A few years ago, our family vacationed at a Young Life camp in Colorado http://www.trailwest.younglife.org. We joined 20+ Indy families for a week filled with horse riding, a ropes course/climbing wall, swimming, hiking, bbqs, among other fun activities.
Most Young Life camps are structured the same way: a lot of activity packed into the beginning of the week, trailing off toward mid-week to give the campers time to digest what they are learning at club (the gatherings at night with singing, skits and a brief message about Christ). One night at dinner, several men stood up to announce that they would be using their free time the following day to climb Mt. Princeton, which stood majestically in front of the camp. They invited anyone to join them for a meeting after dinner to discuss plans for the hike.
My eyes lit up. I didn’t even have to think about it. I was in.
When I was 14, I climbed my first mountain, the one that gave me the Colorado bug. It was this very mountain they were going to climb the next day. I grabbed a couple friends and we met the men to discuss what we needed to bring, who was leading the trip and how long it should take. We were to depart at some ungodly hour – 4 am or thereabouts – and return by mid afternoon.
First, let me explain that 4 a.m. is not usually in my vocabulary, unless it includes the word ‘crazy’. I should also let you know that, at this time in my life, I was in the worst shape EVER. I had given birth to 4 children in 5 years and my baby was just turning one that week. I had not had the energy – or desire – to exercise on any regular basis. My lungs were probably shriveled, my heart weak, my legs atrophied.
That didn’t stop me. I just wanted to conquer Princeton. I made it to the lobby of the lodge at 4am the next day as my two friends and a dozen or so strong-looking men along with their teenage sons, loaded into vans and SUVs. What were we doing? WHAT was I doing?
I don’t remember much of the drive to the trailhead, other than getting dangerously close to the edge of a cliff a time or two. But I was too tired to care if we rolled over the side to our death. When we parked and headed up the first incline, I tried to keep up with those teenage boys – at least for a while. One of my friends kept talking. I couldn’t talk because my lungs could only handle the short gasps for air that I needed to actually stay alive. I finally muttered, “Are you some sort of super-human? How — are —- you — talking?” She laughed. And kept talking.
I should have known something was not quite right when the trail stopped and we were following the men up through the brambles and thick foliage that poked straight through my hiking pants. “Hmm, none of this really looks familiar,” I heard one say. “It’s okay, I think we’ll meet the trail eventually.”
We found a trail alright, a trail that faded into a boulder field where we should have zig-zagged up to a ridge to get to the summit. Yet, somehow we forgot the zig-zag part and realized that we could no longer go forward. Instead we found ourselves on the face of the mountain, with only one way to go. Up. If we went straight ahead we would soon get to the end of the boulder field and walk right off the edge of cliffs.
I know this will not make much sense but believe me when I tell you that there was no way down. You literally had to go up the mountain. Going down was not an option because it would send rocks careening down the face of the mountain… and probably meant getting buried in an avalanche of scree and small boulders.
Most of the men and boys had gone ahead with a few staying behind to make sure we made it alive. We spread out so no one was directly behind anyone else, lest a rock hit you in the head and knock you down the mountain to your death.
As tired as I was, I had to keep climbing. It was at this time that I realized that stopping my medication, cold-turkey, was not such a good idea. After all I was in the Rockies and I didn’t need them. (Don’t try to make sense of that statement. My thinking was not rational.) Unfortunately I didn’t realize just how dizzy one can get from abruptly stopping this sort of medication. So being on the side of a mountain, struggling with vertigo, and with no water left in my pack, I started to panic. Really panic. I broke down in tears. My friends watched as I cried and heaved sighs that I couldn’t go on. I would just die there on those boulders, and my ashes could fly through the mountains like I want them to after I die. Now no one had to make a special trip. I would just decompose and the rest would take care of itself.
Suddenly a picture of one of my sons flashed into my mind. It gave me something to fight for. I knew I couldn’t give up. My boys needed me. I had to keep climbing. There was no other way. My friends and I started calling out numbers and would climb up that many rocks, then rest. We saw one of our fellow hikers above us, maybe 100 or so feet. He encouraged our every step.
I began to see things that weren’t there. I would say, “If I can only get over to that bannister and take the stairs, I’ll be okay.” Then I would shake my head realizing I was on the side of a mountain and there were no stairs. Climb, Lynn. That’s all you can do right now. Breathe and climb.
I made it to where our friend had called out to us and my head was spinning. We had about 200 more yards to go to get to the summit. To get there, I would need to pull myself up some sort of overhang. To this day, I’m not sure if it was fear or common sense that took hold of me right then. But I decided not to go the last 200 yards. It seemed foolish to try and maneuver myself in my state of dizziness. I watched my friends struggle to get over the overhang and I told myself I was doing the right thing by staying on this little platuae I had found. I even phoned my parents and miraculously got a signal.
Yet, I felt like a failure. I wanted to get to the summit. It wasn’t like I was climbing Everest, for goodness sake. It was a 14er, not that big of a deal. But I knew my limits and I had to stop there and wait. It’s hard even now to write about this.
On their way back down, my friends stopped to get me. I was quiet most of the way down, feeling like a quitter. I wrestled with my decision. Should I have risked getting up over that edge to make it to the top? Why did I have to stop short? I was so close.
Yet, the picture of my son kept me from going to the summit. Kept me from going off that edge. I tried to accept that my journey would just look different. Everyone had to fight their own limits that day. Even the men who made it up quickly had their own lessons to learn.
If I boil all the lessons from that day, the one that stands out the most… the one I think God wants me to recall is this: “The destination is not nearly as important as your trust in me.” I read something recently that God is either everything or He is nothing. There were moments when I felt like He was nothing. When my fear started taking over, I broke down. But when I did my part, when I took the next step, he showed me His glory.
Recently I went through a dark time. I am starting to see the dawn now, but when I was in some of the darkest hours, one of my friends crawled onto my bed, stroked my hair and told me I just had to get up. She didn’t mean for me to get out of bed at that very moment. Her husband was out of a job for nearly a year and the one thing she knew she had to do when she fell into despair was to get back up. She was telling me that I couldn’t give up on life. I had to keep fighting. I honestly didn’t know if I could get back up. I felt like I did on that mountain side, wanting to be left there to turn back to ashes and float away.
But each day, I made a decision to get up, literally and spiritually. Before my feet hit the floor, I prayed that I would believe again that God was everything, that he would be my guide and my comfort. Even when life is terribly painful I can still choose to wake up, as one friend wisely put it. Wake up and do the next right thing. Otherwise I will be no good for anyone – not even myself. Especially myself. Nor will I be able to engage in life with my family, friends or my Creator, who I know has a plan and a future for me.
My faith can be so weak, but I am believing again – in my heart – that when I am weary, when I’m at the end of myself, He is big enough to see me to the top. He will not let me tumble down the side of the mountain. He will not leave me for the vultures to attack. He loves me and wants to show me the good that follows the pain. I just have to keep climbing. Keep climbing and trust that when it is time to rest, the view will be more magnificent than I ever hoped or imagined.
(I hope to put some pictures of the climb on my other site soon. Stay tuned.)