I once saw a picture of a hiker climbing a mountain in Iceland. It was a beautiful, rugged trail, obviously a difficult climb, but one made well worth it by the otherworldly beauty of the view. At that time, I was in a very difficult place in life. My physical and mental health were both dismal, and I was desperate to dig myself out of the hole I felt mired in. That image, I decided immediately, would be my motivator. I wanted to be strong enough to climb mountains in Iceland.
At the time, I was thinking mostly of my physical health. I’ve never been in shape. Not one day in my entire life. I have absolutely zero athletic ability, as my ultra-athletic husband can attest (bless the sweet, patient man). I’ve never enjoyed exercise, or been the active, outdoorsy type.
However, as my passion for travel has grown, and I’ve honed in on what travel and adventure looks like for me and my family, its become clear that I can no longer use the “I’m just not athletic.” excuse.
I want to see all the beautiful mountain ranges, not just from a distance, but up close–from the summit. I want to tirelessly walk the streets of a hundred different cities. I want to canoe down rivers, and kayak around coastlines. I want to swim and snorkel and maybe, if I can overcome my horrible fear of deep water, even scuba dive.
Jordan and I have a lot of places we want to go, a lot of adventures we want to take our children on. And we are not the tour bus type–we want to get places on our own two feet. So, obviously, I’m going to need this body to carry me there. I need it to be strong.
Up to now, exercise has been almost exclusively about weight loss and physical appearance for me. I came of age in the ultra-skinny 1990s, and that standard has taken decades to shake. But because I didn’t enjoy exercise, weight and appearance was never enough of a motivator. I don’t care what people tell you, chocolate DOES taste as good as skinny feels–maybe even better!
Now, armed with this image in my head of climbing mountains, I have started exercising and eating to nourish my body and not to lose weight. I’m not perfect at it–not even great at it. But little by little, I am learning and growing. And to my surprise, I am LOVING it. I look forward to getting to the gym and feeling powerful as I work my body. I am becoming passionate about eating nourishing foods and finding it easier to say no to the empty, harmful foods to which I’ve been addicted for years.
I’m starting to envision my body, not as thin or shapely, but as strong. Powerful. Able. Not in the future, but right now. I am strong enough today to do what it takes so that, one day, I will be able to hike that Icelandic trail.
I no longer deprive myself in order to be skinny, or push myself in uncomfortable ways in order to get in shape. Instead, I fuel myself. I fill up with the foods that heal my body and support my brain. Even when I’m exhausted, I go to the gym as often as possible, where my friend Sara (another equally exhausted, but incredibly strong woman) and I push ourselves just a little bit more than last week. We laugh at ourselves and cheer each other on. We both have mountains to climb.
You, see, I’ve lived a little in the last decade. Enough so that I now see that I don’t need to just be strong enough to make the climb. I need to be stronger than the climb.
That mountain is going to hold surprises. The hike will be rougher than I expect. The trail will be rocky and steep. There will be places where my fear of heights will cause my brain to send freeze signals to my feet, and I’ll have to move them anyways.
The air is going to be thinner on that mountain than it is in my climate-controlled gym. I need to train my lungs to breathe. When I’m miles from civilization, my choices are going to be tougher than on my smooth-running treadmill, with a stop button inches from my fingers. The climb, no matter how much I prepare, is going to surprise me. I need to be ready for the variables. I need to be strong enough to handle them.
I’m not one to offer unsolicited advice, but will you allow me to send you on your way with some motivation?
Don’t let the climb surprise you. Be stronger than the climb.
I’m not talking of physical fitness anymore. I’m talking about life. Life will be harder than you think. Learn to expect it.
Marriage will be harder than you think. Expect it.
Don’t be taken aback by the ways your two personalities will clash, even when you always thought you were so similar. Don’t be shocked and devastated when you fight over things you never thought would become issues. When life starts to crowd in and the easy romance of the early days seems to fade, don’t let despair set in. Remember, you are stronger than this climb. Begin now, preparing yourself to be compassionate and understanding of all people. Open your mind to other perspectives and refuse to believe that your own opinions are always right. Be teachable, be flexible. Begin now standing up for yourself and what truly matters to your heart, so that you will be ready to become one with another person and yet still retain who you are as an individual.
Parenting will be harder than you think. Expect it.
Look forward to all the sweetness of babies and the adventures of raising children, but refuse the rose-colored glasses showing a view that is all sweetness and adventure. Don’t be devastated by how exhausted you are. Don’t be discouraged when all the ugly human behaviors begin to show in your innocent little one. Refuse to be disappointed and ashamed when you don’t live up to your own expectations as a parent. Remember, you are stronger than this climb. Begin now, taking care of your body so that you know how to keep yourself healthy, even when you are also responsible for the health of others. Begin now, taking care of your mental health so that when hormones and tiredness and busyness flood in, you are aware of your own needs and are committed to nourishing your soul.
Foster care and/or adoption will be harder than you think. Expect it.
Infertility will be harder than you think.
College will be harder than you think.
Your career will be harder than you think.
Running a home will be harder than you think.
Death and illness of a loved one will be harder than you think.
Moving away from family and friends will be harder than you think.
Don’t be surprised. Remember, you are stronger than this climb.
Begin now, preparing for life so that when it comes at you in more painful and difficult ways than you ever imagined, you will take the hit and keep going. You knew this might happen. You trained, you were realistic and you worked hard to be ready for this moment.
Or, if you’re like me and you’ve been shocked with every twist and turn of life, been stunned by the difficulty, gasped for oxygen in the thin air, been left bloody and bruised and disillusioned by the trail — my advice is still the same. Begin now. There are still mountains ahead. Right now, in this difficult, devastated, exhausted moment, you can begin to grow stronger. Take care of your body. Take care of your mind. Learn to be compassionate and flexible and generous. Refuse shame. Envision hope, and strive for it.
And if, like me, you find yourself at a place where you cannot possibly take another step and feel like growing stronger is impossible in itself, refuse discouragement. Because Jesus himself says, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”
When everything you can give is not enough to pull you up and move you forward, you have a gentle, compassionate, never-shaming, always-present God who has already overcome this world. He will always be enough.
Take heart. You are already stronger than the climb, because the One who created you is right beside you, giving the strength to your tired limbs so that you can keep moving forward.
I haven’t reached it yet, but I can only imagine that the view from the summit will be worth every drop of blood shed on the way up.
Note: The first photo in this post, of the woman in the yellow jacket next to a waterfall, is my courageous and strong friend, Laura Bailey. She and her husband, Tom, climbed mountains in Iceland last summer, and she reminds me all the time to be brave when facing mountains in my life.
More posts you may like:
A Time to Ask for Help
The Labor of Becoming a Parent – Birth and Adoption
Why We Are Choosing Day One