If It Doesn't Challenge You...

...it doesn't change you. I find this saying to be applicable in nearly all of life, and particularly where I find myself now: camp ministry. I want to change. I want to grow. I want to follow where God leads, but challenges are hard! Especially when the challenge isn't being forced upon you; when you have to choose between doing something scary and staying where you're comfortable.

I am deathly afraid of heights. Standing on a ladder to change marquees at the movie theater I worked at involved consciously telling myself to take deep breaths. Last summer when the rest of the staff had zip-line training, I stayed behind to work on my program. I was relieved I wouldn't have to face the decision to climb the 40ft pole and zip down or not. I wanted to challenge myself, but also knew my comfort zone (on the ground) was safe.

Then there was the accident. During that same staff training that I was excused from, we were all reminded of the risk involved with the zip-line, and we shut it down for the summer. Fast forward nine months to the first meeting with my boss in my new position. You can imagine why I hesitantly said "I'll think about it..." when he asked if I'd be interested in being a back-up facilitator on the zip-line this summer. The victim of the accident had made a full recovery, our zip-line had been inspected and deemed safe, but it would still be a huge personal achievement if I simply climbed and rode the zip-line - how could I lead groups on it!?

I could have easily said "I'll think about it" and then told my boss no after a few days without actually thinking about it. That would have been safe, comfortable. But I did think about it. I prayed about it - a lot. I knew my fear, but also wanted to challenge myself. Something in me was saying I should do it, but how could I get over my fear!? Later that week I gave my answer: "I'll get trained to be a zip-line facilitator. I'll definitely be scared, but I feel this is something I need to do. I want to challenge myself."

When the first day of training came, I was more than a little nervous. My first time climbing the pole to the zip-line platform seemed to take an eternity. When I reached the top, the trainer called up from the ground, "okay, now walk back and forth on the platform." I swallowed hard, gripped the tethers of my lobster claws, and took baby steps to the other side, my body stiff, eyes not daring to look down. Later in the day the trainer asked if I wanted to be the first to zip. My attitude and response was "I'll have to do it sooner or later, might as well be now!" She hooked me up to the zip-line tether and asked how I was feeling. "Like I should have gone to the bathroom before..." I inched my body forward on the platform, took a big breath, gripped the tether connecting me to the zip-line wire, and leaned forward. I let out a scream, and then almost couldn't believe it as I zipped down the wire. This was...fun? I had been so afraid, and now I was having fun?!

My fear didn't instantly dissolve in that moment. It didn't disappear at any point in training. But it did subside. As I repeatedly tied knots, set up the needed equipment, zipped others down, and rode the zip-line myself, I became more confident. The sense of accomplishment, along with the conviction to do my job to the best of my abilities and keep others safe became bigger than my fears.

I can climb the pole a bit faster now, and walk along the platform a little less stiff, but I maintain what I call a "healthy fear." I respect the height and equipment. I still prefer to hold onto a staple when I'm waiting for the climber to reach the top. But my fear doesn't stop me. My comfort zone has expanded, and I'm starting to see why this is in God's plan for me.

A group of 5-7th grade girls came to the zip-line. The first girl to climb the pole was so excited. When she reached me at the top, she admitted she was very nervous, but also really wanted to zip down. She sat down on the platform, and I connected her to the equipment. When it came time for her to leave the platform she couldn't make herself go. We let another girl go down the other side, while this one sat on the platform. After seeing her friend go down, she was so excited and couldn't wait for her turn. Again, when it came down to her leaning forward and leaving the platform she couldn't do it. Overall, she sat at the top for over an hour! I stayed right by her, encouraged her in every way I could think of, prayed with her, and sat with her. I told her many times that it was ok to feel scared, that I had been scared my first time, but that you feel so great after you've conquered your fear. When she finally was able to leave the platform and had a huge smile as she rode the wire, my first and only thought was "this is why we lead zip-line." To give campers the opportunity to face their fears. To see the joy and confidence they have after they do so. To facilitate the challenge that changes them.

What incredible things can we do if we are willing to accept the challenge?!


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