“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – Lao Tzu
Once upon a time (1998) in a land not so far away (Colorado), a group of guys and I from NBT decided to get out (54 of us to be exact), have some fun (a day climb), and challenge ourselves (reach the top of a portion of the Continental Divide- Pettingell Peak).
When we started started out, many of the Alpha male hormones were raging, egos were swelling, and confidence was at an all time high (people were debating who would reach the Summit, and reach it first).
For me, however, that was not the case. My goal? Have fun, get some exercise, and stay with the group of guys that have the best sense of direction so we can come back home alive.
You see, while God has granted me many wonderful gifts and abilities that I can take no credit for, navigation is not one of them. I’m one of those people who can go somewhere 30 times and still get lost on the 31st. One time… ok, actually twice, I got lost on family properties (less than 10 acres) and they had to come find me. Yes, with dogs and everything.
So when we were headed up the mountain, inside I wanted to reach the top like every one else (although I wasn’t too concerned with getting there first; I just wanted to make it). However, I wasn’t intending to do so based on history. My plan? Just do my best, enjoy the journey, and get home in alive.
And Off They Went!
So after a brief couple of minutes of coordinating the meet back time/plan, a few safety warnings, and prayer (what we needed most), we were off.
Some of the guys (about 30 of them) bolted up the mountain like horses out of the starting gates in a race. Filled with enthusiasm and youth, I think they truly thought they’d run their way to the top. 🙂 Needless to say, the more ‘sensible’ and experienced of us stayed back, let them trample one another, and then began our ascent to the top.
While their are many great life lessons that God showed me through this journey, funny stories, and crazy events that happened that day that we can all learn from, for the sake of time, we’re going to skip to the end.
A Fork in the Road
Now down to about 24 guys in our group, we reached a point in the climb where we all had to make a decision- which way to go? You see, we had come to a point where the paths made a “Y”. One lead to the summit. The other, to a lesser mountain and social failure. So after many minutes of heated debate which was the right way to go, the majority consensus (about 18 in the group) was to turn left because it looked “higher”.
Here’s the crazy part. Knowing that my sense of direction is terribly poor, and the object of this mission was to survive and follow the ‘navigators’, something inside of me said, “No. That’s not right.”
So I stopped, prayed and asked God for wisdom, and made the decision to go to the right because I believed that the reason this mountain looked smaller was because it was farther away. At that point, 5 men agreed and decided to join me. Worse yet, they made me the unsaid leader (if they only knew my history).
The Way Up
As we climbed this beautiful mountain, fatigue started to set in- and reality. We were unprepared for this climb physically (conditioning), preparedly (no equipment), and we had only a small amount of water between us all (not enough). With every step the terrain seemed to get that much harder and it wasn’t long into our separation from the other group that 3 of the 5 men that followed me decided to turn back and try to “catch the other group”. While that sounded noble, the real reason they headed back was because they started having second thoughts, wanted the easy way out, and weren’t sure of themselves and if they could go on. So in peace we parted ways and wished them the best.
After hours of climbing and now being in snowy territory above the tree line, we all (the last 3 of us) started to feel the effects of altitude. Each step was like a weight on our legs and breathing was getting harder.
The Truth that Kept Us Going
Ok, so here I am alone with 2 guys that trusted me, exhausted, and not sure that even if we make it to the top of the mountain it will be the Summit. And moreover, how are we going to get back down? We can all barely take another step it seemed.
So what do you do? You pray.
Gathering the guys, I said, “Hey, we can do this, but not on our own. We’re all tired, but we may never be here again. And to be quite honest, if I am, I’m not sure if I was here again I’d want to go through this again.” They all laughed in the same pain with the same sentiment. Then I went on to explain that this is a HUGE opportunity that God gave us, we are so close to the top we can see it, and all we need to do is take one step at a time and eventually we’ll get there. So together we stopped, asked God for strength and wisdom, and then continued on.
A Fatal Mistake
So we are so close to the mountain top at this point that we can see a small marker flag at the top. Not sure what that means, we were still not overly excited. Right now our only focus was take one more step. Pull yourself up one more time. Don’t worry about how tired you are, cold you are, how bad the snow is hurting your exposed fingers, just climb and don’t quit.
Well, that was going really well until we looked back.
What happened was this. While climbing (slowly at this point I might add), one of the guys looked back and said, “Hey Guys, look over there.” And what we saw was crushing. The other group that split at the “Y” (well most of them anyways) seemed to have found the Summit and were celebrating accordingly. While we couldn’t hear them, the visual of their success broke our hearts in defeat- we had made the wrong choice it seemed.
What’s Worse than One Mistake? Two.
At this point, I had to take a moment and ask God what to do. I felt like a terrible leader and friend, and now could see the crushing disappointment on my friends faces. One from Tennessee, and one a missionary from Chile.
It was then that something amazing happened. God spoke to my heart (not audibly, although I was suffering from oxygen deprivation ;), and said something like, “David. I called you here. I gave you this opportunity. And You can do this, I will help you. All you have to do is just take one more step at a time.”
WOW! Feeling invigorated, I gathered my friends and told them that they too could do this, we already made it this far, and Summit or not, we are going to reach the top of this peak. We may have made the ‘wrong’ choice on which way to go, but we aren’t going to quit. “Let’s go.”
The Unbearable Inner Demons
Sometimes in life, correction, usually in life what seems unbearable, hopeless, and impossible to us isn’t really that far off or hard. It’s our mind, false beliefs, and other people that limit us and make us quit- not reality or the challenge at hand.
The bigger problem is, once you concede and listen to those destructive lies and voices even once in your life, it leaves damage in your soul- short term and long. That is why it is so important to always give our best in whatever we do, and if need be, die trying. You see while defeat leaves long term wounds, Victories leave long term memories and memorials that give God the Glory, and you confidence and strength.
At that point though, seeing those guys celebrate, being exhausted physically, and listening to the lies in his head, one of the guys gave up. He said over and over again, “I can’t do this.” even though we were only 50 yards away from the finish line now. And while we tried to convince him to finish the race with us, he mentally couldn’t make that decision and started his way slowly back down the mountain (a decision that still haunts me to this day that I allowed him to do so. Honestly, I wish I threw him over my shoulder and carried him up).
The Point of It All
Disappointed, but determined, my Chilean friend and I continued up the mountain. The last 50 yards. Painful step after painful step. But you know what? We made it!
And made it we did. You see, when we got to the top, after a few minutes of celebration and prayer, we noticed a small PVC tube bolted to a chain, bolted to the mountain. Being inexperienced climbers and not knowing what it was, we hesitantly opened it up. And here’s what it said, something like this,
“Congratulations! You made it to the Summit! Pettingell Peak. 13, 553 ft.
Please sign your name below to record your achievement.”
What??? No way! Did that really just happen? We not only finished our course, but it was in fact the Summit! We didn’t go the wrong way, the other guys did. PRAISE GOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!
So we grabbed a rock, smashed it in half, and each kept it as a memorial unto God to remind us of how great He really is, and how He is the given of all strength and things Good. 🙂
Take Away Life-Lesson
So like I said earlier, there is far more detail and lessons that this adventure can teach us (the trip back down could be a whole chapter in a book alone), but here’s some of what we can learn from this story:
- Take one step at a time in whatever God calls you to do. Don’t ever quit.
- When an opportunity is before you, seize it and don’t hesitate. You may never have this opportunity again.
- Running a marathon is technically simple. It’s just one foot in front of the other, but its not easy by any means.
- A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
- Remember, physically, emotionally, professionally, relationally, whatever God calls you to, He will give you the strength to finish and see you through. Just don’t quit and keep taking that next step. No matter how heavy your legs are, how emotionally exhausted you are, you will get there with Christ.
Hope you enjoyed this article and it encouraged you! Below are some more resources and information to check out if you’d like.
Take care and God bless!
Scripture to Consider:
- Hebrews 12:1
- Colossians 3:23
- Colossians 4:17
- Philippians 4:13
Mentioned & Helpful Links
- Information about Pettingell Peak: http://www.summitpost.org/pettingell-peak/151733
- Information about the amazing vacation bible school program, Neighborhood Bible Time (NBT): http://www.nbtime.org/start.html