Thrill seeking can come in all forms and sizes. Like anything else, ‘for every level, there’s a level.’ You may overcome a huge obstacle just to realize there are greater challenges to conquer at the summit of your perceived finish line. Then you realize, it’s all fluid. It’s all organically designed. We are not made to experience, achieve, accomplish…and stop. In all areas, in all ways, we are designed to continue pressing forward. When one goal is achieved, it creates space for a new ambition to develop. I’ll confess, I frequently lose sight of this wisdom and must relearn the lesson repeatedly. I accept that. I embrace that. I find myself thankful for an existence where I’ve never seen, heard, experienced, and mastered all things. I’m thankful for spirit that longs for adventure, a heart that longs to love more, and a mind that seeks higher levels of understanding. How boring life could be if we weren’t challenged??
Sometimes these thrills and challenges can run parallel courses in our lives. A recent example in my own life has to do with rock climbing and blending a family. Those are two experiences we always pair together right? Maybe not. As I was reviewing the pictures for a blog about adventuring in the Red River Gorge to rock climb, my ideas morphed into a theme I hadn’t considered. Friends have told me I’m brave and sometimes crazy for wanting to rock climb. I’ve thought they wouldn’t think I was so brave if they’d seen my legs involuntarily quaking five minutes into my climb. To me there’s no bravery involved, just a passion and desire for new experience.
My cousin has been rocking climbing for years now. He’s strong, agile, and it’s one of his many passions in life. I’ve always enjoyed indoor rock climbing and the offer has stood for about 8 years that I can go with him outdoors any time I’d like. But time is tricky, and opportunities don’t happen unless you create them. We finally decided to set a date and he encouraged me to bring all our kids along. Newly remarried with five teenagers I realized this could be a great way to build a sense of family and create some memories. My husband and children were all in and a date was set. We borrowed my mother’s SUV, loaded them up and headed to my cousin’s house in Lexington en route to the Red River Gorge. Short one member unfortunately as my oldest wound up with a conflict.
What creates a family bond better than a two and half hour road trip followed by an arduous hike in the sweltering Kentucky summer heat? Ok, I might be exaggerating. It was actually a beautiful hike, but it was definitely an intense twenty to thirty minutes getting to the wall. The boys were able to zip ahead. Thankfully we had a precious puppy friend who did not want to cross bridges or steps and slowed down some of the crew. By the time we reached our climbing spot, the Nursery at Miller Fork, I’d already exerted a ton of energy. Internally, I was pretty shocked and a bit embarrassed by how exhausted I felt. I thought I was in excellent shape. I’d been working out several days a week. Jason and I had been hiking quite a bit to prepare for our trip to Costa Rica. Still, nature has a clever way of reminding us that every path takes you on a different journey whether it be mental, emotional, physical, or spiritual.
We were able to rest while my cousin and the friends he’d recruited scaled the wall with ease to set up the ropes, harness, belay, oh…and a go-pro at the top to capture every glorious, sweaty moment of our exploits. I continued to rest as each person faced the first challenge. I was assured by cousin John and his rock-climbing buddies that it was an ‘easy’ climb. Everything is relative right? I didn’t get psyched out by John and his friends’ abilities to climb the wall with ease. I did start feeling increasingly self-conscience as my turn crept closer. Each boy had their turn and made it look smooth and moderately easy. There were a few spots where it was challenging to find a foot hold, or a place to grip. I have to say I was very proud at how each son and my husband navigated the unfamiliar surface and still made it to the top.
While I was proud, the fact that I was a minimum of ten years older than everyone but Jason started weighing on me. Yes, Jason is older, but I can justify all day long why he’s more of a natural at physical activities. Here I’d dreamt of this event for several years and I was realizing I was petrified to try, fail, and make an ass of myself (please excuse the language). God love my daughter Lexi, I kept thinking…”well these guys are showing us up, but Lex and I will keep about the same pace and have the same challenges since we’re a similar size..” Guess what? I am happy to report that I was horribly wrong and not so proud to admit that I underestimated her. My baby girl rocked it, no pun intended. Psh! Kid went at that wall like a spider monkey, hiking her foot up next to her face! Nope…Momma’s not doin’ that! I realized I was on my own and it would be what it would be, but I sure wasn’t backing down. I also realized, that while everyone else was climbing I had hung back…saving myself for last. All eyes on Jen! I figured, how bad can it be? Everyone else was able to. I know I can do this. I might struggle a bit, but I’ll be able to get to the top and it will be worth it.
News Flash! I couldn’t even get started without a boost up from my cousin. Keep in mind I’m under five feet tall, but not being able to get that foot by my face made for a rough start! So, I find myself gripping onto the side of a rock wall, in the middle of a forest, in front of a live audience. I could not figure out a good foot hold or grip to boost further from the one-foot height I’ve reached off the ground! Mind you, this is after everyone else in the party had (in my mind) zipped up the wall with relative ease. I started getting frustrated trying to just will my body up the wall. You know what stopped me? I didn’t have faith that I could make it to the next hold. John was belaying me, I wasn’t going to fall or injure myself. We were following all the protective guidelines and I knew John would have to answer to both our mothers and grandmother if I didn’t make it back safe in one piece. Granny is a ninety-three-year-old woman with a heart of gold and nerves of steel. You just don’t do anything to displease Granny! I knew I was safe with John. Still, I could not find the courage to propel myself without first knowing exactly where my foot and hands were headed. I built up so much anxiety and muscle fatigue holding onto that wall that my legs started involuntarily quaking beneath me. I felt humiliated and just wanted to quit. Thankfully, Jason and John, and the rest of my squad wouldn’t allow it. They let me rest, regroup, and start again. Once I got past that first threshold of fear, you would think that I would scale the wall confidently. I knew it wouldn’t be with ease, because it’s exhausting work. Nope. Each time I was stumped on where my next foothold and grip would be, I could not push up or reach out blindly. I could not bring myself to fall into the security of the fact that John had me. I asked to quit so many times headed up that 50 foot wall. It just didn’t seem logical to keep putting myself through the anxiety of trying to figure out how to climb that wall. I’m not proud of that. I pride myself on being a woman who doesn’t ask to quit and presses through life’s challenges. It honestly wasn’t my personality at all. The cool thing is, when I was mentally, emotionally, and physically weary…the people who love me were standing at the base of that wall supporting me. Physically and emotionally, they held me and persisted that I was not allowed to give up.
I made it to the top.
I was pretty sure an hour had passed and everyone would be bored and annoyed. In reality, I’m pretty positive it was somewhere between 15-20 minutes. Conversations had continued, no one was inconvenienced, and I was able to achieve something that 15 minutes prior I had begged to quit.
The parallel I realized today is how much this is like trying to blend a family, or just raise teenagers for that matter. Sometimes you don’t know when you’ll get your bearings and find the next foothold or grip. Many days it feels like it would ease so much pain and embarrassment to just give up. But your family is rallying on the hill behind you. One or two may not be paying attention. One may be mad at you (for the record, I don’t think any of us were mad). But they’re all there. They’re all quietly believing that you’ll all have your turn to make it to the top. Some of them are down there actively cheering you on. They’ll hold the burden for you when it’s too heavy, just as you will for them in their weak moments. You just have to rely on faith that the next press forward will reveal the perfect grip, the perfect foothold. If you slip, you’ll be supported through the adrenaline infused moment you think you’re going to fall. Each of our kids had moments where they didn’t think they were going to figure it out. I was on the ground. Jason and I were cheering for them, encouraging them, as we always will. Everyone at the base walked each other through the obstacles.
The phones were gone, the tv wasn’t even a thought. Fortnite was waiting two and a half hours away. All we had to rely on was fresh air, warm sun, and the support of one another. That equation created some memories that we will hold for years to come.