Dispatches

Climbing Out of Pain

The way to the summit is through the valley.

I am afraid of heights. My loathing of anything taller than my eighth grader is so profound that even the image of another human perched on the edge of almost anything will send me scrambling for a steady object. So it made perfect sense to climb a mountain.

I would love to thrill you with lofty exploits and tales from a climb up Everest or a trek through the Pacific Crest Trail, but in reality the only mountain within reach was a large single upright block of granite just a few miles from the traffic riddled and densely populated city of Atlanta. At its summit, the elevation is just 1686 feet, but for me it was Everest, for you see, I dream of mountains but I am afraid of heights.

On the morning of our climb my daughter and I readied ourselves for the challenge. Standing at the base of the very large rock, I fought the urge to turn in retreat. I am afraid of heights, and had I not been accompanied by the most impossibly beautiful, breathtakingly brave, incredibly bossy seventeen year old, the climb would have been over before it began. As we began our ascent I became keenly aware of the constant tension between my will and fear.

In an effort to stay focused, I kept my nose to the ground and my eyes fixed on the yellow confederate daisies peeking from between the rock crevices in the wooded landscape of the lower slopes. Counting rhythmically in my head did little to quiet the ever growing panic that began to creep in unwelcome as we emerged from the shade of the walking trail. I could no longer avoid looking up, and so I did. In that moment of clarity, as the panoramic skyline of the city appeared in my peripheral vision, so did the familiar rush of panic that threatened to throw me to the ground. Unable to trust my senses to balance, I sat.

As I worked to steady my shallow breathing and slow my racing heart, I suddenly realized that maybe I am not a girl created for mountain tops. Maybe I am most comfortable in the valley, kneeling on the battleground as God Himself deals with my heart through disappointment, grief and tears. Maybe I am most comfortable in the valley, because it is there I have experienced the presence of God most profoundly in the unfathomable depths of pain. Maybe I am most comfortable in the valley, shielded from the elements by a loving God whose grace and mercy are always enough. Maybe I am just not a girl created for mountain tops.

Taking a deep breath, I slowly lifted my chin toward the swell of the summit. By nature I am inclined to focus on the valley, and its pain. But I can’t help but wonder about the view from the mountain top. I am fairly certain that a walk through the valley can’t compare to a seat on the summit. In those few moments, hidden in the cleft of a rock, I could grasp with great clarity the purpose of the valley. I finally understood that God knew that if I couldn’t handle the valley I would never be able to conquer the summit.

David penned these words in the sixth verse of the 23rd Psalm:

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and your staff they comfort me.”

You see, the Shepherd’s presence in the valley transforms the view.

Major Lori Miller is assistant Women’s Ministries secretary/Community Care Ministries secretary for the Kentucky/Tennessee Division.

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