Step by Step Journey: Writings of Richard Dahlstrom - because there's always a next step

Last Journey’s the Best

It’s our last hike, the end of our forty days trekking through the Alps together.  I’ll begin teaching next week and thinking about re-entry to life in Seattle, while my wife will spend the weekend with friends, retrieving sheep from the high Alps in anticipation of upcoming snows.

Our final trek will take us to Guttenberghaus, significant for its beauty, and its proximity to the Torchbearer Bible school where I teach because I can see this hut, perched high in the Dachstein Alps, from the deck of my room at the school down in the valley.

The ascent requires no skill other than endurance of lungs, legs, and back, as we rise over 3000 feet in approximately three miles.  We encounter members of the Russian and Norwegian cross country ski teams doing speed ascent workouts on this trail in anticipation of their upcoming season, and 70 year old ladies too, all getting out into the midst of God’s creation on this, the final curtain call of summer.

IMG_6804It’s glorious, as these mountains, shrouded in clouds for us so much of this summer, are on this day, our last one in the high country, naked in their glory, lit up by the warmth of the sun.  We ascend, mostly quietly, with images running through our minds about all that we’ve seen and learned these past six weeks, and all the people we’ve met.  Most of all, I think about the powerful ways we’ve been transformed when our desires and visions move from maps to our actual feet, as step builds on steps until soon we find ourselves stronger, more attune to the rhythms of life, more grateful, more patient – not because we tried to be, but because we’re transformed by the journeystep by step.

IMG_6787I think about the various terrains we’ve encountered, from grassy paths in high Alpine Alms (grazing land) to challenging knife edge ridges where a mis-step means loss of life.  I think about how much this mirrors real life, how it’s so often the case that the terrain you anticipated for your day is harder, more dangerous, or easier, more beautiful, than you’d expected.  I think about how, at my best, I’ll let my days come to me, both rising to the challenge of ridges, and cherishing the beauty of flat green paths, receiving everything as what God allows.  I pray for friends who are on ridges just now, one having lost a spouse after a heroic battle with cancer, another still fighting, another at the cusp of vocational change; may they find the next steps on the ridge and strength for each step.

IMG_6622We arrive at the beautiful hut, settle in, and after a bit to eat, opt for a quick sunset ascent of Sinabell, which is a quick trail via a north facing ridge.  The Alps are a riot of changing colors as we ascend quietly, wishing the beauty of the moment would never end because we can’t think of any place, or state of body, soul, or spirit, that could be more perfect than this, our last sabbatical sunset together in the high Alps.

IMG_6638As we reach the top we see a cross, and this one is somehow perfect for our evening.  It’s small, wooden, and as unassuming as the small peak it graces.  Donna’s there first, and she signs the book.  The moments there, with the sun going down, defy description, but “holy” is the closest adjective I can find.   When she’s finished, I make an entry too and then, together, we pray at the cross.

IMG_6651We’ve stood under many these past weeks.  Sometimes we were exhilarated by being on the heights.  Other moments, bone weary and sore.  This day though, as light gives way to dusk, we’re simply grateful:  for the beauty, for the gift of the time granted us here in the mountains we love, for the gift of each other, for the privileges of health and the opportunity to serve others.  We can barely praymostly it’s tears of joy.

IMG_6700We descend through the wildflowers as the sun shines uniquely through clouds on a single ridge, offering the last light of the evening just as we arrive at the hut.   Soon we’re sitting with other Austrians talking about World Cup skiing, climbing routes nearby, Vienna coffee, and more, over spaghetti, or some other standard mountain fare.  There’s laughter, IMG_6728stories, some Austrian music, and an ache in my heart because these moments have happened so very often over the past weeks, and now, for the time at least, it’s over.

I’ll bring some of Austria home with me (a new hat, etc.) because these mountains, these people, have been the context where I’ve learned lessons about hospitality, courage, risk, rhythms of work and rest, generosity, hope, joy, service, and what it means to draw on the resources of Christ day by day, not in some theoretical doctrinal way but in real ways, every step of the way.  The journey’s been a gift, and my wife and I couldn’t be more grateful for the generosity of Bethany Community Church in refreshing us this way.

I’ll soon begin working on some other projects related both to our travels and other big issues, for this blog, and work on a book about the experiences we’ve had, where I hope to share more of the beautiful gifts God has given us as we’ve walked step by step through the Alps.

For now though, I write a poem in my summit journal, next to the stamp from this hut:

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3 Comments

  1. Joanie H

    September 19, 2014 at 3:26 pm

    Beautiful! Blessed to be a blessing to others. Following God wherever He leads. Opening your heart and mind; your life to allow Him to speak to you and through you. A friend; a teacher. Encourager and one who inspires others to climb ever higher……toward our amazing Lord, in whatever context He leads each of us in our own lives.

    Thank you, Richard, for sharing your “gift of words” with all of us. May our Lord continually bless you (and Donna) and enrich your life for His glory and purposes. Looking forward to hearing and seeing more…

    Psalm 19
    The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of His hands.
    Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge.
    They have no speech, they use no words;
    no sound is heard from them.
    Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
    their words to the ends of the world.
    In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
    It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
    like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
    It rises at one end of the heavens
    and makes its circuit to the other;
    nothing is deprived of its warmth.
    The law of the Lord is perfect,
    refreshing the soul.
    The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,
    making wise the simple.
    The precepts of the Lord are right,
    giving joy to the heart.
    The commands of the Lord are radiant,
    giving light to the eyes.
    The fear of the Lord is pure,
    enduring forever.
    The decrees of the Lord are firm,
    and all of them are righteous.
    They are more precious than gold,
    than much pure gold;
    they are sweeter than honey,
    than honey from the honeycomb.
    By them your servant is warned;
    in keeping them there is great reward.
    But who can discern their own errors?
    Forgive my hidden faults.
    Keep your servant also from willful sins;
    may they not rule over me.
    Then I will be blameless,
    innocent of great transgression.
    May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart
    be pleasing in Your sight,
    Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

    Reply
  2. Connie Jacobson

    September 19, 2014 at 5:01 pm

    I can’t thank you enough for sharing your journey with us. After reading this poignant post on your last hike, I found this quote from C.S. Lewis in my inbox. I’m wondering if it speaks to you of your experience. Thanks again…so grateful for you and Donna.
    C.S. Lewis:
    When I attempted . . . . to describe our spiritual longings, I was omitting one of their most curious characteristics. We usually notice it just as the moment of vision dies away, as the music ends, or as the land- scape loses the celestial light. . . . . For a few minutes we have had the illusion of belonging to that world. Now we wake to find that it is no such thing. We have been mere spectators. Beauty has smiled, but not to welcome us; her face was turned in our direction, but not to see us. We have not been accepted, welcomed, or taken into the dance. We may go when we please, we may stay if we can: “Nobody marks us.” A scientist may reply that since most of the things we call beautiful are inanimate, it is not very surprising that they take no notice of us. That, of course, is true. It is not the physical objects that I am speaking of, but that indescribable something of which they become for a moment the messengers. And part of the bitterness which mixes with the sweetness of that message is due to the fact that it so seldom seems to be a message intended for us, but rather something we have overheard. By bitterness I mean pain, not resentment. We should hardly dare to ask that any notice be taken of ourselves. But we pine. The sense that in this universe we are treated as strangers, the longing to be acknowledged, to meet with some response, to bridge some chasm that yawns between us and reality, is part of our inconsolable secret. And surely, from this point of view, the promise of glory, in the sense described, becomes highly relevant to our deep desire. For glory means good report with God, acceptance by God, response, acknowledgement, and welcome into the heart of things. The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last.

    From The Weight of Glory

    Reply
  3. Naomi

    September 20, 2014 at 3:49 pm

    Indescribably blessed by your sharing your journey…the walking deeper into to your story whose author is God. Please tell about the summit crosses.

    Reply

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