The Climb – By Cheryl Westbrook

“Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books.” ~ John Lubbock

I fee like I am living 7 different lives at times, one with each of my 5 children, one for myself, and one with my fiancé.  At any given moment, I am juggling attempts to be who each of the loves in my life needs me to be. It takes a lot of energy and resolve, trial and error, tears, self-sacrifice, and quelling my emotions of guilt and inadequacy. Just as most truly enriching experiences in life, mothering also comes beautifully packaged with great reward, satisfaction, growth, a deep understanding of compassion, grace, love . . . and a profound ability to MULTITASK!

Recently my family has seen a seemingly insurmountable season of stress– a result of lots of change. We just relocated across the country from sunny, humid Florida to dry but incredibly beautiful Utah. In addition to acclimating to the climate and topography, we each have had our own internal battles adjusting to a new community and culture. It is hard enough for adults to weather these changes and make this transition successfully, but uprooting my children (ages 12 to 1) from the familiar to the unknown has proven to be a difficult process.

Two of my daughters, Megan- 11, and Abigail- 7, have a biological father in Florida. They have the extra piece of adjusting to a long distance relationship with him. Add to that a crazy move riddled with mishaps, living out of suitcases, a home remodel, and a new school with all new friends, and it is reasonable to say their world was rocked.

Noticing their struggles and inability to process all that was happening, I became keenly aware of their need for a little extra love, attention, and help. I began to search for a way to model how to weather the storms of life.

We put on our hiking shoes.

Thankfully living in Utah affords us with an amazing natural setting with many options for getting outside and exploring incredible terrain. One such opportunity rests conveniently 100 yards from our front door. This relatively easy hike winds up to just under 5,500 feet on a peak that boasts amazing vistas of the entire city, mountains, and the Great Salt Lake.

We set off up the hill to the entrance of the hike. Along the paved upward climb, Abi began to huff and puff. Despite my own doubts, however, she pushed ahead. I began to witness their transition from an anxious hesitation and uneasiness to fortitude and excitement.

At the entrance, I paused to look them in their wide, beautiful blue eyes to tell them all about what was to come– the challenges, how best to tread along the path, and where to avoid stepping. I told them I loved them and that I was proud of them no matter if we made it to the top or if we turned around half way. They were already walking ahead of me in their zeal as my words trailed off.

There were moments when one or both needed to catch a breath or sit down. I encouraged them to pause but then keep going; explaining that sitting down would only make getting up more difficult. Thankfully, they listened. We meandered up easily at times, and slowly in others. We took small breaks to look out at the incredible views and to reflect on where we were and how far we had come. At each break, with their flushed cheeks, they smiled and became even more determined.

The thought of turning around at the halfway point vanished. Reaching the pinnacle became a real possibility.

As we breathlessly came up to the final ascent, I paused long enough to memorize their faces, taste the air and feel its coolness on my skin, to look all around me and consume the sights and sounds, and finally to see their elation as they realized how close they were to the top.

We took our final steps and there we were standing at 5, 416 feet above the earth. I will always remember their joy, innocent giggles, and disbelief. Holding hands, we soaked it all in, looking out past our new city, our new home, to the glorious mountains and beyond.

And then I had to break it to them. This was not the end. We still had to go back down. I looked them in the eye and saw their confusion. Their innocent expressions in direct protest . . . “But Mom, we did it! We’ve arrived!” and then their quizzical furrowed brows whispered, “There’s more? Going down is the easy part, right?”

I explained that just as in life, we never fully arrive. There is never a finish line. As long as we live, we will discover that new challenges await us as soon as we meet the last. That is life. That is what it means to live— to continually face the challenges ahead and learn from them, grow from them, evolve into who we want to be with the refinement of each one. We must pause and reflect frequently about where we’ve been, how far we’ve come and where we’re headed. We must be prepared to take the ups with the downs, the good with the bad, the highs with the lows, and see each as necessary to the other.

We carefully made our way back to the same place we began . . . different than when we started. We were armed with an experience that will forever be part of our hearts and souls— we were knowledgeable of and wise to the steps up and down that peak. My girls left equipped with a new confidence, not just in hiking, but also in life. They saw themselves now as overcomers, as capable, strong and more secure. They accomplished much that morning, not the least of which was a new outlook on who they are in the world and how able they are to weather life’s challenges.