By: Chloe Langr
Until my junior year of college, the words "spring break" didn't really mean much to me. Don't get me wrong, I loved getting a breath of fresh air from homework for a week. I didn't complain about the extra hours I got in at work, or the extra sleep I got that week, either. But that all changed in the spring of 2015.
That year, a friend asked me to join her on a hiking trip through Big Bend National Park in Texas. In an uncharacteristically adventurous move, I said yes. Little did I know what all that "yes" would entail.
I hiked with a small group of college students and our hike was led by a dear friend of ours who was the chaplain at a local college. We would get up at the first sign of light every morning and pray morning prayer together. We dashed down miles of mountains to make it to a cache site. Rain drenched our hopes and soaked us to the bone. Without technology as a crutch, our group had honest conversations and struggled together in a way that bonded us like I'd never seen before.
Each day, I'd swing a fifty pound backpack on my back and wondered if I'd be able to get up if I sat down again. We prayed countless rosaries together and, one day, I ate an entire half of a summer sausage by myself. In one sitting. I'm still hesitant to eat summer sausage again.
But through the entire experience, there are moments and movements of my heart that stand out to me as I reflect on my first ever Spring Break trip. Even now, 3 years later, I love thinking back on that trip and seeing how the Lord used mountains, deserts, and good friends to draw me closer to his heart.
I saw God on that mountain.
Before that spring break trip, I had never felt the absolute desperate, heart-aching need for God. Sure, I had a relationship with Him that was growing stronger in my college years, but it was a relationship based in my head knowledge and not my heart.
But when you are struggling up a mountain path and have fifty pounds of gear on your back pressing you into the mud, prayer comes almost as a second nature. The conversations that I had with God changed from "Hey God it's me, can you give me something?" to "Dear God help me. I can't do this without you."
Looking back on the trip, I can tell you that no amount of training could have allowed me to climb that mountain. The level of endurance that pushed me to the top of the peak and granted me the enjoyment of the view from the rim was something that only God could have done.
Mountains encourage us to live fully
Sometimes I think that I love a good adventure. I try new foods, talk to people I don't know, and have traveled all over the world and even to different dimensions (okay, that last one is only when I'm reading books, but it still counts, right?)
But I have never pushed myself physically so far out of my comfort zone as that hiking trip allowed me to. The satisfaction of knowing that I (with incredible help from God and those on the hike with me) conquered something as large as a hike that lasted almost a week set a fire inside of my heart and soul, which has continued to burn even almost three years later.
I have seen a lot of beautiful places on this earth. The sunrise in Colorado. The rushing streets of Washington DC halted for a crowd showing their support of unborn children. The smell of rain in Seattle, Washington. But never will it compare to the beauty experienced in Big Bend.
Granted, this could be because I was tired, coffee-deprived and genuinely searching for the beauty in the little things. But the simplistic beauty of the stars over your head and a warm freeze-dried meal to keep you warm are without exaggeration among the best memories of my life. The exhilaration that runs through you when you conquer a goal and stand at the top of a mountain peak and experience Mass on the heights is out-of-this-world.
Truly I have never felt so alive as I did on that mountain, and it easily racks up as my favorite place on this earth.
I conquered fears and demons
There were a lot of fears in my life that I thought through on those days where we had miles to hike and rain pouring down our backs. I questioned God's plan, wondering what He wanted from me. I mulled over things that I had started thinking about long before the hike began. I worked through the emotions of a dating fast, and grappled with the fear that God didn't have a plan for my life.
On that mountain, I opened up with friends about issues going on in my life. I trusted people that I had just met less than seven days ago with my well-being. But, most importantly, I talked to God more than I had ever done before.
There is joy in all circumstances
After that trip to Big Bend, I love hearing the verse from Philippians 4:11-13 that reads: "I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength."
There is so much joy to be found in this world. I'll say it before, I'll say it again . . . it's the little things. I loved being able to appreciate the beauty of a cactus that blooms in the dessert for the benefit of bringing glory to it's maker. There was a beauty in the taste of barbecue freeze-dried chicken that warms you up before you lay your head down for the night. God spoke to my heart through the companionship of saying "let's pray a rosary" when descending a mountain.
On that trip, I woke up from a night of rain and mud and saw the sunrise out my tent window. Our little group spent a morning talking to each other in British accents to cope and laughing over the most ridiculous things. We found joy in Mumford and Sons and picking our spirit animal around the campfire.
But most importantly I saw the joy of loving a God and seeing Him in everything. On that mountain, I realized His love for me is so great that He shows it to me everywhere I look. It's been over 3 years since that hike, but seeing God in the tiniest details is something that I continue to strive for - despite the lack of mountains in Kansas.
It is not the mountain we conquer...but ourselves. - Sir Edmund Hilary