Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Mountain Madness part 3: Coming DOWN

Whew. A group of us climbed up the mountain, enjoyed the view from the top, and now it’s time to head back down.

Wait a minute. I don’t want to go down. I don’t want to head back to the place I was before; I don’t want to deal with hectic schedules, another day of running around, heading off crises while taking care of a family and a home and, oh yea, myself. This trek up a mountain with the beautiful view from the top leaves me changed. I see this experience as one of those times in life I cannot remain the same. For now, though, I need to simply hold onto that experience like another item in my backpack, and take the challenge of heading back down the mountain.

My friend said it was steep. The signs say it’s steep. But I didn’t know “steep” until I was going backwards down the rock formations to get to the next lower level. Like before, I was given suggestions to help my footing—walk sideways, take small steps, have one foot braced before moving the other—but I was taking those suggestions more seriously this time. I was trying to remember any scripture that could be dusted off in my memory about standing on rocks or having my feet grounded, and all I could think of was “trust in the Lord.” Yikes. Can’t I do that while standing on level ground? Apparently not, sometimes. Sometimes I need to be heading down the sliding board of a mountainside to realize that I am truly freaked out. I was actually quiet since I couldn’t talk and concentrate at the same time.

Trust and gratitude. It was about all I could feel—trust that God will get me back down because there’s nothing left to trust, and gratitude for my friends and their practical tips along the way. They even helped out by carrying some of my things—my water bottle, the camera.

It really is the same as life, isn’t it? When things are tough and I’m freaked out beyond my own abilities, it’s then that I know God will show up. And He even sends my friends to help me out, not in those intangible “I’ll pray for you” ways, but hands-on help by carrying my load, and practical tips and suggestions on making the way easier, safer, smoother. In these mountain reflections, I’m reminded that I want to seek after God’s presence in my life on level ground, too. I know God is there, but I forget. This mountain madness adventure was a much-needed reminder about dependence on God. Trust and gratitude; so simple but so challenging.

Tip of the week:
Last week, I suggested something “new” in the routine to boost health/fitness goals; this week, I’m suggesting we try something “old”. We all have a favorite food item, walking path, recipe or technique that has worked for us in the past—let’s do that again. For me one of those old techniques was to pray to God and promise that I wouldn’t blow it with my eating that day (or that hour, or that minute—whatever it takes!)—I can do that again, and again, and again—whatever it takes!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Mountain Madness part 2: At the Top

The view from the top of a mountain. Breathtaking. Silent. Overwhelming. Colorful. Dizzying. Misty. Bigger than myself.

I continue this discussion of my recent adventure hiking up a mountain during a retreat to consider the view from the top. As I was climbing, I remember thinking: just get to the top, just get to the top. That focus helped me to keep going, despite the fear of heights that permeated the core of my being. “Just get to the top” helped to override the thought “One slip and I’ll fall wayyyyy down.” For some, it’s not heights, but other fears—no matter what the fear, it can override our rational thoughts in any circumstance. The view from the top was my reward for pushing through the fears. And boy, was it beautiful.

It was interesting to see the treetops from the top. Hey, when I look at a tree, I see the top, but from the ground instead. It reminds me how I see life’s situations from a certain angle, but forget I can see the same thing from another perspective with new clarity and insight. It was also fun to be higher up, and though my intellect knew I wasn’t actually in the clouds, my imagination let me think I was. And what if a bird flew by and I was in its path? Waterfalls also look way different from the top than from the side of the mountain. I wonder what else I need to view from the top: perhaps my goals in life, my relationships, my daily decisions, and my desire for control. Oh yea, it’s God who’s in control, and God’s view from the top has a clarity that I’ll never understand, but I can imagine is beautiful; breathtaking; peaceful.

Our group shared a prayer circle up there; and although I know my God is everywhere, at the top and at the bottom of a mountain, I can say it felt like we were truly closer to God. The dependence on Him at the top, to hold us up, to be that Rock I was standing on, to stop and notice His presence, was worth the hike. Really.

In 2 Samuel 22:32-34 (NIV) it says: “For who is God besides the Lord? And who is the Rock except our God? It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to stand on the heights.” There’s no way to be up there without a prayerful moment. Those are the moments that keep me going, whether up or down the mountain, and it’s for those moments I’m always grateful.

Tip of the week:
When the going gets tough and I need new motivation for my health and weight loss goals, I find something new: a new Scripture to put on my fridge, a new recipe, a new fruit or vegetable to try, or a new exercise routine adjustment. This newness reminds me I’m always starting over and keeps me going in the many restarts.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Mountain Madness part 1: Going UP

- A group of women at a retreat near the Pocono Mountains
- A clear blue sky
- Brisk, spring breezes
Combine at low speed with a large block of free time and you have your recipe for a long mountain hike.

This city girl was all set to stay in at the quiet, roomy lodge. Y’know: relax, perhaps do a DVD workout, read, or watch a movie. Somehow the idea of a hike, which was furthest from my mind as a free time activity, made it into the realm of possibility and I surprised myself when I agreed to join the group on the “Nature Trail.”

The first stage of this trail walk was the path UP. Hmmm: “Nature Trail.” It sounded safe. It sounded like it was only slightly adventuresome. It sounded like a slow but steady trek along a clearly defined flat path where I could possibly view interesting grasses, flower buds, or an unusual bird or two. It sounded safe, I thought.

About twenty minutes into the walk, my panting and sweating confirmed that there was nothing flat about this trail. While picking across some rocks alongside the stream, I wanted to stop and really look at the beauty around me. But I couldn’t. Why? There was quite a way to look—DOWN. I finally admitted to my fellow hikers that I’m afraid of heights, especially these kinds of heights, where a slight misstep or unstable rock could send one of us careening into the depths below.

Suddenly, I was surrounded. Both in front of me and behind me, a couple of women watched my steps and gave lessons along the way. It was too late to go back; too late to change my mind, and so I would press forward, but with help this time. Suggestions and techniques were stated clearly: “Stay on the balls of your feet when going up.” “Make sure your foot is steady and grounded before moving the other foot.” “Make sure you take small steps.” “Walk sideways if you need to.”

Like life, we find ourselves on adventures we hadn’t anticipated. We may be surprised at the effort it takes to travel a seemingly flat trail when instead it becomes a rocky terrain to get to the next yellow tree marker. When I admit my fears, like in this case my fear of heights, the help I need comes easily. My fellow hikers, who I think were part-women-part-mountain-goats shared tips for my journey to make it safer and easier for me. For that, I’m grateful. This trip on the “Nature Trail” became a new adventure and a reminder that I can still learn lessons while going uphill on this mountain of life.

Tip of the week:
To stick to your exercise routine, plan it a week in advance and write your plan on a calendar. Then you simply need to check your plan and start moving, without having to think about it. I use the ‘mile system’ with Leslie Sansone’s DVDs and decide how many miles I’m doing each day, and which day or two I have off.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Constitutional Walking Tour

A recent trip to Philadelphia included the constitutional walking tour of the city’s historic sites. A walking history lesson for 1 ½ hours. I think I would have enjoyed learning this stuff in seventh grade if we got the chance to walk around and see the places where the historic events occurred. Back then, I simply read the text, memorized the dates, and repeated the answers correctly on the written exam. This time, it was fun to learn the same old information.

My favorite takeaway impression from this adventure is the common theme of common men attempting to make courageous changes in their worlds. Our tour guide shared the basic history facts, but he also included the fun facts. I enjoyed learning that Independence Hall wasn’t always called Independence Hall, and yet still is the building of “National Treasure” movie fame. I learned that the Liberty Bell now resides in a security-laden pavilion only because of the crazy man who tried to hit it with a hammer to release the spirits of the long-dead presidents. I learned that the pennies tossed onto Ben Franklin’s grave are there for no apparent reason. I learned that Betsy Ross’ body is buried at the Betsy Ross house, but was originally buried elsewhere and got moved there so she could be next to her third husband.

This new way of learning the same old information is reminding me of new ways I’m diving into the Old Testament stories of the Bible. Instead of simply reading the text, I’m enjoying the fun stories behind the scenes. In this way, I find the Old Testament stories relatable and glean appropriate insight for my own life today. Yes, today’s times are different than 2000+ years ago, but the fundamentals remain: the desire for freedom, for choices, for understanding. The few courageous men who dared to challenge the British traditions in the startup of America were similar to the prophets of the Old Testament days who dared believe in an all-Sovereign God despite what the people of their neighboring towns believed.

I’m grateful for my American freedom; I’m even more grateful for freedom in Christ. Like the walking constitutional tour, I want to live my life as if it’s a walking Christian woman tour. Keeping it fun; keeping it true. And maybe I can keep learning new things along the way.

Tip of the week:
If necessary, utilize the dish soap destruction method for food that calls your name and you need to resist. Just last week I had a few chocolate chips too many for a recipe, and disposed of the rest of the chips with the perfect shot of green soap on top to be sure I didn’t eat them. It works!