Singing in the Fog
The mountain town of Sa Pa, Vietnam is about a day’s drive and several climate zones away from Hanoi. Apparently, westerners throughout history have long been noted for their difficulty in adjusting to hot, humid climates, and Sa Pa became the place in Indochina where those French and British expats would head when the heat in Hanoi just became too much to deal with. And so, Sa Pa’s birth as a tourist town began. The waterfalls, ethnic minorities, and stunningly crafted rice terraces didn’t hurt those efforts either.
Sa Pa also happens to be about a day’s drive from where we live, and it looked to be an enjoyable way to spend a weekend. Through Trip Advisor, we booked ourselves a clean and simple hotel, loaded up the car with PB&J, and headed out for a weekend in the mountains.
Before the trip, I spent a lot of time researching the best ways to spend our 36 hours in Sa Pa, and had a whole host of activities lined up for us: waterfall hikes, terraced rice field walks. Also, I was hoping to score some legit croissants (one of the remnants of French influence in Indochina). By all (online) accounts, Sa Pa was going to be a beautiful place to visit.
As our van weaved its way up a frightening mountain path and finally pulled into the parking lot of our hotel, I thought to myself: I bet Sa Pa is beautiful. I assumed it must be so, but I couldn’t actually see anything. The entire town was blanketed in dense fog.
We went up to our rooms and tried to answer the quintessential travel question: “Who is sleeping where?” Next, we set out on foot to find a cafe for dinner with only 50 feet of visibility in front of us. We found a little cafe (with no croissants) that provided a delicious meal for only 1,000,000 Dong. (Don’t worry, that’s only about $43. Gotta love exchange rates!)
The next morning, I wanted to cancel the hike because there was no change in the fog situation. Our trip to beautiful Sa Pa was turning out to be a trip to the Freesia Hotel. Josh intervened, however, and insisted that we go to the waterfall—fog or no fog. We called the driver and made the 45 minute drive up the winding mountain roads to the waterfall (while I prayed the entire time that we would survive the white-knuckled drive).
I didn’t want to go to the waterfall, because I assumed that the fog enveloping me was also covering everything else in the area. It felt dangerous and scary. It made me not want to do anything. I became cautious, fearful, and apathetic.
We got to the top of the mountain to start the hike. You would never have guessed from the peak there was fog below us. Glorious sunlight warmed our skin and made our eyes squint. We could see every leaf and terrace of the beautiful landscape we had hoped to see. We could even look down and see with crystal clarity the isolated area where the fog was. The difference between seeing the fog from up on the mountain and seeing the fog from down on the ground? We could see it for what it was: isolated, bounded, and limited. Because we were inside the fog, it felt like the fog covered the entire world. But the view from the top of the mountain exposed the fog’s true nature.
We ended up hiking to the waterfall. We took pictures, ran in fields, threw stones in brooks, and taught the toddler, “What does the waterfall say?” It was amazing and full of so many parallels to our life.
This past year has felt like our personal fog will never lift. How long do you wait for closed doors to open? How long do you endure with hard-to-endure relationships? What do you do in the waiting? Should we change this or move there or pursue that? Fog. Fog. Fog.
I’m so thankful for our foggy weekend. It revealed to us that the fog we feel isn’t the ultimate reality. Sure, it’s there, but it’s also bounded and it must obey the dictates of the Almighty on where its boundaries lie. It doesn’t last forever. It dissipates at the word of his command. Its power rises and falls only at his pleasure.
We get a behind-the-scenes look at how the elements of nature respond to God’s voice in Psalm 104. Though this section reflects specifically the oceans of the world and their complete submission to God’s voice, I feel certain that the fog from my Vietnam trip responds in the same way:
At Your rebuke the waters fled; at the sound of Your thunder they hurried away - mountains rose and valleys sank to the place You established for them. You set a boundary they cannot cross; they will never cover the earth again. (Psa 104:7-9 HCSB)
It’s freeing and exhilarating to think that the fog that covers my life right now will hurry away at the sound of his thunder! But the psalmist even gives us something to do in response to this amazing news:
May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works, who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke! I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being. (Psa 104:31-33)
Let us sing to him in response to his great power over all the circumstances of our lives! May he give us grace to sing to him, even in the fog.