The sense of relief that the briars were behind you as you stepped down onto a flat, mossy open patch of real estate dubbed the “TOLR” (Top Of the Logging Road) was quickly snuffed out as you explored your next move to descend. “Really? You have got to be kidding me,” is the only concrete thought you can muster as you reluctantly follow the pack in front of you into what seems to be a thick mass of tiny trees, woven together like an ugly wool sweater, shrunk, stretched then re-shrunk if it were possible. Without fail, when surveying the hundreds of students that step onto a Beyond Malibu trip, 99% will state that the Alders were the most challenging part. These little whipper-snappers will rip the joy right out of your summit experience and smash it as easily as a baseball bat connecting with a light bulb… if you let it.
The Alders are a perfect opportunity to test ones patience and prove what kind of trials you can withstand. You start grabbing trees, pushing and pulling your way past one at a time; hoping, wishing and cursing into existence the a break in the action to breathe or a slight glimpse of where the heck you are on the side of this mountain would be a delightful bonus. Straining through the noise of sticks dragging across your helmet, face then slinging off your pack you can just make out the sound of the first real break since lunch, which seemed like yesterday. The distant, dull roar of a mountain stream sends your mind in several directions. “Are we crossing this thing? Will my feet stay dry in my boots? Does this mean we are still on track or are we seriously lost? This is how I always imagined being lost would feel!”
Oh, the analogies are endless which make the Alder trees my least and most favorite part of a climb. They are a relentless trial that draws out the real you in a hurry. They don’t last forever and right when you think that you can’t take one more slap in the face from a scrawny little branch, you realize the trail has opened up a bit and you can actually see where you are going; the canopy above you is beautiful and the sense of hopeless drudging fades away with the hope of a finish line. Eric Ludy speaks a scary message called “The Pruning of Adam” where he describes the desire we should have for fiery trials in our lives, knowing that it is through the “Alders” that we are sharpened and draw closer to our Savior (Check out James 1:2-4). It’s never fun in the midst of the refiners fire, but as we grow in our trust in God the fire becomes our friend and we may realize that the trees are opening up and the trail actually leads to a beautiful finish line. Whatever trial you may be currently facing or may endure in the future, be encouraged that it is a mechanism for building our faith, trust and joy that is only found in the arms of our Messiah.