I spent one month of my life with Cabell Sweeney. We were on the Ropes and Rappel crew in 1997 at Frontier Ranch, a Young Life camp in the mountains of Colorado. When I met her I was struck by her big smile and her passionate heart. Cabell has more passion in her big toe than most people muster in a lifetime! Cabell and I immediately became fast friends and one of our connections was our “sweet boyfriends” back home whom we would write and share “love stories”. Cabell was crazy about Mike and wrote him faithfully all month long. Boyfriends aside, we also spent a tremendous amount of time together as we worked long hours either climbing the mountain to belay down cabins of kids each day; or we would be sending them through a high ropes course ensuring that they both conquer their fears and have the best week of their lives! We worked together, ate together, laughed together, and worshiped together. (I always think of Cabell as we sang almost daily “I lift my eyes up…up to the mountains…where does my help come from? My help comes from you…Maker of heaven…Creator of this earth.” Psalm 121.) I think our work on the mountain and the huge ascent and decent we made daily brought this song to life even more than it would have had we worked in the bakery. Some days I needed all the help I could get to climb that mountain…again! We laughed a lot and shared funny stories about campers, but most of all we shared a passion for high school kids and our desire for them to have the best week of their lives and hopefully get a glimpse of Heaven on earth…we hoped they’d meet their Maker.
Cabell and I both married the boys that we loved and our stories seemed to be intertwined through the years as we both served on Young Life staff (Chris and I in NC and she and Mike in GA). I even had the gift of being Head Leaders with Sweeney (his beloved nickname) for a month at a camp in Georgia and I learned then why she loved him so! All of this to say–it was a tragic day when I learned of his Stage 4 Melanoma cancer and that he was fighting for his life. Cabell and Mike’s story has been documented beautifully in her blogs. (http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/mikesweeney) They are filled with so much wisdom, so much truth…and most of all Cabell is REAL. They tell a beautiful love story of Cabell and Mike. They tell a beautiful love story of a Heavenly Father and two precious children. They speak of heartache and pain in an unapologetic way. They speak of faith and hope where most would find none. They speak of God’s goodness no matter what.
Cabell’s most recent entry impacted me profoundly. I cannot help but think of the mountains and think of Cabell. I really rarely think of Young Life camp without a thought of Cabell. So to read this melted my heart and I can imagine each step of the climb that day…
written by Cabell Sweeney
I just spent several weeks working at a Young Life camp in North Carolina called Windy Gap. It was a rich time for me, I felt valued and affirmed- it was good for my soul. I am still “unpacking” all that God taught me. The following isn’t something He necessarily taught me, maybe more made me aware of. Or grateful for… deeply grateful for…
Each week every high school kid and leader would head out of camp to hike to the top of a nearby mountain. It was an invigorating hike- not too overwhelming. The group would start out strong but inevitability there would be campers who fell to the back, struggled to keep up and felt discouraged quickly. I would hang toward the end to walk with these campers and encourage them to not give up. I got to spend several hours with a handful of high school kids and we had significant conversations. One week in particular God gave me the sweetest picture of friendship- specifically of my friends, on the way up the mountain. In tears, I shared this vision with “K”, the girl I was walking with that day. She didn’t really know what to do with it all at first, but I have found if I act like it is perfectly normal to cry and talk about your heart and your dead husband and your God then other people think it must be normal too. Because… they don’t know any different, and who is really going to challenge me on this? Now I will share it with you. You too, can act like it is totally normal.
So my friend “K” fell behind and wanted to quit within the first half hour of the hike. I just took a deep breath and thought, Ok, sorta early for the You can’t quit! talk, but alright, here we go. So I gave her the You will be so proud of yourself when you get to the top. Don’t you want to accomplish something you never have before? Don’t you want to exceed even your own expectations? Don’t you want to have this day to look back on and realize you CAN do something you never thought you could do? talk. To which she replied, with extreme attitude I might add, “No, I don’t. I want to quit. I don’t care about any of that crap you just said. My body hurts, I can’t do it and I’m quitting.” I began scrambling, thinking, Alright, I’ll have to step it up and play the God card. I continued, “Well, maybe you are right. Maybe you don’t have it in you to climb this mountain. But God is bigger than you think. And you can do all things through Christ who gives you strength. God will beam with pride when you allow Him to get you to the top of this mountain.” To which “K” replies, “I thought God loved me no matter what. He’s not going to love me less if I quit.” My thought at that point was, DANG CABELL, you have met your match. Kinda sassy, kinda smart and not easily swayed.
I was forced to play the “card” I only like to play as a last, last resort- the card of emotional manipulation. I explained to “K” that my husband, Sweeney died of cancer over a year ago and there were many days when I thought, I simply cannot do this. My body hurts. My heart hurts. I don’t have it in me. I have to quit. But then my friends would come alongside me and say, “Maybe you are right. You cannot do this alone. But God is bigger than you think. His Holy Spirit is alive in you. And you can do all things through Christ who gives you strength.” I asked her if I could hold her hand as we walked. She said yes. Then I explained what it meant to have a friend walk beside you up a mountain. I asked if I could take her water bottle and her bag to lighten her load. She said yes. Then I explained to her what it meant to have a friend carry your burden. For some stretches, I would run a little ahead and then stop and encourage “K” to just make it to me- only focus on getting to me. Then I explained what it meant to have a friend “believe” something for you until you could “get there” for yourself. At times, on steep inclines “K” simply couldn’t find the strength to keep walking. I stepped behind her, put my hands on her back and literally pushed her forward until she regained strength. I explained what it meant to have a friend come behind you and push you forward with scripture and prayer and love. And then “K” asked about these friends of mine who walked with me up the mountain of the last few years, she really wanted to know about them. So I spent a good stretch of trail telling her about my closest friends. She asked names and details and I gushed. When the two of us finally reached the top, I was overwhelmed by the picture of my life and my dearest friends that God had shown to me in the climb.
On the way up “K” shared a lot about how difficult her home life is. Stories that are dark and heart breaking. Almost too heavy to bear. She doesn’t have friends like I do. Her family doesn’t love her the way mine loves me. Much of her climb is lonely and painful. “K” gave her life to Christ while she was at camp that week. She and I hugged before she got on her bus to head home; she had a new Bible tucked under her arm. She said it was unlikely that her home life would magically change. I nodded in agreed empathy. Yet we both decided hope could be found in the fact that she would never, ever have to “climb” alone again. “K” could find strength in Jesus’ words, “In this world you will have trouble but take heart, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 Then, as if on cue to end a novel with the perfect sentiment and sentence lingering in the air, she said, “And someone once told me – God is bigger than you think.”