Envision the young, eager hiker; equipped and ready to tackle the climb and carrying little doubt or concern for their inabilities or weaknesses. They are armed with the necessary tools to make their way to the top and proclaim victory over the obstacle of life. Such tools could include a pack filled with: a map, maybe a field guide, a first aid kit, a blanket, a light, and a compass. As the early morning breaks, and with determination, this young individual steps out on the path they see before them, and sets out on a journey that they will quickly learn can either make, or break them forever.
Thankfully, there are other hikers who cross our paths. Some even climb with us for a time, and the journey doesn't seem so long during such wonderful times. Our relations with some of these, enable us to learn how to best utilize the tools tucked safely away in our packs. Early on, one even gave us a one-way radio and taught us how to send messages to the camp at the peak. This device works to our advantage because many times, aid from camp in varying forms can be sent down to us upon our request. It's also a way we can give a status report to those anxiously awaiting at the summit camp.
The trail map, becomes our greatest ally against the weaving, winding, steep and sometimes disappearing mountain trail. It has become the key to discernment and direction.
The field guide is used as a book of information we continually add to through our own self experience and sometimes passed on to us by these fellow hikers.
Someone takes the time to teach us how to use and utilize the compass, and for a while the climb ever upward plateaus for a time. However, this ease can lead to a sense of over zealousness and we throw caution to the wind, since we know exactly what we are doing; leading to painful stumbles and minor scrapes.
On occasion, one might find themselves lost and weary. We stumble and even loose our footing to the point of falling completely off the path. We fall deep into ravines or hang precariously off high precipices. We have brought ourselves to places of sorrow such as these for many number of reasons. But the truth of the matter is, if we had simply stayed on the path, no matter how narrow; if we had ensured our footing before charging ahead so recklessly; if we had only turned the light on sooner when the darkness came closing in on us.... so many "what if" and "if only" scenarios could easily have been avoided.
Up til now, this is the greatest set back we have ever experienced on this climb. Previously it may have only been a slight trip or stumble; a slip along the muddy path. Minor scrapes and bruises. But back then we merely made our adjustments and carried on. Never before had we actually lost our footing enough to fall so far down and away from the trail. We admit that we were wrong in venturing too close to the edge of the high cliff to begin with. But previously when we had fallen we had been able to act quick enough on instinct to catch ourself from the fall and pull up from the side of the depths before experiencing such loss.
I weakly cry out for aid, hoping someone will hear, but to no avail. Sitting up and taking in my surroundings and feeling bitter because no one cares, I give up my call for help. Discarding my mangled and meager belongings, I wobble to a standing position and make my way to the side of the mountain. I'm too weak to climb, and am unable to locate any strong hand/foot holds to attempt a climb upward to the path I was once on.
Hours pass. Despair sinks in as I realize that the dangers down in these depths are at a greater intensity than they were from the trail. Darkness all around me and nothing but an unknown wondering awaits me in the shadows beyond. I've heard of this place. There have been others who became lost to this dreary place. They too had fallen from the path they were meant to stay on and now they remain here. They remain here, because they would rather discover their own paths than feel conformed to someone else's idea of how to reach the summit.
These former climbers would rather experience the sweet, raw taste of the exotic sweet fruits here, off the trail. They desire to meander with other fallen hikers, forming bonds that decrease their opportunity to climb to the beauties, wonders and bounties which await every one at the top of the mountain. The opportunity decreasing every day simply from their lack of commitment to the climb, they no longer desire to reach the top.
More time passes... days upon days even. I've lost track of time and how long its been since I was on my way to the summit and not here. I've become numb from the surrounding cold. I consider what that must be like, to gather with the fallen; as if that might be my only chance for joy after such a reckless fall. As my heart breaks at the thought of never reaching the end; never experiencing the excitement and accomplishment of reaching the mountain peak, my eyes spy the light that had fallen from my pack.
I limp through the muddy terrain, each step more painful than the last. My blood and filth stained hands reach for the light. The light is very dim, but its enough to show me where my map fell during my fall. In wrenching pain, I make my way to its resting place, and collapse. I just wish it were all over now. I'm too tired, too weak, to sore to try anymore. But I turn the warn pages of the map over and over in my filthy hands. If I can only make it up out of this low valley I've fallen into, I'll be back on the path I shouldn't have strayed from.
Ragged, and torn, I look desperately about me for any sign of what I should do next. Survival is my only hope. Survival is what keeps me from moving farther away from the trail high above me. My bag that had been strapped to my back previously, lay a few feet away and I gather a bit of strength to retrieve it and my belongings. In so doing, discover that the radio I'd been carrying throughout my journey currently resting on a ledge high above my head- just close enough to the edge that I can see it when I back away from the side of the mountain.
The radio is my life line! I HAVE to climb up and retrieve it for immediate use. If I do not, I may just die here.
Somehow, I manage to bring my mangled body to attempt the climb upward, even if its just to the radio. Its hard to obtain any sure footing or grip as I slip and scrape. The injuries I've received, send jolts of excruciating pain from my extremities as I struggle to hold on to anything that will get me closer to the ledge. After what feels like a lifetime to my weakened self, I finally make it up to the ledge. The trail, still a number of feet higher than this. I KNOW I cannot obtain the goal.
I press the button on the radio, to speak with the summit. I'm ashamed to call out for their help, and I pause for a long while instead of making the call. I'm such a disgrace of a climber. There will be no mercy. I had a simple task, and I failed to adhere to the guidelines to keep me on that task. I'm so ashamed.
Finally, I make the call for help... and I feel like collapsing.
Expecting to obtain aid from another hiker, my weary eyes are surprised to find Him repelling down to me; the Trail Maker. Saddened by my lack of abilities, tears come rolling down in burning streams. The salty moisture irritates the opened crevices of the wounds gaping open upon my lips and chin.
He rushes to my side. Of all the many souls seeking to walk in His steps, He comes down to my level of despair and pain. His eyes are sad as He surveys my condition. His warm hand gently caresses my battered one. I whisper to Him how sorry I am for letting Him down. I express what remains of my desire to reach the summit. I confess my youthful recklessness which brought me to my fall. He lovingly begins to dress my many wounds.
He gently washes away the dirt from my face. Then I see a tear fall from his eye. He tells me how concerned They have been at the summit; they had not heard from me for some time and they feared the worst. He says I was all He could think of as He left the others gathered at the top and came in search of me. He talked about how much of His strength is spent in searching out others who have become lost. He pulls me into his strong embrace, telling me how glad He is that I had been found. He holds me like this for a few moments and I feel an inner weight deep within me lifted. He was not angry with me, rather He was overcome with joy that I had been saved from the depths of my fall. He was happy that I had called out to the summit camp for help. That action had given Them hope that I wanted to be found, that I wanted to finish my climb.
Weakly, but with stronger resolve, I reach up and He brings me to stand again. He helps me strap on the extra harness He brought for the treacherous climb up and begins His ascent. Every movement on my part required more strength than I had. But each time my footing gave out, or my hand lost its grip, He reached out for me and kept me from regressing. Upon my eventual and glorious return to the safe and secure path, the Trail Maker held me close again and told me that He would be waiting for me at the top.
And so I climb up...