Thursday, January 30, 2014

Storms on a Mountain

In many parts of my life, especially the 'outdoorsy' part, I'm a far better admirer than a participant.  If there's a physically demanding aspect to an activity, I seriously consider the options, assess my true desire, and go from there.  Usually, this means I sit out on a whole scope of physically demanding activities.  Call it lazy if you want, but I prefer to look at it as protective.  A big part of me protects my physical self just because of the injuries, aches, pains, and stuff that is aging me faster than I really would like.  Mostly, this stems from issues with my back.  When you're diagnosed in your teens with a degenerative disc disease and have some degree of pain on a daily basis, you are cognizant of what movements and activities increase that pain.  And you generally avoid it.

Because of this, in all the years that I called Colorado home, I can probably count on two hands how many times I actually took the 'participanty' route.  As in, I got out of the vehicle, put my feet on the craggy ground, and took precarious steps forward and upward.  And don't get me wrong.  I did not at all qualify as a mountain climber/hiker/whatever they're called {see what I mean?  I probably didn't deserve to live in a state such as Colorado}, but rather behaved like a tourist, an admirer.  Basically, I was there for the scenery...and the photo ops.

One of these rare participanty times, when I wavered along the edge of the category 'adventurous' 'typical Colorado tourist', was when one of my lifelong best friends came to visit a few months after Gavin was born.  Because she had never been to the Rockies, we took a drive to the top of Mt. Evans, which boasts the highest paved road in North America, spectacular views, and an exhilarating feeling that you're pretty much as close to the heavens as you can get, for a non-mountain climber/hiker/whatever they're called.  

this is 'tame' compared to further up the mountain
The fourteen miles of pretty frigging narrow road twists and winds, snakes around and around and back and forth, and offers more than a few nerve-wracking hairpin turns that allow the passenger a view of the plummet that awaits should the driver be less-than-cautious.  

[Sidebar: probably an awesome road on which to drive our baby.]

At any rate, we arrived at the 'top' and parked the truck.  When you arrive at the parking lot at the top of the mountain, you can check out the views, possibly catch a glimpse of the mountain goats who call the terrain home, and enjoy the glory that is the over 14,000 ft altitude.

Or you can climb to the 'real top'.

To make it to the true summit, you have about 1/4 mile hike from the parking lot.  This 'hike' will take you up to an altitude of 14,264 feet, and give you the opportunity to tell your friends that you climbed a 14'er in Colorado.

So that's what we did.  My sweet friend, her {now} husband, and I decided to trek to the top while Randy hung out with Gavin in the parking area.

I remember breathlessly arriving at the true summit, feeling exhilaration, filled with awestruck wonder.  As we looked around, taking in the amazing 360 degree views, we noticed the dark clouds to our west.

The park ranger in the parking area had echoed the warnings posted on various signs, all stating that weather conditions can change very quickly at these altitudes.  Thunderstorms aren't really something you want to mess around with at this altitude, especially considering you're standing atop one of the highest places in the surrounding area.  The thunderclouds almost seemed like they appeared from no where as we made the hike to the top.  I thought we'd have a bit more time to calmly enjoy the glory God had laid out before us, but seeing as how He is in charge, we took the booming thunder and flashes of lightning as a sign, and the three of us scrambled back down the rocky path and back to the truck so we could switchback down to lower, safer ground.

In nearly 8 years of living in Colorado, that was the one and only time I can say I officially superficially hiked to the top of a 14'er.  Because of my physical limitations, I didn't naturally gravitate toward that kind of activity; and I guess I jokingly assumed God was telling me to stick to lower altitudes with that storm that send me quickly {but cautiously} heading down from the summit.
And so now here I am.  Miles {and years} away from my ventures in the mountains, yet I'm still navigating jagged and uncertain ground.  I was travelling down my comfortable Colorado roads, heading in what looked like and felt like the right direction, only to have a hairpin turn slow my progress and turn me in a southeastern direction to Texas.

After travelling a few hundred yards in that opposite direction, however, I realize it was a necessary and unavoidable turn.  A navigational adjustment God placed along my path, just for me, so I could continue my upward progress.  So I trusted.  I trusted, and I kept travelling.
"For I know the plans I have for you", declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."      ~Jeremiah 29:11
I have wanted to reach that summit, bask in that glory, and enjoy the views.   But, because I'm more comfortable as an admirer rather than a participator, I approached the turns with hesitation.  With trepidation.  I'm halted, staring in a dazed disbelief of my reality, disoriented by where I was and in which direction I was heading.  I hung out on the outside edge of a steep turn for a bit; staring aimlessly at the nerve-wracking views, unable to decide which way to move, or even if I should move.

At some point, however, the narrow road became crowded, and I had to make a move.  I realized my stagnant state was impacting the upward movement of those who were travelling along with me.  So I made a move.  And then another.  I kept stepping, slowly climbing out of my despair, and finally I arrived at the parking lot, a space where I could find rest and solace and comfort.  The place where my mind could be at ease, where my mind began to feel again.  The place where my heart awakened, softened, and opened in a way it hadn't opened before.  I realized I didn't want to just be an admirer, I wanted needed to participate.

So I stepped away from the parking lot.

I began to climb.

The climb hasn't been easy.  Because I know God {more than I ever have, that is}, I know it's not meant to be 'easy'.  I know my earthly struggles are part of what it means to follow Him, and, most days, I'm okay with that.  Most days, I trudge along in my climb, hyper-focused on the summit, engrossed in the Word, weaving His truths into my life, relying on them for peace and calm and joy and happiness.  I don't even stop to take in the views along the way, take a moment to peer over the edge and acknowledge how far I've come.  I only worry about how much farther I have yet to go.  I just want to be 'there'--where ever there is.

I want to be more of a participant.  I feel that my voracious reading, my frenetic highlighting and note-taking and journaling will make me feel more 'participanty'.  So I find admiring wavering, slowing, halting.  I stop acknowledging the glory all around me.  I ignore the magnificent views from the path I travel, and purposefully plod forward.  I hop on the pendulum and ride it almost completely over to the side labeled 'Participant'.

But because my state of being 'admirey' has been curbed by my insatiable need to focus on participating, I don't see the storm clouds off in the distance.  I don't notice the way in which they loom on the perimeter of my peripheral vision, the ominous way in which they hang back and wait for the perfect moment to come forward and knock me back unexpectedly.  All I notice is how tough the climb is.  I notice the craggy rocks that threaten to contort my ankle.  I notice my labored breathing due to the altitude.  I notice the frigid temperatures.  All of my noticings are because of my participating, not my admiring.  They are all things that can impact my climb, throw me off course, and land me in a less-desired place.  So, I pay very close attention to these attributes of my participation travels, and I plod forward.  I climb and reach.

I arrive.  Not quite the 'summit', because I know that will not happen in my earthly life, but I feel good about where I am.  The trail ahead of me is masked in a glorious fog that doesn't feel in the least bit intimidating, but only motivating.  I know that as I continue learning and growing and identifying and becoming, that fog will give way to even more amazing views.  But for now, I'm content.  I feel that I've reached where I need to be.  So I lift my head and I look around.

And there it is.

My own little storm cloud; the one that was not long ago loitering on the outskirts of my life, keeping me humble; is right overhead.  Before I realize it, I'm retreating.  I'm shirking away from blissful feelings, turning inward upon myself and protecting myself from the threat of the storm.  It hits blindly, knocks me down, takes me back to a point where I'm stagnant.  A point where I'm staring off into the distance, yet unable to focus.  A point where I'm overwhelmed and lost and my compass isn't cooperating.  I can't get up the strength to climb with the tenacity I held not that long ago.  My participating self and admiring self find the pendulum has stopped entirely, the momentum of which is what keeps me moving forward.

I'm in a fog.  Not the good fog.  Not the glorious fog that God uses to keep His plans masked until the time is right.  No, no...not that fog.  The fog of depression.  The fog of anxiety.  The fog of indifference.  The fog of self-loathing and misunderstood and misguided frustration.

But through the fog, even through the thick and soupy consistency of a depression setback, I hear this:
Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; He will not leave you nor forsake you.     ~Deuteronomy 31:6
What I learned in my {insanely limited} experience with storms in the mountainous regions seasons is their unpredictability can take you to places you aren't expecting, and in this case, this storm is forcing me back down; giving me feelings of uncertainty, confusion, numbness, and overwhelmed repression.

But another thing I've learned, another thing I know is that these storms are temporary.  They are part of the journey, part of my climb, part of the path I must travel.  I hold fast to the truths that have come to ground me and give me hope, but I still battle the thunder and am startled by the lightning.

This little set back, this storm cloud, is no where near as big and intimidating as I've been seen before.  There are sunny spots and places where the clouds aren't so dense, and its in those places where I find hope.

I know sitting back and being an admirer isn't what its going to take to get back up to the place where my views reach for miles, where I welcome the rocky trail and chilly temperatures and thinning air that means I'm back on the path with a renewed and steadfast passion to continue climbing.

Today, for the first day in about a week, I looked up and saw a sunny space of hope in the midst of the clouds.  I pushed past the darkness, crawled out from my protection, and took some cautious steps toward my path.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths.     ~Proverbs 3:5-6

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