Gripped in my hands is a pole. It is a big pole. It’s weight is 20 pounds above my own. In Denmark, this pole is a stick and this pit is a sandbox. It is their playground. In Egypt and Greece it is a war asset to vault enemy walls. In Ireland it is the sail to pass over brooks and rivers. In my backyard the pole is the sapling which I climb and bend to the ground. But when I vault the pole is the wings of an eagle.
The life of a vaulter is such; there are days where flight seems impossible. These flight days seem like those early days of the Wright brothers. The ride is far from smooth. It is a success just to get off the ground, even if for a fleeting moment.
But what happens when every day is a bumpy ride? When every flight threatens to smash you back to earth?
The only answer I have is this–pole vaulter or not, this lesson applies to all–true faith leads to childlike trust. Faith keeps hope alive.
My Dad is a ski jumper. You might say choosing ridiculous sports ‘runs’ in the family. He jumped far, Olympic far. The mental mindset in sports like his only accepts one type of athlete–the fearless kind. This is why I say once a ski jumper always a ski jumper, because if you have the mental mindset of a jumper you live like a ski jumper–daring and ready to spring.
Flight begins at home, with members of the family, in friendships. Flight is more than leaving the ground. It is the trust to leave the ground and that is demonstrated in more ways than one.
The flight of a relationship may be the most beautiful image of flying. This flight is demonstrated in laughter, word, and deed. It is sitting on a dock for hours with your best friends–your big sister and baby sister–enraptured in joy simply because you are near to them. Its flight is a gentle soar. It hovers over earth like mist hovers over water.
Flight in Daddy’s arms is the flight that brings smiles from slumber. It is a peculiar thing to be lifted from a window while drowsiness controls all rationale and to be thrown upside down over your father’s strong shoulder. It is absolute trust. Even if sleep disregards all thought of distrust. This is childlike faith in his strength.
One more analogy of faith beyond the pole vault pit ties in Dad’s ski jumping. In all my years of growing up with a national ski jumping champion, I did not ask him to show me what ski jumping felt like. He would just do it for me. While growing up, bedtime was a 2 hour process. It began after supper at six when mom asked him to tuck us into bed. The “normal bed readying” was in fact only 2 minutes long: 30 seconds to brush the teeth, 30 seconds to change into PJ’s, 30 seconds to wash the face, and 30 seconds to make the bed (yes, I make my bed before getting into it for the night). The next hour and fifty eight minutes were spent running circles around the bed. Dad picked each of us up, squatted down and sprung each of us through the air past windows and lamp-stands, over carpet and chairs onto the landing pad, we flopped off and waited our turn at the back of a line of 5 or 6 kids in less than 5 seconds. This is the childlike trust that I speak of. It is faith in a Father’s strength to produce childlike trust. Never once did I doubt missing the mattress. Even when he would sweat through his bed time T-shirt (I am sure which Mom did not appreciate) we did not question his strength or endurance. Each throw was equal in exhilaration to the last. He offered us equal strength with every throw and we gave equal trust in every flight.
Even now, more than a decade later, he is showing me what trust feels like. He squats down, the strength in his legs flexed, and tells me to dive over his shoulder. In complete faith, I leap out and at the same moment I feel my body begin to rise. My arms, legs and back are rigid and stretched like a superman. I look down and I am high above the ground soaring.
I have always been doubtful of the word believe. I see belief as a single word meaningless. Belief earns value when it is the object of faith. What am I believing in? As part of a team, I believe in my teammates, because I trust that if I have a bad race, they will have a good race. When at home, I believe in my family that when I have an off day they will pick me up: faith, belief, trust in that order. Faith is believing and trusting produces hope.
This is the back drop to the leap of faith. Day after day when faith seems useless when hope seems lonely, when vaulting seems impossible, trust gives power. Trust could be that physical bond that brings faith to reality. In the realm of vaulting right now, to understand the vault, trust gives faith and faith gives power.
Power through trust is simply the word “confidence.” Why else would I carry a 140 lb pole in my hands traveling at upwards speeds of 15 miles per hour? How else could I slam my body and pole into a wall. This is why my youngest sister speaks truth when she says, “you can answer the question in word and deed but you MUST answer the question in spirit.” What question? Someone asked me the other day, “you have all the power in the world, what are you doing with it?” That is the question. I could answer it technically by saying I need to move the pole to safety with the forward velocity and upward trajectory using my weight and height to bend the pole, but science can only deal with the material. The emotional deals with the spiritual. So what I am doing with the strength to do 24 pull ups, 69 push ups in a minute and the climbs I make 30 feet in the air to bend a sapling to earth?
I am not a psychiatrist. Worse a psychiatrist can not diagnose herself, but a friend who understand the heart and mind of the patient can come close. That friend and sister says surrender–those situations we all desperately try to control, though which only the hand of God can guide. One must surrender the mind to what you believe in, have faith in, trust in. But with surrender comes responsibility to fully understand with complete understanding WHAT one believes in. Faith is not an easy thing. Faith is surrender. True faith is childlike surrender. True faith is knowing that no matter what happens Dad is going to catch you, true faith is allowing someone to guide you into flight, true faith is sharing your heart with someone you have faith can lead you out of despair.
True faith is when you are on the run way. The mind has already pictured the perfect vault a million times. Hands wind and roll over tape. Lips slightly separate small words slipping through. It is when you step back and look at the bar above your head. When you say catch me God. You did it on a cross. True faith is that first leap into the future. Everything that follows is trust.
Stride for stride speed spins around you. It carries you over mondo, sparking an elasticity with every strike. Trust is feeling perfect peace in the last three steps. In perfect rhythm the pole slips silently into the box. The body whips into a C position from the force, C stands for commitment. All the strength from the arms and legs is surrendered into the pole. As the leg travels forward it creates an I from the top hand to the toe, I is for Indescribable. At this point there is an indescribable vision of what has happened and is about to happen. It cannot be fully comprehended or explained. It is indescribable. In a final motion of perfect and complete surrender the body whips upside down and you hang. Suspended in flight, suspended upside down from the shoulder of your father, suspended on a mist by the dock of the pond, suspended and soaring over the wall of the enemy, in the tree tops of the backyard, on the wings of an eagle.
“Yet those who wait for the Lord Will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will [vault] and not become weary (Isaiah 40:31).”
Now I am ready to answer the question. What are you doing with all the strength in the world? All the strength in the world came from God and I give it back to God. “Does He give the horse his might? Does He clothe his neck with a mane? Does He make him leap like the locust? (Job 39:19).” As my father catches me on his shoulder when sleep overwhelms my body, I surrender to the vault. All the strength in the world is not my own, nor is the success when I look down and realize I flew over the barrier. Surrender is mine. Like a child who accepts to trust his or her father “He has taken hold my right hand (Psalm 73:23)” in my leap of faith.