I’ve climbed two mountains so far this summer and I just finished facilitating a woman’s summer Bible study group called Oasis using the book A New Kind of Normal by Carol Kent. What does summiting mountains have to do with leading a Christian book group? Well, they were both extremely challenging, totally rewarding creating new growth in my spiritual, physical and mental life.
I summated Mt. Shasta (14,162 ft) on July 2nd along with my brother, Timmy, friend Torree and her friend, Glen. This was followed by Mt. Adams (12,281 ft) on July 23rd with my Summit Sisters: Laura, Susan and Linda. These adventures have buoyed up my soul in ways I never imagined. Reaching the summit of Shasta brought me to tears as I thought about Jackson Hill, Amanda King, Gage Dole, Lesly Foster and of course, my son Joshua. These children are my heroes as they have battled cancer, some for years, some for months. Some have lost the war and are finally whole in heaven. Some are still waging war with haggard parents, neglected siblings and broken dreams. I wrote each of these children’s names in the summit book realizing how repeating their names over and over again in my mind propelled me to the top just when I thought I couldn’t take another step.
Mt. Adams was a little different summit story. My mental struggle was because of emotional fatigue. I had just experienced a few extremely tumultuous days navigating through multiple stresses each of which took their toll. The most significant stressor had to do with figuring out which risks are acceptable in my son’s life and which are not. How do you allow a boy with a tracheotomy to float down a river knowing if he fell in, his life would most likely be over? I wasn’t sure I was psychologically ready. But deep down, I knew I needed to climb, so I set out with my Summit Sisters and discovered I had the strength to accomplish the task due to Susan’s encouraging words. Just when I was ready to say, “This is good enough” she pushed me onward and upward. “We haven’t come this far to give up now”, she gently coaxed. I also found myself praising God by repeating a mantra of “Thank (step) you (step) Jesus (step)” during the steepest part of the climb. I speculate my soul chose these words as I was grateful to be out in His creation, on His Mountain. The crazy thing was we had decided to do the ascent and descent in one day instead of the usual two days. And 15 ½ hours later we arrived back at the trail head, where we had begun the trip in the dark guided by our headlamps. The feeling was indescribable.
Climbing mountains can be seen as a metaphor for life in many ways. We must persevere, never giving up, pushing forward, “running the race set before us” as the book of Hebrews so clearly reminds us. We all have “mountains” in our lives we desire to someday conquer. And people are key to this, key to our lives. People spur us on, motivate us, inspire us, and encourage us. God often speaks through people as we limp along, buoying us up with hope. Certainly the children of cancer have done that for me just as Susan did. I imagine the end of my life to be similar to reaching the end of the trail. My feet hurt, my body aches but my heart is soaring. I knew I had done my best with the help of others, people God has placed in my life just at the right time, children who have endured such suffering and yet continue to smile.
That first night of the book group at Oasis was heavy as eight women sat around a rectangular table introducing themselves. Tears streamed down each woman’s face as they shared their story, stories of their worlds turning upside down. I felt so overwhelmed hearing their heartache, knowing I couldn’t fix their lives just as I couldn’t fix mine. Childhood cancer, lifelong medical complications, the impact of cancer on my other children, an unexpected grandson and a daughter with a broken heart are the reality of my life. The loss of dreams, rebellious children, bankruptcy, the sudden death of a child, a hurting marriage, a severely disabled child, an abused child and much more were the realities of these women’s lives. “What did I get myself into?” I thought as I drove home that first night. “What can I possibly do? There is so much hurt in this world, Lord. Help me. Help these precious women.” The second night was better as we forged into Carol Kent’s book. She has a way of pointing us to Jesus telling many shocking stories along the way. She herself has suffered tremendously, but has never given up, never walked away from God. She brought to light Mary the mother of Jesus in a fresh new way for me. She helped us realize we are not alone.
The women in my Oasis group amazed me. Their strength, wisdom, hope and tenacity have spurred me on. I bonded with each one thrilling at the knowledge of God working in their lives, gleaning from them the deep knowing and joy that comes from those who suffer. As we completed the book we vowed to survive, persevere, be vulnerable, forgive, trust, hold those we love with open hands, be thankful and choose purposeful action just as the book had taught us to do. By our last gathering I realized Jesus is active in their lives, seeing them through, helping them run the race, helping them accept their “new normal” finding new purpose which enables them to summit their mountains.
Summiting mountains and Oasis…