Shrill cries of delight echoed over the campground. Nestled in wooded hills, this scenic spot was home to our extended family for the weekend. Tents dotted the grass. Swingsets rocked happy children. The mess hall door banged open and shut, open and shut, as folks entered hungry and left satisfied. Best of all, the zipline remained in constant use, swinging its shrieking victims down a 30’ breathtaking swoop from raised platform to solid ground.
In order to ride, a participant must climb a ladder to a platform ten feet in the air, grab the rope dangling from a pulley, thrust one foot into the loop at the rope’s end, and swing out into empty space. Like a one-way swing, the rope and pulley combination zipped its rider down the line.
Most popular to adolescent boys, the zipline nonetheless attracted a wide variety of thrill-seekers: a young mom, a grandma, and children piggybacking with their fathers.
Scotty was one such child. Wrapping his arms tightly around his father Derek’s neck, he rode with a wide grin while his dad whooped it up.
Scotty was content with this safe exhilaration. His dad, for some unaccountable reason, was not.
“Wanna try it by yourself, Scotty?” Derek asked.
I was surprised. Scotty was only five years old—in my opinion, an age too tender to be quite safe dangling ten feet above the ground at high speeds. What if his hands slipped?
Scotty shared my views. With a shake of the head, he turned his back.
“Come on. You can do it, man.”
Derek let the matter go, took his son on a few more rides, offered the rope to others. But he kept coming back to the offer, quietly coaxing while his five-year-old remained adamant. Nothing doing, dad.
“All right,” Derek said finally, in a mild compromise. “Wanna earn a dollar? One more ride with dad, then you’re gonna try it yourself, okay buddy?” A teenage cousin chipped in another dollar, and Scotty reluctantly agreed.
The ride together was easy. But inevitably, the time for solo action arrived.
Derek climbed the ladder with Scotty, encouraging, cheering, gently persuading. “You can do it. It’ll be easy. Piece-a cake. Remember last summer when you rode that thing you were scared of? Remember how fun it was? You can do it, man. I’m right here.” Until the very last moment, Scotty clung to him, turning once to bury his face in dad’s chest. “No no, buddy. You can do it. I’m right here.”
I watched, mystified and not a little nervous for the child. Why was this so important?
Scotty’s mother stepped close, ten feet below. Her face was serene; her words offered a motherly safety net. “Scotty, I’m down here. I’ll be here just in case you fall.”
But her husband threw her a disapproving frown. “Hey!”
“Hey, none of that. He’s not gonna fall.”
Scotty’s hands were on the rope, his foot in the stirrup, his ears tuned to his dad. “I’m gonna count to three, then let go. You’ll be just fine. Just hang on tight. One. Two. Three.”
The little body swung into space. Small hands clenched the thick rope. Shoulders tensed. Head pulled in. Five seconds later he was at the bottom.
His audience whooped. “Yay, Scotty! Way to go! Great job, man; you did it!” He clung to the rope, face buried in his arms, motionless. “Is he okay?” In a moment Derek was down the ladder, loping toward the hero. His strong hands lifted him down. They sank to the ground together. The tense face, marked with tears, switched its hiding place to a big shoulder.
“You did it! Were you scared? You were so brave.” Derek rocked him. Comforted. Cheered. Fell back against the ground, Scotty held tight against his chest. Took a lot of moments just soaking there with his son—soaking in love, in protection, in adrenaline rush, in victory.
Later, he confided to his wife, “He was just shaking. His whole body just—vibrating. He was so scared.”
Life around the camp moved on. Children scampered. Adults chatted. Ten minutes later, I looked up in surprise to see the sight I least expected: a small figure gripping a thick rope ten feet above the ground. Huh? There he was again, with a sober face but a confident mien. He knew exactly what he was doing. Derek counted one. Two. Three. Zip! And Scotty dropped off at the bottom with a grin.
“Wanna do it one more time before you go play?”
“Yeah, one more time. Then you can go.”
This time it was easy. Nothing to it, just like dad said. And he sauntered off to join the other kids.
I was left pondering, deep thoughts swirling in my mind, with admiration predominant. Question: What kind of father insists that his child perform terrifying feats of courage? Answer: Only the best of the best.
A parent driven by vicarious ambition or macho performance will play to an audience, take it too far. But a parent consumed with his child’s best interest coaxes, empowers, lets go.
This is an entirely factual account, retold with permission. Derek is my first cousin; the reunion took place in the summer of 2012. Scotty has faced more fears since. “Shut up, brain,” he says, and moves forward. Go Scotty!
[amazon_link id=”1596445858″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Eugene Peterson[/amazon_link] says that one of a parent’s most important jobs is to help a child unlearn his fears. What do you think?
Brings back good memories. Thanks, Shari. And thanks, nephew Derek, for leaving the life of sin and coming back to serve Jesus, and for being a good daddy. Love to you and yours!
love you all too!
Scotty overcame how he felt and what he was thinking, which gave him a new identity.
Our identity is, also, not based on the thoughts and feelings that come across our plate, but rather is based on what we entertain. This is the most important christian principle I have learned yet and see it as the highest expression of worship. Scotty is learning to model this. May God bless him. .. and all of us!!
Got to love Romans 8:
5 Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. 6 So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. 7 For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. 8 That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God.
9 But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.) 10 And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life because you have been made right with God. 11 The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.
12 Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. 13 For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.
15 So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” 16 For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. 17 And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.
I love to hear you quoting this scripture, D, because this is where miracles take place, and things become what they used to not be!! When people say that God does not perform miracles today, I disagree heartily!! He has performed a miracle in the life of every man or woman who has committed themselves to him! Transformation miracle, only God can do that!
I thought the young mom was the best. She conquered a few fears herself. But yeah, the thing with Scotty was pretty cool, too.
Ahem…no accolades for Grandma?????
Grandma was amazing.
Oh my….will have to ponder this one for awhile…I am not sure how you know when you should do this and when you are pushing too far or for the wrong reasons??? I see good parenting in this story…not criticizing it at all. Just left with a million questions. 😛
very very carefully and with much prayer. It is terrifying. Do not doubt that I was talking to God though this scenario
I’m no authority on this. But remember, Scotty became willing. Despite his qualms and quailings, he climbed the ladder himself, put his foot in the stirrup, grabbed the rope. Threats and force would have got him nowhere fast… and the coaxing never, ever turned cruel– “If you are really a man, prove it…” That’s Satan’s lingo. God coaxes, nudges, doesn’t give up on us.
Also, there’s no particular virtue in being the kind of “fearless” person who never backs down from a challenge just to prove a point. Everyone has fears; it’s part of being human. A parent (and God) will know when fear is defining and controlling a child’s life. I think Derek was working with a pattern, not a fluke.
Does God force us to face our fears?
Does God still accept us if we leave some fears unconquered?
Incredible how much joy it brings, when we read about the wisdom of our kids and how they bring our grandkids up in the wisdom and nurture of the Lord!!! I am so proud of them both!
It does my heart good to hear this story about our mutual cousin and his desire and effort at being a good dad. So many people lack that knowledge of when to ‘push’ and when not to push (me being one of them). God bless you Derek!