Saturday, August 26, 2017

When You Can't Keep Going

A few weeks ago, I climbed up a mountain.

Okay, so it wasn't a technical "mountain," and it wasn't exactly "climbing," but it felt close enough. We hiked up a hill.

It was the last day of our mission trip to Ireland. For the previous five days, we had spent our time and energy playing with and loving kids who desperately needed it. I got weird looks from people when I told them I was going to Ireland for a mission trip--isn't Ireland already a mostly Christian country? According to statistics and the teaching in the schools, yes. Ireland is mostly Catholic/Christian. But going there, I saw people, especially the children I spent time with, dry and in need of Jesus' real grace and truth.

On Saturday night, after the "Big Day Out" put on by the church we partnered with, our trip leader Matthew told us he, and anyone else who wanted to come, was going to get up and walk up this hill we had seen on the beach.

To hike up the mountain and have time to get ready for church later that morning, we had to leave at 7:00AM. Normally, getting up that early isn't a big deal. But we had been getting up early every day, fighting through jet lag every day, playing and dancing and talking to kids every day. And y'all, hiking was not my thing. 

But I wanted to hike up that hill. I wanted to see that cross, see the ocean, the view of the town we'd served. I was certain that God had something for me at the top of that cliff.

So I woke up at six. I got up, got ready. And we went downstairs.

The walk to the hill was about 15 minutes long. The hike to the top, we had learned from locals, took about 30 minutes. No big deal. The whole walk would take about an hour.

Rain drizzled as we walked down the beach. The sunrise was soft on the Irish ocean. When we reached the hill, the rain stopped. I was feeling confident. The slope wasn't too bad, and we'd walked up a lot of hills during the week. I could see the cross at the top, could hardly wait to reach that peak.

Then we went off the road onto the actual trail. There were paved stairs, seemed simple enough. Hard because stairs, but also easy to climb. Then the stairs ended and I began struggling.

Soon enough, the rest of the group was far ahead. The path was lined with rocks, and it was uphill the entire time. Among the trees there was no breeze and a lot of sweat. My backpack felt as though it were filled with bricks.

Along with the excess hill climbing, I was hot from shame. I was the only one lagging behind. I couldn't even see the others anymore. One person stayed behind with me--Trey, another of the trip leaders. 

Every muscle burned. I almost slipped on dirt made slick from the earlier drizzle. Beneath the trees, there was no sight of the top. There were only more slopes, more rocks, more trees. Fifteen minutes in, I didn't think I could make it all the way up. I tried to imagine the walk down 

I began repeating Bible verses and every worship song related to mountains. One song played on repeat in my head: For the Lord is, He is able; He is faithful, higher than the mountains that I face.

Trey gave me his extra water and told me what he did when hiking.

You can't focus on the peak, on the ultimate goal, the end of the struggle. You pick a spot, somewhere in your eyesight. You make it there, take a deep breath, drink some water, and choose a new spot.

I kept going. At every stop, I didn't believe I could make it up, to the next tree. We came out of the woods, but hadn't yet reached the top. Now I could see the peak again, but it seemed more impossible now. The others had already almost made it. I was close to stopping, accepting this spot as good enough. 

But I made it this far. I could make it to that long grass over there, reach the end of the burnt trees.

The cold elevated air made my throat sting. I repeated the words of that song in my head over and over. All those songs about going over and moving mountains were becoming a whole lot more relatable. 

The very top of the hill was elevated from the clearing by a steeper slope. The cross, the view, the fruit of my breath aching effort was separated by 30+ feet of an almost 90° angle wall of rocks.

When Trey and I reached the base of the final cliff, Matt came back to us.

"There's no easy way up there," he said.

No hidden short cut on the other side, no ladder, no stairs. Just rocks.

I took a few deep breaths, drank some more water. Every inch of my legs was in pain. If someone had told me my calves had literally been set on fire, I would've believed him.

I could've turned around, looked at the view and accepted the beauty that was already there. But I knew, I was so positive the top would be worth it. God had something for me. I wasn't going to quit and take the easy way out.

I put on foot on the first rock, took Matt's hand, and stepped up. First to that solid ledge, then to another. My lungs were icy, my heart pounding louder, begging me to stop here, walk back down. I kept going, with Matt in front of me and Trey behind me. 

"Almost there," Matt told me.

Each step was tentative and full of thought. Everything in me was clenched, strained to keep going, keep going, keep going. Every time I reached with my hand, stood on a ledge, stepped with my foot, I couldn't believe I would be able to do it again.

His grace is sufficient for me, for his power is made perfect in weakness. 

With altitude and wind and breathlessness fighting against my lungs, I reached the top. My heart still pounded. Trey and Matt left me alone and I stood. There was the cross, so much greater than when I'd seen it from the shore three days that week. It wasn't too twigs tied together with twine. It was stone. Steady, unshaken, stone.

I cried. The freezing wind bit at my hot tears. I made it. Despite wanting to turn back with every step, I kept going. When I couldn't see the top, couldn't see the cross, I kept going. When I felt small and weak because I couldn't keep up with the others, I kept going. When all of my insecurities whispered in the pounding of my heart, I kept going.

God didn't just have something for me a the top. He had so much for me in every painstaking step.

The hike wasn't easy. It was one of the hardest physical, mental, and emotional things I'd ever done. But I made it. I saw the cross, and from the point, saw the ocean for miles and miles, saw Ireland in a way I never imagined, looked down and saw exactly how far I'd come. If I wouldn't have had someone walking beside me and behind me, I know without a doubt I could not have walked all the way up that hill. If I had walked up there to take cool pictures for Instagram, I would've quit halfway through.

The view was beautiful. The stone cross was incredible. But the hike? The hike was everything, every ounce of strength I didn't know I had, every shortcoming made perfect in grace.

Less than a month ago, I would've never said hiking was anywhere near something on my to-do list, but that climb made me realize that the hike, and most journeys in life, aren't about your strength. They're about endurance and perseverance. 

And for me, they're about courage--every step a little more brave.

|| "But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me." 2 Corinthians 12:9 ||