"Strength." - Shade's answer to the pre-trip question, "What are we going to the mountain to learn?"
"Push through." - Shade's answer to the question, "What are you going to do when it gets hard?"
"I will cheer for you, I'll encourage you, I'll go with you, I'll lead you, I'll serve you, I'll take some of your load, but the largest part of this climb is yours...and I can't help you with it." - Yours Truly, with some coaching from my friend Keith, to my son, Shade, on our first day's hike
Something in me is crying as I begin writing this one...I'm not sure why.
Maybe it's because the lesson from this part of the trip is so good, but scary. So necessary, so true, but sometimes I just wish it wasn't.
Maybe it's because I still haven't totally learned this one, and don't want to.
Let me start by saying that sometimes it is my good heart that hurts my kids. It is my deep love...my willingness to do anything for them...that could end up handicapping them. Limiting them. Holding them back in a childhood that is not supposed to last forever. I don't mean to do this. I have full intentions of intentionally helping my kids grow up. I'm not pushing it, mind you. On the contrary, I love them as children, but sometimes I can feel myself loving them as children so much that I wouldn't mind them staying there. Or, at least, my desire to be a "good and loving dad" makes me help them (or bail them out) a little too much.
Okay, moving on...
Shade crossed the bridge over the wide and fast-moving Upper Animas River with enthusiasm and a bounce in his step. We had a half-mile hike back down river to a trail that started going up (and up and up) that followed along the beautiful Needle Creek (one of those "whoa...look at that!" creeks that tempts you to stop around every corner and gaze on it's flow, it's waterfalls, its nooks and crannies). We began this trek at over 7000 feet, and were going to go steadily up (meaning, less oxygen in the air) and far (meaning, we will spend all day doing this). Within the first mile, the glamour, excitement, and romanticism of this trip was quickly overcome by the harsh realities around us, and the plan before us.
Shade didn't blatantly want out, but he sure wanted it easier than it was.
He started complaining about his feet, and his knees, and how "he can't breathe" and that his pack was too heavy. We took regular breaks, which quickly became his favorite part of the climb (can't blame him there, it was quickly becoming mine too!). I was right with him every step, and started feeling like I might have been a little over-zealous about how much weight he was carrying. He's a 60 pound kid and he was carrying about 19 pounds. Keith and I split about 9 pounds of that (thinking about the idea that none of us were carrying 1/3rd of our body weight). But still, despite all my pre-trip warnings and preparations about the difficulty of this first day, Shade was struggling with having to endure it. Where is the fun in this?
Pause. A few weeks earlier, my wife had a bunch of girls over in our living room late one Wednesday night. Shade and I were in there enjoying their company when he pulled a first. He said, "Dad, can I talk with you privately?"
"Sure," I said, as I went with him into the other room. He was wanting to confess something, and as it came out of him, I could see he was looking for reassurance, motivation, and courage.
He began..."I'm real excited about our trip to the mountain. Except for one part of it that is making me nervous. That first day that you say is going to be so hard."
I nodded. "Yeah, me too, Shade. It's going to be a tough day. But you remember when we were praying together, asking God about why He had us going on this trip? About what He wanted you to learn? What gift He wanted to give you?"
"Strength," Shade replied.
"Yeah...strength," I said. "And I think that's why He's sending us to this mountain. Because He needs us to have that first day. A day that's hard, that will make you need strength in order to succeed."
I filled with pride that this was enough for Shade. He nodded, and said with a snap of optimism and acceptance in his voice, "yeah...okay." Then he went on back to socializing.
Before I get back to the story, it's probably important for me to tell you that, while I would not have been able to identify this at the time, I believe that I was secretly thinking that if worse came to worse, I would be able to be Shade's strength...which now I know was really cheapening what God was setting up, not to mention vastly overestimating the strength I would have on this trip.
Okay...so Keith and Zach are plodding along really consistently and strong, and Shade and I are moving really slow because of Shade's complaints and pain, and our way-to-frequent stops. It was getting tough on both of us, but praise God I wasn't getting impatient, crystal clear on the fact that this is why we were there. So I asked Shade to look at me in the eyes, and mustering my best loving-but-firm-and-confident look, I said, "Buddy...we are going all the way. We are going to hike all day until we get to our campsite. And you are going to carry that (I pointed at it) backpack. So you can decide if you want to use your energy trying to change that, or use your energy accomplishing that."
I loved him as he looked in my eyes and measured what I was saying. I loved him. My love exploded for him (and I already love him so much, I didn't think that was possible). I wanted to take back what I said out of love. I wanted to attach his pack to mine. I wanted to say, "If you can't make it all the way on your own, don't worry, I'll carry you." But I didn't. I just looked at him in the eyes as he was deciding whether he could adjust to what I was saying as the unchangeable truth. And I loved him. And I would love him no matter what he decided in that moment.
Pause again. It really, REALLY helped me knowing that God told me to bring Shade to this mountain. See, there are other mountains we could've climbed that didn't require such a long hike, nor such a steep ascent. If it were on me, I would've chosen a much different place...less challenging. I can't tell you how many times I wanted to relieve his pain (and mine) by changing the plan, taking care of him, going down early, etc... But I kept going back to that other mountain months ago, where I heard God say, "Go back. Take Shade." Seriously...if I weren't convicted that this was from God, I wouldn't have had the strength myself to demand that he push through.
So just like back in the living room, only this time with much more difficulty (because he was in the midst of his pain), Shade said, "yeah...okay". Then he went back to climbing.
From this point on (for the rest of this hike, but also for the rest of the week), Shade got better and better. And by that, I mean that he accepted the difficulties inherent in this trip more and more readily. He got stronger and stronger. My son pushed through.
I can write that now, but I wouldn't really acknowledge this on the trip...too afraid that I was just being a little too optimistic about this, just seeing what I wanted to see so desperately. But without any prompting from me, as we were driving home, Keith busted out with the statement, "I feel like Shade just kept getting better and better as the week went on. He started out struggling, but just kept doing better." This was one of the many gifts that I feel like God gave to me by having Keith and Zach join us on this trip (there were countless). I contained it in the car, but my heart leapt right through the roof! I wanted to blow up with a freakin' excited, glad-to-be-affirmed yell of victory, "I DID TOO!!!!!"
Shade didn't have to get better and better for this trip to have been excellent. Shade didn't have to exhibit strength, stop complaining, or make it through the hike that day without more help from me for me to love him.I just love him. And I love helping him. And I love him feeling helped.
But I loved helping him in this way, too. In this way where he seems to be learning that he has a reservoir of strength to pull from when things get hard. Strength that will help him achieve things that he starts out thinking might be too hard. Strength, not from me, but from God.
About a month or two before our trip, a real special friend named Pam called me having had a recurring dream that she felt like she was supposed to tell me about. She said, "I could see you and Shade going up on that mountain you're going to. It had some sort of relation to Abraham and Isaac. It was the identical dream two nights in a row. And I had the distinct feeling that Shade is going to get something from God up there that has nothing to do with you."
I smiled huge when she told me this. This would be my dream, I thought, and I instantly prayed that God would please make it so. I thought of all the students I've known and loved as they were trying to "attain their own faith" (rather than feel like it was just their parent's idea for them) for over 14 years (not to mention remembering my own transition into my own faith). And so for Shade to be getting special "things" from the Father, at such a young age, that had nothing to do with his dad on earth would be worth the world to me.
Dear Father...In the name of Christ, give my kids a relationship with You that has nothing to do with me. The sooner the better, Father. Thank You for letting me be in their lives.