In the depth of winter, it’s been difficult to imagine the lush growth of spring. I’m not sure if you’ve been experiencing this as well where you are, but in Montana, the weight of the snow and the deep dark is pressing in on us.

Through each outside season over the last year and a half, I’ve been working with teenagers in their last seasons as “kids.” Winter, is especially hard for them. It has been one of the greatest blessings to teach and to learn from these young people who are going through it. Life is so hard at that age—or really, any age. The past springs up when we’re least expecting it, hormonal imbalances reveal our fragility, “I should” seeps into the way we interact with the world and others, hindering us from actually becoming what we’re made for.

In this season in my work, I’ve been talking to the “kids” about self-care and their vision for the future. I’ve realized through these conversations, it is so hard to nurture yourself when doubt speaks louder than anything else. Instead of creating more “shoulds” throughout our day, I want to take a step back to the lessons I’ve taught and learned throughout this work.

Breath. Surrender. Forgiveness. Honesty. Opening my eyes and looking at my pain even when I want to keep them closed. This leads to the healing I seek. I need to practice what I preach. I need to share this story with you.

This past year has been one of the most challenging years I’ve made it through—even more challenging than high school. Within 12 months, I’ve had two lengthy spells of postpartum depression—without a child on the other side. I feel it in my throat, making it harder to speak my truth. I feel this past year in my chest, some days taking over my breath and sending me into a spiral of anxiety. I struggle to trust my body most days, even though I know in my mind that it contains all the wisdom I need to heal.

This life is the most beautiful and rare gift. That I am writing this—and you are reading it is a miracle. There is much more, especially including genetics, fighting against us than for us being here. But yet, despite all odds, we’re here. Please keep this in mind if you chose to practice this meditation. You are on purpose. And so am I. If for nothing else then to share our stories with one-another.

Music Album: “Nine” by Nadayana (2016)

-E

balance me on the tips of your fingers.
don’t let me fall.
follow my cries
so I don’t drown.

you’re beside me now,
but I can’t see you.
there’s nothing but darkness here.
when will the light return to your face?

find me.
swim through the clutter I left behind,
all those mountains I gathered to keep you
away.

the books I never read
gather dust.
my peaks crack and crumble
burying all that I have left.

I am surrounded
by the silence
of the fears I never shared.
the dreams I can’t remember.

I am lost inside,
but at least I am hidden.
from the doubts of my mind
trying to turn inside out.

I left a path
there.
just in case
I needed to find my way back.

I wasn’t looking
for you.
but when there’s nothing more to see,
I am still here longing for you.

I went.
and would have never returned
because there’s too much wrong
with me and everything.

you found me
and saw me
when I couldn’t see
even my own toes.

the sun shines on my face
and I remember
all that I need to remember.
wind breathes deep through my lungs.

past the shadows
I see.
I exist here.
and you are with me.

-E

Outside, the summer wind breathes through the lush and bursting forest, and inside, a cold breeze chills even safely-buried roots. Overgrown stinging nettle stings my legs with each step, stabs my tongue with each word. I am left speechless in my own skin.

What happened to the good stories? Life weaving braids of gratitude and adventure and optimism, fresh breath of air stories. Mountain summit other-side of addiction adolescence pain rivers roaring stories. Long lovely days Milky Way laughter warmth of fire passion ablaze. Legends now.

A sea swells within me. Falling, crashing, and ebbing. Roots entirely washed away by a swollen ocean. Bones both cleansed and battered as I let go. 

Mother-love growing roots expanding waves. Delicate baby girl waves. Teeny baby boy waves. Momma Mary watching Jesus Christ nails in the flesh over broken bones son of God almighty forsaken and limitless waves. Darkness covers my eyes falling deeper Frida Kahlo broken daughter bleeding artist lo que el agua me dio waves. Waves of woman sisters in the depths, crashing, crashing, cresting. Floating. Quiet floods that will never be painted in beautiful colors on the body for others to see. Writing, dear old friend, I give you my heart, howling with grief and dripping with blood. I shatter onto this page.

These days brighten and wane like whole seasons. Red raspberry wisdom, huckleberry finger stains, sunshine sweat and naps in the shade, cold river runoff dances around my toes, warmth of loved ones and chocolate chip cookie days—outside really is your best side kind of days. But every single one of these passing seasons earth rotations are part of the story. Can’t just tear out some pages or whole chapters and leave the lovely ones to enjoy with a grande cup of lukewarm coffee with extra room for “I’m fine.”

Honestly, alive feels so good, but it hurts too badly sometimes. For now I’m just growing through the cracks of being. Trying to embody the forgiven joys as fully as the guilt-aches. The rising tides crushed, and left shattered what’s true. I just need some time to pick up all the pieces. And then maybe someday, all these pages will dance in the wind like summer again.

–E

“He makes me as surefooted as a deer, enabling me to stand on mountain heights.” – Psalm 18:33

Your hand fingers for the hold above and just out of your reach, wiggling higher, searching for something better to rest on. Your right foot is too low to really use. Your left foot, weighted on a tiny quartz crystal, pushes you only slightly upward. There might be enough purchase on these holds, but you’re out of balance, and the good holds seem so far. Your forearms are pumping. Your legs start to shake. You want to give up…

The Psalm is a reminder of God’s promise. It’s not a promise of “I will give you bomber footholds and make everything easy.” It is instead a promise that we can be confident in what we do have—strength in Jesus. No matter the difficulty of the crux (which comes from the same root-word as “crucifixion”), we can have faith in our God-given abilities to overcome trials and reach the magnificent heights He has prepared.

When the way gets difficult and fear paralyzes us, it may seem easier to step down from the progress we’ve made than to continue climbing. We’re challenged most when we feel weak and our steps seem uncertain, however, it’s in these times when we grow closer to God. When we have faith, we can still reach mountain heights—even when we’re feeling weak.

Having faith isn’t avoiding falling, coming down when things get a little bit uncomfortable. Faith also isn’t blindly going for something when our decisions may be a detriment to ourselves or others. Faith is a calculated risk, knowing we’ve done all we can in our ability, and knowing we could fall—but if we do, we’ll be safe.

We’re only human. Falling is inevitable when we’re outside of our comfort zone. It can be terrifying, it may hurt, but we will make it through.

It’s similar to having faith in Jesus—when we pick up our crosses and follow him, it can be so scary to let go of our plans and expectations. And it may hurt sometimes to do the right thing. But when our hearts are centered on eternity, we can move beyond any crux and into His loving arms. Just remember to check your knots.

-E

The sun radiated through towering pines, laying a canopy over the dusty trail toward Suicide Rock. Idyllwild, California—the true birthplace of the YDS, home to the world’s first 5.9, and central to the rise of rock climbing in the States. On a clear Saturday afternoon, climbing parties danced up the trail to hop on all the classics. My mom and I planned to do our first traditional climb together—Graham Crackers, a two-pitch 5.6.

We arrived at the Northeast Buttress and joined the other weekend warriors—some were smiling, and some scowling at the increasing amount of people arriving at the crag. We greeted the woman standing below Graham Crackers who placed gear on her harness, preparing to lead. As we discussed our choices to wait or find another 5.fun route, a woman dressed head-to-toe in Patagonia interjected, recommending we try out Etude, 5.11a. A bit alarmed we would jump from 5.6 to 5.11, and a bit honored she assumed my mom and I would be up for it, I responded, “I do love that route but we’re looking for something easier.” The woman looked at me surprised and responded, “you’ve climbed it?”

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With this response, she suggested that either she expected us to climb it on-sight, or that she simply said it to measure her climbing ability against ours. I calmly told her I climbed the route last time I was here and my mom added in, attempting to be helpful, “she top-rope on-sighted it!” In a condescending tone, she went on to tell me that doesn’t count and she would love to see me lead it.

The climb tempted me with its beautifully delicate features, but I was new to traditional climbing, I wasn’t warmed up, there were a plethora of stressed climbers defensive of their spot in the queue for Flower of High Rank—the climb just next to it, and my mom would be tense and terrified belaying me. These didn’t feel like excuses, they were valid concerns. And for some reason, my ego still wanted to prove that I could.

I looked up at the climb from where I was sitting and took a deep breath. I knew that it wasn’t my voice telling me I wanted to climb it—it was the insecurity of another. I smiled and brushed it off as if her challenge was a friendly joke. We ended up waiting only a few minutes more for Graham Crackers. My mom and I climbed our two pitches and had a great time together.

As climbing ascends even more into the mainstream, crags are becoming more crowded and the competition becoming far less than friendly. With this, we worry that climbing-related accidents will also become more common. We’re a community, after all. Why doesn’t it feel like it sometimes?

Increasingly, and not just in California, I have seen people pushing their goals—and insecurities—onto others. If someone has a true intention to do something, they will do it rather than spray about it. If you have a goal to try climbing indoors, try it! If you’d like to climb outside, it’s wonderful! If you’d like to climb 5.15, work super hard and get there! But please remember, we all have different limits and we all have diverse goals. Competition can be positive, helping us try hard and do our best. But not everyone wants to compete.

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There’s a huge difference between challenging others to be great and shaming them for not being “as good” as you. It takes enough strength and energy to become a better version of ourselves, and criticizing others’ abilities and decisions is a waste of it. We must use this energy to grow, as members of the same community, and encourage others rather than judge them for growing in a different way. Climbing is a beautiful physical endeavor, but it can also help us face the weaker parts of ourselves so we can see that there’s something bigger going on than just scaling a blank-looking rock.

What we learn when we climb—about patience, about respect for ourselves, other climbers, and the natural world, about overcoming fears, about having grace with ourselves—can translate into our everyday lives. If we are busy invalidating others’ pursuits and accomplishments, we will miss opportunities to better ourselves and our community. Wherever we may be in our journey of ability, we must all embrace our own goals and allow others the stillness to reach theirs. Climb on!…if you want.

–E