“Would you be up for hiking Half Dome?” Our California friends asked us this question as we planned a visit with them during the summer of 2009.
We had never heard of Half Dome. Our friends warned us that it would be a challenging hike, but since we were in the mood for some adventure we agreed. How rough could it be?
I had only a vague frame of reference for numbers like 4800, the total elevation gain in feet, up to 8000 feet above sea level, and 14-16, the number of miles traversed in a round trip to the top, so they did not compute into any meaningful mental expectation. “Whatever. I’m sure it will be fine,” I thought.
We began our hike at 6:00 am and walked for hours before we could even see our destination. No matter. Energized by stunning vistas, waterfalls, and rock formations set off by sunshine against an impossibly blue sky, we marched on in anticipation of reaching our goal, the top of Half Dome.
At about 1:00 pm we stood at the base of the final ascent looking at up at the bald rock we intended to scale.
It hadn’t looked so hair-raising from a distance.
That line up the side of the rock is a string of climbers stepping from one wooden slat to the next while holding onto cables fastened to the rock about an arms length apart. To attempt that on our jello legs, fatigued from seven hours of hiking, seemed…CRAZY.
But we’d come too far to wimp out just short of our goal, so we commanded our lethargic legs to step up to the first slat. It wasn’t so bad one step at a time. In fact, I enjoyed it. It was exhilarating. (And I really don’t like heights very much. At all.)
A young woman just ahead of us on the cables was having a tough time. She literally cried the entire way up to the top. “I’m afraid!” “I want to get down!” “I can’t do this!” “Sob…” Since we were right behind her we were quite invested in her success, so we shouted out encouragement. “You can do this!” “You’re almost there!”
She made it to the top. So did we. It was worth it.
Sometimes I feel like I’m climbing a spiritual equivalent of Half Dome, scaling mountains of fear, peaks of doubt or impossible circumstances.
I have complete empathy for the young woman whining her way up that final ascent, for I tend to do the same thing as I climb spiritual Half Domes. “Why do I have to face this challenge, God?” “I feel afraid and vulnerable.” “I want to go back to level ground!” “This is too hard!”
I desire a strong and overcoming faith, but my faith legs are weak and wobbly.
The most difficult mountain I’ve had to climb in faith was a cancer diagnosis and the resulting surgery, radiation and chemotherapy treatment. That challenging journey began with surgery six years ago today. I did my share of crying, whining, and begging for Someone to get me off of that particularly steep incline. Yet, by the grace of God and with the encouragement of many people behind me, I took one step after another and made it to the top on my weak and wobbly jello legs of faith.
And then I could take in the view. I saw a God who loved me, who had promised to see me through that challenge, and who was absolutely faithful to his promise. Looking back, I saw the love and support of family and friends and that God had given me the courage and strength that I couldn’t muster up on my own during such a stressful time.
It was hard. My legs were dangerously wobbly. I don’t ever want to do that again. (I think I said those very words to my husband on my way down from Half Dome.)
But the view from the top was spectacular.
The following verses, read to me by two different people in the twenty-four hours before my surgery, were the cables that I hung on to while I climbed:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” Isaiah 43:1-3
What have you seen from the tops of your spiritual Half Domes?