Do you see that peak just to the right of center on the top of this photo. We hiked up there. All of us. That's Angel's Landing in Zion National Park. We've been wanting to do this amazing hike ever since we moved to the area 5 years ago - but had to wait until the kids were old enough. This hike involves almost 3 miles of going from zig-zagging switchbacks straight uphill to going even more straight uphill while hanging onto chains bolted into the rock and avoiding sheer cliff drop offs of 1000's of feet.
There were some nerve-wracking moments here and there and between my heart beating hard because of all the uphill and my heart beating hard because of fear, I think I got the greatest workout I've had in a long time! But we all loved the feeling of accomplishing something hard and experiencing something spectacular together. And there were ample opportunities for life lessons along the way. Here are some of the things we realized together as we hiked:
1. Accomplishing anything really wonderful usually involves a lot of hard work.
As we headed up the first set of steep switch-backs at the beginning of the trail, Ashton kept lagging far behind and complaining that he was SO tired. With the twins hopping along up the trail, it was frustrating having our oldest kid as the whiny caboose. We prodded him along, telling him that he'd love it up on top. When we finally did get up to where the views were quite magnificent, he was so excited and said "You're right - this is the most awesome hike ever!" We all talked about how life is often going to be like this hike - hard and frustrating and long sometimes as we move towards things that we've been promised (and we feel in our hearts) will be wonderful. But great things are worth the hard work they require.
2. We can grow and thrive anywhere if we work hard enough at it.
There were several huge, beautiful trees somehow growing on the bald rock top of the mountain. As we sat on the big exposed roots of one such tree to rest for a few minutes, we talked about how we all need to be like this tree - plucky and determined enough to grow and thrive even in situations that most people would call impossible.
3. We need to hold on to each other and hold on to firm established principles we can trust if we want to stay safe.
Whenever we got to a tricky part of the climb, there were these big fat chains that hardworking, strong, brave people somehow anchored firmly to the rocks. As long as we were holding on to a chain and to one of the twins (in the case of me and Jared), we felt totally safe. Jesus Christ, prophets, apostles, church leaders and parents have gone before us to lay out and anchor the "chains" that we should follow to keep safe. As long as we hang onto the principles they've nailed into the rocks of their own faith and hang onto each other, we'll be fine. We'll be more than fine - we'll progress and we'll accomplish and we'll have joy.
4. When we help each other, we're helping ourselves. When we help others feel that they're getting a chance to help us, we're building them up and everyone benefits.
After reaching the top of Angel's Landing and enjoying the view, we thought the hike back down would be quite easy and fast compared to the long steep uphill on the way up. Wrong. With our legs already a bit shaky and the constant view of the sheer cliffs that you notice a lot more going down than going up, the way down was hard. Oliver was my partner and he wanted so much to do everything himself. I had to tell him that I was holding onto him so that HE could help ME rather than the other way around so that he'd allow me to hold on to him. And it was actually quite true. By focusing on helping him and keeping him safe, I didn't think much about my own fears.
5. If you keep moving forward, cling to what you know and don't look down and you'll be just fine.
The kids weren't one bit afraid on the hike. They hung on obediently to the chains (as well as our hands in the case of the twins) and went as fast as we allowed them to go, straight on up the cliffs like little mountain goats. They didn't let any fear get in their way. They were happy with the act of moving forward towards a goal and they weren't focused on all the possible pitfalls and failures involved. I need to be more like them in some ways. There is much less fear and frustration when we focus on what is in front of us and on the goal up ahead and don't waste a whole lot of time or energy worrying about how far we could fall. Once we make the prayerful decision to take a calculated risk, we need to look forward, not down. We need to think positively and keep moving forward.
5. Doing hard things together bonds you and makes you love each other more than ever.
I love accomplishing things alongside the people I love and building memories together that bind our hearts and strengthen our souls.
The kids were such tough little hikers. They didn't complain once about the steep uphill climbs and they loved scaling the cliff-like parts holding onto the chains. Everyone we passed was so nice to the kids, telling them what good little hikers they were and expressing amazement that they were so nimble and tough. Several hikers used the kids as examples to their partners of why they should keep going and shouldn't wimp out. All in all, this was a great self-esteem builder for the kids and a real bonding experience for us all.
We all closed our eyes and said a little prayer of thanks when we reached the peak (well, I don't think Jared and I closed out eyes - got to watch those twins every second!). Eliza sang "For the Beauty of the Earth" and it was truly a beautiful moment to sit snuggled together on that high peak with the amazing views spread out below and the knowledge that we'd done it - that we'd worked together and conquered hard things and we'd made it - all of us. There's nothing like the triumph of high achievement, the splendor of nature, and the joy of togetherness when they all coincide!
In that moment, it felt like we caught a little glimpse of how Heaven might feel one day if we can all help each other make it there. The kids asked, "Do the angels really land here?" I had to answer, "I think they do, don't you?"