How to Have a Mountaintop Experience (Right Where You Are)

It’s the eve of our fifteenth wedding anniversary and tomorrow morning, in the dark hours before the dawn, my wife and I are supposed to drive up the side of a volcano to watch the sun rise on our sixteenth year. It sounds perfect. Romantic. Beautiful. Awesome and inspiring. Indeed, awe-inspiring.

But there’s a problem.

I’m terrified of heights. And open spaces. And dying. My wife is afraid of none of those things, so she is the designated driver when we drive up mountains. However, her night vision is exceptionally poor. The blind leading the blind up ten thousand feet, around thirty-two switchbacks, with no guardrails and no streetlights in the dark? Well, it seems like a bad idea.

So, instead, the first act of our sixteenth year is to Yelp a really good local breakfast joint.

This is the worst blog post ever, isn’t it? I mean, I write about courage and growth and loving fiercely and living fully and taking chances and trusting grace and redeeming the mess. I write to inspire us—myself included—to more beautiful things. I’m supposed to drive up that volcano, have the mountaintop experience, and tell you about it.

Except, that’s not really what I’m supposed to do. That’s not really what any of us are supposed to do. We’re not here to be more inspiring. We’re here to be more ourselves. We’re here to embrace what we are—all of it—and to live our way fully into it.

This includes our limitations.

Of course, we shouldn’t accept our limitations too quickly. Sometimes what feels at first like a limitation is a challenge to face, a hurdle to overcome, or an occasion to rise to. No, we have to be slow and wise about accepting our limitations. We have to seek trusted counsel. We have to grow slowly into our embrace of them.

On our fifteenth anniversary, the acceptance of our limitations is the fruit of seventeen years of togetherness. It is the fruit of countless panicky crossings of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge—and that one crazy, comical afternoon when I pulled over and we switched places so she could drive over the bridge, only to have her eyeglasses snap in half at its apex, her blindly pressing the accelerator, and me and my fear trying to steer from the passenger seat.

So, we choose breakfast over the volcano.

When we arrive at the hole-in-the-wall breakfast joint the next morning, there is a line out the door. Eventually, we climb to the front of the line and place our order.

It is worth the wait.

We share a locally-grown Papaya stuffed with yogurt and granola. My wife smiles. The waitress calls us “Honey.” And, for a moment, I love our limitations, because they confined us to this experience. Our limitations nudged us toward this particular mountaintop.

You see, there are mountaintops everywhere.

You don’t have to be a hero to climb them. You only have to honor who you are and pay attention to where that leads you. To the smell of a freshly washed baby. To the sight of a little girl feeding a goat from her hand. To the flicker of a Jack O’ Lantern. To the raspy sound of breeze in the trees. To the click-clack of bamboo stalks against each other in the tall forest. To a thousand years of running water carving beauty out of a landscape. To faithfulness and fidelity. To the right amount of seasoning. To a constellation at the edge of the sky. To the smallest act of love.

I suppose a cynic could write me off, accuse me of rationalizing the avoidance of my fears. And, I suppose, the cynic could be right. Still. The cynic wasn’t there for the papaya. It was the color of sunrise. And if sunrise has a flavor, I’m guessing it tasted like sunrise too.

During this week of gratitude, let’s be grateful that we’re not here to climb any specific mountaintop or see the beauty of any particular sunrise. Let’s be grateful that the most beautiful thing of all is becoming fully who we are, limitations and all. Then, perhaps, we’ll be free to see the truth:

We walk every day amongst the clouds.

We dance along the mountaintops.

It’s all sunrise waiting to happen.

No need to climb higher.

It’s all revelation.

Wake up.


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In his debut novel, Kelly weaves a page-turning, plot-twisting tale that explores the spiritual depths of identity and relationships, amidst themes of healing, grace, faith, forgiveness, and freedom.

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About Kelly

Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.