Saturday, October 29, 2011


John Palmer Kells, born 2AM, October 29, 2011. Wish I could have been there. Got this stuck in my head after hearing about his birth and seeing his picture for the first time! Gotta figure out some way to write it down for him in a way that's worthwhile, but needed to get it out right away!

For John Palmer Kells, on his very first birthday.

J is for justice, that's what you should seek. Be friends with the helpless. Strengthen the weak.

O is for open, and I mean your heart. Don't let fear close it, that's no way to start.

H is for humble, but let me impress. Do not think less of yourself. Think of yourself less.

N is for noble, a man among men. When others are quitting, that's when you begin.

P is for patience, a virtue indeed. Remember that time is what others will need.

A is for always, that's how long you'll be loved. As long as there's Heaven and God up above.

L is for laughter, may you always have much. Giggle & play, get dirty & such.

M is for mercy. Remember this well. Harsh words make love shrivel, kind ones make it swell.

E is for excellence. Always try your best, but remember that what's in your heart is the true test.

R is for real- to God and yourself be true. I am so thankful that there is only one you.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Baby blur

Last week, I turned 29. I know that somewhere out there, there are women who aren't even half as close as I am to 30, and they can hardly sleep at night because they already hear the "tick-tock" of their biological clock so loudly. Mine, for whatever reason, seems to be silent. Either that, or I am completely deaf.

Almost everyone I know has a baby, or is in some way getting ready for one. And almost every time I'm around babies, I'm uncomfortable. Not one on one, but like when they are all together. I realize that I might catch some flack for saying this, but oh well. Mommy bloggers get to blog about spit-up and I'm going to blog about this.

It's not that I don't like babies. It's that I feel completely disconnected with the entire world of motherhood. I have a lot of guilt about that. If it's someone I know outside of the context of motherhood, say like friends from work or women I know from BSF or play soccer with, this is not an issue. But if you're a mom, and I'm not a mom and there's nothing else I know about you, chances are you think that I have some sort of mental and/or social deficiency, which, let's face it, I probably do- because when I get into an environment that's all mommies and babies, I just freeze and I'm pretty sure my lips go numb.

But like I was saying- the guilt. I feel like I'm basically a huge disappointment to God and everyone because I'm like this. I think about it a lot. I wonder what's wrong with me. I pray about it. I talk to Andy about it. And now, you know it's legit, because I'm blogging about it. I don't want to be unfriendly. I just literally do not know what to do. When the conversation turns to breastmilk, I want to cross my arms over my chest and run into the bathroom. When someone's kid does something momentous, I'm usually like, "oh, he couldn't do that already?" Again, I don't mean to be rude, I just. don't. get. it.

But I do get microscopes. In fact, I'm teaching microscopy to my kid-o's this week. If you've ever spent much time playing with a light microscope, you've maybe had trouble bringing things into focus with the objective lenses (the silver things that rotate- there are usually three or four of them). It dawned on me this morning, that when your objective lens is focused on lower power, that's all you see, and you see it really clearly. When you rotate to a different power, you focus that image, and that's all you see. There's no way to be focused on more than one power at a time with one light microscope- at least not the ones that I've seen.

I don't focus on babies. They are a blur to me. But I realized this morning, that how mommies are about babies, so I am with my students. I spend hours focusing on how I can get them to learn something. When I see them do something new that they enjoy, it can literally bring tears to my eyes. I feel a burden for them- to teach them the truth about God and the world they live in. I am thrilled when they accomplish things- like A's and touchdowns and college acceptances. I'm amazed at them and with them when they discover something new. I'd get up and spend all day teaching high school students even if no one paid me money to do it. They are my joy.

I'm going to ask God if this is okay. I mean, in His eyes, maybe teenagers and babies are all sort of the same thing. They do have a lot in common. They giggle, they complain a lot, they're utterly selfish, they're melodramatic and very needy. Maybe God knew that someone out there would need to be focused on those little ones, even when the clock ticks away. I'm hoping this is the case. Because though I've prayed and tried, I can't seem to get comfortable in the mommyhood, but I have a new student visiting my Biology class today, and I can't even tell you how excited that makes me.

I know that a lot of moms out there might read this and say, "wait til she has her own." And that might be the case. Hopefully so. Until then, though, I guess I'll just enjoy my students, and ignore the silent clock that's supposed to be screaming by now.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Bad news comes quickly

Thursday was my 29th birthday. I got up and opened presents sent to me by my mom. Andy fixed me coffee and went out to Shipley's to retrieve me a chocolate covered doughnut. When I got to school, I found out that he had also run another errand while he was out- he had taken my car keys (which have my school keys on the same ring) and gone over to my classroom to deliver me a dozen roses. I found them on my desk when I walked in. I also encountered a big yellow piece of butcher paper which said "Happy Birthday Mrs. Wermel!" in marker and almost all of my students -70 in all- had signed it. A PTF parent showed up with flowers in a vase- ranunculus, my wedding flower- a muffin and a cappuccino a few minutes later, and she returned at lunch time with a Chick-fil-a chicken tenders combo. Students came in and brought me presents and cards throughout the day, my Chemistry class sang me happy birthday, and the weather was absolutely gorgeous. After school, I went home and found Andy icing a cake he had baked! Then, I opened up my birthday gifts from Andy and Lacy. I especially enjoyed throwing the scraps of paper from the bag-o-confetti Lacy sent me (she did this last year too, and it's awesome!) into the air, which made Andy whine, but he picked it up anyway. Then Andy and I went out to dinner at McCormick and Schmicks, which was lovely and our waiter gave us a free ice cream dessert, which was almost too pretty to eat. I had a wonderful birthday.

Then on Friday, after a busy week at work and a wonderful day of celebration, and a lot of anticipation because John Palmer (Lacy's baby boy) is coming any minute now, Andy sat me down and told me that his company is closing and he's going to be unemployed on December 2. My birthday cards were still strewn about and the "Happy Birthday" candles were still on the cake, and the unpleasant news was too much contrast to the happy day that had just passed.

I did not react well. One would hope that as a Christian, I would respond with words of faith and encouragement. But I didn't. I'm just going to be honest here, because really what's the point in not being honest? Lately, my faith has felt like a wool sweater that someone accidentally put into the dryer.

I talk on here about the stuff that happened to me and Andy last year using vague terms, and I probably always will. I don't name names, and I am not going to. It's not going to do anyone any good for me to share specifics. But if you read this, and you are at all interested in understanding what's going on in our life and how God is working here, it's necessary that you understand that Andy & I went through something very traumatic and hurtful last year. And it's important that you know that we walked through that with as much faith and obedience as we could muster. God disciplined us and changed us incredibly, but the end result was not what either of us wanted. And for me, the end result did not look like what I thought a Christian experience ought to look like.

I have been really blessed in my life because I have gone through several experiences where God has allowed things to get really ugly, and I and other people have been very hurt, only for Him to work in my life and other people's lives in separate but equal ways, which brought about full restoration, complete healing and increased joy! Up until last year, I did not have an area of my life that I hadn't seen the Lord completely transform and redeem. Then this thing happened. And in my opinion, it remains broken, and this still causes hurt, doubt and frustration for me. And everyone involved is supposed to be a Christian. So if Christians are supposed to be like Christ, and Christ is love and His purpose in this world is redemption and reconciliation, why is this circumstance the way that it is? Why does His Spirit not convict? Why does The Truth not prevail? And why does the Healer not heal? If Christians can react to difficult things in life this way, what's the point in being one? It's not any different- in fact it's in many ways much worse- than I've seen nonbelievers react to difficult times.

I gave up on hoping other people would change months ago, but have prayed consistently for God to do a work in my heart- to sow seeds of love, joy, peace and contentment in me that would overpower the hurt, doubt and frustration. I think that I've seen these in every day life, but being told that your husband is losing his job is not every day news. And so those tiny love and joy seeds got drenched in my doubt and negativity. Why should God help us? Why should we trust Him? He left me hanging out to dry last year! I was trying to be obedient to His will and I was ridiculed and rejected! And He hasn't done anything about it. Why should I trust Him? He has no interest in me.

When your heart believes those things about God, all you can do is cry- the big ugly cry. And that's what I did- not because Andy had lost his job. That was only a detail. I was crying because I was seeing the circumstance through a lens of unbelief. I considered the circumstances of my life, the hurt that God allowed last year, and the tension that remains and concluded that God didn't care about me. Because He allowed people to mistreat me and never cared to do anything about it. And because I'm still so confused about who God is because His "people" have reacted so disappointingly.

Beth Moore says, "If you're going to pitch a fit, pitch it at God. He's the only One big enough to handle it." This has to be true. Because only God could handle someone's spirit retching and reeling from disappointment and not even flinch. A person would watch me indulging my doubt and turn away in disgust. But not God. I probably spent an hour moaning and crying out all sorts of doubts, and afterwards, I fell asleep- I guess sleep was the only way to get me quiet enough to be able to hear Him. In the middle of the night, the Holy Spirit spoke to me. I could understand Him very clearly. He said, "I am not concerned with what your life costs. I am concerned with what your life is worth. You can have a family in a home that is filled with nice things, things that cost money, but if you react this way, your life does not reflect what I truly value."

And immediately, and I do mean immediately, my heart changed. I turned and gave Andy a big hug. I knew that from that point forward I was going to have love and belief to share with him, not doubt to weigh him down. I realized that money is not the real issue in this trial at all. I realized that this, like every other trial, is an opportunity to be Jesus, the real Jesus- the One who wakes you up in the middle of the night and rebukes you, the One who shows you all throughout the day that He loves you and is for you- to my husband and to other people.

This week in BSF, we read about Paul's sufferings. I don't know how I'm so dense that I can read that and answer questions and still somehow think that the Christian experience has something to do with me being treated well. Paul went through everything and then some, and he was being obedient through it all. He didn't get treated badly because he was disobeying God. He was treated badly because he was doing exactly what God wanted him to do. He never was closer to the Lord's will for him than when he was suffering. This is the thing that has to transform in my mind. Last year, I did something that God told me to do. People got really mad at me for it and the consequences hurt. But instead of believing that those consequences are something that I can endure because I am in God's will, I have doubted everything. But God is not against me. He has not abandoned me. And He will not let me be put to shame. I know this because I can hear His Spirit and I know that He is working on me still- making sure that I do not display anything other than His character to the world around me- especially those closest to me, my family & my sweet husband, who is such a gift to me.

God is real and really working. I know this for a fact. Not just because there are days filled with flowers and gifts and love, but because there are days when bad news comes quickly. It's His reaction and quick transformation of my heart in those days that brings me greater comfort about His commitment to my holiness than a string of beautiful, perfect days could ever accomplish.

We don't know what's going to happen from here. But we do know that God is going to transform our minds and our hearts and our actions. We know that He is going to show Himself to us, and then ask us to show Him to others.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28

Saturday, October 8, 2011

For the Orphan

When I was a freshman in college I loved to go for runs down Reynolda Drive and Stratford Road. Both roads are lined with beautiful homes that are immaculately manicured. Deciduous trees create an orange canopy over the road in autumn. I think every time I ran down those roads, I would imagine myself living in one of the houses. It seems silly to me now, but in my mind back then, I'd think about what would need to happen for me to live in one of those houses- or at least one something like that. Winston-Salem, I had decided, was a perfect place to live. Close to the mountains, close to home. My parents would always want to come and visit me and we could all go to Wake Forest games, something we had been doing my entire life. If I became a veterinarian, which was the plan at the time, I'd make good money. Of course, I'd probably need to marry a doctor or a lawyer or a dentist or something to be able to afford a house on Stratford Road. But life was in front of me, anything could happen.

When I woke up this morning in Austin, I thought about Reynolda Road. I'll bet you that today, some freshman girl will wake up and go for a run down that road and spin those orange leaves and perfect houses into her web of dreams the same way I did. But me? I woke up in Texas, in the middle of the worst drought on record. My husband left early to go to National Guard drill. My parents, two day's drive away, can't drive down for any games. And my only company for the day will be a stack of Biology papers and my two Cocker spaniels.

I know there are all sorts of people out there who love Texas, and I am not out to dog your state. I know you love it because it's yours. And I've seen some pretty stuff here and had some good times. And I have to say that Texans are super friendly and sweet for the most part. But, for a North Carolina girl, it is rough when it's October and still breaking 100 and the only colors you ever see are gray-green from those half-dead oaks and the yellow straw on the ground that used to be grass. It's hard. It's not just like a subtle, "Oh, I am homesick. Wouldn't it be nice to take a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway today? Oh well, let's go eat brisket," kind of thing. It's an ache, an almost tangible sadness that comes from being here when autumn has come back at home, and people are going to football games in sweaters. I'm missing the Cameron Antiques show, I'll miss the Holly Day Fair again and my brother's 30th birthday. And I can't even begin to really make myself think about all that I have already missed and will continue to miss with Lacy and John Palmer. Lacy, I'm sorry. I'm just so sorry.

So it's understandable, I guess, to wake up on a morning like this one and wonder, "How much longer do I have to be here?" Recently, I've tried to be honest about this stuff with Jesus. I know He doesn't like my complaining. I know that really, even though it was through Andy, it was Jesus who brought me down here. And I haven't liked that because pretty much ever since getting here, for one reason or another, I've been mostly sad. You don't expect that after you get married. You think you're going to get Stratford Road, but I got a lot of accusations thrown at me, followed by rejection, and a season of loneliness. For a long time, I didn't want to talk to Jesus about this. I was really mad at Him, and hurt that He would allow something like this to happen in my life. Hadn't I given up Stratford Road for Him? Hadn't I dropped the dreams about money and beautiful houses and being a doctor? Hadn't I waited for the husband He gave to me instead of going out on a mission to find one? So why? Why did He put me in a situation where I would be alone and so misunderstood? And in the midst of all of that, why did it have to be so daggone hot. Really? I move here and it just happens to be the hottest and driest summer ever?

But not talking to Jesus is the worst thing you could do. Even if conversations with Him start off as complaint, He's pretty faithful to change my heart right away. I'm learning that I have to trust Him, and that means talking to Him, even when I wake up and my heart hurts so much I don't want to move. That's how I felt this morning. But I did move. I got out of bed and got my BSF notes. And after laying back down and telling Jesus a few sentences about how much it still hurts to be rejected and accused, and how lonely and dry it still is, and how much I miss my family, it was time for me to be quiet and listen. So I put on my glasses and read the first paragraph of my notes,

Disruption and displacement in life are almost always painful. However they can lead to expansion into new work and new effectiveness...In the hands of God, removal from one place or endeavor can bring renewal for knowing Him better. There may be new, significant work for His cause in the world.

Last night, Andy and I worked together with three other ladies from Austin Stone's Orphan Care Network making prayer cards. On each card is the face, name, age and a nugget of information about the kids in Travis County who have been in the foster care system for a long time. There are 51 cards. The cards are going to be laminated and made into bookmarks and magnets, and we're going to give them away at next Saturday's Orphan Care Network launch picnic. 51 cards, and we are praying that every single one of them gets picked up and that God will remind the people who take them home to pray for those kids. And then every kid whose info was available in the system will be prayed for by one of the saints. And God listens to the prayers of His people. We're going to ask Him to give them homes, because they don't have one. And families, because they don't have those either. And mostly, we're going to ask Him to give them love- His love- for the rest of their lives. And you know what? I don't like how hot it is here, and I don't like missing out on so much back home, but someone needs to start asking those things on behalf of these kids. Because on Stratford Road, moms pray for their own children. But in Travis County, who will pray for the children on my 51 cards?

Wake Forest and North Carolina, my mom, my best friend and so much of what is precious to me is a long way away. It will be another hot day here in Texas, and I don't know that I'll like it much, but my notes are right. Though it's painful, expansion of God's work comes through that pain. Only in Texas, and only under these circumstances, has God given me the reason and the resources to begin the process of opening up my heart and my life for the orphan.

The reason? Because these past two years have been an experience in the tremendous need for families to be led by a good father. When fathers fail, families flounder. When fathers misdirect, families go astray. When fathers worship something, even if it is a good thing, other than the One True God, children will not know how to worship in truth. When fathers do not listen, relationships cannot be authentic. And when fathers abandon or reject their children, the loss is almost indescribable. These conditions describe the lives of the fatherless. And this is what I've seen, in different degrees of magnitude, in the past few years, and it's broken my heart. It's made me angry and distressed, to the point of panic and dismay. But then, truth comes.

Truth came late last spring when I first got involved with Orphan Care Network. And through that group, I was reminded that God is not the kind of Father who demonstrates the things listed above. He does not mislead or fail or abandon or reject His children. He always listens, He always loves, He is always kind and His ways are always faithful. He does not have favorites. He does not ignore. He does not forget. When thinking about the pain that fatherlessness had caused in my own life and in the lives of people I love, I determined that a way to be part of the solution was to be a part of Fathering the fatherless. So God has provided resources through the Orphan Care Network to work out this desire, so that Andy & I are becoming conduits of parental, heavenly love to children, teenagers, even adults, affected by the aches and evils of fatherlessness.

This is the new work He has given to me. And to tell the truth, it's the work that I needed to do. Facing fatherlessness is never easy. It's always painful because our hearts were intended to experience the perfect love of our Heavenly Father and even the best dads here on Earth are always going to fall short of that love. And so we ache. But the ache can draw us closer to the Father we were always intended to call "Abba." To tell that message reminds me that the disappointment that comes from not being fathered well, or from witnessing someone I love suffer from such a situation, can be enveloped by the joy of having a good, truthful, loving, faithful Father.

It is costly. It is painful. But to be a true representative of the Father that I so desperately need to love me, and lead me, then I need to be obedient to His command to care for the orphan. It's not enough just to point to those passages in Scripture and expect the world to somehow leap for joy that God is God. Why should they rejoice about a God on a page, when their own lives are experiencing the pain of fatherlessness. But God in action- that's who they need to see, and it's our privilege to be Him to them- to be good fathers, good mothers, good foster parents, faithful petitioners- so that they can see that He is serious about being a Father, serious enough to take people out of the familiar and the beautiful- so that the new and effective can be accomplished.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Check out this video of Daisy. I think her 'venture to Yosemite has her convinced that she can do anything!

The Great American Roadtrip Part 5

The morning we woke up for the big hike, I was colder than I had been the first two nights. For all my worrying about Daisy suffocating in my sleeping bag, I was still actually getting a better night's sleep with her in there. Anyone who thinks letting two Cocker Spaniels sleep in your tent with you is a bad idea needs to keep in mind that's sixty pounds of personal space heater- and you don't even need a generator! So, without Gatsby and Daisy in the tent to warm us, the nights had definitely been chillier. Still, when Andy's rooster alarm clock went off, it took a minute to shirk off the desire to roll over and go back to sleep. This was our third morning waking up in camp, and each morning we'd had something that required us to rise early. Not much of a vacation, in some people's opinion (including my husband's, at times) but we both knew that in the long run, when we were taking in the views from the top of Half Dome, it would be worth it.

"Let's do this!" I said, and we both climbed out of the tent. We double checked our daypacks to make sure we had all that we needed for the day, filled up four water bottles and Andy's camelbak at the campground sink, and we were off. It was still fairly dark outside when we left camp. The guide books recommended leaving the Trailhead at 5 AM! Andy and I weren't that ambitious, but we had wanted to leave around 6. The trail from the Valley to the summit of Half Dome is an 8 mile hike, ascending 4000 vertical feet. We had timed ourselves on the McGurk Meadows trail and reasoned that we could travel about 1.5 to 2 miles an hour, which would put us at the summit right around lunchtime, leaving plenty of time to descend before it got dark.

We drove down to the Valley, and parked in the Trailhead Parking lot, which is just past Curry Village. It wasn't even 6:30 AM, and already the lot was almost full. People do park in the lot and take multiple day trips into the high country, so parking can be scarce anytime of day or night, really. We walked down to the Happy Isles information center/restroom. We decided a last minute pit stop wouldn't be a bad idea. While there, I noticed a big group stretching off to one side. I listened intently to their guide, who was like the Yosemite version of Bob Green (Oprah's personal trainer). He was talking to them about conserving energy and when to rest, etc. etc. and, I'll admit, I thought it was all really intense for a day hike. I haven't done much camping, but I have done my fair share of hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and I'll admit that I think a part of me was like, "What's the big deal?" The trail maps and guidebooks all said that the trail up to Half Dome was not for those who were out of shape or afraid of heights- but, of course, that all depends on what your definition of "out of shape" and "afraid of heights" is. While on the trail, we encountered a number of people who did not look at all physically fit. In fact, that was my first assessment of some of the characters in the Bob Green group. But, to my surprise, they made it farther than I did! Which makes me believe that Half Dome is really more a summoning of the will than anything else. Still, those warnings proved to be accurate indeed, as Andy and I were soon to find out.

I think that God must have noticed my, "I've got this!" attitude right away, because soon after leaving the Happy Isles center, Andy and I embarked on our journey with confidence... on the wrong trail. Rather than starting on the Mist Trail, which would take us up a wet and precipitous route by Vernal and Nevada Falls, we walked in a circle around Happy Isles, a peninsula that doesn't lead to any other trails. When we recognized our error, I was appropriately humbled. We corrected ourselves, fortunately only having lost about ten minutes or so and got over to the correct trail just on the heel's of the big group.

If you really were very, very out of shape, you would figure out that the Mist Trail is not for you right away. The first half mile is a very steep grade of paved path that continues almost all the way to the base of Vernal Falls. I started out wearing soccer warm-ups, but after only a few hundred feet, my legs were burning, and I shed the cover and continued in shorts. We trudged up the paved pathway, not really pausing. I reasoned that I would take pictures on the way down, because there was really very little light at this early hour. After about a mile, we found ourselves face to face with Vernal Falls. Here's a picture of the falls (though it was taken in the afternoon, I figure you might want to see what it looks like)

Vernal Falls is captivating at any time, but I think the hikers on the trail on August 3, 2011 were maybe a little more in awe of its power, because as we all began the Mist Trail, we were met by these signs.

These three hikers were trying to take a photograph, while standing in the Merced River atop the falls. The two hikers being photographed lost their balance and were quickly swept into the flow that feeds the falls. The photographer tried to help his friends, and he too was caught up in the flow. All three went over the falls. Because of the heavy snows this past winter, the rivers and waterfalls are still flowing at a higher than average rate, so the park did not dispatch a search and rescue team, believing that more lives would be put at risk in the process. So these flyers are posted around the Vernal Falls area in case a hiker happens upon some trace of these three friends.

Hiking up the Mist Trail after viewing those flyers was very sobering. Vernal Falls roars to your left as you ascend some very steep steps to the top. And it's not called the Mist Trail for nothing. The cold spray almost completely soaks you, and by the time you get to the top, you look like this...

Andy has said multiple times that the trail "kicked his butt." Here he is, soaking from sweat and mist at the top of Vernal Falls. We stopped there for breakfast. Andy's not normally a breakfast eater, and when I packed up three breakfast tacos in our packs, I think he said something about, "I don't know if I'm going to want one of those." But after a mile uphill on the Mist Trail, I think he changed his tune just a bit.

I was pretty chipper for the whole way up, but don't worry, my butt (and all of the rest of me) got what was coming to it on the way down.

As we continued up the Mist Trail, I could never decide if I was hot or cold. The strenuous work of hiking up the trails made me sweat, but the mist and the shadows of the deep ravine kept the external temperature really cold. I was so grateful when the sun started to rise higher in the sky and warm things up a little bit!

The sun also made this beautiful rainbow at the base of Nevada Falls, our next sight to see on the Mist Trail.

Nevada falls, with its 500 ft drop, is even more impressive than Vernal Falls.

Even though there was a lot of physical work going on, the morning passed really quickly (in my opinion. Andy might have a different version of the story!) Before we knew it, we were at the point where the two trails (the Mist Trail and the John Muir Trail) that reach the summit convene. My friend Danielle, who grew up in the San Francisco area and has been up the John Muir before, warned us to take the Mist Trail because the John Muir is an equine trail, and is therefore populated by piles of what horses make. But after ascending to the top of Nevada falls, the two trails meet, which does, like my friend said, make the trail a little less fragrant, but, on the other hand, the trail's grade evens out considerably, making each step a lot less work. By the time we stopped for lunch at this little stream you see here, I was feeling tired, but great. So great, in fact, that I felt like taking a little excursion off the beaten path. From where Andy and I lounged eating our turkey wraps, we could see, just on the other side of this stream, a granite rock face that slanted in our direction. From our vantage point across the stream, it looked like it would be perfectly easy to just crawl up the granite to its peak and take a look at the view. Andy, reluctantly, agreed to my hair-brained idea.

But, of course, once we started actually crawling up the rock wall, I realized that the grade was much steeper than I anticipated. I think that even Andy was a little surprised by how difficult it was to try to get to the top of the wall. About half way up, I realized I was way over my head and decided it was time to stop these shenanigans and get back to the trail. Andy agreed. The problem was- I didn't know how to get off the stinking wall. Fortunately, Andy has spent many years climbing rocks, and he instructed me over toward a big crack in the wall. Bu getting to the crack was a huge struggle. I don't even remember what happened, except that I began to get scared, really scared. I mentioned before that I am afraid of heights. Some people think that being afraid of heights is something you can just get over if you "face your fear" enough. I completely disagree. For one thing, I'm convinced this fear is genetic. My mom, her sister, and my brother are all completely terrified of heights- some of them more so than myself. This makes me think that the phobia is actually a physiological problem, probably affecting some part of the brain. So telling someone like me to just get over their fear of heights by facing it is like telling someone to get over their asthma by running a bunch of sprints. Most likely, their lungs will shut down and they'll be rushed to the hospital. And it's sort of the same thing with me and the heights. I'd LOVE to be able to ascend mountains and never have a problem, but the moment that I look out (not down, like people think) but out at all of that space around me, I begin to panic. This is what happened on the granite wall. Even though I knew I ought not to, I couldn't help but look out at the expanse around me. And, of course, I did this at a moment that I felt completely stuck on the wall. Fortunately, I have tried to conquer the height thing in the past- enough to have gone on several rock climbing trips when I was younger. From those trips, I remember one main thing- there is more on the wall to help you than you think. Immediately, I began to think of these excursions and Mr. Pinkston, the veteran (in more ways that one) climber who taught me this important lesson. Thinking about this helped me think a little more clearly and not want to just bolt from the panic. That's another misconception with acrophobia. People think that you're afraid you're going to fall. I don't think I've ever actually even thought about falling. It's way more simple than that. It's that you are afraid that you are here. Falling never enters the picture. Just being in a place so high creates an almost unstoppable desire to do whatever seems quickest to get back to solid ground. This is the part of the fear that you can at least learn to manage, and I have tried to manage that urge to flee over the years. Unfortunately, one of the outlets for that fear is tears. So, wouldn't you know it? I began to cry. I looked at Andy and said, "I'm scared," and then the tears came. Even so, tears are much better than hyperventilation, which is the other alternative. The tears helped, actually, and so did Andy. He said, "Look at me. Look at me and do what I tell you to do." I did, and he managed to instruct me over to the crack, where I was able to place my hands in a very comfortable holding position and shimmy my way down the wall, using the forces of nature. It wasn't pretty, but we ultimately arrived back on solid ground, and made our way to the trail. I told Andy I was really sorry for wasting so much time and energy on something so foolish, and he was really gracious about it. The one good thing that came of this ridiculous foray, I recognized my limitations early in the hike. That way, when we arrived at the cable route on Half Dome, I didn't endanger myself or others by trying to do something I really could not do.

My brush with panic occurred about a mile or so from the Half Dome Trail. When we reached the sign for Half Dome trail, we had six miles behind us, two miles ahead and a lot of will to persevere. We wanted to make it to the top! But, I admit, as I began to get clearer views of the summit, I began to realize how daunting a task that would be. Because I looked up and this is what I saw...

The trail leads up to a place where two rangers are stationed. The rangers check each hiker for their Half Dome cable permit before allowing them to continue on the trail. After having ours checked, Andy and I moved forward on the "trail," which quickly evolves into a very steep ascent up some crudely carved steps. They are so steep and narrow that only one hiker can pass at a time, which means you have to step aside and allow others to pass. Fortunately, I'd learned my lesson about looking around on our misadventure on the granite wall, so I kept my head down and focused on each step. Fortunately, I was able to ascend this section of the summit trail without incident. That, in itself, was really an accomplishment for someone scared of heights. I heard many people say that they thought the steps harder than the cables. I, however, completely disagree. And here's why...

This picture was taken at the top of the "stairs" leading up to Half Dome. The little line you see cutting through the middle of the granite wall are people on the cables that lead to the summit. This was the point where I said to Andy, "I'm not going to be able to do that," and, thankfully, he didn't pressure me. Of course, I did have to walk closer and at least see what these cables were all about.

At the base of the cables, there's a pile of gloves (which I wish I had taken a picture of!) The gloves are for people like me, who have no idea what they're doing. The metal cables basically have to be ascended with gloves that have a rubber grip. Andy had brought some leather work gloves for himself, but even those were too slick for the cables. Up the wall, metal rods have been drilled into the rock in parallel. Wooden slats are laid across the rock, between the metal rods, making a "stair," if you can even call it that. The trick to ascending the cable route, is to hold onto the cable with your hands and walk your feet up the rock from wooden slat to wooden slat. The bottom few integrals didn't look too daunting, so I decided that I needed to at least experience a few steps of the Half Dome cable route. Actually, I made it up twelve (out of sixty) of the steps, before I began to breathe really heavily and I knew it was time for me to stop. I went down on the left (as you're supposed to) with Andy helping me from behind. Even though I wish I could have seen the top of Half Dome, I don't regret turning back at this point. The reason is because people do panic in the middle of the cable route and get stuck there for quite some time. This endangers everyone else on the route. Some climbers get frustrated and ascend or descend on the outside of the cable route (which I saw Andy do on a couple of steps, and I was scared for him!) in order to bypass the frozen climbers. There were many people who came off the cable route voicing their frustration over those climbers. I decided not to add to the number of already-panicked people on the cables, so I found a good place to sit in the sun while Andy, my brave husband, went all the way to the top. He took all of these shots from the summit and then on his descent. So proud of you, baby!

This is one of my favorite pics from the whole trip.

Yosemite Valley from the top.

Andy said that even though he complained a lot about the hike, once he got to the top, it was all worth it!

I was one of the those little dots down there, waiting for Andy to come back down. I had binoculars with me, so I saw his descent from there. It's really interesting, though, to see his perspective...

Andy kept our "foot picture" thing going on his own. :)

Victorious! (And you can see the glove pile!)

It took Andy a little over and hour to get to the summit and back. I watched the majority of the time through my little binoculars. Something about watching your husband dangle from the side of a mountain makes you really happy to see him when he gets back!

After conquering Half Dome, we stopped and finished our turkey wraps and took a few more pics before heading back down.

This is kind of a "profile" of Half Dome, if you will. The ascent to the far right is the "step" part of the trail, which I made it up, then the "dip" in the middle is where the cable route begins (and where I stopped). Andy climbed to the top left part of the mountain.

One last shot with the Half Dome trail sign and we were on our way.

On the way down, my knees started to ache with a fierceness. Also, my blood sugar took a plunge. We had already eaten all of our turkey wraps and most of our summer sausage and cheese. For a quick boost, Andy made me eat one of his Powerbar gels, which tasted so gross, but it got the job done.

Nevada Falls was really beautiful on the way back down in the afternoon light.

Vernal Falls

View of the Mist Trail from the top of Vernal Falls

Heading back down the Mist Trail.

Andy, already weary, and about to get wet.

Double rainbow all the way!

Surprisingly, as tired as we were, it only took us about three and a half hours to arrive back at Camp Curry, where we showered and feasted on cheeseburgers before returning back to our campground. We were so exhausted that when I was standing in line for the cheeseburgers, I thought my legs might collapse. But the 'venture was well worth it! I hope you agree. :)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Great American Roadtrip Part 4

When we woke up on Tuesday morning, we wasted no time. After Andy's long wait in line at the Mountaineering and Backcountry permit office on Monday, we knew there were lots of vacationers who were anxious to obtain Half Dome permits. But, I did pause long enough to look at my sleepy-haired husband and announce "It's your birthday!" which I followed with a big hug. But then, I think I said something like, "Now, we gotta get going!" The birthday boy moved pretty quickly. We had packed up all of our necessaries the night before, so all we had to do was grab the doggies and jump in the car. We wanted to be in Curry Village around 6:30 AM.

We succeeded in arriving with plenty of time, and while Andy went into the visitor's lounge to get logged into the correct website with his Droid, I got us some coffee at the coffee bar. Curry Village was just waking up, but there were enough early birds for there to be a line at the coffee bar and for space in the lounge to be just a little bit scarce- already at this early hour a handful of visitors were logging into cyberspace in the rustic-looking lounge, which is reminiscent of an 80's movie about summer camp.

Andy kept refreshing the screen on his Droid, waiting patiently for the clock to strike 7 so that he could pounce on the correct link and get us a couple of Half Dome permits. But as soon as 7 came, the permits were unavailable. Within milliseconds, it seemed, the fifty permits were completely gone! Andy hadn't even had a chance to click on the link that would have allowed us to register. We were dumbfounded. How could they have possibly gone so fast!? In less than a minute it seemed! Disappointed, Andy stepped out onto the lounge's large porch and paced back and forth between the rocking chairs, trying to reach the Mountaineering Office on the phone.

I sat inside waiting, more shocked than sulking, barely able to process what had just happened. A moment later, a man sitting to my left (whom I had not even noticed before now) let out an excited shout!. Another man (also unnoticed until this point) responded to the gleeful cry with, "Have you got a permit, then?" in some sort of European accent that I never could place. The guy was beaming, "Yep!" I just stared at them for a long time, half-jealous, half-happy that someone was able to log in to get permits. The guys conversed about how tedious the online sign-up is, and then they told me about the permits getting taken early on, just to be sold on ebay. At some point in their conversation, I chimed in- I don't remember about what exactly, but apparently, I conveyed our predicament clearly enough for the American guy to respond by shoving his own smartphone into my my hands. "Here," he said, "my phone is already logged into the registration page on the site. Maybe it will let you register your info, too. That way, at least your information is in there, so if you try to do it tomorrow, you can get in a little faster." I was tempted to just say, "no." Anyone who knows me well knows that technology and I are reluctant friends. I can hardly operate my own smartphone, much less a total strangers. But, before I even realized it, I was poking at his digital keyboard, entering Andy's information into the registration page on the National Parks Service website. Meanwhile, Andy was out on the phone, finding out the cold hard facts from the Mountaineering Office. He came back into the lodge while I was entering email address, phone number, zip code, etc. into the site, still using my new friend's cellular device.
"No permits. Already completely gone," he said.
"That's incredible," I said, still punching keys.
But what I was realizing, while I was punching said keys was that the site was going to let me register for permits. I was very wary about the situation. It seemed too good to be true. At least ten minutes had gone by since Andy had last refreshed the webpage on his Droid and received the bad news that all the permits were already gone. How could I possibly be able to register for permits so many minutes later? Unless...
The American guy had said something to the European about needing to go ahead and log into the registration page before the permits became available. Apparently, that's what he had done and he was able to successfully obtain four permits right off the bat. The thing was, he had never logged out of the registration page, but had just passed the phone off to me and allowed me to clear out his info and enter in Andy's. My heart started pounding faster and somewhere around me I could hear Andy conversing with the two guys, but I was zeroed in on what I was beginning to think was a tiny birthday miracle. With another couple of clicks, I completed the transaction- it worked! Somehow, by God's amazing planning, we had permits! I still don't quite understand how this happened. Apparently, the website only allowed a certain number of visitors to access the registration page at 7AM, but, once logged into the registration page, visitors could register for multiple permits at a time. In any event, at least fifteen minutes after being told that there were no permits available, Andy received a confirmation email on his Droid. We were going up Half Dome on Wednesday. We were pretty sure it was God's way of saying, "Happy Birthday, Andy!"

We thanked the American guy again and again for generously letting a total stranger who hadn't showered for two days use his cell phone. He was very gracious and said, "We'll see ya on the trail!" (Which, we actually did the next day!) Having given this kind stranger and the Lord plenty of thanks, we walked out stupefied at our birthday blessing!

We had planned ahead to clean up at the Curry Village shower house before making some more phone calls. So we got clean (the shower felt fantastic!) and then called a kennel that I had seen in a small town called Coursegold as we were heading toward the Park on Sunday. Now that we were definitely going to hike Half Dome, we would have to board Gatsby and Daisy overnight because dogs are not allowed on any hiking trails in Yosemite. They can walk around the Valley, and they are welcome in campsites, but any other trails are off-limits. So we called Graydon Kennels, and thankfully, they had available space for the dynamic duo. Andy and I decided we would take the doggies on a good walk around the Valley, though, before imprisoning them for almost two days. So off we went, for a nice morning walk on the Valley floor...

Andy and Gatsby walked down toward the Merced River for a few moments. Everything was still so quiet, like nature was still just waking up.

Our objective on this little excursion was the foot(ish) of El Capitan. Andy wants to someday climb "The Nose," a very difficult route on El Cap. Here, you can see El Capitan in the background. I guess this was just a time for them to get a little better acquainted with one another. :)

I'm completely in the shade, so not a great pic of me, but doesn't El Capitan look daunting in the background!? That's all you, Andy.

Andy wanted to get a closer look at The Captain, but...

Daisy had other plans for Daddy's attention.

But, it's Daisy, so she is easily distracted.

And Andy got a good look anyway.

In fact, I think he inspired Daisy to stare down the rock, too... or maybe she was sniffing out a squirrel. Who knows?

After a good walk, we drove the doggies out of the Park the hour-long drive to Coursegold. We ran a few errands while out of the Park, but wanted to head back and do a little hike before it got too late in the afternoon. We decided to hike a trail called McGurk Meadows, which was just down Glacier Point Road from our campground, but was absolutely beautiful in the late afternoon sun!

Lupine (which looks a lot like the Texas Bluebonnet) was blooming en masse on either side of the trail. The fragrance was incredible!

The birthday boy!!

Andy explored this little cabin while I stopped and smelled the everything...

Before too long, the trail opened up into this beautiful meadow.

We hung out on this little low water bridge for a moment or two.

We kept walking on toward Bridalveil Creek (which feeds the famous Bridalveil falls) and I gave Andy a birthday kiss!

After a little smooch, I led the way on toward Taft Point. We were hoping to make it all the way to this overlook, but knew we'd need to turn back, regardless of our position on the trail, around 6:30 so that we would have enough daylight to make it back to camp. We were moving quickly, so quickly, in fact, that I completely missed out on the fact that we had some company out in the woods. I was just trucking along when I heard Andy's voice behind me say, "Keep moving. There's a bear over there!" I looked to the left and saw a mass of brown fur about fifty feet away. I moved even faster after that, and kept my eyes wide open.

We didn't make it all the way to Taft Point, even though we were moving plenty fast after our bear encounter. But we did venture just slightly off-trail for a moment to this little spot, where we were reunited with our friend, The Captain, who was looking even more majestic in the fading sun than in the morning light we saw earlier that day.

It would have been cool to have dangled our legs over the edge for this foot picture, but, acrophobe that I am, I was not having it- it was a sheer drop from here. I was doing well to even walk out on this rock in the first place! But it was good practice because Wednesday's trip up Half Dome caused me more chills and thrills than this hike!

On the way back, Andy took this shot of moss growing on the North side of the trees. It almost looked like it was glowing.

We had a little more welcome company on the hike back to camp. We sang songs and said the 23rd Psalm out loud when passing through the place we saw the bear on the way out. People say black bears (which inhabit Yosemite and aren't always actually black in color) aren't all that bad. But I was freaked out anyway and needed to Psalms and verses to keep me calm.

We got back to camp with just enough daylight to get our daypacks ready for Wednesday's trek up Half Dome. We made sausage, egg and cheese breakfast tacos for dinner, then used the remaining tortillas to make some turkey and cheese wraps for the next day's lunch. I offered to make some sort of birthday dessert, but Andy declined, saying he wanted a Devil's Food Cake when we got back home (which I made earlier this week) But the day was plenty sweet anyway, and we went to sleep excited about the next day's journey up Half Dome.