A canopy of trees stretched before me. Crystals of sunlight pierced through the thick forest, providing a sliver of warmth to the otherwise cool day. My eyes barely processed the beauty in front of me. The only thing I could focus on was my stomach tied in a web of complex knots that could put a Boy Scout troupe to shame.
My husband Jeff and I were on the trip of a lifetime, an Alaskan cruise, and he signed us up for a shore excursion in Juneau involving suspension bridges and over 6,000 feet of zip lines. Jeff is the daredevil in our family; I’m a self-proclaimed scaredy-cat.
I watched the other people in our tour group take their first zip down a cable that was supposed to be the practice round. I tried to calm my quivering hands and leaned toward Jeff to whisper, “I can’t do this.”
The tour guide standing nearby overheard my comment. She threw a sweet smile in my direction. “Just try this first one. If you don’t like it, you can get down at the next tree stand.”
I gulped and nodded. A panic attack threatened to force tears out of my eyes, breath out of my lungs, and vomit out of my stomach. I closed my eyes and willed the tension away. Soon it was my turn; the inevitable moment had arrived. I stepped up to the edge of the wood platform and waited while the guide hooked my harness to the zip line, explaining how to brake as I approached the next stand.
A rush of air escaped my mouth, and I positioned my hands on the line. My feet stepped off the platform, and I waited to feel my body drop to the earth’s floor. For a few terrifying seconds, I was suspended above the forest, gliding through the trees like an eagle. Time paused, and I prayed I would land without injury. I arrived at the second tree stand on both feet, immediately looking for the escape the tour guide promised me. But it didn’t exist; her soothing words were just a ploy.
I was stuck on this crazy adventure whether I wanted to be or not.
Each zip line was longer as we continued on the course, and the platforms stood further from solid ground, reaching as high as one hundred feet. With every step off the ledge, I felt more confidence and exhilaration flood my body until I couldn’t wait to experience the next suspension. About halfway through the excursion, I let myself fully relax and view the scenery surrounding me.
My eyes gazed up to see the rich green hue of foliage, with the powder blue sky winking between the sway of trees. My nose breathed in the crisp air swirling with the smell of the nearby sea. My ears relished the sound of seclusion from the modern world — the gentle clap of leaves combined with the squaw of birds, the soft conversation and laughter of tourists who discovered new-found camaraderie.
Unfortunately the excursion didn’t end with my newly discovered awe of God’s creation. Throughout the course, I assumed the last zip line would glide me to solid ground, but I learned that it would actually carry me to another tree stand. The only way off the wooden platform was to hold on to a dangling rope and rappel my way down. If I thought I was scared on that first practice ledge, I was kidding myself. Absolute terror was the only explanation for my sweaty palms and thumping heart on this final test.
My pulse picked up speed as the other members of my group swung themselves around from the stand so their toes gripped the edge and their bodies floated in the air. Then they controlled their slack in the rope and lowered themselves to the dirt below. Much to my relief, there were two other self-proclaimed scaredy-cats in our group who opted to slide off the ledge from a sitting position and let the tour guide control their slack. I quickly joined them. When my feet finally landed on the forest floor, a sense of relief rushed through my body. My racing heart no longer pounded due to panic; rather, it skipped from the elation of overcoming my fears.
And all because I had the courage to take that daunting step off the ledge.
There are many times in my life when I’ve stepped off a ledge of sorts, like moving away to a college where I didn’t know anyone. Or going to the elders of my church for prayer and anointing when I faced medical hardships. Or forcing my introverted self to join a mom’s group.
In each instance, I can look back and see that God harnessed me to His line of faithfulness, setting me safely at the next landing. I made lifelong friends in college, including one who introduced me to the man who is now my husband. God healed me of my medical complications, not only physically but emotionally and spiritually as well, helping me realize that He has a purpose for my life even in the midst of my darkest hour. My mom’s group at church has been an amazing support system, providing tangible evidence of God’s hands and feet serving others.
I also had the option in each of those decisions to take the easy route, to climb down the tree stand and return to the cabin without even letting myself reach the first ledge. But I would have missed the thrill of living in the center of God’s purpose for my life, just as I would have missed the beauty of the Alaskan forest and the exhilaration of conquering my fears that adventure-filled day.
There’s a story in the New Testament that speaks to the faith it requires to step off the ledge. A woman had been subject to bleeding for 12 years and was part of the large crowd when Jesus walked by one day. She pushed her way through the crowd to get near Him. “She said to herself, ‘If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.’ Jesus turned and saw her. ‘Take heart, daughter,’ he said, ‘your faith has healed you.’ And the woman was healed from that moment” (Matthew 9:21-22).
What if the woman let fear hold her back from taking that step of faith? She could have worried about what others thought of her. Or maybe she could have been trampled by the massive crowd of people. Instead, she pushed forward, knowing that the potential rewards far outweighed the risks. She touched Jesus’ cloak and let herself freefall into a suspension of faith, allowing herself to experience His goodness and healing.
The next time I find myself on a wooden platform, I have no reason to hold back. Whether a canopy of trees stretches before me, or an excruciating decision looms, or the opportunity to pursue a new dream or receive healing awaits, I can confidently step off the ledge with the knowledge that God has an adventure in store, and He’ll be with me through every stage of the journey.