The sky was the brightest, thinnest blue—a ribbon draped upon the mountains, blanketing the curves and contours of the peaks surrounding me. The sun soaked my skin in the pale warmth of noon at 13,000 feet. The summit was only a thousand feet above me—eternally beyond me.
I should have been urging my group onward, leading them along the path, guiding them upward, encouraging their weary hearts.
The tears, however, kept pooling….spilling their waterfall ways down my face.
I couldn’t find the trail. Somewhere…a thousand or so feet behind me…I had lost it. I sat crumpled upon a rock, my fellow guide trying his best to help me. I was devastated. Humiliated.
Why this mountain. Why this path. Why me.
My heart ached. It was the last summer I would spend guiding—the last mountain I would climb as an outdoor guide. I didn’t understand why this summit had to be the hardest. Or why I felt so incapable and lost on the last climb. God, I think you chose wrong. Maybe I’m not made for mountains.
Strange how we can feel so alone when surrounded by what we love, those who love us, and even while we are fulfilling what we know we are called to do. A single failure along the way can make us feel as if the whole of the journey is meaningless—as if that single mountain makes all the journey a facade.
“But you are made for this.”
There, on the last ridgeline, I understood my God had chosen me for that journey. I knew he had placed within my heart and soul the ache for untamed places, for earth, sky, trail, and summit. And I knew he would give me the strength to see that summit through.
“Let me lead, Em.” I looked up at my guide…a guide I had trained myself only a few months prior. I nodded. I dropped what was left of the pride I wanted so badly to carry. “Thank you,” I whispered.
He stepped out ahead of us, and I took up the rear. He found the path a hundred feet later. My mind spun with questions. Why hadn’t I been able to keep the trail? Why did this have to be my last summit? What would life hold beyond the summers spent wandering those peaks? College was finished. Summers would no longer call to me with their siren song of wilderness, star-studded nights, and the scent of pine-filled forests.
Who was I beyond those mountain-scapes and the ventures they beckoned me with?
We made it to the summit that day. The sky remained blue. Not a single cloud threatened its vibrancy. And it was on that summit, I felt my God asking me for more than I felt I could offer—for the grandeur of the mountains, for my heart tangled in the wildness of that place…for the closing of a chapter. For the beginning of another.
“You’ve adventured well, beloved. And you’ll find joy in the mountains ahead.”
The grace of God floods most fully at the summit. When we look down upon the mountain and see the pathway laid clear. When we feel and know the scars that etch our past. When we know we were not enough for the journey.
When we surrender our inadequacy for the strength of our Creator. To summit a mountain is to embrace our calling…the calling to shed our layers, to share our burdens and carry those of the one beside us. To summit is to acknowledge the smallness of our heart’s frame and allow our spirit to be filled with the fullness of our Maker.
To adventure fully is to surrender completely.
I descended that mountain in the deepest, strangest peace. It wasn’t the summit I imagined it would be. It wasn’t the adventure I wanted to experience or offer my fellow hikers. It wasn’t the journey I planned or the journey I executed well.
But it was the journey upon which I extended my heart’s longings to my Savior and held them out for him to do with what he willed. It was the end of childhood. The end of something precious.
It was also the beginning of who I am now, the molding of endurance, the memory of perseverance, the lesson of hope found in trial, and the realization that one failure doesn’t define the whole of the journey. Our mountains will always be with us. And while we never truly conquer the summit, we can allow our mountains to mold our next adventure, to shape our hearts and minds for greater, more beautiful things.
For even within the mundane there is glory. And within seeming failure there is hope. We were never meant to be enough or always know the way. The God who formed our feet and taught our hearts to know His voice will guide us upon the heights of life.