“A nomad I will remain for life, in love with distant and uncharted places.”
[Photography credit: Josh Fears]
[Location: Santorini, Greece]
I’ve always been fascinated by Job.
This story in the Bible, of how a man had EVERYTHING, and then, just like that, it was all gone. Taken away from him within just a few moments.
There is so much to learn from him. For me, by the end of the story, when he stays faithful to God throughout his great loss and suffering, I’m just in awe of his faith. In the end, he praises God, his faith and belief in Him is stronger than ever, and then he is blessed by God beyond measure. (“After Job had prayed for his friends, the LORD restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before.” Job 42:10).
But it’s the middle of the story that I can’t forget.
Job didn’t just mourn for a day and move on.
He lost everything. He lost the ones he loved. He grieved. He mourned. Job even cursed the day he was born.
I wonder why this story is in the Bible? For me, Job seems so real. He seems like you and I. He has feelings and emotions. He does what I think we all would do if faced with his situation. Or if we have in fact been there ourselves…faced with loss or pain and suffering.
Job seeks counsel from his friends, and they accuse Job of doing evil – that perhaps this is why tragedy struck his household. God later reprimands his friends, by the way.
What I see, though, is a man who is doing what is only natural.
He’s asking “Why?”.
He is seeking comfort from his friends, and perhaps answers. Isn’t that what we do? “Why did this happen to me?” “Why did this have to happen?”
Or, “this should never have happened.”
Have you ever asked this? I know I have. I’ve looked up to the skies above and asked Him why, about many things that have happened in my life.
And when I’ve asked God this question, I have not heard a reply. The heavens have not opened up in that moment and a voice called down from me and given me the answer and I then say, “Oh, okay! That’s why God. Thanks! Now I know!”
I get goosebumps when God does speak to Job: “Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said: “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you, and you shall answer me.”Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone— while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?” Job 38:1-7.
I don’t know about you, but just reading those verses and imagining that scene and God speaking to ME, I shudder. It puts me in my place. And it puts God in his rightful place. The Mighty One. The Creator of the Universe. The One who created me and gave me breath. Who gave me everything.
God speaks to Job for a long time. He uses Nature to show his power and that He is in control. That He runs the show. Not us.
I think it’s interesting that there isn’t necessarily a “why” answer from God. Yes, he shows Job who He is and that he maybe shouldn’t be questioning Him. But God doesn’t say, “Hey, here’s why I took your family from you.” Here’s why you experienced that heartache. That rejection. That suffering. That loss.
Sometimes I don’t think there’s a why for everything that happens.
Or perhaps we are not meant to know the why. Not in this lifetime.
That’s a hard pill to swallow. Hard to fathom. Hard to accept.
But, what are we going to do with knowing that? Does it mean that we aren’t going to wrestle with God and ask Him and wonder the reasons? Does it mean we put ashes on our face for a day, and then carry on and never look back?
I don’t think so.
Just look at Job. He did what is only natural, and probably what God expected would happen of Him. He mourned. He was sorrowful. He sought counsel and comfort from the world. He was left with questions and doubt.
But He turned to God. He had his time of this inner wrestling, yes, but He did not turn his back on God. One of the most powerful verses says, “In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.” Job 1:22
It’s easy to want to blame God. To blame someone. Anyone. To blame ourselves.
Though I think it’s natural to think and feel all these things, I don’t think we should stay stuck there. It’s easy to get stuck. To dwell. To turn away from God when bad things happen.
We can’t stay there. Can’t stay there forever. In that place of anger. Of doubt. Of questioning. Satan wants us to stay there. He wants us to turn our backs on God.
Sometimes there just isn’t as the saying goes, “a reason for everything.”
But there is a, what am I going to do now?How am I going to live the rest of my life? After the pain and hurt has happened, and you’re now living in the aftermath.
“There is a time for everything . . . a time to weep AND a time to laugh, a time to mourn AND a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:1,4). I believe in this so strongly. There IS a time to mourn. We have to grieve and mourn what we lost; to grieve over what should have been. And that is a process. Sometimes a very, very, very long journey.
But, there is a time to laugh. To dance. To be happy. To move forward. I don’t like the phrase, “move on,” because it sometimes can sound and seem insensitive. Though we may not want to look back, I think we are still going to. We aren’t not going to come out of those painful times without scars and wounds that are triggered now and again, but, we have to keep walking on. We eventually have to move forward. If we’re always looking back, we are held prisoner, and we are missing out on the beauty that does lie in our future. The blessings that will come upon us again -even if we can’t see it now. If we keep looking back, we can’t see where we are going. We can’t see the present and be thankful for it. We’ll just see the darkness behind us, and miss out on the light in front of us.
In the end, Job ends up praising God. Despite everything, this is what he does. May we strive to draw closer to God during times of trial. To bring our questions to God. But may we never turn our backs on Him or curse His name.
After all, where was I, or, where were you, when He laid the earth’s foundation?
I felt it. I felt it strongly today.
Walking across the parking lot after dropping my daughter off at pre-school, I saw another mom walking my direction. Her hair and makeup were perfect. She looked cool, calm, and collected. She held the hands of her two children, who looked just as fashionable as their mother. She walked with confidence. She was gorgeous.
I became suddenly aware of myself. Aware of my hair, that was just thrown up in a messy bun that I tried to make look somewhat pretty this morning. Aware of my outfit. Aware of my own daughter’s clothes; aware that she was not wearing Uggs or whatever the latest, most popular fashion is at the moment.
I wanted to run and hide.
You see, before I had walked out the door of my house that morning, I thought I had looked pretty; that even though I hadn’t washed my hair that morning and it wasn’t styled, that at least my face looked good. My face covered in makeup.
But, now, standing there in the parking lot, I felt something entirely different than I had a few minutes before. I felt it. I felt like I wasn’t good enough.
I felt like I wasn’t pretty enough.
I was comparing myself to this other woman; this complete stranger, and debasing my own value and outward beauty based on what I saw looking at her.
Call it insecurity, call it low self-confidence, call it shallowness…whatever it was in that moment, I did not like it. I did not like that feeling at all.
It reminded me back to high school. There was a courtyard area at my school that was known as “The Bricks.” The bricks is where all the “preps”, as they were called, congregated after lunch, and where they waited and hung out before the school bell would ring. There were hundreds of them. I wasn’t in this group in high school. I didn’t hang with the popular crowd. Some days, I hated that I wasn’t in that group, but I had my own group of friends whom I loved and cared about deeply. I always found myself searching out the “outcasts”…,the “loners” and befriending them. The quote “weird” ones. Not all of my friends were this way, but I did have quite a few of the ones who were a little different. I found that the “outcasts” shouldn’t have been cast out. They were amazing people. Friendly. Genuine. Funny. Unique. Creative. Deep, caring souls.
But I remembered today what it felt like to hold your breath as you have to walk through the group of people who you see, and who probably themselves believe and see themselves as better than you. To just want to get past them, so you don’t have to feel that feeling of not belonging. Of not being good enough.
It made me think about myself and where I’m at now. Life is a journey, and so is the journey of loving ourselves. There have been the days and years where my confidence and love for myself was as high as Mount Kilimanjaro. I loved myself – inside and out. I was proud of who I was. I think those times, I had a place of belonging. My senior year in high school, because of the amazing friends I had in my church youth group. Because I was a leader that year, and my friends and peers looked up to me. In college, because I found another place and group of people where I felt I belonged. Who told me and showed me that there was every reason in the world to see myself as awesome. Also, my parents and sister have always shown me so much love and given me words of affirmation to know how truly special I am. And then, I met a boy in 2009, a boy named Josh, (who later became my husband) who sent my self-confidence all the way up to the moon!
I think during those times, too, my walk with God was close. We were “tight.” I talked to Him often. I felt my worth from others, but most importantly, from Him. I knew He loved me and was proud of me. I had my days of doubt, yes, but overall, I was secure.
Where am I at now? It’s a journey, as I said, and there are events and things that take place in our lives that forever change us.
Over two years ago, I went through an event like this. Going through postpartum depression forever changed me.
In many ways, as one can imagine or if one has gone through something such as this, you can see the ways it has impacted you negatively. I could make a list of how it did so for me, but that’s not the point or what I want to focus on with these words I am writing.
In my deepest and darkest time of my life, I turned to God. I clung to Him. I talked to Him and prayed to Him more than I ever had. Almost every minute of every day. Pleading with him to heal me.
And He did.
And from that day onward, after winning the battle, I have changed. I have changed for the better in so many ways.
I have risen. I have blossomed and flourished. When you go through something like that, your heart opens up to life more than it ever has. For me, I was so thankful. I decided to help others. I had a confidence in myself, because I had beat something that had tried to take my life. And I had, with God’s help, beaten Satan.
And I wanted to LIVE. To truly live. To take advantage of this healing that had come to me. To take advantage of this body of mine that God created and breathed life into. I didn’t want to sit on my rear and be a stagnant waste of space. I have stepped out of my comfort zone in so many ways that I would have never dreamed of.
For the past two years since getting better, I would say and others around me too, I think would say, they have seen the positive changes in myself.
My self-confidence, however, has taken its ups and downs during this time period. One of those things I blame that on is PPD. When I have been in my low of lows, it’s then that I know or start to realize that Satan has gotten in the way between me and God. I haven’t been talking to God as much as I should. I haven’t been in his Word.
Instead, I’ve been in the world.
I’ve been seeking my worth from the world. From people. From their words. From my friendships. From my relationship with my husband. From family.
I’ve been seeking what only God can give me. My beauty is not found on the label on my clothes. It is not found in how perfect I can try and make my hair look. It is not found in the bright pink lipstick that I sometimes wear.
Yes, God did make me beautiful on the outside, which I need to strive constantly to see and believe this. But, my beauty should be ultimately found from within. That my heart and soul and spirit be beautiful. That my thoughts be pure and glorifying to God.
And my worth should come not from others, but from Him, the Lord God above; “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” (Psalm 139:13)
In God’s eyes, I belong. I belong to Him. I am his daughter. The daughter of a King. And in his eyes, I am enough. I am MORE than enough. And I am loved. I am loved and cherished by Him.
I should live my life every day with a grateful heart and where I can say, “I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:14)
And my hope is that the next time I see that woman or someone who in my eyes looks perfect to me – that I can say to myself, “She is beautiful . . .
And so am I.”
Ignorance is bliss, they say, and I believe this to be true sometimes. My husband and I were ignorant about this trail we were about to embark upon. The brochure and the sign at the head of the trail said it was 2 1/2 miles. From what I read and interpreted this meant 2 1/2 miles…total. Roundtrip. I thought this trail would be a walk in the park.
We began walking on the trail with the adrenaline, energy, enthusiasm, and excitement that awaits hikers as they begin their adventure. A new path…a new forest. A beautiful array of trees covered in moss that our eyes had never beheld, a vast emerald canopy above our heads. Ferns that felt like feathers as that lightly brushed against us as we passed beside them. We didn’t know where this trail would lead us. Would it lead us to the sea?
I was ready to accomplish something. I was seeking a challenge – for me, that’s part of what hiking is about. Little did I know, I was certainly about to have my mind and my body challenged.
As we walked along in the early morning hours, the cold rain dripped down on us and we could see our frosty breath. The cold air was invigorating. We didn’t see a soul on the trail; we had it to ourselves, something I long for. It was just my husband and I….and the tall, towering trees. It felt magical and I imagined I was in the fairy tale world of Mirkwood where the elves dwell and sing tales of old and have great feasts in the forest. We began to hear a rushing river and finally caught a glimpse of it through an opening in the trees, flowing down below us. We were excited. We were having fun. Every few steps, we would stop to take pictures or use our GoPro. The going was long, but I was okay with this, thinking to myself that we were already about halfway there. The going was also tough, as we dodged tree roots, and thousands of puddles of mud.
My husband Josh had downloaded an app that tracked our distance. We were hoping this was going to be a loop trail; to see new sights on our way back to the car park, and to not have to retrace our steps.
We then heard a sound that made our hearts skip a beat…the sound of the sea. Our pace naturally quickened as we were eager to hopefully catch a glimpse of the roaring waves of the Pacific.
At last, we rounded a bend and saw the thundering ocean. The view was breathtaking as the sun had peaked out from behind the clouds and was in its full glory…a rarity for this time of year on the Oregon coast. We paused for a moment to take it all in. There were surfers waiting in the water for the next wave to ride and we could hear their enthusiastic shouts even from where we stood, hundreds of feet above their bobbing heads.
All the hiking we had done this beautiful morning had been worth it for this wonderful moment – this view and to feel the warm sun upon our faces.
But we still weren’t at the end of the trail! I’m not a wildnerness or hiking expert, but I was pretty sure that we had already gone at least two miles and I was beginning to think that this was no loop trail at all, but that we’d have to go the way we had come. This was starting to get to me a little bit, and I was already feeling quite tired. Each step further that we took meant we would have to turn back and take that step back. I love hiking with all of my heart, but today I wasn’t feeling my best physically and something I am quite familiar with was starting to creep in.
We were about to turn back, as we looked at the map on our hiking app, and thinking that perhaps we had already made it to the end point of the Cape Falcon trail, and that now we were on the Oregon Coast Trail (which leads north up the Pacific Northwestern coast to Canada).
Just as I turned to walk back, we finally saw a couple of other people headed our way on the trail. They informed us that “yes, you are still on the Cape Falcon trail, and yes, you must keep going … just 10 more minutes until you reach the amazing viewpoint.”
Ok. Keep going.
That gave us a little push to continue onwards. It lit a fire, albeit a small one, within me. At this point, for me it was a bit of pride to be able to say that we had completed the trail, and, of course, we had come this far, so we had to keep going, even though I was starting to feel physically taxed. We finally made it to the lookout point of the trail, and the view of the expansive sea thousands of feet below us was phenomenal. It was unnerving to see a massive drop off and only a few bushes that served as a barrier between us. We continued on to another viewing point, which was a steep path downwards in order to get to the spot. I felt vertigo start to settle in somewhere within me and I was beginning to feel a little bit of fear. The waves thundered angrily, slamming against the massive rocks and boulders with such loud force, sending foamy waves raging down onto the other side of the rocks. I was amazed and in awe by the strength of the ocean. I was intimidated by its power.
By this time, I was ready to go back. I wanted to be off this trail. I wanted to be back in town, back to Cannon Beach, where all the people were. I was beginning to feel that we were isolated, and I wasn’t liking the thought of that.
I had barely stopped for a moment’s breath the entire hike, as I was just in the mode of “Go, go, go!” We had to hike back up the steep paths and my heart was racing and pounding. Josh was a little behind me, and I was a girl on a mission: “Just make it back to the car.”
It was happening. I was starting to panic.
I became aware of the fact that I had been holding my breath most of the hike. I had a cold, too, making it hard to breathe through my nose. I was thinking to myself, “I feel so weird. I feel so weird.” I began to feel lightheaded and dizzy. I felt weak.
I think the panic and anxiety had started to set in once I found out that we had to go back the way we had come – I was finally certain this was no loop trail. The app said we had walked four miles. That meant four miles back the way we had come. As I said, ignorance had been our bliss, but when reality set in that this was going to be an 8 miler as opposed to the 2 miles we had originally thought, I immediately felt disheartened and discouraged. I didn’t feel prepared for this.
My mind was two steps ahead of me and I walked as fast as I could, knowing each step I made would get me closer to where I wanted to be. Just back at that car park. I was envisioning and replaying what lay before us. And I knew how long it had taken to get to the viewing point, and that it would take us that long to get back to the car. The roaring of the ocean could still be heard, and I wanted to get away from it.
It didn’t take long. You see, it didn’t take long at all for the panic to set in. I was aware of everything and fear was overtaking me. These were some of my thoughts: I’d only seen about five people on this whole trail; where was everybody? We were so far away from our car, and away from civilization. What if I needed medical attention? How would they get to me? Why was my heart beating so fast? Why do I feel so weak? Why am I so exhausted? What if I can’t make it back to the car?
I finally stopped, turned around and told Josh that I felt weird. That I felt scared. I was feeling emotional and wanting to cry.
I told him all my symptoms. He was like, “Just stop baby. Stop and take a break. Breathe.”
No. I didn’t want to stop. I felt this urgency that we had to get back to the car. I wanted to be in our lodge, in our cozy room, away from the elements, and just sitting by the warm fire. I imagined this scene and this was my beacon of light to press onward, was thinking of the comforts of our “home away from home”. I realized how ravenous I was, and I dreamed up a feast waiting for me.
Josh, being the practical one, and me not being levelheaded at that moment, said, “Baby, you need to drink some water! You’re probably dehydrated.” Maybe he was right. Had I drank any water this entire time? Maybe a couple sips now that I thought about it. I said I was hungry, too, but I didn’t think we had packed any snacks. I felt like I was going to pass out.
Those moments were scary. Those moments of panic. I wanted so desperately to be out of that forest. “Get me out of here!” I felt like screaming, if I had had the strength. I couldn’t remember any of the “tools” I’ve learned along the way of how to deal with a panic attack. I grabbed the water bottle and guzzled down what I could, which helped me focus on trying to breathe through my nose. I had to calm myself down. I had some anxiety medicine in my backpack, but that didn’t even cross my mind at that moment. We did thankfully have some snacks in our packs, (thanks to Southwest Airlines for the peanuts and crackers) which I inhaled and I found an old protein bar. I said to Josh, “Let’s keep going.” The panic was still there and my only hope of escaping it was escaping this quiet, peaceful forest.
I started focusing on my breathing as we walked along and I continued eating my protein bar. My pace started to slow. I thought of how I would breathe in yoga, and focused as hard as I could on trying to have rhythmic breath and breathing slowly in and out through my nose. My breath deepened.
As we continued at a slower pace along the trail, the sound of the ocean subsided and was replaced by the quiet of the forest, and I felt a calm finally wash over my mind and body. I became suddenly aware of the beauty around me. The sun rays shining down into the forest around us, making the ferns and moss-covered trees an even more vibrant green than when we had seen them earlier that morning. The light and warmth from the sun brought me peace and comfort. I heard a bird singing for the first time I’d heard on the entire hike. The sound of quiet streams filled my ears. Strength was being renewed to my body.
I had gained some confidence in myself and felt proud that I didn’t need medicine to get through those moments. I was thankful that it had passed, those moments of panic. It wasn’t a full-on panic attack like I’ve had before, but it got pretty close.
It doesn’t take long for our minds to get ahead of us. For our thoughts to start racing. For the fear to take over all rational.
When you are in a state of panic, you can’t think clearly.
But I had made it through. And now, the forest was peaceful again, and I was calm.
As Josh and I continued walking at a slow pace back to the car, I found an energy I can’t explain take over. I was relieved and elated that the panic and anxiety had left me. I began thinking about what had just happened and all the reasons why I had gotten to that point.
When you’re hiking, there’s something about knowing you have to go back the way you came. You know the trail . . . you know what it looked like – you know all the obstacles that you encountered. A mighty tree that had fallen across our path before we came upon it, blocking our way. The lengths we had to go through to get past the tree. The river we had to cross – the feeling I had holding my breath walking steadily and cautiously on a fallen tree that was a bridge to cross the river. I knew the methodical steps I had to take as I stepped carefully around the deep, sloshy puddles of mud and the care I had to take to not trip over the endless tree roots springing up across the path.
I knew how long it had taken. That it had not been easy. That some parts of it had been challenging and made me want to give up and just turn back and not finish the trail.
And so, as I walked back, I thought about my moments of panic, and how it related to life. I thought to myself, “Don’t look too far ahead into the future.” For one thing, it can overwhelm you. Take one step at a time. Focus on the here and now. Don’t get ahead of the game. Be present in this moment.
You see, I had the whole journey back played out in my head, and in my head I remembered every little obstacle. Life is sometimes about perspective, to dwell on the puddles of mud and the steep and challenging parts, instead of thinking about the gentle sound of the streams as we passed beside them. I forgot about the magnificent tree at the start of the trail that was completely covered in soft moss that felt like a cloud to the touch of my hand.
And, then, I thought of something else.
I thought back to a dark time in my life. I thought about a journey that I had taken. A long and difficult one. I reflected back to when my daughter was first born, and I suffered from postpartum depression/anxiety. It reminded me of the “out and back” trail that we were currently on. I already knew what that journey (or, more rather, “battle”) looked like. I know that trail now, because I’ve walked down it. I remember every obstacle that stood in my way from reaching recovery – from getting to the end of my journey and back to where I wanted to be -which was to be healed. I know how long it took, and how hard it was; that it nearly took me down. I don’t ever want to walk that dark path again.
I have that fear. Why would one want to go back down the same path again, when they know how treacherous it had been? There are some days when that fear is very real and present, of having to go back there.
Perhaps we all have our times in life that we would not want to re-live and that we’d do just about anything to not have to go through it again. For we know what it looks like; what it felt like. What it did.
For us, on this particular trail called Cape Falcon, there wasn’t a new trail that suddenly or miraculously appeared on our way back to the car park. We took the same trail. But, I found that the way back wasn’t so bad after all. The obstacles I remembered from before weren’t as threatening. Maybe it was divine intervention, but the steps back to our car seemed to be quicker, thus getting us to the car park quicker. The path leveled out and we soon were in sight of our destination, where we had started from.
I know that I can’t live in fear, captive to the thought of having to go down that path of postpartum depression again. We cannot live in fear. For, maybe, if I do have to go down it again, I pray that the path will be easier than the one I’ve already seen and been on. That there will be a bridge across the puddles of mud. That there will be a railing along the tree that crosses the river, to bring me comfort and to keep me safe. That the trees blocking my way, causing me to want to give up, will have been removed from my way. That God will have straightened my path.
Or, maybe He will provide a fork in the road; a new path entirely – one in which I will not have to know that darkness again.
No, we can’t live in fear. We have to keep on going. We can’t turn back. It is worth every step you take, even if you have to drag yourself through the mud to get there to your destination.
And so it was for me.
We finally saw the moss-covered tree that we had seen earlier that morning and I felt rejoicing in my heart, as this beautiful tree meant we had made it! I was thankful to see this majestic tower reaching high up to the sky.
I then wrapped my arms around its trunk as far as they would go, and I hugged that tree with all of my might.
I was smiling and laughing.
I had made it.
“And the time came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
Flowers long to see the sun. They long for the spring. Flowers were meant to bloom forth from the earth. And when they do blossom after the cold and harsh winter, they shine with brilliant colors. They radiate. They stand tall and proud, for they know they are beautiful. The flowers know that being confined and imprisoned in a cage is not their fate. Not their destiny nor their purpose.
And so it is with us.
We were not put on this earth to remain tightly closed in a bud. Imprisoned. Not meant to be bound by fear. By self-doubt. By self-limitations. By anxiety. You name it…we all know what keeps each of us bound in chains.
We were meant to flourish.
I know what it’s like to remain tight in a bud. And I don’t like being there. And then there have been the times when I did not, could not, and would not remain there. But I found myself blossoming. Opening my arms to adventure. To trying new things. To stepping outside of my comfort zone. To looking outside of myself and helping others. There have been times I have seen myself truly blossom, and it has been beautiful.
I’ve seen myself bloom the most since my daughter was born two years ago. I fought a battle the first few months of her life, an illness called postpartum depression. I fought that battle with every fiber of my being. I still have scars and I am wounded from that battle. That was a season. A season that I will call my dark winter.
That season of my life occurred during the fall and winter months. I remember we had an early spring that year, and my healing coincided with the sun coming out from behind the clouds. My healing came when the rain stopped falling from the sky. It came as the flowers rejoiced with me that the darkness had passed.
It was a season. A temporary season that did not last forever. At the time, every day felt like a lifetime. But the point is, that the winter passed. And the spring came.
I was healed. I had survived.
And, so then, I blossomed.
I seized the day. I thanked God for the breath in my body. For vanquishing away all the dark and scary thoughts. For taking my tears away. I thanked Him for my beating heart.
I was more thankful for life than I had ever been. I lived with zeal and had a newfound energy. A desire to get all I can out of this life, and to give. I helped others who were fighting the battle I had fought. I had new eyes. A new perspective. More compassion and understanding in my heart for those who stood where I had stood.
I created a support group. I was a leader. I did public speaking within my support group; something completely out of my comfort zone. But I had to. I had to help others. I wanted to. I shared my story. Over and over.
I did things I never dreamed of doing. Like going to boot camp. We’re talking about a girl here who took a bowling class as her athletic/P.E. course in high school! Who just simply doesn’t run. Not ever.
And I started doing yoga . . . something which I had previously always just rolled my eyes at.
Was I intimidated? I can say with a resounding “YES!”, I was. But I did it anyway. And I found out it wasn’t so bad. In fact, I found myself loving both boot camp AND yoga. I began finding that trying new things was kind of exhilarating. That I was filled with a newfound confidence that I was able to overcome my hesitations, doubts, and fears.
I don’t ever want to remain tight in a bud. I want to blossom. Every day. I want to encourage and inspire others to blossom. There is a world of opportunity out there, of adventures, just waiting for you. The possibilities for your life are endless. I love the saying, “Bloom where you are planted”. Go. Seek. Find. Right where you are now. Make the most of every day.
Be like the wildflowers in the valley surrounded by the mountains. They see the harshest and coldest of winters. Perhaps you are in that place right now. But when spring and summer come, the valley is covered in a rainbow of every color imaginable. Each flower is unique. They stand tall and proud. And they dance.
They dance in the wind. They dance for they know what it was like to be hidden away from the sun. To know only cold and darkness. And so, they rejoice with all their hearts to see the sun again.
May we be like the wildflowers.
May we dance in the wind.
You know what I’m talking about. In this day and age that we live in—it’s so easy to get caught up in the game. To get caught up in the race. The competition of life. To want to have our makeup looking flawless, our hair always done or to be proud that we can pull off looking like a “hot mess”. To be wearing the best and most fashionable clothes. To be making more money than our neighbor. To have a better-looking marriage or relationship than the next one. To have a profile picture that will make others envious. To have traveled to more places than “you.” To have more friends and followers on Facebook than we even know what to do with. To be eating more healthy and to be a better cook—wife, mother, woman, and all the above, because we have an Instagram-worthy, over-filtered picture to prove it.
To have more “Likes” and “Hearts” on our posts on Facebook than you. That will sure boost your ego, or the lack of them leave you feeling down in the dumps.
And the list goes on.
Man, do we appear to have it all together! Just look at our Facebook or our Instagram and you’ll think, “They’ve got it made! Made in the shade!”
I’ve been there. I do it. I try not to, but, oh yes, I still do it. I’ve found myself in the competition and the endless, fruitless, vain, and disappointing trap of comparison. I’ve wanted my life to look all good. “I’m okay! I’m okay! My pictures are here to prove it!” But that is not always the truth.
Go to church and you’ll see us sitting in our pews. Smiling loudly and singing enthusiastically for all to hear, when that’s really the last place we want to be that day because we’re hurting. We’re hurting and we feel like all around us is perfection. That can be discouraging. We feel as if we could never bare our souls and our wounds in the place where we need to be most vulnerable. The front pew is always empty every Sunday. Why aren’t we going forward? Why am I not going forward? Why aren’t we confessing our struggles? Why aren’t we being vulnerable? I see more vulnerability outside the church than I do within. That is a shame. There is a movement, a conversation in our society about being vulnerable. It’s all around us. If you haven’t seen it yet, look around harder. Books are even being written about the topic.
There is a hunger in our hearts. A longing to see others rise up. To rise up from their pew, from behind their computer, from behind their photo-shopped photographs and to take off their masks. To not only rise up, but to speak up, and to be real.
This world is broken.
We are broken.
We are wounded.
We are hurting.
We have scars that we hide.
And we need help.
Where does this help come from? I believe it comes or should come from different places. First, and always, we need God.
But we also need each other.
This is where vulnerability comes in.
One of the definitions for the word “vulnerable” found on the website http://www.dictionary.com is, “capable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt, as by a weapon.”
Woah. That will stop you in your tracks. And it might make you want to run for the hills. The risk that is involved with being vulnerable is what makes it so beautiful. It is knowing that, by baring your soul, you can get wounded in the process, but you still have the bravery and willingness to do so. And you don’t do it for yourself, you do it for others. That is one of the bravest things I could imagine anyone to do. Vulnerability is a soldier going to battle with no armor on.
Darts might be thrown you way—judgment, looks, whispers behind your back or words spoken to your face, but you must stay the course. Stand your ground. For you never know the power your vulnerability has—the change that it can create in the person next to you and in this world.
In Brene Brown’s book, “Rising Strong,” she discusses vulnerability and says that, “…hiding out, pretending, and armoring up against vulnerability are killing us: killing our spirits, our hopes, our potential, our creativity, our ability to lead, our love, our faith, and our joy.” She is exactly right. When we are vulnerable, it can create a chain reaction. We begin to understand one another better—we begin to really see them, and we are able to be seen. And, by stepping out in battle without any armor on, we can learn to love others more fully. We can empathize.
I’ve found that, through personal experience, it’s in the aftermath of sharing our stories and struggles to others that we can be hit with conflicted feelings. We want to sometimes reach out and grab the pieces of our masks that we’ve taken off and we want to desperately grab each piece and bring it back to us and cling those pieces close to our sides. We feel the need to put the pieces back together and put our mask back on again.
I envision the scene from the musical film “Phantom of the Opera” with Gerard Butler and Emmy Rossum. It’s a powerful scene. Emmy’s character, Christine, desperately wants to see what the Phantom is hiding and what lies behind his mask. She catches him off guard and can’t help herself and removes the mask from his face. We, the audience, then see what he has hidden. A face full of scars. Memories and pain associated with those scars. He’s never wanted anyone to see that side of him. He becomes enraged at her and rips his mask back from her hands and instantly puts it back on his face. It is heartbreaking. Your heart feels pain for the Phantom and you find yourself desperately wanting to help him, just as Christine does. When you learn the story behind how he got those scars, your heart aches even more.
When we do take off our masks, we can then have several thoughts:
“Oh my goodness, what are they all thinking about me?” And you can dwell there for a very long time and imagine all the thoughts people might be having about you.
“I regret letting others see me.”
“I want to hide back in my safe cocoon. I want to become a hermit and hide myself from the world.”
You will have those days. The anxiety that comes with opening up is real. It’s natural and it’s okay. It’s okay to feel all those things. It’s normal to feel a delayed reaction of shame about all that you exposed about yourself, whether that be to a group of people, or to one individual. It’s a process. It’s a learning experience; you’re going to find out some people will, unfortunately, shun you or judge you, but, more importantly, you will find your tribe. Your tribe that will encourage you and support you and bring light to your life. Cling, cling, cling to those people. Find them. Find those who can love and accept you for your story and for what you have to say.
By never showing any vulnerability, we are hurting not only our own hearts, but the hearts of those around us.
We hurt our own hearts by living a lie. By parading ourselves around like our life is perfect—like we are perfect—when we know what the truth is when we go home and when we look in the mirror. We begin to love the lie that we are living and the walls of silence that we build around us to guard us. But the hurt is in that we know the truth. We know we are being deceitful. And that eats at us. We feel a twinge of guilt when someone beside us falls down, and, we may be there to pick them up, but, in the process, we don’t get down in the dirt with them. We don’t dare say, “hey, I’ve been there,” or, “hey, I AM there,” or reveal any part of us. We keep our walls of protection up. We keep silent.
We hurt the hearts of those around us by never showing any vulnerability. By never revealing any weaknesses or imperfections to others, our actions, or rather, our inaction, can lead those who are watching us down a path of despair. They may already feel in despair, or “broken beyond all repair” and then when they see your world of perfection that you’ve created, they then see their own and they hang their head in shame.
Your vulnerability can help someone not feel so alone. That feeling that you are alone or having the thought that you are all alone can cause you to isolate yourself further away from the world. That is not healthy for the heart, mind, soul, or spirit. We need each other.
Even though I have found myself being more vulnerable with those around me as of late, I’m still scared. I’m scared to be vulnerable with others—it’s not easy and I’m not sure it ever will be. Why? Because it IS scary. As I said before, I think one of the biggest fears about being vulnerable is saying to ourselves, “What are they going to think of me?” It’s hard because there is risk involved.
I’m scared to write. I’m scared to write what I’m writing about right now. I’ve been scared to tell others my story. To open up and admit to someone, “hey, I’m struggling.” Scared, scared, scared. Yes, that word—that feeling is there—but you know what? You do it anyway. You open your heart out. You be real. You be bold. You start showing others what makes you you and why you’re you. You show them you.
And when you start showing you, who you really are to those around you, I believe that you will see a whole new world start opening up right in front of you. That world—the world where you’re being vulnerable—is not going to always look pretty. In fact, it will, some days, look and feel messy—you will feel messy. But, I also believe that it will be a world that you will delight in and that will fill you with wonder and awe. For it will bring you freedom. It will open your eyes. It will open doors and bring people into your life. It will open your heart. It will bring freedom to others. It will bring peace. Your courage to be vulnerable has the power to loosen someone else’s chains. It can help bring them healing.
It can bring them Life.
But, we’ve got to take off our masks.
What keeps us from going? What keeps us from doing? Going where we want to go, doing what we want to do? What keeps us from pursuing our dream job, from traveling to our dream place? What keeps us from pursuing our dreams, or something that is calling to us, but we are afraid to answer that call?
For those of you who know my husband Josh and I pretty well, in our first year of marriage, we did something pretty crazy. We did something most people don’t do. We followed our dreams. We went for it! I had always dreamed of just VISITING the country of New Zealand after watching The Lord of the Rings trilogy and being a huge nerd fan, but we decided visiting wasn’t going to be good enough for us. Why not LIVE there?
So, we quit our jobs, sold most of our belongings, including my bright red Mustang that I loved, got a working holiday visa, said goodbye to our families, and moved across the world. 7,639 miles away from home, to be exact. In our first year of marriage, which is supposed to be the hardest year (and which was, by the way, haha), we went to a foreign country when we were still in foreign territory as newlyweds and getting used to married life. But, we did it. And, it was AMAZING. “It’s just you and me, kid.”, is what it felt like. We met some wonderful people through the church and some who have become our lifelong friends who we can’t wait to return and see them again. But, for part of the time, it was just me and him, traveling through the rolling hills in a little red car, driving on the opposite side of the road, and just vagabonding from one destination to the next. I usually like to have a plan, but it didn’t quite work like that…we did have potential jobs lined up, working at backpacker type places, but everything was up in the air pretty much. At that time, it was a little scary and intimidating. But, it was also fun! And looking back now, I’d say it was actually pretty awesome just following the road or following your nose to the next destination. We passed up on a lot of potential jobs mainly due to the accommodation setup, but there were some jobs that fell into our laps by just driving around.
If I hadn’t followed my dream, I could never say that I went apple-picking before, in a foreign country! I wouldn’t be able to say that I climbed on top of a volcano, and that I hiked an active volcano, which did erupt just a couple months after we climbed it. A 19 kilometer day long hike, that was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, that truly tested your endurance and your mental strength. I wouldn’t be able to say that I got to feel like a hobbit as I walked through the real life Shire from “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” movies. I also wouldn’t be able to say that I got to TRY OUT to be an extra FOR The Hobbit trilogy. I wouldn’t be able to say that I’ve visited the Maori village of Te Whakarewarewatangaoteopetauaawahiao. This crazy and complex sounding name is a geothermal Maori village located in Rotorua, where we got to see what the a day in the life of a Maori looks like; how they cook their food underground from the heat of its setting and watch them perform and sing their traditional songs and dances. During their song and dance, they make their eyes get really big and then stick their tongues out at you, which I found to be quite amusing. Oh, and the village has a wonderful smell of rotten eggs due to the sulphur emissions. Furthermore, If I hadn’t followed my dream, I wouldn’t be able to say that I witnessed my husband zorbing (globe-riding is the recreation or sport of rolling downhill inside of an orb). You get the point . . .
Josh and I relied solely on each other, and on God, of course, who guided us along our journey and then found us a perfect job for Josh, just when our options and money were about to run out, He provided for us. He found a job working in the capital city of Wellington, working at the Earthquake Commission, helping thousands of people who had lost their homes and livelihood due to the devastating earthquakes that had struck the city of Christchurch a few months earlier. I was able to be free, and not have to work. I got to do what I love, which is write, and I blogged about our travels while living there. We lived in a flat that overlooked the bay, and that was at the very southern point of the North Island, so I was a witness to all the ferry ships coming in from the South Island, and the airplanes flying into the airport. I got to see people coming and going, perhaps following their dreams, too, of visiting the magnificent landscape that New Zealand has to offer. As newlyweds, Josh and I clung to each other; it was such an adventure, and we grew closer faster, I think, than if we had just stayed at home. I got to live my dream, and now, I can’t wait to go back.
Why am I talking about our living abroad in New Zealand? To brag? No, well, maybe just to say that I am so proud of us for doing that, and I wouldn’t change any of it. I also say it to encourage others who are considering doing something that sounds “crazy” or unrealistic. It may seem overwhelming and intangible at first, whether because of money or just the flat out practicality of it. But, it can be done, just take the small steps, step by step, and GO FOR IT!
And now, there are things in my life that are calling to me. There are things that have always called to me, some from the time I was a little girl. One dream I always had was to go to Africa, yes, the very cliche mission land to go to, and visit an orphanage. Not only that, but to write a children’s book, and then read my book as the little children sit around me in a circle and listen to my story. And to have the proceeds go to that particular orphanage or other orphanages in the area as well. And in reality, I might have an opportunity to do that, very soon, in fact. Not to Africa, but an opportunity has presented itself to go visit orphans, like I have always dreamed of, in Costa Rica. I am undecided on it at this point, 85% sure I want to and need to go, but something is holding me back. I’m not sure what. And maybe that’s the question that holds us all back. That 15 %. Such a small number compared to 85, but, man, is it loud!
That 15% is all the reasons why I SHOULDN’T go. Why I can’t. Why I am incapable. Why it’s not practical. We can all relate. It doesn’t have to be my scenario, necessarily, but pretty much any situation where you are passionate about something or have dreamed about it, and you’re about to take that leap of faith, you’re almost close, so close actually, at the very edge and about to step off that ledge and leap, hoping you fly. We come so close to that point, but, more often than not, we close our eyes in shame, and turn back around, living in regret and wondering whether or not we would have flown if we had taken that leap. So, we turn around, and we go back to what’s safe. To what we know. To what we’ve always known. And that, my friend, is called an opportunity lost. A dream left to float in the wind.
Another dream I’ve had is to open up a Bed and Breakfast in France or Italy. If you haven’t learned by now, I LOVE to travel. I get bored being in one place for too long, because I know there is so much out there, so much to see! So many people to meet, different kinds of food to taste, different stories to hear, and to come back and to have a tale to tell yourself. I dream of one day hiking the Inca Trail all the way up to the sacred mountain of Machu Picchu. I dream of spending a week or two hiking from hut to hut in the Swiss Alps. I want to climb to the rooftop of Africa, and stand on the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. My dreams that have been dormant because of a stupid illness called postpartum depression are coming back alive, and coming back with a vengeance. The fire is strong. With my healing that has really seemed to be happening more so within these past couple of months, I am finding myself again. The dreamer. But not only the dreamer, the do-er. Josh and I are people of action; we’re not just all talk. I am finding my gypsy soul again; my passion for life, for traveling, for helping other people. I think a quote that definitely describes me in a nutshell is by Isabelle Eberhardt, “A nomad I will remain for life, in love with distant and uncharted places.”
And I will travel to those distant and uncharted places. I will not let anything stand in my way. Sometimes it’s money, but so far, we have found out that God always provides. If you want to go, GO. Yes, it may take time, and you may have to cut out on things and have a tight budget, but if you want to travel somewhere that you have always dreamed of, then, why not? “Well, I have kids”, or, “Well, my job”. Guess what? More times than not, it will work out. You will get the money. You will find someone to take care of the kids, if you don’t end up actually wanting to take them with you. It won’t be the end of the world to your job if you take a few days to yourself and pursue your dreams.
One of my favorite quotes is by Saint Augustine. He says, “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” I wholeheartedly agree with his thoughts, and I know I have so many more pages myself to discover, that I can’t wait to discover. But, I don’t want this to be just about traveling. That quote can apply to life. It’s not just about not traveling. It’s about not living, truly living life. You miss out on the world, not necessarily by not traveling, but by not being and doing. By living only for yourself. By not getting out of your comfortable chair, from your comfortable house in your comfortable neighborhood, and spending your time or your comfortable paycheck on yourself. There are so many grand experiences waiting for us in this life, sometimes opportunities that are SCREAMING at us, but we just ignore them and say, “not now,” or “that’s not for me.”
And you know that 15% of doubt that we have? I imagine sometimes that’s what screams to us, instead of the 85% telling us we should do it, or should go. We overlook all the reasons we should do something, or CAN do something, and we listen to that voice of self-doubt, or the negative voice in our heads. Call it Satan, call it reason, call it whatever you want, but I think it’s pretty dang annoying whatever it is! I imagine a tiny little chihuahua. They are so little, but they make the most obnoxious, loud, yelps that can drive a person crazy and wake up an entire neighborhood. They are so headstrong and defiant, and they demand their presence to be known, and man, do you notice their presence, though tiny they be. That’s the 15%. Now imagine; a beautiful, quiet, snow-filled forest. Not a sound as your eyes gaze across this picturesque scene; but then, your eyes see a huge, majestic and magnificent wolf, just staring at you. It doesn’t say anything…doesn’t bark, begging for your attention, but it just stares at you, its eyes piercing your soul. That’s the 85%.
“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure,” writes Paulo Coelho, in his novel, The Alchemist. Oh yes. And all the “what if’s” that come with that. “What if it doesn’t work out?” Sometimes, it’s not just the obvious circumstances such as finances that stand in the way of something, but it is that we doubt ourselves. We doubt our capabilities. It’s human nature to do so. To use a biblical example, Moses even doubts himself. First of all, we see his fear.
“Then Moses answered, ‘But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you.’ The Lord said to him, ‘What is that in your hand?’ He said, ‘A staff.’ And he said, ‘Throw it on the ground.’ So he threw it on the ground, and it became a serpent, and Moses ran from it (emphasis added). But the Lord said to Moses, ‘Put out your hand and catch it by the tail’—so he put out his hand and caught it, and it became a staff in his hand—‘that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.’” [Exodus 4:1-5]
Often times, we run from what we think is a snake, instead of seeing that what God has given us is a staff. A staff to lead. You don’t have have to part the Red Sea to be a leader, and the staff doesn’t even necessarily have to represent being a leader, but just something that God has given us that we can use. Our talents, our dreams, our ideas.
Furthermore, the story goes on with the dialogue between Moses and God and Moses says to God, “‘Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.’’ [Exodus 4:10]. Moses is coming up with reasons why he can’t go lead the people. Self-doubt. “I am NOT”, he says. He is being negative and saying why he is incapable of doing what God asks of him. He’s listening to that loud 15% inside of his head, instead of the 85% of why he should and why he IS capable. For one, God is on His side and asking him to do this! But it’s human nature to come up with all the reasons of why not to go, why not to be, why not to follow your dream. In fact, he even goes on to say, “‘Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.’” [Exodus 4:13.] When we read further, we learn that God then became angry with Moses. If I were God, I would be too! Not only is Moses doubting himself, which I’m sure God doesn’t like, he is doubting GOD.
On the other hand, there is a biblical example of someone who was willing and who trusted the Lord wholeheartedly and gave no indication that he doubted himself or God. Isaiah 6:8 reads, “And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ Then I said, ‘Here am I! Send me.’” Wow! The use of the exclamation mark in the context really emphasizes, I think, Isaiah’s pure enthusiasm and excitement to go! No questions asked. “God, I’m here!” How we should all be like that! Instead of making a list of all the reasons not to go, or not to do this or that, we should be eager to say yes. We have to be practical to a point, of course. This can apply to so many instances in our lives. Not just necessarily going on a mission trip like I’m considering, or going for my dream job one day of working in real estate or eventually being our own boss and owning a B & B in a foreign country. You all have things….dreams, hopes, ideas, desires, that have been placed on your hearts, some of you for as long as you can remember. There may be a very logical and valid reason why you have not pursued that, and that’s okay. But for most of us, it’s time to toss the list in the trash and kick the obnoxious chihuahua in our heads to the curb. It’s time to GO. It’s time to DO.
And then, you may very well find the words of Paulo Coelho to be true:
“And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
It paralyzes you. Sometimes, quite literally. It can paralyze your body. I can vividly remember a time when fear left me trembling at the knees, and I felt the panic rapidly taking over my body.
I was standing on top of a mountain. Not a small hill, let me tell you. No, we were standing on rocky boulders at 14,000 feet in the rocky mountains of Colorado—Mount Bierstadt. We only had a few more feet to go until we were to reach the summit, but the natural elements began to intimidate me and I started to lose my grip; my grip on reality. When you are that high in elevation, the winds are cruel and whip your body around and slaps your hair across your face. The wind seems angry. To me, it felt like it was out to get me at that moment. I felt so vulnerable.
When you stand at the bottom of the mountain looking at your task ahead of you of reaching your summit and bagging your first “14’er” as people of Colorado refer them to, it of course looks challenging. But that’s what drives you and gives you the adrenaline. The will power and desire more than anything to conquer this beast. But down below, you are safe. You have not encountered the elements yet.
As we were near our summit, I felt my legs start shaking as I saw the drop off of the mountain not far to our right. The boulders we had to scramble over were huge, and all I could imagine, in my fear, was that I would fall and that would just be the end of it. The “fight or flight” feelings were settling in and taking over. I wanted to escape. I wanted to escape and run away from this situation. I wanted off this mountain. To make my fear worse, I saw clouds in the distance and snow falling from them. The snow was headed our way. “We are going to get trapped on this mountain!” I thought to myself.
We finally made it to Bierstadt’s summit, but I was terrified. I was breathing hard and my whole body was trembling. I told my husband, Josh, “I can’t do this. I can’t get back down.” I couldn’t imagine scrambling over those big boulders again. Each step was a risk.
It was time to get back down, off the mountain. The snow was approaching our way, quickly. It was time to leave. But I couldn’t. I literally could not find the courage to get up from where I sat down on one of the boulders. I said over and over again, irrationally, “I can’t do this, I can’t do this!” And I started crying. I was shaking so bad from my nerves. I was paralyzed. I think I might have even said something utterly ridiculous, like, “you are just going to have to leave me here.” My safety was ahead of me, by simply taking the steps to crawl over the boulders, but my fear stood in the way. I was putting myself in danger by remaining on the mountain . . . everyone else was starting to race off the mountain for they saw the snow coming too. I could imagine the white-out…I could see it all in those moments of panic. I don’t know how Josh did it. I don’t know what he said to me, perhaps he remembers, but he somehow knocked sense into me and gave me the courage and confidence to believe in myself that I could do this.
So, I took the first step. And then the next step. And the next. It was difficult as my legs were trembling but each step in the right direction and knowing I was getting closer to getting out of this dangerous situation gave me confidence and I soon found the shaking was lessening and my steps were more confident. I wasn’t crawling like a baby over the boulders anymore! I was conquering them!
Fast forward about two and a half years later. I am in a similar situation. Yep, a new mountain I have to conquer. Postpartum depression.
It also left me paralyzed. Some days, I literally felt that I could not move. That I could not get out of bed. I could not get off the couch. I was afraid to even walk around the house, because the anxiety was so high and my thoughts might start racing or the depressive thoughts might swarm my mind. I’d stay glued to the couch, finding something to obsess over, to distract my thoughts, whether that was staying connected to Facebook or I would research all there was to know about postpartum depression. I even started working on a research paper. Knowledge is power, they say, and I believe that wholeheartedly. But I was afraid. I was afraid of being left alone, because I didn’t want to be alone with my thoughts. Thoughts that told me “You are never going to get better.” “You are always going to have this”. “This postpartum depression will just turn into regular depression and will never go away.” “You are always going to suffer.” “This is going to take your life.” These intrusive thoughts filled me throughout the day when I was at my worst. I was so depressed. My psychiatrist diagnosed me as having SEVERE postpartum depression and anxiety. I felt so hopeless. I felt afraid to walk into certain rooms because that’s where I had had a panic attack and where I’d had terrifying nightmares or feelings of impending doom and gloom. It felt like the depression was limited to those rooms, that they were dangerous rooms, and I had to avoid them.
These intrusive, “Bad thoughts” as I would call them, some thoughts that were even suicidal, were the boulders, like on Mount Bierstadt, that I had to overcome. With each fleeting thought that I had, I overcame them. The fear of those thoughts chilled me to the bone, but I knew they were not me, they were not Lindsey. And with each passing day of my journey with PPD, it was as though each day was climbing over another boulder. A baby step, that yes, sometimes, I literally crawled on the floor and lay there and lay crying and wailing like a baby that beat out my 3 month old’s crying episodes. I was pathetic. But I was trying. I was trying SO hard. To make it through each day.
When I would lay there on my boulder, or couch as it was when I was going through PPD, or even laying in bed, afraid to get up and face the day and what it might bring me, my family gave me the pep talks to get off of the foreboding mountain. To get back down to safety. On to flat ground, where the beautiful green grass and wildflowers awaited me….where happiness and normalcy was compared to the boulders that I was scrambling over at the time. My husband, again, gave me the pep talk every day for the three months that I suffered the most. Sometimes, several pep talks a day. “You can do this. You are going to get better. THIS IS JUST TEMPORARY!”
I remember after climbing Mount Bierstadt, I had SUCH relief when we were on straight, level paths. And when I saw our car waiting for us in the parking lot. My legs were killing me. I was in control by now, and felt so happy that I was back in the beautiful valley. As we drove back home, I thought to myself, like in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” movie with Jim Carrey, how when he’s sliding down the mountain in his sled he totally freaks out and almost throws up because he is terrified what might happen to him as their sled races down a mountain past trees and huge rocks that could crush their sled. When he gets back down off the mountain and regains control of the sled and his mind, he says, “Woah. I almost lost my cool back there!” That’s how I felt and how I felt many times during my PPD experience. I would totally lose sense of reality and rationality when I had my panic attacks.
But the great thing is, Mount Bierstadt didn’t stop me. I climbed two more 14’ers after that experience, and I had SO much fun and it was amazing reaching the top of those summits. My confidence was back and I didn’t let fear stand in the way. I still plan on climbing more mountains, with one of my biggest dreams being conquering Long’s Peak, known for being extremely challenging. In fact, a little side note, but we named our daughter after Isabella Bird, a brave woman in the 1800’s who rode across Colorado on a horse, traveling all around, by herself, and she climbed Long’s Peak…in a dress! Alongside Rocky Mountain Jim, a man with a bad reputation, but someone whom she had compassion on and tried to reach out and help him out of his darkness he was facing. I suggest you look up the story of Isabella Bird, and read her story, “A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains.”
You know what the other great thing is? Postpartum depression didn’t stop me. That beast tried to take me down. It tried so hard. I conquered that mountain and made it safely to the valley of beautiful wildflowers, which is where I’ve wanted to be all along. There are still some days when the boulders get in my way, and the Fear, but sometimes we just have to kick fear to the curb. It keeps us from living life fully….keeps us from enjoying moments, opportunities, relationships, dreams. The beautiful valley I am in now is me fully recovering. It’s me having less and less days of anxiety and depression. It’s me looking at my daughter who I used to couldn’t look at without being thrown into a panic attack, but looking at her now with love and laughter. It’s laughing at her as I’m rocking her and she sucks her thumb and tries to find the corner of her blanket and then starts flicking the corner with her tiny little finger. The wildflowers are in those little, but precious moments, moments that I want to enjoy and savor for all time.
You can conquer whatever mountain you are facing. You can conquer your fears! It may take scrambling over the boulders in your way, slowly, and you may feel like a baby as you crawl over them, but those boulders will soon be behind you. And you will look back behind you at them, and you will laugh. You will laugh at them. For they did not take you. You won.
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
-Franklin D. Roosevelt
“Forget Everything and Run
Face Everything and Rise”
Day 11 of our North Island holiday (April 10th, 2012)
“Don’t dance on a volcano.” ~French proverb
So I was going to be Bilbo, and get to climb my big mountains after all. Or, shall I say, volcanoes. There has always been something so alluring to me in the journey of climbing a mountain, and the breathtaking, rewarding view from the top after a wearisome and exhausting struggle. When I was a little girl, I was always outside playing in the dirt and climbing trees, I’ve always had the need to be in the wild, appreciating God’s creation. I feel like a different person when surrounded by the quiet solitude of nature. Being outdoors heightens your senses; you can breathe more deeply and you notice all the little smells—every flower, every weed, tree bark, every pine needle that falls from the trees, and every grain of sand you trample beneath your feet. I remember saying to myself growing up, “I’m going to climb Mt. Everest one day!” Piece of cake. And I would summit Kilimanjaro in Africa; with a lion, tiger, leopard, and cheetah all by my side (for moral support). Going to church camp every summer, the highlight was always hike day when we would climb Mt. Sinai in the mountains of New Mexico. It was always super tough and I thought I would never make it, but I always pushed myself hard, and to be in front. I wanted to lead the pack; I did not want to be in second…I hated being passed. If it killed me, I would be in front, by George! I didn’t ever end up being first, however, but by the end of the steep climb, it was enough just to make it to the top. I will never forget those moments that impacted my life forever standing high above the world, gasping at the view of the valley spread out below me and being above the other mountain ranges. There was a God. I felt him up there on that mountain and felt him hold my hand as the goose bumps formed on my skin after hearing the resounding echo of all the camper’s voices shouting “PRAISE GOD!” in the youth group song, “Pass It On.” I have climbed mountains in Colorado, with peaks reaching over 14,000 feet, passing wildflowers of pink, purple, yellow, and blue along the way and seeing remnants of the winter snow slowly melting away. I think that is one of the prettiest scenes I’ve ever seen. The rush you get, still puffing and gasping for breath, heart pounding, as you see how far you came and the reward in knowing you did that; you conquered the mountain—that feeling is something I feel is hard to surpass.
Josh and I were ready to conquer our mountain. To conquer a mountain in New Zealand, Wow! The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is the most popular day hike in all of New Zealand, and we had been waiting to climb this months before arriving in the country from the pictures and videos we saw online and the emerald and turquoise pools lying in the middle of the volcanic wasteland. The Discovery Lodge we were staying at, when we were checking in the night before, the owner was trying to convince us to book our transportation to the crossing with their van. We thought that would be quite convenient until she said that it would be leaving at 5:45 in the morning. Say what?? It was a little more expensive than the transport we had actually already booked with Adventure HQ that we had stopped by a few minutes the previous day and chatted with the nice lady who gave us tips on hiking the crossing. We had considered cancelling, but imagining us having to wake up that early seemed insane and pointless. She had a pretty good argument saying we would beat all the other people (there would be busloads and vanloads of people arriving at the crossing the same time we would) and have time to enjoy and not be in a rush to get back to the bus. We would remember her words . . . later.
We got up still pretty early on Tuesday morning and we had already packed our daypacks and loaded up with food. I was so ready to embark on this new adventure and feel like true explorers and trampers. It was a little cloudy that morning, but the forecast was expecting clear skies that afternoon; absolutely perfect hiking weather to provide ample views. We left our lodge and drove to the crossing transport, then loaded up in the van with three other adventurous trampers. The waiting part is what can get to us; in whatever situation that may be; waiting for an answer, waiting for the airplane, waiting in an emergency room for news of your loved one, waiting to find out whether or not you passed that test. It’s the unknowing part . . . encountering a place you’ve never been before . . . a mountain we were told is fairly easy to climb, and wondering if you will be able to conquer this beast after all as it looms above you. It had looked much smaller the evening before as we stared at it from our lodge. I started thinking again all the things I do before doing something like this, what if, what if. Thankfully the drive wasn’t too long. Once we turned onto the dirt road and were driving straight towards the mountains, then the adrenaline and excitement started kicking in. We arrived at the car park to see loads of other hikers being dropped off, and we got out, smelling the fresh, pure morning air, and seeing the clouds hugging the mountains and slowly streaming away to give us a view of its grandeur. At that moment I found it reassuring to be surrounded by so many people; made me feel safe and like this had to be attainable. Everyone’s enthusiasm was infectious…adventurers in search of lofty heights to stake their claim.
Let me tell you, first of all, how much distance this day-long hike covered. 19.4 kilometers. That means 12 miles. We knew this beforehand, and what did this sound like to us? Easy as pie. It was estimated that on average it takes between 6 to 8 hours to complete, including stopping for breaks and to eat lunch. We arrived at 8:00 a.m.; our transport had three departing times: 7:00, 8:00 and 9:00. Pickup times were: 3:00, 4:00 and 5:30.
The first few minutes we started our Great Walk I was gloating; I felt so happy and brave as we were walking on straight, flat paths as the volcano was getting closer in view and seeing the clouds slowly vanish. We both were using our walking sticks that Antony had given us, and knew that we looked like the epitome of a New Zealand tramper. Except for the fact that everyone was passing us. Everyone. That didn’t bother me, in fact, I wanted them to pass and I said, “Good grief, what is their hurry?!” And smiled as I kept stopping to take videos. Josh was patient with me, though he is always in a hurry and, as I’ve mentioned before, we are quite opposite in this. He’s a speed walker and I hop and skip around and do little twirls as I throw daisies in the air, just wanting to take it all in and savor each moment. “I want to enjoy this!” I said, which he actually agreed to, and I said, “There’s no need to rush! What is wrong with these people?” Josh and I were both going camera crazy, of course, and just smiled as all the hikers passed us. We were impressed with ourselves when we came upon the marker that announced we had already reached one kilometer . . . wow, we were doing good!
We had walked about thirty minutes, when we approached our first uphill battle. It’s all fun and games until you start climbing uphill! And then, I started doubting myself. I should have prepared more for this, I was thinking. I thought I had gotten in better shape since we’d arrived in New Zealand and been here a few months, and was thinking of the times I had hiked up the trails by our flat. “I am so out of shape!” I said to Josh, already huffing and puffing as we climbed up and carefully around the rocks alongside a stream. My heart was pounding. We made it through that little patch, and then saw a long stretch of a boardwalk. Flat. Hooray! My love for the outdoors and my thrill-seeking self left me after only forty-five minutes of starting the hike, which I realized when a group of young high-school looking kids basically ran past us and I almost snarled and hissed at them like Gollum. Who do you think you are? And what are you trying to prove, you little young whippersnappers?! I thought to myself. I was beginning to feel old at 25.
As we edged closer and closer to the base of the volcano, we realized what a barren wasteland this was, and, in the fall of New Zealand, we were in the open sun and felt the temperature rising swiftly, increased all the more by us expending our energy. We were in the land of Mordor; seriously. I will never forget the moment, when, already feeling tired, I looked up at the volcano and saw tiny dots way up high. What is that? Ohhh Nooooo!!! Those dots were people! For some reason, we had heard and I guess what all we had read about it and the pictures I’d seen, I was expecting this to be a fairly easy hike. I thought it would be just a little uphill, kind of more like our experience at Rangitoto Island, a gradual, easy ascent, and that we would be walking more along the base of the volcano. Looking at those specks, how small they looked in comparison to the towering volcano, and where we were being at the base and how far we had to go, I felt incredibly tempted to turn around. We were staring at Mount Ngauruhoe, which, for you Lord of the Rings fans, is MOUNT DOOM!! I felt dread, probably just as much dread as Sam and Frodo had when they stared up at Mount Doom, carrying also with them the burdensome One Ring. Many hikers were stopped at this point in the track called Soda Springs for a bathroom break, as these port-a-potties were the last toilet facilities for a long time. That of course was not a pleasant experience, but can’t be too picky when you are in the outdoors. Josh and I stopped in that area to eat with fellow hikers to give us some protein before the grueling struggle we were about to partake in. I had part of a banana and ate a chocolate/nut protein bar with raisins; that was actually quite yummy for being so healthy. We finally strapped our packs on again, put on a brave face and headed towards the first steps of the straight up climb. There was a big warning sign at the start of the steps, saying if you doubt your fitness then turn back now, and all the dangers we were about to encounter…you know, like walking along two volcanic craters, that last erupted not too long ago; these were definitely not extinct. I kept imagining how screwed we would be if it erupted, especially me, as a few minutes ago I could have imagined myself sprinting away from the lava, but not now as I dragged my heavy legs up the first steps. I am a pretty determined individual, after all is said and done, and despite my inner struggle, the thought of giving up and turning back would only make me a coward.
It was straight up, and each movement of my legs up to the next step hurt. My thighs were burning, and felt like I barely had the strength to lift myself up. The walking stick didn’t seem to provide much help in the conditions, but it was better than nothing. I was so out of breath, and could hear my heart loud in my ears. Josh and I had to stop quite frequently, though I would have stopped a lot more if I were alone; sometimes I want to appear more brave for him, too, I think. I want him to think I’m a tough cookie. It helped seeing him and hearing him express how hard this was for him as well, and I know he was definitely putting on a brave face for me. He was always ahead though, but would wait for me and give me time to catch my breath. And he’d encourage me, for I kept saying, over and over again, “I can’t do this.” And then after the next round of steps, “No, I really can’t do this!” It was never-ending. After we rounded a corner, and Josh predicted this was the last part we had to climb and then it would be flat, well, then we’d round the bend and groan heavily to see that we had only just begun. A few of those little high-schoolers, the girls in the pack, who had been so eager and arrogantly pushed past us before, were now slouched on the rocks and panting for breath, looking like they weren’t so fit after all. We took turns passing them the next several moments, as many other hikers seemed to slow down during this exhausting part of the ascent. We passed a few people, but then we’d stop for a while and they were ahead again. It was slightly annoying since I am very competitive, especially when it comes to climbing mountains, but in all reality, at the time I couldn’t care less if the Dalai Lama passed by me on his portable carpet carried by his servants. We were really starting to feel bad, though, whenever we saw some quite older people, as in they looked like they were in their 60’s, possibly older, were beginning to pass us up. We couldn’t let that happen! But they soon became our competition. I was expecting to see a Granny on a motorized wheelchair lift come zooming past us yelling, “Wheee! Yippee!!!!”
In retrospect, I haven’t felt too bad as we’ve researched the hike even more, and looking on their website it does say that some parts of the walk are pretty treacherous. The part we were hiking then is described on the site as follows:
Soda Springs to South Crater
“Grade: Moderate – Difficult, allow 40 minutes to an hour. This section of the track, known as the Devil’s Staircase, is steep – climbing from 1400 to 1600 metres above sea level. You will need to take your time on this section, but on a clear day the view down the valley and out across the surrounding countryside is well worth it.”
After reading about it in that factual context, I feel even more proud of us. So there we were, climbing Devil’s Staircase onto Mount Doom! If that doesn’t sound intimidating, I don’t know what would. We at last reached the top of that section, and were now very close to Mt. Doom. Now this was a volcano, what you really imagine one looking like; a red mountain with its top blown off. I looked up at the massive formation, and saw that people were climbing it, but fortunately and quickly learned that summiting Mount Ngauruhoe was optional; a side trip you could take if you were up to it. On any other day, perhaps, or if we had been in better shape and had more time, we would have followed the overachievers, but the sign said 2 ½ hours return, and, the height at it which it still towered above us didn’t make me cry in my soup that we didn’t summit that mountain. It would be impossible to have summited, though, unless we had been dropped off at 6:00 in the morning, or some people break it up and stay in one of the huts as it would make the total trip 11 to 12 hours.
We walked a little further and joined others who were stopped to take a break and to take in the incredible views. It was quite rewarding to look down and see the path so far away and small below that we had amazingly tread and conquered. We saw a few people, that were now dots from this angle looking down, and I felt quite sorry for them. Those were the ones who obviously were dropped off an hour later than us, and I knew they’d soon be catching up with us! It was nice to be around the people again, though, and we all seemed to share something; a bond in that we had all defeated the volcano. And bonded that everyone else around us looked beat. We didn’t tarry too long there, as the journey had really just begun when looking at the sign and how much further we had to go. We did stop and talk to another married couple our age, he was from the States and she was Kiwi, and we took pictures for each other. Josh and I were so relieved to see the path ahead of us was flat for quite a while; it stretched on for what looked like miles. We needed this. It looked like we were in the barren desert in Arizona as we walked the dusty trail of this lifeless land. Felt like we were on the moon. The sun was beating down, but it thankfully wasn’t too hot. Our bodies went through temperature changes quite frequently as we would get worked up and have to shed layers of clothes, then, put them on again when reaching the great heights. As we were walking through no man’s land, the flat lands gave rest to the muscles in our legs and we felt the confidence return and the adrenaline in our bodies push us forward again. We were so small walking beneath these towering, violent mountains, and I envisioned the lava flowing down and the mountain spewing smoke miles into the sky.
“After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.”
Nelson Mandela was sure right. The flat lands did not last too long, and my heart dropped when I saw the tiny silhouettes of people again climbing up far ahead of us. This almost looked worse than the hike up to the South Crater! As we got closer, the terrain looked much more dangerous and rocky, and I began to regret wearing my tennis shoes instead of buying hiking boots. The lady at the transport place told me I would be fine with these, my runners, if I was used to them and had them broken in. She said it wasn’t as bad as they make it sound in the brochures. I wasn’t so sure now, though. The next several minutes I do believe were one of the worst of all the hike (but not the only, haha) and if I had to rate it between the last uphill battle we had done earlier, I honestly would have to say this one was harder. It wasn’t as long having to climb this straight uphill part, but it was rocky and you had to be very careful. I felt pretty scared, too, and did not want to fall (of course) and so the fear magnifies the experience and your nerves can overwhelm you. Of course, you are supposed to remain calm, but I certainly felt nothing of the sort, especially as the wind had picked up here pretty strong, and I was worn out. The wind was brutally cold and I had to put all my layers on again. We stopped a couple times here, but I didn’t want to pause too long as the heights and lack of secure foot holdings made us feel the urgency to carry on. We caught up with many people here and the congestion of hikers made me feel like I didn’t have to rush so much and made me feel better again that I wasn’t the only one struggling; this was really tough! There were no railings, of course, and our feet would slip a couple of times. I was quite annoyed at this point, and beginning to feel like Bilbo: “Why O why did I ever leave my hobbit-hole?” said poor Mr. Baggins, bumping up and down on Bombur’s back.” I was wishing to be back in the Shire, or back on solid ground, with my feet propped up, snuggled up next to the fire, away from all this danger and exhausting journey. I heard one girl struggling near us say, “I have more sympathy for Frodo and Sam, now.” And I laughed to myself, making a mental note to remember that and write about it. At this point, with the wind blowing fiercely, and the never-ending goal of reaching the top of this cragged precipice, I almost started crawling like Sam and Frodo do up Mount Doom. Where is Sam when you need him? I thought to myself. When Frodo was exhausted beyond all imagining and had fought against the burden physically and mentally with carrying the One Ring, he could not go one step further and collapsed on the mountainside, just feet away from his goal, the chasm where he must throw in the ring and destroy it. Sam sees his friend’s defeat, and cries out, “Come on Mr. Frodo, I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you!” That scene in the movie always gets me, and I can’t help but cry. Talk about a true blue friend. I needed him to give me that pep talk right then and call out, “Come on Mrs. Lindsey, don’t give up! I’m here . . . I can carry you!”
The heavens seemed to open and the angels gathered around to sing “Hallelujah!” when we finally made it up those rocks and saw the flat place where several other people were stopped and eating lunch. We definitely needed to take a big rest after our battle. The hikers were happy, proud to have accomplished the two hardest parts of the crossing. The views were unsurpassable and we could see for miles and miles. I turned around and looked where we had just come and my jaw dropped open at seeing how high up we were and how truly ginormous the volcano was that we just passed and could have summited. It really put me in my place . . . God’s creation; so powerful and humbling to see the mountains and volcanoes, this land he created. Josh and I found us a spot facing the volcano and ate our lunch. We were exhausted and not talking much; we were beat. I gazed in wonder at the volcano and its width and height, wishing I could stay there much longer to really take in this magnificent site. I ate my sandwich, another protein bar, and beef jerky. We had brought plenty of water, which really added to the weight of our packs, but better to be safe than sorry. We only stayed there a few minutes as we knew we still had much further to go and everyone else was moving on as well. It was fun to watch the people as they appeared to this safety zone, and seeing their weary faces turn into smiles of relief. There was always that sense of urgency to carry on, being on top of a volcano that we were, but also we did not want to be left behind and miss our van, though we still guesstimated we had plenty of time. With the time change occurring that previous week, night was falling early, and we definitely did not want to be caught on the mountain in the dark without a flashlight or for any reason.
We carried on, and looking ahead saw that we just had a little more uphill to go. Goodness gracious! It looked very easy though and just a small slope. This was amazing! Now, we were walking right alongside a crater, the red crater as it is called. It was massive, and we were seriously walking along the edge with a straight drop off just inches away into the hole of the volcano. For some reason, I didn’t feel that scared, I was just amazed and in awe. We took our time here, looking at the panoramic views and taking pictures and videos. At last, we walked a few more feet and our eyes got wide with excitement when we saw the infamous Emerald Lakes down below. What we had seen in pictures and thought how cool it would be to go hike and see that when we went to New Zealand! And here we were! It made us feel so proud, and it was hard to believe that we were now living out those images by being here in the flesh. It seemed random, that in this wasteland, in the middle of a barren, plant-less landscape, that there were pools of water…not just brown, lake water but bright turquoise, green, and blue (I find it hard to describe in one color haha), three pools of water that are filled with minerals from the rocks. We could smell the sulfur, rotten-egg odor, and steam was coming up from the ground in several places. I wouldn’t be filling my bottle with that water, nor would I be touching it. All I could think of was the old grandma in Dante’s Peak, when she got in the water and pushed the boat with her family inside to shore, and her legs were all burned. Yikes. Going down from the red crater down to the emerald lakes was also somewhat of a challenge but also fun, and scary. It was a lot of loose sand (actually scoria) and loose pebbles so you had to be really careful. It was quite a steep descent and I was going very slow as I didn’t want to fall. I hate that feeling when your feet just come out from underneath you and you have no control. That happened quite a few times; I would laugh at Josh as he almost fell in front of me, and then it would happen to me seconds later. Everyone around us was uncool in those moments though, it didn’t matter who you were, how fit you were, or what kind of shoes you had on, we all were slipping around and feeling embarrassed. I was going down very slowly, but sometimes just slid a few inches down, which was quite fun. It made me nervous though, and my legs started feeling shaky. I was extremely happy when we got to the bottom and were finally at the lakes. We walked around them and were just amazed and trying, once again, to take in the reality of the situation. The color of the water was beautiful and rare. Many people were stopped here and eating. We didn’t stay long, just about five minutes for pictures, as we were really wanting this hike to be OVER!
I was relieved to see flat lands again and these several minutes gave our legs a vacation. I wished I had blinders on like a horse, however, and I groaned angrily when I saw we still had more climbing to do. This is ridiculous! I had no idea it was going to be like this, and I couldn’t imagine my legs being able to lift up anymore. They were killing me. It was getting warm again as there was not a cloud in the sky…climbing those rocks was tough, but not near as bad as what we’d already encountered. It still took quite a while, and Josh and I were getting in worse moods with each staggering movement. Once we reached the top of that section, we had reached another lake called Blue Lake, a huge pool of water, this time with dark colors. It was silent and still; quite eerie. According to Maori, these waters are sacred and it is a disgrace to eat at the water’s edge. Looking down into the valley on the other side that we had walked from, to the side we saw a huge forest of black . . . an old lava trail. Crazy! Once we passed the Blue Lake and rounded another corner and a few more steps upwards, we came upon a place in the hike that I thought was the best view of all. We could see all the way to Africa! It felt like we were on top of the world, and we could see Lake Taupo and who knows what all bodies of water we were seeing. It was breathtaking. We had lost a lot of the people and were alone to enjoy the views and the quiet. It was nice to not have a crowd swarmed around us. Josh said, “It’s all downhill from here!” And, he was right this time. I could not have imagined one more step up, I would not have been able to do it. For a while, our paths were straight and level, and we were now on the other side of the volcano, and this part of the land was now covered with plant life, which was wonderful to see for a change. The air felt cooler again but the sun was beating down on us making me start to feel nauseous and from the exhaustion my body was feeling. Walking along the edge of that trail we took in the views, and I just wanted to pitch a tent there and call it a day. No wonder some people break up this trek; some people do a four or five day hike around the mountains, covering many more miles than we were of course. I’m sure they wouldn’t have been going 19 kilometers in one day, either. “What is that?” I asked, as in the distance, we thought we saw a volcano erupting. I never found out what it was, I guess a grass fire, but it seriously looked like smoke coming from the top of a mountain. Standing up there, with the world far below, we felt pretty accomplished, and yet our eyes couldn’t really take all of it in, there was so much to see, such a panoramic view, our eyes were in information overload, “Woah, what’s going on here!” We were so small and the world was stretched out before us seemingly infinite. It was similar to standing at the Grand Canyon and your eyes not being able to take in the grand magnitude of it all. I didn’t feel as proud as I normally have in the past when climbing a mountain, mainly because I knew it wasn’t over and we felt like we were in a race against time to get back before nightfall and our van leaving. I was in a lot of pain, too. Josh was complaining quite frequently as well.
Thus began our slow descent. And I mean slow . . . slow and painful. We had begun noticing that the signs along the way saying the next destination and how long it would take to get there were wrong. Dead wrong. If the sign said it would take 45 minutes to an hour to get to Red Crater, in reality, it took two hours. We were going at a normal speed, too, actually we felt we were going pretty fast. At first, I kept dreaming about the downhill part and how great that would be and was relieved when I saw the path leading downwards, but after a few minutes, I felt like this was worse than going up. Our legs were not used to this trauma, and we were pushing our bodies to the limits; that is no exaggeration from me, but the honest truth. You would think going down would be easier, but, not so. What muscles in our legs we didn’t use going up, we were certainly using now, and the back of my thighs and legs and my calves and my knees were burning and felt like jello. When we rounded a bend, and saw the Ketetehai Hut far down below, with a zigzag trail of switchbacks leading down to it, I groaned yet felt relieved. It took a long time to get there, however, and I just could not believe how much my legs were screaming at me, and was scared that I wouldn’t be able to complete this hike. There seemed no way that I would be able to; we still had hours left to go…an estimated three more at that point. It was during this section of our hike, that once again seemed to be never-ending, and trying desperately to keep up with the long, fast strides of my husband, that I had a little hissy fit. I had been complaining quite frequently throughout the duration of the day, but then again, so had Josh, and it really helped me mentally to complain out loud to him for some reason…most of the time he would encourage me and motivate me to keep on going, that I was doing great. By this time, however, I was worn out, and it was the worst time to be a girl that day, to boot. Always perfect timing, I tell you. My hormones were therefore also my excuse, and I started ranting…I felt so angry. “Why are you in such a rush anyways, you’re just like all these other people, it’s like your in a race against the clock!” I snarled. “Because we have to make it back in time for our van, I’m worried; you don’t want to be left behind on this mountain, DO YOU?” He snapped back. “Well, look at your watch! We got plenty of time…calm down and SLOW DOWN!” I yelled. There were a couple of name-callings on my part, very mature and a good wife of me to be, and then he was no longer patient with me and said how I’d been complaining the entire time. “Well excuse me, but so have YOU!” I had the wrath of Khan in me, and I was ready to defeat any enemy on this side of the mountain. I was so mad and angry at all the people who kept passing us, one after another, and they were all practically running past us, which Josh mentioned that we weren’t even going fast, look at all these other people, and none of these girls were complaining. That was it. I was so sick of all these trampers and my ego being lowered and confidence in myself to conquer this mountain after all with each one that I had to stop for or move to the side so they could pass me. “This isn’t the Olympics!” I felt like shouting. A couple times I stopped dramatically and abruptly and just let a couple of them pass, and kind of rolled my eyes and acted really put out that they were passing me, haha, I wasn’t being very nice, I admit. With all the people passing us, it reminded me of the panicky feeling you get when taking an exam, and you aren’t doing so great and it’s taking you a long time, and you look up and everyone is already finishing and leaving the room, leaving you and only a couple others behind. Oh no, I better hurry! Anyways, so my ranting at my husband lasted for several minutes and I’m sure a few people heard me, but I couldn’t care less at that moment. I needed to get off this mountain, and I needed to get off NOW. Anger and adrenaline can keep you going, though, and to prove a point, I started powerwalking and left Josh behind in the dust. That wore me out, though, and I was happy to finally, eventually, let him pass me and take the lead again. By that time we had almost reached the hut and he slowed down his pace significantly, almost too dramatically, in order to spite me, or to make a point, or to be nice, not sure which. The bathroom break was needed at that time, and was quite a relief, though those port-a-potties were just horrible, ugh.
Josh and I sat on the porch of the hut along with quite a few other trampers, who all seemed to be feeling the same pain and loss of motivation that we were. I wanted to stay and sleep in the hut, apparently that was one that trampers use who do the around the mountain tracks. Wished we had gone inside to look at what it looked like, but we didn’t…Josh was ready to get back on the trail. He didn’t remember what the pick-up times were, which I had them mentally in my head, as it was, by this time, almost 3:00, and he was thinking the next time that we could make was like 3:30. I said I don’t know why you are aiming for that, we have plenty of time, it actually picks up at 3:00, 4:00, and 5:30…I guarantee you! But he didn’t really believe me and I told him to get out our info sheet that told us, but he was being hard-headed (as we both seem to be with each other haha) and stuck to what he believed. By this time, we had lost a lot of the fellow hikers again, and were alone and not being tailed by the overachievers. The sun was getting much lower in the sky, and according to the sign at the hut, it would take us 1 to 1 ½ hours to get down to the car park from there. We kept descending, and descending, and every step was more agonizingly painful than the last. We wanted this to end, and were now both hurrying as much as we could, not because we felt up to it, but we needed to reach the goal and be done with this ridiculous torture. Whose idea was this? What were we thinking? Never again. There were so many steps going down, and then a few more uphill steps, randomly, that I detested. I couldn’t carry on much further; my legs were about to give out. Thankfully, I have a good husband; I was slowing down and being serious when I said, “Baby, I really can’t do this anymore”, Josh was sweet and grabbed my heavy pack from my shoulders, strapped it across his chest, along with his heavy backpack, and I felt like a free woman with that burden lifted off. And, I was in love with him again! Haha. That was so sweet and sacrificial of him, shows what a great man he is, and strong, and loving and protective, and patient despite my earlier mean behavior. I was able to get another rush of energy and adrenaline and started running down the path with this newfound freedom, and it helped my legs for a while.
We reached our next sign, and my heart dropped, as did our morale when we saw the sign said 45 more minutes. Are you kidding me? How could that be? I told you those signs were wrong…we had been going fast and thought we were nearly there, I couldn’t imagine. At this point, I was thinking that the sign in the beginning said 17 kilometers, and we were at the 16 mark, so I was like, “oh only 1 more kilometer to go!”, but as we kept going downhill and down more steps that I felt my legs wobble with each excruciatingly painful movement of my leg down onto the next step, then I realized that it was 19.4, not 17. That makes a world of difference. By now, we were in a forest, and walking alongside streams. Normally I would have been pausing and taking in the beauty and enjoying the reprieve from the sun that had been making me feel ill, but by now all I could think was, Survive, Just survive. I was carrying my pack again, and I will never forget these next few moments. I had slowed down significantly and was dragging every step forward . . . Josh was so far ahead of me, he seemed to be doing just fine, and I felt so alone and abandoned in these few moments when everything just finally got to me. He wasn’t that far ahead of me, but with the sun behind the trees and the darkness of the forest around us, and no people but their faint voices catching up from behind, I became completely overwhelmed. I was defeated. I felt completely defeated by the mountain; my body could not carry on, I was utterly spent. I had wanted to remain and had been tough for so long, being so competitive and strong-willed, especially when it comes to hiking, but that was all over now. With night coming upon us quickly, I knew there was no way I would make it back to the car park in time, or ever. A few minutes ago Josh and I had been aiming for the 4:00, but by now we had long passed that. I told myself, they are going to have to have a helicopter come get me. And then I thought, Josh is going to just have to leave me behind, and I imagined myself laying on the forest floor and lifting my arm weakly in the air and whispering, “It’s okay . . . go on without me.” And waving goodbye to him. Two kilometers seemed absolutely impossible. If I saw another set of steps going down, I knew I was just going to collapse. I thought of the verse, “and he will make your paths straight”, and I prayed that God would do that, but I only saw more steps. After what seemed like eternity, Josh noticed me trailing way behind, and slowed down. I couldn’t help it; by then, the tears just clouded my eyes, blurring my vision, and started streaming down my face. I felt like a baby, so helpless and sad and scared and defeated and weak. “Baby, are you okay, what’s wrong?” and then he saw my tears, “I can’t do this anymore, I really can’t…” as I cried on his shoulder as he hugged me and wiped away my tears. “It’s okay baby, I know, we are almost there, it’s right around the corner, you’ve been doing SO good!” A few people walked by at that moment and this one lady turned and looked at me funny and I tried to hide my tears. What are you staring at lady? I thought to myself. Josh then took my pack from me again, which I felt bad for but grateful to him because I knew he was just as exhausted. Those kilometers were one of the worst moments of my life, seriously. I was basically limping and I will never forget and cannot describe the fire burning in my legs, it was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. Around each bend we kept hoping to see the car park, but the path before us was infinite. I was reminded of Bilbo again, and visions of laying in my bed in my comfortable imaginary hobbit-hole after eating a huge meal brought some comfort:
“To think it will soon be June,” grumbled Bilbo, as he splashed along behind the others in a very muddy track. It was after tea-time; it was pouring with rain, and had been all day; his hood was dripping into his eyes, his cloak was full of water; the pony was tired and stumbled on stones; the others were too grumpy. “And I’m sure the rain has got into the dry clothes and into the food-bags,” thought Bilbo. “Bother burgling and everything to do with it! I wish I was at home in my nice hole by the fire, with the kettle just beginning to sing!” It was not the last time that he wished that!” -The Hobbit
At last, and I mean at last, we rounded a bend and just ahead of us I saw what was the most glorious sight in all the world . . . cars! We had made it to the car park! My whole body ached. A few more steps and we finally arrived! We heard a lot of cheers as we had caught up with people who were approaching the finish line every few minutes. Vans and buses were waiting, and I was hoping ours was there, but it wasn’t yet. It was 5:00. Good thing we had rushed, for in 30 minutes our last ride would be coming. Josh and I found a spot on the deck, and laboriously sat down, and then lay down and didn’t move. I ate a banana and another protein bar, and we didn’t say anything, but just sat in silence. The look on his face said he was in a lot of pain, and couldn’t believe what we had just gone through either. It had taken us exactly 8 hours to complete that monster.
And we had!! We did it! Josh and I conquered the mountain . . . the volcanoes! It would take us days after the fact to feel grateful for it, because then, sitting there staring blankly ahead not being able to move a muscle, it did not seem worth it, at all.
After a few minutes of finally having my heart rate calm down and getting more nutrition and resting my legs, my mood cheered up as more people reached the car park, and dragged themselves and collapsed on the floor. A lot of them laughed at each other, and I smiled to myself as they were all groaning. It was like we had just climbed Mount Everest. It helped a lot, and I felt tons better seeing all the pain people were in around me. Maybe I wasn’t such a pansy after all.
Our van was another site for sore eyes at five-thirty. The sun was almost completely gone, and so, when the van arrived, the air was getting significantly colder. I dreaded the part of getting up from our spot, which was no picnic for the legs; thankfully we were able to rise up and carry ourselves to the van. We were joined by two other couples, and waited for another guy, who we hadn’t heard from and waited for five minutes, but he didn’t show up, so the driver of the van just left. Poor guy, I hope he somehow got a ride back. When the driver was checking us in and about to slide the van door closed, he asked us how it was, and we all kind of moaned. He was a tough looking outdoorsy guy, and he said, “Now time for a beer a two…you guys definitely earned it!” And we all just laughed. There was silence the whole way back, and I felt so happy to be sitting beside my husband in this van, and couldn’t wait to shower and stuff my face with food. We got back to the transport, got into our car, and then talked and vented about how tired and hungry we were. It was about a ten-minute drive back to our lodge, and that was the best hot shower ever. Felt so good to be clean and the heat helped my aching muscles. We drove back into the village to another lodge as there were only a couple restaurants open at that hour, and ate at the restaurant. I don’t even remember what I ate, all I know is that it was good, and I didn’t leave a single thing on my plate. Familiar faces surrounded us as we saw many of those we had met along the way on the track, and heard them telling their stories. We even saw those older couples that had passed us right on up, and they were laughing heartily…man those old folk put us to shame! Haha.
What a great, eventful, rewarding way to end our anniversary trip! That night, it took me forever to fall asleep, which was so annoying, but I was just in so much agony and re-living the events of that day. We felt truly accomplished, more so the next day, Wednesday, despite the intense aching in our bodies and the drive back to a cloudy and rainy Wellington was fast. We were actually quite ready to be back to familiar territory again, and be able to rest and relax in our flat. We’d had an amazing, North Island expedition, and the best one year anniversary trip I could have ever asked for. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is something we will always remember and be proud of ourselves for, and the teamwork in helping each other survive it (well more on Josh’s part for me anyways, haha.) And we can both honestly say; that was the hardest thing we have ever done. They call the walk a once in a lifetime experience, boy, ain’t that the truth. We will never, ever be doing that again!
“The most recent confirmed volcanic activity from Red Crater was reported between 1855 and 1890. The dike on the Southern Wall has been exposed by erosion. Lava would have flowed through this dike and poured into the Oturere Valley.
Mount Ngauruhoe is the youngest volcano in the area and started to form about 2500 years ago. It is the most active vent in the Tongariro area with its last eruption recorded in 1975. The most recent flows from Mount Ngauruhoe are easily visible on the way to South Crater.”
How fit do I have to be?
“The true answer is fit enough. A moderate to good level of fitness is required. It is a 19.4km walk which starts with a staged climb to Red Crater. The thing to consider is that you will be climbing nearly 800m in altitude to 1900m above sea level and as a result you may feel the effects of oxygen deficiency (hard to breath, slight dizziness) This is not common but needs to be considered. The decent from Red Crater requires some coordination and balance due to the volcanic ash and scree that is underfoot. From this point you will be descending just over 1000m in altitude most of which is a good steady gradient. At all times you should consider the possibility that if you do not feel you can do it, turn back! It is better to return to the start (if you have not already passed the Red Crater) than to try and continue and be caught out in the dark requiring rescue.”