The blizzard is coming and the skies are grey. We have come to a place in the mountain where even the four wheel drive cannot drive further – not because of the mountainous terrain, but because of the weather. We edge out and away from the car, and our fingertips numb, then our fingers, then our knuckles. The chill creeps its way to my heart and I begin to trudge, step by step, up the snowy mountain to our lodge half way up, the snow covering up to my knee as the crunching noises of ice, sleet, and snow rise to my ears and I know that I have found my Everest. Layers of cardigans and snow jackets make it nearly impossible to look down and see each step as my feet move uphill, rising steeply, stopping every meter as dizziness and stabbing headaches break me down. Though I can hardly look down, I can look up and see clouds of white dustiness blown from the nearest ridge above. I tell my companions, “Go on without me!” And they say, “…Okay.”
I trudge on. Suddenly the wind picks up, colder, swifter, breaking into me as though I am a part of the mountain. My legs no longer move and through the ski goggles stretching into my cranium I only see spots of purple and blue. I realize that these spots are not snow. They are not droplets of water. They are mirages created by my eyes as I lose oxygen – as I climb in altitude.
Looking back, I can still see the café, warm and filled with the smell of hot drinks and hot food. I choose to turn away and press on. But my feet do not move. I take deep breaths and try again. Five steps. Right, left, right, left, right, topple, catch balance, pause. Three minutes pass. I try seven steps. Right, left, right, left, right, left, right, topple, catch balance, arms out, and I do not fall. Pause. Eventually this takes me up the current stretch of mountain to a place I could not see from 100 steps down. In my mind, when I reached the top of this “peak”, everything would be okay. There was hope up here when I was down there. Now, hope has moved and I create a new goal for myself. I will climb the next 100 steps upward – the next bit that I can see. I wonder if hope is up there. And so I trudge. Dig right foot in, dig left foot in. Dizziness sets in and sharp icicles seem to pierce my head. Two more steps. I cannot make this. I cannot. The blizzard comes, and I am wrapped in snow.
There is no other choice. I must press on toward the lodge. Base camp is below. The summit is above.
I am Sir Edmund Hilary, climbing Mt. Everest.
In my mind, I view all of the Everest documentaries seen throughout the past decade and I realize that I am checking off all the signs and symptoms of altitude sickness. I think of all the mountaineers who turn back right before they reach the summit – oxygen is scarce and motivation disappears in the midst of confusion, cold, and fear. This is me. I will not turn back.
But, I cannot go on. I fall into the snow. Then a figure runs toward me, and I know that somehow, I will make it.
So. That’s not exactly how it happened. But, it’s definitely how it happened in my mind. My boyfriend Mark and his dad took me down to “the mountain” starting early yesterday morning. The official name for “the mountain” is Mount Ruapehu. On the way, Mark realized something, “Ah, Ashley. Do you think you’ll be able to climb up the mountain from the car park? The lifts might not actually be working today.” And I was, like, “Ah, yeah. No worries.”
We left the parking lot at Happy Valley at 1:28 pm. Mark rescued me around 2:42. We took a selfie at 2:57. I conquered the mountain at 3:57.
I realized halfway up a steep kilometer or so (we actually climbed 6.5% of Mount Ruapehu, which I personally find impressive) that surviving that climb at high altitude was much like how I’ve felt in life at times. For example, have you ever climbed anything and thought that if you could just reach that one section – that one piece of rock – that one snow machine – that one pile of snow – if you could just reach it, then you could make it? Sometimes, we even think that it might be the top of the mountain. One time while climbing some boulders in the Wichita Mountains by Lawton, Oklahoma, I kept imagining myself reaching the top. Every boulder was a journey to the top – the top being the place where I could see everything around me. At the top, everything would be clear to me. I wanted everything to be clear.
That time, I ended up climbing further than I had ever climbed before. But, it was only because I kept reaching for the top.
Yesterday while climbing 6.5% of Mount Ruapehu, I kept finding hope at the next level up. I didn’t know where the lodge was. When the boys trekked ahead of me so Mark could come back and help me without luggage, I had no way of knowing just how far it would be along the ski trail until I reached where I was going. Each step was a move toward hope. Each step was a move toward my goal, but I didn’t know where my goal was. I didn’t know what I would experience what I got there.
I’ve found that I don’t always know where I’m going and I don’t always know why I’m going. Nine years ago, while trying to figure out what to do with my life, God made it clear that he wanted me to go to school at OBU – my first move away from everything familiar, or at least the first time I was on my own. Eight years ago, God put me in Kathmandu, Nepal. I didn’t know that I would get sick and that giardia would have such an effect on my future health, nor that friends would be put in my life to help me when I needed to hear truth. Four and a half years ago while drinking tea and talking to Jesus, I was told by the Holy Spirit to go to New Zealand. There was no knowing that I would meet Mark or Ellen and my other friends here, or that I would take care of two beautiful girls that I still think about every day – nor did I know that I would get sick for two whole years of my life. Two years ago, I had a dream that I was teaching in Nocona, Texas and somehow I found myself there.
My point is that we don’t always know what’s ahead of us. In fact, most of the time, we don’t. I think that is for a reason. There is a purpose in not knowing. I didn’t know that there was a reason for my depression. I didn’t know that there was a reason for chronic and adrenal fatigue. I didn’t know that there was a purpose in my dad’s car accident or my mom’s diagnosis with cancer. But, God showed me enough. He showed me hope as far as I could see – and that was far enough.
All I need to do with my life is do what he says to do. Therein is my hope – that there is a God who cares enough about my life to tell me where to go. He must have a purpose if he takes time to lead me and to hold me along the way.
I didn’t know what the lodge was like when I started up the mountain yesterday. I didn’t even know if it would be warm. I didn’t know if there was a café in it with a soy cappuccino waiting, or if it was just a little hut where we would freeze to death. When I first came to New Zealand, I didn’t know what it was like. I didn’t know anyone, and I certainly didn’t know what I would face or who I would meet. But, I saw hope in my Saviour as he walked beside me, holding on to me when I could move on my own, always pointing me to the next level up, the next ridge, the next conflict in life.
That, indeed, is all we need to keep climbing our Everest – whatever that is for each of us. A Saviour. A hope.
He is all we need for every step of the path.