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Joy through the Pain - Lessons from Miss Claire's Backcountry Ski Trip

Setting the Scene: It was Day 3 of our trip, we woke up early to a beautiful view of the mountains, covered in snow. The best part of the morning was watching the sun start to hit the tops of mountains, covering it with an orange glisten. We said goodbye to two of our team members who were having medical issues, leaving us with a crew of 8 carrying onward.

Our plan was to ski 7 miles to our next hut. Boy, if only we knew what was in store for us.

We cruised up the first hill, we thankfully had already tracked it out the day before, and headed towards the are of highest risk for avalanches. After going uphill for about a mile, it was time to make some downhill turns! Halfway down, one of the bindings broke on Caleb’s ski. We decided that it was too damaged to continue going but could be repaired enough to backtrack. Tim left with the broken ski - we were down to a 7 person crew now. We continued down the downhill section, which was the steepest and had the highest risk for avalanches. Some booked it down the open slab, going quickly and carefully - not wanting to fall. Others headed down slowly through the trees, a slightly safer path. We all made it down to the bottom safe and began to put our skins back on, the next 5 miles were more or less a gradual uphill.

Those next 5 flat (more or less...) miles are what really pushed me. The extra padding in the toes of my boots turned into extra pressure and a continuous beating on my toes. Relentless. Continual. Beating. On my toes. With about 4 miles left, I started slowing down behind the group, going at a much, much slower pace. Taking a break every so often to relieve the pressure off by toes helped, for a bit.

I finally caught up to the group taking a break. “How are you doing, Claire?” one of the group members asked. “Oh, I’m doing...My toes are killing me.” Not saying much else the rest of the break, I take my pack off and sit down on it. Ahh, my toes experience sweet relief for a little bit. “What do we have, like 3-4 miles left?” I ask, guestimating high, in hopes it was much less. “We have 2.7 miles to go,” Derek replies. Getting a little chilly from the break, we all get geared up and ready to go. “2.7!” I scream with a little bit of renewed energy. We continue forward.

We’ve made it another mile when I tell the group that I need another packs-off break to give my toes a couple minutes to rest. They stopped to wait for me across the valley. Once I finally catch up to them I immediately drop my pack and take a break. This time someone else asks how my toes are doing. I respond with a slightly quivering voice, holding back some tears, “They are hurting pretty badly”.

The sun was starting to set and we were told that we had about a mile and a half left. We made the decision to split into two groups - the first group would book it to the hut, get the fire going, start melting snow for water, and then come back to the second group and help carry packs. You already know that I was in the second group!

We continued forward, moving slow but as fast as we could. Up and down over a couple of small hills, crossing frozen lakes, and then some more flat ground. My toes are experiencing excruciating pain at this point and now the balls of my feet have joined in on the pain. Thankfully my heels and shins continued to feel fine. The pain is making me take more frequent stops to rest and briefly take some pressure off of my toes. We started climbing one of the last big hills as the first group radioed, “We’ve made it to the hut!” It was a slight relief knowing they made it, but I also knew that we still had a ways to go. We started to near the top of the hill just as the last light was fading away, it was absolutely beautiful and yet I was having a hard time appreciating it because of my pain. This hillside had wide open glades of trees with a ton of stumps sticking 5 feet out of the ground. We later named this place, “Stump City”. At this point, I’m taking breaks every minute, at least, and am moving pretty slowly. Caleb was my trusted support and encouragement, walking slowly behind me.

Suddenly I stopped, I couldn’t take another step and I dropped to my knees in pain. Trying to focus on and control my breathing, I felt tears welling up - this time they weren’t tears of pain (though I could have easily let those start gushing). This time they were tears of grief. I was surrounded by this beautiful sight of God’s glory, surrounded by amazing people, and doing something that I loved, and yet I couldn't enjoy this moment because I was too distracted and consumed by my pain. I was sad because my pain was overtaking my joy.

Down on my knees, I hear Caleb’s voice behind me, “Claire…do you want me to take your pack?” Not wanting to give up and ditch my pack, but also not knowing how I could keep going at this point I replied, “Yes...thank you, Caleb”. Caleb prayed for me, and my toes, and I continued to focus on my breathing. I stood up and we continued forward. Without the extra weight my toes felt the difference and I knew I could at least make it the rest of the way to the hut. By now we were walking with our headlamps on - Caleb carrying the weight of his pack in addition to the weight of my pack, until Nate came down to help carry my pack the rest of the way.

7 miles and 9 long hours later, we all make it to the hut, excitedly took off our boots and sat around the fire. Some of us talked about different types of fun, and agreed that this would probably be one of those Type 2 types of fun.

What can we do when pain outweighs our joy? How can we remain joyful?

This is much, much easier said than done. It’s also something that takes practice and will become more natural with time. It’s a lesson I’ve heard before, learned from this trip, and am STILL learning. The biggest key is knowing where your focus is. Take your focus away from the pain and the circumstances, and put the focus on our God who is bigger than our circumstances and much, much bigger than our pain.

Again, this is much easier said than done! When in the midst of pain, it seems incomprehensible to stop thinking and dwelling on our pain. It helps to have some of these “attention-shifters” ready in your tool box, prior to a painful trial. When it comes to several of these, such as reciting scripture or singing worship songs, you have to have them already stowed away in your brain - because sometimes you are 15 miles from the trailhead, out of cell range, and may not have your Bible easily accessible in your pack.

“Attention-Shifters” - This is a very technical term for things you can do to shift your focus off of you, your pain, and your circumstances and toward God, His character, and His truth.

  • Share your pain. Be open and honest with someone you trust. Allow someone else to help carry your burden alongside you.

  • Bring your pain to God. Be open and honest with God. He wants to hear your feelings and frustrations. Don’t use this time to close up or wall off to God.

  • Stop and acknowledge God’s presence. God tells us that we will face trials and pain. He also promises to be with us the entire time - so take time to stop and remember He is right there in the midst of it with you.

  • Practice gratitude. Praise God for the things he has blessed you with and for His beauty around you. List things, specific things, you can be thankful for.

  • Pray. Talk with God. Make your requests known to Him. Then surrender to His will (determine to leave it in His hands).

  • Read/recite Scripture. We are transformed by the renewal of our minds - Scripture plays a huge role in this renewal. Take chunks of time each day to read out loud, or memorize scripture.

  • Sing worship songs. Music can have amazing effects on our thoughts and attitudes.

In this new year, which attention-shifter will you work on practicing? Which attention-shifter do you believe will be the hardest for you to practice? My prayer is that we would take this time to build up these practices. We know that pain will come - and many of us experienced a lot of it in 2020! My go to attention-shifter is singing worship songs - but the key with this one is you need to know these by heart for them to help you when you need them the most. (Worship songs that include Scripture are especially helpful!)

In Christ,

Miss Claire

Verses to meditate on:

Psalm 23:4

4 Even though I walk

through the darkest valley,

I will fear no evil,

for you are with me;

your rod and your staff,

they comfort me.

James 1:2

2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.

Romans 5:1-5

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Psalm 30:5

For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.

Types of fun:

Type 1: Experiences that are fun while it is happening, also simply known as “fun”. It’s what most of us imagine when planning our adventures. Experiences you are excited to tell friends about.

Type 2: Experiences that are generally not fun in the moment, and can often be quite miserable while it happens. Then in reflection after the fact, weeks or months down the road it is considered fun. These memories tend to stand out in our minds and can make for some pretty epic stories.

Type 3: Not fun at all, even in retrospect. The experience usually ends in “I’m never doing that again...”

Photo Credits: Nate Shepard Photo

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