By Mandy Cloninger

I woke up freezing around one in the morning. I stared into the pitch blackness around me. I listened to the rushing sounds of the waterfall outside and my friend Leslie’s gentle snoring. I checked my watch and began tossing and turning. It seemed like the cold air was coming from everywhere. My nose was cold. My feet were cold. My head was cold. I couldn’t escape the bitter, relentless, cold in the tent. I curled further into my sleeping bag trying to wrap every exposed body part in the soft down of the bag. 

I tossed. I turned. I struggled. I whined. I cried. 

Nothing helped. Six hours passed in a state of desperate cold. 

I prayed, “Help.” 

“I do not know much about God and prayer, but I have come to believe over the last twenty-five years, that there’s something to be said about keeping prayer simple. Help, Thanks, Wow.”

Anne Lamott

Several years ago, I read Anne Lamott’s book: Help, Thanks, Wow, and these three simple prayers resonated with me. I continue to use them frequently, and they have shaped my reflections particularly around my hiking and camping adventure in Yellowstone, as well as a significant transformation that I am envisioning for my future. 

As I joined my hiking group for coffee and breakfast that morning, my face displayed all the desperation, exhaustion, sleeplessness and weight of the night before. I am not equipped to sleep in 30-degree weather. I’ve spent half my life in Texas and half my life in Florida. Sunshine is my balm.

It’s been hard for me to ask for help in the past but if the pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that it is critical to recognize when we desperately need to ask for help.

I shared my battle with the cold with the team around me. I was still shivering, frustrated and so irritated that the night’s experience was weighing and casting a heavy gloom on the start of the day. Our guides, Alex and Christina, shared some tips to prepare for the next night, a plan of attack to better equip me to deal with the cold, and expertly, they advised me to start moving, warm up, and go take a walk. It was best to shake the night off and start putting one step in front of the other and begin hiking, packing up camp, and enjoying the sights, sounds and waterfalls in Yellowstone. 

I asked for help and learned that the best prescription was to move and shake the cold as well as the desperate emotions that the night had stirred. Solvitur ambulando: it is solved by walking.

So, I did. I took a brisk hike on my own. I found the sun. I paused in it, saying, “Hello, sunshine. It’s so good to see you. Where have you been?” I laughed. I cried a bit. I put on a new favorite artist, Jon Batiste, and started moving my body like this, and indeed, it felt like freedom. I was stirring my chi and directing energy to begin flowing more freely to my body, which had been frozen by not only the cold but my own emotions. 

A happier version of me (not that morning)

The day progressed with putting one foot in front of the next. Like so much in life. 

During the past year, I have found myself dealing with some particularly hard emotions including anger, resentment and compassion fatigue. I have reached out to friends, my therapist and family seeking answers, connection and direction.

As we encountered the first crossing of the day, a sturdy, but slimy, moist log elevated a few feet over the river, my emotions began to bubble up like the mud pots and mud volcano we’d encountered earlier at Dragon’s Cauldron. I became angry at myself, recognizing how tired and fatigued I was, resentful that I couldn’t accomplish what I wanted. I couldn’t carry my pack across this challenge. I was scared about falling and failing. I already felt so weak that morning. I recognized the pivotal moment, and I asked for help. I needed some pack love. 

Alex and Christina had modeled for us early on that we should show pack love for others. As we came to both natural and physical challenges throughout the hike, the backpack weighing 43.5 pounds became a metaphor for everything I was carrying.  An African proverb says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” If I wanted to go far on this 30+ miles journey planned over four days, I’d need some help and some pack love. 

My glorious friend and nemesis: a 43.5 lb. backpack!

When you can’t carry your pack, or even lift it from the ground to get started, that’s when you need some pack love and community the most. It’s the people around us who can lift us when it all gets too heavy.

I asked Alex to carry my pack across, and I navigated the water crossing on top of the log without an issue. 

The one crossing where I asked for Alex to carry my pack – thanks for the pack love!

As I put my pack back on, I turned around and shifted my focus to watching my friend Leslie conquer the challenge with her pack, I was proud of her for carrying it on her own! I started taking pictures and video and shouting, “Go Leslie!”

Leslie conquering one of the many water crossings in Yellowstone

She came across the challenge with a big smile on her face. I mirrored her smile, and then she said, “Mandy, what’s by your foot?” I looked down, danced around expecting a snake, and didn’t see anything. “What? Where?”

“There, something green by your pants leg and boot.”

I looked again, lifting up my pants leg and examining my boot carefully. I started to pull out something teal green and lacy. 

It was my panties. My panties. I had hiked my way right out of my panties.

Part Two: Thanks!

Part Three: Wow!

Published by mcloninger

Mandy Cloninger, CFRE, is a nonprofit thought leader, charismatic spokesperson, and a results-driven executive. With 20 years of experience raising hundreds of millions of dollars, cultivating transformational relationships with diverse constituencies, she has built capacity, scale, and scope in higher education, health care, and community-based nonprofits. She is passionate about social justice and humanitarian work internationally and at home. Mandy Cloninger is also a writer, public speaker, leader and faith seeker. Her journey and travels often bring inspiration to write, think and dream new dreams. Mercy & Meadows is a writing project inspired by a camping and hiking trip to Yellowstone National Park in 2021.

6 thoughts on “Help!

  1. Your faith journey is a lifelong journey and if this is how you approach it; you will kill it girl. Keep walking out of those panties.


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