A couple weeks ago Ellysa's teacher forwarded an e-mail request from the school's Phys. Ed. teachers asking for parent volunteers. They needed help with some wall-climbing sessions they were planning to offer the students during P.E. class. The extra hands, the letter said, would improve the safety and accessability of the activitiy for the students, as parents could assist children with donning and securing climbing harnesses, supervising the climbing, etc.. The need seemed reasonable to me and I responded with a note that I would be happy to help. In return for my volunteer message I was invited to attend a brief training session last Thursday .
I hurried to the Thursday climbing orientation following the first meeting of a new women's Bible Study group that new friend Jenni and I decided to launch. It was a great first meeting, clearly several of us needed to share some "faith time" in a small group setting! Anyway, I switched gears and scurried to the gym, planning to quickly learn how to help children into harnesses. Surprise! After we learned how children should don and adjust the variety of harnesses available for different sized bodies, we were handed harnesses to put on ourselves! Did you know (I didn't) that climbing harnesses are not just worn by the climber but also by the person assisting with the rope on the ground level (aka the Belayer)? Also, in case you don't know, climbing harnesses have straps that run around a person's rear, up between the legs, and then secure just below the hips? "Duh" once again for me - the non-athletic, non-adventurous one! I was the clear amatuer in the tiny circle of volunteers as I was wearing a dress! But, relieved that on that particular day I had put on a pair of "presentable" underwear, I forged ahead, not looking too "sporty" but surely qualified to be called "a good sport"!
Our hour of "training" flew by. I frantically tried to commit to memory all that I was told about the different harnesses - which were best for the tiny 1st and 2nd graders, which suited the older kids, which were best donned like a jacket, which should be put on like a pair of pants. (Since I have raised three bike-riding children but never figured out how to adjust their helmet straps, I was seriously concerned that I might not "get" this, but I listened carefully and stared at every harness with deep concentration.) Then it was time to add a carabiner to the harness straped 'round my stylishly gathered up dress so I could learn to "Belay". ( "Ahh..., excuse me, did he say I was going to "belay" and is it getting drafty in here or is it just me?")
The gym teachers showed us how to loop our belaying rope into a "basket" device, being mindful if we were right-handed versus left handed. I'm right-handed, BTW. Next they showed us how to (1) "pulley" the rope through the basket with a quick left hand down/right hand up motion , then (2) drop the dominent hand ("but keep gripping the rope!") into a position beside just behind the hip, then (3) bring the left hand down, position it above the right hand, close to the basket, to secure the rope in the safety position, and (4) slide the right hand up to the take over the position of the left hand ("Never letting your right hand lose contact with the rope!") so the left hand could go back to it's original position on the ever-slackening rope feeding from the climber's progress. "1, 2, 3, 4", we went throught the motions over and over as a brave (foolish?) teacher climbed short spans of the wall so we could practice.
We also learned the verbal exchanges required of all Climbers and Belayers. The Climber asks, "On belay?" The Belayer, if ready, says, "Belay on." The climber says "Climbing" and awaits the Belayer's command to "Climb On!". Finally (biggest deal of all) when the climber wishes to come down from whatever height they have achieved, they say, "Take". The Belayer then confirms a strong stance, both left and right hands in a safety position with the pull rope across their dominent hip side, and the Belayer says "I've got you!" The Climber can then feel safe about sitting back in their harness and using their legs to "walk down" the wall .
The little troop of volunteer parents took turns practicing this and watching others practice. We listened to advice of experienced Belayers ("Always rest in the safety position.", "Lean back and sit in your own harness to get more leverage on climbers close to your own weight or heavier than you." "Watch, watch, watch, as a climber may lose their grip and start to drop at any time.") Hands became red. Sweat formed , not only from the exertion but also from the sense of impending responsibility we all were feeling. I was not alone in thinking, "You want me to do this with some scared, squirrely kid on the other end of this knot?" But, miracle of miracles, I learned a lot about wall climbing in that short but intensive orientation. I left promising to help all that I could in the weeks ahead.
On Monday, I assisted with my first groups of climbers. I also helped classes on Tuesday and Thursday. Some children were experienced, having participated in an after-school wall-climbing enrichment activity that is offered each trimester here.. Others had no clue. Some were llike spider monkeys, shooting up almost faster than I could keep slack out of the rope. Others were scared and cautiously deliberated every hand and foot placement. More than once, balance was lost and I felt the weight of my responsibility. Some children made it to the tops of the many of the 7 walls in the gym; others gradually bested the distance of an earlier effort. "Climb On!" , "Take!", and "I've got you!" repeated over and over as boys and girls did their best.
And the awesomeness of holding someones life in my hands made me think about how God is like our Belayer. We can pray and ask Him and we can read his words and know, He is "On Belay". He is always ready. He wants what is best for us and He wants us to reach all of the potentials He created in us. When we say in our small and fearful voices that we are "Climbing", He says with encouragement "Climb On!". Like the children I helped climb, we all scale our mountains in our own way. Some listen carefully to instructions and make progress "by the book". Some, failing to listen or deciding to try their own way, struggle along, working harder than needed because they are not following the teacher's guidance. But, no matter, our ultimate Belayer has still "got us". And as we rise, He rejoices. When we fumble and falter, when we cannot lift ourselves further or, worse, when we loose our grip altogether, He watches and waits to reassure "I've Got You!". And He does! He's got us. We can lean into the rope He holds and He won't let us fall.
It was so rewarding to see the fearful children go farther than they thought they could. It happened once they trusted the one saying "I've got you." It was also energizing to see the experienced climbers, those who were certain from the first leg up that they would not/could not fall. Their spirits were charged and they were ready to show others what heights could be reached. And it is like that with God too. If we only trust , we'll go farther than we think we can.
Make sure you know who your Belayer is, then "Climb on", 'cuz "He's Got You"!