This week we break from our theme of Interruptible for an insight from Terry Sheldon...
As a child growing up I romanticized the Cascade mountains. Oregon's volcanic peaks were different than the Rockies’ smooth and sparkly granite, and they weren't clustered together en-masse. Each Cascade peak was a craggy sentinel, and although formed with ancient violence, now stood sleeping. And beckoning.
I looked to them for inspiration and dreamed of climbing their dizzying heights. I was most captivated by the ones closest to Eugene, the Three Sisters. Also known by our settlers as Faith, Hope, and Charity.
We believers know these three descriptors as signs of strong emotional and spiritual health, wonderfully described in the Bible’s love chapter, Corinthians 13. It all seemed to fit together for me as I took up backpacking and mountain climbing in my youth, and as I attempted to learn the lessons of faith, hope and charity in my Christian walk. Both parallel journeys have been rocky and challenging, but rewarding in their own ways.
Awhile back it occurred to me that Corinthians’ lovely three sisters were chronological in our spiritual lives. Faith (North Sister) is a formidable peak. I can compare it to my first realization of the magnitude of my sin. Accepting the Lord requires us to stand up to fear and take a giant leap (of faith). Although I never did attempt North, my spiritual climb has been arduous. A start yes, but with a Doubting Thomas heart. I really hoped for more - the perfecting of my faith.
I grew up admiring my father’s mountain climbing exploits and waited to go with him one day. My chance finally came as a teen, on Hope (Middle Sister). The climb was rough. We were on the wrong side of a ridge and got lost. We triggered a small rock slide, resulting in a smashed finger. Then clouds shrouded the mountain by mid-afternoon and we were forced to turn back. My summit hopes were unfulfilled, but they would remain.
I would eventually reach the summit of Hope in my early twenties. It was glorious, but not without hard lessons along the way. My climbing buddy and I overcame poor planning, running out of water, sunburns and having to navigate the forest by moonlight after our flashlights died. In life, our day-to-day hope is always out there in front of us, as it should be. Without it we would lack motivation for what’s ahead. And without going forth, we would not grow and learn. But hope is not the endgame.
The faith, hope and charity progression seems tougher as it goes along. Learning to love and to be loved WELL is an inevitable struggle, and one of life’s hardest lessons. A few years later, my Charity (South Sister) experience was equal in its struggle, and its payoff. What started out to be a misty and cold hike through Charity’s lower reaches became a wickedly windy and wet slog up its southern ridge. Four of our seven-person team had turned around earlier, my father included. He was not happy, but trusted my judgement. The three of us who remained continued on, not at all sure how it would end.
But a glimmer in my imagination urged me on, as I sensed a unique mountain-top experience ahead. My fellow climbers had a similar expectation. We were a band of brothers, and we bonded in our struggle. Then it happened. Blue sky finally peeked out between the swirling curtain of clouds. As we reached Charity’s top under clear cobalt blue skies, we gazed out in astonishment across a flat cloud floor below us. It was almost 360 degrees of brilliant white, with all the Cascade peaks jutting up and out, North to South. I was on top of the world, and it was a sight and experience I will never forget.
Learning to love God and people is similar. It starts with youthful naiveté, then comes struggles with people that challenge our self-esteem, and hard events that can shake us to the core. But if we hang together and press ahead, and stay open and committed and humble, our love is purified and enhanced. True love (God's love) is indeed breathtaking. Personally, I believe I've just scratched the surface.
Let’s continue the climb, with courageous faith, with constant hope and with relentless love.
About the Author
Terry is a man in constant motion to explore new horizons. He has a thirst for new places and faces, and a deep love for the natural world - with a weakness for waterfalls and sunsets. All of this venturing out helps to both ground and inspire him, because it opens him up to people, with their vast, collective array of experiences, outlooks and responses.
He finds all of this fascinating and sees that it has encouraged the growth of something crucial in his Christian development: empathy and compassion toward his brothers and sisters on this planet.