This time of year, the word blood conjures images of vampires, monsters, and all things Halloween.  It is synonymous with haunted houses, displays of gory skeletons and headless horsemen.  Or, if you are a regular at Concord, the word blood might bring to mind the crucifixion scene in the Christmas production. (For those of you not familiar with this, our church does this scene at Christmas instead of Easter.)  There is a lot of mint flavored theatrical blood involved and, since my boys are regular thieves in the scene, our showers are stained red for one week each year.  You may, depending on your health, think about blood transfusions or blood counts.  Blood involves numbers and complexity for you.  It is no longer a funny Halloween prank, or a prop…it is your life. This I know. If you are a soldier or know one, blood is equivalent to sacrifice.  The life force that some willingly lay down for our liberty.  For me I think of all of these things, but mostly I think of blood as powerful, since my savior’s blood brought me life and true freedom. There is truly power in his blood.

However, this fall I have found another way to look at blood…as a mountain, Blood Mountain to be more precise.  The tallest peak on the southern part of the Appalachian Trail this mountain towers over the others surrounding it.   I have wanted to hike it for a long time, but it is notorious for its difficulty.  It is not a long trail, a couple of miles from the parking lot below, but it is up and rocky the whole way.  And honestly, I have never had the desire to mountain climb until after my cancer.  The whole idea that I have to fight to take my life back, and now to keep it, somehow has awakened the adventurer in me.  Add to that my crazy friend Jessica from Atlanta, who decides to become a hiker one week and the next wants to climb Blood Mountain and I was destined to step out and at least try…with a little push.  (Pushing is her specialty, and she does it so well.)

In reality, it was me who asked to come along with she, her new hiking buddies, and her husband who joined the crew at the last minute.  They had a target and a plan, one that I had long wanted to attempt.  Once I asked, I knew I was going.  There was no way she would let me off the hook then…which is why I asked to come along. I knew that in a test of endurance I would need her to encourage me to keep going all the way to the top.  I have a strong will that is sometimes mistaken for stubbornness.  (shock and surprise)  However, when it comes to hardship, I am in need of a voice to tell me I can do it.  She is one of the voices in my life who has told me I can do every difficult thing I have ever had to face.  And so with my tenacious heart and the voice of my friend, I took on the challenge of Blood Mountain.

It was 42 degrees with high winds when we arrived at the parking area.  We were well layered and off we went with our walking sticks and daypacks. The trail to get to the trail was seven tenths of a mile and it had us crossing streams, and climbing rocks most of the way.  Soon sweat was pouring and we were wondering why we needed these layers, and what the “real” trail would be like if we ever got there.  I was pleasantly surprised that my knee was holding up well.  I felt nimble even, when crossing rocks and such as if, the little girl in me came out to play.  God, I love the woods.  I feel so free when I am in them.  Once on the AT, the wind picked up considerably and we had to dodge ice falling from the trees.  And so we made our way up, up, up from the front side of the mountain in the warm sun, to the back side in the freezing wind.  Layers off, layers on…which is why it is good to have layers in the first place.  We passed hikers coming down who told us only 15 more minutes to the top.  Only to be told by the next set, 15 minutes later, that it was still 15 minutes more.  Frustrating, as it was to feel so close and yet so far, the scenery made up for it.  The views…unbelievable.  You could actually see the Atlanta high rises, it was so clear.  When we finally made it to the top, there was such a sense of accomplishment for our team.  We did it.  Individually.  Together.  Reminded me of the feeling I had at the three day.  The wind was cold, but the sun was bright.  We took a well deserved rest and basked in our own personal Everest.  Wind in my hair once again…living fully.  Choosing life.

I knew that for me, getting off the mountain would be more of a challenge than getting up it.  My knee is much worse on the down than the up.  It doesn’t bend as far as needed to walk steps tandem, so I have to side step one step at a time causing me to have to take twice as many steps.  I also have to rely on my left leg for all the bending, while my right one leads straight.  Add to that the incline and all I can say is that it was tough.  The fatigue set in not very far from the top and all the rocks I had so quickly climbed coming up, were major obstacles coming down.  If my little girl was walking up, the old woman in me came out for the climb down.  My motto is, you don’t have to go fast, you just have to go.  And so I did…slowly, sometimes backwards, sometimes sitting.  All I can say is thank God for my walking stick and my friends who helped me the whole way.  My voice of encouragement was talking to me, while she struggled with her own ankle pain.  We were quite the pair, but we made it…hobbling to the cars with smiles on our faces.  We did Blood.

And so to the lesson.  Blood is indeed challenging.  It is confrontational.  It dares you. It is power.  It is overcoming.  It is freedom.  It is life.  It is breath.  It is Him coursing through your veins.  It pounds with each heartbeat…life…life…life…life.  Live fully!!

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