...Knows No Bounds

I have spent a lot of time developing the youth. Specifically, the wellbeing of young men in their teens. We have taught principles to help develop them physical, spiritually, intellectually and socially. We have set goals and looked for pinpointed approaches to meet them. Other times we have just found a way to have fun and show them that embracing our roles as men and leaders is a joyful experience.

Teenage boys enjoy a wide range of activities. When you try to mesh different personalities and interests, you often get disagreements or worse indifference and isolation from the rest of the group. We have spent amply time trying to engrain a well-rounded understanding and appreciation of a variety of hobbies.

One thing that most, not all, young men agree on is a love for camping. There’s simply something about the mountains, the fresh air and connection with nature. Perhaps, it is a reminder of our origins, or the closeness we feel with God. Seeing the abundance of nature gives us a strong sense of our intended purpose and reminds us there is beauty in the dark and dreary world.

One year we had a surplus in our budget and were able to schedule a high adventure camp for the youth in the Jackson Hole, Wyoming at the base of the Grand Tetons. This trip allowed for white water rafting and downhill mountain biking. It’s interesting the fathers that suddenly have interest in these trips when we have events like that scheduled.

There’s much to be learned from the youth. They have yet to trodden upon like the adults. They lack a jaded, cynical view of life. Confidence usual outweighs insecurities, and their sense of adventure is not stifled by fear of loss. They desire to live in the moment without thought of the future. While this is not always the rational decision, it does allow them to embrace the now instead of second guessing.

As we arrived at the Snake River, we prepared ourselves for significant rapids. I don’t know that anyone in our group had been on these particular rapids and the stories of Lunch Counter made for considerable excitement and anticipation. The tour company dropped us from our bus, provided the safety gear and introduced us to our guide.

After a brief explanation of the procedures, we were to follow we were now “experts” and ready for the crashing waves of ice-cold water. Volunteers were requested to paddle the rafts and to “ride the bull”. As adult leaders we regular defer to the teens to allow for growth and challenge. Before paddles were distributed and an explanation of riding the bull was given, we had a volunteer.

Riding the bull is when one of the passengers sits at the front of the raft with their feet hanging off. Their only job is to not fall off. One of our smallest was also our most daring and he willingly jump to the front of the boat to hold on for dear life. Other boys grabbed the oars and took their places in the boats.

It wasn’t long before the calm water became increasing turbulent. When we came to our first set of rapids the bitter water splashed into the boat taking our breath away. The chill was surprising but far less surprising than the response of the boys. Most continued with their assignments paddling as directed by our guide. There were two that taught valuable lessons as we watched on.

The first that we learned from was the boy riding the bull. The more severe the waters the tighter he held on. Never flinching at the unknown as he literally faced it head on with no control in the direction. He had to trust that those in the boat had his back and would steer him clear of overwhelming peril. All he could do is hold fast and trust. He recognized his limits and perhaps more importantly felt that we were within ours.

The second we learn from was a 16-year-old young man that was assigned the task of helping paddle and steer the raft. Perhaps it was naivety or maybe he was just ill-equipped to handle his duty. When the first unexpected wave crashed into the boat it engulfed his being leaving him paralyzed with fear. This paralysis left the rest of the passengers vulnerable to whims of the river. His role was important, but these rough waters exceeded those limits.

A more experienced leader recognized his fear, moved him to the middle and took up the oar. His quick response allowed us to maneuver clear of any immediate danger pulling us under. The removal of duty did not alleviate his fear and he remained frozen the rest of the ride. So great were his fears that even later refused to go canoeing in calm, shallow waters later.

Both boys had vastly different encounters while going through the same experience. One faced a challenge that most would have declined at the first offer. His desire to seek out and break through any limitations is an envy of many people. Few never find their limits as always stay within their comfort zone. The other found his limits. It is easy to criticize the boy that was asked to paddle but how many actually reach their full potential or limitations to where they can do nothing more? Most stay well within this level of comfort never experiencing growth. Paralyzed with fear, he still faced it while so many others in life complacency.

My personal lesson of limits came the next day. When we planned our trip, we had been given a list of different adventures that we could participate in. Collectively we decided on the ones that we could fit within our time frame and budget. Along with white water rafting we elected to take part in downhill mountain biking. Living in the Rockies many had experience in this area, but this proved to be different than what any of us really expected.

When we arrived at the resort in the Tetons we were divided into smaller groups and once again received an instructor. We were measured for our bikes and given proper safety gear. The bikes were built for the terrain that we would encounter, and the gear exceeded my expectations. I anticipated more than a bike helmet and pads but what we got was vastly more comprehensive. The helmets fully covered our faces and reminded us of what we would see on a motorcyclist speeding down the highway. We were equipped with full body armor that covered our arms, legs, chest and back. These preparations and instruction from someone far more experienced would allow for a safe but daring adventure.

With instruction came warning and advice. We were educated on the amount of protection that all would be given in anticipation of varying experience levels and inevitable falls. We were assured that we would be surprisingly protected. The safety equipment was designed with this specific type of activity in mind. It would act as the barrier between us and the compacted trails and the rocks and debris nearby.

He continued with his instruction counseling of the mistakes that most make while biking these trails. He warned of being passive, reminding that the gear would protect us and as such should be used to our advantage. Too many people would travel timidly along creating dangers for others and costing themselves the enjoyment that they had paid to appreciate. If we were to get the full experience, we needed to trust our safeguards and push our limits.

Once our instruction was complete, we loaded our bikes on the lift and began our ascent up the mountain. From the height we could see nearly everything on the ground. We could see the steep and rocky terrain, the ramps built to provide greater support for the sharper turns and we could see the many wrecks along the borders of the trails.

It would have been easy to justify hesitation as we came off the lift. We could have allowed our fears to cause a bashful descent down the mountain. Instead, we took to heart the advice of our guide. We jumped on the bikes and began our decline. We decided on full buy in and embraced the obstacles before us. I truly wanted to find my limitations and understand weaknesses of the armor. I trusted in the guide and came around the corner at full speed.

As I came around the bend, I quickly found that my limited experience was apparent. I quickly found the loose gravel causing my tires to slip out from beneath me and onto my side I crashed. My momentum carried me off the path and into the bushes that skirted the track. As I got my composure, I quickly jumped to my feet in just enough time for the rest of my group to arrive. While they did not witness the crash, they did catch me before I could rebound.

As it turned out our guide was correct. When I arose, I peered down to see that I was virtually unscathed. Aside from a few scratches on the side of my leg there wasn’t a mark. I now knew my current limits which allowed me to push them, increasing my old boundaries and creating new ones.

As the day went, I continued to get better and better. I also continued to wreck. Toward the end of the day, I decided it was time for one more boundary check. As we came near the bottom of the mountain there was a jump that required you to come up over a small boardwalk. At the top the jump over a small steam. While the gully was not wide, it did require that came off the top at just the right angle. Unfortunately for me, I missed and into the side of the ditch I went. I flew over the top of the handlebars and headfirst into the bank. At the last moment I turned my head and smashed into the ground near my collar bone.

As my friends watched in concern, (or in laughter) I quickly jumped to my feet like a cowboy that had finished his eight second ride. Yet again, seemingly impossible, I walked away with only bruises. The precautions that had been taken had yet again fulfilled their responsibility. The armor had protected me, and I was able to maximize each moment of the ride.

We all have some type of armor in our lives. Some have have found protection in others, themselves or God. No matter the source, we all have it. It's there to protect us and used properly it truly does. It is up to us to put that armor on and test it's worth as well as our own.

Too many times we undervalue our metaphorical armor. The previous experiences, the learning and the hardships that we have gone through have prepared us to find our old limits and recognize when they can be exceeded. We may feel ill-prepared for what life has thrown at us but knowing that we can be protected by these things should give us the confidence push through and find new heights. It makes it possible to ride the bull, pick up the oar or fly down the mountain.

Had I chosen to never test the threshold of the protective gear, I would have trickled down the mountain avoiding any possible risk and even worse improvement. While I did not come off that mountain at the end of the day as an expert, I did come off with a better understanding of the preparation necessary. I was exposed to a greater risk, but without risk there is no reward. Great will be the reward.

I often wonder now what limits I have placed on myself. In the past, I have not been one to believe in the value of new years resolutions. Perhaps it is that many people use them as a way to put off working on goal or maybe because very few follow through. This year I wonder if I can see my self inflicted boundaries and smash through them. Have the goals I have set in the past come with restrictions that only I have allowed? Has my self talk caused me to miss out on greatness or adventure?

As old goals have become current habits, it becomes time to embrace the chaos that are rapids in my life. Do I have the fortitude to ride the bull of life or will shrink in paralysis when faced with the icy cold adversity? Can I trust that my experiences can provide safety that will bring exceeded expectations instead of the limitations? The unknown can cause many to cower, while others find their purpose.

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