Sixty feet above the ground, tears welled up in my eyes. I literally shook them off while clinging to the rock face. “This is not the time, Radcliff.” I was just a few feet from the top of the cliff. I felt good during the climb, better and stronger than I had in years. Just one more pull from that finger-width ledge and a good push from the foothold just above my knee should put me over the top. If only I don’t cry.
The day had started out with a question, “What should we do to celebrate your anniversary?” It was the fifth anniversary of my bariatric surgery. Bari patients don’t celebrate with a special dinner or dessert. That’s when I came up with the idea to go rock climbing. It was a beautiful, crisp, fall day, a perfect day to be on the rocks.
My husband and I had been rock climbers since our teen years. It started with him. Doug and a few of his friends learned the sport, and then I tagged along just to be close to him. It was terrifying. We started out rappelling down the sixty-foot sheer cliff. I hooked into the safety line and walked along the edge, heart pounding. Doug said, “I’ve got you. Lean back.” With a death grip on the rope, I started to lean back. “Who does this?” I wondered. Apparently, a girl who wants to impress a boy. Taking a deep breath and peeking over my shoulder at the ground, almost sixty feet away, I thought, “He’s got me on the safety line. Nothing bad will happen.” But that didn’t calm my heart. There was no turning back. I slowly let out rope until my body was in an “L” shape, feet flat against the rock wall. I inched my way down a few feet, then a few more. “Good job. Now let go of the rope.”
“What! Are you crazy? Why would I let go of the rope?”
“I want you to bounce around a little to get comfortable with being on the rock and to learn to trust the rope and your belayer.”
“OK. Don’t drop me.” The things we do to impress a boy! I released my top hand first, then the bottom, which was my braking hand. The rope jerked a little. My life flashed before my eyes. But it was just the slack coming out an inch or so. Once I gathered my courage, I started moving my feet right, then left, then I pushed off. Cool. I was dangling forty feet in the air, bouncing around without a care in the world. I retook control of the rope, and before my feet hit the ground, I was hooked. And we hadn’t even done any climbing yet.
Climbing was more of a challenge. It took more strength and planning moves. I wasn’t confident my fingers could hold my weight. And my short frame didn’t help any, some footholds were just out of reach. But after a few falls, battling “sewing machines,” (the shaking of fatigued muscles), and overcoming my own doubts, I reached the top. The sense of accomplishment was exhilarating. I loved rock climbing.
But then came illness and weight gain. The last time I tried climbing that same cliff, I failed, miserably. My stomach was too big. It was in the way. I couldn’t get my leg high enough to reach the very first foothold, so I never got off the ground. I had never been so embarrassed, and my spirit was crushed. I thought I’d never climb again.
Then surgery cured my illness and took the weight off. I was able to work out and build muscle. And five years later, I was about to conquer the cliff. The rocks are a lot more crowded than they were back when I first climbed. There were scout troops and college climbing teams on cliffs next to us. I hoped I wouldn’t embarrass myself again. On our ride there, remembering the last time I attempted a climb, I asked Doug, “What if I can’t do it?” He said, “You’re in the best shape you’ve been since your twenties. You’ll do it. And if you can’t today, we’ll try again.”
Doug set up the rope. I strapped on my harness and studied the cliff, looking for a good route. The first ten feet were like steps. Then came the sheer face. I searched for cracks and tiny ledges. It was when I neared the top that I heard one of the college boys say to Doug, “She’s got a good climb going.” He replied, “Yeah. Pretty amazing. She hasn’t climbed in about 15 years. Five years ago, we weren’t sure she would live. But look at her now.” That’s when the tears welled up. I shook them off, moved my foot up to a small crack at my hip and pushed. My hand reached up and grabbed the top of the cliff. Success. I had done it! I leaned back, letting Doug hold me there. Then he eased the rope as I hopped down the rock face. He met me at the bottom with a hug. I never felt so good.
That was six years ago last week. We didn’t go rock climbing this year, although I’d like to. I would have to pick a “good” day, one free of pain. There aren’t many of those. The last two years have taken away my strength and physical abilities but not my spirit. I still think “I could climb that” when I pass a rock face along the highway. And I know that my sufferings are just momentary, light afflictions.
Although my spirit has been redeemed, I await the redemption of my body. That day is coming, and I look forward to it. Like the top of that cliff, it may be a long climb and more challenging than I anticipated, but with perseverance, the reward will be great.
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:16-17 ESV)