Sunday, July 13, 2014

Doing the Hard Thing

by Becky Porter

           I woke and stared somewhat sullenly at the sloped canvas roof soaring a few feet above my head.  The air in the tent was pleasantly cool, but my mind did not dwell long on the weather.  Mechanically, I adjusted the pillow that was slipping off the end of the metal cot, part of my brain noting the morning songs of the varied birds in the trees outside.  I was plagued by that vaguely grumpy feeling adults get—or maybe it’s only me—when they know they are about to do something that should be done but that they don’t want to do.  This, after all, is what it means to be “grown-up”. 
 With a small sigh and a furrowed brow, I untangled myself from the sleeping bag and climbed off the bed.  My toes curled a little as they hit the rough wood flooring beneath.  I padded the few steps to the tent opening and, lifting the thick canvas flap, gazed out on the gorgeous cool stillness of early morning at Philmont Scout Ranch.  The scent of wet earth mingled with the fresh, sharp tang of the trees; I breathed it in deeply, and with that breath came a deep sense of certainty and peace.
We had arrived at Philmont almost a week before, rain coming down in sheets as our minivan full of kids, suitcases, sleeping bags, books, pillows, Scout uniforms, and excitement (but not a single working umbrella) pulled into the long, winding drive.  The past few days had been a wonderful blur of inspired training and revelation for Jeff; bonding with new friends for me; and pony rides, archery, crafts, games, and camp songs for the children.  Oh yes—and hikes.  Long, hard hikes.  Half-day hikes for the little ones and 7-hour ordeals for the older ones. 
“You can do this!” I had told each of them.  “You can do hard things. I believe in you!”
They had listened.  One by one I had encouraged them and sent them off.  One by one they had come back, flushed with the power of accomplishment, eager to tell me how hard it had been and how they had persevered.  I played my part well, exclaiming and commiserating and lavishing them with praise.
“I knew you could do it!” I said. “In our family, we do hard things.  It wasn’t easy but you finished, and I’m so proud of you.”
These were the thoughts I had later that morning as my sneaker-clad feet crunched across pine needles, leading me up and over rocks and under tree boughs.  It was my turn to hike.  I was backing up my words with my example, and my middle-aged, out-of-shape body was protesting almost every uphill step of the way.
I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the women at the front of the hike, ladies who bounced their way up the mountain in their hiking boots with backpacks slung confidently over their shoulders, but I was determined to stay in the middle of the pack.  It was sheer pride and grit that kept me there, puffing like a locomotive, as we climbed steadily.  I reveled in the strength of my legs and thanked God for my healthy body.  I gazed at deer just down the mountain from us, their bodies taut and still. And, at some point, I thought I was going to die if we didn’t stop soon.  I ached to be done.
Why was I out here?  Sweat dripped down my face and the locomotive was puffing harder than ever.  I began to hate those smiling, delusional women at the front of the line who acted like this was a stroll down the street instead of the grueling new form of torture that any sane person would recognize it to be. 
After about an hour and a half, our male guide stopped.  The trail wound up in an S-curve like some reddish-brown malevolent snake on the side of the wooded hill.  The guide stood above us and his words struck apprehension into my weary brain.
“We’re almost to the top, but this last part is the hardest.  It’s a set of switchbacks that climb steeply.  If any of you want to stay here and wait for us (we’ll be coming back the way we came up), you can do that rather than climb the whole way.”
We had already hiked almost two miles and climbed close to 1,000 feet and now he was telling us that the hardest part was ahead?  I will be forever grateful to my newfound friend, Katie, who recognized the moment I began to waver.  She played the part for me that I had played for my kids.
“Come on, Becky. You can do this,” she encouraged in her soft voice. “You will always regret it if you don’t go to the top.”
And so I pushed on.  I did the hard thing that I had not wanted to do.  I pushed myself up that set of switchbacks, one plodding foot in front of the other, huffing and puffing but never falling back.  I climbed over huge rocks, made more immense by my exhaustion.  I moved forward when I thought I couldn’t, and when I reached the summit I burst into tears. 
No words can describe the exhilaration I felt when, after coming back down and riding the bus back to camp, I looked my children in the eyes and said, “I did it!  It was hard and I did it!” 

I found that doing the hard thing is just a series of small steps, one after the other, until you reach the summit a new, stronger person for your effort.


  1. Beautifully written, Becky! Thanks for taking us on that journey with you and reminding us that we can do hard things. :-)

  2. Thanks, Kasey! I have survived many difficult things in my life, but this was the first time I had purposely pushed myself to do something that I wasn't sure I could accomplish. It was a good experience!

  3. Lovely, Becky. What a wonderful post and reminder/lesson to us all. :)



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