There is a mining-turned-tourist town called Platoro in South-central Colorado that is untouched by time. My great-grandfather discovered it in the early 1960s while taking his son on a celebratory fishing trip after high school graduation. My dad went there with his family nearly every year when he was young. Then he took our family there almost every year when I was young.
As I reached my teen years, we branched out and started taking trips to Arkansas, Yellowstone, South Dakota, etc. This past August was our first trip back to Platoro in six years, but I swear everything was the same. Sure, Skyline Lodge no longer runs the trail rides, but Platoro Outfitters picked it up in their stead. And we weren’t able to get the family cabin we usually stayed in, so we stayed in a pretty, little rustic cabin beside the river instead. But the rock formations on the mountains, the cool stillness of the reservoir, the chilly mornings, morning sunshine, and afternoon thunderstorms . . . those were all the same.
A few miles from Platoro is the trail head for a hike to Bear Lake. I remember my parents making the three-mile hike up the mountain to the lake every year when I was little. When I was nine, they finally said I was old enough to go, and I was so excited. Partway up the mountain, as my Kansas lungs huffed and puffed and gasped for air in the thin, 11,000+-feet-above-sea-level air, I was slightly less excited, but making it to the top brought such a sense of pride and accomplishment that it was all worth it.
This year, as we prepared to hike Bear Lake once again, I thought, It can’t really be as bad as I remember, can it?
Well, yes. Actually it can.
I’ve been running semi-regularly this past year, and I thought I was in okay shape. I guess I am, but the high altitude throws everything off. About fifteen minutes into the hike as we walked up a steep portion in the meadow, I turned around to the rest of my family and said half-jokingly—but only half— “Well, I’m about done. How about you guys?”
But they were determined and, deep down, I was too, so we spent the next two and a half hours hiking up the rest of the trail. And once we reached the top . . . well, there really isn’t anything quite like it.
The view from the top was spectacular, no doubt about it. Still, it didn’t quite erase the pain of the hike up. I could hardly stand or walk around at all the next day.
We talk so often these days about “mountain-top experiences.” We also talk about descending into the valley. But we don’t often mention the journey from the valley to the mountain top.
Psalm 126 is a “Psalm of the Ascents,” one of the songs the people of Israel would sing on their way to Jerusalem for the annual feasts, and I was reminded of its beauty in a recent Bible study I did. It begins with the people looking back on a time when God had done something wonderful, something mind-blowingly amazing for them, when He released them from captivity. It ends with them looking forward to a time when He will do a similar work in them, turning their mourning into dancing.
But the song was written in one of those in-between times, a time of waiting and praying and hoping.
One of those times when your spiritual lungs are gasping for air and you’re pleading for an end to the hard road.
When your calves are burning and sweat is rolling down your back and you would stop for a drink but your water bottle is almost empty and you want to conserve what you have left for the time when things might get worse just around the next bend in the trail.
When you say you’re moving forward and making progress upward but really, the only thing keeping you saying that is a threadbare hope that God really does have your best interests in mind and will bring you to the mountain-top in His own good time.
Those times aren’t spiritual valleys—not really. They’re not caused by the death of a loved one or a serious diagnosis or the loss of a job. These are just your ordinary, run-of-the-mill rough days. The ones where you’re too busy to sit down for more than a couple minutes, or where you’re distracted from your work over worry for a friend, or where everything you made for dinner is burned, or where you just don’t know what to do about a tricky decision.
Sometimes, I think it’s those days when it is hardest to listen to God or to believe He’s actually listening to you.
I think that’s part of what I appreciate about this psalm.
The Lord has done great things for us.
And He has, if only I take the time to remember them.
We are glad.
Yes, Jesus. Thank you for what You have done.
Restore our fortunes, O Lord . . . Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.
The harvest is coming. I’m writing that as much for me as for anyone else, because it’s something I have a terrible time remembering and believing.
For now, I’m living in between the times, glancing back at the last mountain-top, the last valley, and looking ahead toward the next mountain. The trail up is steep, and it makes me downright exhausted. But telling Him about it reminds me that I’m not alone. And the view from the top will be beautiful.