I’ve read that some Northern native languages have as many as 50 different words to describe snow…I don’t know if that’s true, but I can say with absolute certainty, that there need to be more words for “mud.”
Recently I had the privilege of participating in my 5th ToughMudder event with an incredible team put together by Red Deer Lake United Church in support of World Relief Canada’s Tough As Her™ Campaign. The course started on flat land a racetrack to be precise.
In my previous experiences, there usually has been a similar theme to the events namely a lengthy obstacle course punctuated by being forced to run up and down mountains over and over again and mud, lots and lots of mud.
Therefore, the lack of a mountain was, at first, disconcerting to me. I am used to the cardiovascular impact of running…I mean jogging…oh ok fine, walking up and down a mountain. But I wasn’t all that prepared for flat, or at best undulating, topography. I have been happy to walk the course up and down the mountain for reasons like team safety and an inherent laziness. But there would be none of that on this course. People could see if I was running or not!
Unofficially, I have always tried to live by the maxim, “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you look while playing the game.” So, I opted to increase my speed on this course. (There was also the fact that everyone else on the team was running, and I really didn’t want to get left behind.) But reasons and intents regarding the decision not withstanding, I chose to “run” the first part of the course. I say “first part” because it turns out I was a little quick in my initial course assessment. It is true there were no mountains going up…but being as this was in the badlands of Alberta, there were plenty of opportunities to go down.
And we were given the chance to climb down into those fractures on “paths” (and I use that term loosely for those of us who are not mountain goats).
It seems the earth is a little, well, fractured in Drumheller. And we were given the chance to climb down into those fractures on “paths” (and I use that term loosely for those of us who are not mountain goats). These “paths” were so steep they had ropes to help you as you semi-repelled your way down to the next level. And there were multiple levels…each one a little more steep than the last. We climbed down three times into the earth. I was glad that it wasn’t more, because I was already starting to consider Dante’s writing as allegorical to ToughMudder when we reached the bottom.
The terrain aside, the event was spectacular from a temperature and weather perspective 25 degrees, slight breeze and not a cloud in sight all day long. Which was especially nice since 3 weeks earlier I was part of a team that had done the Toronto event where it was 9 degrees, windy and pouring rain the entire day on a mountainside.
I will be honest with you, when the weather is against you, a team is important for strength, support, assistance and encouragement; however, when the weather is on your side, a team is important for strength, support, assistance and encouragement. Either way, it’s just good to know you are not alone. It’s the cooperation, camaraderie, and the conversation that makes a team special. That’s why I love doing ToughMudders with teams across Canada.
One of my favourite moments doing this past ToughMudder was when, Elisabeth (one of the team members from Red Deer Lake United Church) found herself atop “Walk the Plank” a 30 foot platform towering over a deep pool of murky water contemplating whether or not she would jump off the plank of wood, barely wide enough to stand on.
For quite some time she stood there, before mustering the courage to walk to the edge of the plank. Then, she reconsidered and stepped back, watching as others jumped ahead of her. Pastor Nick gave her words of encouragement before he made his own plunge downward, but she continued to stay on the edge of safety. She bent her knees and leaned forward a few times, but each time, reached back for the handrail and stepped back.
She stood at the edge, let go of the rail, looked down, then stepped back. It was obvious that this was the obstacle for her. This was the one. As I stood behind her, I knew that a momentous decision was being made in her mind. She could go around this obstacle it’s part of the event. There’s no shame in that. And she would receive her t-shirt and headband declaring her a 2014 Finisher.
But, if she did that, this moment would haunt her. It’s the first thing she would think of when someone asked about the event. BUT IF SHE JUMPED…if she was able to muster the courage and intestinal fortitude needed to face down that fear…then this would be her proudest moment of the entire day. Everything else would be background noise to the celebration of throwing off that yoke of fear. That’s when I watched her demeanor change. It was as if I could hear her say to herself, “Elisabeth, you can do this…”
And she jumped. She walked off the edge of the plank and the first thing to break the surface of the water when she came up was her smile. Could she have overcome that without all of us cheering her on and believing in her? Maybe…but that’s not the point. The point is that we all need help to overcome some of the obstacles we face. In the developing world, girls face seemingly insurmountable obstacles daily, and they overcome them daily. And it doesn’t get any easier for them the more they do it.
But the truth is, we all know people who face their own obstacles, and we all face them in our own lives too. What being a part of the Red Deer Lake United Team showed me was how Tough As Her was a metaphor for how the church is supposed to function.
I always say, you can’t do ToughMudder alone. However, I know that there are, in fact, special kinds of crazy folk who actually do these alone. So I have altered my phrasing to be more accurate, “You shouldn’t do these alone.” We need a team. We need the partnership, the interdependence, and the relationships. These days more than ever we need to know that we are not alone.
That was what stuck with me at this event. Red Deer Lake United Church, and their pastor Nick Coates, took the Tough As Her campaign to a whole new level. They didn’t just sign up some individuals to make a team. They created the team as a church. This was Red Deer Lake United Church on the course. Not every individual from the church, but the church as a whole none-the-less. It became a part of their ethos.
They used it as an opportunity for outreach for the church many members of the team were not from the church, but were invited to join by church members. The team worked out together at the track next door to the church on Sundays. They gathered at the local YMCA to work out on Wednesday nights further communicating the goals of the event and their dedication to the community. Nick worked the concept of Tough As Her into sermons (and the event itself will, no doubt, be making cameo appearances as illustrations in his sermons for a long time to come). Ongoing church leadership roles were encouraged within the members of the team. “Non-churched” folks were able to see “church” from an entirely new perspective one that certainly did not fit into any traditional or stereotypical mold. And every single one of them learned a lot.
Tough As Her became an opportunity show what the church is supposed to be about loving your neighbour. Sometimes that looks like strengthening your brothers and sisters through training. Sometimes that is pooling resources and donating cash to help others across the globe. Sometimes it’s helping people overcome the obstacles they face in life. And sometimes is it celebrating together in the joy that comes from surviving “possibly the toughest event on the planet”! During the Tough As Her campaign, the community that Red Deer Lake United Church created showcased every aspect of what Christ intended the church to be and do.
God sent His Son to the world, and He had to go through some pretty horrific things to show the world how much he loved them and to change their destinies. On September 6th, 2014, the sons and daughters of Red Deer Lake United Church went into the world and went through some pretty difficult things to show women and girls around the world that they are loved and the monies they raised will change the lives of many. There are a lot of theological perspectives on what it means to be the hands and feet of Jesus…but on that Saturday, on those Alberta badlands, they were the body of Christ. They were His feet and they were His hands. And they showed His love.