Chasing Waterfalls

Well yes, I do chase waterfalls. Scrambling over wet rocks, climbing higher in spray, jumping down them to solid ground below—that was my perfect road trip afternoon for most of my life.

These days, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome exacts a painful price if I try that. Every step on uneven terrain has potential for a turned ankle or a fall. I climb and descend—but slowly, carefully, watching every single foot placement and evaluating the next one for security. Recovery for a mistake takes far longer now than it did when I could jump up and dust off the skid marks from my backside.

It’s slow. It’s not the joyful abandon of earlier days. I sometimes can’t appreciate the vista around me for the attention to detail below me. But it’s reality, and ignoring reality isn’t wise for anyone, regardless of natural ability.

On our September trip to five national parks out west, I learned this again and again. Watch where you’re going. Calculate where your steps will lead. Be ready if the footing shifts.

I don’t like it. It’s not my personality. I think, though, it’s a good lesson.

It’s Not Just Hiking

This process describes most of my life as a church leader, too. I used to have no worries about scurrying down the hill, quickly sidestepping roadblocks, creating plans B and C on the way. 

“Throw is at the wall and see what sticks.”

“Don’t be afraid to fail.”

“Just do it.”

I’m not suggesting these outlooks are wrong. They served me well. One of the things I wish young people believed more was that failing is not fatal. Having the courage to let go of control would benefit more church leaders and their people.

It’s just that perhaps, some of us are in a different time now as leaders—whether of churches, families, organizations, or volunteer brigades. Maybe those of us who have been up and down the waterfall a few times have a different job. Maybe it’s our calling now to proceed with more caution.

Experience Teaches Something about Jumping

A jump is a commitment. I tended to make those commitments before. Now, I’m more cautious, knowing there are perils I can’t see until I’m balancing on the rock. Perhaps in lieu of jumping higher right now, It’s my call to look down. 

I have the experience to yell back to others—

“Hey, that rock has some solid spots, but don’t put both feet there. Stay aware of its weaknesses. Be ready for when it lets you down.” 

“You can choose that route, but you won’t recover from a fall from that path. You’ll wash out at the bottom. Stronger than you have tried.”

“You’re in the weeds. I know it looks like there isn’t a path because pain or confusion has covered what you thought you knew. But there are footholds there that will hold you. I know this. I’ve been held.”

“You can do this. The reward is worth it. Keep going!”

The trail has been blazed for those coming behind me with leaps and skids, with triumphant sprays of joy and frightening slides. Now could be my time to create a different path. One that makes clear where the footing is solid and won’t fail beneath. A path that shows where and wh

A call from my place of experience that says, yes, there are dozens of ways to get up and down these rocks, but don’t put all your faith in one outcropping, and don’t forget there is solid footing to which you can always return.

Now I’m looking ahead enough before every step to instinctively know when recovery will be too difficult if I choose one direction, when one path will get me to the goal albeit slower, and what my limits are either way.

It’s my turn to travel slowly, deliberately, and wisely, knowing the leapers and jumpers behind me may choose other routes, but they will know, from what I’ve laid out, where sure footing lies. They can return to it. It will hold.

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