This blogpost is adapted from an essay by Liza Watkins (Moody), Gordon College and La Vida staff alumni. Her essay was originally written in 2009 on why La Vida should continue to be a core requirement at Gordon.
My arms and legs are shaking with fatigue. I’m on the face of a cliff, rock climbing, and I’m stuck. The slab of rock that I’m plastered against is roughly smooth. I can’t find a knob, nook, or cranny to get me past this block. My toes are perched on a ledge and my palms grip the top of a small landing at my eye level. I hear encouraging words from where my friends stand 30 feet below me. I’ve tried everything to get up this part, and it looks like my only option is to pull myself up.
It’s like getting out of the deep end of the pool without a ladder, except there isn’t any water to help with buoyancy. I try several times, occasionally yelling to my belayer above me, “commitment move!” The more I try, the more fatigue sets in. I’m exhausted and discouraged, sure I’ll never get up. I’m overwhelmed and the tears fall. I am encouraged to give it one more try. I take a brief moment to regroup and pray, then I push with all my might. Slowly, my arms shake and struggle until I have finally pulled myself up. There is cheering below me as I climb the easy last few feet of rock face and reach the top.
This climb happened on my first La Vida trip when I was in high school. The La Vida experience is not meant to be comfortable, which is partially why the wilderness is used as the classroom. The wilderness provides the chance to take a step back from life and may help show more clearly what is vital and important in life outside the security of comfort or the familiar. It shows us how small we are, how little we know, and how much we have to learn in a new environment. It trains us through challenge, which gives experience in how to approach challenges later in life.
When I was sixteen, La Vida was the hardest and the best experience of my life. Within the wilderness, my La Vida trip helped prepare me for a vast wilderness of pain. I had been diagnosed with a spinal condition three years earlier and had been pain-free and without incident for over a year. But for reasons unknown, my pain came back a few months after my trip, and with a vengeance. I ended up having an extremely painful journey that resulted in back surgery, which made things horrifically worse. I found myself in an unfamiliar situation that challenged me in every possible way.
Without knowing it, I had been prepared to face a breaking point in my life by my La Vida adventure. When I climbed that mountain cliff, carried a heavy pack, bushwhacked, and spent twenty-four hours alone on solo, I thought I couldn’t do it. I came head-to-head with my limits and challenged my way past them mentally, physically, and spiritually. Though I didn’t know what to do, or how to fix the pain I found myself in, my time on La Vida had helped me break personal barriers.
It is often through trials that we grow and mature in life, and are prepared for further trials that may prove to be harder for us. My surgeries were my real-life trials that La Vida prepared me for. La Vida opened my eyes and I learned that most of my physical, mental, or spiritual limitations were ones I had placed on myself. La Vida made me feel resilient to know that there was strength within me that I hadn’t yet discovered. It made me excited to encounter challenges. I knew that I could handle whatever came my way because God was with me, and He would help me through what felt impossible.