Am I Going to Stop?
By Aaron Clifton, Birmingham, AL
I had created a climbing club for my work, at the time I was working at Oak Mountain Presbyterian Church in their youth ministry as a 2 year intern, where we met at High Point Climbing on Tuesday’s to climb. It was going pretty well gathering some momentum and I got to introduce climbing to a lot of students who didn’t really have interest in any other “organized” sports.
Well one of those students I got to hang out with and climb outside with a lot was belaying me on a route at the end of our night. It was the last route of the night for me since I was pretty pumped from being there for a couple hours but wanted to do one more route to cap off another good night. While I was about 40-42 feet up the route lead/sport climbing, the student I was climbing with was belaying me from below with an ATC. I was close to the top of the route, almost to the anchors, when I went to make a move to a hold my hand slipped and I fell.
It just happened that as I was falling the student down below dropped his hand off the brake end of the rope to pick up something that may have dropped on the ground near him.
Before he knew it, I was falling towards the ground and at first he tried to grab the rope, but the rope was going through the ATC too fast. But to me I was just thinking I was going to get caught since I’m around 6feet, 190lbs most of the times when I climb with people I fall around 3 or 4 bolts before being caught. My mental state through my whole fall was, “oh I’ll get caught after this 4th bolt...okay… there goes 4....hmmmm...I’m falling a pretty good ways.....” and then BAM. I hit the ground like I was trying to sit in a chair smacking my leg then my butt hitting the padding on the ground.
This resulted in two sharp pains racing down from where my back hurt really bad to the tips of my toes. I initially thought, “Lord, please don’t let me be paralyzed.” Once I could wiggle my toes and squeeze my hands I was relieved to know I wasn’t. The pain then set in my back as it felt like 5 or 6 people squeezing as hard as they could and my muscles cramped up.
I immediately looked around and I felt shock set in as people were running over to me and the student I was with looked at me like a ghost and started wailing. I knew something wasn’t right, but I couldn’t believe what was happening. All I thought was that I wanted to just go home. Let this not happen to me and I could just go home.
As I lay there on the ground still in my harness and climbing shoes having someone else untie my figure eight knot, wondering what was happening to me, since I heard the gym manager tell everyone to clear the gym and call for the paramedics, I knew that I wasn’t going home tonight.
I also knew that the guy who was belaying me was clearly distraught and clearly... coming to grips with how the situation was unfolding. I felt in that moment, while having to squeeze my abs trying to relieve some of the pain and having people do a concussion check on me as well as making sure I had feeling in my arms and legs, that I needed to let him know that I loved him and everything was going to be alright. I was fine, could move my legs and arms, but still knowing that the pain in my back revealed a situation to which it was a lot more serious than a sprain or being pumped after climbing a hard route would be.
I knew that the guy I cared for and the guy that I took climbing and hung out with trying to be a positive force in his life needed me to be there for him in that moment. To comfort him, to let him know that I wasn’t angry or mad or resentful of him. Knowing all the facts of what happened: knowing that I was dropped, knowing that I was almost paralyzed, knowing that I was in intense pain, knowing that my internship at Oak Mountain had only 3 months left, knowing I was looking forward to accepting a new challenge hopefully at a church somewhere. Knowing all of this my only thought was to tell him I loved him and that everything was going to be okay.
As I laid there and the paramedics arrived, starting to strap me into the board with a neck brace and all it was all surreal for me since I have never been in an ambulance before let alone being that person that you see being toted out on a gurney after an accident. I wondered as to what was going to happen. Fortunately, I got a hold of my parents and told them where to meet me at the hospital. I also got a hold of my boss through text message letting him know as well. I also told the student I was climbing with where I was going, knowing that I wanted him to see that I was going to be okay and taken care of.
Fast forward to after the surgery and coming home from the hospital. They placed 2 rods and 8 screws above and below the place where the damaged bone (L1) in my spine was located. The doctor’s orders were for me to not bend, lift or twist since the bones were still fusing to the screws and they needed time to heal. During this time I had a lot of love and support from my family and the kids that were involved in the ministry back at church. Letters and visits were plentiful since I couldn’t do much other than sit and hang out.
After having people stay with me, I got to the point where I could start doing stuff on my own without having people there to help. The challenging times came when I was alone. This became a really tough time for me. Before that I was focused on waking up early, spending time with God in studying his word, praying with others and actually feeling like I was walking with the Lord. But now, here I was spending day after day confined to my chair, balancing the daily routine of what medicines to take and fighting my battle with constipation since the pain medicine I was taking decided to help me recover a little slower...if you know what I mean.
At first I thought, oh good this will be a time for me to really have a restful time with God or this is God telling me I need to rest in him and spend time in his word, since I have nothing going on and I can spend all day reading His word. But yet, I woke up day after day with the same mindset and day after day I couldn’t even begin to try and read the bible. I didn’t have the same enthusiasm as before. Why didn’t I have the same drive to spend time with God in prayer, why was my enthusiasm to read and pray now replaced with anger and apathy? I began to become angry with God, why did this happen to me? Why was God punishing me? Why doesn’t God speak to me in this moment? Why did God allow this to happen since I just was getting into a groove spending time with him? Is this God cashing in on me and now repaying me for the evil and sin I had done in my past life before coming to Christ? Why is God so silent? Why am I so angry with him?
All these questions day after day would play on repeat in my mind. Day after day I would sit in my chair, alone, pondering why God would allow something like this to happen because what was happening to me internally was taking me to a place I didn’t enjoy. Crying out to God to take away the pain, crying out to God to reveal himself to me, crying tears because I was distraught at not only the physical pain, but the emotional and spiritual pain I was dealing with as well. In which no drug could mask and no amount of pleading would relieve me. In this moment depression set in.
I wouldn’t say that depression was something you would describe me as having. I never would consider me a depressed person. I generally have a positive attitude about life and a generally good demeanor when tough times hit. But now I faced a different situation all together. Now its been eight months since my accident and I am still dealing with pain. Pain of having pieces of metal constrict my mobility, even though I have been very fortunate to be able to climb again, pain of being distressed and angry at God for not understanding why my accident had to happen to me. Or why I am not the same person I used to be, I struggle with depression now, I don’t have the same positive outlook on life anymore, I even struggle with my outlook on ministry, wondering if God is leading me somewhere else other than ministry and to where?
I hate that where I am is not where “I” want to be. You know of course we as human people always want something better or to go back to how things used to be. We have this picture in our mind of what plans would be best to suit our lives, and how God can make it so by just following “our” plans. Or sometimes we want God to show up, but yet we don’t hear from him in the way we want him to speak to us.
I would say currently I am learning to rejoice like in Habakkuk 3:17-19: “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on high places.”