• Ava Hoffman

A Mountain Called ISU

I have a fondness for definitions. They put people on the same page and invite a mutual understanding to be born. Definitions form bridges and build foundations, so in that spirit, let me share a definition with you!

Mountain: a large elevation rising abruptly from the surroundings; a region characterized by remoteness and inaccessibility.

Mountains are formed by pressure, eruptions of magma; pieces of the world slamming into each other, pulling apart, and exploding violently. It involves wearing away at the surface, cracking, causing rifts in the landscape.

When I look at my life…oh the mountains! So tall, formidable, visible from space. They dominate the landscape of my life, characterizing the surrounding terrain. Looking back, those mountains are solid landmarks, standing as a reminder of the hard times, challenges, desperate hours I have endured. These mountains serve as monuments, defining those moments, those seasons.

People say trials – that life – is like a mountain range. There are highs and lows, peaks and valleys. They say life is a journey through them. That we just have to endure and trust in the valleys and soak up every moment of the highs.

I have viewed my life like this for so long. When something happened that was not in my plan, no matter where I looked, all I could see were the imposing crevices in the mountain I was in. No matter where I looked or how far I tried to climb, that mountain grew higher. All I could see was my world breaking apart, splintering into more impassable territory, wearing away at what little energy I had left. The roaring mountain took me farther and farther from civilization.

That mountain grew more ominous by the second. Those mountains were powerful. Immovable.

Eventually, I would stumble into a green space, finally in the valley leading to another peak, I hoped. And one day, I would leave the mountain, walking forward again. But when I would look back, I marked time by my distance from that mountain. I defined my life’s seasons by the mountain that rose up; by the amount lost and destroyed in the upheaval. My mountains were my landmarks. They defined my past and by extension, also my future.

These last few weeks, I have been in danger of falling victim to the pain and the struggle, to the furious magma running rampant beneath the rock formations. I have been defining the last few years by the remoteness and inaccessibility I felt – the brokenness. I have been choosing to let the tribulations of this season overshadow the glorious moments handcrafted for me.

So God sent me home. A home where a mama resides…a mama who sees through my defenses and denial and is not afraid to call me out, speaking harsh truths to my soul. A mama who boldly points outs lies I am believing and faithfully points me to truth, to Jesus.

Preparing to return to school, I began to see what my mama wisely had already seen. I was given a view of these past years…a view of crisis, diagnosis, a changed plan rising to stand in my way; a view of a fiery man walking in front of me, beside me, standing before every mountain that dared surge upwards. I was surprised, though, for I did not climb these mountains.

The fiery man…He spoke and that seemingly unshakable wall of rock stepped aside, bowing ashamedly before the One who commands them. Over and over and over, these solid ridges bowed and fell aside. Over and over and over, I was beckoned forward.

My path was still littered with an occasional boulder to clamber over or a mud puddle to skirt. Once in a while, there was a pile of rubble to wade through…but I did not have to climb a mountain. I was not balancing on a precipice, clinging for all I am worth to a wall shooting 3,958 miles up from the core. I was secure on the ground, held by One commanding the very masses of Earth’s crust.

I felt so overwhelmed by those trials. I am still often overwhelmed by my journey. But I walk behind a God who looks at a mountain, and that single glance moves a solid block of earth. It moves. At a glance, that mound of cobblestones departs from its place, hurriedly, hastening lest it be destroyed by a blink. He does that for me! And then He gently takes my hand and walks me over each speed hump and baby bump I encounter.

With this stirring in my heart, I returned to school for my final three weeks, heart more whole, and my vision beginning to clear. I began to realize how I had forgotten the unfathomable wonders and countless miracles God had done. I began to see the blessings and glory that happened in this place, on that college campus. I remembered I did not have to carry my burdens alone…or at all! I saw my need to repent; I had written my blessings in snow and my struggles in concrete.

And then my mama sent me a note, a reminder – He is the Rock. He is unyielding. He is my landmark, and He is the only monument allowed to define me, provide shelter, and ground me. A reminder that the battleground is not the detail to focus on – the victory, the triumph, is to be the spotlight.

Then my mama sent me another note. This one made me laugh. It, too, is a reminder; one of identity – of Whose I am. The same fire emanating from the figure I saw is the same fire that surrounds me. The same power that enabled Him to command the earth lives in me…all it takes is a mustard seed.

As I look back on my time at Iowa State, I see a fire around me always. I was never, not even for half a second, fending for myself or walking alone. Even when all I saw was darkness and all I felt was despair, He was my glory, radiating and lighting the way, taking my hand and helping me over the molehill.

I no longer believe in peaks and valleys. I no longer see highs and lows in life. I see God and a girl, standing before a leviathan of a rock; His glory blazing, fiery, fierce; her faith a shining glow. I see that mountain tremble and bow in reverence, in awe. I watch it retreat.

As I walked across stage, dressed in a black cap and gown, heels clicking, tassel bouncing gleefully, stole and medallion bumping rhythmically with my step, I looked over my fellow graduates and their loved ones. I took a deep breath and in it, I recognized another mountain moved; another miracle performed. I heard the whoops of my own tribe ringing through the auditorium, and I became convicted of one thing.

I did not come this far to only come this far.

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