I have this hobby most people know nothing about. I don't get the opportunity to do it very often, but I take every chance I get. It's one of those hobbies that every time you do it, you have a chance to really contemplate life and the direction you're heading. Sometimes, in rare instances, it makes you question why you are even alive. Many times this hobby brings laughter to myself and to those around me, but sometimes I cry—even if others don't know why.
The hobby to which I am referring, of course, is rolling my ankles. It doesn't have to be a major hike or something crazy to make me do it; in fact, I rolled my left ankle last week walking in a flat parking lot on my way to church. So, with this in mind, I'm sure you can understand the amount of thought and preparation that came into play when I decided to climb a mountain.
A few weeks ago, I had some time on my hands and had been wanting to climb Enchanted Rock, just north of San Antonio, Texas. A few of my closest friends had done it a while back, and it sounded like a fun challenge. Some call this a rock, others call it a boulder; I prefer mountain—mainly because it sounds better and helps my self-esteem.
The timing of this hike was perfect. The weather was amazing, the sky was beautiful and the sunset, divine. I couldn't have asked for a better day.
(Get out of my head, Miley Cyrus! I swear, that song haunts me. Anyway...)
As I approached the mountain, I had a massive amount of anticipation. There was a bit of nervousness, but mainly just excitement. The thought of what I might see along the way. The experience of something new. The anticipation of what might be at the top—all pushing me forward, one careful, non-ankle-rolling-step at a time.
I've hiked bigger mountains before in Colorado and in the Carolinas, but I was with a large group in each of those instances. This time was different. It was just me, my thoughts, and a soundtrack of heavy breathing.
There were times I found myself wishing I was in better shape so I could get to the top quicker. But instead, every now and then I would stop, turn around, take a deep breath, and enjoy the view. The entire process was difficult—not even gonna lie—but once I reached the top, it all felt so worth it.
Ah...the struggle was over. I had made it! My first goal once I reached the top was to find a spot where I could sit, take it all in, and catch my breath. How do you catch your breath when the view is breathtaking? How does one find peace when the hills and valleys are screaming for you to look a them? My eyes were darting from one thing to another, each more amazing than what I had seen before.
The top of the mountain had plenty to satisfy my hunger for adventure. The area was wide with many large rocks and little nooks to explore. It was so exciting! Around every corner was a new view, all while the sun continued to paint a more beautiful picture in the sky. The wind was stronger up here, howling around the rocks and over the top of the mountain.
The cool part about the location of Enchanted Rock is that it was in the middle of nowhere, no towns or cities within view. I felt like I was on top of the world. I could see for miles and all of it was God's handiwork. To say I felt small and insignificant is an understatement.
Minutes turned to hours, and I just took it all in. As the sun began to set and darkness creeped down the mountainside, I had to make the tough decision to start my descent back down to the valley.
It's interesting, the way down is much easier than the way up. If we are really honest, for a guy like me, this is just a controlled fall. Granted, your knees might hurt a little, but it is easier to breathe, and the trek down is lot faster than the journey up.
Much like my ascent, every few yards down I would find myself stopping, turning around, looking at the top, and remembering everything that I did there. Remembering the good times, the views and the wind in my hai—on my head. The closer to the base of the mountain, the more things looked familiar. There were more trees, more grass, and more oxygen. (Even though this hike wasn't technically a high-altitude hike, I convinced myself I could breathe better as I reached the bottom.)
There was a sense of relief once my feet hit the valley. The wind was gone, the ground was level and the air was clear. However, I also found myself having regrets. I should have stayed longer, should have taken more pictures, should have talked to God a little more... Why didn't I take more advantage of the time at the top? Valleys can sometimes be a place of regret; they don't have to be.
It's all Worth It
We've all faced mountains in life—the struggle to get to a place that we can celebrate. Maybe it's graduation, a new job, marriage, or moving from one place to another. Any major life change that requires effort equates to a great payoff. It's hard, but it's worth it.
Likewise, we have all experienced the valley times as well. Times when things don't seem the best. You fail a class, lose your job, experience a breakup, or something just doesn't work out the way you thought it would. I challenge you today to know this, too, is all worth it.
In a book I once read, the author explained how a friend was responding to a broken heart:
..this is the most profound pain of my life. But it also feels sacred.... I need this. I need to know God here. It feels important.
—excerpt from Looking For Lovely by Annie Downs
There is something about the difficulty of climbing we all understand, and we can accept that it is hard. But there's really only one of two ways to come down a mountain: either it's slowly and controlled (the natural, on-purpose descent), or you fall—drastically and violently—landing you unexpectedly in the valley.
No matter how you got there, it's important you recognize and appreciate the value of where you are. A friend of mine and I were having a conversation on this subject one day, and she said:
The valley is often more nourished and fruitful than the mountain. There are streams there, and the grass is usually lush and the flowers plentiful. It can also be a place of protection from harsher elements—wind and storms—because of the mountains surrounding the valley. This lends itself to the idea of healing happening in the valley. The mountain has great views, but the valley can bring restoration.
Whether you find yourself on the mountain right now, or in the valley, know each has its purpose. Take some time today to reflect on where you are in life, and what it is that God might have for you in this season. No doubt it's hard, but you might just be surprised what you see when you embrace where you are.
Until next time.