I look up to the mountains;
does my strength come from mountains?
No, my strength comes from God,
who made heaven, and earth, and mountains.
Psalm 121:1 & 2 (MSG)
July 2, 2017, my brother, Steve joined an exclusive group of people when he reached the summit of Mount Rainer. According to the National Park Service, each year approximately 10,000 attempt the summit. Only half succeed.
For many years I referred to my only brother, Steve, who was born five days prior to my ninth birthday, as my “little brother.” That doesn’t work nowadays, however, since Steve towers more than a head taller than his oldest—and shortest—sis.
Steve has been an important person to me his entire life. I’ve watched him grow from a sweet, chubby baby into a fine man who works hard, loves God, and has quietly mentored several men. He’s a faithful husband and devoted daddy to his own three beautiful daughters. His youngest daughter, Chantal, climbed Mt. Rainier with her dad, joining him for a photo op at the summit.
During a family gathering on the 4th of July, I talked with Steve about the climb. He looked as he admitted feeling—exhausted—and I appreciated his willingness to discuss openly the good and not-so-good parts of his experience. I appreciate his permission to write this post.
Without any doubt, this accomplishment is impressive. The experience Steve and Chantal share is one which can never be taken from them. But, as is the case with most impressive experiences, it wasn’t easy!
We all encounter mountains. Life journeys often lead us to some daunting heights. Climbing some mountains, like the 14,000 feet high magnificent glacial peak in Western Washington, is a challenge one welcomes and chooses to accept. Other mountains are neither welcomed nor chosen.
The disability with which we’d rather not live.
A disintegrating marriage we believed would last ‘til death do us part.’
Disastrous loss due to an economic or natural disaster.
The charming beau who turned into a hurtful spouse.
Childhood abuse that continues to haunt our memories.
Our beloved child who grew into a raging teenager.
The dream job that wasn’t.
Etc., etc., etc.
Yes, life is full of mountains. Whether chosen or not, I think the recent conversation I had with my mountain-climbing brother offers some valuable insights:
- Reach deeply into your soul. Determine your desire. Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk, said, “You are made in the image of what you desire.”
- After you’ve tapped into desire, dare to dream about achieving your desire.
- Fear not failure. This was Steve’s second attempt at climbing Rainier. A sprained ankle at 11,000 feet prohibited him from reaching the summit on his first attempt.
- Learn from an experienced, trusted leader. Steve said he would not have been able to complete this climb if he hadn’t followed the rest-step cadence emphasized and established by Ben, their seasoned leader.
- Persist even when the going gets rough. Steve fought muscle cramps, nausea and fatigue. Yet, he kept putting one foot in front of the other until he reached his intended destination.
- You’re never too old to reach a new goal. Steve was the elder statesman of his group.
- Keep learning and growing. I asked Steve what he’ll do differently to train for the next mountain he plans to climb in a few months. He mentioned some additional strength training, and said he’s going to do a lot more stretching. Stretching physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually is always needed when we climb any mountain.
- Never underestimate the value of a community of caring, concerned friends. Because of his extreme fatigue and cramped muscles, Steve needed assistance from his team. They were willing to extend helping hands and never stopped cheering him on.
Mark Batterson’s perspective related to physical and spiritual goals fascinated me when I read it a few months ago. Batterson says:
Any goal that cultivates physical discipline will cultivate spiritual disciplines too.
I was curious to learn if there was a spiritual aspect to my brother’s climb and how this impacted his venture. Tears welled up in Steve’s eyes as he considered my questions. I would never discuss this profound aspect of the climb my brother entrusted to me.
In closing, I want to say, “Well done, brother, and sweet niece! I am SO proud of you!” You have illustrated well these words penned by Thomas Merton:
The spiritual life is first of all a life. It is not merely something to be known and studied
it is to be lived.
To each reader, I pray blessings on your journey—no matter what mountain you may be climbing…
- www.alanarnette.com/climbs/rainierfaq.php ↑
- Thomas Merton (1915-1968), Thoughts in Solitude ↑
- Mark Batterson, The Circle Maker, Chapter 15, Life Goal List ↑
- Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude ↑