I kept meaning over the last two weeks to share my mountaintop experience… but I hadn’t gotten around to it.
Now I’m in a valley. This is life, isn’t it?
So back in August, my employer starting talking about having me to go Zurich, Switzerland for some meetings, asking if the third week in September was open for me. I told them it was, but the bigger problem is that I had no passport (having never before had any good reason to spend the money and get one.) They said, “Get one,” so I applied, knowing that getting one in four weeks was a somewhat questionable endeavor. I left it up to God, trusting that if He wanted me to go, then my passport would be quickly approved. If it didn’t come in time, then I didn’t need to go.
I had total peace that it was perfectly okay if I didn’t go, but at the same time I couldn’t help thinking of a childhood dream I’d never quite let go of.
You see, I’d always wanted to see the Alps.
I love mountains. To me, they are some of God’s greatest creative masterpieces. Growing up, we’d have to travel through the Appalachians of western Pennsylvania on our way to visit my grandparents, and that was always my favorite part of the journey — just driving through the mountains. Then I got to see the Rocky Mountains and the Cascades a few years ago when my brothers moved there, and we went to visit each of them.
I still sometimes wondered if I’d ever get to see the Alps in Switzerland. So when the possibility of this trip came up, I knew it might be my chance.
If they did want me to come.
And if my passport did come in time.
So I started making cautious plans for my husband and I to go, looking for the best way to experience the Alps on a limited budget and schedule, but leaving the whole trip in God’s hands, whether or not it happened.
Well, our passports came in two weeks… which should be considered a miracle from everything I’ve heard.
The trip was approved by my company, and I hurriedly figured out details like how to get cell phone service there and what chargers I needed for our electronics and which bank cards could be used there without racking up huge fees. I started to worry about how I’d handle jet lag (since inconsistent or inadequate sleep has a profound affect on me), but I decided to ask God for a miracle… and I promptly began waking up at 4am in the morning! This did make me tired for those two weeks before we left, but I was still functioning pretty well despite a lot less sleep. I had to laugh and shake my head everytime I was suddenly wide awake a 4am… which never happened before I asked God to work out the jet lag thing for me!
Our departure day came, and we said goodbye and prayed over our youngest who would be home alone for the week while she worked on college classes and kept up with her job. We said goodbye and prayed over our son who lives a few minutes away. We said goodbye to our oldest and her husband and our granddaughter, and I prayed over their unborn child. And we headed out for our first trip overseas.
We made the extremely tedious series of drive and flights and layovers and trains from the middle of rural Ohio to Zurich over Friday and Saturday, and we found our way around Zurich (sort of) by the end of Saturday. Sunday was our day to see the Alps, so we boarded a train for Luzern. As we drew closer to the town, I saw the looming profile of Mount Pilatus rising beyond. That was our destination, for the view up there of the Alps (which stretch to the south beyond the mountain) was supposed to be amazing. Equally important was the fact that the mountaintop is easily accessible to tourists who don’t speak German and who aren’t conditioned for hiking up vertical mountainsides in high altitudes.
We took the cable cars up the mountain.
It takes almost an hour to ascend about 5,500 feet.
As we went up, clouds started to gather at the top of the mountain. I remembered reading about tourists who had scheduled their own trips and paid the ticket costs, only to get up there and find the whole view blocked by clouds. But I stubbornly refused to worry. At home, I had been leaving the whole trip in God’s hands, and I was still leaving it there. He knew how much I wanted to see the Alps. He had sped up our passports and He had known what the clouds would do that day since before we had planned the trip.
We finally got to the top, and sure enough, we were literally in a cloud.
As the clouds loomed and swirled around the top of the mountain, you could sometimes see a little bit of the ridge and slopes to the east for maybe a mile or so. Sometimes you could only see a couple hundred feet.
There were two peaks right there, about 500 feet apart, and each had an extremely-steep trail with rough stairs zig-zagging up to the lookout. We went up the one to the north. (The equivalent of seven or eight flights of stairs is not easy in high-altitude, when your body is used to being 6000 feet closer to sea level where there’s more oxygen!) The clouds thinned so we could see to the north, which is hilly and looked (to me) not much different than Southern Ohio. It was a beautiful view, but it was not the view I had gone there to see.
But when we turned to the south, the clouds were so thick that we couldn’t even see the other peak, 500 feet away.
Still, we went down and climbed up to that peak. The cloud went back and forth between surrounding us and hanging just off to the south.
I stood there, staring into the side of a cloudbank, knowing that on the other side of that cloud was a view I had wanted to see my entire life. Other people who came up would wander around for a few minutes, disappointedly say that they missed it and should have gotten up there sooner, and leave. Not me. “Father,” I prayed, “You know how much I’ve wanted to see this. I know that one tiny whisper of Your breath would chase these clouds away!”
So I waited.
And I waited some more, and talked to God some more, and waited some more.
I wondered how long I should wait and if it was a lack of faith to give up — at least temporarily — and go down. I worried that if I did go down, the clouds might clear for just a minute and I’d miss the view. Every once in a while, a hole in the cloud did appear, showing me a tiny glimpse of the mountains beyond! But it never lasted longer than a few seconds.
I prayed at one point, “God, I know You can clear these clouds. It’s up to You how much pleasure You’d like to bring me,” and I prayed it with full acceptance that if God had chosen to bring me this far and yet deny me the view I wanted to see so badly, then I was okay with that. I would accept that.
Still the clouds persisted.
Finally my husband said that he was getting too cold, and we had to go down soon or he wouldn’t be able to warm up. It didn’t seem fair or kind to him to keep him up there, so I agreed, and we went down a few minutes later.
We had a few hours before we had to catch the cogwheel train that I’d booked for us to get back down the mountain, so I tried to figure out what to do next. We literally stood around doing nothing, inside the warmth of the hotel that’s up there, for several minutes while I asked God what we should do and where we should go. I didn’t hear anything, but since we were standing near a staircase, I said, “Let’s see what’s down these stairs. Maybe there’s a place to see the view from the warmth inside.”
I didn’t know that God was leading me. I only knew that I had asked Him to.
Downstairs, there was a bank of windows, and outside was a balcony that continued for those who wanted to see the view. This was a much more limited view in between the peaks, but it was still beautiful.
After a little while, it looked like the clouds on the far end were clearing a little, so I went outside to see. My husband followed.
The clouds slowly cleared, and I continued farther, and farther, trying to get to where the second peak didn’t block the view.
There turned out to be a small path at the end of the balcony that went for about a mile, just down from the top of the ridge.
It wound along the curving side of the mountain, and the farther we went, the fewer people there were… and the more the clouds cleared.
The view was amazing. The mountains stretched for miles and miles, so huge and just… there… that I felt surrounded.
At one point, a curve ahead hid the people ahead of me, and my husband had not yet come around the curve behind me, so I could not see anyone else at all. I stood there with a mountain cliff dropping before me and rising behind me, and a panorama of majestic peaks spread from the east to the west. It was just me… and God.
And I worshiped wordlessly, for there were no words that were adequate.
Tears ran down my face as I felt the presence of the God who created these mountains, and who had brought me so far and worked so many things out so that I could experience this part of His breathtaking creation. He did indeed choose to bring me so much pleasure! But I felt His pleasure as well, because here was one of His children who was enjoying what He made so much and giving Him full credit for it! Just like when we make something, and we’re pleased with how it turns out, then a part of us wants to show it to others, and we want them to love it too! We want them to give us the credit for what we made, because it feels good to be recognized. That’s what I sensed God was feeling in that glorious moment that He and I shared.
You know what? If He had cleared the other peaks of their clouds while I was up there, they would have been crowded with people, and I wouldn’t have ever found out that this quiet, unfrequented trail even existed. I would have missed out. But He knew what I would enjoy most!
We continued along the path to another peak at the end, where there was a full 360 degree view.
It was amazing, but there were a few other couples up there so it wasn’t quite as special as that moment alone with God.
We enjoyed more scenery that day as we descended the mountain and then took a boat ride on the lake, and much of it was beautiful.
Then I spent the rest of the week in meetings in Zurich as planned.
But for me, the whole point of the trip was those moments on the mountain with God.
As were coming home and flying into New York, the plane banked over the water of the Atlantic Ocean, and the sunlight sparkled and shimmered across the water, and for a brief moment, I experienced the same breathtaking awe at what God had created.
I believe that God whispered that I can continue to have moments like that with Him, if I’ll just open my eyes to appreciate the little parts of His creation. Parts that I overlook and take for granted. Even a little wildflower along the side of the road can — if I let Him show it to me — evoke the same sense of awe and wonder at what He’d created. (A few days later I gained a new appreciation for a clover flower and the gradient of purple shades that each little spike in the flower has.)
Life went back to “normal” fairly quickly, except for the moments when I’d open up my collection of photos I took up there.
It was normal for 9 days.
Ten days after getting back home, my daughter and her husband learned that their unborn baby’s heart had stopped beating.
I have a lot harder time finding words in the valleys. I wrote pages about my mountaintop experience, but here, in this valley we’re currently in, my words are clipped and raw and inadequate in the opposite way.
My husband and I cry when we think of how we’ll never get to watch our second grandchild smile… learn to crawl… learn to walk… do goofy things. All the precious little moments we’ve had so far with our young granddaughter — those will never happen with this grandchild.
I cry when I realize that for the rest of my life, when people ask how many grandchildren I have, I’ll struggle to decide what number to give.
I cry over how little I can do to ease the pain my daughter and son-in-law are dealing with.
I cry over the things I know they will deal with in the future… and the things they will face that I know nothing about.
And then I turn on worship music, and I go find something to busy my mind because that is how I handle grief — by staying busy in between the moments where I face the sorrow, and by worshiping.
I have learned to handle all of life’s challenges by worshiping.
I will never get to cuddle this tiny grandson here on earth. But this little one is already in the undimmed presence of the One whose love is beyond description. My mountaintop moment is nothing compared to what my grandson has gotten to experience for a whole week already. This knowledge somehow gives me joy mixed in with my sorrow.
This is where I am right now.
This is life.
It has its ups and its downs, and sometimes it throws you from one to the other at dizzying speeds.
Nothing here on earth is guaranteed, and very little is constant. Therefore I will hold onto the Unchangeable One who called Himself “I Am.” Because He is who He is, and that is who He always will be.
Very often, this year, I have found myself unable to think of any better way to praise Him other to thank Him so very much for simply being Himself — for being who He is.
Jesus, my Savior.
God, my Heavenly Father.
The Holy Spirit, my Comforter and Teacher.
He is more than I can comprehend, and yet here with me, both on my mountaintops and in the valley of the shadow of death.
Where would I be without Him?
1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
– Psalm 121:1-2