Monday, August 6, 2018

Where Faith is Not a Fight

Our trip to the Mountains

I forgot that I even had a blog, but this family vacation was so wonderful, I realized I needed to write about it. It isn’t just the fact that we had so many great adventures, but this vacation was a milestone for us. It was the first trip in years where we had all of our children together. And as an added bonus, this was the first family vacation where a particular one of our children did not have any incidents, meltdowns, or fits. Normally, whenever we do anything as a family for an extended period of time, we expect him to flip out at some point and negatively affect the rest of the family. It usually ends with multiple people in tears and many broken hearts. It’s happened at least once on every trip we’ve ever taken and it has created a lot of stress and trauma around family vacations. But not this time. We had normal teenage attitude, but in general everything went smoothly and everyone was great. It was a different experience for us, and my heart is so joyful and thankful to God for continuing to heal our children and restore our family.

Here are some amazing things we did with the kids:

(Brendan is our family chess champion)

We hiked
We enjoyed nature and stunning views

We played in a waterfall (Zapata Falls)
Watch the video!
We played all day at this lake
where the big kids built a working raft out of driftwood
and we all got completely covered in mud (and a little sunburned).
 Just so you know, we are not sitting or laying in this mud. We are standing straight up. This is some kind of crazy sinking mud and it was clearly made for my family.
To truly understand this mud situation, watch this video! It was amazing!
We visited an alligator sanctuary where we held a baby alligator named Michaelangelo

 We saw tons of grown up alligators
(including the famous alligator, Morris, who starred in Happy Gilmore)
We touched and fed giant tortoises who were roaming around the park
We saw two grey wolves who were being held at the park until the wolf sanctuary could take them. (I put my fist a few inches away from the fence to let a three-legged wild grey wolf sniff me and he licked my hand!!!)
Here is an adorable video of Alexander playing with his new alligator
We visited and climbed the Great Sand Dunes.
Seth and Jared (with Alexander on his back) summited the High Dune (699 ft), while Brendan went an extra four miles to summit the highest sand dune in North America (750 ft).
We didn't actually take pics while on the dunes, but this is what it looks like from far away:
We found a great food truck for dinner one night where we encountered tons of hummingbirds!
We even got some to land on us!
Watch this video!

And here's my beautiful daughter
After our full and fun week with the kids, Jared drove them back to Wichita to stay with my wonderful, amazing, fantastic, unbelievably helpful, super-mom. I stayed behind to have a solo night in the wilderness, where I hiked, studied the Bible, and had an all out amazing time BY MYSELF! Yay!

Jared picked me up the next day and we started our own adventure with just the two of us! It was 6 days of no phones, no work, no kids. Just us, in nature. It was like a honeymoon. I cannot thank my mom enough for allowing this to happen!!

Here’s what we did:
Sunday we climbed the beautiful Arapaho Peaks!
We summited South Arapaho Peak (13,400 ft), 
then traversed to the summit of North Arapaho peak (13,500 ft) and back again. 
Funny story- I started getting altitude sickness on the way down so Jared sent me ahead of him, while he turned back to grab some stuff we had stashed on our way up the mountain. Lack of oxygen is not good for decision making, and after a few minutes, I lost the path. I closed my eyes and called out to Jesus to show me a sign or lead me in the right direction. As soon as I opened my eyes, a marmot appeared about 15 feet in front of me, and pointed his nose east. I was not sure if this was a coincidence or a sign from the Lord, but I started walking east, and there was the path! And that’s not all. This happened two more times! Twice more I lost the path, and twice, marmots ran ahead of me and showed me where the path was! I was on the path for a while when I started to wonder if I had gone too far.  Even though Jared and I had not been separated for very long, I started getting worried. The lack of oxygen was not helping my common sense. I wondered if I had been crazy to follow marmots this whole time. I cried out loud to the Lord again- this time for Jared to find me. A few minutes later I heard three short whistle blows- which is our signal if we get separated. At first I thought it might have just been birds and wishful thinking, but I heard it again, this time accompanied by Jared calling my name. He found me! I told him I had stupidly been following marmots thinking they were showing me the way, and he told me I was going the right way, so the marmots actually helped me! Thank you, Jesus!
We got down safely and all was well!

Monday we took the Pawnee Pass on the Continental Divide,
which is a very strenuous (but gorgeous) nine mile route, up to 12,500 ft... 
and back down to 10,000 ft where we camped at the beautiful Mirror Lake for three nights.
This is why it's called Mirror Lake:
This is the view from our tent!
Tuesday we were too tired to do anything so we slept a bunch and lay around in the hammock staring at the beautiful scenery, including this killer view of Lone Eagle Peak!
And Wednesday we summited Lone Eagle Peak!!!!!
It was incredible and the highlight of our trip. It is a class 4 route, which means it involves some pretty serious climbing (but without needing ropes) and even though Jared is a rockstar and does this kind of thing all the time, I am super proud of myself for doing it!
Here's us at the top!
And here are my favorite wild flowers I saw on the mountain:
Thursday we had a decision to make: Go back over the grueling and exhausting Pawnee Pass back to our car, or take the much easier 7 mile, down hill, hike to Monarch Lake, and figure out a way to get around the mountain and back to our car.
We chose the latter.  
We broke camp and headed down to Monarch Lake, praying that God would work out a way for us to get back to our car. We learned from a ranger that hitchhiking is legal in Colorado, so when we arrived at the lake, we started asking around. Two nice ladies gave us a ride to a town outside of Denver, and from there we called a Lyft to the trailhead, and our car. It was a miracle in itself that there was even a Lyft driver around- she showed up in less than 15 minutes! Both of these rides were filled with lovely conversations where we were able to share a bit about what God has done in our lives. Our wonderful Hawaiian Lyft driver also helped me plan my next vacation to Maui. :)

Side note: my amazing gentleman of a husband would not let me carry anything but water down to Monarch Lake because I was hurting from all our crazy adventures.
So here he is carrying EVERYTHING (and also hiking in his Luna sandals).
I love this guy.

Being in nature for two weeks (with no reception) allows a lot of time for self reflection and prayer. Every time I hike up a difficult mountain, I am overwhelmed with how similar to life mountain climbing is. It is so difficult and often you can’t imagine finding the strength to make it, but when you look around there are so many beautiful things to see, so many blessings along the way. You can always look behind you and see how far you’ve come, what you have been able to accomplish. The entire journey is filled with worship and praise for God- for who he is, what he has done, and the beauty he has created- along with constant crying out to him for strength and wisdom (and often relief from pain). It became clear to us how easy faith is in the mountains. We pray when we need strength, when we need to find the way, when we need to weather to change. And when He comes through, we are not even surprised, just thankful. (It started raining while we were on our way up Lone Eagle Peak, which would have made it impossible to summit, but we quickly prayed for Jesus to take the rain away- and immediately it stopped!)
Kristine Demarco's lyrics rang through our head this trip:

You carry me up the Mountain
Carry me to the heights
Where I understand your story
Where faith is not a fight

Those lyrics made perfect sense to us. On the mountain, there is nothing we can do but depend on Him. Faith is not a fight. It's easy. And the only thing that gets you through is having your eyes on the prize, fixing your gaze on that summit, on the reward you will reap from your hard work and trusting in Him. My life has been so hard the past 12 years, and especially the past 3 years. And just like when I’m struggling up a mountain, my dependance on God grows exponentially through each trial. Just as many of the mountains I climb seem way beyond my physical ability, this life God has given me is way beyond my emotional ability. Most of the time the only thing that gets me through is keeping my eyes on the prize- knowing that God is preparing a place for me- a place of beauty, rest, joy, love, and an eternity in His glorious presence. When you get to the top of a difficult mountain, there is nothing like it in the world. You know all your hard work, pain, confusion, and trials were worth it. You know every step- the beautiful ones and the difficult ones, got you where you are. All of the things you see and experience, you never could without the hardships. The hard things actually make the joy possible. Someday, we will see how each trial we encounter in life is actually leading us to God’s glory and getting us where we belong. And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace. Reminding myself of this each day means faith can be easy in regular life too, not just on mountains. When you understand His story, faith is not a fight. It's easy.