Last spring, the youth ministry team consisting of myself, the youth minister, and our administrative assistant, sat down and planned out our summer calendar. One of the last events we planned was a caving trip to the Lost Sea. Apparently back in the day, the student ministry would go to the Lost Sea and camp out in the cave. It sounded like fun.
Yeah, well..... uh. I cant walk today. haha.
This trip has been so frustrating to plan. I started out with a decent size group, and one by one they just started dropping out. What I originally thought would require the church's bus, ended up being a group small enough to fit in two cars. I shed many tears over this. I think, with it being my first trip flying solo without a youth minister, and the last trip for our seniors, I wanted it to be good. I wanted to do a good job. I was really not looking forward to the trip at all as students started dropping out.
Yesterday, 9 of us piled into cars and made our way toward the Lost Sea. I had 5 students (4 recent graduates and a freshman) and 4 chaperones (which I use that term loosely since I was the oldest of the group), and it seemed like everyone (but me) was pumped.
First we stopped at the Mayfield Dairy and I made everyone learn how milk jugs were made and filled. Dude, that place sends out some serious school milk cartons. And then we ate ice cream.. which might have been a bad idea, given that we were sleeping in a cave later that night, but we like to live life on the edge.
Only Steve could make a beardnet look hot
Then we headed to the Lost Sea.
First of all....... I thought I was prepared for this trip. I was wrong. Second of all, if you are claustrophobic or non skinny- you may want to spend some extra time in prayer before you enter a caving situation.
These Lost Sea-ers totally tricked me. The first part of the tour, a 5 year old could handle. Yeah we climbed some hills (i mean, what are they called in a cave?), and I got out of breath, but sweet California, if I only knew what was coming. The Lost Sea is cool, with some neat history behind it. Native Americans used to live in or use the cave back in the day, and during the Civil War, its resources were used to make gun powder. The sea itself is massive, and years ago they brought fish down into the cave as an experiment... hoping that the fish would lead them to the cave's water source. BUT the fish just died, because the sea is too big, and they didn't have anyway to get food. Don't worry though, they feed those jokers, so those creepy fish were almost jumping into the boat with us.
After the regular tour, the fun really began.
Our guide Shane was hilarious, and our group really loved having him with us. He and our guide in training, Hunter, took us back to our campsite for a break, before leading us out on a special excursion that you only get to do if you're camping in the cave. This part of the cave had no artificial light spread throughout, so we had to rock our head lamps.
The next few hours of my life, I was certain were going to kill me.
The guys took my group through some of the most ridiculous tunnels and holes on the planet. Places that I was certain my body just wasn't going to fit through. There was one place they took us through that I've nicknamed "The Devil" that I thought for sure I was going to die in. We had to crawl on our hands and knees over rocks and under rocks and through mud, and just when I thought it couldn't get any worse, I see a hole up ahead that I was sure MY body was NOT going through. To make it even worse, if by some miracle of God, my body did squeeze through it, I then had to army crawl several feet through a space I was sure I wouldn't fit through either.
I got about 1/2 way through the hole and I just didn't have the strength to go forward. My friends Steve and Andy were behind me. My friend Lauren was in front of me. And my skinny little students were already at the end cheering me on. I started to cry (but to my credit, it was just a little bit) because I just didn't know how I would get through. Steve and Andy refused to let me turn around, and so I had no choice but to keep going. Somehow, from somewhere, I mustered up the strength to continue, and I very non-gracefully wiggled my way through the hole, and army crawled in slow motion to the other side. I was being dramatic and saying all kinds of crazy stuff through it, but I can't tell you what a moment it was to come out the other end, being encouraged by my students, and feeling proud of myself. It was one of the hardest things I've ever done, and I hope I never have to do it again, but it was worth it.
Another place they took us through, required us to lay on our sides and crawl through this crevice. My arms are so bruised by this point that every movement hurt like crazy. Again, with Steve behind me, telling me I could do it, and Lauren up ahead telling me I could do it, I made the attempt. I got about a foot in and knew for certain I didn't have the strength to keep going. I can't begin to describe how exhausted I was at this point. My muscles were shaking from being strained so much that night. This was one of our last things we were doing, and I really did want to finish it, but I didn't know how I would. Steve was stuck behind me, and I was just laying there between two rock walls, telling them to tell my parents I love them, but that I was going to die right there in that spot. haha. To make it worse, our guide in training accidentally took my students an easier route (he's still learning the cave), so they didn't even had to do this junk! I needed help. Shane was awesome though, and made his way back down between the walls, stuck out his foot and told me to grab on. Then he started singing part of Lil Jon's "Get Low".. "Now stop, and wiggle wit it." And just like that, with me holding on to his foot for some extra help, he and I wiggled our way out of the tunnel.
I've never been more filthy. Seriously, I had dirt in my hair, my ears, on my back, my toes (which were in tennis shoes!).
Once I set my sleeping bag on the cave floor, I didn't move from it... because I couldn't.
Caves are freaking freezing when you're sleeping in them.
Bats are creepy.
Absolute darkness can lead to awkward moments.
There were so many funny moments, and special moments last night. Even though there wasn't a bus full like I hoped... the Lord showed me just how much faith I had been lacking. My students came up to me and told me that they had a great time, and that they were grateful for the group that came, that it was exactly who was meant to be there. My friend Steve shared a story at our campsite, that I'm praying spoke to my students, and that we all learned a lot about trust, courage, faith, and friendship.
Though I'm completely covered in bruises, last night was the best night I've had since moving to Chattanooga... and in a difficult season in my life, it was just the kind of reminder I needed. It took bringing me down into a cave, where I was a hot mess and completely helpless to remind me that God is in control.
Check out my bruises!
My legs are just as bad!