I rolled my eyes a little bit when I heard we were going to have a tour guide take us along a hike in the woods. Don’t get me wrong, I love hiking; it’s the tour guide part that I’m not particularly fond of. My knowledge of the woods and experience with hiking make me think I don’t need a guide. I’d rather go at my own pace, look at the things I want to look at, linger where I want to linger, and not be seen with a tourist group while I’m at it. It sounds pretty fiercely independent and arrogant, because it is.
As our African tour guide headed down the trail at the front, I took the tail end of the pack, moseying along and keeping a small distance between me and the others. The trail was breathtakingly beautiful and lusciously green. What a contrast compared to the dry northern region where I live! Instead of looking around, I found myself looking up towards the tops of the trees in this coastal forest. My head tilted back to soak in the beauty, which actually seemed to grow denser the higher I looked and the deeper I wandered. Clouds hung in the air like mist and small rain drops dropped off the canopy of leaves onto my shoulders. Only small patches of gray sky peeked through the ceiling of green vines and banana leaves the size of hammocks. The narrow muddy footpath twisted back and forth through the underbrush, and wet leaves bushed up again my ankles as a drifted past them.
When I caught up with the others, they had stopped with the guide under a cocoa tree. The guide picked off a hard shelled fruit, pulled a rather surprisingly large knife out of his pocket and slit into the shell, making a white juice ooze out. He separated the white slimy pods into sections and then popped one into his mouth. He sucked on it for a little while and then spit a small seed into his hand. “That’s à cocoa bean,” he said as he continued to explain their local process of turning the beans into cocoa powder. “Let’s keep going,” he said as he took the lead again and moved us on. As he walked past me, he put rest of the split-open cocoa fruit in my hand. And just like that, I decided it wasn’t too bad to have a tour guide after all.
I kept walking at the back, popping white juicy cocoa fruit into my mouth and spitting the cocoa seeds to the right and left, not even seeing exactly where they landed since the foliage was so thick. The beans just bounced off the leaves and disappeared below, leaving the leaves bobbing and making raindrops roll off them.
The guide stopped again, veered off the path by himself, and came back with a handful of small green spiny fruits that I had never seen before. He cracked one open with his thumb, revealing the most brilliant color red I have ever seen. He smeared his finger inside of it, then proceeded to paint the lips of my friend who was closest to him! While we were still laughing and marveling, he also painted a beautiful red butterfly on another person’s arm and then told us to keep walking.
I was becoming more and more impressed with this tour guide experience. Just a few feet ahead, he stopped again, this time quickly and carelessly plucking a handful of ordinary looking green leaves, only when he crushed them in his hands, a beautiful yellowish-orange paint squeezed out of the leaves, and he dipped his finger in it and added another shade of orange to the butterfly’s wings on my friend’s arm.
A little bit further along the path, he turned over a fallen log and picked a handful of wild mushrooms. “You can eat these,” he said. He picked a rather large jungle leaf, placed the mushrooms in the middle of it, and then folded it up and tucked the stem of the leaf under itself to hold it all together. A perfect Tarzan to-go box.
When we arrived at our destination, a thundering waterfall, we all sat around the pool below as our guide selected some brown rocks. “He is not about to make paint out of those, too,” I said in disbelief, but he did just that. Wetting a larger rock slab, he then proceeded to grind the rocks into eight various shades of nature’s finest colors – browns, greens, yellows, and grays. He added spots to the butterfly’s wings and shading in places where the colors were just barely different enough to make the butterfly stand out almost three dimensionally.
I put myself to shame for wishing that we didn’t have a guide. I totally changed my mind. Without him, I would have walked right past the cocoa tree. I would never have noticed the tiny green fruits with bright red lipstick inside. I would never have thought to crush a certain green leave and get vibrant orange or rich indigo color out of it.
He made color out of everything. He found beauty in things I would have walked right by. Thanks to him, my eyes were opened to see beautiful, creative, and just plain fun wonders of God’s creation.
I want to squeeze the color out of life like that. I want to walk slowly instead of hurry so much. I want to see the beauty in what appears ordinary. I want to learn new things and worship in new ways.
It’s a good thing we have a really good Guide who wants to walk with us through the life he has given us and show us his hidden beauty and treasures along the way.
And it’s a good thing that when the crushing and the squeezing happens, we find ourselves in his hands, and he brings out the most gorgeous colors, colors only he can create, colors that can only be released when we are pressed and crushed and opened and surrendered.
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