I love hiking. I’ve been on my fair share of hikes over the years, some casual, some pretty grueling. There’s one in particular that comes to mind. A few years ago, during the lingering days of summer in early September, I was set to climb up into the highest reaches of the Earth. I started up the mountain as the bright morning sun was beginning to peak over the Cascades to the east. The air was crisp and cool, there were a few clouds in the sky to the west, and a cool breeze was running through the leaves above. The weather was looking like it would cooperate for an amazing day of fall hiking. This particular trail starts off with a number of switchbacks as you quickly make your way up the mountain. The side of the mountain was shaded by evergreens dropping the temperature by a few degrees. Every once in a while, through a break in the tree line, I could see the valley below awash with sunlight.
There’s something therapeutic about getting out of the hustle and bustle of the city and into the wilderness. The coolness of the shade under the evergreens. The majesty of mountains overhead. I believe getting out into creation grounds me and helps me to connect with God in a way that is unlike any other. On my cross-country road trip, we spent the majority of our time driving through the plains of the Midwest. While I was in the midst of cornfields and sprawling grasslands, I felt uncomfortable with the flatness. I have been comforted by the mountains that surround me in the Northwest for my entire life. They are a reminder of the power and glory of God. The permanence of the silent sentinels of the Cascade Range keeps things in perspective.
As I passed what was probably the thousandth switchback, a sharp breeze blew up the mountain side and I could feel the temperature drop even further. I looked up and tried to see what had happened to my clear skies but was met with a wall of green and another gust of wind. I pulled my jacket up around my neck to shield me from the cold and moved on, hoping this was just a brief break in the good weather. After a few more minutes, I started to hear the telltale pitter-patter of a fall rain shower. Undeterred, I forged on.
After what seemed like hours, I finally made my way out from under the trees. This part of the trail opened up into a mountain side meadow that stretched across the gently sloping mountainside. What would have been a tranquil stroll through the fields was marred by the dark clouds above and the quickening rain. I hesitated for a moment, asking myself if I truly wanted to keep on climbing in this kind of weather. For the briefest of moments, I considered turning back.
No sooner had I done that when I felt a particularly strong gust of wind carry what seemed like words to me. I froze. Had I actually heard something? Another gust of wind blew across my path and this time I definitely heard the words meant for my ears alone.
“But it’s raining pretty hard and it doesn’t look like it’s going to let up.”
“But it’s getting colder by the minute and I don’t have the gear for this kind of weather.”
“Go on, I’ve given you feet for the path.”
“But the climb won’t be worth it with this storm overhead. How am I going to be able to see anything from the top?”
I gave a deep sigh, and started to trudge along. The going was rough, the trail had turned into a mini stream of rain water and it was starting to soak through my shoes. A few times, I completely lost my footing and fell onto my knees in the mud. My lightweight jacket was supposed to be water proof but I was seriously considering taking it back to REI if I ever got off this damned mountain. By now, it seemed like the wind was blowing the rain right up into my face. But along with the freezing rain came the words I had heard before, “Go on. Trust me. Follow me.” And so, in the middle of this raging storm, I hiked on.
After making its way through the meadows, the trail started its final ascent to the summit. This was certainly the hardest and most grueling part of the hike and that’s if it’s a good day. On this day, the trail was akin to a waterfall with rain water was cascading down in torrents. I paused at the base of the slope. I had come this far without giving up but this final challenge seemed too much to overcome. I was soaked to the bone, my shoes were actively trying to trip me up, and my finger joints were crackling from the cold. I was in no condition to try and climb to the top of this mountain.
“Go on. I promise you, I will be with you each step of the way.”
With that blast of wind at my back, I reluctantly started my way up the trail. I had no idea mud could cake onto layers of mud but that day I found out. I ended up crawling up that slope to the summit—hand over hand, knee in front of knee. It was exhausting carrying my body and pounds of rain and mud on my back. Each time I thought I had reached the end of my endurance, a gust of wind rushed up from behind me and gave me a bit of energy to keep on moving forward. The last few feet were an almost vertical incline, but after the day’s work, it hardly seemed like a challenge.
At last, I had made it to the summit. The rain was still coming down hard and the wind was blowing all around me but they were my faithful companions now. And what a view it was. I could see for miles around me. I saw sheets of rain, blown by gusts of wind, peppering mountainsides. I looked to the west and saw the most amazing sight, sunlight blasting its way through the dark clouds above. The sun break was miles away and the storm was still raging around me but the light was on the horizon. I wasn’t out of the storm yet and I had only finished half of my journey, but the way down didn’t seem so hard now that I had made it to the top. As I took one last look around me, the wind whispered in my ear, “Well done.”
This is the best way I can sum up my experiences at Ray of Hope these last four summers. Feeling lost and overwhelmed with the storm around me but always crawling forward, hand over hand, following in Jesus’ footsteps. He has prepared us for the work He’s calling us to in His Kingdom, even if we don’t feel like we’re ready or able. The wind is always blowing behind us, “Go on. Trust me. Follow me.”