It has only been two years since I started climbing mountains. I never had the intention to, since I cannot even summon the courage to climb a tree! Joining ROTA Philippines however has changed that. To date I have climbed the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 6th and 9th highest mountains in the Philippines and have survived two traverse climbs; Sumagaya-Lumot and Kalatungan-Wiji, equally the most difficult climbs I have ever experienced.
[At Mount Dulang-dulang, the second highest mountain in the Philippines. Photo by Focalmatters]
Prior to ROTA, I have almost often thought that if I stayed home and prayed then I will certainly be delivered from all my personal demons.Didn’t happen. Then I ventured into climbing, and for every climb I have always been looking forward to an epiphany, an instantaneous divine healing from the emotional bruises of the past – arestoration of my broken spirit.
My latest mountaineering stint has brought me to Barangay Mendis, the jump-off point for the Kalatungan-Wiji traverse climb.I got emotional along the trail, just as we were approaching the view deck. God has impressed on me that sometimes He makes you climb mountains. It seemed vague at that time, yet it was mysteriously powerful that I was not able to contain myself from crying. I was wiping tears as I climbed up the last slope towards the view deck area.
[View deck area of Mount Kalatungan, the 6th highest mountain in the Philippines. Photo by Rex Saligumba]
“Sometimes God makes you climb mountains.” It has become my mantra in surviving the entire loop traverse from Brgy. Mendis, to Mount Kalatungan, to Mount Wiji, then back to Brgy. Mendis for a total of over 20 kilometers trail, trekked in two days.
[Map of Kalatungan ranges showing the loop traverse trail through Mount Kalatungan and Mount Wiji. Photo by ROTA Pilipinas]
As I journeyed through the open trails of bladed grass, a rickety bamboo bridge, mossy forests, fallen logs, muddy ascents, vertigo-inducing ridges, and slippery farm roads, I reflected back at my life; my struggles, my pains, and my journey of faith.Never did I imagine that a simple phrase such as “Sometimes God makes you climb mountains,” would have a huge impact in my life.
For many years now I have been struggling with morbid thoughts almost on a daily basis, of family members dying or being severely injured. Possibly it was after my younger brother had amishap under my watch. He was in a baby walker, when he ran towards the staircase and the lower part of the walker pivoted him towards the edge the concrete stairs where he hit his nose bridge. A pool of blood formed at the accident spot and I can still vividly remember it. This is very emotionally debilitating, and for most times, I struggle between staying at home and staying away from home.
Staying away? But why would I if I wanted to ensure their safety? My second struggle is of being the “bad luck”. For every undesirable thing that happens to family members; health problems, financial woes, and other negative circumstance, I attribute to me. Perhaps growing up being blamed for the death of my maternal grandmother just because she died two days after my birth has engraved that “bad luck” label deep in my soul.
And as if bringing bad luck to my family wasn’t enough, I had to experience some bad luck of my own – child abuse. Probably the deepest hurt I ever had to carry. The “touch” was physical but the effect was undeniably spiritual. Aside from having a sense of filthiness and self-disgust, poor self-esteem, and unrelenting self-doubt, it shattered my faith. It shattered my faith in a God who loves me.
My decisions that followed have been so depraved that I believed God can no longer love me. And when I thought that God cannot love me, then I lost all chances of loving myself. For decades I felt unlovable and at the same time unloving. Even when I acted out of love I still thought I was unloving.More so, I lost interest in life. I became fearful and paranoid. I did not want to live. I envied the successes of others and I felt that I have been shortchanged. I ceased to be genuinely happy. I felt like a spiritual zombie.
Yet, this one song from Sunday school kept playing in my head every time I was losing assurance of reconnecting with God. “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so.” There, my hope floats.
I nurtured back my faith in God, I would dwell on His faithfulness towards me, not my unfaithfulness towards Him. Surely enough, my heart slowly opened up back to love; to my family, to friends and to the children during my outreaches with ROTA. Yet, I still longed for that instant miracle. “Perhaps, when I reach the top of these so called sacred mountains, God will grant me that healing,” I would tell myself. Didn’t happen. Instead, I got that impression of “Sometimes God makes you climb mountains.”
Perhaps God makes me climb mountains… for me to recognize that even when I feel ill-equipped in facing life’s challenges, He will help me every step of the way. He will send people to extend a helping hand, to speak encouraging words, and even provide basic necessities like food, water, and shelter.
[With Rex Saligumba, one of my most reliable ROTA friends who is always willing to lend a helping hand. Photo by ROTA Pilipinas]
Perhaps God makes me climb mountains… for me to realize that I should not compare my journey with somebody else’s; that I can move at my own pace. That even when I walk slowly, it is okay. That I can take a rest and take as much rest as I need. To stop when I need to and appreciate where I am at.
[Taking a rest and enjoying the view as other mountaineers pass me by. Photo by ROTA Pilipinas]
Perhaps God makes me climb mountains… so I can practice being in His presence. That even when the footpath is slippery or the ridge is steep, I can step into faith knowing that He will secure my foothold. That I can breathe deeply in prayer and continue on with my life path. And when my knees become weak because of fear, who says I cannot use my hands to pull me further?
[“Four-wheeling.” Using both hands up the nerve-wracking Buko-bukosaAnay ridge. Photo by ROTA Pilipinas]
Perhaps God makes me climb mountains… to teach me that I cannot reach the peak if I am carrying too much baggage; that the longer I carry it, the heavier it becomes. That at some point I just have to drop my baggage in order to live life fully.
[Holding up a mirror for Lau as she puts on some lipstick. Both of us momentarily dropping our baggage for the simple joys of life. Photo by Rex Saligumba]
So I’m dropping my baggage of morbid thoughts, the “bad luck” label, and those feelings of inadequacy and victimization. God has my family’s lives at the palm of his hands, safe and secure. I am “good luck” because I have brought a lot of joy to those around me. I am a survivor and I am spiritually alive, thus I can conquer any obstacle, one step of faith at a time, until I reach the peak of my humanity.
Perhaps, this speaks some truth to you, too?
Do you feel stuck or uninspired? Do you feel like you are beyond redemption? Do you envy those around you and can only wish you have the life they live? Are you carrying a lot of guilt and shame, and doubts and fears? Do you feel empty and lonely? Are you sulking in bitterness and self-pity?
Step out of your comfort zone. Step out in faith.
Perhaps, God wants you to climb mountains…
[At the peak of Mount Wiji, with Mount Dulang-dulang, Mount Kitanglad, and Mt. Maagnaw beyond the clouds, and Mount Kalatungan just behind me. The 2nd, 4th,6th, 7th highest mountains in the Philippines, respectively.Photo by ROTA Pilipinas]