In 2011, my church was sponsoring a mission trip to Cypress. It was a time of prayer over the Turkish side of Cypress, in preparation for a church plant. While the trip sounded amazing, and I really wanted to go, I never fully felt called. Even so, I applied and started the process of preparing for that trip. Eventually, I listened to the voice telling me that this trip wasn’t meant for me, and I cancelled my plans. A couple months later, through an unfortunate turn of events with my son, I would have been forced to cancel the trip anyway. God knew ahead of time I would not be able to go.
A few months later, I was contemplating how God used climbing in my life to bring me emotional, spiritual and physical healing.. In the two years I had been climbing, God had used my passion for climbing to completely transform my life. I realized that if God could use climbing in such a profound way for me, maybe I could use climbing to help other women find a similar kind of healing. I began searching for an existing ministry that I could get involved with. There wasn’t anything like what I was looking for. One ministry I did find was Solid Rock Outdoor Ministries (SROM). SROM was an outdoor ministry that primarily worked with young adults and college students. Their main program was a 40-day, 40-night back country, backpacking course that centered around a study on the sonship of Christ.
As I browsed through their website, I noticed that they were also offering a 12-day climbing course. It sounded amazing! I began to daydream how cool the climbing course would be. In reality, I was a struggling single mom and money was too tight to do something like that. I also believed if I was going to utilize my time and resources for a trip, it should be a mission trip. Certainly not for something as frivolous as a super fun rock climbing and camping adventure.
However, something surprising happened. Unlike my mission trip planning months earlier, I began to feel God nudging me, calling me to take the climbing course. But internally I was conflicted, uncertain if I was truly hearing His calling or massaging things to suit what I wanted. I kept telling myself,
“That’s just me thinking it would be cool.”
“There is no way I could afford to go on that course. Doing so would be totally irresponsible!”
“This can’t be something God wants me to do. It would be way too much fun to be a ’calling.’ “
But even so, I felt propelled to go on the trip. The more I argued with myself, the louder God’s calling grew. After a year of contemplation, I picked up the phone and called SROM and inquired about the course. Then, in faith, I filled out an application for a trip that I couldn’t afford. Somehow, the money became available. All the stars aligned, and I was able to go.
I need to pause for a moment to provide some context on the absurdity of going on this trip. I was 42, had never really camped, was terrified about pooping in the woods and had only been climbing for a little more than a year. I wasn’t in great shape and was totally unprepared. Despite the ridiculousness I felt at the time, I stepped out in faith and registered, paid and started acquiring the necessary gear. Still, a nagging voice kept saying, “There’s no way you can do this!” Yet, God’s voice prevailed. He kept calling me to this adventure, and fortunately I listened.
To make things even more challenging than they already were, I sprained my ankle top-rope climbing about a week before leaving for the trip.
Physically and emotionally, that course would become one of the most difficult and challenging things I have ever done in my life. I cried three separate times during that trip out of sheer frustration, exhaustion, and humiliation.
On our third day of climbing, everyone else scurried up a boulder effortlessly to get to our climbing destination. (Did I mention I was the only one not in my 20s) Our approach was up two steep boulders. After a terrifying crawl up the first boulder I was too scared continue in my hiking boots. I sheepishly sat down to put on my climbing shoes before continuing. I then proceeded to drop said shoe down a gigantic gully. I would have to climb all the way back down for retrieval. I stared down, in the direction of my shoe, and started sobbing. With tears gushing, I shared with Gloria, one of our counselors who was half my age, about how difficult this all was for me. I felt overwhelmed, out of my league and inadequate.
About ten days into our trip, our group decided to hike up to the top of a boulder to do our devotions. It had been a long day of climbing, in particularly hot weather. I was completely spent and exhausted. Before we climbed up boulder for devotions, our counselors led us in a “fun” and energetic activity. I just wanted to crawl into my tent and pass out. After our group activity, everyone effortlessly carried their items up to our destination.
I had spent the entire trip feeling unprepared. That night was no exception. My backpacking chair didn’t work, I didn’t have a small bag to carry my materials, and I barely had the energy to get through the evening, let alone climb atop a gigantic boulder. I marveled at how easy it all looked for everyone else. That night during devos, I broke down again as the feelings of inadequacy and not belonging resurfaced.
On our last day, we hiked a 2 mile, 2000’ approach, carrying climbing gear up to a 5 pitch 750’ climb. As we hiked, I grew more and more exhausted. I could barely breathe as we ascended the mountain. The thought of climbing 750’ in the heat, then having to get back down overwhelmed me. I broke down, again feeling totally inadequate and unprepared. I was also so embarrassed about all the crying that I cried even harder!
In addition to all the crying, I had lots of mishaps along the way. I was the only one who forgot my rain gear once. In the high desert, storms come out of nowhere. While my young, energetic team played their group games under a gazebo, I was soaked and frozen. Another time everyone effortlessly stepped across this branched positioned across the start of a climb. I of course slipped and bloodied up my leg.
We climbed from all day, almost every day, in the August heat of Vedavuu Wyoming and City of Rocks Idaho. It was hot, exhausting, emotionally taxing, and physically demanding. By the end of the trip I was totally battered and bruised. My legs had dried blood, and really dirty ankle brace, along with too many scrapes and bruises to count. My body ached, and my skin had aged 10 years. (no joke!)
Despite all the tears and mishaps, it was the best experience I had ever had. I loved the people I was with and cherished every moment of our epic adventure. On the last day, after my 2-mile tear infused hike, we all sat on a ledge at the top of our five pitch climb. We reflected on the journey and how awesome it had been. I looked down at my battered legs and smiled. Every scrape and scar had been earned through perseverance and sheer will. The journey hadn’t always been pretty, but I made it through. As a result, I was stronger, healthier, a better climber and best of all, I grew in my faith and relationship with God. I proudly captured a picture of my beat-up legs for Facebook.
Romans 5: 3-5 says: And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. That verse was lived out in my life over those 12 days. Every tear, bruise, scrape and ache was worth it. God had taught me so many things on that trip. Many of them I have written about and shared in blogs and devotionals over the past five years. My marriage, and ultimately this ministry are some of the fruit generated as a result of that trip.
The night before heading home, we shared one last devo and a group wrap-up discussion about our trip. I shared how embarrassed I had been about crying and struggling so much the way I did. Austin looked at me and said (not exact words), “You know what I thought when I saw your application? I thought it was cool that someone who was in their 40s and has never done anything like this before would have the courage to come.”
Gloria, another counselor chimed in with a prophetic word for me that came true only a few months later. She said, “I don’t know what this means Renee, so you can take what you want from it, but God wants you to know that he’s preparing a really big rest for you,” After years of being alone, struggling financially, exhausted with life, and exhausted with a prodigal son, I knew right away that God would soon be moving in my life. Ultimately bringing me rest.
Two months after that trip, after eight long years I graduated college. Two months after that I met my husband David on Christian Mingle. Almost immediately I knew that after 22 years of being a single mom, I had met my husband. I quickly messaged Gloria and the other girls from my group. I had to tell them what God had impressed upon me; I met my “really big rest.”
Matthew 11:26-30 says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – God has been faithful to the promise of that verse many times over my life.
I have been reflecting on all the scars I’ve accumulated over the past years from climbing and mountain biking. Countless injuries, achy joints, battered legs. Last Spring as I emerged from a winter of severe illness and a pandemic quarantine, I slowly regained my strength and began climbing and mountain biking again. A month later, I was reminded of my climbing trip as I looked down at a myriad of scrapes and bruises. I smiled and this time happy tears welled up. I was thankful for the scars.
Right before the pandemic hit, I visited Mayo because of my chronic Winter illnesses that were getting worse year after year. My doctor diagnosed me with bronchiectasis, a lung disease. When the pandemic hit, I was still in morning about the diagnosis, daily lung treatments and visions of my mom who suffered advanced stages of the same disease. I had just emerged from almost 2 months of being homebound and sick when the world went on lockdown.
After the horrible winter of being in bed and sick most of the time, in conjunction with this emerging Covid-19 threat, I wondered if I would get another season of climbing and biking. I worried I wouldn’t fully recover from this past bout of illness. I feared additional damage to my lungs if I was to catch Covid. I also wondered if all my injuries and illnesses would hamper my ability to run Chick Climber.
I drove down the road one day, trying to reason with God. You know God, if I were healthy I could be way more affective for your kingdom. You called me to a ministry that required a strong and healthy body. Why would you riddle me with chronic pain, asthma and now bronchiectasis? I questioned, I pleaded, I begged for healing.
The apostle Paul asked that same question. In 2 Corinthians 12:9 God answered: And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” In versus 10 and 11, Paul reasons: Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
I have begun to realize that my weaknesses are a physical manifestation of the power of God at work. I cannot do the things that I do without the strength of God. Everyday I wake up depending on Him. Every time I feel my body giving out or my breathing starting to strain, I press into God even more. It is through Christ I press on to the work He has for me. My weaknesses drive me to my knees in prayer. Anything I accomplish is not because of me, it is despite me. It is all God working through me.
Over the past months, in the times of quarantine, suffering and self-reflection, I have looked over my life, and the years of hurts that have left scars on my heart. Sometimes these memories make me cringe. I cannot believe that was the person I was, and those were the choices I made.
Thankful for the Scars
One day as I was driving down the road, reflecting on my painful memories, the song Scars by I Am They came on the radio.
“So I’m thankful for the scars
’cause without them I wouldn’t know Your heart
And I know they’ll always tell of who You are
So forever I am thankful for the scars.”
As I listened, the image of my battered knees from that trip years ago came to mind. I smiled, realizing what a miracle it was for me to be having the healthiest Spring I have had in many years. While I hate my time-consuming daily breathing treatments, I know because of them I’ve been able to spend more time in God’s word and with Jesus.
As that song continued to play, I flashed back to the hurt and scars of my past. Without those scars, I wouldn’t be here in this very moment. I wouldn’t love and rely on Jesus today without witnessing his faithfulness in the darkest of times. I wouldn’t have the perfect husband that Jesus chose just for me without all the years of bitter loneliness and rejection. I wouldn’t have a heart to minister to women if Jesus hadn’t restored my broken heart time and time again. So yes, I am thankful for the scars. Each one has a story of God’s lavish love and acceptance of me. Each scar tells of who He is. I hope, as you look at your scars, you will smile and recognize the story of God’s faithfulness in each one.
“Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed; neither be disgraced, for you will not be put to shame; for you will forget the shame of your youth, and will not remember the reproach of your widowhood anymore. For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is His name; and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel; He is called the God of the whole earth. For the Lord has called you like a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, like a youthful wife when you were refused,” says your God. “For a mere moment I have forsaken you, but with great mercies I will gather you. – Isaiah 54:4-7