My family went on vacation together for the first time in twenty years. We ventured to the gorgeous Smokey Mountains. There's just something about the mountains. They're so beautiful, breathtaking actually. It was so lovely to sit on the deck in a rocking chair and sip on a cup of coffee as I soaked in the view of the mountains each morning. On the last day of our trip, we decided to take an up close and personal look at the mountains. So we ventured out to Cades Cove. And wow! So beautiful. We saw black bears, deer, old cabins and churches. And the view was spectacular from every direction. My brother really wanted to see a water fall, so we decided to do the hike to Abrams Falls. It was a five mile hike through the mountains. The sign said that it was "moderately difficult" and would take three to four hours to complete. For some stupid reason, we didn't really believe the sign that was posted in the National Park...that was not my finest hour.
The hike was difficult. Really difficult. I wanted to quit so many times, but I didn't want to be a quitter. I felt like I had something to prove. So I powered through.....I haven't been active really since I had my surgery. I was scared that I wouldn't be able to work out or run or be active anymore. That I had lost the piece of myself to cancer. As we got into the hike, it got more and more difficult. The hills got steeper, the trail got rockier, the sun got hotter. I kept thinking, "How am I going to get back? I'm never going to be able to do this. This is too hard. What was I thinking? I'm so out of shape." Well, after three hours and fifteen minutes, I did it! I completed the hike. I was sweaty and thirsty and sun burned and exhausted and sore, but I did it!!!
On our way back from the water fall, we decided to go at our own pace. So I was hiking the trail on my own. I was left with my own thoughts to enjoy the view and process things as I hiked along. I came to a point in the trail that was the most difficult. This hill seemed to never end and was nothing but rocks and roots to climb over and maneuver around. Once I reached the top of this hill, I would be halfway back to the car. As I was struggling up this hill and doing my best not to twist my ankle on the rocks, I started crying. Part of those tears were because of exhaustion, but most of those tears were because of a realization.....
I realized that this trail I had been hiking on for hours was a lot like my life this past year. I started off this past year blindly naive and ignored all the warning signs. And as I navigated through life, it got tough. There have been so many peaks and valleys this past year. And when you're in a valley and look up and see how difficult it is to climb out, you think you're just going to be stuck there. That there is no way out of the valley. And the road is difficult. The path is anything but smooth. It's filled with rocks and roots that cause you to slip, to stub your toe, to lose your footing. Sometimes the path is so difficult that all you want to do is cry, throw your hands up, and quit. And as I was hiking up this hill, crying every step of the way, thinking I was never going to make it, I suddenly realized something. I was at the top! I made it. It was so very hard, and I was out of breath and needed to take a break, but I made it. And as I continued my trek back to the car, I realized how much beauty was around me. The river, the rocks, the flowers, the trees, the butterflies. There was so much beauty along this trail if I just took the time to look around. And yes, the last year of my life has been the most difficult year to date. I have endured so much pain and heartache. But it has been filled with so much beauty too. Beauty I would not have been blessed with if I hadn't endured the pain. And as I came around the last turn and saw the bridge that ended the trail, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. The end was in sight. The path became smooth. I made it. I finished. I survived. I did it.
And just as I completed that hike - filled with peaks and valleys and rocks and roots - I know I will complete this rocky path that has been laid before me in life. And I am in a very deep and lonely valley right now, and it doesn't seem like there is a way out. I want to quit. I want to just throw up my hands and cry "Uncle!" But.....I know what I am made of. I know that I am strong and courageous and brave and lovely. And I know that I can do the hard work to climb out of this valley and find a smooth path again. I just have to trust myself and trust the process and look for the beauty around me.