Around 2:00, we met up with Allyson's friend Kambry, who'd been on a vacation with her aunt and uncle just 48 minutes from our destination. I took those giddy girls straight to Longhorn Caverns State Park.
When we turned onto the six-mile park road, I was shocked to see a sign for Inks Lake. "Hey, Allyson!" I said. "Remember that lake where we jumped off the cliff into the water that time?"
"This is the same road that leads there. What was that? Three years ago? Yes, it was the same trip when we found out we'd gotten the contract on our dream house, right before we watched the fireworks. Wasn't that the best day ever?"
"Yes, it was! Can we go back to Inks Lake?"
"We'll see," I said. "I thought you wanted to go to McKinney Falls this time."
Longhorn Cavern was different from all the other caves I've toured. It didn't have many stalagmites or stalactites, but it made up for that in a fascinating variety of textures due to different mineral content in different areas. One of the rare American caverns cut by a river, it resembled an underground Grand Canyon through most sections. There were also impossibly smooth, wavy rooms that looked as if they were covered in a thick layer of meringue. Best of all, there were rooms studded with dazzling crystals as big as your hand--or even your head. I told Allyson it was like being inside a geode.
|Kambry and Allyson, whose smiles could out-dazzle diamonds|
- An outlaw who allegedly hid millions in gold, which was never found.
- A speak-easy during Prohibition, complete with a wooden dance floor, a stage for a nine-man band (which is still there), and a swanky, candle-lit restaurant. Oh, and a stalagmite "Queen's Throne" where flappers posed for pictures with their dashing dates.
- Confederate soldiers who stockpiled gun powder. One of them was found by excavators with his bayonet and rifle.
- Comanche tribal counsels.
- The young daughter of a cattle baron who was held hostage by Native Americans until she was rescued by three Texas Rangers who stealthily descended on ropes and then engaged the Indians in a deadly gun battle. I can just see her starry eyes as she gazed into her rescuer's eyes on the way up one of those ropes. (Probably he was fat and bald, but I like to think he was tall, dark, and handsome... and conveniently single.)
Climbing back into the car at 5:30 for the last two hours of our drive, I reflected once again on how nice it is not to travel with a man. Yes, I was tired and there was no one to help me drive, but I didn't feel the least bit of stress over not "making time." Instead, I feasted on the lavish beauty of the trees on both sides of the winding, hilly two-lane road.
|Natural Bridge Caverns, |
where we zip-lined and did a "canopy obstacle course"
|Snake Farm and Petting Zoo|
Allyson with baby goat
|Sometimes the goats got a little aggressive.|
|This one decided to eat my shirt!|
|Allyson hoped to hold this ball python, which Ethan held in 2005...|
|...but they only got to hold this little one.|
The girls squealed in delight. They petted each one, took selfies with them, and even tried to film them in a musical.ly video, but the donkeys weren't up for that.
|Did you know donkeys sniff butts? |
Apparently mine was irresistible.
The Difference Three Days Can Make
After about 10 minutes, I managed to tear the girls away, and we said goodbye to our beloved Donkey Cabin and headed back to Inks Lake. Allyson had decided she really had to jump off that cliff one more time.
The trees were just as breathtaking as they'd been a few days ago, though today my heart felt heavy instead of thankful. I decided then that it doesn't really matter whether you're happy or sad; you can always find joy in beauty.
As I pondered these thoughts, Broken Hallelujah came on the crackly station. I thought of last night's text from my cousin Jenny, a fellow teacher: "Consider it pure joy, dear Sarah... and I think that will bring peace. I know this is hard."
Fresh tears slipped down my cheeks. Yes, I could find joy in this moment, with two giggling girls in my backseat and all these trees to keep me company. Though I never opened my mouth, my heart sang a broken hallelujah.
Walking down the path to the Devil's Waterhole at Inks Lake, Allyson excitedly described the cliff to Kambry. "It's pretty high," she said, "but not nearly as high as the cliff I jumped off in Canada."
I figured this tamer cliff would be a piece of cake in comparison. A couple of weeks back, Allyson had had a bad experience jumping off the aforementioned cliff. She'd hit the water wrong, and water had gone up her nose "almost to her brain." I'll let her tell you more about that in a separate entry.
By the time I got up the courage to stumble over the slimy, algae-covered rocks at the water's edge, Allyson and Kambry had already swum across the lake and were scrambling up the rocks. Submerged in the most delightfully cool (but not icy) water, under the blazing sun, I squinted up at the girls on the ledge. From here it didn't look so high, but I well remembered how high it is from that vantage point.
|That's Kambry in pink, probably about 20 feet up|
|Allyson and Kambry|
After a couple more minutes, I cheered when Kambry plunged into the water. "Allyson!" I called. "It's your turn."
The two girls climbed back up to the ledge and then spent the next 20 minutes or so alternately sitting off to the side while others jumped and then standing on the edge together. It was obvious now that Allyson's bad experience in Canada had taken her nerve.
"Go, Allyson!" I hollered. "You've got this."
"Do I have to?" she called.
I thought back to my own long minutes of hesitation three years earlier on that same ledge, toes curled around the warm granite, heart hammering. How I'd wanted to climb back down the rocks to safety. But I couldn't. I couldn't let my fear hold me back, not while my daughter was watching. In that moment, I realized that this battle was not only about jumping into a lake. It was symbolic of taking a much bigger leap, letting go of my fear and trusting that God was in control of my ruined life. I was so tired of being bound by fears, big and small, and I decided I would not live that way any longer. Oh, but I was scared--about all of it. I said a silent prayer, took a deep breath, and then another... and threw myself off the edge.
"Yes, you do!" I shouted to Allyson. "You can do this."
Allyson wrung her hands. "I know. But I'm scared."
"You can do it, baby!"
"Okay, just don't push me," she called.
So I pressed my lips together and prayed for my daughter. I didn't want her to follow in my footsteps and spend most of her life playing it safe and staying comfortable. I knew that climbing back down those rocks wouldn't make her any kind of a failure, but I didn't want my brave girl to set a precedent of bowing to fear.
I later learned that Allyson, too, was praying. After a couple of agonizing minutes, she finally leapt over the edge. I screamed in triumph, my heart throbbing with pride. "Woo hoo!"
Kambry jumped in right after Allyson, and they swam back across without pleading to stay longer. The job was done, and they were ready to go home.
One More Interview
When we got home, I was shocked to find a voicemail waiting with another interview request, at a junior high just 12 minutes from my house. This time, I was determined not to get my hopes up. By now I had no energy left to be excited, anyway. Still, I felt a tug the next afternoon as I circled the school. Imagining the kids who lived in those run-down houses on all sides, I whispered, "If this is the job you've chosen for me, I say yes." And then I said it louder. "Yes."
The interview felt pretty solid, but not exhilarating like the first two had. I liked the two teachers who rounded out the panel. They were warm and dedicated, and I could see myself collaborating with them.
At the end, the principal said she'd probably make her decision the next day (this past Thursday), and promised to call me either way.
I felt remarkably peaceful most of Thursday. I did feel a little apprehensive at the prospect of teaching 6th graders; I'm more drawn to teenagers for some reason. But this would be a step in the right direction, and I had no doubt that I could love these kids. But was I really ready?
In my heart, I was on the ledge again, ready to take the leap. "If you offer me this job, I'll take it," I prayed.
But the phone didn't ring. By 5:09, I accepted the truth. I was surprised when a few tears dripped onto my shirt. Clearly, I had not managed to keep my hopes down. "Oh, God," I breathed. "I trust you. I do. Please hold me close. I'm just so tired."
Just as that prayer left my lips, a colleague chatted me to ask about the interview. I replied that I was pretty sure I hadn't gotten the job. "God will have to really help me find favor. I know on paper I look like a big risk after so many years out of the classroom. Nothing is too hard for God, though."
He replied, "Of course. But consider Philippians 3:14... I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."
I smiled and dashed away the tears. No, I wasn't giving up. I chatted back that I'd been wanting to do a little substitute teaching on my vacation days, and maybe take a university class for ESL (English as a Second Language).
My friend, a former teacher, agreed that these steps would certainly make me more marketable, and that substitute teaching would help me to solidify the choice I'm making.
So here I am, back to the plan I made a few weeks back. I'm going to do some more preparing and a lot more saving, and get ready to try again next year. I'm glad it happened this way, that it wasn't my fear that held me back. I guess God knew I needed a little more time, and I intend to use it wisely.
It occurred to me yesterday that I can love a lot of kids as a substitute teacher, and teachers, too. I can still be a soldier in the Army of Light.
In the meantime, I will be thankful for my very good job, especially for the coworkers who have been my biggest cheerleaders--but who readily admitted that they're happy to be stuck with me for another year. It's good to be loved.