Friday, January 2, 2015

Hanging on to the Fence

Forty-something women with kidney transplants and several pounds too many on their never-athletic frames should not believe they can scramble up the side of a mountain after three able-bodied teenagers. Wearing a skirt.

Yet there I was, high in the Bavarian Alps, on a top secret mission from middle child, clinging to an old wire fence and pulling myself up a vertical ascent over tree roots and rocks, trusting that said fence could reliably bear my extra pounds and not uproot itself and send me tumbling to my demise. In a skirt.

When we realized that middle child's GPS was leading us not along a horizontal path but straight up the mountain (and who said north is not up??), I nearly took a pass. I almost said, “Too hard. I cannot do this. We've got to go back down down and forget about it.” I could not imagine how I was going to have the stamina for that climb, particularly not being quite certain we'd even find what she sought.

But I didn't. I could not disappoint her and her quest. Which is how I ended up on the fence. In a skirt. Partway up we noticed a young man climbing behind us. I'm pretty sure he saw way more of my middle aged booty than he ever bargained for. Not only that, but the poor guy was only taking that insane route because he thought we were in search of the perfect photo, and he wanted it, too. 

When he found us all gathered around middle child's treasure at the top instead, going nuts over a box of google eyes, paper clips, and other odd items, he got very confused. He didn't appear aware of the term “geocache” at any rate. Right now, there are probably stories circulating somewhere in Asia about four women doing occult rituals involving goggly eyes on top of the mountain behind Neuschwanstein Castle.

If journeying is a common metaphor for the Christian life, climbing is a major motif for that theme. Moses went up the mountain, as did some of the disciples. Who that has read the Chronicles of Narnia can ever forget the image the unicorn Jewel of crying, “Further up! Further in!” when presented with the grand vista of knowing more and more of God? It sounded a depth in our own hearts, because we know we have far to climb, but it will be worth the effort.

You can almost see the heights in Paul's horizon as he writes, “I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” (Philippians 3.12-14)

I press on. I keep going. The prize is up there, and quitting is not simply a disappointment but a disavowal of my entire purpose.
Sometimes, we climb on excitement, like Jewel. Other times, the truth is, we climb on sheer determination not to give up. We don't see the top, and we are not certain of what we'll find. We do as Paul says, we keep going, despite setbacks and frustrations and fears. We refuse to quit when every muscle aches to. Sometimes, it's just pulling yourself up by the fenceline, not an abandoned canter up a grassy slope.

Climbing that mountainside, I felt a lot less like the optimistic little engine that could and more like the stubborn mule that would, no matter whether it was a good idea or not. In the end, however, it doesn't rally matter, does it? Either one gets you to the top. Sometimes, optimism fails you, and sheer tenacity is all there is to cling to. And it will get you to the top, if you hang on to the fence for dear life and just keep going.

By the way, the view from there is beyond spectacular.

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