We drove six hours to Southern California, then another hour east, driving up, up, up along the rim of the world in the San Bernardino Mountains to Thousand Pines, a Baptist Retreat Center, to stay in a one-bedroom cabin packed with seven bunk beds. Outside the cabin, down the hill, a little to the right, there leaned a picnic table with benches and a sign pinned to its side. “Casey Family,” it read.
The children immediately began gathering sticks for an imaginary fire, sticks we transferred throughout the weekend as kindling for the fire my husband was quick to ignite come supper time.
The cuisine included hog dogs roasted over the open fire, followed by beans boiling in a cast iron pot and marshmallows smashed between chocolate bars and graham crackers. After a sleepless night, we ate food packed from home that travels easily, hard-boiled eggs and overnight oats with chia seeds served in Crate and Barrel indigo blue melamine bowls.
It was time to begin the day. We made our way to a ropes course, the likes of which I had never seen or attempted.
It begins with a tightrope walk, with plenty of rope along the sides to hold onto. Then along another wire. If tall enough, one may grab the ropes hanging overhead. Next came railroad ties planted upright, set far apart forcing the participant to walk, left, right, left, right. “You have to commit. You can’t hesitate,” the children were advised.
Three more challenges followed involved boards, tires, and a shifty balance beam connected to two trees with giant I-hooks.
I attempted the course only once. My husband completed it twice. The children went again and again focusing both on the areas where they felt the greatest success and the areas where they met the greatest challenge. The older the child, the greater she challenged herself, climbing up on the balance beam, again and again, determined to do it all and do it well, one foot in front of the other.
The chorus sang.
“Mommy, look at me!”
“Daddy, did you see me?”
“I finished it five times!”
“Mommy said I did this really well!”
Cheers rang out again and again. Children who were helped along at first found their way. Children we followed, arms around their little bodies without making contact, to catch them if they fell, found they could do it on their own once they conquered the fear of falling and saw how capable they were.
“Falling is part of learning,” we repeated as feet scrambled back up the balance beam.
Two hours later, the baby had nursed to sleep, the toddler was tired of kicking rocks and the children were finally worn out. They walked away with the greatest satisfaction having met a challenge and conquered, even if imperfectly.
Fear occurs when we face something unknown or unfamiliar that seems bigger than ourselves. Despair occurs when it seems impossible. Hope believes in a way out, a way through, a possibility.
But how will you know unless you try? How will you know unless you embarrass yourself a little, climb up there, struggle through, even while that able-bodied youngsters pass you by?
The thing that seems so big, so insurmountable will always seem so until you are willing to look it in the eye and size it up for what it really is, not just judge by how it looks on the ground.
These activities train us for life. We move through with all our emotions and our limitations. We process the failures. We fall. We get up. We try again.
It’s safer to practice here than when the stakes are high, like in the world outside the camp.
In the end, after challenging ourselves, we are better for it. We are a little stronger, a little braver, a little tougher. We are a little more ready to face life as it comes.
Find a way. Challenge yourself.