Backpacking is like fasting and meditation. Walking mostly uphill for days with a heavy load on my back. No TV’s, computers or ringing phones to distract from the task at hand. The task being, Make it to the top and down alive, healthy and coherent enough to tell the tale. Mount Whitney, tallest mountain in the 48 states. Been there, done that, bought the bumper sticker.
It was all consuming, the physicality of it. The whole time I was thinking getting to the top was the goal. It turns out, what I really wanted was to live all the way to the end. There was a moment when I finally reached the top only to discover a loneliness that I’d heard others speak of but never understood until then. It’s the moment I realized, I’m not finished yet and the next thing is so much bigger than me. The truth is, I might never be finished.
Coming down is just hard. No one will readily tell you this but it’s true and I am telling you now so, consider yourself warned. It takes commitment to finish well. Commitment I wasn’t sure I possessed. I had to come to the very edge of myself to get a glimpse of it. Out there in all that wide, open space I realized just how small my vision had become. Every time I thought I could see it… was almost there, I was humbled by the fact that I had not looked out far enough, high enough, long enough. It was always steeper, farther and more treacherous than I could have imagined on my own. And then, how quickly I am willing to give up, give in, lie down or run home as if I hear my “mommy” calling me. There are days when all I can do is put one foot in front of the other because that’s all I’ve got. The rapid beating of my heart distracts me from the beauty I am now surrounded with and would never have seen if the harder road had not been taken. There are times when the way is tricky and dim. Every step is a potential disaster. There are moments when cool water is enough to ease the dust of the trail and the heat of the day. There are times when the setting sun and rising moon let me know that I can rest in the presence of everyday miracles. This is the rest that will see me through another day.
It seems crazy that recovering is taking days. I keep feeling like I should be able to move through this faster. After all, I have the bumper sticker. My bruised toes scream in protest. But, there is a fearlessness I’ve found. Not that I won’t die but that my trying can relax and move forward in the knowledge that I am so much stronger than I thought I was. God won’t lead me out there to lose me, it’s so that I will find more of Him.
At every hard turn, at every tricky downhill slope, at every steep and rocky mountain pass, at every relationship where more of me is required than I ever thought possible, at every idea or decision or deadline that seems so slippery or hard to reach or just plain cloudy, if I can take a deep breath and have enough perspective to see how this all fits into a story that is larger than myself, I will find my way. The truth will present itself. It seems no amount of talking about it before hand will make me physically ready for what actually lies ahead. I must begin to move forward, holding fast my confession.
When I breathlessly ask why life is the way it is, I will think of that mountain and those fifty miles and the 4 days worth of supplies in my sturdy little pack. I will hear that whisper in my heart singing to me, “So that you may grasp exactly how long, and how deep and how high and how wide is the love of God.” I’ve decided, whatever else may happen, I want the real thing. I keep reminding myself that the real thing starts right here, right now. Maps can’t tell you that. It’s not there job. That’s the job for me and you.
All those mountain climbing metaphors seem so cliché until you actually climb a mountain and realize it’s all true, only harder because it’s really happening to you and not your crazy neighbor or some poor guy on TV. Out there, as the power lines and cars are fading into the distance, you can feel the depth and height of this new terrain in your bones. This is when you realize, maps are flat… mountains are not. And this new adventure will require all you’ve got.