I will extend peace to her like a river

- Isaiah 66:12

extended peace

Out of breath, Marie hiked up a steep mountain. Bells swayed from her backpack to alarm any bears of her presence. More than a mile into the hike, her lungs began to feel the change of elevation. She placed her hands on her hips. Now why am I doing this at my age? What am I trying to prove? To whom am I trying to show off? She lifted her hands to the heavens and said, "I need to prove to myself that I can do this alone. Don't I Joe?"

"You've always needed to prove things to yourself." The loud response seemed to come behind her.

She looked. No one was there. "Joe, is this you? Are you messing with me?"

No response.

"My head must have created that response. Or is it my heart speaking in his voice? Either way Marie, you can do this." She gulped fresh, morning mountain air and marched uphill at a steady pace.

Sweat trickled down her forehead. A drop fell into her eye. She winked a few times then looked back down the hill. The phrase beyond infinity always came to mind. One could see westward for hundreds of miles.

Several runners passed her as she continued her hike. What was I thinking coming this early in the day? They're Bears out here. And no kids to out run. She patted her side. I do have my bear spray. She sighed. The section she named, Stairway to Misery, was before her. Tonight, my legs will be like overcooked spaghetti. Oh what the heck. I hope these steps will liberate me from my own self.

She came to the part where Joe always helped her climb. She told the step, "I stepped on you ago. I will do it again today. Just because I'm turning sixty-five soon doesn't mean you or my age will stop me from getting to the top of this mountain." Marie lifted her knee as high as her chest, secured her good foot on the wooden step then pushed herself forward with her walking stick. She landed on her hands and knees, got up, dusted her pants and conquered the remaining steps.

That morning Marie had awakened with a yearning to visit Flat Top. Every year, since she met her late husband, they hiked it together. Except, last year. She broke her left ankle and her husband's cancer treatments limited her activities. With her ankle completely healed and only a slight discomfort of the metal plate, she planned the hike.

Marie's side ached. She stopped to take a moment to rest. Will I be able to climb the section that tests me to my wits end? She answered, "I must."

Stairway to Misery lay behind her. She made her way to a flat area she named. The Place of Shame. Many hikers rested there before they turned around and went back down the mountain. Why? Because the most intimidating part of the hike revealed itself. Its steepness, large boulders and hidden paths hollered, come if you dare. Flat Top wasn't for the weak or the fearful of heights.

Marie found a place to rest. I'm glad I'm alone. I have time to visit with myself. She ate an apple and nibbled on smoked salmon. A gulp of water and her hiking stick in the backpack, it was time to climb the challenging, nerve racking, yet thrilling part of the mountain.

The trail began nice. Within a few steps it became arduous. Marie soon climbed over large rocks onto boulders and sought safe paths. She reached a straight up section. Without an obvious way, Marie leaned into the mountain. I should lean on my Lord like I do with you. More so now that I live alone. She took a step up. Her right foot slipped. She hugged the mountain tight. Pay attention Marie! Falling backwards means death. Or horrific injuries.

Cautiously, she slid her toes in an opening and continued up. To ease her nerves she began a one sided conversation. "Why do I enjoy this part of you? Oh, yes. You remind me how I need to lean into what I know to be secure. I don't necessarily like how you cause my knees to weaken, my legs to tremble and my hands to be in agonizing pain from your sharp edges. I should have brought gloves."

Younger hikers passed her. She watched the path they took. She moved to her left and followed their lead. Marie continued talking to the mountains. "If my family knew how you make me feel, they would ask me, 'why Mom? Why do you do this to yourself?'" She paused. "Do you think they'll understand my need? Do you understand?"

Other hikers neared her. Marie thought to herself. Do I know why I love climbing to your top? Of course I do. Your challenges show me that I'm still capable of overcoming hard circumstances. Here my doubts leave me with each step I take. My insecurities become footprints on your trail. Disbelief of my abilities are released with each gripping, sweaty hand I place on your rocky edges. The higher you allow me to go, the lighter my soul becomes.

"Mam, do you need a hand?" A deep voice took Marie out of her thoughts. A young man reached for her. His summer sky eyes were filled with kindness.

"Yes, please." One thing for sure, Marie always accepted help, especially from young men. In one pull, she planted her feet on Flat Top. "Thank you." Maire smiled.

"You're welcome. Are you alone?" The young man scratched his head.

"I am." The American flag waved with the wind behind Marie's helper.

With raised eyebrows, the young man chuckled then said, "You set a challenge for me, when I'm as old as you, I'll return and climb this place. It's freaking crazy."

Old as me. With clenched teeth, Marie forced a grin. He joined his friends before she could think of something snappy to say. I should tell him to be polite with those who are truly old. Nay. He's not worth my time. Let me see, what's the time? Ten to eleven. I'm happy. It took me only an hour and a half. That's a decent time for an old person like me. Wait a minute. I'm not old, no matter what that blue-eyed, handsome kid told me.

An idea interrupted her head conversation. Now that's what I should have told him. I'm old only to those who are babies. I'm saving this one on my phone's memo. I have a feeling I'll need it in the far future. Marie giggled as she sat down and typed the phrase on her phone's notes. She took her backpack off and placed it beside her. Facing southwest, towards Turnagain Arm, she took a picture.

A gust of wind came up from below the mountain. Cold moisture caused Marie to shiver. She pulled a rain jacket from the bottom of her backpack. It smelled like a sour garment. Without a care she slipped it on. She remembered the last time she wore it. A tear fell on the aqua blue jacket. It was the last time Joe took her fishing on the Knik River, before his cancer diagnosis.

"It's been six months today, Babe. Oh how I miss you, my love." She wiped her tears and hugged herself as she stared out to sea.

June's wind blew harder bringing rain clouds and cooler glacier wind. Marie placed her hood on, zipped her jacket and thought, it's time to leave. She got up and faced north. "Go fish." She told herself. "It's okay to have joy. It's better than coming on this treacherous hike."

The Lord then spoke to her spirit, "Go! My extended peace is there. You'll find healing for your lonesome heart"

Without a doubt, she knew who spoke. It wasn't her heart or her head. Yet, her heart sank. She did not want to recognize her loneliness. Words from Isaiah came to her mind. "I will extend to her peace like a river."

Lord, it is peaceful there. But, it will bring my heart much pain. Marie gazed beyond where she stood. I'll go. I do need your healing. Will you take a bit of my pain from me, right now. Could you show me something special to lift my spirit?

Suddenly people hollered and pointed, "Down there."

Marie looked to a ridge below. A black bear and her cubes made their way towards the mountains. A soft whisper spoke words from Isaiah to her spirit. "As a mother comforts a child, I will comfort you."

Peace trickled to Marie's soul. She whispered, "I'll go to the river once my legs recover. Thank you, Lord, for allowing me to see the mama bear and cubs." She wobbled as she walked to the edge of Flat Top. "Lord, watch over me. Don't allow my knees to weaken or my feet to lose their footage."

With a lifted spirit and a bit more peace, Marie confidently balanced on the shifting rocks. She passed thePlace of Shame, went down the Steps of Misery, hurried through Beyond Infinity without sliding, tripping or out of breath.

On the way home, she listened to a new song on the Christian radio, Peace Like A River, sung by Dolly Parton and Dionne Warwick. After the song was over Marie said, "Thank you Lord, for the words in this song. They testifies of your peace, your comfort, your goodness. I'm grateful that I'm never alone. You're always with me."