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Last weekend my roommates and I went on a quick trip to Lake Titicaca. It was a beautiful weekend—both in scenery and in company. We explored the little town of Copacabana, stayed at a cozy hostel that reminded us of the Shire, ate trout fresh from the lake, and enjoyed great red wine while the sun blazed a path below the horizon. We took a ferry to Isla del Sol, and hiked from the north end to the south of this extremely remote dot on the map. We were surrounded by the bluest sky and the clearest water. We walked along the backbone of the island, perched up high with a gorgeous view of the lake and the distant shores of Peru. As breathtaking as the views were, the memories of sweet fellowship will outlast them.

Amidst the miles walked, food enjoyed and stars gazed, we opened up to each other. We shared about our lives, our pasts, our weaknesses, our victories, and our struggles. We chose vulnerability. We chose authenticity over perfection. We chose courage: “to speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart” (Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection).

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At one of the peaks along the trail, we came upon a stack of rocks—a cairn. If you know me, you know that cairns are one of my favorite things in the world. I think they are fascinating. Cairns are the deliberate stacking of rocks as a landmark, monument, or tombstone. They have been used for centuries as trail markers around the world. They usually signal to hikers which path to follow, although they can also mark the summit of a mountain, an upcoming hazard, or simply a way to honor someone or something.

This pile of rocks offers us a choice, just as we have to decide what to do with the landmarks throughout our lives. 

We can build walls with our pile of stones. We can shut others out. We can build a fortress, seemingly protecting ourselves when really all we are doing is limiting our own growth and freedom. We can choose shame, allowing our hearts to grow as cold and hard as the stone walls we are erecting. If we build walls around our stories, we become a slave to our own past.

Or, we can build cairns. We can pay homage to the places we’ve been and what they’ve taught us. We can express gratitude for what God has done in our lives. We can thank Him for the way He dug us out of a pit that we could not have possibly helped ourselves out of. We can give others an opportunity to accept and love us just as we are. We can embrace the opportunity to direct others to see how God has made a way in our lives, and is also making a way in theirs too.

We have an opportunity to be vulnerable with the rocks in our lives. We can lay it all out, naked and terrified. Vulnerability takes time—we must deliberately and patiently stack one stone at a time. As risky as it is, there is freedom in vulnerability. There is courage in declaring our own weaknesses. There is joy in giving Him the glory for what He has built out of rubble.

So, what will you do with those rocks in your life? Vulnerability is a daily choice. The decisions we make each day can add up to harmful barriers, or hopeful symbols along the path.

Will you use rocks to shut others out, to build ourselves into a prison, to declare premature death over your life? Will you let shame win, and aimlessly walk the path alone?

Or will you choose to be brave and embrace vulnerability? Will you declare freedom over stones that used to weigh you down? Will you choose to see them as opportunities for growth, direction and gratitude? Will you build cairns to proclaim your belonging? Will you invite others to walk with you?