It was a silly idea, but the mountain looked inviting in the distance, its lone, high peak making it appear close to us. The summer day was warm and our work was done, so I challenged my younger sister to a race to the top.
To make the race more interesting, we chose different paths. We climbed the last barbed-wire fence separating the field from the mountain. “I’ll meet you at the top!” I shouted as we raced off. My sister was soon out of sight.
It wasn’t long before the afternoon sun began sapping my energy. I was shocked when I reached the top of the first hill only to see a valley between me and the next hill. What appeared to be a short climb and an easy conquest was going to be a much greater challenge than I had anticipated.
I concluded that my sister would turn back once she realized the difficulty of the climb. I certainly knew that I wanted to turn back. But then came the thought, What if she doesn’t quit? I would have a hard time facing her later. We hadn’t realized how difficult the task would be when we made the commitment to meet at the mountaintop, but that could not excuse me now.
Up I struggled. Brush clung to my shirt and scratched my arms. My legs ached and my lungs protested. As the sun became more unbearable, my dry mouth and throat reminded me that I had forgotten to bring water. The bubbling and churning creek below added to my thirst. But the greater the struggle, the greater became my determination to finish the race—even if I did so alone.
As I climbed, the mountain began to symbolize the challenges I had faced in life. I had climbed over sorrow, fought fear, and tried to be true to myself and to those who loved me. Some experiences had torn at my heart, battered my spirit, and left an ache in my soul, but I had continued my journey.
I thought about the importance of learning about, preparing for, and choosing the right paths. The mountain climb reminded me of my weaknesses and of the importance of carrying water, even “living water” (John 4:10).
Nearly every night of my life I had listened to my mother as she read to us from the scriptures. My father often added his experiences and testimony, and sometimes we sang. I had loved those evenings when I was young. But I was seventeen now, and sometimes the scriptures seemed irrelevant. I wondered whether they could really help me.
My thoughts turned to a poem I had written when I was much younger and had more enthusiasm than knowledge of mountains.
Oh, give me the free heart
And courage of steel.
Let me climb the steep mountains
With the gale sweeping wild,
And stand firm at the peak
After struggling and falling,
Being torn, driven, heartsick.
Let me then reach my goal.
When I fall and I fail,
Give me courage to fight.
Let my footsteps be certain
With a will ever strong.
Let me heed not the temptings,
Let me shun too much pleasure.
Guide my footsteps to glory,
To heaven, my treasure!
As I continued my climb, those brave words made me laugh. How romantic I had been. I had since determined that stumbling and falling were not painless. I began to wonder how much I really understood about life’s mountains. Had I learned anything from those evenings of scripture stories?
I thought of the Savior and how he was true to his mission and to his Father. He had asked that the cup be removed, but he accepted the Father’s will (see Luke 22:42). Bleeding and carrying the sins of all, the Redeemer climbed a mountain incomprehensible to us. In doing so, he showed the way to the mountaintop, and out of his great love for us, he “partook and finished [his] preparations unto the children of men” (D&C 19:19).
I was practically crawling by the time I reached the peak. I rested for a few moments, caught my breath, then looked over the scene before me. I was at a dizzying height that lifted my view out over an entire mountain range. The sun was sinking fast, and the sky was a glorious blaze of color. The view filled me with gratitude—gratitude for the glorious earth, for mountains to climb and strength to climb them, and for a Father and Son who help us up our mountains when we weaken and stumble.
I still had many spiritual mountains to climb, and I wondered if I was climbing them as well as I had climbed that day. I knew I needed help from the Lord in order to reach my goal of worthily meeting him at the end of my earthly climb.
Glancing at the quiet, serene valley below me, I felt assured that I could reach that goal by taking one step at a time and by picking myself up when I fell, even when it seemed that I was climbing alone. When I reached the top, my sister was not there! For one sad moment I thought she’d gone back and I’d be alone on a dark mountain. But then I noticed movement in the brush. Relief flooded my heart as I saw my sister’s blonde hair rise above the thick mountain bushes.
“I thought you quit!” she said as she plopped down beside me. We laughed at how we had misjudged the climb, and we rejoiced in each other’s success.
With the falling night, our steps weren’t so sure as we descended the mountain. We fell many times, but we lifted, encouraged, and guided each other to safer steps. It was great to finally see the light in our kitchen windows, and we were soon eating our mother’s pie with some jeep patrol members who had been preparing to search for us.
We didn’t know then that another mountain would soon loom before us as we faced our mother’s death, with its attendant pain and grief. But that day, I had learned that I could face my mountains, no matter what name they bore. I would not quit, because I knew where to look for strength. In the life he led and in the scriptures that testify of him, the Savior had shown me the way. I knew he would be there to help me climb.
Now I watch my own children stumble on slippery slopes, wander down dangerous paths, and climb unprepared to rocky heights. I can’t send patrols to rescue them, so I bid heavenly help to guard their way, save them from steep falls, and bind up the physical and spiritual wounds that result from life’s perilous climb.
I think I understand to a small degree the joy our Heavenly Father must feel when his children reach the top. I know he protects us and is there to help us with each step we must take and with each mountain we must climb.