I have so much to process from the last seven days. It’s possible I’ll go on another mission trip with Appalachia Service Project and North UMC someday, but for now this was my last trip. My 9th ASP. I think my 18th or 19th weeklong youth ministry trip. It was a big week for me – emotionally and spiritually. Although it was wonderful in almost every way, I did feel off balance for most of the week. So, it was apropos that on Sunday night I found out our site had one little thing to conquer…
Our contact staff person told us about the bridge. The only way to get to the house we’d be working on was over a bridge. Ok, well, we’ll deal with it. As the evening went on I thought she was really building up this bridge – surely it won’t be as intense as she’s making it out to be. I was wrong – it was worse, much worse.
Prior to reaching our house for the Sunday night home visit we visited another home first. However, before reaching that house, we got lost. That wouldn’t be such a big deal except we got lost on a really winding road. I wasn’t sitting in the front seat of the van and slowly felt the motion sickness setting in. We stopped at the first house and I thought I was going to be sick. I pushed through and tried my best to ignore it. So, by the time we reached our house, I wasn’t feeling so great.
Then I saw the bridge.
This bridge was nothing like I thought it would be. It was so long (later I found out – 275 feet). It was so wobbly, especially if someone else was walking on it at the same time. The first part of the bridge didn’t really have handrails I could reach. By the time I got to the middle I really thought I was going to die – the combination of motion sickness on a wobbly bridge over high up in the air… it was almost too much to handle. I’m surprised I didn’t cry or throw up… or both.
I really didn’t know how this week would go. How would we get all of our supplies over this bridge? How would I walk over it at least twice a day without feeling faint or nauseous? How would the other group members respond when they saw it for the first time? There was a lot of anxiety for me Monday morning – I didn’t want to pass my anxiety onto my group, but I also couldn’t pretend like this was no big deal.
It turns out everyone in my group, myself included, is very brave! We conquered that bridge daily – sometimes with 3-4 rounds trips. I think each time we walked that bridge it got a little easier. Mostly. It wasn’t until Friday afternoon that I could sort of turn my head to the side to glance at the creek below. For the most part I had to look straight ahead and walk very slowly – if anyone ahead or behind me started to walk too fast, I had to stop because it got to bouncy. I’m telling you – this bridge is intense!
But then I began to think about this family. Groceries. Small children. Injured people. Scooters and bicycles. Everything that went to and from this house had to pass over this bridge. I can’t imagine. The little ones just ran across with no fear or inhibitions – they don’t know their grandparents’ house without a bridge. It’s been there since 1986. The road washed out many years ago and because it’s just their house on the other side of the creek, the county wouldn’t rebuild the road. So they have a bridge.
Usually when I come home from ASP I have a better appreciation for my home – my fully functioning kitchen, my sturdy floors, my clean water, my heat and air conditioning, my roof. I came back with all of those appreciations again this year, but I can add another one to the list – easy access to my home. I can park my car under the carport, get out of my car and walk right into my house through the garage. I can carry my groceries straight into the garage. Guests can park in the driveway and walk right up to the door. I never realized that was something to be thankful for until now.
So, I did my best not to make a big deal out of that bridge while I was with the homeowners. I tried not to express my fear or anxiety around them. Sure, I asked a lot of questions and learned about the history of the bridge, but I never spoke ill of it, because that bridge is part of their home. That bridge is part of their story.
Thursday night at the picnic Brad learned that the family he was working for is good friends with the family I was working for. They said the bridge at that home is the best swinging bridge in the county. I’m grateful we were using the best bridge – although I can’t imagine what it would be like to be on one less sturdy or secure!
A wobbly, bouncy, sometimes terrifying bridge is a good metaphor for my life right now. I’m passing from one sturdy, familiar side to another side that will eventually feel sturdy and familiar. Right now I’m still in the middle. I’m feeling off balance. I’m unsure how long it will take to get to that other side. But, I can see it. I know it’s there. I know I’ll reach it. And, I have people on both ends of the bridge cheering me on – some saying goodbye and others saying hello. Eventually I’ll be able to look around me and see the beauty. But, for now, I’m just looking straight ahead, trusting each step will land on something solid.