Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Am I On Belay?

"This is heavy. This is hard."

For those of you who don't know me, I hate heights. Like I'm terrified. But somehow that fear always becomes overruled by my love of adventure. And so about two weeks ago I found myself once again clinging to the side of a rock face at  wondering to myself how I could've possibly gotten into this once again.

It all started back in 7th grade. My family decided to take a trip out to Seneca Rocks, WV (which if you've never been is quite an AMAZING place. probably one of my favorite places on earth). We'd all stay in one of those log cabins (the real legit ones that smell like a forest and are all rustic) go on nice hikes, and just be together. Turns out this "relaxing family vacation" turned out to be incredibly stressful for my 12 year old self. As we hiked the seemingly gruesome switchback trail (it was really only 1.5 miles, but what did I know), we reached the summit of the mountain. Honestly, I couldn't tell you how breathtaking the view was then or how far the eye could see. All I could tell you is what the actual rock face looked like because that's what I focused every ounce of my attention on as I sobbed and clung to the rock for dear life, with my aunt Maggie convincing me I wouldn't die. This my friends is what a fear of heights is like. Although I was entirely safe, I had this irrational fear that I or someone would fall to their death. Needlesstosay we made it back down and I begrudgingly listened to my siblings tell me how cool the view was and how I should've explored with them. One day I thought.

Family Climbing Trip 2008
 Flash forward a few years and I'm again clutching the rock face but this time with a harness strapped to me along with an assortment of carabiners and ropes. As a Junior in high school my family decided to return to Seneca, this time with the goal to learn how to rappel and climb some. I don't know what could have possibly compelled me to do so, but there I was clinging to a rock in immense fear. All of a sudden an immense calmness filled me and I knew that it was then on the side of the mountain that God was truly present and wouldn't let me fall. Faith is what keeps you climbing even when gravity is saying no way. 

Flash forward a few more years and I am a Junior in college with the crazy idea to go on a week-long camping, caving, and rock climbing retreat called On guessed it, in Seneca Rocks. The retreat is run every summer by my families' long time close friends Bob and Maggie McCarty (I usually say "old family friends" but for some reason they get offended by that...) for adults. This time though, instead of just simply doing one rock climbing route like I did before, we were going to climb the Summit. Aka the very top. And then rappel down 200 feet. My emotions felt like a roller coaster between No way so awesome!! and the My gosh, why am I here?! 
Long story short. I didn't do the climb.

Beloved Bob and Maggie, our fearless leaders
HA just kidding. Did I fool ya? Of course I did the climb. All 4 pitches. To the top. Then rappelled down. It was insane and empowering and ridiculous and overwhelming and joyful and crazy and spiritual all at the same time. I thought to myself I did it! Me, the height-fearer who could barely look out to enjoy the view made it to the very top. also - Never again will I do this. 

As you probably guessed, that wasn't true at all. Because this summer, a day after I got back from my crazy, stressful, jam-packed first session of graduate classes for the PACT program the opportunity to attend On Belay again. This time I dragged Sean to go with me (okay, not actually, he'd been talking about wanting to do it since I got back from the first one). It was actually absolutely amazing to be back at Seneca and camping and just being surrounded by the beauty of God's creation that I truly missed. Nature is a real destresser for me so just being there filled me with an immense calm. I no longer was worried or anxious about all of the lessons I had to plan or the units to organize or anything else I left behind at home. I felt calm and under control. If only that would happen in real life, right?

Made it to the top! 2014
Well, I am learning that it can.

We are all faced with challenges and obstacles in life. It could be a particularly difficult part of a climb where there are virtually no handholds around or maybe the overwhelming anxiety of beginning your first year of teaching like me, or maybe it is a difficult coworker or conflict at work or a sickness a loved one is suddenly faced with. Oftentimes, we have a tendency to write off certain tasks or challenges and automatically think we can't handle them. "This is heavy. This is hard" is one such phrase we would joke about while On Belay whenever we felt like sarcastically complaining, but it also demonstrated what many of us have a tendency to do (myself included!). Yes, we can acknowledge the level of difficulty or the suffering we may be faced with, but we should never let those struggles completely define who we are and what we can or cannot do.
Reality doesn't change; only our perception of reality does. (Thanks, Bob!)

At the top of the Corner Climb
We have the power to chose our attitude and how we approach certain situations we are faced with. I came to realize this when attempting a particularly difficult climb called the Corner. Just because I became stuck between a rock and a hard place (HA! Get it?!), and couldn't quite see the hand and foot holds that were higher up or around a crack in the rock, doesn't mean they weren't there. My initial position had prevented me from seeing beyond where I was to the endless possibilities available if I only reached higher or further. The handhold was always there; I just couldn't see it at first. However, once I trusted myself and trusted my belayer (thanks, Sean!) and my ultimate Belayer (aka the Big Man Upstairs God Himself!), I would reach out to make an awkward and frightening move and all of a sudden I'd be up on the next ledge safe and laughing to myself that it really wasn't as bad as I thought. I just had to trust myself.
2014 Summit

During some of my rock-climbing escapades I continue to laugh at myself for my irrational fears. I'm in a harness that's attached to ropes and belaying devices and figure 8's and carabiners (all using physics in a way that I cannot explain well enough for you to understand...the important part is that they can hold all kinds of weight and are safe). So basically, I'm safe. I clutch to the rock and make my next move. The whole thing is a series of one move after another. The end goal is to get to the top, but the real adventure and the real thrill of it - arguably the real reason people are so addicted to climbing - is not only the feeling of accomplishment felt at the top but the thrill of each move and the fear. It's the incredible amount of trust in yourself, in your belayer, in the equipment, and for many in God.

One of the biggest things I've learned through climbing is summarized by Walter Bonatti, Italian climber: "The weapons to conquer it exist inside you, inside your soul." Any obstacle we may encounter in life from a dull or difficult job to a stressful amount of papers to a fight with your best friend to facing your biggest fears can be overcome. It's as simple as that. If we have the right attitude, one of hope and faith, we can never truly fail. We must find that inner strength inside of us, from our God who is our constant belayer never letting us fall, from the support of our friends, families, significant others, communities, whoever.

As the first day of school looms in the very near future, I am faced with an overwhelming sense of anxiety about teaching. Will I be a good teacher? Will my students like me? What about my colleagues? What if I mess up? What if I fail?! Whatever my thoughts and fears may be (which may or may not go away) or the obstacles I am faced with, I know that if I keep an open attitude and take each moment of each day with an open heart and mind to the way the Holy Spirit is working in my life I know I can never truly fail.
I did it!! (again!)

If one cannot feel fear, one certainly can't feel the sublime joy of victory (Walter Bonatti).

Keep me in your prayers! You are for sure in mine!

One of my greatest belayers in life - in rockclimbing or not! 

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