I did not forget about my lessons series, I promise. I just haven't really had time to thoroughly write out what happened and what I learned from my experiences. That takes time that I didn't really have to give the past 2 weeks.
In light of recent events, I decided that my next lesson would be about perseverance.
I was able to help out with a confirmation retreat a few weeks ago as the "college help." When it came time for the group activity, there were two options: rock climbing or paint ball. Personally, I think paint ball is a little silly, but if you like it, that is quite alright. Just don't call it a sport (like ping-pong = table tennis?) I don't think so.
I digress. I had not filled out the form before the retreat, and when we got to the rock climbing wall, I wasn't going to do it. I'm usually the photographer at youth events at St. Thomas, and I'm fine with that job. It's fun. Although, this time I actually wanted to be a part of the activity and take pictures. So I quickly filled out a form, put on a harness (that was weird), and then got in line.
My friend Steve was the first one to go, and he made it halfway up the wall. My goal was to either tie or beat Steve. After watching most of the kids go up, I thought that was a pretty reasonable goal. Then, 2 of the girls got all the way to the top. They were like monkeys! They just shot up there. I'm still amazed at Isabel and Idania. They're my heroes.
Then, it was my turn. I climbed up to the halfway mark, and I felt fine. Awesome! I tied with Steve. I decided that I was going to try and reach the cowbell = the top. A little after the halfway mark, though, my body all of a sudden decided that climbing a 50 foot wall wasn't such a piece of cake. At about the 40 foot level, my fingers literally cramped up and were in the shape of the hand hold! I was sort of paralyzed for a few minutes, unable to pull/push myself up, not to mention the fact that I was at a weird spot on the wall where the hand/foot holds were very spread out.
After some extreme reaching into the depths of my physical and mental self and with the help of all my friends (who were serving as excellent cheerleaders and motivators), I made it to the 45 foot level. Then, I got stuck again! I was so exhausted, and my arms and legs were shaking. The rope guy and Steve were both urging me along, helping me find holds when I couldn't see them. Meanwhile, it had started to rain ever so lightly. That was not going to stop me, by God!
Eventually, with faint stars in my vision and with a view of the mountains on the other side of the wall, I heaved my tired self up the last few inches and grabbed that cowbell. That was the best sound of my life. SUCCESS! What was even better, though, was the sound of all of my friends down below cheering and hollering for little Ashley. I made it to the top of the 50 foot wall.
However, when I got back down, I really began to feel just how exhausted I really was. Then I found a ton of splinters all over my knees, mid-thighs, elbows, forearms, hands, and fingers. Oh, yeah, and I had a 2-3 inch splinter in my right thigh. Somehow on the way up, I got that pleasant gift but I didn't even realize it was there. I was able to pull most of it out, but about 1/3 inch was still stuck in my leg. Later on, one of the youth leaders and the longtime teacher/nurse performed triage and removed the splinter. That was quite interesting.
I almost got sick in the van on the way back. I sat on the floor outside so that the cool breeze would help me cool off while I picked splinters out. Then I crawled into my bed and fell asleep. I was so tired, so exhausted, so sore, and very much in pain. After that, everyone called me Sleeping Beauty because I was out for awhile and no one else got a nap!
I hadn't realized how much of myself, how much energy, I had expended to reach my goal. I don't think I have ever worked that hard for anything before in my life, at least physically. I had to draw on reserves of patience and strength that I didn't know existed. Looking back, I wouldn't change anything except maybe wear pants instead of shorts to avoid splinters.
Fast forward to this past Friday, May 3. Fr. Christian, a parishioner named Ken, and myself went on a 12.3 mile hike. We started out on the Rainbow Falls trail at 2000ish feet and proceeded to make our way to Mt. Leconte, which is around 6500 feet. Right before Rainbow Falls, I tripped over a rock and caught myself with my right leg. At the actual falls, we stopped to take a break. We climbed around to get closer to the water, and when it was time to hop back down, I must have landed funny on my right leg.
A short while after that, as we were climbing higher in elevation, I realized with a sudden sharp pain that my leg was killing me. Whatever I did, my body was not happy with me. We were only a little over 2.7 miles out of 12.3 miles total, and I didn't think I could make it. Honestly. But Fr. Christian and Ken urged me on, saying it is "mind over matter." Okay, I'll try that. I was annoyed with that phrase, but it really does work.
It was so hard to keep thinking that. I ended up taking up the back of the line, because I would stop periodically so that my leg and my breath could catch up with the rest of me. At times, I thought I was going to just keel over. I was fully prepared to curl up in a ball and cry.
But I didn't. With the help of my friends and drawing on my not too recent rock climbing experience, I pushed myself further and further. When we made it to the intersection of trails, I practically shouted to FC to take a picture of the sign that said we had made it. I was so happy to see the sign. We didn't go to the Mt. Leconte Lodge at the very top, which was another 0.6 mile uphill climb. I knew I couldn't do it.
From then on, after we got on the Bull Head trail, it was all downhill. That was better on my leg, but of course, as clumsy as I am, I managed to trip even more...making the stabbing pain in my leg even more unbearable.
This picture was taken right before the top, and I love it because it very well depicts my mood. Don't take a picture of me! Just kidding. I'm glad we documented the experience. I can read my thoughts and emotions extremely well just by looking at my pathetic expression. Estoy patetica!
At the end of both of these outdoor adventures, I learned a lot about myself. I was given 2 hardcore crash courses in finding the will to keep going. I'm pretty sure that my container of perseverance just outgrew itself. I need a bigger container! I hope to remember to draw from it. For sure, I know that it exists. Ashley Siferd can persevere.
Now, the real challenge is to apply this perseverance to my spiritual life. If I could just extend the same level of commitment and steadfastness to prayer and building upon my relationship with God, the possibilities are endless.
My sufferings pale in comparison to what Christ went through, but now I have a healthy respect for and an admiration of the gifts that were given to me. It took a lot of sweat and almost tears to realize that, but I'm grateful for the gift and lesson of perseverance.