My friend invited Juan and I to go rock climbing at Planet Granite in July. I agreed, reluctantly, buoyed more by Juan’s enthusiasm than my own affinity for thrill-seeking, physically exerting activities. As I strapped myself into the harness and surveyed the beginner’s wall, I told myself that it was okay if I don’t reach the top. Halfway would be respectable. Except that I’ve seen six year olds dauntlessly and effortlessly scale these routes.

Juan belayed me as I hoisted myself up the wall. The first few feet were easy. The rocks were easy to grip, and there were plenty of them. But my nerves failed at the halfway mark. I peeked down, nauseated by the seemingly enormous distance between the ground and myself. I desperately clung to the rocks, elbows contracted as I fought to keep my body as close to the wall as possible. I was really glad that Juan and Vicky were out of earshot, because something like a whimpering whine escaped from my throat. They were chatting down there with each other, oblivious to my physical and mental anguish. I could give up. I could shout for them to lower me down. I could tell them that I’ve tried it, and it just wasn’t my thing. But I looked up at the endpoint, so tauntingly close, and I knew that I didn’t want to take the easy way out.

meyer lemon chiffon cake

It’s been four months and I’m still climbing. There’s so much I’ve learned. How I should hang from my arms, instead of bending my elbows. How to step up with my legs, instead of pulling up with my arms. How to balance with feet apart, instead of standing with feet together. I have come to love the smell of chalk on my hands. The way the rocks feel under my fingers. The scraped hands and bruised knees. I love the triumph that comes with every conquered ledge, the exhilaration with every successful climb. But more than anything, I love that when I’m up high, there is nothing left except for me and my fear.

meyer lemon chiffon cake

A few weeks ago, I found myself stuck in one spot on a particularly difficult climb. I needed to step right with my foot, so that I can grab the hand-hold that was out of my reach. I needed to trust that this rock would catch my weight as I made this lunge. I knew what I had to do, but I didn’t want to do it. Or rather, I didn’t think I could do it. So I clung tight to that spot for a good 20 minutes, straining to keep from slipping. I felt my grip loosen from the rock as it became slick with the sweat pouring from my palms. I called down three times for Vicky to let me down. But she wouldn’t let up. She told me, do it even if you fall. Try something even if you slip. Just don’t do nothing.

What if every instance we had accomplished something that surpassed our own expectations and self-estimation was not a fluke nor a stroke of luck. What if every time we break out of the box we put ourselves in, we were meant to see a much greater truth. What if those are the moments when God breaks down the deprecation and the doubt, so that our real selves can shine through. What if this is His way of showing us that there is a presence in our hearts that cannot be contained, deeper and more powerful than we can ever fathom. What if this presence is what determines how we fall on the precipice between victory and defeat.

meyer lemon chiffon cake

For the past month, I have struggled with writing my qualifying exam proposal. For a long time, I had no idea what I wanted to study for my thesis. Didn’t know if anything I did was going to amount to anything. Every day, I found new ways to tell myself that I didn’t belong. I wasn’t smart enough, or as thoughtful and driven as my classmates. I feared that somebody would see through my guise and discover my mediocrity. I spent countless hours re-reading the same phrases and sentences in my proposal. Second-guessing every point that I put down on paper. Suspended and frozen in my fear of failure.

Rock climbing wall

Sometimes the hardest part about climbing is trusting that the harness will catch you when you fall. I know that the rope will hold. I know that my knots are good. Yet I can still imagine myself plummeting to my death. I am terrified that if I don’t fight with every muscle to keep from letting go, then there would be nothing there to hold me up. So I waste so much energy, put myself through so much pain, until I realize that the easiest way to move forward is to let go. And every time I do, every time I get back up on that wall, I believe a little more. I don’t want to be afraid to try, I don’t want to be afraid to fall. I know, and I believe, You will catch me.

Triple Lemon Chiffon Cake with Meyer Lemon Curd from Notes from my Food Diary