It's a Tuesday that feels like a Monday, as is per usual at our place with serving beginning on Saturday and us swapping Mondays for a leisurely day and all.
So much is on my heart that it feels like the foam on the cappuccino ready to slide down the side.
This post began months ago, when the Lord brought me to a conference that asked me, "What does the Lord want you to do?"
At that moment it was writing. It was letting go of fear of failure and fear of not being helpful enough and confident enough to encourage even one.
Fast forward half a year to the Lord allowing us an amazing opportunity to encourage our military men and women and their families In Italy at the end of March. Then my husband decided to take me away while overseas for our twentieth anniversary a bit early. How on earth is it possible that we have been married and in ministry almost 20 years!
While away, one of our anniversary "bucket list" items was to visit Mt. Vesuvius.
I know. Iconic, right?
We booked one of those day trips to see Vesuvius AND Pompeii all in one day. Because after speaking for a week, why not end with a heart attack on an old volcano?
We were the first stop for our tour bus and we noticed something hilarious as we picked up couple after couple... we could understand everything they said! Living in Sicily for a week where Italian is the word on the street, hearing English makes you eaves drop without even thinking!
(We interrupt this blog post to tell you all about the delightful man whom I now call affectionately "MJ" after knowing him a whopping ten minutes. He just began talking while I was typing this and I loved every minute of it! He grew up in Boardman and had to fist-bump me over Molnar's cinnamon rolls at the Canfield Fair. He couldn't help but look heavenward and thank God that his 11 year old twins made it out of 5th grade and told me all about his Grandmother Mimi and how many kids she had. Twins of course. I told him that he can never tell those children of his how proud he is of them, or how much he loves them enough. He's pretty stoked about the Youngstown Bowlodrome and all the memories it held for him. My heart swelled watching him hold my little fat red bible and read Proverbs 3:5-6. I shared with him that the only way we can have peace is through Christ's finished work for us- to trust him with all of our hearts. He thanked me and I thanked God for an opportunity to share Him with my new friend. What a life we have! What opportunities abound to share the hope within us. I left my bible open to Proverbs just in case he wanted to think more about what I shared...
The purple hat gang are now crooning to old love songs at the table next to me, but I am determined to stay focused and publish this post, no matter how adorable they are!)
Our bus filled up and off we were to climb a mountain. Seeing the plan online was one thing, getting off the bus and grabbing a hiking pole was quite another! It felt like I was in another world.
And in perfect "Deena" like fashion, I immediately had to use the restroom. This is now my new "norm" whenever something half-frightening is ahead of me. Be it a difficult task or even a Walmart run, you will see me heading for the restroom first. You know you're not in Kansas anymore when your tour guide in broken English tells you that you must purchase something from the run-down shanty store if you want to use the communal toilet. I snagged a pack of gum nervously and wondered the whole time if I would make it up the mountain.
Some of our tour group were worried about Brexit and the like, and Joel seemed to enjoy the prospect of conversation including more than four words of English and I just stood in the bathroom line wondering if I would make it up the mountain.
I didn't let on how fearful I was when I thankfully rented a walking stick or when I listened to my husband explain how to use it correctly, or when we took those first steps onto black sandy volcanic soil.
For the life of us we could not understand how everywhere we went had a ba-zillion kids. It was like every junior high school figured out our itinerary and beat us there. Kids were speeding down the hill and some even speeding past as I ascended the hill. I stayed extremely close to the old wooden fence and realized that this sandy/ashy soil was going to be more of a challenge than I had expected.
Most of all I was wondering if I would actually make it up the mountain.
This was just too hard for me.
Joel talked and pointed out beautiful vistas and I just wanted to get one foot in front of the other. I'd stop and look up and try to catch my breath and he would graciously tell me to take my time. After the second or third switchback, (in case someone does not know what a switchback is, it's when the mountain plays a dirty trick on you making you believe that you have made it to the summit only to show you another path criss-crossing up the side, and you find yourself zig-zagging for most of your life.) I became overwhelmed with the distance I had to go.
Joel at one point made me stop and take a bite of a snickers we brought which he explained was perfect climbing fuel- and I just wanted to get to the top. I took a bite and a few sips of water and it was about this time that the Holy Spirit taped me on the shoulder.
"Keep your eyes down. Just worry about your own steps."
When I looked up, even to Joel directly in front of me I became awash with discouragement with how far I still had to go, and with the switchbacks that fooled me at every bend.
"Just worry about your own race here. Keep your head down."
So I did just that.
I intently watched my feet push through ash and heel-toed it up to the next ledge. Again with the panting and not wanting to look at another mountain range now accessible to my new vantage point.
Yes, I was still worried I wouldn't make it. I had pictured in my mind's eye how it would play out- telling Joel that he should go on without me, how I would tell him that I was holding him back and that I would just wait for him mid-mountain.
I played and replayed this scene as I nodded to the familiar question, "You okay?" from Joel because I didn't even have breath to answer a weak "Yes," let alone share my struggle to keep going, or what the Spirit was reminding me:
"Don't worry about what everyone else around you is doing. That's not YOUR race. Stay in YOUR lane. You're not too early or too late or too slow. I am walking alongside you in this life I have given you. Don't.look.ahead. Keep your eyes down Deena."
"My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever." Psalm 73:26
Physically I was exhausted, determined and scared that I would have a heart attack right on this black sand in the middle of every happy junior higher on earth.
Spiritually I was battling knowing what He was saying was hitting a nerve that ran straight through my heart.
I began to pass an elderly woman with an adorable sun hat. She was slower than I was and she didn't seem to care. I silently thought to myself, "If she can make it, I can make it."
"Stop competing. Stop trying to reach someone. I'm already here. I'm the only one that matters." The Lord continued to guide me with His eye.
Head-down I continued on until something crazy happened.
We reached the top.
Now this entire scene just cannot adequately be described
(the red hat gang is now wondering why clapping is now acceptable at their church, are all intrigued with their new pastor and it is taking all of my will power to not pull up a chair and find out if he indeed DOES have a beard....)
Back to the mountain...
Joel told me the top was in view, but I refused to believe it. Head-down, I plowed on until there was nowhere left to plow except into the junior higher in front of me.
Somewhere in my 30's I told myself I couldn't do hard things so often that by 40 I had completely believed it. This trip was a whim, I knew I could always cheer Joel on from the base and just enjoy the Italian air.
But that wasn't what God wanted for me.
He wanted me to huff up a volcano and be so out of breath that I could only listen to him and be force fed bites of candy bar.
I immediately teared and snuck over to the edge to just exhale all of the fear I carried on my back all the way up the mountain.
The Holy Spirit just let me take it all in.
Joel was exploring and I was now silent because though I now had air to speak, I couldn't for the emotion that I felt.
I could do hard things.
I could do hard things.
I could only do hard things if I stay in my lane, walk my own path and keep my head down, planted on my own steps to take.
Because it was a tour and Pompeii was ahead of us I wasn't able to stay on top the time I would have liked, but it didn't matter too much to me.
Making it to the top was huge enough to take in.
I took a pic of me, red faced and victoriously quiet.
I had conquered yet another fear this year.
I stared-down an inadequacy and left it in the ashes of that hill.
And the Lord said, "SEE what you are able to do?! You are meant for hard things too."
Each sliding step down reverberated confidence in knowing that whatever was ahead of me, God would lead me step by step through it.
This was much more than an anniversary trip "bucket list" hike.
This was just for me and the Lord and a few bites of Snickers.
It was for finding the brave deep down in me again and allowing the Lord to speak into me words that only He could to remind me that no hill is too high for Him.
This is just the beginning of lessons I have been learning with the Holy Spirit as my guide friends. I look forward to sharing so much more with you here and ask you to grab your walking stick and join me.
Don't we each have mountains to climb?