So, recently I decided that I should attempt to climb Mt. Rainier. That’s the short version of it. However, for you readers out there, here is the long version.
Let me start by saying that ever since I was a kid, I have loved winter. My love of the particular season dates back to when I would visit my grandparents in the Northwoods of Wisconsin during Christmas break. I loved everything about it; the cold, the snow, the pine trees, the crisp winter air, an early morning snow fall, how it gets dark early, and especially thawing out in front of a fire back at their log cabin with a cup of hot chocolate. I figured it was as close to heaven as God ever wanted me to be, here on earth. The annual ritual of going up to their house in the winter still goes on today, and, as a result of it, I have grown to love everything about the season of winter.
Eventually my love of winter led me to the glorious sport of ice hockey. I played for nearly 12 years during which I had acquired a couple state championships, a mid-American regional championship, and even an International championship. My hockey career was few and far between, and many people, including myself, would simply call it lucky.
Early in my hockey career, I distinctly remember going to a museum during an off day in the middle of a tournament, and seeing “IMAX: Everest”. For the first time in my life, I was truly captivated. I can’t even describe what was going through my head as I sat there with the biggest screen I had ever seen displaying pictures of the largest mountain in the world. Being young, It was hard for me to comprehend what exactly was going on, but they portrayed one thing very clearly. Everest is a desolate place, filled with danger, death, and extreme adventure. In all honesty, I myself can’t explain why that makes it a place that would captivate me, but I can tell you that it did. I remember thinking to myself, “one day I’ll climb that mountain”. Of course I was young, naive, and frankly, I had a bad case of Attention Hyper Deficit Disorder. So while the thought did linger for longer that most, it didn’t linger for long after we left the museum. Even though the thought of climbing mountains itself didn’t linger, at least predominantly in my head, I would be lying if I said it hasn’t always been there somewhat. Honestly, it has probably been one of my best kept secrets until now, even from my parents who have, at of this point, done nothing but support me in my decision to start climbing; I owe them a lot. I didn’t know how people would react if they heard that I wanted to climb mountains. I figured most of them would simply give me a sarcastic “Okay, good luck with that.” I think to be completely honest, up until now, that’s all I have ever really given myself. Every once in a while, even now, I will catch myself thinking that it’s never going to happen. Climbing mountains is no short order, and I completely understand that, probably more so than most of the people telling me I’ll never get there, which kind of scares me a little bit.
Believe it or not, I saw my first actual mountain less than a year ago on a mission trip to Arizona. From 30,000 feet the mountains in the Rockies that I saw looked big. Big enough that I would press my face up against the window just to see them and stare at them until they went out of view, at which point there would usually be a new series of mountains to look at anyways. I was amazed to see the stark contrast between desert floor and snow capped mountains. Everytime I saw a new mountain, I instantly wanted to climb it. It still boggles my mind to think that the peaks of those mountains, while very high, were still very much beneath our plane by a good distance. Had it been Everest, we would have had to fly around the peak…kind of. It’s close!
My obsession only deepened when we landed and began to drive to Globe, AZ, where we were to help build houses for Indians on a reservation. During the drive to Globe from Pheonix, we could see a couple snow capped mountains. At first, we joked and said “Hey, let’s go climb it”, even though we didn’t have the time or the resources. The joke continued throughout the week, but I quickly found that I was the only one joking about it. Looking back, I have realized that the only reason I was joking about it so much was because a part of me really did want to climb it. That trip would be the first encounter I had ever had with a mountain, and even though it was from a very good distance away, the mountains didn’t disappoint. Little did I know this would be a very small stepping stone in my decision to make climbing mountains an actual goal.
The next nudge I received wouldn’t come until Boiler Gold Rush 2009, a freshman orientation program at Purdue University for which I was a Team Supervisor. During a two day training for the team leaders, who would be the ones interacting with the freshmen during the orientation week, the staff had planned for Paul Robinson, a professor here at Purdue University, to give a speech about his recent and successful trip to the summit of Everest. I had no idea this was coming, maybe I just didn’t read the schedule close enough, but I remember being excited after hearing the word “Everest”. I listened to every word that came out of his mouth with the greatest attention. And to my surprise the people around me were falling asleep left and right. Later I would come to find out that to anyone not interested in climbing, which was 99.9% of the people there, his speech was rather boring and drawn out. I still disagree, and was left wanting more information and details regarding other topics like funding, sponsorship, equipment…the list goes on and on. Anyways, after the speech I very much wanted to go shake his hand, congratulate him, and thank him for coming, but was unable to due to the fast pace of Boiler Gold Rush. My mind would quickly return to the orientation of Freshmen coming into Purdue for the next 7 days, and far away from climbing mountains.
Eventually, BGR ended and it was bittersweet. I was tired and in need of rest, but I also knew that it would be my last. BGR had provided me with some truly unforgettable memories, but like any story that goes on long enough, it was time to move on. After resting I found myself with the time, energy, and resources after a summer of full-time employment to look into something… anything! I was bored, really bored, so I prayed about it, having about half a week’s worth of free time, I figured there had to be something productive I could do. So after praying, I decided to fix myself some lunch and think about the crazy week that I had left behind as a supervisor for the biggest freshmen orientation program in the nation. As I found myself reflecting over BGR, my mind couldn’t quite sit still. Too much had happened in too little of a time period to truly digest it as quickly as I was trying to. However, one thing did keep popping back up. Dr. Robinson’s speech on his trip to the summit of Mt. Everest. Suddenly, I realized that God had brought the mountains to me. The goal WAS attainable, it COULD be done. All of the people in the IMAX movie and the books were so distant and seemed like supermen. But now it seemed so close! It would be hard and require a lot of work, not to mention research, but it could be done. I would do it given the chance.
In the days directly following BGR, all I can really say is that I was transformed. I went from someone who dreamed of climbing mountains to someone who planned on climbing mountains. During this time I questioned everything; God, myself, my motives, even my financial situation, honestly I don’t think I believed I was going to do it. But, GOD seemed relentless in his attack. He opened door after door until I finally got the picture.
There was one door in particular I remember him opening very vividly. One of my main questions was “What’s in it for you God, how will this serve you? And furthermore, if I can’t see how it serves you, does that make it a selfish endeavor?” He answered this question swiftly with a volley of answers through books and videos all about mountain climbing and the great outdoors in general, all in the same afternoon. I found that there is a huge opportunity to minister to people through outdoor experiences. I mean it makes sense, no T.V.s, no internet, no couches to take naps on, no microwave ovens… it’s just you, your friends, and whatever you can carry on your back…add in a little danger, or a lot in this case, and you’ve got yourself an adventure in which people are depending on each other to survive! It’s the perfect time and place to tell people about Christ! Later that day I came to the conclusion that if GOD wanted to push me towards an outdoor adventure driven ministry, I wasn’t going to stop him. It was at this point when Rainier went from ultimate goal, to small stepping stone in a much bigger picture. Much like how most everything in life is but a small minute part of God’s plan, he had shown me the true size of what seemed like a very formidable task for me, and it was small, really small! It had become very clear that the adventure of Rainier was simply a smaller, sub-adventure of a much bigger adventure.
And so it began! The spiritual journey I had been asking GOD for what seemed like forever! What seemed like thousands of thoughts were racing through my head… Am I strong enough? Do I have the perseverance to actually see this through? Do I have what it takes to minister to people? How much is this going to cost? Can I raise the money? I wonder if I’ll get the opportunity to be a Mountain Guide? and in that case would I ever make it to Everest! Oh man, K2 would be cool too! Whoa, cool it dude, you don’t even own crampons yet! What will my friends think? Will they think that I am using your name, God, to justify a selfish venture? Or will they truly believe that you have given me a heart for an outdoors adventure driven ministry? Is this really what you want God?
But then I remembered this:
(Psalm 46: 10)
“Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
I read the verse over and over and over again throughout the day, and once more before I went to bed. My last thought that I can remember before I fell asleep that night was “Okay God, lead the way.”