The Hike: Saying Yes

hiking bootsThis time last year, I was training for a hike. A big one.

Am I a hiker? No. No, I am not. I thoroughly enjoy city life. I enjoy exercise in short, one-hour spurts with upbeat music blaring though my headphones. I enjoy the outdoors much the same way. My idea of a perfect afternoon is one spent reading by a window on a rainy day or writing for hours in a coffee shop, no matter the weather. I love the indoors…the predictability of the temperature, the comfort, the proximity to food, the safety. Love it, love it, love it.

But I have some friends. Lovely ones. And they love the outdoors and they love adventure and they love me enough to invite me on the adventure of a lifetime…knowing what I’m like.

Francesca had a map spread out in front of her as she explained to me what she had planned.

“We’ll hike a 14er…Princeton…in Buena Vista, CO. Then, we’ll do a 3-day hut-to-hut through this beautiful mountain range in Leadville. It will take some training, but you can totally do it.”

Hmmm. I love Francesca, and spending 4 days with her did sound awesome; but I wasn’t sure I could handle hiking outdoors for days on end as well as summiting a 14,000 foot mountain on one of those days. It didn’t really fit with the stuff I normally do…like being indoors. And though she said I could handle it, I wasn’t really sure if I could. What if I was the one holding her and whoever else went back? What if I became known as the lame-o who had to be carried off the mountain and ruined the trip for everyone? What about altitude sickness? And just run-of-the-mill sickness? And broken bones? And getting lost? And wild animals? And….

I had a long list of reasons not to go. As I listed them out to my husband, he listened quietly. He then said, “You know, Ash, you don’t have to go. But you don’t ever do anything outside your comfort zone. It may be really, really good for you.”

Well of course, this made me mad at first. I don’t want to be challenged, after all, just agreed with. I want to always be right, and not even consider the possibility that there may be opportunity for personal growth ahead. I like to know what I know. Learning is painful.

So I dug my heels in at first, and decided Matt didn’t know what he was talking about. But as days went by, his words tumbled around in my head more and more. I started to wonder if I would regret not going more than I feared I’d regret going. After all, I’d never do something like this myself. There was no “maybe later” to it. It was now or never, and I knew it. So I texted Francesca before I could change my mind:

“I’m in.”

She was great about giving me space and freedom to back out, but I believe in keeping my word. That text sealed it for me.

Francesca and I met, and I pelted her with questions. As an avid outdoors-woman, she was well prepared for them all. My final question was this: “Seriously. Do you really think I can do this?”

“Absolutely”, she said, with unshakable confidence. And that was that.

Over the course of the next few months, I took baby steps. First, I bought a real backpack….a backpacker’s backpack. Yup – $250 dropped on something I might only use once. But I had to invest myself this way or I knew I’d back out. Sinking money into the thing, I knew, would be powerful motivation for me to see it through. I loaded that thing with dictionaries and heavy sweaters and dumbbells and went out and hiked with it on the trails behind our house.

It felt weird.

I’ve only known 2 ways of traveling through wooded areas: running and wandering. It took me awhile to get comfortable with a steady, purposeful pace with a whole lot of weight on my back. But I did it, and I started to enjoy the quiet. The feeling of being creeped out by the woods and what might be in them was soon replaced by the confidence that I was a real hiker now…adventurous and free.

I asked my parents for hiking boots for Christmas. I slowly checked off our packing list as the budget allowed. Long underwear, a real rain jacket, real hiking pants, a portable phone charger, a blister kit, a solar blanket. REI became one of my favorite stores.

I started lifting weights for real, twice a week. “Suffer now so that you don’t suffer on the mountain” became my mantra. Lifting weights is uncomfortable…and not something that I typically did. However, I wanted to make darn sure that I didn’t have a problem carrying that pack uphill for four days, so I got up twice or thrice a week and pumped iron.

Interestingly, this practice fixed an issue I’ve struggled with for years.

I have, since a whiplash incident in 2011, experienced terrible neck spasms that come out of nowhere and last for days on end. These incidents have stolen my sleep, productivity, and joy. I tried chiropractors, muscle relaxers, rollers of various kinds, heat, ice, massage…you name it. And basically, I would just have to wait them out. I lived in fear of these…which is another thing that made me wonder if it was really wise to strap 40lbs to my back and hike up mountains for days. But do you know what? Since I started lifting and strengthening my neck and upper back muscles this way, I haven’t had a single spasm. Not one. It’s been well over a year now, and this practice has simply become a normal part of my life. What a gift this has been! And I’d have missed it if I’d said no to this hike. The fear of not being able to hang was the only thing that dragged me out of bed on those mornings to lift…and it ended up being the thing that has saved me so much pain ever since.

And I think now…a lot of my life has been lived in an effort to avoid pain. Yes-it’s kept me safe. Yes- it’s helped me make wise decisions for the future. But it has also held me back from so much. In the weightlifting videos I do, the instructors talk of “chasing the pain” and “chasing the fatigue”. I’d scowl at them, of course, but I knew that this was the way to real, lasting change. If I wanted that hour to matter in the morning, if I wanted to really accomplish something in that time, I needed to lean into the pain…to chase it down and hang onto it. And in the end, pursuing that pain has prevented me from experiencing the crippling pain that I had no control over and was stealing so much from me.

I wonder…in the name of pain avoidance, what gifts do we miss? What opportunities have we passed up because we knew they’d be difficult? What answers to pain might we encounter if we were willing to step into the uncomfortable for awhile, and lean in hard?

I know people who have done this…who live it. They adopt kids with special needs. They move their families to poor neighborhoods to serve there. They invite the homeless into their lives. They counsel drug addicts. While each of them experiences pain, each of them also finds new answers to that pain all the time. And the answer is always the same…more Jesus. As their suffering or struggles increase, their need for Him grows; and they come back to Him time and again to find that He is always ready to give more. The things they really need…hope, assurance, patience, grace, forgiveness, strength, wisdom…He is the very source of them all.

When I signed up for this hike, I knew I was signing up for some pain. There would be, I knew, not only pain in the process of training, but pain as we actually did the thing. Why say yes to pain? Because the assurance of something greater than the pain awaits you on the other side of it.

You know, this makes me think of Jesus.

We just celebrated Easter, and I asked the kids why He did it…why would Jesus endure such suffering? The betrayal, the brutal scourging, the crucifixion…He absolutely could have saved Himself. The author of the book of Hebrews tells us why:

“…For the joy set before Him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 12:2

The joy of conquering sin and death forever awaited Him on the other side of the pain. The joy of bringing every single person who would believe in Him to the Father awaited Him. The joy of bringing honor and glory to the Father who loved the world so very much awaited Him. And His seat at the right hand of the Father…for all eternity…awaited Him.

I’m so thankful that Jesus said yes to the pain. If you call Him your savior, He lives in you and empowers you to say yes to the things He has for you to do…even if they are painful. And He will not leave you to do it alone. If God has opened a door of opportunity for you, but you’ve not stepped through for fear of what pain lies ahead, remember this:

“But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” – Romans 8:11

The Holy Spirit who raised Christ Jesus up from the dead has the power to give you real, vibrant spiritual life now, in your mortal body. All you really need is in Him, and He will never leave you.

That door He’s opening for you? It’s an invitation to go get more of Him.

Just say yes.

{Please come back for more in this series, “The Hike”, as I share the entire story of our journey and all that God did in my life through it}


2 thoughts on “The Hike: Saying Yes

  1. Excellent Ashley…I can’t agree with you more as I truly believe there is redemption in suffering…even if we don’t recognize the gift till later. Love this Ashley!!


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