“The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing — to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from — my country, the place where I ought to have been born." C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces
This summer has changed me more than any other experience of my life. It was more than months of 12 hour days, 6.5 days a week. It was more than childcare and work in the dining hall. (I split my jobs-half the summer in Kid's Club, caring for children 0-7 years old, then Head Server the second half.)
It was some of my worst moments.
Gut-wrenching lessons and emotion.
It was some of my happiest.
Pure, floating-on-air joy.
The Mountain-Top Experience.
One of the promises I've made myself is this: just because it's all over, doesn't mean I can't take the spirit of the ranch with me, wherever I go. Wind River is shut down for the season and the land is a canvas of browns, golds, yellows, and deep, deep green. The barn sits like a lonely monument against the mountain-strung sky. Horses graze freely on the property, constricted only by a few gates. The maintenance shop is quiet. No smoke wafts from the kitchen chimney. The bell that has worked all summer to announce guests, does not ring. The sound of children is a ghost of months past. Only Wink the barn cat (or "girls-side" cat, since he decided at the beginning of the season that he much preferred the cozy furniture on our porch to the barn loft,) seems unaffected. Over time he grew handsome and chubby, the cutest white-and-amber feline I've had the pleasure of knowing. I made special friends with several of the animals. Whenever I needed to "introvert" (believe it or not, even extroverted people need their space sometimes,) I would spend time with my furry friends; the horses in the corral, Wink, Moonshredder the miniature pony. Or I'd go up to the upper meadow and sit under my aspen tree. Yes, it was mine. From there I could see all the mountain ranges. Longs Peak, Mount Meeker, the Mummy Range. It was the perfect, secluded sanctuary for talking with God. You might remember me mentioning it last year. . .again it served me, and there I met Jesus in new ways. When I visited home for a week last month, all I thought about was my prayer spot. If you don't have one, do it today. No matter where you live or what your circumstances are. A quiet place to talk with your Friend is one of the most valuable things for your relationship.
I learned so much about prayer this summer. I learned that it works. Weird, because for years it seemed like He only answered the prayers of others. Now, I see how wrong I was. He didn't answer all of them. In fact, He said "no" a lot. But for one of the first times in my life, I decided to follow Him anyway. Not even disappointment can take that from me. So in essence, my mission for returning to the mountains worked. I wanted to meet God again. And I did.
Have you ever driven at sunset on the highest road in the Western Hemisphere? If you haven't, I strongly suggest it. But only if worship music is playing and you are traveling with awesome, true friends. At the end of the journey, always find an old-west town (where there was an actual gunfight back in the 1800's,) and a restaurant where its perfectly permissible to throw peanut shells all over the floor.
On that note, when living in the Rockies, remember to always. . .
Go on spontaneous rides down the mountain at night. Listening to country music. Only take one other person with you, and sing at the top of your lungs. This also works in the back of a pickup, going 75 miles per hour.
Stop on the roadside for photo-shoots at golden hour. With beautiful women. Laugh because your wearing heels on rocky terrain.
Stay up until 2:00 AM on work night to debrief, preferably on a cabin porch under a sky strung with stars. Maybe its not the same for everyone, but talking is one of my love languages. I treasure my late-night conversations with Charity more than I can say.
Branch out. I firmly believe that comfort zones should be abolished. One of our volunteers challenged me to go out and find my destiny, even if that meant doing things that scare me or make me uncomfortable. It's all part of becoming fierce, well-rounded, independent women of God.
Appreciate the sky. Ok, that probably sounds weird, but the Colorado sky is forever changing. Especially the view of Longs and Meeker from the ranch. Sometimes it would be covered in clouds, so you could barely see it. Other times, on misty evenings, fog would roll in, concealing everything in sight. Then there were the sunsets. Sitting half-way up the mudslide that almost destroyed the property a few years ago, breath snatched by a sky blazing in orange, pale pink clouds, and streaks of purple-blue. At night, so many stars. Appreciated best from the hot tub, naturally.
Never underestimate friendship. Sometimes I think I grow too attached to people, but recently someone told me I love in a very full way.. .and never to lose that. I don't intend too. Every day I'd look around at my fellow staff members. They were family. But more so, because we each struggled with something and were honest, vulnerable. Working 24/7 with the same people for half a year will connect you in the deepest way possible.
Hike whenever possible, because the Rocky Mountain National Park is gorgeous, and because each waterfall in more breathtaking than the last. Also trail rides. There is nothing quite like switchback trails and horses. We went up to Casem Lake, partway up Longs, and even though my body felt like one big bruise afterward, (like me, my horse had short legs and literally had to jump over rocks on the way down,) it was one of best things I've ever done. Close tie to sitting on top of a waterfall overlooking Loch Vale and into a deep valley. We were above the tree line, the wind was fierce, and we ate granola bars. I felt like someone out of the Lord of the Rings.
Let the power of nature soak into your soul. It seriously draws you closer to Christ, because how can't you feel, no-SEE-Him in towering peaks and deep, deep caverns?
Put it on your bucket list to see bears and moose and more elk than you can count. Also use the restroom on a mountain top with no roof.
Take a lot of walks. Sit in the loft with your best girls and talk about the growth you've seen in them. Write notes and leave them with a Hershey Kiss on their beds. Expect to jump in on random projects and jobs you have no experience with. Break your heart. Let it heal. Give everything. Be taught and teach. Read whenever you can. Enjoy rest, because it can't be taken for granted. Take time to learn people's stories. Mostly, talk a lot. Ask questions. There is a huge world out there, and networking and making connections isn't as hard as it seems. Also phone calls. Communication is key for everything. Don't lose those relationships, no matter where life leads you.
Bring it home with you. I live in the city. Fireside and Wrangler Breakfast are a thing of summer. But they live, in memory. More so in how I want to "do" my life. Every day can be a mountain top experience. This is the real world, but its beautiful because of what I've seen. I can make it live by working a little harder. Breathing a little deeper. Making every moment count. Life is only stressful if you allow it to be.
Worship. I can't say enough how important it is. Especially with other believers. Raise your arms, let Him embrace you with His presence. Jesus is huge. He is everywhere. Bonfires help a lot. Also women with rough pasts. City of Refuge, one of our conferences for human trafficking, was tear jerking and totally inspiring. I learned so much from those ladies. Their innocent, unapologetic love and joy for their Savior. . .man, I could tear up just thinking about it. "I'm no longer a slave to fear. . .I am a child of God!"
I'm home now, prepared and ready for the next adventure. There are still a few things to iron out, but at this point it looks like this lady is moving to Kentucky in a couple of months! I didn't have the Creation Museum in mind when I was on the job hunt, but the door was opened and kept getting wider. After living away from home for the last several months, I'm really looking forward to adulting even more and finding the community I loved so much at Wind River. Don't let fear stop you. God gave you passions and resources for a reason. Take advantage of them, and take control of your destiny. I don't know about you, but I'm taking the Mountain Top Experience back down the mountain.
"May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds." Edward Abbey