I looked at the summit of the volcano in whose crater I now stood. Surely the end of the trail was on one of the lower areas of the semi-circle. It couldn’t be at the very highest point. Could it? But barely visible, a vague roof and building skeleton told me it probably was exactly in that spot. And I saw stairs. Lots of stairs.
I told my husband he could go on the hike and I’d stay at the bottom and watch birds. I could never make that trek. Between the Ehlers-Danlos that causes my ankles to turn at the hint of a pebble in the road and my knees to hurt five minutes into a hike and the accompanying dysautonomia that gives me shortness of breath on a simple flight of stairs, I’m learning my limits. The top of Diamond Head was one of them. The websites say it’s “not too difficult.” The websites don’t consider a good portion of the population.
My loving spouse told me the entry fee was cheap, and I could stop whenever I wanted to and come back down. So what was there to lose to walk a little way? Fine. It was our first day ever in Hawaii and a lovely morning. I’d hike a short way.
Hikers are the best sort of people. Sure, there are those on a mission. They only want to reach point B, and if you’re hindering that pursuit, they’ll run you off the road. They’re the minority, though. Every time we visit a new place, it’s the hikers who are the kindest people to meet. They make room for you on the path. They smile. They tell you, you’re almost there (even if you’re not, which is not always helpful but encouraging nonetheless).
The older ones give me confidence that I can still put one foot in front of the other. The younger ones both make way for a disabled hiker like me, but also look at us with admiration. I’ve rarely met a young hiker who appeared to believe I was in the way and out of shape, even when I clearly am. They seem to understand the folks on trails are a community. All with the same goal, all doing the best we can, all needing encouragement and wisdom
You’ve probably guessed that I never quit and turned back. We took many breaks. I needed regular breathers after what seemed like only a few feet. It wasn’t until we hit the first set of stairs that I thought I might make it, and several times on the almost 200 stairs I revisited that idea. We made the top, and the view was as glorious as promised. Although I’d pay for that decision to continue for the rest of the trip, I didn’t regret it. I’d done what I considered impossible when I looked at the scope of it from the bottom.
I’ve been thinking a lot about church lately, specifically about how much I have left to give and how much I will need to make way for younger generations to take the reins. What new ideas and projects can I give, and where do I yield and offer only mentoring and wisdom? With the corner of sixty ahead and loss of physical ability, the questions are crowding my thoughts.
Diamond Head helped me figure some of them out.
I still have the capability to climb. I can still reach the vistas of new adventures and ideas. But it’s slower. Steadier. Far more careful and measured than when I leaped from rock to rock. I have what’s known as a “quick start” personality—meaning that when I get an idea, I am ready to hit the gas pedal and move. That speed’s not as possible anymore. That, Diamond Head taught me, is its own beauty. I see things in the slowness that others don’t see. They see things farther along and maybe catch a vision I can’t, because I’m watching my feet.
As I’m looking down, though, watching each small step, I’m seeing the little things that make up the big picture. Someone else views the treeline and the shoreline, but I notice the warblers and the damselflies. I find the others who are struggling. I see a little thing in the person approaching me that I can call out and compliment them on. It takes enforced slowness to do this. Noticing is newer to me, the “damn the torpedoes” style strategist. I like it. I love seeing God in the small things I missed. I love seeing God in the faces of those I hadn’t noticed.
Most of all, I recognize the community of hikers and realize that this work of summiting is for all of us, not one. The best encouragement for continuing on my hike was the ones who had been there. The hot shots might run up on their own, but for most of us, the journey is far easier, and pleasanter, with one another’s smiles.
The past two years, the church has seen the truth of this, truth Paul wrote about long ago, more than ever in our memory. We’ve missed our “one anothering,” and it has cost something in our souls. Neither I, the “upper middle-aged” challenged climber, nor the junior high girl sitting in church asking intense questions (yes, I have one of these) are expendable in God’s work.
“A demonstration of the Spirit is given to each person for the common good. A word of wisdom is given by the Spirit to one person, a word of knowledge to another according to the same Spirit,faith to still another by the same Spirit, gifts of healing to another in the one Spirit… Certainly the body isn’t one part but many… So the eye can’t say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you,’ or in turn, the head can’t say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you.’…If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part gets the glory, all the parts celebrate with it. You are the body of Christ and parts of each other.” (1 Corinthians 12.7-27)
As I started down from the top, a man coming up took in my ankle braces, hiking poles, and heavy lean on the railing and said, “You are one determined person.” He will never have any idea how much those five words meant. He won’t know that I won’t forget them. Someone noticed a strength in another person, a strength she wasn’t at all certain she possessed at the moment, and he wasn’t afraid to call it out.
The community needs us all. It’s less without its variation. If our strengths change over time, that’s right and good. Maybe when I was younger it was agility and speed. Now, I’ll take determination.
Jill Richardson is the pastor of Real Hope Community Church near Chicago. She is the author of six books and a national speaker, as well as a contributor to books from Dayspring, Lillenas, and Christianity Today. Jill’s doctorate in "Church Leadership in a Changing Context" is helping her with her passion—passing on a healthy, creative church and doing it with the next generation. She is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Bethel Seminary (St. Paul), and Washington University. Her focus is on church leadership, creative preaching, immigration and refugees, women’s issues, and intergenerational leadership. She has an unnatural love for Middle-earth, chocolate marzipan, old musicals, fish tacos, oceans, cats, and Earl Grey. She believes in Jesus, grace, restoration, kindness, justice, and the Cubs. You can find her work at jillmrichardson.com.