This summer, as Kari Heckler debated whether to apply for the position of First Free Kids Director, she asked God to give her a sign.
“That’s not me,” she says of the request. “I’m very factual about stuff.”
She drove her son, Spencer, to his summer job at Summit Ministries near Colorado Springs, and then spent a few extra days in the mountains by herself. Each day, she drove by a church with its name carved into a huge stone slab: First Evangelical Free Church.
“I looked at that and I thought, well, that’s a sign.”
During those days in the mountains, Kari set a goal of ascending the Manitou Incline, which climbs 2,000 feet in about a mile. The trail used to be part of the Pike’s Peak Cog Railway until the track bed was washed out by a 1990 rockslide. Since then it has served as a fitness challenge for hikers and runners.
A year ago, Kari could hardly walk due to problems in both Achilles tendons. A year before that, she went blind for a month when her optic nerve swelled. This year, she left a youth ministry position at another Rockford church, thinking it was time to step away from church work — what she calls “The Machine.”
Now in Colorado’s thin air, somehow she was hiking up the Incline’s nearly 3,000 steps, passing much younger hikers who were doubled over and vomiting. When she reached her target point along the trail, she looked out on the incredible beauty below and felt very small. It was one of those God moments.
“I felt like I had my strength and my joy in the Lord back,” she says. “I felt like I let go with my fists of some things that I needed to put behind me. Health issues, spiritual things, just to know that God can help us get up those mountains. I couldn’t have done it myself. I know I couldn’t have.
“And the Lord just spoke to me so clearly: ‘You’ve got to let it go. You’ll be fine. I’m not done with you yet. You need to get back into the Machine and go.’ And there was just this strength that came: spiritually, emotionally, physically.”
When Kari got home, she sent her resume to First Free and things moved quickly from there. She started as Kids Director on Sept. 3. Even before she knew she got the job, she thought about two particular pieces of décor for her office: a photo showing the steps of the Manitou Incline, and another showing “First Evangelical Free Church” carved into that stone.
“If I ever have a rough day and feel overwhelmed, I can look at that picture and remember that God brought me here.”