It was Thanksgiving Day, but it hardly seemed like it. It was close to eighty degrees, and the air was thick, the skies were wet, and so was the deck of our ship. The mountainside was green as green can get. Our view during the van ride up the mountain was so full of vegetation that it was a special treat when we were able to catch a glimpse of a shack, a house, or better yet, a sandy beach. Roatan, Honduras, is one of my favorite places on earth, and docking ahead of schedule on that hot, humid morning had me giddy with excitement.
At our third and final port of call of our Thanksgiving cruise, we had decided as a group, all sixteen of us that would participate, that for our Honduras excursion we would go ziplining. Oddly enough, I had been the first to suggest such an adventure. Odd, because I am actually terrified of heights. (Acrophobia is the appropriate term, I believe.) As a young adult, I tried on several occasions to rappel–to no avail, because as soon as I was harnessed and walked to the edge of the cliff, with shame and shaking legs I would immediately turn back. I can’t even look at people bungee jumping. At malls that have three or more floors, I can’t walk near the rails, much less touch them. My heart explodes in my throat and I yell at my kids if they lean over anything that has more than a six-foot drop. Don’t even ask me what happened when I rode the skylift at the amusement park. The idea for me to zipline was crazy, but I was determined that I was going to suck it up, conquer my fear, and enjoy every moment of the exhilarating experience.
My harness was comfortable, and our guide, Edward, clearly knew what he was doing. As he got me all ready, he could tell I was a little nervous (an understatement) and asked me if it was my first time to zipline. In a combination of timidity and a hesitant courageous pride, I shakingly told him yes. I wasn’t his first newbie, I’m sure, so he had his eyes on me.
After I heard all instructions and watched several folks take off before me, I was ready for my turn. The first line was easy, as astutely planned by the designers to ease you into the idea of flying through the air. There was ground beneath me with no more than an eight-foot drop from my feet, so I was brave and took off squealing with excitement. But once I arrived at the second platform, my heart sank. I saw that the next line was long, and the vastness below seemed to have no end, and I was suddenly weak, and scared, and I wanted to turn around and be done. But there was no time to hesitate; it was my turn again, and people were waiting. I quickly convinced myself that if I had done the one before, there was no reason why I couldn’t do this one. I remembered our prep talk and followed the instructions as I was taught: right hand on the wire (for braking), left on the harness, head to the left, lift up my feet, cross them–and just like that, I was pushed off the platform into what seemed like an endless abyss. If I went too fast, I would feel out of control; if I braked too much, I would get stuck in the middle. I had to survive, I had to be strong, and brave, and keep my eyes open of course. After all, there was an amazing jungle out there to soak in. I didn’t want to miss it!
I arrived safely to the next platform, but my palms were wet underneath the thick leather gloves, and my body and legs were shaking so much that I could hardly stand. The other guide waiting for us at the platform (there was one to receive us at every platform and send us off from the next) kept asking me if I was okay, and my nine-year-old niece, who had gone down before me in tandem with Edward, looked at me with a worried look and later told me it was because of how white I was. It must have been pretty bad for a nine-year-old to notice! I was “done,” and the thought of going through that process eleven more times was so daunting that I could hardly think straight. I realized I had been hyperventilating. As I tried to calm myself down, holding back hysterical tears by taking deep, slow breaths, Edward approached me and calmly asked me, “Do you want to go down with me?” In a daze, and with a deep sigh of relief, I said yes. Anything would be better than me, alone, feeling out of control and terrified. Yes, please. I can’t do that alone again.
Quickly, Edward hooked me in, got behind me, and said, “Lift your legs and hold onto your harness with both hands. I’ve got you.” I think he had to say it twice. He then wrapped his legs around me, gave me some reassuring words, and off we went. I looked to the right and saw the ocean, I looked ahead and saw all the shades of green and the beauty of the wild jungle. I wasn’t ready to look down, but my heartbeat slowed and I suddenly knew, I can do this now.
With each line, I became more confident, I saw more of my surroundings, and even began to look down. The ocean became bluer and my nervousness subsided. Edward, sometimes behind me, sometimes in front, was always making some kind of physical contact with me, even a gentle hand on my leg reassuring me that I was not alone, he was in control, and I had nothing to fear.
By the end of our thirteen-line adventure I had come to love Edward and thanked him over and over for taking such good care of me. Had it not been for him, I never would have made it through the journey. He was my rock, my comfort, the one who took pity on me and made it possible for me to enjoy the ride. He never shamed me or even asked me if I was ready to go alone. He knew I needed him, and he was there for me. Every. Single. Time. Edward made a very good tip that day.
On that Thanksgiving day, I learned a very important lesson. My fears and my weaknesses don’t always need to be conquered. Sucking it up isn’t always the answer.
My fears and weaknesses need to be put in the hands of the strong.
Even though I rode in tandem for the rest of the journey, every one in my group, just like Edward, never suggested that I try alone. No one shamed me; to the contrary, they all told me how proud they were of me and continued to give me encouraging words along the way. By the end of our journey, I was calm and content; my fear, although it had not been conquered, had been cradled and skillfully soothed. Even though it was not what I had expected, this journey taught me to release my expectations without shame, to be okay with my shortcomings, and trust that those who have been placed in my life have been placed there to carry me through.
God has wisely put strong people in our lives to hold our hands in fragile times. They are there to wrap their reassuring legs around us to comfort us at times when we feel the world around us is out of control, going too fast, and keeping us living in fear. Keep your eyes on these precious souls, because they are looking after you, they are good at what they do, and they will be there when you need them.
In the same way, don’t forget that God has wisely given each of us enormous, brave strength to be there for those who need us. Look for their white, worried faces, and trembling hands. Understand that to them there may be an unending vastness below and around them, and God has placed you there to comfort them. You are good at what you do. Offer your strength to the weak.
But ultimately remember who is the strongest of all. Remember that in our weakness we are strong through Him. Hold on to your heart, lift your head up, and let God lead you through the jungle of life. With each day that we learn to depend on Him, we will become more confident and be able to rest in His arms. The only way we will ever be able to breathe with ease and enjoy the amazing view that surrounds us is by trusting the Edwards in our lives, and ultimately depending on the full strength offered to us by God.