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 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)

Life on the Edge…(Chapter 22)

We rejoined the guys and headed toward Sub Dome. To say those freakin’ steps were brutal is an understatement. The best way that I can describe them is that they were stairs carved into a huge rock leading straight up into the sky, or so it seemed. They made the Mist Trail and Nevada Fall steps seem like steps in a kiddy park.

I saw healthy-looking, athletic people stopping multiple times on the way up to catch their breath. And, of course, every couple of steps, I had to stop. I kept waiting for Bre, Andy or Mike to complain or say something, but neither of them did. They were so patient and true examples of God’s love and grace.

Finally, we saw the light and the end of those crazy steps. What was funny to me was that I had miraculously gained a fresh wind. I also didn’t fear heights as I thought I would up there, at least not where we were thus far. We hiked up Sub Dome to the saddle, which connects Sub Dome to Half Dome, the “mother lode”, as some call it. I couldn’t believe my eyes. We had finally made it to the cables. There was a line, so we didn’t get to just latch on and go up. We had to wait a while. However, the wait turned out to be a good thing.  A very good thing, indeed.