The work of Summiting

I looked at the summit of the volcano in whose crater I now stood. Surely the end of the trail was on one of the lower areas of the semi-circle. It couldn’t be at the very highest point. Could it? But barely visible, a vague roof and building skeleton told me it probably was exactly in that spot. And I saw stairs. Lots of stairs.

I told my husband he could go on the hike and I’d stay at the bottom and watch birds. I could never make that trek. Between the Ehlers-Danlos that causes my ankles to turn at the hint of a pebble in the road and my knees to hurt five minutes into a hike, the accompanying dysautonomia that gives me shortness of breath on a simple flight of stairs, and recurring plantar fasciitis, I’m learning my limits. The top of Diamond Head was one of them. Hiking websites say it’s not hard. The websites don’t consider a lot of the population. (Besides, according to the park site, “The 0.8 mile hike from trailhead to the summit is steep and strenuous, gaining 560 feet as it ascends from the crater floor.” So there, hiking sites.)

He told me the entry fee was cheap and I could stop whenever I wanted to and come back down. So what was there to lose to walk a little way? Fine. It was our first day ever in Hawaii and a lovely morning. I’d hike a short way.

Hikers are the best sort of people. Sure, there are those on a mission. They only want to reach point B, and if you’re hindering that pursuit, they’ll run you off the road. They’re the minority, though. Every time we visit a new place, it’s the hikers who are the kindest people to meet. They make room for you on the path. They smile. They tell you you’re almost there (even if you’re not, which is not always helpful). 

The older ones give me confidence that I can still put one foot in front of the other. The younger ones both make way for a disabled hiker like me but also look at us with admiration. This always surprises me. I’ve rarely met a young hiker who appeared to believe I was in the way and out of shape, even when I clearly am. They seem to know the folks on trails are a community. All with the same goal, all doing the best we can, all needing encouragement and wisdom. 

You’ve probably guessed that I never quit and turned back. We took many breaks. I needed regular breathers after what seemed like only a few feet. It wasn’t until we hit the first set of stairs that I thought I might make it, and several times on the almost 200 stairs I revisited that idea. We made the top, and the view was as glorious as promised. Although I’d pay for that for the rest of the trip, I didn’t regret it.

I’ve been thinking a lot about church lately, specifically about how much I have left to give and how much I will need to make way for younger generations to take the reins. What can I give, and where do I make way and offer only mentoring and wisdom but not new contributions? With the corner of sixty ahead and loss of physical ability, the questions are crowding my thoughts. 

Diamond Head helped me figure some of them out.

I still have the capability to climb. I can still reach the vistas of new adventures and ideas. But it’s slower. Steadier. Far more careful and measured than when I leaped from rock to rock. I have what’s known as a “quick start” personality, and that’s not as possible anymore. That, Diamond Head taught me, is its own beauty. I see things in the slowness that others don’t see. They see things farther along and maybe catch a vision I can’t, because I’m watching my feet. 

As I’m looking down though, watching each small step, I’m seeing the little things that make up the big picture. Someone else views the treeline and the shoreline, but I notice the warblers and the damselflies. I find the others who are struggling. I see a little thing in the person approaching me that I can call out and compliment them on. It takes enforced slowness to do this. 

Most of all, I recognize the community of hikers and realize that this work of summiting is for all of us, not one.

The best encouragement for continuing on was the ones who had been there. The hot shots might run up on their own, but for most of us, the journey is far easier, and pleasanter, with one another’s smiles. 

As I started down from the top, a man coming up took in my ankle braces, hiking poles, and heavy lean on the railing and said, “You are one determined person.” He will never have any idea how much those five words meant. He won’t know that I won’t forget them. Someone noticed a strength in another person, a strength she wasn’t at all certain she possessed in the moment, and he wasn’t afraid to call it out. 

The community needs us all. It’s less without its variation. If our strengths change over time, that’s right and good. Maybe when I was younger it was agility and speed. Now I’ll take determination. Now, I’ll make sure I notice and call out the gifts of others. Now, I’ll make sure we all reach the summit.

Restoration for the Weary

IMG_9718 (2)While we anticipate the restoration of living things outside our windows, we revel in the reality that Jesus restored all things that were broken, winter-bound, and frozen in the icy grip of sin and separation. His resurrection accomplished in one breathtaking stroke a restoration of all that God originally called good.

Though it’s April when you’re reading this, and hopefully turning to spring where you are, I’m writing during the last days of winter. This morning, I got stuck in my driveway three times trying to get my daughter to her train. We have two feet of snow out there (more or less), and I’m longing for the beach I sat on last week in Puerto Rico, doing nothing but listening to the waves and wading out in them to snorkel for yellow-striped fish and elusive sea turtles.

I unashamedly admit I need that kind of restoration in the middle of winter. Winter in Chicago is not for the weak.

Lately, I’ve been seeking restoration more often.

I loved being back at The Glorious Table this month and sharing this message of restoration and encouragement when Easter time isn’t all the joy we expect it to be. Please jump over there to read the rest.

5 Lessons from Ms. Carson, aka, How To Roar

Surprise! Today we have a guest post from someone I think you’ll like. Rebecca Greebon blogs over at The River Chick. (Because nobody tubes in a pond. Is that a great tagline or what?)

I loved her take on looking for the people behind he movie scenes and the headlines. (I like doing that, too.) And I think this post is not only empowering for women everywhere, but its perfect for February, Black history Month.

Plus, I’d love to go river rafting with her.

Here’s Rebecca:

My dear husband has this habit (we’ll call it “quirky”) of picking out the most obscure movies to watch in the evenings.  He scrolls through Netflix, finding enigmatic westerns or war flicks (generally starring one or two A-list actors supported by a cast of actors I’ve never seen or heard of), and since neither of these genres are remotely interesting to me, I tend to come in and out of the room while doing laundry (because, let’s face it, this house is the black hole of never-ending laundry), cleaning the kitchen, or, on nights when both of those options are just over my capacity for functioning at that hour, curling up on the couch next to him with a book, so that we are actually spending time together in the same general vicinity (funny how our definition of “hanging out” changes over the years, isn’t it?).

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This is what a team of sisters does.

Last night was no exception to this rule, and laundry made my preferred function list (Ok, not preferred….but necessary.  The pile was getting embarrassing).  This time, however, his choice caught my attention, and before I knew it, I had become wrapped up enough in the story to set the laundry down, run and get a notepad, and return to the couch to sit on top of the clean clothes pile while watching and writing. Yes, I was taking notes during a movie.  Don’t judge me.  I already had to ignore the raised eyebrows and snickers from the other end of the couch.

Moving on….

The movie Gregg picked was Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story, and it was based on his autobiography, which has the same title.  I am now fascinated with his story, especially his earlier history.

He was born in 1951, one of two brothers, and raised by a single mother from age eight years old.  His is a story of early struggle, redemption and triumph over any circumstance to burst through the other side a shining star.  And while this is impressive, the theme that caught me was actually the backstory and fortitude of his mother.

Her scenes were my favorite, and I was in some degree of tears throughout most of them.  She was a hard-working African-American woman, fighting to give her boys every opportunity for success in a time when her race hindered her as much as her lack of education.  She had only attended school until the third grade, and had been raised in foster care until she married her husband at the age of thirteen.  She was unable to read and had no special skills, yet had to find a way to feed and clothe her sons after her divorce (He had another family and children on the side.  How’s that for a devastating blow?).  In one heart-wrenching scene, she walks to a Psychiatric Hospital and stops an exiting nurse with this cry for help:

“I’ve got a darkness inside me I can’t control.”

My tears flowed so freely at that declaration.  They continued pouring down my face as she sat across from the kind doctor who met with her and poured out her story; a mother, terrified for her children’s future, doing the best she could while knowing deep inside it wasn’t nearly enough.  Plagued by self-doubt and regret, she rocked and wrung her hands, while stating, “I’m so dumb.  I can’t do much – just clean houses and babysit.  I’m not worth enough.  I’m nothing.  And I’m terrified my boys will end up the same as me, in a place like this.”

I sat there and cried, because her statement was so heart-wrenching, and so loudly echoed the doubts and dark places, not only of my mind, but of the minds of so many of my friends and sisters out there.

And because when I watched her, the incompetent woman she described was not who I saw at all.

I saw a warrior, a fierce lioness who refused to give up.  I saw a woman who, while not very educated, was extremely intelligent and resourceful.  I saw a woman who personified some huge lessons we all could use in life.

R1-06007-005ALesson 1: Comparison truly is the stealer of all joy

       When her sons would pop off about what everyone else was doing, her response was, “Don’t you worry about everyone else.  The world is full of everybody else’s.”  She refused to bow to the expectations of the social and political climate of the times, and she refused to allow her sons to settle into comfortable or careless routines.  She had goals and plans, and she stuck to them, dragging her reluctant boys along with her.  Her every action, every step was aimed at the achievement of her goals and the vision she had for her sons…not the movements or fortunes of her neighbor.

Lesson 2: Emulate those who have achieved success

Mid-way through the film, she began a new job, cleaning the house of a college professor.  She was amazed by the number of books in his home.  They were piled everywhere in his study, reaching to the ceiling in walls completely covered by bookshelves and covering the television set.  When she asked him if he had read all of the books, his reply was, “Most of them.”  From that day forward, her boys had books in their hands.  She went home, turned off the TV, and set strict rules about what and how much they were to watch (and this in the days before the endless blogs and lists and studies about whether too much TV is good for or harms our children).  She encouraged (ok, forced, initially) a love of learning and study patterns that changed their lives forever.

Lesson 3: Know when to ask for help

R1-06007-008AWhen her depression got to be too much, when she could no longer control the darkness, she went out and got help.  The right help.  She put aside her pride, shared her story and accepted the necessary treatment; going so far as to check into an inpatient facility for two weeks so she could get herself pulled together.  And when she came home, she came home – recharged, reset and ready to hit the ground running again.

Lesson 4: Have faith

She raised her boys in the church, as believers, and taught them to pray.  She opened their eyes to the fact that God is out there and miracles do exist, telling them, “You just gotta see beyond what you can see.”  She stuck to that, no matter what, and never lost sight of God’s hand in her life….even on the dark days.

Lesson 5: Be an encourager

dirty girl 1She was a genius coach and cheerleader, who used emboldened statements as she spurred her sons on to new heights of achievement.  Never once did she express her doubts or concerns to them, choosing instead to fortify their spirits and energize their minds, while guarding their hearts from the lowering comments or mindsets of others.  She pushed them, with love and discipline, to become the men her heart dreamed of and that her God had created.

They would go on to become successful, educated men – one an engineer, the other a doctor.

Ben, her baby, proceeded to gain notoriety as a world-renowned pediatric neurosurgeon; performing the first ever successful separation of craniopagus twins (Siamese twins joined at the head) in 1985, and later becoming the Head of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital.  Today, he is a bestselling author, speaker, political commentator and outspoken Christian with a beautiful wife and three sons of his own.

Quite a legacy from a humble and unschooled mama, don’t you think?

I admire her.  Her story touched my heart and humbled my spirit, while inspiring the woman and mother in me.

I’m going to post the list of these lessons in plain sight, and remind myself of them daily.  They are clear and simple and profoundly truth-filled.  They are possible.  They are proven.

Who’s with me?

Solidarity, sisters.  Our circumstances don’t have the power to define us.

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And sisters finish together. No matter how much junk we have to slog through.

About Rebecca: I’m a girl, in every sense of the word…which means I have a host of labels – wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, mentor, co-worker, partner, giggleIMG_0477-Edit-e1429747515710r, crier, speaker, listener, and (best of all) child of the One True King.  I started this blog because I have a passion to share with all the other girls (and guys) out there just how amazing they are, and how much they are loved, and how important and blessed every day is, even when we are lost or crazy or distracted or completely over ourselves and the world.