We started talking to Valentine about our Colorado vacation about a month ago. I would say, “Valentine, we’re going to the mountains to see Grammy and Pops and your cousins.” I said the same thing every time. She had no idea what a mountain was, but she knew she was going to see them.
Once we arrived in Breckinridge, I could point at the crisp white ridges of the Rockies and say, “Look, Valentine! Mountains!” It didn’t take her long to begin pointing her chubby finger and saying, “Look, Mama! Mountains!” at every visible peak.
It took us a couple days to venture out further than the surrounding yard and a bubbling creek nearby, but we finally found a simple hike for the whole family. After a short walk we emerged from the pines to a rocky ledge overlooking a navy blue lake sparkling with the reflection of snow and clouds, surrounded on all sides by the soaring mountains. It was breathtaking, and for the first time I felt like I could really see them all - the Rockies.
I took Valentine’s hand and we continued walking down the trail, surrounding by gnarled trees and marbled rocks. The older cousins ran on ahead and soon it was just Viv and I and the occasional flutter of a mountain blue jay.
Suddenly, Valentine froze. I tried to pull her ahead, but she said, “No, Mom. Stop!” She looked down at her feet and the gray dusty earth beneath them and said, “Look, Mama. Mountain.”
And there it was. The dust and the pebbles underneath us, the grass on either side of us, the monotony of pines above us— it was a mountain. I’d been looking out and away, at the majesty of the mountains in the distance, all while standing upon a mountain of my own.
Valentine continued walking, poking at the melting snow with a stick, picking up rocks and stopping to sit on every tree trunk, but I couldn’t stop thinking about what she’d said. At first I just marveled at her ability to be present, to understand the reality of our situation even better than I, but I soon realized it was so much more than that.
How often do I look forward to something, or envy someone else’s situation, only to completely miss the wonder and happiness of the moment once I’m in it myself. For example, when I was single, I looked at marriage as the pinnacle of happiness on earth— easy companionship, satisfying love, complete security. But anyone who is married knows that this is not what marriage “feels” like. And it’s so easy to gaze at the marriages of others from a distant and think that it looks so beautiful and ideal, when in all actuality your “mountain” may look the same way from another vantage point.
Or take prayer. How many times have you read a book or heard a sermon about prayer and felt inspired, only to realize once you’re sitting on your couch at home, saying words into the air, that prayer doesn’t “feel” inspiring when you’re doing it. Being on the mountain looks different than looking at that same mountain from afar. But that doesn’t mean it’s not glorious, I guess you just have to do what Valentine did— stare at the dust under your feet and marvel at the mountain you are standing upon.
And this must mean gratitude. Gratitude for my life, even if it doesn’t look the way I imagined it would once I’m living it. Gratitude for the mundane, the simple, even the moments when I can’t see further than the curve in the trail, and I don’t know what God is doing with my life. And I can do this because God is the one who made the mountain I’m standing upon, not me. I can’t mess up my mountain. However, I can choose to joyfully and doggedly walk the path upon it, pausing every so often to gratefully and fully realize the height to which God has brought me and the beauty of the mountain that he has made.
Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion, and to you shall vows be performed. O you who hear prayer, to you shall all flesh come. When iniquities prevail against me, you atone for our transgressions. Blessed is the one you choose and bring near, to dwell in your courts! We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, the holiness of your temple! By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness, O God of our salvation, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas; the one who by his strength established the mountains… (Psalm 65:1-6 ESV)