This is one of many views I’ve been chasing down this Summer. In the Pacific Northwest, we have a few precious months of perfect hiking weather. (Don’t @ me, mountaineers.)
Those few, magical months feel full of possibility, wonder, and unspeakable beauty. I get great joy taking photos of the trails we follow and the mountaintops we reach, but exactly zero of the photos come close to doing the real settings justice.
I’ve realized I kind of like to struggle for my summits — which is indicative of something. I believe views are a little (or a lot) prettier when they’re earned, which is good motivation on aggressive climbs, but also a wee bit twisted.
To convince myself that these scenes are earnable things—that majestic mountains could possibly fall in the same category as As on report cards or well-scored performance reviews—is madness. No effort I make could truly earn the wild, true, untamed beauty that I’ve found so many times this Summer.
These breathtaking sights are gifts, not trophies.
I’ve wrestled with whether I’m doing enough, more in some seasons than others. I’ve doubted. I’ve found myself nervous that if I don’t do each thing just right, I’ll miss something important. It feels powerless— it’s simultaneously assigning myself incredible power and giving up all authority. It’s a dressed up and disguised version of playing “what if.” I don’t think I’m alone.
We are created to struggle — in the words of Brene Brown, we are “hardwired for struggle.” But this? This is not a necessary battle.
Some things, I don’t think you can earn. You can work really really hard with the best of intentions every day, treat everyone with kindness and respect, go out of your way to make the world a better place, and even still, some things simply aren’t earnable:
a best friend who just gets it,
a moment of pure presence and serenity.
a perfect day,
or those magical summits.
They aren’t payment. They’re grace. Truly unmerited goodness. Maybe that’s a little disappointing, just for a moment—I love a good trophy. I like to feel like I had something to do with the good stuff! Like maybe I deserve it, or at the least, that I can maintain a semblance of control.
But then, when I let the idea rest—let it really sink into me—it’s great relief.
If I can’t earn these wildly good things, if they are pure grace, my focus can shift from striving to purpose.
I’ve been seeing the word “deserve” a lot lately. Reading “congrats! You deserve it!” or some version of that commented on celebratory Instagram posts, and something hasn’t quite settled with me. I know these comments are well meaning, but there’s something missing. Are you worthy of great celebration and excitement? Absolutely. But when we’re talking about some of life’s greatest joys, all the good works in the world aren’t enough to earn them.
I’m not advocating for complacency; do the good things. Go after the big goals. Chase the dreams. I certainly intend to continue hiking my way through perfect Pacific Northwest Summers.
But notice when you’re turning breathtaking views into your personal trophies, and how much more awe-inspiring they become when you experience them in the truth of what they are:
pure, unmerited goodness.
Quiet Time Just For Me
I love my people. A lot. But “quarantine” and the following slightly-different lifestyle we’re experiencing has led to the feeling of needing to be available more online. The issue is, with cell phones unless you set your own boundaries, you’re always “available.” I’ve been trying to pay more attention to when I need to close ALL the communication devices. It’s a process, but it’s one I’d recommend.
Favorite Treats in Unexpected Places (see below)
I’m not going to mince words. Last weekend, Jon and I put Chick-Fil-A sandwiches in our hiking backpacks and ate them while we stared at cliffs and alpine lakes. It’s a type of self care I never knew I needed. You gotta try it. Pick your favorite treat and go someplace you normally wouldn’t have it!
First time here?
Read the first edition to get the lay of the land: Welcome to Level Letters