The prompt this week was “Countdown.” A memory flashed in my mind: When I worked on the “Ropes Team” at a Young Life camp on summer in college. We ran the High Ropes Course, Rapelling, and “Screamer” (basically a huge swing).
“Nononononononononoooo, I can’t, I can’t I can’t!” she squealed, hands over her eyes as she backed away from the edge.
I tightened my harness, and said, “Look, it’s not so bad, look at me, wooooooooo!” I tried to coax her forward as I leaned over the edge like I was about to swan dive backwards. I was practically doing spirit fingers trying to muster up enough enthusiasm for this girl who had been up here now. For. An. Hour. “See, it’s so easy, I promise, once you take that first step the rest is cake. Only one step.” She looked at me like I was certifiable, and shook her head firmly while tightening her grip on the rock behind her.
“I can’t. I can’t repel down. Get me out of the harness, I’m walking back down,” she insisted as her fingers fumbled for her helmet strap. A light breeze danced across her ponytail hanging down her back. I suddenly remembered that she was a teenager, and that this was her first time away from home, actually, out of her home state, and that this entire week up in the mountains on this retreat probably felt like jumping off a cliff. But, I knew that this could be a huge part of her experience, and open her up to stepping out in faith not only with herself, but with others, with God, too. If she would take only one step.
I stepped in front of her, and said quietly, even though she didn’t look at me. “I promise – We HAVE you. We’ve got you. I’ve got you up here, and remember that guy down there, he’s got you. See this rope? See this carabiner? You know how this works, now, all you need to do is take one breath, one step, close your eyes if it helps, and lean back like you’re going to sit in a chair.”
Trembling, she inched forward. She almost knelt down, and turned around, grabbing the rope in front of her. “You promise???” she asked again. “Yes,” I said, firmly, “You’re going to do great. And, I know you’re going to love it.”
She crouched down, almost hugging the ground, as she continued to back up, and as she leaned over the edge, and I counted again, “Three…two…one,” before she could change her mind, I let her the rope slack less than an inch, and she let out a blood-curdling scream that echoed through the valley. Falling an inch can feel like falling a 1000 feet. But, then, she stopped, and started laughing. She was over the edge, hanging there in her harness, one hand on the rope, and one hand on the rock. I leaned over the edge and called out, “Put your legs out in front of you, and let all your weight sit in the harness! And then remember what we told you? About letting out the slack yourself? I won’t let you go too fast – we’ll do it together! But, YOU DID IT! I knew you could do it!”
The rest of the way down that huge smile never left her face. I knew it was because she took that step for herself. That was a relief…I didn’t have to push her off the mountain.