Sunday, June 22, 2014

A {Perfectly Difficult} Day in the Mountains

{the start}

The morning sky was just beginning to show itself when we headed out yesterday. We were up at five-o'clock, filling a daypack full of food meant to feed six people for the day, hauling the children out of bed, and heading out with the hope of a day in the mountains; a day breathing air that was fresh and clean from the pollution of the city, a day with a dirt path under our feet and the smell of pine and thick underbrush in the air.

If there is one small thing I have learned living in a country that is not your own, it is that things often don't go according to plan. Here is a good rule: The plan will be different than you anticipated, and who knows what may happen. Inevitably, I have found that heading out to do anything, anything at all (with or without my family trailing along) is usually a harder, longer task than I expected. This may sound frustrating, and it can be. But this simple reality has taught me quite a lot and it has changed me. It has shown me that I am not naturally the flexible, easy-going girl I imagine myself to be in my head. And it has taught me that if I knew all the facts ahead of time, I would likely choose to opt out of most experiences that have actually ended up being far more rewarding and important than the "difficulties" they were made up of.


Yesterday was no exception.
Our plan on paper was to head out with a group of local friends to an undeveloped area in the mountains outside the city. To get there was an hour ride on the subway, then a two hour bus ride. We were expecting to hike on a moderate trail with no stone steps, no crowds, and no trailside vendors selling trinkets and food along the way. We were expecting to stop for lunch somewhere on this moderate path, and then hike down in the afternoon, boarding the bus around three-o'clock and being home somewhere around time for dinner.

Instead, we found ourselves tagging along on an ambitious effort to ascend a steep, slick, endlessly upward trail with the goal of reaching the summit in four hours (or however long it took) and then heading back down to "hopefully" board the buses by seven or eight-o'clock. Maybe we would get home by ten.

As our team leader shared this plan ten minutes into our hike, I looked around at the two-year old strapped to my Man's back, the boys plunging ambitiously ahead of the pack, and my five-year old bringing up the rear of the group and wondered if we were going to fit into the day's agenda very well.

It's true, on paper I would not be up for this. A mountain outing all day with a two-year old who can't keep from hurling himself over the rock ledge and into the creek? No thank you. An all day mountain outing with a five year old dragging herself up miles of steep, slippery rock trails, falling and scraping her leg with no choice but to keep going? No thank you. An all day mountain outing where five unexpected hours are spent at a little bee infested creekside clearing, waiting on the rest of the group to summit and return? No thank you. An all day mountain outing where it takes four different legs of travel by taxi, subway, bus and walking just to reach the trailhead? No thank you. An all day mountain outing where I have four little people to keep watered, fed, safe from falls and scrapes and pricks, not to mention psychologically strong enough to keep going and not give up? No thank you. Yes, on paper it sounds like a nightmare and everything opposite of refreshing.

{rock lover}

But this is where so many of these circumstances happening over and over again in these recent years have taught me a most valuable lesson. It is valuable to me at least, because I can see that without it, I would continue to see myself as "flexible and easygoing," all the while being unwilling and unable to push through hard circumstances to experience the reward that comes with them.

Sometimes these rewards seem small on paper too. But they are not small, and I find time and time again that they are far more than enough. This is something that keeps pounding itself into my head as I learn this lesson over and over again: even after a trying day, there are intangible pieces of goodness that come in greater measure than the long list of difficulties. Yesterday for instance was filled with not a little discomfort, but in equal measure there was joy in watching my children romp through the outdoors, and find real happiness in it. Not a trumped up, I'm-making-this-sound-better-than-it-was for the sake of my story kind of happiness. Just the kind that comes from humans being in the beauty of God's natural world and finding it fun. And they didn't seem to know they should be tired and whiney and complaining this was far too much for them too handle. They pushed through and worked hard and kept going. I was so proud of their strength and tenacity and so thankful for the fun and freshness of the day in spite of it all.

It's going to seem small as I list them, the snapshots of goodness that were were given, but they were reward enough for me.

There was silliness on the bus as we shared embarrassed introductions in broken English and halting Chinese. There was my my girl catching butterflies and my boys building dams in the creek. There was the rushing of water over rocks and wild ferns at my feet. There was the vista and the view and the sky wide and blue overhead. There was the evening light stealing over the mountainside and the smell of twilight in the air, something that always does my camp-loving heart a great deal of good. There were our friends, hearty and generous and ambitious, and if for a moment I felt that at times they were not thinking of our predicament, they also taught me that at times I am too uptight and there is real truth in their little phrase meiwenti, it's not a problem.

There was more and it is all wrapped up in my memory of the day, and in the memory each of us will have of it. I am reminded that it is God's mercy that I don't know everything ahead of time and that I am not given the facts of the day before it is played out. I wouldn't choose it, but having gone through it, I know that I would not choose otherwise. Isn't this the way of our lives, the days that make up the years that make up the whole of what we will one day look back on? I'm certain that what I am learning is nothing less than faith and trust, played out in tales of days in the mountains which impress upon me like parables, and in the day to day life I am called to that often feels nothing like an adventure, but will one day be see in all it's wildness and wonder.


{boulder climbing is the best}

{ferns are my favorite}

{riverside painting}

{lovely path}

{hold him or he swims}

{who needs boyscouts}


{inevitable end}

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