Fear and the Flying Leg

Some of the stories that I tell here on this blog page are stories that I have told and retold over the years.  The stories may be less true than they once were because as I get older the need to make myself into the hero seems more important to me.  The backlash effect of that of course is that I am falling into the “Glory Days Syndrome” also known as the “I Used to be Great Syndrome” or by the lesser known “If I Hadn’t Gotten Injured I Would’ve Gone Pro Syndrome”.  This story is not about my one time or enduring greatness, this is a story about experiencing someone’s weakness that ended up displaying my weakness.

I spent many of my summers during and after college working at Christian camps in Wyoming and New Mexico.  I served as an archery instructor, mountain bike instructor, rappelling instructor, and rifle range instructor (I would say riflery but my auto correct keeps telling me that is not a word).  My very last summer working at the camp in Wyoming saw me spending up to 6 hours a day above any sort of shade teaching people, children and youth specifically, how to rappel.  For those of you that are unfamiliar, I taught people how to walk backwards off a 30 foot wooden cliff.

This particular day my associate and me had been up on the tower in the morning and had to go back up for an afternoon session.  Jeremy and I had moved past the point in the summer where we appreciated all the sunshine we were getting and were now to the point of trying to get people up and down as quickly as possible.  Into our lives came a boy that I will call “Mike”.  I would like to say that I changed the name to protect the innocent, but honestly I either forgot or blocked his name out of my memory because I might still be a little angry with him.

In order to go down the tower you have to go up the tower, which requires that each person climb a 30 foot cargo net.  Mike showed some apprehension at this point, but so do many of the kids that go up the tower.  In other words, Mike did not display any sort of abnormal apprehension at this point so we encouraged him that he was safe and he proceeded clumsily up the cargo net.

Jeremy and I then proceeded through our normal spiel which was a devotion about trusting the rope and not your brain that was telling you that this was not safe and how that was analogous to trusting in God and not leaning on your own understanding.  Following the devotion we would show people how to put their gear on and then how they were going to get down.  This is when things started to get interesting because I remember Mike slowly working his way to the back of the tower.  He was doing what most people do when they feel danger.  They distance themselves as much as they can from the thing that threatens them.

Mike had watched a few people go over when we asked him to get on rope.  I walked him through the various instructions, made sure his gear was safe and then I asked Mike to turn around and face me.  This was not something that Mike was prepared to do.  He did not want to turn his back to the thing that threatened him, the wooden ledge.  At this point things started to unravel rather quickly.

Wait, you might have taken that to mean that the rope unraveled quickly, it did not, it fact the rope did not go anywhere at this point because Mike was not going anywhere.

Mike had a panic attack, he told me that he was going to puke, then he told me he couldn’t do it, then he tried to run to the back of the tower to sit down (still on rope mind you), then he told me he was going to, well, defecate right there on the tower.  Mike was not ready to rappel that day.  So we move to phase two which is to have the other instructor walk backward with Mike to the ledge and start down with him.  Normally if we can get people over the edge, they go the rest of the way pretty well.  It is the first step, that transition from vertical to horizontal, that puts most people into some form of panic.

Phase two did not work and more promises of things coming out of Mike’s body were made.  So we moved on to phase three which is to ask Mike to go sit down while we get the rest of the kids down the tower.  Even during this phase Mike was freaking out, which did not help get the rest of the kids down.  Phase three is to scrap our desire to help Mike through his fears and get him down the tower.  So 2 hours after Mike came up the tower, we asked Mike to climb down the cargo net.  This was not amendable to Mike, so we tried to get him to rappel again, which was also not amendable to Mike.  Mike had one proposal to make, which was not amendable to anyone else, and that was to make the tower his permanent home.

Three hours into this stand off we were finally able to get Mike off the tower.  Jeremy and I were hot, both physically and emotionally.  Mike’s fears and what they had manifested had taken every bit of our patience and love.  We packed up our gear, walked away from the tower, and headed back for our bunk.  Halfway back I dropped my harness on accident and in my anger I kicked it with my fake leg.

My leg flew off and hit the bunk house.  All I could do after I had landed on my butt outside the door was to lay there and laugh, what else was left.  Fear can debilitate and exhaust every one of our resources and the resources of people around us.  I wish I had more patience with Mike that day to help him figure out how we could help him conquer his fear, that really was the point of why we did rappelling at that camp in the first place.  Faith to overcome fear.

The Shop-Vac Toss

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So I came home early today and thought to myself, I should clean out my fire place in anticipation of my parents coming to visit.  My parents and I have a fundamental disagreement on what constitutes “comfortable.”  With Asher (ironic) by my side cleaning out the ash and soot I decided that most of it was gone so I could put down the shovel and clean the rest with the shop-vac.  About 30 second’s went by before I noticed my ten year old, bottom of the line, shop-vac was spewing ash and soot all over my living room and dining room.

For those of you who think that I am talking about getting a little on the carpet, I wish that was the case.  I could not see half of the room because of the black soot.  By the time the ash had cleared my whole upstairs seemed to have a film on it, and much of the living room had what could only be described as a blanket.  It was at this point that I went outside, cleaned the shop vac, made sure it was working properly, then went back to start to clean up.  The shop-vac failed one more time.  That is when the pastor in me left and I walked out of the house and chucked the shop-vac about 20 yards (I measured later after I cooled off).

After about 2 hours of cleaning I went downstairs to where I had sent my children while my wife and I tried to tackle a colossal mess.  I explained to them that the mess upstairs was much more dire than they might realize and that I needed my boys (the three oldest) to keep and play with their little sister.  While I was explaining this I had a caesar salad in my hand that was prepared before this whole thing began.  When I was finished talking I asked them if they understood and my two year old daughter said “okay dad” as I had given her a role in this whole thing, and my 9 year old son said “can I finish your salad.”

I Know She’s Cute, But She’s a Wuss

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So I have two red-merle Australian Shepherds now, Harvey and Spendy.  Harvey is my oldest adult live-in relationship, I have had since since August 2001.  I honestly don’t remember my adulthood without Harvey.  He is now 13 years old and has what the vet’s believe to be Congestive Heart Failure.

Here is the dichotomy of my opinion on dog’s: I love dogs and I plan on always having one around, but the are dogs not my children.  So when the vet told me what was wrong with Harvey they started prescribing treatments and medications.  I stopped them as politely as I can (which is actually a pretty abrupt experience when I am irritated) and asked what the normal life span of an Australian Shepherd was, turns out it is 13.  He is not in any significant pain so life moves on.

Maybe the hardest issue that Harvey is dealing with in his life is our new dog Spendy.  I call her “Spin” because I am not big on the name Spendy.  Harvey is a loner by nature, always has been, I did not know there was such thing as an “Aussie Introvert”.  We got Spendy now because we wanted to make sure that Harvey could have some influence in her before he is gone and with four kids we wanted to try to make sure that there is a smooth transition time after Harvey goes.  Harvey doesn’t care about this, all he knows is that she is trying to steal his turf, and his food.

Here is the funny thing though, Harvey is Spin’s security blanket.  The first few days that she was here she would fight with him, chew on him, steal his toys, steal his food.  All that stopped when the days started to get shorter because, and this is something that I did not every think I would experience, she is afraid of the dark!  What kind of dog is afraid of the dark?  She will not leave our back porch without Harvey.  What a wuss!  So for about two weeks she would “hold it” and then go to the bathroom in our basement if we didn’t pay attention.

Now we are finding that after we let her out and she does go potty outside she wants some privacy, so it is not uncommon for her to run into the woods and then see her looking at you through the ferns while she is pooping.  Harvey is neither a scaredy cat nor discrete, but he has his quirks as well.

Oh, He Makes Me So Angry!

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I once (actually more than once) joked that if I ever wanted someone to come to a parent meeting as a pastor or a parent teacher conference when I was a teach all I had to do was say or do something controversial right before the meeting was to take place.  Then when the meeting starts I would get up and say “oh by the way I was just kidding, sorry for the misunderstanding.  Now I would like to talk to you about the exciting things that are going on here at church/school”.  Then there are the times that I truly did upset people by what I said or did and I did not want them to show up or call to set up a meeting.  I cannot tell you how many times that something good has happened and I thought that surely people would want to come and hear about the good new.  Nope, good news does not draw a crowd.

I once had a long bus trip with my middle school ministry and one the way out we watch (well not me, I was driving) “Pirates of the Caribbean” (The first one, because the rest of them were not near as good).  On the way back from the trip we watched “The Lord of the Rings, Return of the King (it took the entire trip, thank you very much Tolkien and Jackson).  The next week I had parents in my office to talk to me about my movie selection.  They thought that “The Lord of the Rings” was acceptable, but “Pirates of the Caribbean” was not.  Both movies were PG13 but one of them was not written by Tolkien, never mind that Peter Jackson was the director of the movie.  I listened and told them that I would simply not show PG13 movies on trips again and that seemed to suffice.  The next time you pul those movies out to watch consecutively in one day (it will take you roughly 6.5 hours) send me a message and let me know which movie is scarier or gorier.

The point is that when we want to share good news people don’t show, but when there is bad news it is like blood in the water.  I am not sure if it is the fact that the media likes sharing bad news and that has conditioned us, or if people want to believe that all is going well until it doesn’t.  As a pastor and teacher I always thought that it was a time issue in which people simply did not want to be bothered unless there was trouble.  I have actually been tempted to get myself in trouble on this blog repeatedly just to drive my readership up, but I am not sure if I want that one reader that I had from ecuador having to come all that way just to meet with me about my bad behavior.