Somewhere between Beersheba and Haran, Jacob needed to rest. Using a rock for a pillow had to have caused a restless night, so his dream that continued the cataclysmic shift in human history that had begun with Abraham was not out of the ordinary. He saw a ladder with angels traveling up and down, never bothering to tell us if they got in each other's way or feared for their safety. It was at this place, and just after deceiving his father into giving him what really belonged to his brother, that God appeared and extended the same promise to Jacob that was given to his grandfather-- Land, descendants, a nation.
Somewhere between Dallas and Austin sits an area of land that some refer to as the soul of Waco-- Cameron park. Near the entrance to the River Trail, on the other side of the road, is a wall of earth rising around a hundred feet into the heavens, or, at the very least up to Anniversary Park and Miss Nellies Pretty Place. Getting to the top requires either climbing up the incline, grabbing on to roots and dirt and rock, giving your calves a hell of a workout, or walking up a steep zig-zag staircase of old jagged concrete, while holding on to a railing of cedar logs. This impressively rugged structure is known as "Jacob's Ladder."
Yesterday I, along with Jude and Sutton, two four(and 1/2) year old boys who can be equal parts angel and devil, ascended and descended Jacob's Ladder.
After Sutton had to go to the emergency room a few months ago(described HERE), I have been a little too protective of the twins on our Mondays together. I hover a bit to close when they are on hard surfaces and rarely let them pick up sticks or rocks. I fully understand, as my friend Roxanne told me many years ago while I was holding her newborn, that it's hard to physically break a kid, but that's little consolation when you are responsible for children not your own, and one of them has already had to go to the hospital to be stitched up, and the injury was on your watch.
I'm reading a book about Mike May, a man who was blind since before the age of three who, in his forties, was the recipient of a groundbreaking stem-cell procedure that restored his sight. May was always exceptionally "functional" as a blind man, usually fooling people into believing he was sighted. Out of the description of Mike May's childhood emerges a charismatic figure who attributes his full life to never being afraid to get lost or hurt. He always believed the joy of feeling the wind on his face and finding creative ways to get home far outweighed the pain of black eyes and broken limbs his condition forced him to endure. The book is called Crashing Through: A story of Risk, Adventure, and the Man who Dared to See.
This story was fresh on my mind yesterday when I decided I'd take the boys to Cameron park to explore the relatively tame River Trail. Early in the day I made a commitment to myself to let them run far ahead of me and pick up whatever they found along the way, as long as it wasn't something that could bite them. After parking at Redwood Shelter we crossed the street to get on the pathway well before it winded along the river into the woods. After Sutton got over his fear of stepping in ants, we picked up a fairly brisk pace. I pointed out the way the river was high and rushing fast because of the storms we have been having. As is typical, Jude ran far ahead of Sutton and me. He picked up sticks and rocks along the way, while Sutton scanned the horizon, noticing ant beds from far away while mentally and verbally planning his method of escape from any possible attacks.
We all slowed down to look at a large tree that had fallen into the river. As they were asking questions about it (Jude wondering if he could climb on it, Sutton wondering how many ants live on it,) my attention was drawn to Jacob's Ladder on our left. I told myself that one day soon we'd come to the park and I'd let them climb it. I had 'one day soon' in my mind, but mistakenly left that clause out of my question-- "Hey boys, look over there. That's Jacob's ladder. Would y'all like to walk up it?" Not being able to read my mind and figuring out that I meant at a later date, in unison they yelled "Yeah!, let's climb Jacob's Yadder!"
Knowing I was now locked in to the endeavor, we crossed the street and began our ascent. Going up was no big deal, although some of the steps were almost as tall as they were. I walked behind them with my hands up, anticipating a slip at any time. My big fear, though, was going down it, picturing in my mind one of the boys slipping and bouncing down the concrete steps like a human shaped basketball, taking the other one with him. I was already rehearsing the phone conversation: "Hey Jen, we had a good time today. Oh, yeah, the bad news is that we are in the emergency room. The good news is that the doctor is giving both of them a sixty percent chance of walking again."
Almost to the end, I made the announcement that there will be a surprise for them at the top of the stairs. (I'm a master at making them think I have magical powers.) When they reached the last step I pointed to our far left Anniversary park, complete with more things for them to climb, yet this time with protective mulch to block their fall. They ran to the playground as I walked slowly, much more winded from the climb than they were.
When I reached the bench that holds adult caretakers while children go about their business, the boys had already made friends with some other kids. At one point they disappeared behind a mini rock climbing wall, sticks in hand. About a split second later I heard Sutton scream and begin to cry. I jumped out of my seat, certain that before I reached him I would see his bloody eyeball roll out from around the corner. He had been poked, but not enough to draw blood. Regardless, I made them both put the sticks down.
After a while I got them to finish playing by reminding them that we still had to go get snow cones. Before we reached the top of the staircase I stopped them to coach them on what was about to happen. I told them that walking down was a lot harder than walking up, and that I was going to be in front of them, and that they absolutely could not pass me down the stairs. Listening to my tone, you would have thought I was prepping them for an Olympic event.
We all made it just fine, me walking backwards a step ahead of them with my hands up, ready at a moments notice to be the hero. Occasionally Jude would get overzealous and attempt to pass me up, at which point I would yell for him to stop right now or he wouldn't get a snow cone.
On the way back to the car, on the field between the Rock and Redwood shelters, there was a steady breeze blowing against us. The river to our left, rushing frantically and carrying sticks and logs swiftly by us, and the cliff to our right, Jude broke out in a sprint. After a while he slowed down so we could catch up. I asked him if he liked feeling the wind on his face when he ran. He looked up at me and didn't answer, but instead began running again, as if I were making a suggestion, not asking a question. I looked back at Sutton and asked him the same question, expecting him to break out running in an effort to locate the answer. He just exhaled and said "Yeah. But I can feel the wind on my face just walking, too."
Jacob's descendants eventually got their land and nation, but lost something along the way--a sense of wonder, the idea that you could experience God in a place regardless of whether or not you owned and ruled the ground you stand on. Jacob saw a ladder that connected heaven to earth-- perhaps a message from God that the line between the two is smaller than we think, and the effort to move between them requires little more than placing one front in front of the other, step by step, feeling the wind on our faces.
On the way home I asked the boys if they had fun. Sutton said, "Yeah! I'm going to tell mommy we walked all the way up Jacob's Yadder, and that we almost went up to the sky!" Jude replied with the certainty and force of a country preacher, correcting his brother's approximations-- "No, we DID go up to the sky!"
Jude is correct. We did.