Over the hill and still climbing!

Perhaps the “hill” has a new summit age now that 50 is the “new 40”, 40 is the “new 30”, etc. Either way, I’m pretty sure I’m considered over it these days, at least by folks younger than I.

The thing I’m noticing, though, is that life doesn’t feel like a downhill slope – and for that, I am grateful and utterly encouraged! As a matter of fact, life still feels very much like an ongoing upward climb. At the moment, it feels like one of those climbs that goes from shelf to shelf. You know, you climb for a while, then take a short, level rest to catch your breath, then start climbing some more.

The most curious thing about climbing is that most of the time, you can’t see the top. You may see glimpses of the top – just enough to stay encouraged – but you never know precisely how the top is going to look or feel once you get there.

If I think too long or too hard about the climbing metaphor, I remember my first experience at rappelling. I attended a “summer enrichment” camp. Rock climbing and rappelling was one of our excursions. I don’t remember the climb, but I remember that after I reached the top and was asked to begin the descent, my knees were shaking uncontrollably – so much so that it took me a while to get myself back together well enough to be able to make the trip back down.

That’s what trauma does. It robs you of your memory of the beautiful climb. I’m sure the climb was exhilarating! I’m also sure that, if I had been aware that I would be gripped by fear and amnesia-by-trauma, I would have processed the trip up in some intentional way that would have allowed me to retain my good memories.

Since those days of youth, long ago and mostly forgotten, I have climbed many mountains, up and down. (Not real ones, mind you. Metaphoric ones. I do like to hike, but I believe my rappelling experience cured me of any notion that I might one day grow up to be a rock climber.) I must confess that I remember the more traumatic times more vividly than I remember the beautiful and peaceful times.

Now that I’m “over the hill”, or at least close to it, I think God is giving me a new gift: the gift of remembering the good. For this next phase of my life, I will remember what was traumatic only to the point of reflecting on what I’ve learned from it and seeing the love that brought me down to safer ground. I will be intentional about recognizing and remembering the beauty of each person and each day. Oh, what memories I will have!

My wish for you this Christmas Season is this gift of recognizing and remembering the beauty in your own life. Oh, what beautiful scenery we will see as we climb, each to our unseen mountain-tops!

The Art of Choosing

We are all faced with choices every day. Some are more critical than others: black suit or brown suit, salad or combo #5, answer “yes” or “no” to a new job offer, get up early for exercise and devotion or sleep in for those few extra minutes . . .

As a very young woman, I decided that I wanted to move away from North Carolina and everything I knew here to pursue my musical interests. I gave myself three choices: LA, Boston, or Minneapolis. Each of those three had its own special attractiveness. My method of choosing was a bit reckless for the implications, but I remember throwing a dart at a map to see which city would be my destination and my new home. I had no idea the day I made that choice how much my life would change based on that particular decision.

I suppose we never really know how life-changing our decisions can be. We do know, however, when life begins to feel out of control. Sometimes that happens through no fault of our own, but other times we feel that way after we’ve made some bad choices. I don’t think we ever set out to make a bad choice, but if that happens too often, we lose confidence in ourselves as competent agents for our own life decisions. We may lose hope for a good life regardless of what we do because we’ve created such a difficult “bed to lie in.” And then we decide to stop making importance choices. We might decide to just keep things exactly the way they are, hoping that this approach might make it possible that, at the very least, things will not get any worse.

The thing about the no-choice approach is that it really is a choice . . . but, once again, it isn’t a very good one. I have made several very good choices in my life that turned out to be of critical importance. I have plenty of experience with difficult outcomes from risky choices, too. I found it necessary after those times to spend some time regrouping, whatever that might mean in the situation. But soon the day always comes when I know I must make another big decision.

While I understand now how important it is to choose well, I also understand that some of the decisions I have made that may seem to be the most unwise are the choices that have brought me through trials that taught me the most about God, about myself, and about others. When we place our faith in God and then make our choices with confidence that God will redeem our perceived failures, then we have the advantage of choosing based on faith instead of basing our choices on fear. And after we carve away our fear and make our choices based on God’s redeeming love for us, then the sculpture of our life becomes more and more unique, more and more beautiful. Even the scars that might have defined us take on an intentional, artistic quality in the light of God’s faithfulness.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight.” (Proverbs 3:5, NRSV)