Miracle on the Mountain

Mt. Baldy PlaqueI set my alarm to wake me up early because I knew it was a long drive. I also planned to stop at the nearest Starbucks to fuel up before I hit the road, so I was going to need extra time. Waking up so early to a screaming alarm on a Saturday is hard, but for Mt. Baldy, it’s always worth the sacrifice of a few winks.

The alarm went off as scheduled and after hitting the snooze button a time or two, I sat up on the bed. Instinctively, I opened Facebook to see what kind of news had occurred during my slumber and the first thing that popped up was and engagement announcement. My friend Chelsea was getting married. My heart sank and all of a sudden, I didn’t want to go to Baldy anymore. I was hurt and I was angry.

Why would such happy news cause me so much heartache? Well, I wasn’t angry at Chelsea. Deep down, I was truly happy for her and wanted the best. My anger was directed at God. It was God who offended me so unbearably and in that moment, I didn’t want to do anything. The one thing I did do was cry. Then a scene played out in my mind.

Just less than ten years before the engagement announcement, Chelsea and I had become acquainted in Oklahoma when I was a student at Oral Roberts University. While she wasn’t a student there, we met at a church some of my friends and I attended across the street from campus.

One Sunday, Chelsea and I met up at church and sat together in our usual spot. We were minus our other friends that day because they had school projects to work on. After the service, I suggested that we go up and meet the pastor since we had never met him before. As people milled about in the sanctuary, we walked down to the front where Pastor Billy Joe was talking and praying with people.

Pastor Billy Joe was just as down to earth, kind and friendly as he seemed from the pulpit. He greeted us both with a smile and got to know us. We enjoyed speaking with him. I can’t remember all the details of our conversation with him, but one thing will always be engraved in my heart and mind. As we wrapped up our visit with Pastor Billy Joe, he offered to pray for Chelsea and me.

He prayed a general prayer for our well-being and success and then his prayer took an interesting turn. He laid a hand on both of us and then prayed for each of us to be blessed with a good man who will cherish us and love us. It was interesting because neither of us mentioned anything about our love lives. That didn’t even come up at all. I thought that he must have heard specifically from God to pray that over us. I felt peace and assurance that the prayer was going to come to pass.

So when I woke up to that engagement announcement, I was overcome with many emotions. Sadness, anger, bitterness, resentment, you name it. I’m sure it all boiled down to plain jealousy. I have to be real here. I was jealous of my friend. She’s a few years younger than me. I had been praying that prayer for marriage and a family since I was a little girl. How could God give it to her and not me? We were standing side by side and had the same prayer prayed over us by the same pastor at the same time.

I thought about the biblical scripture I had always heard about God not being a respecter of persons; what He does for one person, He is obligated to do for another. Those words were shattered in my heart because I had clung to them for so long and now felt betrayed by those very words. Maybe I didn’t get it right or something. It was obvious to me that something was way off and it left me feeling beside myself.

As I sat on the bed that morning, I felt this deep inner nudge to get up and get moving. I knew God wanted me to move forward with my plans to climb Mt. Baldy that day and that’s why I no longer wanted to get up. I didn’t want to do anything God wanted of me that day. I just wanted to stay home and sulk about the great and holy injustice I was experiencing.

My bed was a great comforter and I just wanted to sink deeper into it’s loving embrace. I felt the nudge again, this time stronger than before. The more I felt it, the more I resisted. Whenever I get into a struggle like that with God, He always wins, so needless to say, I ended up going to Baldy that day. There are times when God wants me to hike and there are times He wants me to do something else, or just stay home and be still. I was supposed to hike that day.

SONY DSC

Before I knew it, I was on the Ski Hut Trail, boots grinding gravel, with a serious grudge. I wasn’t there because it pleased God. I was there because I was angry. I had purposed in my heart to not smile or greet anyone on the trail. I didn’t even make eye contact with anyone, a departure from my usual good trail cheer. I just wanted to hike and be left alone. At times, I found myself fighting back the sting of tears. It was fairly warm and I was sweating with exertion, so I felt it blended in and no one would notice.

No one did. For the first two miles, I hiked with my head down looking at the dirt and avoiding eye contact with everyone I passed. Some may have said “Hi”, but if they did, I didn’t notice. I looked up only occasionally to see how close I was getting to Baldy Bowl. On one of those occasions, I saw a familiar face coming toward me. It was a friend from one of my hiking circles, someone I admire and have great respect for. I felt busted. There was no way I could get past him without exchanging pleasantries, no matter how painful.

Baldy Bowl

At our intersection on the trail, he came toward me with a big smile, arms wide open for an embrace. He told me I looked like I could use a hug. I couldn’t help but smile and allow myself to be swept into the embrace. We talked for a bit and then he mentioned that a group of consisting of him and some other friends were getting together that evening for a Dodgers game and he extended an invitation for me to join them.

I said I wasn’t sure if I’d be off the mountain in time to go home, get cleaned up and get to the game on time. He said for me to send him a message when I was finished hiking and let him know if I could make it. Then we parted ways. He had already been up to the top of Baldy and was on his way down as I was on my way up.

I didn’t really think I would make it off the mountain in time and I didn’t try to. The last thing I wanted to be that day was social. I continued climbing and when I reached the summit for the umpteenth time, I began to feel a release. I hung out on the summit for a bit and had a snack, then descended the very scenic Devil’s Backbone Trail. About halfway across the Devil’s Backbone, I stopped to hug a tree. Yes, I hug trees. Don’t judge me.

Approaching the Devil's Backbone Trail

As I wrapped my arms around the tree and let my head rest gently against its maple-scented bark, the rain of saltwater came and there was no stopping it this time. I didn’t want to stop it. I just let the tears flow for as long as they needed to until there were no tears left. After I had that cry, I finished the hike and realized I had just enough time to go home, shower and make it to the game, although I would be a few minutes or so late.

My friend held a ticket for me and I went to enjoy the game. The Dodgers won! But not only that, I also came out victorious. I realized that had I stayed home that day, I would have allowed negative feelings to fester inside me and they would have eventually destroyed me. Maybe not completely, but bit by bit anger, bitterness and resentment would have chipped away at my joy, my character, my hope.

Nothing has changed for me, at least externally. I’m still on this journey, still questioning things, still wondering if I’ve gotten it all wrong, still wondering if something is ghastly wrong with me. My friend Chelsea is now expecting her first child with her amazing husband and I am thrilled for her. I don’t have all the answers to my heart’s deepest questions or the remedy for its deepest of wounds. Yet I will still trust hope in the One who met me on the mountain that day and comforted me in my time of sorrow.

Hike on!

~J

Doors of Opportunity

DoorDuring a recent conference I attended, I went to the restroom during a break only to discover a long line of about 30 women extending well beyond the bathroom door. Throughout the conference, the line was consistently long, but I had never seen it quite like this. Since it was the only bathroom I was aware of, I reluctantly joined the trail of divas.

After a few minutes of waiting, I asked one of the ladies if there was another bathroom. She said there was one on the third floor (we were on the first floor,) but that it only had two stalls. In other words, it was probably best to stay in line where I was at, to my dismay.  Because the restroom contained quite a few stalls, the line wasn’t too bad. It was just that I really had to go so any amount of waiting was uncomfortable.

I finally reached a point in the line where I was just inside the bathroom and could see the first few stalls on the left side.  They were all closed.  When I finally made it to the front of the line, I stood and waited a few seconds after glancing down the corridor and finding all the doors closed.  Somehow, my gaze ended up resting on a stall door on the left side, which I noticed was slightly ajar.  I walked forward and gently pressed the door open to reveal an empty and totally available stall.  At that point I wanted to slap myself.

A quick glance around revealed several other “open” doors on the other side, so I pointed them out to the other ladies in line.  As I finished up and washed my hands to head back into the auditorium, I pondered over what had just occurred and wondered how many doors in my life appeared to be closed, when in reality, I shut those doors myself.

When I approached the bathroom and saw the line, I assumed like everyone else that the stalls were all occupied.  The thought didn’t even occur to me that some of those doors could have been open, so I stayed back and awaited the opportunity to enter.  I even considered leaving my place in line to attempt a different route, so to speak. Seeking out that alternative and then having to wait in an even longer line with fewer opportunities (stalls) available could have been disastrous.

Some of the doors that appear closed to us are in fact open.  Sometimes we close those doors ourselves when we assume that because so-and-so isn’t getting in, we aren’t going to get in.  What doors have you stood outside of because you thought they were closed?  Are there any prayers you’ve prayed over the years and given up because you thought you weren’t being heard?  Have you had a dream of becoming something like–say–a professional screenwriter, but assumed the door to that dream was closed because you’ve been turned down so many times by this studio or that agent who doesn’t think you have what it takes?

Whatever the case may be for you, just know that doors that appear to be closed might really be open.  You just have to take that step of faith and ask, seek, knock.  If all else fails, just try the knob and push.  Seriously.  Do it.  🙂

Revelation 3:8

Life on the Edge…(Chapter 29-Risky Business)

So what does it mean to live on the edge? It means getting to that point where you’re totally at the end of yourself, have exhausted all your inner reserves, and there is nothing left in front of you except this big, open void where gravity rules and faith propels. Yeah, that’s risky business.  You could always turn back and go where the safety net is, where you can see and touch the ground beneath you. But if you do that, you’ll never learn to soar and reach new heights in your life and in your faith.

Living on the edge means sitting in a place of peace, confidently trusting, leaning, and relying totally on God and His provision for you, even when you can’t see what’s in front of you. God led me to the top of Half Dome not only to show me His beautiful creation, but to show me who He really is and to remind me that apart from Him, I am nothing and can do nothing. I rediscovered life and purpose sitting on the edge of Half Dome swinging my legs.

I’ve been living on the edge since July 26, 2008, the day that my mother went to be with the Lord. My mother was my safety net. She was the one that I looked to for provision and safety when things didn’t work out according to my plans. I never feared stepping out and taking risks because I was comforted by the fact that my mom was going to be there with open arms and words of encouragement if I ever failed. It was normal for me to step out on faith and do things back then. But when she died, I was forced to adapt to a new normal. And it was uncomfortable. It was uncertain. It was lonely. It was hell.

My mom, Janice, and I (1998)

My mother was everything to me and the day she passed away, I lost my everything, my best friend. I was on the edge where I had to make the choice to either trust God and continue moving forward, or stay in a place of stunted growth. I have been living on the edge ever since. It hasn’t been easy and I miss my mom like crazy, but it gets better every day because I know that God is with me and I am never alone.

I believe there’s someone reading this that needed me to share that. I usually find it quite difficult to be this open and candid about personal subject matter. But when I committed to writing this, I knew that I was also committing to a standard of honesty and truthfulness.

My prayer for you is that no matter what religion, denomination, culture, or background you come from, you have been encouraged by my story to live a more abundant life, love yourself and others, and be victorious in every circumstance, even through the death of a loved one.

Remember, when you’re going through something that looks like it might take you down and destroy you, things are not always what they seem. You have to say to yourself that you can and will make it to the mountaintop. You will not always dwell in the valley.  May you find your place of renewal and rest on the edge.

Why would you ever complain, O Jacob, or, whine, Israel, saying, “God has lost track of me. He doesn’t care what happens to me”? Don’t you know anything? Haven’t you been listening? God doesn’t come and go. God lasts. He’s Creator of all you can see or imagine. He doesn’t get tired out, doesn’t pause to catch his breath. And he knows everything, inside and out. He energizes those who get tired, gives fresh strength to dropouts. For even young people tire and drop out, young folk in their prime stumble and fall. But those who wait upon God get fresh strength. They spread their wings and soar like eagles, they run and don’t get tired, they walk and don’t lag behind.
Isaiah 40:27-31 (The Message)

This is the final installment in the “Life on the Edge…” series.  I hope you have enjoyed reading these posts. Perhaps I will add more stories to the series later on because much of my story is still unwritten. However, at this time, the series has concluded.  I will be posting current material, chronicling stories from my hikes, as well as other tales of the trails.  Occasionally, I may spotlight a particular hiker and share his or her personal stories from the trails as well.

Beginning next week, I will be sharing the story of a man that I will refer to as Mike.  His story will be chronicled in the next series of posts titled, “Suicide Notes on a Napkin.”  Be forewarned, Mike’s story is dark, but remember, out of the darkness comes a great light.  That is all I will share for now.  Be on the lookout for the series. You certainly don’t want to miss it.  Thanks for reading!

Life on the Edge…(Chapter 28-The Face of Fear)

I hit the water feet first. I don’t recall hitting the bottom and it didn’t seem like I was underwater for very long. The life vest kept me from plunging too far down. I probably wouldn’t have made the jump without it. Underwater, I felt peace and I just relaxed my entire body until I reached the surface.

When I came up, I heard the muffled sounds of cheers. I was still alive, except for a bad case of vertigo that lasted about ten or fifteen minutes. My ears were filled with water. Other than that, I was fine and so thankful that I jumped.

Now, I don’t want you to think that I’m this careless and reckless person who goes around jumping off of cliffs and doing other crazy, death defying stunts. I do exercise a great deal of caution and am sensitive to God’s direction regarding what I should and shouldn’t do.

There is a difference between godly discernment and a spirit of fear. What I felt when I was standing on the edge of that rock above the Kern River was a spirit of fear. I had witnessed many people jump off of that same cliff before me, and they were all fine. Some of them wanted to do it again.

Even after having witnessed the evidence that it was okay to jump, I still cowered. There was no reason for me to be afraid. If I had begun to drown, the guides were excellent swimmers and trained to perform daring rescues.

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity (of cowardice, of craven and cringing and fawning fear), but [He has given us a spirit] of power and of love and of calm and well-balanced mind and discipline and self-control.
2 Timothy 1:7 (Amplified)

After the rafting trip, I began to assess the past year of my life. In comparison to the previous years, I had done some pretty interesting things that, at one time, I thought I’d never do. I used to be very timid and fearful. I was a coward. I have begun to come out of my shell more and more. Every time I do something adventurous, I feel bolder and more courageous, like I can overcome anything that comes my way. I have learned to look fear in the eyes and laugh in its face.

Life on the Edge…(Chapter 27-Into the Deep)

The next great adventure I went on after conquering Half Dome was whitewater rafting on the Lower Kern River.  I had never rafted before and was thrilled about the opportunity to go.  I went with one of the hiking groups I’m involved with.

After the Half Dome conquest, I was like, bring on the adventures!  I wasn’t afraid of anything.  That is, until we reached a place along the river where our guides parked the rafts and allowed people to get out, hike up to the top of this big rock that stood about 30 feet up from the swiftly flowing river, and (you guessed it) jump.

At first, I was dead set against jumping off of that rock.  After watching several people jump, I got curious enough to make the short hike up there and get in line.  When it was my turn to jump, fear socked me in the gut.  I walked over to the edge and peered over.

The distance between me and the swift current below frightened me.  People near the rafts who had already jumped, as well as the ones behind me who had yet to jump, cheered me on.  I couldn’t do it.  I stepped aside to allow someone else to go.  I yearned for further motivation.

After the guy jumped, I went to the edge again and looked down at the water.  My heart was beating so fast that I thought I was going to have a heart attack.  I heard the people below cheering for me again, but I still couldn’t do it.  I backed away from the edge and one more person jumped.

I was the last person and the guide told me that we had to start heading down the river in a few minutes.  I either had to jump or take the walk of shame back down to the rafts.  I went to the edge one more time and heard Karen, from our group, say that she was going to count to three.  She began the countdown.

I started to back away, but then decided to make the jump and go against my fears.  I stood right at the edge with my heart beating ever so fast, took a deep breath, and literally stepped off the rock into nothing.  I was no longer in control of anything that happened after that.  Nothing was beneath my feet.  Nothing was near me to grab onto to.  I had completely surrendered my will to the unknown.

Yes, there was water, but how deep was it?  Yes, I wore a life vest, but would it really hold up if I went too deep?  Were there rocks beneath the surface on which I could have hit my head or broken a bone?  I didn’t have the answers to any of those questions.  I just jumped.

Life on the Edge…(Chapter 26-Serpents and Scorpions)

I didn’t do any hiking for about two weeks after I returned from Yosemite.  It wasn’t because I was sore; I had very little soreness, which got better after about a day or so.  I didn’t hike because I had reached a goal that I had spent months preparing for.  It’s very difficult to motivate yourself to do things when you don’t have a goal or a purpose.  I had grown complacent and didn’t want to exercise at all.

Do it again.

I heard the voice of God speak to my heart.  What?  Again?  Why would anyone want to put themselves through that kind of torture another time?  Then, it came to me.  I would start training to do the hike again the next year and purpose to finish in less time.

It took me about 13 hours to finish the hike, not including the time spent at the summit.  For most people, it takes less.  I decided that I was up for the challenge.  I got up one morning, put on my hiking gear and went on one of my favorite trails: a five-mile hike in Santa Clarita.  I went during a weekday, so I hiked alone.  Sometimes I do that.

It felt good to be back on the trails again and inhale some fresh air.  Of course, the air wasn’t as fresh as it was at Yosemite, but it was better than breathing in smog.  I noticed that I fared much better on the uphill than I had on that hike previously.  I didn’t have to stop as much to catch my breath, which was a good sign.

When I had made it almost to the top of the ridge, just past a fork where the trail split, something in the middle of the trail caught my eye.  I almost stepped on it as I thought initially that it was a big stick.  When I realized it was a snake, I immediately stepped back a few feet.  At the time, I didn’t know what kind of snake it was, but it didn’t matter.  To me, a snake is a snake, and they are all ugly and disgusting creatures.

Although the snake didn’t move, I knew it was alive.  Thankfully, it didn’t lunge at me.  I took a picture of it and went back to the fork in the trail and took the other path.  The trails converged later, so it wasn’t a big detour.  That was enough excitement for one day.

I didn’t necessarily fear the snake.  I just didn’t want to have to deal with a snake bite, especially while I was out in the wilderness alone.

I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.
Luke 10:19 (New International Version)

Life on the Edge…(Chapter 25-Beauty for Ashes)

The wind was beginning to pick up and it was getting chilly, so Andy, who had taken the lead, suggested that we head down the rock so we could start the 8-mile journey back to the car. After all, we still had a five-hour drive ahead of us that evening.

I changed my socks, strapped on my backpack and got ready to leave. I knew going back down the cables was going to be fun, but I almost forgot something very important. The rock! It was still in my backpack and. I told the others and asked them to wait while I found the perfect spot to leave the rock.

I set it on a boulder and took pictures of it for the memorial. Then, I left it there, along with the painful comment that nearly destroyed my life. I didn’t even look back. It was no longer my burden.

I walked toward the cables with what I had dubbed the “Fellowship,” Andy, Bre, Mike, and our new addition, Ms. Rosemarie, who had decided to ride back to L.A. with us.

I was again first to get on the cables. Going down wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. The biggest challenge getting down was the crowd. There were people coming up as we descended and everyone had to stay inside the cables, so it got a little congested. There were occasional weirdoes climbing up outside of the cables and they were pretty much free to do so since there were no rangers present to monitor the situation.

When I reached Sub Dome, I took pictures of everyone as they came down from the cables. The mission had been accomplished and I felt so much lighter.

Although I ate some of the food I carried in my backpack and drank more water, the reason my backpack was lighter was because of the burden that had been left behind. The rock was small enough to fit into the palm of my hand, so it wasn’t very heavy. However, what the rock symbolized in my life was a heavy burden and it was now gone.

To console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.
Isaiah 61:3 (New King James Version)

Life on the Edge…(Chapter 24 – On Top of the World)

When I made it to the top, I was immediately welcomed by a fellow member of Team Half Dome. He thought I had turned back and was thrilled to see that I’d made it.

Gretchen was next to come up, followed by Andy, Bre and Mike. Gretchen’s husband was waiting and we all cheered when she came up. I was so proud of her. Like me, she overcame her fears and dared to do the impossible.

No chance at all if you think you can pull it off yourself. Every chance in the world if you trust God to do it.
Matthew 19:26 (The Message)

Walking on the summit of Half Dome, which stood 8800 feet above sea level, was like walking on the moon.

I had never walked on the moon before, but I could just imagine the moon’s surface looking a lot like what I was standing on. The surface was a lot bigger than it looked from afar. It was probably the size of about 3-4 football fields.

We met up with Ms. Rosemarie and the rest of Team Half Dome, but most were ready to head back down. I had surprised everyone. They were certain I had turned back. I can’t say I blamed them for thinking that. They just didn’t know me very well.

Since Andy was our driver, he said that we would stay at the summit longer to give us all a chance to take it all in and enjoy the euphoria of the moment. I saw little Katelyn and her family and they were excited to see me there as well.

I took a few moments to explore the surroundings, then I did the unthinkable. I went to the edge and guess what? No fear of heights. I laid down flat on my stomach and peered over the edge. I held out my camera and took a picture of the valley floor below. I guess it didn’t dawn on me that I was hanging over the edge of a 4800 foot sheer drop.

I backed away from the edge, got to a seated position, and carefully scooted over to where my legs could dangle freely. Andy came up and asked if I wanted my picture taken. “Sure,” I said. He stood behind me and I smiled up at the camera. I told Andy I wasn’t scared and he said that he was because of the vantage point where he was standing.

My risk taking didn’t stop there. I went and stood on the Visor and had Andy take my picture there, too. I had said that I would never, under any circumstance, go on the Visor. If you’re not familiar with Half Dome, the Visor is this rock ledge that juts out over the sheer drop. Walking onto it is like walking the plank. However, I wasn’t scared. I was free of the fear of heights and it felt so good.

Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.
John 8:36 (New King James Version)

Life on the Edge…(Chapter 23-Paying it Forward)

I took a few pictures, ate a little bit and drank some water. It’s easy to become dehydrated at high altitudes and develop altitude sickness, which I was prone to. However, the altitude no longer affected me. I was wired and ready for the cables.

It was a comfort to me that the cables were so crowded. I knew that if I happened to slip and fall, there would be people behind me to break that fall. I didn’t want that to happen, of course.

I rejoined the group and saw that Bre was talking to a lady that I had met previously on the trail. Her name was Gretchen and she was sitting on a rock at the base of the cables. Apparently, she and her husband had gone up the cables together and Gretchen got scared early in the ascent.

She decided she couldn’t do it and came back down. Her husband continued up the cables and was probably at the top already. Now, Bre was trying to encourage her and talk her back into going. I got after Gretchen.  (If you look to the right of the crowd in the picture above, you’ll see Gretchen sitting on the rock.  She is wearing a white hat and a dark blue jacket.)

“What do you mean, you’re not going up?” I said. “You have to go up. If I can do this after all that I went through back there, you can do it, too. I am not going up those cables without you, Gretchen. You’re with us now, and we will help you.”

I was determined to not let Gretchen sit on that rock and miss out on her victory. I meant every word I said to her, that I was absolutely not going up those cables without her. She was one of the people who encouraged me way back when I was contemplating giving up and I was giving it back. She must have realized that I wasn’t playing and that I wasn’t going to leave her alone because she got up and stood with us in line. I was so happy that she chose to give it another try.

Andy agreed to go up behind her and act as a safety net, while I went ahead of everyone. I was first on the cables and Gretchen was right behind me. Bre and Mike followed behind Andy. I looked fear in the eyes and laughed in its face.

About halfway up the cables, I felt confident enough to take out my camera and snap some pictures. Yep, I know it was probably foolish of me, and I saw no one else doing this, but I just had to get those spectacular shots. I even snapped a picture of myself on the cables.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
Psalm 23:4 (New International Version)