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Scaling Mount Everest is both extremely dangerous and boldly adventurous! Harold and Rachel Earls share how they climbed past the fear to fulfill a mission greater than themselves.
Bob: When Rachel Earls’ young husband, Harold, set out to climb Mount Everest, Rachel found herself vacillating between enthusiasm and anxiety.
Rachel: I had been living in that moment of: “Okay; I’m good. He’s not climbing right now.” And the very next time that I got a call from him—here comes chipper Harold on the phone, “Hey, honey!”—when he was so excited, I just started bawling; because that fear was: “Is he in a good place? Can I even trust what he’s saying right now? I know this summit fever is so real, and I think my husband has it,” and “There’s nothing I can do at this moment,” and “This could cost him his life.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, November 24th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. When you’re a young wife, and your young husband is on one of the most dangerous journeys on the face of the earth, how do you process that? We’ll find out more today from Rachel and Harold Earls.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Have you ever had a quest—you know, something that you just thought—“Before I die, I want to conquer…”
Dave: Bob, you know what my quest would be!
Ann: Marry Dave Wilson. [Laughter]
Bob: That was your quest?—to just marry David? [Laughter] So you accomplished that.
Dave: Mine was so much less than that; mine was: “Win the Super Bowl!”—
Dave: —you know, with the Detroit Lions—but it never happened.
Bob: Never happened.
Ann: I had a secret dream quest—I guess it was a quest—and that was to climb Mount Everest.
Ann: I would have loved to have done that.
Dave: She—yes; that’s her quest.
Bob: Where did this even start?
Ann: I think I read the book, Everest, and then I watched the movie. I always loved climbing. We went to South Africa—
Dave: She climbs everything!
Dave: We’ll be walking through a park, she’s just up on top of a tree, up on—she climbs everything! [Laughter]
Ann: Yes; and when we were in South Africa, my son and I got up at four in the morning—I think he was 14 at the time—and we climbed—it was a mountain people were climbing all the time. We climbed, and we didn’t even tell anybody we left. It was dangerous; it was probably so dumb, but it was exhilarating. He and I said, “Wouldn’t it be awesome to climb Mount Everest?!”
Bob: To be in the presence of somebody who fulfilled your dream—
Dave: —the real deal!
Bob: —that’s a pretty big deal; isn’t it?
Ann: It’s a pretty big deal.
Dave: It’s not Bob Lepine.
Bob: No; that’s right! [Laughter] We have Harold and Rachel Earls joining us, again, on FamilyLife Today. Welcome back, guys.
Harold: Thanks for having us.
Bob: These guys—a lot of our listeners know because of the vlog that you do—the Earls Family vlog that’s on YouTube. You’ve just written a book that tells, not only your story, but the Everest story; it’s called Higher Calling. It does walk through something that I guess was a dream of yours that goes back to high school/junior high?
Ann: Yes; how did it start, Harold?
Harold: I had this dream when I was a cadet at West Point. I wrote out on my bucket list—I’ll never forget how I was sitting in my barracks room—and I wrote out, from one to ten, the top things I wanted to do in my lifetime. The number one thing was: “Climb Mount Everest.”
Dave: Why?! Why?!
Ann: Where’d that come from?
Harold: For me, I think it’s just the fact that I’m from Georgia. I had never liked the cold; I never liked climbing hills, so I wanted to put myself in a situation to see what I was capable of.
Bob: When you wrote that on your list, did you already have this long-distance relationship with your girlfriend when you wrote that?
Harold: I did, which complicated things; right?
Bob: Did you share with her, “Hey, I wrote down today I want to…”?
Ann: —and “That came before you”? [Laughter]
Harold: Yes; not at first. I actually came up with it, and I decided the best time to do it was actually right after graduation, right after we would have gotten married. This will all take place in our first year of marriage.
I actually had a big phone call to call Rachel—I’ll never forget it—I was nervous. I was nervous of: “How is she going to respond?”—because all it takes is one person to say, especially your spouse, to be like, “No, I’m not a fan of it.” Especially, given the time, I had zero climbing experience; right? I called her, and I told her about it. Honestly, I had thought that she would, obviously, be very apprehensive; but maybe supportive, with enough supporting documents and evidence [from me]. [Laughter]
Bob: You could talk her into it—is what you thought. [Laughter]
Harold: I came prepared—you can imagine, in my barracks room—you know, things written down/the facts: “Here is what I need/how I’m going to do to prepare, and climb, and train.” But that’s not how it went.
Rachel: We had just previously been planning a trek out to the Maasai tribe out in Africa that we were planning on doing together, but it wasn’t working out. This was kind of the pivot, you know, like, “That’s not happening, so I’m going to go climb Everest!” I was like, “Okay; I guess!”
Harold: It’s called a ruse in the Army; it was planned all along. [Laughter]
Dave: You were okay with it?
Rachel: At the time, it really was just like, “Okay; this is kind of a pivot.” I didn’t know how sure he was about it, but I was open to listening about it. Yes; I just said, “Okay.”
Dave: Harold, what if she would have said, “Absolutely not.”
Harold: I would have liked—this is about to get deep—I would have liked to have told you that I would have said, “Okay; I understand. This is not where we have to be together in this, because that’s what our relationship is about.” I, at the time, don’t think I was mature enough to make that decision. I think that, because my entire life I had focused on me—Harold Earls; right?—“I wanted to go to West Point”; “I wanted to join the Army”: “This is my life and my future,”—which is natural; right? When you’re single, that’s all you think about.
But this was really the first time in my life that I also had someone else to consider. At the time, I think that I probably would have kept pursuing for it; right? Is that the right answer?—absolutely not. I think that, through time and through our marriage, I think that I’ve grown and would be able to have that perspective that I didn’t have back then.
Bob: When did it dawn on you: “Wait; he’s serious about this,” and “Oh, I didn’t realize Everest is—
Rachel: Right; it was a little bit over time, where I would realize he was staying up all night, researching it and stuff. I started asking questions. I think we had just come back from a trip to Canada together; and I just asked the hard questions of: “How much does it cost?” “How do you think you’re going to make this happen?” “How are you going to train?”—all of those questions. He had answers for them; and so I was like, “I have to take this seriously now.”
Harold: It costs a lot; it’s hard. [Laughter]
Rachel: Yes; but something to know about Harold is—he is that determined guy. I know, if he says he’s going to do something, that he is; so I had to believe him—and also know: “Hey, we are going into our marriage, so I can choose to support him through this,” or “If I don’t, it could be something that easily separates us, right off from the beginning,” which is something I didn’t want to do.
Harold: Something I learned about Rachel—I learned, honestly, about love through her—was she had that choice to make: whether she was going to support me or not. Not only did she say, “Hey, I support you,” she said, “Hey, what can I do to help make your dream happen? Since this is your dream, this is now my dream as well. I’m going to run this race with you.”
She stayed up late with me at night, creating logo ideas, to helping with funding ideas. It became our dream together; and honestly, that’s something that we’ve taken with our marriage, from this point forward. When you created your YouTube channel, that was us together; because that was your dream. It was like, “Okay; what can I do as a supporting husband to make this possible?” Whether it’s a book—whatever it was—we’ve always had that mentality. I think it’s made us so much stronger in our marriage because of it.
Ann: —instead of going two separate ways—
Ann: —it’s easy for couples to do.
Dave: You have to take on the risk as well. I’ve never climbed; I’ve never researched it: “What is the risk? How many people don’t make it?”
Harold: Five per cent of the people that summit end up not coming down because they die. That final push—you’re climbing for more than 30 hours—and literally, people will die out of pure exhaustion; their body just stops.
Bob: Was there ever a time when you went, “Wait; I have a wife now. Maybe I need to just put this dream aside. People die! This is not just me; I have to take care of her.”
Harold: I wish that I could tell you that I was wise enough to say, “Yes”; but that wasn’t my personality back then. On the mountain, they actually call it summit fever—it’s when you have a desire to summit so badly that you’ll do anything to make it happen—I feel like I had that before I even got to the mountain; right? At that point, I had put in so many hundreds of hours—there were already news articles about it/there were so much about it—that I was full-bore ahead, no matter what.
Is that smart?—no; not at all—but I do think that God can take those personal desires and personal quests and turn them into something beautiful along the way.
Ann: You were also doing it for a good cause.
Harold: It originally wasn’t like that. Originally it was, honestly, out of a selfish pursuit; right? I had a mentor, Command Sergeant Major Todd Burnett, who I look up to more than anyone. He was a command sergeant major at West Point. What I didn’t know is—how much I looked up to him—but he also struggled with PTSD to the point, one day, he was going to take his own life. For me, that’s when it became real; because he said, “Hey, why don’t you climb for something more? Why don’t you bring awareness to an issue of PTSD and soldier mental health that is really plaguing our military?”
I think for me—at the time, at 21/22 years old—I didn’t really know; but as I got to learn more stories about active duty soldiers and about veterans, who were actually going through that, that’s when I think that our Everest expedition took on a whole new mission. Yes, it started out as something personal; but the moment it got that mission behind it, that was our mission.
I’ll never forget—we were in Tibet; we hadn’t even gotten to the mountain yet—it’s about a 14-day excursion just to get out to base camp. We did an interview with Fox News. Our publicist reached out to me; and she said, “Hey, I have to tell you this—there was this veteran that just reached out and said, ‘I need to talk to that man,” “I need to talk to that man.”
Command Sergeant Major Todd Burnett/he was the one doing the interview for us, on our behalf, raising awareness. What we didn’t know was that veteran that day had planned to take his own life. Sergeant Major Burnett was put in touch with him; and he actually was able to help him—essentially, walk him off the ledge and talk with him, and get him the help he needed—that wasn’t the only time that that happened.
For me, I think—at that time, at 22/23 years old—that’s when I learned there is something so much bigger at works here than a kid climbing Mount Everest than an Army team climbing Mount Everest.
Bob: Rachel, you’re a wife, who wants to love and support her husband, who is also watching him do something that is risky and life-threatening.
Bob: I see two competing desires here; right?
Rachel: Yes; right.
Bob: You want to support him; you want to be a part of the team; and part of you wants to say, “Do not do this; please!”
Bob: How’d you process all of that?
Rachel: Well, I will say I’d been hoping that he found a little bit more purpose there, and I had been praying the whole time that God would use the expedition for something more than he knew. When it started to take on that mission, it was giving me that sense of peace; I was like, “I don’t know what the plan is here; but I trust God that, if this was placed on his heart, then okay; there’s something here that we don’t see yet.” I mean, clearly—now, we’ve written a book about it—we have the opportunity to share with thousands of people. I think it’s really cool that God really did have His hand through all of it.
Harold: You think of the verse, Proverbs 16:9: “In his heart a man plans his ways, but the Lord determines his steps.” I can’t think of more evidence in my own life and through that journey of God doing that. I thought I was headed in one direction—yes, it was technically, in that direction—but God had such bigger plans for my life than I could ever possibly see from the vantage point that I was at.
Dave: Was there ever a point on the mountain—or before or during—for either one of you, where you were like, “Bad idea! [Laughter] What am I doing right now? I’d love, if I could, to turn back, or even go back three weeks and say, ‘I wish I’d never taken this step.’”
Rachel: Yes; I definitely do have conflicting ideas in my head of: “Was it the best idea for me to fully support him?” or “Should I really have told him, ‘This isn’t the best idea’?” I still don’t really know the answer to that. I like to believe that the best decision was to support him, because we’re here now; but I don’t know, because something still could have happened.
There was that moment, right before Harold went on the summit push, he had just previously gotten sick up there. Altitude sickness is really common. He had called me on the phone, and just crying about it—I mean, they were supposed to leave that day, I think—saying that he wasn’t going to be able to climb.
In that moment—maybe I’ll let him talk about that in a second—I felt heartbreak for him, knowing everything he’d worked for, but then a little bit of relief, “Okay; he’s not climbing right now, so I can breathe for this moment.” I still wanted him to have the opportunity, because I knew he was the type of person that might try to do it again; and I didn’t want to relive that moment; I couldn’t handle that.
The hardest part for me was the very next day. I had been living in that moment of: “Okay; I’m good. He’s not climbing right now.” The very next time that I got a call from him—here comes chipper Harold on the phone, “Hey, honey!”—after I had just heard that devastated voice before—telling me that he’s leaving to climb to summit Everest in the next ten minutes. I’m thinking, “You’re just throwing up everything in your body. How on earth are you capable of going?!”
When he was so excited, I just started bawling; because that fear was: “Is he in a good place? Can I even trust what he’s saying right now? I know this summit fever is so real, and I think my husband has it,” and “There’s nothing I can do at this moment,” and “This could cost him his life.” That was definitely the moment that I was like: “Did I make a horrible decision here?”—or thinking that my husband would never be overcome by summit fever—and that just isn’t the case—we’re all human, and we are susceptible to bad things and making bad choices.
Ann: What did you say to him?
Rachel: I asked him over and over, “Are you sure you’re okay?” Over and over, he said, “Yes,”—and he didn’t have summit fever, and he was better/that his body was able to climb. I was petrified; but then I just told him I loved him like four times, over and over.
Bob: Were you really better?
Harold: No; no—not at all, actually. I’d say I was probably about 80 percent. I think it’s interesting—in life, especially for me at that moment, I had focused so much on that dream, it was more like, “Hey, God, are You following me?”—not—“Am I following You?” I was full-bore ahead; I was willing to essentially sacrifice everything. I mean, quite, literally, everything—our future.
It’s hard for me to even think now: we have a two-year-old and a one-year-old little boy. Especially, during writing that book, and then having to write those moments, and relive those moments, and hear our two-year-old run around and crawl on us, it made it very difficult; and it made it very revealing to me. Sometimes you can get in situations that you’re in an all-or-nothing mentality. That’s not the right way to be. I wish to say that I would have thought about it differently, but that wasn’t the case.
Dave: I mean, would you do it today?
Harold: No; no, I would not. Am I thankful for the moments that I had?—am I thankful for the experience?—undoubtedly. It has shaped me as a person, as a leader, in my faith in ways that I would not be the same man that I am today. But would I go back and relive those moments if I had the opportunity—especially knowing what I have now and all the risk still on the table today?—no; absolutely not.
Bob: Ann, if you’re talking to a wife, whose husband gets fueled by risk kind of behaviors—
Ann: I have a son that does that; yes. [Laughter]
Bob: —and the wife is just scared every time he’s off to do something where a bone could be broken, or worse could happen, do you just tell her, “You just have to pray and trust the Lord”?
Ann: I think that’s hard. I know that Dave was, and still is a little bit, a total daredevil—like stupid kinds of things. One of our first dates, he went to the top of this—you were on this little mountain on rollerblades—he goes, “This is going to be awesome!” He had never even rollerbladed before! He goes straight down this hill—
Dave: It’s not quite Everest, but—[Laughter]
Ann: I’m thinking, “This is just dumb!”; you know? He just wanted to beat every record and do everything that somebody else couldn’t do. I remember, in my mind, thinking, “I could control this, and be this badgering, nagging wife”; but part of that was who he was. I see that in our sons too.
As you guys were talking, I was thinking, “God puts a dream in us.” And I think that, many times, it is from God. But God also—I liked how He shaped your dream. Our dreams—when He puts it in us—it usually isn’t just for us; it’s usually for impact for other people; it shapes us. That’s why I love Harold and Rachel, just that—you guys, it became bigger than just you.
I think, for Dave—if I were talking to another wife—I would say, “First of all, pray your guts off!” [Laughter]
Rachel, I bet you were praying nonstop/praying without ceasing—
Rachel: Yes, yes.
Ann: —I’m sure you were, too, Harold.
To pray/to ask God: “How can I support my man, and who he is, and who You’ve created him to be, and be beside him in his dream, but still talk some sense?” or just talk about your concerns.
Dave: Yes; and I think, you know, being—again, I didn’t climb Mount Everest—it’s like, you know, the summit and rollerblading down a little hill—but that risk-taking spirit that I think God puts in a lot of us—and sometimes we hold it back; other times we express it—Ann celebrating that in me, allowed me to start a church. She didn’t say, “Don’t do it.”
Ann: “That’s not safe.”
Dave: It was almost as risky—I’m not going to lose my life—but—
Dave: She did ask questions, like, “How are we going to get paid?”—“I don’t know.” “What if nobody comes?”—“Yes, they might not.” But it was: “Okay; let’s go. We’re going to the top of a mountain,”—“ Why?”—“Because God’s calling us there. We don’t know what’s going to happen, but we have to take this risk.”
Harold: I think it’s a mindset thing; right? I think so many times we see, especially in the Christian world—and I am totally to blame with this—you sit back and you say, “I’m going to wait and see if God opens this door for me,” rather than saying, “Hey, I’m going to go and see if that door is open.” My prayer is: “God, lock that door and change my direction, along the way,” rather than just sitting back; right?
I think that’s how God wants us to live our life. He wants us to passionately pursue the passions He puts in our heart; right? He doesn’t want people to remain dormant; that’s not the Christians that He wants. He wants people that are on the frontlines, that are pushing and following their dreams, and impacting people, and allowing Him to steer them along the way.
Dave: I think—and I’ve said this many times from the pulpit—I don’t know if I’m right or wrong—but I’m like, “You hear these testimonies up here; and you’re like, ‘Why doesn’t God ever do that in my life?’ I’m like, ‘When you take a step, you’re going to be up here, telling your story.’”
Again, I’m not saying everything works out the way we want; but to climb a mountain, you have to take the first step.
Dave: To start a church[or] to change your marriage today, you don’t wait for your spouse; you take a risky, scary, “I don’t know what’s going to happen” step, and God will meet you right there.
Bob: A guy, who would have a passionate dream for something where there is risk involved, and his wife is saying, “I am petrified; this scares me to death. I don’t know if I can sleep at night if you do this,” would you tell that guy, “Be true to your dream,” or would you say, “You need to die to self and honor your wife in this”?
Dave: I think I’d honor my wife.
Ann: I think you would too.
Dave: I think you want to be on the same page.
Ann: I mean, you didn’t get a motorcycle when you were 25. [Yes]
Dave: Yes; I wanted to get a motorcycle at 25/28; she said, “No.”
Ann: Because we had three kids.
Dave: I was like: “Come on,” “Come on,” “Come on”; and then at 50, she said, “Go get a motorcycle.” [Laughter] I can die now, I guess! [Laughter]
Ann: I think the other thing that’s really important is—like with our one son, who’s a climber—he climbed last year. He said, “Oh yes; there was this avalanche.” What I said is, “I hope you have a prayer team; at least, call me.
Ann: “Have a prayer team of people that are supporting you,” because that is having people behind you with a lot of strength of seeking God on your behalf.
Harold: I don’t think God is ever going to put that desire in your heart that is in direct conflict with your spouse. Now, I think what it may be is the timing is not right—or there may be another thing; right?—but I think what you do is/I think you’re exactly right—you go to prayer; and you say, “Hey, let’s come around this in prayer and see what the bigger message is. I feel this passion, but you [spouse] obviously feel something different. Let’s pray around this and see if there’s a bigger message here.”
Dave: So true. All I know is—in 2021, I’m climbing Everest. [Laughter] Just letting you know right here, honey! Are you in?
Ann: I think I would die.
Dave: Actually, she’s going to climb Everest! [Laughter]
Ann: I would love to! [Laughter]
Bob: You know, I think there’s no one-size-fits-all answer for how you approach these kinds of things; but I think what you’ve said: spending time together in prayer; seeking wise counsel; making sure you’ve heard one another, that you’re not just running past one another; that if your fears/analyze your fears—“Are those rational or irrational fears?” “What do other people say?”—analyze your ambition and say, “Is this selfish, or is this something God’s really put on my heart?”
You guys, in telling your story in the book, take us into how you process these things, and give us an example of how a couple can do this, and what the outcome of those decisions can be. The book that Harold and Rachel have written is called A Higher Calling: Pursuing Love, Faith, and Mount Everest for a Greater Purpose. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to get your copy of the book, or call us at 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com; the book is called A Higher Calling by Harold and Rachel Earls. You can also order the book by calling 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
You know, in this week, when we are thinking about things for which we are thankful, one of the things that comes immediately to mind for us is how thankful we are for you, listeners, who tune in every day and who connect with us/we hear from you. Sometimes, it’s when you hear something you don’t like on FamilyLife Today, and we appreciate the feedback. We also hear from you when God uses this program in a significant way in your life; and of course, that’s very encouraging to us.
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We also hope you can join us, again, tomorrow. Harold and Rachel Earls will be back with us. We’re going to talk about their decision to live life out in the open, online, through their vlog/their video blog, and explain to you, not only why they made that decision, but some of the challenges associated with that choice. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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