The hardest hike in my life so far.

I broke free from the confines of my yoder genes and did something I didn’t plan to do while I’m in Guatemala. I hiked the third highest peak in Central America. Acatenango. It’s an eleven mile hike with a 5,000 foot elevation. I’ve never been that high before, outside of an airplane and I’ve never before gone on a hike as hard as that one. I waited a day to write this in order to have a more clear view of how it really was (also because I spent a good part of the last day sleeping) and my legs are still aching with every step I take. I’m quite sure that I now know how it feels to be old. I feel a great deal of sympathy for my grandpa.

We started up the trail around lunchtime and fifteen minutes in I knew that it was going to be a long day. The trail was volcanic ash and it was similar to slogging up a sand dune. There’s nothing like a gently curving uphill slope. The trail goes straight up.

And then, before we even made it to the forested part of the mountain, the rain began.

Keep in mind that we were carrying 20 pound backpacks with our food, water and clothes for the next two days.

Thankfully we had taken the advice of everyone who had gone before us and bought rain ponchos. I felt similar to a walking tent but at least my backpack stayed dry.

We slogged on, one foot in front of the other, stopping every 30 minutes or so for a break. We stopped for lunch. Everyone ate their plates of cold chicken and rice. This struck me as funny for some reason. I mean who packs chicken and rice when they go on a hike? And here we were, a group of twenty strangers from all around the world, sitting in the rain eating chicken and rice.

Not long after lunch, the hail started. Real balls of ice pounding down on us. The water rushed down the trails. My shoes were soggy and squished with every step. I had a breif moment where I thought “I’m going to get hypothermia and die on this mountain” And then the common sense side of me took over and said, “no you aren’t, you’re not even cold inside”. So I picked up my head and kept on.

And then, much after and sooner than I expected the guide said that we only have 15 minutes until we reach the flat part of the trail that leads to camp.

The rain stopped and the mountain mist turned everything into a fairyland that reminded me of Narnia for some reason. Something to do with fighting hard battles in another world.

Flat is relative, of course, and we wound around the mountain for another hour and took a tiny winding trail up a little higher and there was our camp, a row of tents, facing Volcán de Fuego and a larger tarp covered shack with a hot fire underneath.

We rushed for the fire with no time to worry about watching a volcano. And here again I found myself intrigued with the fact that I was here. The French Canadian beside me stripped of his shoes and socks and roasted them over the fire, his girlfriend told us about how she was here for a month and then he came to surprise her. The young girl fron germany shivered uncontrollably until she finally changed into a dry shirt, the Polish man turned his pockets inside out to dry. The guides didn’t seem fazed in the least. They set to work making hot chocolate for everyone.

Slowly the clouds cleared and the active volcano was directly in front of us. We watched in amazement as it spewed out clouds of smoke and bursts of fire. The two mountains are connected so our mountain would shake whenever Fuego erupted.

The light faded, we heated our bowls of spaghetti over the fire and ate, in between racing out to see the the eruptions.

Wanting to practice our spanish and also being a bit nosy we chatted with our tour guide. A young man who told us interesting details. His father lives in Ohio. He climbs acatanango twice a week carrying an 80 lb pack (I can’t imagine) he gets paid 100 quetzals a day to do this. (About $14. That’s just wrong, the 15 people had each paid 225 quetzals, who’s getting all the money?) He showed us pictures of the best eruptions he’s seen and I was amazed.

And then it was time to go to bed. We were cold, still a bit damp, and very tired. We had mats and sleeping bags but the ground was hard packed ash. It took me a long time to get warm and even longer to find a relatively comfortable position. I slept in short intervals.

The wake-up call came at 3:30. We scrambled into our borrowed coats and hats, and grabbed our hiking sticks and flashlights. We still had an hour and a half to the top and we wanted to see the sunrise.

That last stretch is indescribable. You’re climbing through ash. I regretted my coat at first because I was promptly soaked in sweat. but as we got higher it also got colder and I was having a hard time catching my breath. It was bare now, except for patches of moss and here and there a daisy-like flower peaking between the rocks. I stopped to look down at the panorama. And then I looked up and I kept going.

The guide was at the top waiting. “welcome from the United States” he said and shook my hand. I smiled back, too out of breath to say a word.

It was cold. The wind was strong and I was thankful for every layer of clothes I was wearing.

But it was beautiful. From the top you can see three more volcanoes, mountain ranges, Lake Atitlan, and far in the distance, the ocean.

I was on top of the world.

Unfortunately you can’t stay long. It’s frigid up there and you’re exhausted and it’s windy.

And so amazing.

It’s not describable, and pictures aren’t the same.

And then we started down. We skied. I think that’s the best way to describe it, sort of half run, half slide.

I stopped for a moment there, with my shoes half full of dirt. More dirty than I’ve been in years, with my too big coat and very ugly hat and I thought “I can’t believe how happy I am to be here”.

We stopped for breakfast at camp. We had hot coffee and yogurt and a banana. And we picked up our much lighter backpacks and started down. It was impossible to walk normally. We ran, slid, and picked our way down. It only took us half as long as the way up and it was perfectly clear.

Towards the bottom my toes began to complain. They didn’t appreciate being slammed against the front of my shoes over and over. I considered taking them off and going barefoot but decided against it. Now 24 hours later, I don’t want to see any shoes anywhere close to me feet. Actually I threw my shoes in the trash can the moment I walked into the house. They weren’t worth saving.

The van ride home was silent. All 15 of us dead with tiredness.

I’ve never been so thankful for a hot shower and clean clothes.

So. Was it worth it?

Yes.

Should you try it? Yes.

Would I do it again?

I’m thinking no. Once in a lifetime is often enough for some things.

Advertisements

I Stand

I stand in the rain.

Gentle drops of coldness on my face.

Springy earth beneath my feet.

I stand in the rain.

I stand in the storm.

Raging winds beat upon my brow.

What comes to tear me down,

Instead builds strength.

I stand in the storm.

A Year in Flowers

April

The earth is fresh upon your grave. I do not resent the rain as it falls gentle in my hair. I thank God that his tears fall with mine. Amid the mud and rivulets of tears, I place a tiny sprig of bleeding heart.

May

The sun shines soft on luscious grass. The sky is brilliant. The beauty hurts. The mound of earth that is your grave has shrunk and the temporary marker inscribed with your name and our messages of love is beginning to fade. I am silent and my thoughts are painful, and remembering is hard and forgetting is worse. I stoop and gently place an Iris on your grave.

June

The first full-blown pink roses are yours. All my life, as long as I live, pink roses will always be yours. The headstone looks new and stark and cold.

July

It’s blackberry season. I think about the times we picked blackberries together and how we didn’t mind the thorns for love of the berries. I think blackberries and life might have something in common. I wonder if I could put blackberry blossoms on your grave. I think that might be a little strange. I do it anyway.

It’s August

I come with a handful of white daisies. They grew wild and free. I think if you, running through fields of splendor. The earth is dry and cracked so much like the feeling in my heart.

September

Goldenrod grows in profusion, so do black-eyed Susan’s and purple wildflowers. I gather a bouquet, it’s pretty but it looks a bit mixed up, Confused. I’m ok with that, my life feels much the same.

October

It’s getting colder. Flowers are scarce. I pluck a pansy from the pot beside the door. But I feel resentful. He is a bit too cheery.

November

It rains and rains and rains. I resent that too. Life was dreary enough before. I visit your grave empty-handed. There are no flowers now. Huge raindrops fall and life is hard and very, very ugly.

December

This time I have a sprig of holly. It seemed like the right thing. It grows abundant on the mountain and the crimson berries and vibrant green leaves are pretty against the snow.

January

It’s your birthday. I stop and buy a rose. A red one. Red is for love. I stop to place it on your headstone, and I smile to see that someone else has done the same. You are so loved.

February

Spring comes slowly. I pick an armful of daffodils and scatter them over your grave. I wish I would have thought to plant them here. I whisper a prayer, asking God to hold you close.

March

I wonder which tulips you would like better, Red or yellow? I feel afraid, trying to remember the sound of your voice. I’m afraid I’m forgetting…

I choose yellow. Yellow is for hope.

April

This time I hold a balloon. It holds a secret message just for you. I must let it go. Letting go is hard. But balloons tug and pull and when you let them go, they reach heights that I can only imagine. And so do you.

The House on Poplar Street

There’s a weekend’s worth of happy memories in a little house on poplar street. I traveled eight hours to spend a weekend with my fellow soldiers of the cross. I have not regretted it for a minute.

In Soldier style, we got together to do hard things and encourage each other in the fight. We picked up several tons of trash, told the story of Jesus, and worshipped our Saviour together all in one lovely blur of a weekend.

I’m fascinated with city life and the tall old buildings stacked together along the street with tiny backyards out back.

I’m fascinated by the thriving, growing, alive church in the midst of darkness.

I’m fascinated by the strength and courage of people who have Jesus on their side.

I may have left a piece of my heart on poplar street.

I know I’ll never forget my weekend there.

Holy Ground

I don’t have the pictures yet, but I do have the story. The story of how 60 girls and their 10 counselors and 15 staff met God face to face.

Six of the girls were mine. At least it felt like they were mine. We spent four days laughing together and crying together. We ate and slept together. We prayed together. We worked and sweated together. We even got all muddy together.

And together, we saw Jesus.

You know, it’s strange, but I kept thinking of communion.

Several times throughout the week, it came over me like a rush.

This is what fellowship means. This is communion. This is Holy Ground

It’s possible to meet God in a muddy field or in the middle of a swamp.

It’s also possible to meet him in a crowd of 60 girls, all on their pj’s.

We washed each other’s feet. Quite literally.

We had spent the day in hard labour. We were hot, sweaty, and dirty. We hurried through showers and met in the large tent. And we did face scrubs and back rubs and foot soaks and it was fun and relaxing and still somehow holy.

We hadn’t known each other before. We came from all over. We came from every kind of family and background. The only thing we had to tie us all together was Jesus.

And He was enough.

/poverty loses its grip/race can no longer divide/wherever your spirit is/every darkness dies/

When the only way to accomplish something is by having the whole team come together and work in perfect harmony, we learn quickly that any differences we have are unimportant and inconsequential. It simply doesn’t matter. I need you. You need me. Neither one of us will be victorious without the other.

It’s when we realize this, deep in our hearts, that we have true communion.

We have soul-connections.

It’s a strange relationship. I feel like I know their heart cry, their hurts, their pain, and their struggles.

And I barely know their last names.

Because really, that wasn’t important.

Sometime I’ll write about what I learned about redemption. But for now, let me simply stand on Holy Ground.

[This was at Obsess. A four day intense camping experience for teenage girls. Find out more about it here]

He Comes like Rain

I have a love/hate relationship with Rain. It comes in so may ways. light and drizzly, or in strong gusts, warm and refreshing or bone-chilling. 
I love it in all it’s forms. Sometimes. I hate it in all it’s forms too. 

It brings life.

It can also destroy life.

It all depends.

On what, I’m not sure.

Why is the rain sometimes beautiful and sometimes terrible?

Or is it even?

Maybe it’s not the rain at all but the way we see the rain. Maybe it’s not in the raindrops but in our perception of those raindrops.

He Comes to us like Rain. 

He can be beautiful.

He can be terrible.

It has nothing to do with who God really is. Only with our perception of him. 

Our God is a life-giver.

Sometimes He also takes away.

This does not change the character of God but too often it changes our perception of Him.

He is God. 

We can trust that even when He Comes in stormy ways, His goal is life. Eternal life for us.