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Coming down from the mountain

Coming down from the mountain File photo

This past weekend, I served as a cabin leader for Winter Retreat, an annual youth event hosted by First United Methodist Church.

For the middle and high school students in attendance, the word “retreat” means time away from normal life and several days of fun in the woods with their friends traversing ropes courses, ziplining, singing karaoke, dancing, socializing, playing games like four square, hockey, basketball and handball. The dictionary definition of “retreat” is the act of moving back or withdrawing, which is how I perceived last weekend, a time to withdraw from the overstimulation of everyday life and authentically connect with others. 

In addition to all of the fun the kids were having, I feel like the music and messages were also absorbed into their ever-evolving hearts and minds. The overall theme for the weekend was “mountaintop moments.” The messages focused on life’s mountaintop moments and the challenges of coming down from those mountaintops.

I’ve always had a pretty strong faith in the divine, although there were years where I relied on my own understanding and need for control instead of releasing my worries and fears to a higher power. During those times, I felt frantic and fearful that things wouldn’t work out in the ways I wanted. As I’ve aged and hopefully grown wiser, I realize that trying to control everything or worrying about the future is a waste of time and energy, but it takes a lot of work and patience to unwind those old thought patterns.

Pastor Rob Blackburn was one of the main speakers at the retreat. He talked about reaching pinnacles of success, wealth and prestige and how none of that really matters if you feel a void within. I’ve felt this in my own life.

When I was a little girl I dreamed of publishing a book. That dream came true in November of 2019 when my children’s book, “The Jolt Felt Around the World,” was released.

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I clearly remember the feeling of anticipation as the UPS truck pulled up to my house and dropped off a shipment of printed books. I opened the box and couldn’t believe that my name was on the cover, but later that night I sat in my bed and thought, Is this it? This was my childhood dream, but it doesn't feel like I thought it would.

Around this same time, I was dealing with a lot of collateral damage from my divorce as well as ongoing grief over the death of my mom. I thought the accomplishment of publishing a book would fill some of that emptiness inside of me, but it didn’t. There was inner work that needed my attention, so I began a personal spiritual journey. I knew that if I didn’t strengthen my faith in something bigger than myself, I was going to stay stuck in a place of sadness, grief and shame.

I’ve learned over the past four years that it’s a constant process but one that’s enjoyable and inspiring. I’ve learned that having a strong faith has nothing to do with memorizing scripture or going to church twice a week, although those activities do help a lot of people. Having a strong faith certainly doesn’t mean belittling and condemning others if they are living from a place of “incorrect values.” 

It’s quite simple really. Having faith in a higher power is about love and trust — always acting from a place of love and always trusting that there is a flow of well-being if we just get out of our own way.

Last night we were watching the new series on Netflix called “You Are What You Eat.” They interviewed a renowned chef named Daniel Humm. After years working in the competitive high-end culinary world, Humm’s New York City restaurant, Eleven Madison Park, won World’s Best Restaurant in 2017.

There was a clip of the award’s show when he was recognized, then it cut to him now and he said these words, “After that came a lot of reflection. We reached the very top of the mountain and it felt empty.” When he said this, my 14-year-old son, who had also attended the retreat, looked at me wide-eyed and we both smiled because this was the exact message Pastor Blackburn had been reiterating. Even the biggest accolade in the world will not fill an emptiness inside. It takes something deeper and more intangible than that.

As I sit in the afterglow of the retreat, I’ve been thinking about various mountaintop moments in my life and how they affected me. I want to publish more books and novels, but I’m different now. I know that my faith and sense of purpose will drive my successes instead of the other way around. I’ve learned that while mountaintops are exhilarating, there is beauty and growth in the valleys as well.

(Susanna Shetley is a writer, editor and digital media specialist with The Smoky Mountain News, Smoky Mountain Living and Mountain South Media. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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