Welcome to my Never Quit Climbing blog

A practical, inspirational blog designed to encourage and give hope to people who are climbing mountains of rock and granite or ones life has put in their way.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Lessons of A Mountain Climb . . . Again

My wife Jackie and I just finished a wonderful week with some Texas friends in the mountains of Colorado. And as I typically do I sought out another high mountain to climb before the week ended. One of our friends and I decided to tackle 13000' Notch Mountain, not as popular as the oft-climbed 14ers that we and others typically choose, but a climb with glorious views of Mount of the Holy Cross nonetheless.

But as soon as we began to climb I was reminded again of the rich senses, impressions, thoughts and emotions I would experience and desperately needed, ones that I miss so often in everyday life. Let me share a few.

We began our climb in the dark as the wafting smell of the pines woke my mind and soul to what was yet to come. I couldn't help remember that unique and fresh scent that had so captivated me even as a child. You can't find it just anywhere.

Minutes later the light began to rise in the east and the coming sun appeared as a mountain halo soon to glow like a bright ball of welcomed warmth. It was a special and fleeting moment. And yet  it is easy to miss these simple, mysterious yet wonderful experiences that cannot be bought. I am glad we did not run past this one only eager to conquer our goal.

Soon one sunlit ridge became dozens and it was difficult to take it all in. The majesty of God, always present, seemed inescapable now and we felt again that we had entered a holy place.

But the world of the mountains is rarely one of mere joy. The trail soon became steep, the footing rocky and the air thin. My breathing felt more labored, my legs ached and every step seemed heavy. The switchbacks were relentless and appeared unending for a time. Rocks were ubiquitous and intense concentration was required to continue without injury.

My body was fighting the mountain now and I knew from experience that my mind and spirit must engage my movement and urge me to not quit the climb. My physical energy drained quickly as I sought for something deep within to prevent me from turning around. And yet in the middle of the struggle I felt oddly invigorated discovering an ultimately powerful determination within to keep going and to conquer this huge task in front of us. 

There was a deep passion to overcome that I both hated and welcomed but that I rarely encounter in my daily life. 

I again thought how often I prefer the easy road, the comfortable and the familiar and miss how something greater always grows and changes me. I realized that there is something almost more impacting in the journey, in the climb far beyond reaching the summit.

I learned anew that sometimes, most of the time, the way to overcome our mountains is to just survive one more stretch of the trail even when our lungs burn and our strength seems gone. This is also the time when perhaps God's nearness is felt most, when He both gives us a boost but whispers simultaneously, "Keep going."

But then often comes that special moment when you take those last steps to the summit, with breaths still labored, feet aching but you know you have made it. As I like to say, "The view from the top is worth it." And it was. We experienced another sacred setting with only us, the quiet and God's beautiful creation there as our companions.

When summits are achieved we are free to enjoy them, embrace the thrill of victory stolen from the agony of defeat.

However, we cannot live on the summit. We must go down. That is where life is lived. So we descended, yes with less of the fight against gravity stealing our strength but a new dilemma emerging in the context of our joy at the top.

I found myself even more tired. The glow of summiting remained but I had given so much to persevere on the way up. Different muscles ached and more pain was added to the already strained  sore spots. But isn't life like that? We give and give with God's help to overcome but we have fewer reserves for a while as a result.

So we get emotional In the least likely of times, snap at those we love and dread the idea of another challenge coming too soon. As my legs seemed only to have enough strength to keep moving, my mind nearly erased all I had enjoyed for the past 5+ hours. But this is when we must remember again that God uses mountains and all the good and bad that comes with them to make us better, stronger and deeper people. 

Going down is a key part of the journey and the growing. It's all part of the process of being stretched, molded and made better.

I read recently that we would be wiser to spend more of our money on experiences and less on things. Another mountain climb affirmed for me that nothing could be further from the truth. What will be your next mountain experience? It may not be granite but it must be bigger than you are. Think of one now. You can't afford not to.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Living in the Death Zone

I've never climbed in the Himalayas but I've read a lot about those who do. And there is an area generally above twenty-five or twenty-six thousand feet that is poignantly known as the Death Zone. It is so named basically because at that altitude there is a variety of conditions that if not overcome will simply kill you and likely do it quickly.

Of course the most obvious one is the thin air and even with supplemental oxygen the body won't perform with its usual efficiency. And because one's faculties are typically impaired a climber is then more exposed to falling, various forms of edema and other potentially fatal results. Weather is also likely more extreme and dangerous, causing many climbers to bivouac in places where survival is unlikely at best.

A very small percentage of climbers ever experience the Death Zone of the highest mountains in the world and for good reason. It's just too dangerous.

However, in life there are some reasons to actually live in our own Death Zone of sorts. In fact, we can't avoid it. It's living knowing that at any moment our life on this earth could end. We could be gone or someone we love simply won't be around. Morbid? Creepy? A little out there perhaps? Yes, in some ways.

But I have a close relative who is most likely going to die in the next few months or so, barring a miracle that of course our entire family is praying for. However, whatever happens it has made us all think a bit more about whether we would be ready to face the same ourselves. What would we do if death were looking us in the eye all of a sudden? 

I think the answer gives us some essential things to think about doing now without living in some sort of dark, fearful place in the process.  Let me suggest a few. 

First, make the most of every moment you can. No, none of us can savor each second of every experience, but we can slow down and enjoy people and opportunities a bit more.  We can quit cramming so many things into our lives and running by people we love as though they are hardly there. We can stop and watch our kids and grandkids longer, spend a few more minutes with a spouse or friend and just enjoy little special moments of nature that occur every day all around us.

Second, take inventory. Be brutally honest about how many things you're doing that really matter for the long-term versus those that are just because everyone's doing them. Yes, there's nothing wrong with leisure, goofing off now and then and simply having fun. But are we letting the temporary push aside the eternal and the things we think we should invest in for our gain steal time from the people we want to invest in because we love them?  Have we pushed the most important things and experiences into the I'll-do-them-someday-when-I-have time category?

Third, say what you want to say now. I've often thought we should have everyone's funeral before they die if possible. That way people can say to another's face what they want to say about them and would likely say once they're gone. Well, in a sense and in the same way we would be wise to say what we want to say to people before one of us is gone. Do we need to forgive, tell them we love them or that we are proud of them, let go of some past hurts or remind them of how much they meant to us?  Do it now.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Paralyzed By The Fear of Change

We moved a couple of months ago. It's why I haven't written on this blog for a couple of months. We packed up our stuff, departed Austin, Texas a place we loved, and headed for the Midwest. And we love our new location, the smaller town, less traffic and for now great weather. (Oh yeah, winter is coming).

But I have to admit change is hard. Some of the fear is simply knowing all the effort it will take. Moving, for example, requires getting used to and finding new relationships, new service providers and new surroundings. Let's face it - it would be a lot easier to stay put.

Most change on the surface seems like the harder option. Add to that the struggle that we are currently facing, the personal mountain that has us sucking air and we're ready to avoid change at all costs.

But change is an important part of life and a vital component to getting healthy and staying healthy. Change is more than inevitable. It's essential for growth and healing.

So how do we best deal with changes we know are coming.

First, learn what you can before the major change occurs. Get as much information about where you're going or what you're going to be experiencing or who you'll be connecting with. Knowledge matters and frees us in many ways.

Second, embrace the change by figuring out how to maximize its benefit. Find out some ways to have fun in the change. What could you do to add some variety or something special to the process?  On some of our trips up north we took some extra time and saw a few sights along the way. Now that we're here we're exploring every week, finding new things to do and see.

Third, be patient. Remember that it will take time to adjust even with a great attitude. Relationships aren't built overnight and you'll have to grieve what you lost from leaving the last place or giving up the old way.

The good news is that change is your friend. In fact, it can be the glue that holds you together while y ou face the next part of your mountain. Like the waiter hoping for a tip, the best words you want to hear are, "Keep the change."  Keep some in your life. It won't kill you.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Staying Put Is Rarely A Good Option

Most climbers know what I'm talking about. You get to a point in your climb where you're so exhausted (or at least you think you are) that you can't go on or simply stuck not knowing how to go up or down. Your mind begins to race panicked about your next move or you slowly start to shut down thinking that there is little hope anymore for success.

And if we give in to either of those emotions we can become paralyzed of sorts. We simply can't move whether we still want to or have abandoned our quest. But we cannot stay put. When climbers struggle and high altitudes in the Himalaya we're told that they often want to just sit down and quit. Their fellow climbers must sometimes literally yell at them to keep going or pick them up if they can and get their feet moving downward again.

The challenges of life can be like that, too. They seem like Everest. We're exhausted from months, even years of trying, and our tendency is to just sit down and quit. To stay put.


Paralysis almost always leads to depression. Depressed people literally think that they can no longer do anything to change an outcome or their reaction to it. Thankfully, that is rarely true. We can always do something and therefore we must always keep moving.


Start by asking some other people to help you. Climbing alone is always more dangerous. Find wise, helpful, caring people to walk up your mountain with you. Put aside your pride and secure a fellow-climber or two. See a counselor or pastor but call out to someone to help you move on.

Second, take a step. Just one step. But find out something you can do next. Maybe it's calling that friend or a doctor or counselor. But maybe it is helping someone else out. Perhaps you need to start volunteering somewhere. Go for a walk, see a movie, start or continue a hobby.  But take a step.

Third, remember. Remember how far you've come. I always love looking down from various places on a hike or climb and seeing the ground we've covered up to that point. It's amazing. Amaze  yourself by thinking about the road you've travelled thus far. It can help you move on. 

Fourth, get a follower. There's someone who isn't as far as you who needs a person who has been up the road before them. Look for that person. Ask around. Become their guide even though you both have a ways to go.

Remember, staying put isn't a great option. The good news is that you don't have to. Never quit climbing.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Learning Lessons in the Trees About Life's Challenges

My wife and I were in northern California last fall enjoying both the San Francisco area and the beauty of Yosemite. And of course, we made sure that we spent some time walking through the beautiful Sequoias and Redwood trees there.

As most people know these trees are hundreds of years old, hundreds of feet tall and simply majestic in both their size and beauty. But I learned something during that experience that I never knew. Sequoias need fire.

The experts say that fire does seven important things and while I don't have the time nor expertise to provide the detail regarding each one here they are:  Fire in the forest (1) prepares a seedbed; (2) cycles nutrients; (3) sets back succession in certain relatively small areas; (4) provides conditions which favor wildlife; (5) provides a mosaic of age classes and vegetation types; (6) reduces numbers of trees susceptible to attack by insects and disease; and (7) reduces fire hazards.

In other words fire isn't all bad.

And in the same way as we climb our personal mountains and face our individual or family challenges we need to remember that the fires that flame up on our journey can also strengthen us just like the trees. Whether they do or not is up to us however and the attitude that we keep in spite of the struggle.

Sometimes we let depression, anxiety and panic steal the benefits we might receive when life doesn't work as we'd hope and when the heat is on. Often we let unhelpful people dominate and control us when we need to be leaning into the challenges and moving forward anyway.

What else might fire look like?  Longer rehabilitation or medication than we planned. Having to move when we were hoping to remain in our comfortable location. Seeing a special friend leave or be unavailable anymore. Experiencing a recurrence of a chronic condition or symptom. Facing another big loss while you're still hurting.

My hunch is that you can add your own fire stories to the list. 

The truth is the same and one we need to embrace. Fire isn't always harmful. It has the potential to make us stronger.

As one country song recently said, "God done gave us mountains so we could learn how to climb."  God also allows fire to refine, strengthen and empower us to go on even better than we were before.

And yet so many of us want a totally comfortable life, one free from pain and suffering. Don't settle for that. No, we don't need to go out looking for challenges, struggles and hurt but we will handle it far better if we both expect it and embrace it.  Chances are we will be stronger once the flames subside.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

What Would It Take To Keep Your Resolutions This Year?

Of course this is the time of year when many people start wondering about their resolutions, turning over of new leaves and hopes to finally win the battle to lose some pounds, start exercising, quit smoking, begin school or conquer their latest mountain.

And my hunch is that most of those people are pretty serious and sincere in January.

Sadly, so many of those hopes, dreams and goals simply never happen. Why? And what WILL it take for us to finally look back and realize we actually did accomplish something in the new year?

I think there are a couple of key ingredients for success. First, we need a crisis mentality. A good friend of mine just discovered that some cancer he had had removed has returned other places. While it was serious before it's a potential personal crisis now.

I know this. He doesn't need anyone's motivation, list of resolutions or accountability partner to fight this now with all of his being. If he doesn't the results will likely be disastrous. And yes we hope that many of our goals aren't that serious but we need to think more that way. For example, we might need to lose ten pounds or more.

What if we started thinking that if I don't lose this weight I could end up gaining more, becoming more unhealthy and perhaps not be able to enjoy my family the way I could if I got healthier? To not lose weight with this kind of thinking could be a crisis. That would probably motivate us a lot more than just a list.

Second, we must have a plan. The old adage, you don't plan to fail you just fail to plan, fits here. Write down not only your big goal but the little goals you need to get there. Have someone doing it with you if possible. Make deadlines for when you will start, join a club or group, start classes, etc.

Ideally, have an accountability partner keeping tabs on you, too. Plan to work and work the plan.

Third, we must get real. So many of our resolutions are just talk, way beyond our resources or ability and discourage us just thinking about them. So start at a realistic trailhead. Make sure you can accomplish the first few steps before you commit to the bigger ones. And if you can't really do this find something else!

Fourth, anticipate and then enjoy your early successes. Dave Ramsey, financial expert, tells couple in large amounts of debt to first pay off the smallest amount. That way they get success and can apply those funds to the next smallest sum. We need to do the same no matter what our goal is. Get to the first plateau and celebrate it, encourage yourself and look forward to the next one.

Finally, remember that God wants you to grow, become more like Jesus and to be the person He intended. Invite Him into the process, ask Him for strength and wisdom along the way.

If you'll tackle your resolutions wisely and with God's help they might just turn into a personal revolution!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Are You Really A Winner or Not?

I watched two vastly different scenarios this weekend during the Winter Olympics. One athlete came from out of nowhere and won the gold. The other was expected to win or at least medal and didn't even come close.

Who won? It depends. In human, Olympic terms, the gold medalist won. The other was a disappointment at best. But the real winner will be the one who responds with a winning attitude.

What would a winning attitude look like?  Certainly it would not be without sadness. After all that work, training, money and time given to the pursuit of a medal only an automaton would not feel great emotion in missing out on a prize. But a winning attitude can still bring great outtcomes and benefits in the months and years ahead.

Four time World Champion Christopher Bowman never won a figure skating medal. Neither did Rudy Galindo or Nicole Bobek. In professional sports, Charles Barkley, Dan Marino and Ted Williams didn't win a championship either.

But those who don't win the big one, don't summit their Everest or McKinley, can still win in life.  What will it take?

First it requires thankfulness. How many people actually get the chance to be in the Olympics, the championship game or on the slopes of an 8000 meter peak? For the rest of us, how many people get to live to be our age, have the advantages or relationships we have or enjoy the education, experiences and blessings we have been given? Be thankful for something.

Second, it requires a healthy view of oneself.  If our worth is tied up in our achievements and accomplishments then that worth can be snatched a way in one loss of an edge, one missed basket, one failed exam or one setback to our health. We must know that our ultimate worth only comes from the One who made us. No one can take that away.

Third, it requires humility. When others outperform us, when someone else gets the top prize or is more successful we must humbly let them have their moment, celebrate with them not in spite of them. Maybe you need to encourage someone else right now as a way to actually live this one out.

So if you feel like you "lost" something this week, month or year, if that goal you were reaching for slipped away at least for now, still enjoy the moments you've been given. Don't be paralyzed. Let this loss challenge and motivate you to keep going and to never quit climbing. Someday you'll be at the top of some mountain and the view will be worth it!