If I had a bucket list, rock climbing would make the top ten.
Last weekend I attended our church women’s retreat at Stillwood Camp. When I filled in my registration form six weeks ago I checked the box that put me in the first-come, first-in running for one of twelve spots. I made the cut.
And then I began to wonder. I’ve put endless hours into rehabilitating my muscles, but my upper body remains vulnerable to strain and needs further strengthening. Do I want to risk another injury for the sake of a challenge? I could back out or… devise a plan.
I told myself that if my physiotherapist gave a green light, I’d carry on. He said “Go for it.” But just to be safe, I asked my trainer. She replied with enthusiasm, “Of course you can do it!” and then proceeded to instruct me on how to minimize risk of injury.
“Ask the person on the rope to keep it taut so there’s no slack and you have a little assistance. And make sure you engage your core before you reach an arm out to pull up. That will fire up all the right muscles and keep you from straining your neck and shoulders.”
Armed with my vision for a safe climb I arrived at the rock wall on Saturday afternoon. I wasn’t expecting forty-two feet!
The first few women followed the worker’s instructions and began their ascent using an automated roping system which didn’t provide the stability prescribed for me. If I wanted to follow my trainer’s counsel I would need to ask for something different.
As I watched other women pick their way up the craggy face I marveled at how they knew where to go. Rock holds and food ledges were not obvious to me from twenty feet away and my nausea grew. I better do this before I don’t.
I approached the guide and explained my need and request. He replied, “No, problem. I brought equipment to do that,” and then he geared up. After double checking his straps, he inspected my harness, cinched my waist belt and leg loops tighter ensuring I met safety standards. He hooked the carabiner onto the loop at my waist, secured my helmet, and pointed me to the rock chimney. “Go, climb!”
I stood at the base and surveyed options within reach.
Foot here. Hand up there. Engage core, reach, don’t strain. Push with legs. Feel the stabilizing, gentle aid of the rope.
My fingers curled around tiny ledges and my toes teetered on rock shelves as I ascended faster than anticipated. My body pressed into the wall as I spidered my way only looking up and around for the next grip. I felt strong, confident and safe. Focusing 100% on the task was invigorating.
About three-quarters up the wall I stopped as my hands began to cramp. I knew I could push through. I knew my life wouldn’t be in jeopardy if I slipped. But I stopped and looked down, my glance met by onlookers clapping and shouting encouragement. It’s not the first time my people have cheered me through a challenge.
At another point in my journey I would have pushed my body to summit and ring the bell. Instead, I shouted to my belayer, “I’m done for today.” I reveled in rappelling down.
Climbing is all about trusting the one who controls the ropes, the equipment, and yourself to choose a route as wisely as you can.
My entire health journey has led me to trust better now. I am more intimately acquainted with the One to whom I am securely attached, who watches over and gives strength as required. One hand. One foot. One step of faith.
There is also something about the tactile nature of climbing: the all-in-body-pressed-to-the-wall experience that engages so many senses. Anticipating it nauseated. Doing so exhilarated.
How many times have I felt nervous prior to an experience and found that once engaged it wasn’t as bad as expected? And how often would I have missed opportunities to be stretched and see God’s faithful care had I not stepped out and said, “Yes, I’m ready to climb!”?
With love and gratitude,
In The Midst