My husband and I have been living in a desert place for some time now. Three major life changing events have unexpectedly hit our family within the last few years. Staggering through hot, arid land devoid of green hills on the horizon, we try keeping our eyes focused ahead. And yet, God has provided small oases along the way. How else could we continue on?
Surprisingly, my oases have been through hiking and mountain climbing. Each hike has fed my soul’s eye with feasts of beauty beyond my imagining. I see and hear the Creator of the Universe when I am in His creation. I sense His presence. I know and feel His love for me as I sit in an alpine meadow listening to the clear, cool brook beside me or when I struggle through fatigue to reach the pinnacle of a mountain.
Each mount I have summated has taught me something new about life with God.
South Sister, my first climb, is the third tallest mountain in Oregon. (10,358-foot) Fog, sleet and no visibility made this a difficult climb. As the rugged mountain grew steeper and steeper, I kept looking up for a glimpse of the top hoping to see my goal. Only dense whiteness surrounded me. Glancing upward to the apex of a mountain encourages me onward. Picturesque views as I ascend a mountain reward me and yet I could see nothing but the jagged lava land just in front of my feet. I felt the altitude but was amazed at my body’s ability to keep going. Physically I was strong, but it was as if I were climbing blind. Yet, I heard His still, quiet voice encouraging me upward. Reaching the summit brought a sense of accomplishment, joy and of course, good chocolate! South Sister taught me God leads us though we may not be able to see our way. God is guiding me through the desert of darkness.
My second climb was Mt. Shasta (14,162 feet). My brother, the mountain guide, led me up this huge peak in two days. I trusted his expertise and experience as he woke me at 2 AM after spending the night on the mountain. We began to ascend in the pitch black morning with our headlamps lighting the way. We were short roped together with my brother in front. It was a steep ascent up the West Face, but we reached the false summit just as the sun rose. Feeling physically fit helped, but mentally I was challenged as I was a little frightened of the steepness and height.
So, I began reciting a mantra over and over again in my mind. With each step I recited their names: “Gage Dole, Lesly Foster, Joshua Brenneman, Jackson Hill and Amanda King”. Knowing these children have suffered through cancer treatments, knowing how Gage and Lesly are still struggling through their disease and how their parents are looking at "quality of life" now, making memories for as long as they can, empowered me. I thought about Jackson who gave a valiant fight, but passed away at the age of 12 in 2005 from osteosarcoma. I thought about Amanda who was only 18 and died just one month before of Ewings Sarcoma. Their parent’s faces flashed in my mind. This was what moved my feet step by step upward. Once I reached the true summit, I cheered and hollered and then began to cry. It was an emotional release. I wept for Gage, Lesly, Jackson, Amanda and of course, my son, Joshua. I grieved for all the other children fighting or who have fought cancer. I wrote their names in the summit book memorializing their courage, bravery and their lives. Shasta taught me God puts two kinds of people in our lives to lead us. Some have more expertise, more experience; therefore, God asks us to trust them just as I trusted my brother. And by trusting them we trust Him. Second are people who inspire us. Their lives encourage us, enlighten us and help us to see the value of others, giving us a healthy perspective about life, love and suffering.
Mt Adams (12,281 feet) was my latest climb teaching me God puts one more type of person in our lives, the quiet encouragers. I seriously contemplated not climbing this mountain, because I was starting off emotionally spent, extremely stressed and exhausted. However; I knew I needed this time in God’s marvelous design. As we began our ascent I found myself apathetic. I didn’t really seem to care if I completed the climb or just called it “good” when I hit the false summit. When we reached Piker’s Peak (the false summit) I was quite willing to be done. But Susan, one of my “Summit Sisters” very quietly said, “We’ve come this far. Let’s finish. We can’t give up now.” And I realized we can become apathetic in our Christian life, giving up running the race with perseverance and striving to be more like Jesus. It’s easy to just give in when we are weary from the journey. What I liked best about Susan was her calm, gentle coaxing voice filled with deep conviction. She wasn’t pushy or bossy. This is often how God wants to lead us if we would but listen. And I ask myself, "Do I allow silence in my life so I can hear Him?"
Each peak also revealed the same lessons as I thought about the descents. After reaching the summit and reveling in the high of realizing my goal, coming down was much more difficult. My knees hurt, my feet ached and fatigue thoroughly set into my muscles and bones. Isn’t this like life? After reaching our sought after goals or after the climax of achieving something we’ve been striving for we hit a low point. Perhaps it’s even a wonderful spiritual victory or event. The descent will be the hardest part of conquering a mountain or the toughest place in the voyage of life. The “coming down” is dangerous, just as the exhaustion of life sets in, or when battle after battle assaults you and you struggle to keep your footing. This is what the desert has been. Assault after assault. It feels as if there is no end. This is when I must keep focused and yet it’s the most difficult time to focus.
Getting off track happens easily on the decline as well. This happened on Mt Adams. We discovered we had missed the correct path as we looked to our left and saw the trail we should have been traveling. Again, Susan was our guide as she began pushing her way through the trees and shrubs. We crossed over two ridges full of rocks and deep gullies until we found the correct course. God gives us people in our lives that bring us back to His pathway just as He led us to the safety of our cars before nightfall at the base of Mt. Adams.
I love ascending mountains and I eagerly look forward to my next adventure, Middle Sister (10,047 feet). I wonder what God has in store for me. Though my husband and I seem to be in a desert, I cherish each oasis moment of experience in His wisdom of His beauty.
Mountains in the Desert…
“Fair-weather faith is no faith.” C.H. Spurgeon