I flip through the photo album and see the pictures. Remembering this happy little boy.
A desert toad caught in a rain puddle. Spectacular soccer moves caught on film. The finish line at the cross country race. The smile on his face shining as bright as the medal hung around his neck.
Now this little boy is all grown up.
And he shows me different pictures.
My heart skips a beat. I see danger. Death defying drops.
As a little boy he climbed cabinets, refrigerators, and rooftops.
Now he climbs cliffs.
“Don’t worry mom. I’m safe,” he says. Something he also told me when he was three.
A mantra that defines him. The phrase engraved on a ring he wears.
To understand it, you have to peek inside the mind of a rock climber.
This breed of thrill seeker will tell you that climbing is a lot like life.
On a good climb, the moves feel easy. You get through the crux. Feel the success. Euphoria in celebrating all the hard pulls. Worth all the training and exercise it took to get there.
Yet, there is always the bad climb. Frustration with the moves. Feet that keep slipping off. Arms pumped. Lungs out of breath. Disappointment. The formidable fall.
And most often – in climbing and in life - there's an awful lot of in-between.
Sometimes in life we find ourselves at the bottom of a cliff looking up. Our eyes and our mind take it all in. It looks and feels impossible. We are stuck.
And then He speaks to us.
We have to reach up. Grab onto something that is rough and jagged – yet solid.
It is holding on with all of our might because we know it is right. It may be a career, health, a marriage, or a difficult decision. A decision to do something that has been confirmed by a higher source.
Despite the odds. Despite the steep climb ahead. Despite the jagged rocks which scrape and break loose and threaten to throw us into a frightening fall ... we continue to climb. Eyes fixed on the ascent.
Heart clinging to what we know. What we believe.
Clinging to hope.
Another climbing friend put it this way:
“When climbing we sometimes become angry with the rock, which is pointless because the rock isn’t going to change. All we can do is learn the moves and the intricate details of the rock’s features. We enter this sort of dance where we learn to work with what we have in front of us and as we get stronger and more understanding, soon the route comes together and we are no longer as angry. We now feel a sense of connection with that rock. And the kicker? We will do it over and over again. Never being a complete master, but always trying to push ourselves to grow.” (Clark Aegerter)
And when we fall ...
There are ropes to protect us. Intended to catch us should we make a mistake. He never lets go of the rope.
I have watched my son enter the dance and learn the route. Then slip. Tough to watch as our children struggle and feel defeated. We watch them place their hands on the wall and begin the climb. Perhaps a new and different climb. Or the same one – again.
“Don’t look down,” we whisper.
Why dwell on previous falls?
Eyes, hands and feet fixed on the next move.
Fixed on Him.
This little boy ... now a foot or two taller. Strong hands. I watch him. His heart is soft.
He has taught me well.
How to live vertically.