon. Zion had become our favorite National Park. A sacred space.
On this spontaneous trip to Zion we had no agenda other than clearing our heads, breathing fresh air, being together, and being with God. It was about the last glimpses of yellow leaves, the soothing peace of the Virgin River, the quiet echoes of the canyon, the awe-inspiring sandstone cliffs. It was about hiking and sweating and talking and praying and crying. It was about going to ranger-led astronomy talks and looking up at the mind-boggling expanse above—the Milky Way like a sparkling rainbow of stars across the sky—and pondering God’s bigness and our smallness.
It was about doing what the psalmist envisioned: “Walk about Zion, go around her, number her towers, consider well her ramparts, go through her citadels, that you may tell the next generation that this is God, our God forever and ever. He will guide us forever” (Psalm 48:12-14).
Telling the next generation “that this is God, our God forever and ever,” and that “He will guide us forever.” This was our prayer in Zion a year ago. We prayed that we might one day speak of this good, forever God with a son or a daughter; to sit them in our lap and tell them of the God who is strong when we are weak; faithful when we are faithless; sure when we are unsure; the God we can run to and take refuge in, just like we did one November on a trip to Zion.
Little did we know that we’d get the chance just a year later.
We came back from Zion last year with spirits lifted, satisfied in God and trusting that—baby or no baby—we’d be fine. God was God, and he was good. Come what may, this would not change.
Less than a month later, Kira was pregnant. And here we are a year later, heading back to Zion not as a family of two, but of three.
This time last year Chester Wilson McCracken was just a flickering hope, an uncertainty we prayed for with faltering faith. This year he’s a 3-month-old baby who will spend his first Thanksgiving in Zion, a living testimony to the extravagant grace of the Giver of all good gifts.
We will put Chet in his baby-sized Patagonia vest and beanie and drop him in the BabyBjörn for some good hikes with mom and dad. He’ll sit with us at Deep Creek Coffee and Whiptail Grill. We’ll gaze into a campfire together. He’ll watch us eat pumpkin pie (next year you can taste it, Chet!). We’ll tell him where Zion gets its name: that it is the city of God, the ultimate refuge. We will tell him that his own name, Chester, means something similar: fortress, stronghold.
We’ll look up at the stars with him too, and point out the Milky Way. “God made that,” we’ll say. “And he also made you.”
Both are awe-inspiring creations, given to us because of God’s sheer grace. In the face of them we simply stare, marvel, enjoy, and give thanks.