The air suffocated thought into fragmented syllables - floating particles swirled upward, softly, slowly, deliberately at first then fell loosely toward abounding green foliage of an immersed garden. I pedaled faster.
An expression of pain - where the internal collided with the external, swollen & broken skin. I was only a kid but I noticed what others did not. The thought drifts in unapologetically into forbidden ground.
It was the second of four days outside with high school students. It was a place where each of us accepted a challenge to grow - to grow physically, emotionally, spiritually and for some, to grow through fear. I could write all week about those experiences. I decided to again pick up a keyboard.
Why? Because if I don't, I can't breathe. If I don't, something valuable and important dies inside me.
This year was a heavy winter in Northern California where the water levels at Lake Tahoe are again brimming with abundance. It is where the crystal, clear water is blue and pristine. Even through the warm temperatures of mid-July, pastels of white accentuate mountain-tops illuminating the colors of winter with summer.
For 6 days, I was one of 43 people at a camp led by guides familiar with terrain. This particular day, our group was divided in half. We descended steep canyons where our footing was slippery on loose soil. Careful to avoid poison oak, we sunk lower and lower toward the canyon base. It looked pretty straight forward. Gorgeous surroundings, rocks sticking out of submerged water, tall cliffs and foliage. The caveat was that the water was cold, high and strong.
We had to travel light.
For some, the journey was effortless. They jumped from rock to rock, shimmied up steep cliffs, jumped off ledges, submerged themselves into deep underwater caves where bubbles floated easily to the surface. In an effort not to be a drain on the group, I leaped as best I could. Water/hiking shoes can be slippery so hitting my shin early in the trip, left some residual blood. The crisp, cool (snow run-off) water eased the sting.
At first, the steps on rock was easy; the ones just beneath the surface were a bit trickier. The external pressure to keep up contrasted with the internal pressure to fit in. I found some reserve courage and jumped from a 15 foot cliff because it was easier than the hike down. I negotiated thought; the current of cold water alongside snakes was preferable to a steady footing on slippery ground. I let the rocks skim my stomach as I inched my way upriver.
The guides had packed a communal lunch in water-friendly duffle bags. Somehow food tasted better after the hard work of an outdoor adventure.
Sitting on the ledge, I looked up. It is easy to notice the ones that could maneuver easily but it is the ones that things are difficult that get my attention. In a quick conversation, it was evident firewalls and passwords were easier than these locks. His physical frame reminded me of someone in high school where in a moment, I had the opportunity to do what I could not then. Reach out ... in prayer. Aligning himself with me (the oldest woman) would NOT lend itself well to a warrior amongst peers.
I could change my pace. Our leader intervened. One of the coolest guys I know with a deep abiding faith and a natural ability of inclusion, stepped into a dialog I could not hear but one that offered life through his words. It was evident by this young man's posture. The Kingdom of Heaven in the here and now where the distant off-screen players on a video game jump into the on-screen truth of being valued and loved - by the maker of heaven and earth and the people here on the journey. He just needed to leverage the risk of the unknown into the opportunity of being welcomed.
A second thing happened. A soft-spoken young man in his twenties (a guide) came alongside this young man for the walk back home. Prophetic words ... take one step here ... put your hand on this rock and pull yourself to this ledge and watch for the pitfalls here. You can do this. I am right here with you. These were words not just from God (symbolically) but are stepping stones from people.
His voice was patient and kind. It was so soft, I could barely hear it. I stretched my attention toward the quiet. I think this young man did the same. His words continued beyond the current of the river toward the character of Job. A man from the bible who despite loosing his possessions, family, friends and health, clung to faith and hope. In the midst of heartbreak, Job kept his grip on God. Job is again mentioned in the bible, through one of the gospel writers, James. His strength to persevere in life's adversities was noteworthy, even then.
Job is a tiny chapter in the Old Testament of the bible which is sandwiched between the book of Esther and the words of Psalms. So few words written for a man with great depth of hope. Job's character pleased God. This was an interesting and seemingly random conversation between a counselor, a man and me on a canyoneering trip deep in the heart of the woods.
The hope of an outdoor adventure with high school kids is that something will stick. A thought, an experience, a conversation will extend it's reach far beyond summer.
An expression of pain - where the internal collides with the external and because of faith, I just cannot NOT do something about it. Reaching out takes an element of risk. I know and I am scared. The truth about me is I have always been scared and a certain element of desperation seeps in. A word that lacks hope.
I don't know what that young man's story was some forty years ago because I didn't have the confidence or fortitude to reach out. I only know what I could see on the outside. His knuckles were bloody and cracked because he sucked on them. The humiliation must have been exhausting. I write, I am a volunteer youth worker and reach out to others, in part because of him and others like him and partly because of my internal conversation of faith. I reach out imperfectly and flawed. He, like me - another broken colored glass washed upon the shore of humanity.
I am not just an outside observer but an honest participant where the taste of not being alone demands a letting go of everything that feels safe and comfortable. 27 days ago, I was peripherally and publicly ushered into being a mother in the LGBTQ community: A mother with a deep, abiding faith who loves first because He first loved me.
Everything about my transactional relationship of love has been put to the test. This isn't the only thing that has changed but everything has changed. I awkwardly grow into loving. I do it imperfectly and flawed and loosen my image of being all put together in order to grow in authenticity.
Sitting, exhausted from crawling, jumping, swimming and hanging on, the youth leader called each of us to find a place on the rock and spend time with God. The rays of sunshine stretched it's warmth across my wet legs. I looked up ... and saw a garden of green foliage growing from a foundation of water. It's beauty reminded me of God's transaction. A son, Jesus, dying on a cross not to be welcomed into a club but into a relationship. To be honest, I don't know what that looks like ... but then again, what would faith and hope be if I did.
May you walk in peace and a growing relationship, my brothers and sisters.
So ... what did I do on a Saturday? I sat down in a cafe and wrote ... and pressed post.
Peace be with you.
A person who searches for depth and beauty in the simple things.