I am afraid of heights. My loathing of anything taller than my 7th grader is so profound, that even the low definition image of another human perched on the edge of almost anything will send me scrambling for a steady object on which to cling. I am afraid of heights, 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 stuck in the untiled soil of responsibility, obligations and fear, 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 a challenge equal to the mountain ranges that dot the technicolor lands of my dreams. 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 valiantly 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 sixteen year old, the climb would have been over before it began. Prodded along by my child’s invincible and occasionally obstinate encouragement, I began to pay close attention to the pitted stone under my feet and the increasingly intemperate sound of my breathing. The climb itself, although demanding, was not particularly physically laborious, but the constant tension between my will and fear was.
In an effort to stay focused, I kept my nose to the ground and my eyes fixed on the petite yellow confederate daisies peeking tentatively 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. Not wanting to hold my sweet girl back from the clear freshwater pools of the summit I sent her on to conquer the rock. Feeling defeated and frustrated, I wedged myself in the cleft of a boulder to wait for her return.
As I sat trying 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 quite simply 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 what is difficult to endure is sweet to remember and 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. And as I turned to face the steel blue of the sky it occurred to me that I was almost there.
I did not complete the climb that day but I will return to face it again. Because though I am most comfortable in the valley, though I am profoundly afraid of heights, though I may not have been created for mountain tops, I am finally ready for the view from the summit.