Updated: Jun 29
Google said, “extreme.” My friend said, “intense.” I said, “bring it on.” In a matter of minutes, I felt the EXTREME INTENSITY and instead of “bring it on,” I started lying to myself saying things like, “you’re halfway there.” The reality was I still had 2,500 of 2,744 steps to go. My heart was racing, my breathing was labored, and my balance was not particularly solid. The Incline in Cascade, Colorado was the challenge I accepted that day and my body was being pushed to its limit. This hiking trail was once a cable car track. The cables have been cut, but the track remains serving as steps all the way up. Let me give you a visual of the journey I was on.
Due to the difference in elevation from Baltimore to Cascade, my respiratory system was already working overtime. Just one hour away from The Mile High City of Denver, I later found that the air contained 17% less oxygen than I was used to and little to no humidity which meant super thin, super dry air. To add fuel to the fire, this was a 2,000-foot hike at an average 41% incline (63% at its highest). One thing I have learned through CrossFit is that we can push our bodies much farther than our minds will often allow us to believe so I was determined to finish. What I didn’t anticipate is that this experience was about to rock my body, mind, and spirit. My physical breath was not the only one that would be taken away on The Incline. If you’re open to what God might speak to you through my journey, stay tuned for what I learned—I call them Lessons On The Incline.
Lesson #1: Find Your Rhythm
“But by the grace of God I am what I am…” (1 Corinthians 15:10)
This one was so powerful that I didn’t want to give it to you right away until I realized almost every other lesson was contingent upon your understanding of finding your rhythm. When I began my journey, I wasn’t giving too much thought to my walking pattern so like most able-bodied individuals, I began with the typical right step up, left step up, right step up, left step up pattern. How else would one naturally climb steps? At some point, in attempts to play tricks on my mind, I varied my pattern and would intermittently skip steps-- terrible idea (that’ll preach right there!!)! But then I discovered a new rhythm. It went something like this: right step up, left tap, left step up, right tap. Each foot would make contact with each step. The details of the rhythm are irrelevant for this context. What is key is that when I found my rhythm, the journey felt possible to finish. When I found my rhythm, I wasn’t exerting so much energy. When I found my rhythm, my muscles were no longer screaming (just crying). When I found my rhythm, my heart rate regulated. When I found my rhythm, my breathing steadied. When I found my rhythm, my focus became clear. Up until that point, I didn’t know whether to look down, a few steps ahead, or desperately for the next 100’ marker. When I found my rhythm, my eyes were only ever fixed on the next step. When I found my rhythm, I regained my balance. When I found my rhythm, I didn’t have to stop every few minutes to rest. When I found my rhythm, my back straightened up. When I found my rhythm, hikers who were physically more fit than I was, looked on in awe as I slowly and steadily passed them on The Incline.
That’s when it hit me—if we’re not careful in life, we can make this thing harder than it was ever meant to be. See, you have a purpose. Your life is a strategy. You are not an accident or a mistake. Regardless of the circumstance through which you came into this world, the time and place in which you arrived was not a mere coincidence. Your days are numbered, and your assignment is due! You have a role to play and something unique to accomplish during the vapor in the wind you have been given. You’ve got to find your rhythm. You’ve got to stop trying to be like the person you see ahead of you because in your attempt to mimic them, you’ll only find discouragement. You’ve got to find your lane, your identity, your calling! You’ve got to stop trying to walk like everyone else and develop your dance.
Lesson #2: Don’t Be Afraid To Use Aid (But Plan To Outgrow It)
“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” (1 Corinthians 13:11)
My immediate strategy to press on was plain and simple—mental tricks. I encouraged myself, lied to myself, counted steps… anything I could do to keep my mind distracted from the voice that was saying, “You’re crazy. Turn around.” I probably looked a little crazy talking out loud with such passion to myself, but I didn’t care what it took. I had too much pride to have to send a frowning face emoji to my friend when I got the inevitable, “So… did you do it,” text. I said things like, “You’re halfway there,” “You got this, girl,” “You can do it,” “Keep pressing,” “You’ve got what it takes.”
My other vice was the ever-attractive inhaler. Although I had taken my preventative puffs, I soon found myself wondering, “How often can I hit this thing?” Breathing was so laborious. I absolutely needed the encouragement and the Ventolin® at the start. But something about finding that rhythm changed everything for me.
In 1 Corinthians 13:11, Paul was making a point to the church of Corinth. He wasn’t projecting shame on his past—in his season of immaturity. He simply said, “When I was a kid, I behaved like one! But you better believe when I stepped into my own, I dropped every childish attribute and carried myself like the man I had become.” In your journey to your destiny, you’ve got to give yourself permission to start where you are and receive help along the way! You’ve got to work with what you’ve got and maximize the tools you have access to. The goal is to come into your own—to figure out who God called you to be and to tap into His supernatural strength for your life. As you mature in your walk with God, you will become aware of the fact that you have more inside of you than you ever thought, but the process must begin somewhere. Surround yourself with encouragers. Encourage yourself! Get grounded in the basics and respect the process. For in the process is where you’ll discover what is buried deep within you.
Lesson #3: Don’t Be Discouraged By The False Summit
“For we walk by faith, not by sight:” (2 Corinthians 5:7)
I was so close! I could see the top!! I had found my rhythm, I hadn’t run out of water, I was still conscious and just moments away from Facetiming my friend from the summit!! To the left above me, I saw a man jogging downward. As he got closer, I smiled at him as if to say, “Good job! I’m going to make it too!!” When he got within earshot, I called out to him, “Did you make it?” The smile on his face satisfied my inquiry. I followed up with, “Not much farther, huh?” I don’t know why you choose the sentences that you do on The Incline. They just come out. (A bit earlier, I witnessed a lady’s water bottle slip from her hands. After watching it roll about ten steps, I said, “That’s so far down,” and kept going. Probably wasn’t the most encouraging I could’ve been, but it’s what came out of my mouth.) The victorious man’s smile dropped from his face. “Oh,” he said, “That’s not the top. That’s a false summit.”
Crushed. For a moment, the feelings of discouragement began to creep in. You see, as I ascended, I could no longer see the actual top of the mountain. Instead, I now had a beautiful view of what looked like the finish line but wasn’t. I would gaze at this spot and think, “Good job, girl! You’ve conquered it.” Now Mr. Victory-Jog had just dashed my hopes and dreams. As I reached this deceitful plateau, I discovered he was right. It was then that I could clearly see the true summit.
Isn’t this just how God works? He gives us a glimpse of the finish line. Just when we begin to get comfortable in our progress, just when we think we’re arriving He shows us there is still more to be done. Now, you may be thinking this is a cruel carrot-and-stick tactic, but it’s very much the opposite. God doesn’t dangle our destiny in front of us and then make it impossible to obtain. Instead, He reveals it to us in stages. Oftentimes those stages can be so overwhelming that they seem unreachable. We must fight and grind and fall to our knees and be stretched and tried and sent through the fire and just when we think we’ve given it our all and just when we think we’ve arrived, we catch a glimpse of something more. I believe God is strategic in His process. See… if I had a clear view of the top all the way up, I may have quit. I may have gotten discouraged. I may have felt that it was too far beyond my ability. But because I was only allowed to see part of the climb, I was challenged and stretched just enough to realize I was capable of more than I knew. And once I matured to a new level of understanding, strategy, and confidence, I was ready for the next.
Afterwards, I found out that many people call it quits at the false summit. I want to encourage you today—don’t give up. Don’t turn around and walk away because it’s not turning out to be what you thought it was going to be. Don’t get angry with God because He didn’t fill you in on the details. He often gives us the CliffsNotes of the process. He doesn’t answer our prayer with a magical snap of the fingers, He answers our prayer in problems. I have found that my most difficult seasons in life have proven to be the weight room God has used to work out the answer to my greatest prayers. When you get to the false summit, He wants to show you that there is still more in you and more He wants to do through you. Don’t take that moment as a time to quit. Rather, look back and see how far you’ve come. Realize that you’ve already defied the odds and know that you can continue to do so. God did not bring you this far to leave you now!
Lesson #4: Know That Others Have Gone Before You
“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us…” (Hebrews 12:1)
In the journey, I had become fairly convinced that I might just be the only one at the top once I reached it. There were many lonely moments along the way. There were times when I looked around and realized I was too far ahead of some people and too far behind others to have any sort of companionship. It was refreshing to encounter others along the way, but it never stopped my course. Soon enough, I was almost there! The real summit was now in sight and to my surprise, there was one man at the top. He let out what I call the “rock climbers call”. In previous experience, I discovered that oftentimes when rock climbers reach the top of their climb, they let out a victorious yelp. I had always heard it and thought it sounded like a shout of accomplishment, like “look what I did!” But this time I heard it differently. Instead of “look what I did” I heard “I made it and so can you!”
I immediately thought of Hebrews 12:1. In moments when the journey seems too hard and faith feels too blind, I remember the greats who have gone before me. I remember the patriarchs and matriarchs of the Old Testament. I think of the apostles who gave their lives and paved a way. I think of those in more recent history who took risks and stood up for the gospel and for their purpose on this earth. In the moments when I am one teardrop away from throwing in the towel; one tragedy away from losing my mind; one obstacle away from quitting; it’s in those moments I imagine the skies opening and Abraham looking down and cheering me on. I imagine Moses reminding me even when I feel ill-equipped that God only needs me to be willing in order to be used to set His people free. I imagine Joseph telling me there is a greater plan when I am cast out because of the dream God has given me. I can hear David encouraging me to remain pure in heart even when javelins are being thrown at my head. I can see Rahab cheering and shouting, “Take action! You don’t have to be a victim!” I imagine Paul telling me it’s going to take some time for your community to be convinced that you’re someone new.
Whatever it is that you are struggling with the most right now, know that someone has gone before you! They have survived. They have proven that God is faithful. They made it and if they could only get ahold of you, they’d tell you, you can make it too.
Life can feel like an uphill battle. Sometimes it seems as if one more step will be the last you can muster up the strength to take. But if I’ve learned one thing in life it’s this—you are capable of far more than you ever thought and if you have Jesus in your life, the same power that raised Him from the grave is accessible to you. You can make it. You are a survivor! And when you get to the top, do me a favor… Facetime me?