About this time last week I was standing at the bottom of a telephone pole trying to convince myself that climbing it wouldn’t end in death. I was a chaperone for our middle school youth group’s trip to Ligonier Camp and Conference Center, and our first activity Monday morning was the zip line.
I wasn’t planning on riding the zip line since it required participants to climb a telephone pole, maneuver onto a shaky platform, and eventually jump off the edge. Since I’m petrified of heights, I’ve made it a habit to avoid activities like zip lines. Last week I was content to stand at the bottom of the pole, hold the rope as a proud belay team member, and cheer for those brave enough to tempt fate. Putting on a harness to stare death in the face never crossed my mind.
Out of nowhere, I had this feeling that I needed to climb the pole. The feeling was so unshakable that before I realized what I was doing, I had put on a helmet and harness. Stunned to see me ready to climb, David inquired, “You know you don’t have to do this, right?” One of our students, who also is afraid of heights, was so surprised to see me in climbing gear that he asked David, “Wait a minute, Abbey’s doing this?”
On the surface, I didn’t have to do the zip line, and I didn’t want to do the zip line. But I started climbing. When I neared the platform, I froze. I couldn’t fathom moving away from the pole – even slightly – to pull myself up to the top. The instructor at the top looked down and asked, “What’s going through your mind right now?” She probably wasn’t prepared for me to answer, “I feel like I’m about to die.”
With the encouragement of the crowd, I made it to the top where I clung to the pole until it was time for me to get down…by jumping, of course. Although I felt sick to my stomach, I also felt a sense of accomplishment. I did something I never planned to do, something I didn’t think I would be able to do. More than that, I knew I earned something through that climb and subsequent jump.
I earned credibility. The reason I decided to do the zip line was because I realized that I couldn’t ask our students to face their fears and try new things if I wasn’t willing to do the same. By publicly facing my palpable fears, I earned the right to be heard. Suddenly, I was able to challenge our students to attempt all of the activities, even the scary ones with names like “Vomit Comet.” And because they saw me try even when I was scared, they took my challenge seriously.
At the end of the week we were asked to identify a lesson that we’d take back home with us. A high school senior who came as a student leader with her church’s middle school group shared a profound insight, “Sometimes being afraid isn’t a good enough excuse not to try something.”
She’s right. Facing our fears gives us confidence and credibility. Going to camp reminded me that being in a position of leadership requires action, not just words. Talking is one thing; doing is another, more influential thing.
I’m thankful for a great week away and for the life-changing ministry of Ligonier. As you can see from the pictures, I really did do the zip line, and to my surprise, I lived to tell about it.