Friday, February 5, 2010

Mountain Top Experience

At my college, I was asked to speak in chapel about my time in the Dominican Republic. The following is what and I read very shakily in front of my peers.

The open-backed truck rumbled along the roads of Jarabocoa filled with Bethel College students. We sat prepared for one of the excursions that we had long been awaiting. Some of us were much more excited than others. I, for one, was determined and wary. Our destination was the mountain Magote. This mountain was one of the mountains that encircled the town of Jarabocoa in the Dominican Republic. All around me buzzed the happy chatter of the team as they shared stories from their week and their workplaces. We bemoaned the amount of starch that our Dominican mothers loved to feed us and we reveled in the sharing of the delicious delicacies that we had tried. The sunshine glazed the world in a golden glow and the wind whipped through my hair as our truck climbed nearer and nearer to Magote.

At the beginning of the trail, we all clambered off the back of the truck and armed with our water bottles set off. For the first twenty yards, we had the expert guidance of two cows that lumbered ahead of us down the middle of the pathway before the cows realized that they could not keep the pace. Within minutes, our team became segregated by speed. I brought up the rear. Even with the daily morning runs with my roommate, Adrienne, I was in no shape to speedily climb a mountain and that is why I had been wary of Magote. Yet, I was determined. I could climb this mountain.

For a while, I hiked by myself. It was lonely. Eventually, I caught up with my friend, Alysha. Although the climb was tough, we were not prepared for how it steepened and became more difficult. After a while, I seriously doubted my ability to put one foot ahead of the other. Yet, I knew that one step at a time would carry me to the summit. Instead of rushing to the top of the mountain, I found myself getting distracted. With the sunshine sparkling down and turning the leaves of the trees into glitter how could I not revel in the beauty all about me? Alysha and I stopped often to gaze at the town far below us and the sky all around us. Admittedly, those stops were also for a brief break from our trek. At one such break, I glanced at a tree along the path and suddenly a beam of sunshine spilled through the trees and hit the tree trunk which I had been casually looking. My eyes widened. The sunshine illuminated the diamond palace of a spider. It took my breath away. I felt as though I had entered an entirely other world almost like a paradise while I hiked. Of course, the trash that lined the trail reminded me that I was not the first to climb this path.

As the hike seemingly lengthened and steepened, Alysha and I tired more easily and more often. I found myself chattering to her nonsensically. We talked of palaces in the sky, hermit houses, and the Swiss Family Robinson home. Sometimes I would burst out into song trying to keep our morale strong. I paraphrased bible verses such as ‘do not set your mind on the things of the world but on things above’ or ‘through our sufferings, we persevere and through perseverance, gain character. From character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us.’ And we ultimately would reach the top of the mountain. These were encouraging as we found ourselves crawling up the mountain in especially steep portions. Along the way, we encountered sour orange trees, a place that reminded us of the Sound of Music, and a portion of the hike where there was nothing on either side of us except a steep drop. In my mind, I referred to this portion of the pathway as the valley of the shadow of death. Neither Alysha nor I are particularly fond of heights, therefore we had to work through our fears and keep moving forward. There were moments that I was certain that the shifting dirt that I had my foot on would slip and I would plunge to my death. Through all of this, we looked up physically and spiritually.

Exactly two hours and thirty seven minutes after beginning our climb, Alysha and I reached the summit of the mountain. I seemed like a weary and worn old traveler. My legs felt like jello and my body was covered in a sheen of sweat with a dusting of dirt. Yet, we had made it. It seemed impossible. We were greeted by the rest of the group that had become like a family to us. After locating my lunch, I sat with my friends to eat. I carefully ate, desiring to keep my dirty hands from touching the food. Yet, my intense hunger won out and I ceased to care about the dirt on my hands. As I sat, I marveled at the view that surrounded me. I could see for miles. Overwhelmed with awe for the Lover of my Soul, I turned my conversation towards God. I complimented Him on his lovely mountains and the living beauty that I had witnessed. Abruptly, my flow of compliments was interrupted by a reminder placed in my mind by my God. It seemed as though He said to me, “Do you remember that list of goals that you created for your life years ago? Do you? Remember what was on that list.” My heart froze in my concentration and filled with understanding. On a long ago day years before I entered college and knew that I was going to go on a semester abroad, I had sat down and had written a list bursting of crazy dreams and aspirations. Sitting on the top of Magote, I realized that I had just completed one of my goals.

I had climbed a mountain.

God remembers. I had forgotten, but not Him. He is faithful.

Just as the climb up the mountain had been infuriatingly difficult at points, the trip down the mountain was the complete opposite. We slid our way down. Once you started going down, it was almost impossible to stop going. One of the girls, Brittany, somehow managed to fling herself down the mountain and finished it off with a couple head over heel flips. From that moment on, we tried to be more cautious. Of course, I had not yet finished my lunch so I was eating an apple, walking, talking, and trying to find the safest pathway down. I turned to one of the leaders who was picking his way down behind me and I said, “Do you want to lead?” When he replied, ‘no,’ I proclaimed, “Okay, but I am eating, talking, and walking. I’m going to fall.” Just finishing this statement, I took a bite of my apple and simultaneously my foot slipped. The apple flew out of my hand and my butt landed on a rock. I burst into laughter. There was absolutely nothing else to do but laugh because a moment ago I had been saying that I would fall. The only thing I regretted was the loss of my delectable apple.

Going down is always simpler than climbing up. Yet, the struggle to the summit is the challenge. It is the feeling of testing yourself against nature, persevering, and completing the silent contest. At the same time, the return trip was difficult as well because we were physically exhausted. When we finally hauled ourselves into the back of the truck, we were sweaty and dirty but satisfied. On the return trip to the base, contented silence held us. I was wrapped deep within my thoughts. When I had set out on this trip, I had dreaded the unexpected. I anticipated challenge, but I had never realized how God would meet me throughout my journey. His remembrance of me in my puny struggles and crazy dreams made my heart glow.