"Higher!” my son shrieked. “Ah! Higher!”
My husband tossed our two-year-old up in the air. In response to the squeals of glee, he continued to launch his tiny body up into the air.
We were outside a coffee shop with some visiting friends, chatting as my husband entertained our son. “I don’t know how you watch him do this,” they said. “He tosses him so high.”
“It’s really amazing, actually,” another of our friends commented. “Mason trusts him so completely. He has no fear. It never occurs to him that he could fall.”
The truth: it had never occurred to me either.
In fact, until that very moment I’d never even thought of the activity as dangerous. Even now, three years later, after I’ve watched each of my children sail up into the air in this same manner, I can’t fathom a scenario that includes my husband not catching them.
I met my husband at the end of my freshman year of college. He asked me on a date practically out of the blue, and I thought for sure he must have found out that I had been secretly spying on him in the dining hall and dishing to my girlfriends about how cute he was. That wasn’t the case, and apparently, the feelings were mutual.
“I’ll pick you up at six,” he said. “Wear something comfortable… and some shoes you could walk in.”
“What are we doing?” I asked.
“You’ll see,” he said.
I pressed for more information, but he laughed. “Trust me.”
Normally, I would have really put my back into looking perfect for a first date, but the “comfortable” comment made me think that perhaps excellently applied eyeliner wasn’t a necessity this time around. My roommate looked at me in near horror as I threw on my softest jeans and a faded blue t-shirt. While I laced my well-worn Chuck Taylors, she shook her head in disbelief.
“Aren’t you going on a date?” she asked.
“Yeah,” I said as I pulled my hair into high ponytail.
My roommate rolled her eyes, and while I understood her dismay, I wasn’t worried.
He picked me up at exactly 6 p.m. and led me out to his ancient Toyota pickup. He still wouldn’t tell me where we were going, but I’m fairly sure that I fell completely in love with him on that drive. I peppered him with questions as we wound through the Santa Barbara foothills, and then abruptly, we stopped. He pulled the truck over to the wide shoulder and pointed to the towering rock formation on the opposite side of the road.
“I go rock climbing out here sometimes, but we can boulder up the sides. It’s not steep enough to need a rope. There are good footholds. I’ll help you.”
“This is where we’re going?”
“It’ll be fun,” he said. He put out his hand. I grabbed it.
And that was it.
I’ve since learned that as much as that date was designed to be a romantic adventure, it was also a test. He wanted to know if I could hang, if I could handle the spontaneity, the slight danger, the height.
In fact, I was a little scared. My heart pounded harder and faster, and my stomach flip flopped more than the typical first date jitters, but he was there holding my hand and that made all the difference.
It wasn’t until recently that I realized how significant it was that on our first date my husband and I climbed up the side of a cliff. We sat on the edge and dangled our feet over Santa Barbara, watching the sun set on the ocean until the fog rolled in and lapped at our toes.
This summer we celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary, and I’ve spent the last several months reflecting on these years, thinking that I should write some Ode to Love in order to commemorate the last decade. But as much as I love my husband, I don’t know that an ode of that nature would appropriately describe our life together.
In a lot of ways, we’ve never climbed down from that first cliff. It was almost as if that first date was the launching point; that ledge only propelled us higher and further. We’ve climbed headlong in to love, and marriage, and school loans, and foster care, and parenthood, and entrepreneurship. We’ve pushed each other to chase our dreams until we’re sweating and tired and panting for breath.
It’s easy for me to look back on our years as though I’m at the top of a scenic vista. I have a great vantage point to see what we’ve climbed and the ways God knit together a beautiful adventure that is fulfilling and exciting and fun. But in all honesty, the last ten years have also been incredibly difficult. The rocks have been steep, and so many parts of the climb have not been easy. We’ve had to stretch to get our grip, and we’ve lost our footholds more times than I can count. As much as my husband has put his hand out for me, I’ve been right there reaching out for him, grasping his fingers when he starts to slip.
If could sum up the last 12 years since our first date in one big lesson I would say that I’ve learned this: Trust.
Trust makes me brave. It empowers me to dream bigger and love harder. On that first date, I was scared to climb to the top of the rock, but the trust I had in the strength of his grip and the sureness of his step helped me push past the butterflies in my stomach and enjoy the adventure.
Trust doesn’t mean that I won’t falter. Trust means that no matter how high I climb, I know I have a stronghold.
In keeping with the tradition of our early dating days, our family regularly goes “adventuring.” Sometimes, we head out to a nature preserve to eat hotdogs on the bluff looking out on the water, or we put a few burritos in a backpack and enjoy them on a trail. Usually, we just wander around climbing trees and catching lizards. More often than not it’s exactly as magical as it sounds.
Last week we were on a Saturday afternoon adventure, and my son and my husband were climbing a eucalyptus tree. My husband was about two branches above my son.
“Dad, I can’t do it.” My son hollered up. “I think it’s too far up.”
“You’re already really high – you can get it. I’m right here for you.” My husband bent over and straddled the branch, reaching his arm down to my son. I stepped back to watch my five-year-old navigate up the next branch so that he could grab my husband’s hand.
My daughters cheered as they watched their brother scale the tree. Then my middle daughter looked up at me. “I’m next,” she said. “Daddy can help me climb that tree too.”
“Yep,” I said. “He will.”