The mountain climber and me

The cliff was enormous.

Then again, everything is relative.

I stood at the base of it, looking up. My kids’ merry faces hung over the edge, watching me expectantly.

“Could you put your foot in that little notch?” my daughter asked, pointing with one dangling arm, her hand only a few inches above my head.

OK, so “enormous” might be a stretch. The rock wall was maybe 10 feet high, maybe less.

My kids, taking a different way up, waited at the top as we explored our way down a river in the Upper Peninsula’s Porcupine Mountains during a recent and wonderful family vacation.

On a whim, inspired by the frisky breezes of a gorgeous July day, I made up my mind to get up the cliff the hard way.

A thick, braided metal rope dangled over the cliff’s edge, anchored to a tree, a mysterious remnant of some project of the past.

It would hold my weight, I decided, giving it a hefty tug.

I handed my camera and flip-flops up to the kids, gripped the rope, and gave a little hop.

I’m not sure what I thought was going to happen, but nothing did.

That was silly. I didn’t know how to climb up walls. Didn’t know where to start, didn’t know what came next.

My kids, patient as the river was wet, waited at the top, offering suggestions. Fingers wrapped around the rope, I gave another hop, this time determined I was going no direction but up.

It wasn’t pretty. I climbed like the clumsy, middle-aged woman I am, and I’m pretty sure I used a swear word somewhere near the middle.

I’ll admit, halfway up that tiny cliff, I was a little scared. But, with cheerful encouragements from my offspring, in a few minutes, I was hauling myself over the edge, relieved I hadn’t made a complete fool of myself and grateful for the young people who didn’t roll their eyes at the old lady who thought a little climb was worth all the fuss.


Looking at them from a distance, I’m sometimes ashamed of my cliffs.

The obstacles I call problems are, in the grand scheme of things, often tiny and silly, trials of my own making that are nothing compared to what millions of people battle every day.

Held up against the struggles others face, my tears and sighs and worries are nonsense. I’ve a pleasant, good life, and I ought to be grateful, not fretful and frightened.

As my mom used to tell me when I didn’t want to finish my supper, just think of all the starving children in other countries.

But, when I’m standing at the base of a cliff of a problem, looking up, that wall seems insurmountable.

Even if it’s only 10 feet tall.

Money is tight. Someone is sick. A loved one no longer loves me. I’m sad. The task is too much, and I can’t do it.

Chances are, the crisis will pass, and, in short order, I’ll look back at my little problems and wonder what all the fuss was about.

But now, in the moment, oh, that challenge, that obstacle … from the bottom looking up, it’s scary, and big, and I don’t know how to get past it.

That day by the river, the happy faces of my kids made all the difference. They couldn’t make the climb for me, couldn’t pull me up or give me a push from the rear.

They just hung above me, encouraging me, not mocking me for the smallness of my cliff or reminding me it was my own darn fault I was climbing it in the first place.

There are voices in our lives, encouragers who help us up our cliffs.

Though we may pooh-pooh their encouragements and wave away their suggestions of how to inch higher, they are gifts, those humans who help us, be they parents or parole officers or bosses.

And when — clinging to our rope, scared to go down or up, muttering swear words and feeling stupid — we cry out to a great big God who can see how foolishly small our cliff is, He loves us through the crisis, is in and among the faces cheering our climb.

God sees everyone. He sees the real problems, the real struggles, the people who are hurting in ways that make my petty grievances with life absolutely absurd.

And yet, for me He came. It is me He loves and encourages, silly tiny-cliff-climber though I be. For me, my Savior scaled the greatest wall, lived and died and rose so I can face my little obstacles as a cherished child whose every move matters.

There will be other cliffs.

I will stand at the base of them, despairing, no matter their size.

Or, perhaps, I’ll be at the top, peering over the edge, being the voice that helps someone else find a toehold.

A mountain climber I am not, and my problems are small.

But I can keep climbing my little cliffs, clinging to rope and hope and the love of One who will catch me if I fall.

Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, jriddle@thealpenanews.com or on Twitter @jriddleX.


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