We were in the middle of Brazil, surrounded by palm trees, bamboo and humidity so thick you could touch the water in the air. Our boots were coated in mud, so much so that they looked like platform shoes, and weighed twice what they would clean. Most of us had just as much mud on us, having run through it, crawled through it and fallen into it. But we kept on, knowing that the timer ticked on – and two hundred Brazilian teens and their leaders were watching. We'd been through our own Boot Camp and now were helping run theirs.
We’d been here before – not in Brazil but through Boot Camp’s Obstacle course, even if this one was on the other side of the world. We knew how it worked. We’d done a countoff (this time in Portuguese), climbed a giant ladder, run through tires, crawled through a tunnel made of palm leaves, swung on a rope over water. All that was left was the wall. By this stage, we were pros at this obstacle.
So, hands up, eyes up, we began. First one team member, then another. Over the wall. Someone called my name – “Hannah! You’re next!” – and I pushed to the front, put hands on two teammates’ shoulders and stepped up on their clasped hands, felt them push up and grabbed for the hands of the two guys sitting up on top. So far, so good. There was yelling around me – leaders reminding us to keep our hands and eyes up, the Brazilian teens cheering us on, my own teammates calling out encouragement and advice – but all I was focused on was keeping my mud-coated boots flush up against the wall. Lean back, walk it up. Trust their hold.
And then, I don’t know what happened, whether the humidity made the guys’ hands slip or whether one of my boots did, wrenching me out of their grasp but, almost to the top, I fell.
And, for the time it took me to fall backward two metres, I totally panicked. Actually, panicked isn’t quite the word. More my brain rushed a few thousand times faster than it should thinking through every worst-case scenario it could come up with. Which was a lot given how little time it had.
I was going to break a leg. A compound fracture, of course. In the middle of the Brazilian jungle. Forever away from a hospital.
Land on my tailbone, jar my back out of alignment, partially paralyze myself.
Hit my head on a rock. Lose consciousness. For days.
Crush those beneath me. Wipe out the team.
Silly things. Completely ridiculous now I think of it but fear has a way of making the ridiculous sound real.
Of course, none of those happened. Not even close. I didn’t even get a scratch. Why?
Because my team caught me. I didn’t even hit the ground. And less than a minute later, I was up again, walking up the wall. This time, making it over.
I’d been with that team for almost four weeks already. We’d run Obstacle Courses, done classes, screamed out warcries, worked together, spent two days on a bus and two and a half on planes/in airports, prayed together, put up tents together, washed my hair in buckets and brushed my teeth alongside them. I knew these people. I loved these people. But I never realized how deeply I could trust them – with everything I had – until that day I fell off the wall and they caught me. That moment was such an incredible turning point for me. To trust to the point of letting myself fall.
I hate the feeling of being weak and out of control. I’m pretty sure most people do. I want to be independent and strong and enough. All on my own. I want to have it all together. I hate it when people see my weakness. I’ve gotten really good at letting people see what I want them to see. Which isn’t weakness. Or if it is, it’s once I’m past it. Once I’ve gotten through whatever it is and can stand proudly and say I did it. I – with God’s help – got through. I’ll accept God’s help – how can I live even a day without him?? – but other people? No, thanks. I’m good. I can do it myself.
Just like a silly toddler. “Do it myself, Mummy.” Yeah, sure.
Want to know something? I’m forcing myself to write this post. Why? Because I haven’t conquered this one yet. I’m not writing from the end, when I’ve learnt the lesson and can encourage you all to do it too. I’m still in the middle. Still failing every day to trust those around me to catch me when I fall. Still struggling hugely to let them even see that I’m falling. Still clinging to control till my fingers bleed.
All these people around me with their hands up, eyes up. All these people wanting to help. Already praying. On my team. Who love me. And here I am, struggling up the wall myself, determined to get up there alone. Clinging to the illusion of control. Too full of pride to let myself fall.
The thing is, I know they’re there. I know God has sent them to help me, but I struggle so much with pushing my pride away enough to let them.
But here’s the thing – and I’m telling myself this as much as I am you reading this – you’re not alone. Maybe it’s time to let yourself fall. Let them see that you’re not okay. Give them the opportunity to bless you. Be there for you. Be Jesus to you today.
It wasn’t climbing the wall which showed me the power of team. I’d done that a few times already. It was falling off it. And having them catch me.
But they didn’t stop there. They didn’t just lower me to the ground and say, “nice try, Hannah, guess you’re not strong enough after all”. The lifted me again. Grasped my hands again. Pushed me up to try again. And this time, I succeeded. Because of them. Because of the people around me.
Like I said, this is a lesson I’m still learning and, with my stupid pride, probably will be for the rest of my life. It’s a tough thing to write about because I know how often I fail at it. But maybe you, like me, need to be reminded that you’re not alone. That there are people around and underneath you who are on your side. On your team. With their hands up and eyes up. Ready to catch you. Ready to help you up again. You can’t do this alone. You were never meant to.