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Leave a Little Room for Mystery: What a Trip Up a Volcano Taught Me

Updated: Sep 21, 2022

When was the last time nature spoke to you?

Last month, I took a little trip – er, two week vacation to Hawaii – with my parents. It was to celebrate their 40th anniversary (yay!) and also to get together with my dad’s side of the family after nearly 20 years.

I’ve visited a few times before and thought I had a good grasp of the islands’ natural beauty. But this time, it blew me away.

As my parents and I boarded the flight from Oahu to Maui, we talked about doing a special activity before closing out our tropical tour – something big but not too big, risky but not too dangerous. So, we started brainstorming.

Helicopter tour? Too dangerous.

Road to Hana? Too risky.

Luau? Too big (at least that’s how our tummies would feel after eating ALL that food).

Finally, we agreed on one thing – a tour of Haleakalā National Park. Lots of tourists take a bus in the middle of the night and drive a couple hours up this dormant volcano, all to get a glimpse of the sunrise. At 10,000 feet above sea level, they say it’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

We wanted to see it, too! The problem was, my mom and I just couldn’t come to grips with losing an entire night’s sleep (rest was a necessary part of keeping our sanity while spending every waking second together). There were sunset bus tours that left in the afternoon, but those were all sold out.

I had an idea.

After a week of chauffeuring us around the islands, I thought, “Forget the bus. I can do it. I can drive us up that volcano!”

My cautious dad wasn’t as convinced as I was. He would rather pay the hefty bus fee and interrupt REM sleep to guarantee a safer ride.

While we understood where he was coming from, my mom and I would not budge.

After a couple more restful nights of “thinking on it,” my dad was in. (See, good sleep is a game changer!). By morning, we were packing our lunches and hitting the road. This was my time to shine!

And shine I did! I was caffeinated and laser-focused, driving with the confidence of a professional racer and the speed of a street cleaner. As we climbed elevation levels: 4,000 feet… 6,000 feet… 8,000 feet… my tenacity took a back seat, and my nerves started to kick in.

Glancing over the edge, houses and cars became Monopoly-sized tokens. It was like looking out of an airplane window, but without the safety of the giant metal plane… and a pilot. It was me. I was in charge of our vehicle.

Maybe it was the change in elevation, but after so many miles driving upward in circles, your mind begins to play tricks on you. You start to feel off-center, like your car could swerve off the edge at any moment, and then you wonder if you are actually swerving off the edge, until you jolt yourself back to reality.

Two things got me through this weird delusion.

The first was an anchor. I needed something steady and constant to ground me the higher up I got.

Focusing on the road helped immensely. As long my tires were touching the painted lines, I knew the car wasn’t going to sway off track no matter how much it felt like I was. Those markings were my anchor.

The second was a blanket.

My stomach took an even greater plunge as we approached the clouds. Again, I've only flown through clouds in a pressurized cabin; I didn’t know what to expect driving through them.

Would we lose more oxygen?

Would temps drop dramatically?

Would we see angels?

Space aliens?


These questions anxiously raced through my mind, but once we got to the other side of the clouds, an instant peace hit. Nothing was all that different, except the view from above.

The clouds became our new floor, blocking out the Monopoly-sized world below us. They were my blanket, protecting me from my cold, dark thoughts.

Not being able to see everything kept my fears in check.

We finally made it to the summit at 10,023 feet. And just in time. Parking spaces were filling up – turns out, almost everyone else drove themselves too – and we were able to stake out the perfect spot to sit and wait for the sun to set.

As we waited, basking in the hot sun rays and the cold air (another new sensation), I couldn’t help but think about the journey we just took and how much it’s a lot like life.

We want control. As someone who constantly feels the pressure to accomplish more and more, I get it. It can be tempting to want to take the wheel, instead of letting the way unravel and accepting that we don’t know what will happen in the future, let alone tomorrow.

Maybe that’s how we are meant to live, how we find balance on our life path.

Maybe not knowing is a Higher form of protection. And instead of focusing on making everything happen ourselves, we focus our eyes on the road – the markings keeping us anchored in the right direction – until we eventually reach our destination.

Sure there will be times we have to step out and take risks and do the work to achieve our goals, but how much more can we enjoy the adventure of getting there, knowing we don’t have to do it all ourselves?*

All the Google reviews and pictures didn’t do Haleakalā justice. Not even my own camera could capture the colors or the feeling of that sunset (although you can get an idea of it below).

It was a moment that lingered just long enough to sense the awe and wonder of it all, and then it was gone. That’s the beauty of nature. And the reality of life.

My eyes still get watery thinking about spending this special time with my parents. I will always cherish that memory. The older we get, the less opportunities we have for such experiences.

But I don’t want to focus on that.

I want to stay grounded in the present and enjoy the gift of today, leaving room for mystery that serves as both a shelter from the dark and a guide to a brighter place above the clouds.


* “I did not design the human mind to figure out the future. That is beyond your capability. I crafted your mind for continual communication with Me… Bring Me all of your needs, your hopes and fears. Commit everything into My Care. Turn from the path of planning to the path of Peace.” -Jesus Calling, by Sarah Young

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