For the love of mountains and Jesus; or pink slippers, 10% and unexpected grace.

(An entirely different post than what I planned be writing this week…)

I have been chewing on a post for the last week and half and it is not this one….

Typically, an idea forms and the words come relatively quick. I reword and rework, sometimes erase and rewrite, but the words and ideas seem to just come. Writing for me has always been a joy, a place to release my thoughts, hopes, fears and prayers into the wide open. I can’t begin to express how important writing has become to me – and your comments, encouragement and ideas make it so much better.

Last week was not the easiest week and I am not even sure why….

I had a post started about some family conflict, how it is NOT always easy or pretty or even kind around here. And yet, it has not felt quite right to publish here, YET. Maybe in time, maybe not.

The reality is, I work really hard to be authentic, to not buy into only sharing the positive, “picture perfect” moments; normalizing both the struggle, the hard feelings AND the beautiful ones. And this past week, the beautiful seemed harder to find. Until yesterday…

A couple days before my big kids left to go on a church youth group trip to Colorado, we all seemed to be having issues with each other. Tension seemed sky high, all of us ruminating our own struggle. Suddenly, the kids were packed, leaving our house and off on a trip to Colorado for the first time.

My husband, youngest daughter and I remained home in a much quieter house. We visited dear friends for the weekend they left, but when we returned Sunday afternoon, the quiet within our walls was both needed and a bit unsettling. My mind kept thinking, “is this how it will feel a year from now, when E goes to college?”

Funny thing though… THIS post is not yet about my daughter marching toward senior year at an ever-quickening pace or my own both/and/and/and moments about that. My heart skips as I write that sentence, both excited for my girl and grieving already the future changes to our family as she makes decisions. But this post, this one that is jumping from my heart and fingers so quickly I can hardly keep up as I type, is about mountains, love and being seen.

Life for me growing up and navigating teen years was just full of unique to me challenges. EVERYONE can speak to their own challenges, none better or worse, simply our own. When my high school youth group was going to Colorado Challenge, I was not ready. I am sure that I missed an amazing experience and yet, I was not physically or emotionally aware enough at that point in my life, to face the difficulties of hiking, rappelling and advocating for my physical needs. I didn’t have the confidence. I believe it was absolutely part of God’s divine plan for me that I didn’t go THEN.

When I began working for a grassroots teen ministry just out of my undergraduate degree, I was invited to go with the church who had started and most supported this ministry. Though I was still anxious about the landscape and being out of my comfort zone, I was also beginning to understand my needs and voice. I know without a doubt that God wanted and made the way for me to go, AT THAT TIME in my life.

Before I gush poetically about the natural beauty and awe-inspiring scenery of Colorado itself for many paragraphs, (If you’ve been there, you know right?), this about sums it up, at least for me.

 “There were those green, undulating hills and this very beautiful river, the Colorado. The place is inspired and inspiring.”

– Terrence Malick.

I was in awe of Colorado, from the scenery as we drove through the state, to Colorado Challenge and every experience from the first to last time I was blessed enough to travel to Colorado, 5 trips in all. The last, was the one I had only dreamed of, worked for and raised money for so a group of teen moms could attend camp like their peers.

Each time I went has it’s own beauty and sacred space. I have memories I will forever cherish, tears that led to lifetime changes and awareness, places marked on my journey with Jesus Christ that allowed me to meet and love him personally. Moments where worship was ALL of who we are, you can’t get near enough to God’s own heart and call and YES to him is the most right, easiest answer.

I also had breathtaking moments of love, acceptance and grace that until that point, was new to me. From sitting behind students throughout evening chapel events and literally watching and praying with them as they said YES to Jesus and relationship to him to the grand view of Pikes Peak from camp. Whitewater rafting at Noah’s Ark, horseback rides through stunning trails, conversations late into the night, even helping the girls navigate conflict. Memories with my sister-friend and the students who bravely allowed me into their hearts and fears.

The first year I went, I struggled with many of the physical aspects of getting around the rustic camp grounds, roots, jutting up from the dirt in odd ever-changing directions, loose stones and steep inclines, not to mention that climbing was involved in nearly anything that you wanted to do for activities.

When we arrived at Rainbow Falls where groups were given the opportunity to rappel, I instantly knew  I could NOT climb to the top of the cliff we were supposed to rappel down without some serious back-up. I didn’t know the kids or leaders well, because I was asked to be an adult leader last minute when one of the others was sick. But I fell prey to believing that I, as an adult, “should not, could not,” ask those kids or other leaders for help climbing because “I am supposed to be an adult and help them!” Thank goodness for therapy that helps us see our own faulty beliefs and some of their roots.

By the next summer, I had built strong relationships with a number of the same high school kids who refused to let me “wait at the bottom,” this time around, walked with me carefully and safely up cliff and then helped me rappel! It is still an exhilarating badass, capable memory that means so much to me because it felt so impossible and I yearned to try.

One night, after worship had blown the roof off the chapel, I sat down next to a student named Ryan who just had a magnetism to kids around him. He had a smile that was both mischievous and kind, a signature baseball hat always worn backwards. He was wrestling in a way that I could feel as I sat next to him, listening and partly, just being present in whatever was the internal fight. “Why do you even want to listen?” He finally asked and his battle with something was palpable. I just prayed as tears filled his eyes. It was a holy, heart-wrenching space and yet, a memory I hold dear from an evening in that chapel in the mountains, overlooking Pikes Peak.

 In camp was Soldier’s Mountain, again something I had only heard about. I wrestled with longing and grief, the limitations of this body, when the kids begged me to come with them. A group of teen boys moved me to literal tears when they nearly plowed me over in the snack shack on our next to last night in camp.  They were organizing a sunrise hike up Soldier’s and “were bringing me with them!” They refused to take my no for an answer, (thankfully) and literally walked-step-by-slow-step up a steep incline to the top of Soldier’s Mountain. Reaching the top was an absolutely surreal moment, a picture of trust, care and acceptance that showed me Jesus himself in those teenage faces. Those boys are still “little brothers” to me, many years later.

There are so many more moments, the beautiful, brave teen moms that showed me as a single 25 year old what motherhood and sacrifice mean, how God can use everything to bring us closer. Jaw-dropping scenery, over and over, devotion from youth leaders and the very definition of brave, so many times I lost count.

Safe to say, Colorado has an important place in my heart. I even had dreams, hopes and prayers about moving there in my 20’s, but that too, was NOT God’s plan for me. My best friend played “Wide Open Spaces” by the Dixie Chicks about that time and it was as if they had written it for me… (Perhaps my version of how Taylor Swift “just gets it!!” in 2023?)

Life continues, I got accepted into graduate school in Michigan, met my love and the dream changed. God knew…and yet, I have for a long time told my kids about my love for Colorado, the incredible beauty and how God moves, especially during camp experiences…

I think in our relationships, there are always “mountain top and valley events,” and for me, relationship with Jesus is included. The mountains, whether physical and emotional, change us. Tremind us of the passion, the love and the goodness that ARE mountain-top experiences in relationships, especially when the greater amount of time in relationships takes place on the flat ground or the valleys (not always the most exciting parts of being in relationship.)

I have been doing clinical work for 22 years now, so my days of youth leading and traveling with students are a past chapter. So much so, that it caught me off guard when the church we’ve been attending since December began talking about a youth group trip to Rocky Mountain High in July in Estes Park.

I realized that my teens would get to experience Colorado in their own way; so. good.

I knew that the scenery would move them. I was even somewhat prepared for their personal “mountain-top experiences” and “the impending post-camp blues,” both familiar to me from my days as a camp counselor at Camp Geneva and Colorado Challenge.

What I really hadn’t considered for them was how this experience, uniquely their own, would truly translate, change them and shape them. How this week would give them lifelong memories with friends, leaders and Jesus Christ.

We picked them up yesterday in the church parking lot…rolling off the bus sweaty, exhausted, hoarse and beaming. Tight hugs, high-fives and inside jokes that I am sure, I will never here the beginning or the end of. The swath of parents hung back, both debating about embarrassing kids with big hugs (perhaps just me??) and trying to respect the vibes they were sending off. It was evident how this group of leaders and kids had bonded.

On one hand, I felt so old; and…so very thankful that after the pandemic changed so many things about so many churches, we are finding our way into a church community again, with our beautiful kids leading the way, fearlessly. A couple leaders came and introduced themselves, blessing us with kind words about the kids’ behavior and character. They may never know what that meant to us…

For the next few hours back home, the kids talked over and around each other, a unique shared experience of going on youth group trip as siblings and friends and all the dynamics in between. They showed us pictures of stunning mountains, sunrise views, elk roaming downtown, “right by the jerky store” and one of their leaders, dressed in a bear hug nightgown, pink slippers, shamelessly directing traffic in downtown Estes Park. They described “worship with so many kids, all raising our hands and holding nothing back.” They described messages from Megan Marshman, who presented them with opportunity after opportunity to know Jesus’s love, desire for relationship and sacrifice in such personal ways.

They told us about how as a group, they would nightly share their last 10%, allowing their friends and other leaders into the parts of ourselves that we all hold back, because, “if someone knows ________ about me, they will__________ (leave, tell others, think I’m a _____}”, or many other reasons.

Our kids shared some hard stuff about their own struggles. We are so very proud of them and shared with them our experience and belief that God will draw us in, rather than shame us out. They told us how their leaders discussed some of their own struggles, encouraged each other, then asked the group to pray over our kids and family.

I’m not sure if that moves you, but I get goose bumps (again) as I write those words.

It has been said, “It takes a village to raise kids.” The older I get, the more our village blesses us. The more our village draws us closer to Jesus, just by being WITH, authentically. The more the village ebbs and flows. The more the needs change within in the village, within ourselves.

I was once on the front lines with teens, staying up late, running on fumes, holding their stories firsthand. I was surrounded by a different village as I was a part of students and oh my goodness, those were the days….

Now…my kids are traveling; their village will change and I may not even know all their members. They are being challenged, sharpened, changing, softened and from what I know today, going all in with Jesus.

I am profoundly grateful for those who walk with me, who have shown me the heart of Jesus in Colorado and beyond. For the relationships I still have because of heart connections on the mountains and deep in the desolate valleys. I am thankful for those who see us not as we are but as we can be and have the courage to say so. I am thankful for health and strength. May we all be surrounded by those who build up when we need it, sit quietly and those who hype us into believing in ourselves at exactly the right moments.

“Colorado has always been a good place to find what you’re made of.”

– John Hickenlooper.

To Jesus, E & E,  Colorado and everywhere in between.


Philippians 1-3-4