Eighteen years ago, after my first year of seminary, I served as camp chaplain at Johnsonburg in northern New Jersey. It was the first of two internships I would complete.
I was part of a small group of senior staff. At the beginning of the summer, a few days before the counselors arrived for training, the six of us gathered at Johnsonburg for our own training, including team-building exercises.
The only thing I remember was the ropes course. I remember because I failed.
It’s a story I’ve told about myself for eighteen years.
One of the first obstacles—maybe even the very first—was a cargo net that stretched up the side of a tree, and the goal was to climb the net.
I tried, but I didn’t have enough strength in my arms, and I was very afraid. In tears, I gave up.
I thought about that story a lot in the months leading up to Willa’s birth. I wanted to give birth without meds, but I had no confidence in my ability to do so.
I kept imagining myself giving up.
But circumstances didn’t give me a choice. The contractions came so fast and furious that there’s no way an anesthesiologist would have gotten me still enough to put a needle in my spine.
And I did it.
With grit and determination, I wrestled sweet Willa from my body, without a drop of pain meds.
A few weeks later, I told Ruth, a friend and colleague, about the ropes course, and how I’d been afraid of my weakness and cowardice.
“How long ago was that?” she asked.
I did some quick math. “About eighteen years,” I said.
“Well, you’re not the same person anymore, are you? And now you have a new story to tell yourself,” she said.
Yes, I do. And now when I’m afraid, feeling daunted by a task, large or small, I remember: I gave birth. I can do this. I can do anything.