Cliff Jumping

I grew up just on the line of where civilization ends and the country begins. Almost every road was a backroad and you could see cornfields for days. It was totally normal to disappear for hours riding bikes or sledding or playing by the creek– or crick, depending on who you’re talking to.

It was summer. It was the summer after my freshman year of college, and I was counting down the days until I could go back. It was the summer when I felt like the whole world was in front of me and I had no idea where I fit. I was tired of thinking about it, really. Tired of thinking about my GPA, about scholarship essays, about whether my major was right and how I was going to pay for three more years of it.

That summer was particularly hot, and I was particularly bored. I was grateful when a friend from high school invited me to tag along with her boyfriend and his cousin to swim at Licking Creek. Yes, Licking Creek. Can you hear “Deliverance” playing in the background?

We hiked to the top of the cliffs that overlook the creek. There were three, and the highest was about forty feet from the water. The boys took the plunge from the top without thinking twice. They called up for us to jump, too, and I saw both my life and several Lifetime Movies flash before my eyes.

But what else was there to do?

I knew that if I thought about it too long, I wouldn’t do it. And if I looked over the edge at all, I definitely wouldn’t do it. I made them promise for the one hundredth time that it was deep enough. I took a few steps back so that I could get a running start.

As soon as my feet left the ground, I wished they hadn’t. In reality, the fall probably took less than ten seconds. It felt like an eternity. I remember thinking about how stupid it was. I remember bargaining with God that if I managed to end up not paralyzed, I would never do it again. I remember wondering why I jumped in the first place.

Everyone says that teenagers do stupid things because they think they’re invincible. While that’s entirely true, I think there’s more to it. At least there was for me. Jumping off of that cliff was one of the few things I felt in control of in that moment. It was terrifying and incredible, all at once.

There was also no going back. I could feel myself falling through the air, and I could feel my anxiety building as I got closer to the water. Would it hurt? Would I touch the bottom? Where would I even swim to?

We jump because it makes us feel like we’re in control of something, and in falling, we realize we aren’t at all.

That afternoon became disgustingly metaphoric for the year that followed. I made it through two more semesters of school before I couldn’t afford to go back. I moved home, changed schools, and changed majors. There were several self-loathing mix CDs and a really angsty Tumblr page. My whole life was in a slow-motion free fall and I had no idea what was waiting to break it. Where would I even swim to?

It was an awful feeling when I finally hit the water. The boys later said it looked like I was sitting in a chair as I fell through the air. I sank deep into the creek and it took some time to get my bearings before I swam toward the surface. Looking back toward the top of the cliff, I couldn’t believe I had actually done it.

Deciding to start a family at twenty-one, and last year when Mike changed jobs, found me feeling a lot the same. It was terrifying and incredible all at once, and if we had thought about it too much, we wouldn’t have done it. That’s most of your twenties, isn’t it? Sometimes you’re pushed, and sometimes you jump. Cliff, after cliff, after cliff.

I can’t believe we managed to take care of a baby that young. I can’t believe we were able to pay our bills with a pay cut just six months after buying our house. And don’t be fooled– just because we did it, doesn’t mean it was easy. There were plenty of moments when we wondered why we jumped in the first place.

And that nineteen-year-old in free fall? I wouldn’t have believed you then, but being pushed was the best thing that could have happened to me. I fell back into a relationship that became a marriage, that led to two beautiful boys. I fell into a major that became a career that I love.

It took falling to realize that I’m not in control at all.

If there’s one thing I know for sure after a quarter century of trying to keep it all together, it’s that I can’t. And that’s because I wasn’t meant to! I’ve spent so much of my life trying to make sense of the details, of every cliff I’ve encountered, of the ugly or unremarkable or uncomfortable, and there’s no other explanation except that I am being passionately pursued by a God who is bigger than the box I’ve tried to put him in.

And it isn’t contingent upon me. He pursues me the same when I’m at my worst– when I’m at zero cups of coffee on a Monday, when I push back, when I’m impatient or stubborn or frustrateding– as He does at my best.

There’s so much peace in that. I don’t have to worry about what’s waiting at the bottom, or where I’m going to swim to. His plans are always so much bigger than ours, which makes this life even more of an adventure. Cliff, after cliff, after cliff.

It’s terrifying and incredible, all at once.

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Author: Erica the Great

Wife, momma, teacher, and a twenty-something for a little while longer. Every day, I'm a lot of things for a lot of people. This space? It's just for me.

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