Let me tell you about hills & valleys.
A week and a half ago, just when I was craving open skies and fresh air and an escape from the city, went on a girls’ trip to the beautiful Argentine province of Mendoza. Unfortunately for those nature dreams of mine, it’s winter here and Mendoza is tucked away at the foot of the Andes mountains running between Argentina and Chile, so the weather was pretty yucky. So much so that while we’d hoped to go hiking in the Andes (because how many times do you get that chance?!) there was too much snow and all of the excursions were shut down. Hence why this post is about hills and not mountains. However, the grey skies and showers didn’t stop us from going on a wineries tour, exploring the city, making friends at a local parrilla, hitting up the hot springs, and finally, going to Plaza General San Martín in search of an overlook that, according to the lady checking us in at our hostel, had the best panoramic views of the city. Doing everyday life in the city, I walk or take public transportation or walk to take public transportation just about everywhere I go – but I sprained my ankle in April, so it’s been awhile since I really hiked. And somewhat to our surprise, reaching this overlook turned out to be much more of a trek than it was a leisurely walk, especially as the sun slipped behind the buildings and the light began to grow dim.
As we walked, and my legs began burning, I let my mind wander far and free, flipping through images of my trip so far and processing what this experience has looked like for me. And while one half of my brain did that, the other half reminded me how tired I was, how late we’d gone to bed, and how far we were from the top still. Shush – just imagine how good it will feel when we get to the top, I thought to myself. In that moment, the two sides of my head collided, and I realized something about hills and valleys.
Last semester, I got a little lost. I thought I was climbing a hill towards one thing, and then another, and then another, until one by one I watched them disappear. Relationships, leadership positions, community. They all sort of fell apart at the same time. That’s not to say I didn’t have a lot to be grateful for, had I stopped my climbing and taken a good look around. But I was just so sure there was something waiting for me at the top of that hill. I deserved something more – I was doubtful. I craved that feeling of success – I was prideful. I never found what I thought I was looking for – I was lost.
Going by the proverbial image of hills & valleys, the valleys in life are where peace is found, where we can rest. Makes sense, but it’s just not for me – I’m a mountain kind of girl. I’ve got my eyes fixed and my heart set on what’s waiting for me at the peak. That’s where I think I’ll find peace and rest and whatever else you can imagine, and it takes a lot to stop my striving – which I’m convinced is why God picked me up and put me in Argentina for four and a half months.
There’s something about traveling that reveals to me immediately the places of this world that I’ve staked my hope instead of the Gospel and my God, because it strips me of them completely. No community, no comforts, no complacency. The moment I got off the plane, everything I found myself deeply rooted and invested in suddenly felt very far away. Everything I’d thought was at the peak of my mountain no longer felt so pressing or possessive – so I wondered, what was?
It took me a couple of months to find out. Halfway through this semester, I lay where I’d fallen, the most broken I’ve ever been, scrapes on my palms from the sharp rocks, miles of effort lost, when I realized that maybe I was trying to reach something I was never promised in the first place. God promises that I can know Him, He promises wisdom, He promises joy, He promises a life after this one, He promises His plans are for my good and His glory. But He never promises that I’ll always live up to the expectations of the world or of others or myself. He never promised me a boyfriend. He never even promised me community, or success, or smooth sailing.
I thought, what if I started acting in faith on what He has promised instead of turning my heart towards what He hasn’t?
He promises joy – I bought myself some books and spent an afternoon at the park reading and eating cookies, I joined some blogging groups on Facebook and started dreaming about the places this corner of the Internet could take me, I picked up writing fiction for the first time in years. I pursued the paths I knew my soul already loved and I asked God to walk in that with me, and I found my joy again. He promises His plans are for His glory and my good – so I committed to being the person God made me to be – not the person the world, other people, or even I say I am or should be, but just how He made me, even if it’s too much or not enough. I realized that when you are yourself, you’re drawn to the people who get you, the people who you can invest and who will love and support you right back, just as you are – and I found my community again. He promises I can know Him – I got this itch to spend time in the Word that I can’t even explain, and I found a Bible study & journaling method that actually works for me. I fell deeper in love with Scripture than I ever have before, and it started to stick in my mind and my heart and spill over into everything I do in new ways – and I found my self again.
I felt like I was at a new high, and it scared me to think of taking all this transformation and time home with me and staying true to the truth I know now. I never want to feel as lost and low as I did before. But what I realized as I trudged along up Cerro de la Gloria – which, appropriately enough, is Spanish for “Hill of Glory” – is that life is one big hill.
Take relationships, for example – you walk for years trying to follow the right path and the right person, and I know I’ve felt like I was climbing, expecting that perfect relationship to fall into my lap at the top. But if you’ve ever known a married couple, you know finding the person God has for you isn’t the end of that hill. Marriage takes work and has its challenges, too. When I meet that guy, it might feel like I’ve finally reached the top – but that journey ain’t over. So if that hill has a false peak – what’s the real one?
The ultimate summit, what we’re always striving towards, is being with God. It’s going to encompass our entire life, and some parts of that mountain will be easier to climb than others. But along the way, as we walk, we have the chance to be ever becoming more like Him. Sometimes, I’m going to go the wrong direction, or I’m going to fall down, or that hill’s gonna get steep. That’s why it’s so important to me to know what I’m walking towards, so I can keep going – and so as I pass people struggling up their own hills, I can share this with them, look them in the eyes and say – hang in there, we have hope, and there is SO much more ahead.
Because that view from the top of Cerro de la Gloria, watching the final fragments of the pink-and-orange sunset through the trees as the lights turned on, twinkling in the city below? It made that journey priceless. And God promises so much more than just a pretty view when we reach everlasting.
So if you want to know the biggest thing I’ve learned in Argentina, it has nothing to do with Spanish, but everything to do with God. I’ll forever be climbing this hill called life, but goodness, do I now more than ever feel equipped to take it on.