You don't always get to choose.
I remember getting a phone call from a friend …
“Wanna climb Rainier next weekend?”
“Can we do that?!?” I asked.
“Yep, my husband climbed twice last week (What??!) and a crew of us are going.”
“Sounds good. I’m in!”
We set off, a thirteen woman crew. Nine of us had been mountaineering guides at a Young Life camp called Beyond Malibu, and four friends new to mountaineering were along for the adventure.
The alarm went off. It was 3 am. A mix of adrenaline and dread. I could already hear rustling about in the neighboring tent. We were on day three of our trip and it was summit day. I was excited to stand on top of Mt. Rainier but knew we had a long slog of a hike ahead of us. The summit lay six hours straight up.
We geared up, three women tethered together to form each rope team. I was tethered to Lauren, our trip leader, and a friend who was new to mountaineering. Climbing was way out of her comfort zone, but she wanted to go. It was already a huge accomplishment for her to reach base camp, and I was proud of her for her efforts. I was unsure about her summiting. I wanted her to make it, I know that we are all way more capable than we think, yet I had seen her struggling the past two days, and knew a grueling day lay ahead. But that morning I was full of optimism and excitement as we set off.
Before long, our pace started to slow as our friend began to struggle. We began moving aside to let other teams pass. It soon slowed even more.
Internally I was struggling. I was fighting frustration. I was fighting to want to cut free from my rope team and run up the mountain. I didn’t want to be held back. I wanted to reach the summit. The other part of me knew I couldn’t safely make it alone. I needed a rope team. I wanted my friend to be there with us. I wanted her to summit. Was I being selfish? Just thinking about summiting? Was I being naive by allowing us to move forward? Should we have turned back long ago?
After a few hours of slowly but surely making some progress, she decided she couldn’t go any further. She wanted to go back to base camp. We turned around to take her back. The sun was just about to rise. Orange began peeking over mountaintops. I was awestruck.
Back at camp we got her water, food, shelter and a sleeping bag. Me and Lauren huddled up. Do we head back out, or call it a day?
We’ve gotta go, I thought. I was glad we brought her farther than she would have ever traveled alone, and glad she was back where she wanted to be, but I needed to go. I couldn’t sit in base camp. We needed to go.
Fueled with adrenaline, frustration, determination, passion, vision. Off we went, back towards the summit, in search of our friends.
We had perfect weather climbing until we reached a lenticular cloud on the tip of the mountain. Almost instantly it went from clear skies and sweating to white-out and icy cold conditions. Our water bottles froze and we could hardly see the person ahead of us. Lauren and I had just entered the fog cloud when we encountered our friends headed back down towards us. They had tried to move forward, but conditions just worsened. Although we were less than an hour from the summit, we had to turn around. Open crevasses and whiteouts were not a good mixture.
We made it back to base camp hours later. Faces glowing. We hadn’t fully summited but had seen some incredible things along the way. Our friend was thankful for taking her farther than she could have gone alone. She was very happy to have stayed at base camp, yet was inspired to train so she could join fully the next time. I was thankful to have said “yes” to the invitation. Although the climb was in my skill set, I would not have known my skills were apt nor had the confidence to initiate a climb like that.
In thinking back to that experience, I’m reminded that we don’t always get to choose who we are tethered to. Family, friends, kids, spouses. It is often a delicate balance to know what to do. I can see my growing edges even as I remember this story. Was my heart in the right spot during my experience on Rainier? Absolutely not. Yet I did realize there are times to have selfless patience. And there are other times to untether and go.
When are we called to be patient? Called to put our agenda on pause and walk with others as they travel further than they would ever go alone?
For me, every hike with my toddler. She notices almost everything we pass with excitement. Every flower, every ant, every bird. I am learning to change my perspective. It’s not about the summit but being out there together, watching her learn. Learning from her. Soaking in the new perspective I get as I move slow. The sunrise I saw that morning while bringing my friend back to basecamp is seared into my memory. It was unbelievable! And a true and unexpected blessing to see it. Yet the only way I saw it was moving what felt like “backwards,” towards basecamp.
Sometimes it is time to untether and to go. It is scary. Sometimes, as C.S. Lewis puts Chronicles of Narnia, God is calling us to go “further up and further in.” There have been moments where God has been calling me to not wait for everyone to journey together, but to go. He has things he wants to show me, teach me and it’s time.
Who are you tethered to? What is God asking of you in those relationships?
Where is He asking you to have patience, take on new perspectives, enjoy the journey and look for the unexpected sunrises?
Where is He inviting you to untether and go?