I’m not sure what I was afraid of, but I know that the fear was deep, animal, and visceral. Even my husband shared it. For all that he loves to jump out of airplanes for fun, that 28-foot ladder up against the side of the house bested him as well as it did me. The job had to be done, though, and it was up to one of us to do it.
You see, our darling old 1922 bungalow had grown a bit shabby at the farthest edges of its trim, all cracked and peeling. Over the course of our precipitously precipitatious Pacific Northwest winter, unfortunately, that can wreak havoc on the wood underneath. The weather forecasts foretold just one week left until the rains set in for the year. It was ‘now or never.’ As every painter in the area was booked solid, we found that the only choices were to risk damage to the wood or repaint it ourselves. Naturally, we chose to take it on, with a little help from the guys at our local hardware store.
We purchased two sets of ‘paint eater’ power sanders, lead-rated respirators, and goggles, and set to work sanding off the old paint. All went well until we started getting to where we had to use just about all 28 feet of the ladder, approaching the ridgeline of the roof. My husband did make it up there one time, and he even did some sanding. When he made his way back down the ladder, though, he was blanched and said that he wouldn’t do it again. “It can’t be that bad,” I thought, as I began a climb up the ladder that ended about two-thirds of the way up, where I froze. I couldn’t go up; I couldn’t go down. My arms felt numb, and I had to consciously convince myself to keep breathing.
There we were, with the trim half-done, sanded to the bare wood, and neither of us feeling able to complete the task. There was a panicked round of phone calls to every house painter in the local phone book, of course to no avail. One of the painters even joked that not only could he not come paint my house, he needed me to come paint a few houses for him. That was it – no help to be had. Not being willing to risk the inevitable water damage, we had to figure something out.
We finally decided that since I weigh little more than half of what my husband does, it made sense for me to be the one to go up the ladder, with him steadying it at the base. The solution made sense, but that didn’t make it easy.
As I stood at the base of the ladder, with the bucket in my hand, I knew that it was time, and I knew that it was up to me to get it done. For all my sense of duty, my knees still felt as if they’d slide right out from under me any moment; my hands again were numb; and my heart was pounding such that I could feel my own pulse all through my body. As my free hand made contact with the cold aluminum of the ladder, a shot of adrenaline coursed through my veins. Fear gripped me.
I began climbing slowly. As my head was clearing the first story of the house, though, I just stopped. The slightest shift of my weight sent the ladder jiggling. I was climbing one-handed, as I had to hold the bucket with the other hand. The wind was blowing at me from the side in a most unnerving fashion. I tried playing various mental games with myself to get moving again. Alas, again, I was frozen in place on the ladder. “I have to do this,” I told myself, and, even still, I could not lift my foot to move it to the next rung.
A conversation that I recently had with a friend suddenly flashed unexpectedly through my mind, and I found myself remembering remarks about how, with the Lord to call on, we really can handle anything with grace, acceptance, and peace. I closed my eyes and simply said “Lord, help me take this next step.” The bonds of fear that had held my foot fast were gone. I went up one rung on the ladder. “Lord, help me take this next step,” I prayed again, up one more. “Lord, help me take this next step,” again and again. Soon, I found myself at the top of the ladder.
Through every step of my task, as I called out to Him, the Lord heard those little prayers and sustained me, holding my fear at bay and steadying me for the work at hand. I was taught again that with the Lord to call on, we truly can handle anything that life gives, be it scary, tragic, urgent, tedious, intense, sorrowful, puzzling, or random; be it a life-changing loss or a moment of minutia like a climb up a ladder, He is there, and He hears us, strengthens us, and sustains us.
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