The phrase “recalled to life” rang true over the past two weeks, as I returned to some of my favorite activities. Save for the past year, climbing steep rock spires and schussing down 45 degree slopes has been my normal.
“Recalled to life” comes from the novel A Tale of Two Cities; the suggestion of a new chance at life is an apt description of not just my experience lately, but the bigger picture of my life as well. This resurrection started when Elizabeth and Pippa and I headed out to Colorado for spring break.
While in Longmont, my friend, Jon, asked me if I wanted to go rock climbing. A little hesitant at first, I agreed. I had thought about perhaps climbing this spring or summer, but sometimes it takes a mental push to tie yourself back into a thin rope, force your feet into tight shoes and defy gravity by hanging on a cliff once again. I think going with a “safe” friend was a must—not just one with good climbing skills, but a proven friend I don’t need to impress, especially after what I’ve been through.
We headed to a familiar crag in Boulder Canyon. Starting slow on a beginner route, I kept readjusting my fingers on the thin rock holds, straining to stand on my toes on the small features. My feet and hands are numb in spots, the result of grueling treatment, so in a way I felt like I was relearning to trust them. Fortunately, this route included a lot of big holds, so precision wasn’t quite so critical.
After that shaky start, I surprised myself by ascending a 5-9, as well as another 5-8 (intermediate routes) somewhat comfortably. I began to relax, enjoying the familiar sights and sounds of the canyon, the sun rays reflecting off the polished granite, the roar of the rushing creek below.
All in all, the day proved to be a huge boost. Pushing my body and muscles again felt good—as did discovering that they didn’t break when tested. I believe outdoor adventure helps restore the confidence and dignity of cancer survivors (as I mentioned in a previous post), and this certainly proved true this day, as well as the rest of spring break.
The day went so well that Elizabeth and I brought our climbing gear to Colorado Springs a few days later. The first day we top-roped, but then the next day I was ready to hop on the sharp end (lead climbing). We chose Montezuma’s, a 150-foot sandstone tower in the middle of Garden of the Gods State Park, where I proposed to Elizabeth nearly five years ago. By happenstance, a professional sports photographer captured the climb (see slideshow in my next post).
A few days later, we headed to Vail Resort to do some skiing. Unlike rock climbing, this part of our spring break was planned. A few friends invited us to stay at a house, a mere 100 yards from the lift, complete with an outdoor hot tub and five fireplaces—one can never have too many fireplaces 🙂 It was an incredibly generous and timely invitation.
I have been literally dreaming of skiing all winter. Some of my dreams have included skiing couloirs with backcountry skiing friends in Utah. I always wake up feeling bittersweet, happy to hang out with these friends and experience the Wasatch again, if only in my dreams, but sad when I remember it wasn’t real. I’ve had similar surfing dreams, too.
Months ago, Elizabeth mentioned in her blog that she’d been praying God would give me an opportunity to ski this winter. At the time it seemed like an impossible dream, but I know many of you prayed. Thank you! Elizabeth and I skied a half day at small SD ski hill in January, but now we had the opportunity to ski the largest resort in Colorado—Vail—which boasts 31 chair lifts, 5,289 skiable acres and a 3,450-foot vertical. This was my first time at Vail, and some buddy pass discounts helped alleviate the sticker shock (see photo).
The ski area experienced a dry March, but the night before it snowed two inches—better than nothing. Yet some of the ungroomed steeps softened up from the sun, and the new snow made it seem like more like 4 or 5 inches of fresh snow.
We were happy to be there with friends—especially ones with whom I have backcountry skied. And it was handy to have a Vail local, Patrick, guide us through the maze of quad and sextuplet chairs, as well as show us which lift rides would get us from one side of the area to the other.
For me, the day wasn’t just an “Oh-isn’t-it-nice-the-little-cancer-patient-is-getting-out” type of skiing, it felt legit, like a typical day on the mountain, hitting areas like blues, steep blacks and double black diamonds. My energy and ability felt at about 75 percent of normal, which was encouraging. Even my previously crippled back now felt little to no pain as I skied moguls and carved fast giant slalom turns down endless blues.
As a bonus, Elizabeth and I also skied Loveland Pass the second day. One of the best things about Loveland, and maybe the worst when windy, is that this resort resides almost entirely above treeline, giving excellent views of the continental divide mountains, looking like rows of sweeping white tents. I spent the first few hours giving Elizabeth a skiing lesson, which I still remember how to do from my Crested Butte instructor days. This was only her third day on skis in over 10 years, and, ever the athlete, she began quickly learning parallel turns.
All in all, it was a great ski getaway—we must give credit to Pippa’s grandparent babysitters and friends Yuki and Patrick who gave us a place to stay that helped make it possible.
When I think about our spring break, I feel grateful—grateful that Elizabeth and I could do so many active things together. And not just do them halfway, but return to some normalcy, and even try new things, like skiing Vail or Elizabeth ditching her snowboard to re-learn skiing. The activities were cool, but even beyond that, they evidence how well I’m doing physically, and this fuels our hope.
Reflecting on this makes me think again of A Tale of Two Cities. I had trouble sleeping for a few nights (insomnia is a side effect of treatment), and so sometimes Elizabeth reads novels to me. The words, ever poignant, struck a little deeper this time, almost capturing some of our years’ experience.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…”
This year has been one of contrasts. Upon initial diagnosis, along with months of treatment, we were living in the “worst of times,” just barely holding on to life. But then strangely, there were “best of times” mingled in as well—experiencing a closeness with God I didn’t know was possible, seeing him provide a way, somehow, through the grueling mess, and being closer with Elizabeth, Pippa and my family. Learning how to have a strong, forward-leaning trust in God’s goodness and provision for us, one that keeps standing, despite discouragements and seemingly impossible circumstances. This has been our hope.
Dark days have consumed us, but then light has eventually shone through and overcome the darkness—many times in fact. The winter has felt infinitely long. Even then, the blistering cold and persistent gray days can’t destroy our hope.
That’s the thing about hope—it has no limits. It is not restrained by textbooks, past cases or predictions. Even beyond medicine, my hope is in the Lord. And with God, there is always hope and there is always a way. Like it says in Psalm 71:14 (NIV) “As for me, I’ll always have hope.”
This spring break was a great reminder of how God has recalled me to life. Not just through outdoor adventure, but in my overall outlook on life. And I look forward to continuing to follow him and seeing what he has for me.