June 20, 2013

Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith… Hebrews 12:1, 2

Nik Wallenda is at it again.

You may recall that last June he became the first person ever to wire-walk across Niagara FallsHorseshoe Falls. It’s not surprising to hear about a Wallenda performing daring feats—the family has been in the circus for centuries.

Perhaps the most famous member of the Great Wallendas was Nik’s great-grandfather Karl, known for such high-wire stunts as a doing handstands upon stacked chairs and a 4-person pyramid. The act was recruited by John Ringling (of the Ringling Brothers Circus) to come to the U.S. in the 1920s, and Karl eventually formed a 7-person pyramid. That became the Wallendas signature act, until during a 1962 performance in Detroit, the pyramid collapsed, leaving two people dead and Karl’s son Mario paralyzed.

So what is Nik up to now? Wire-walking across the Grand Canyon (it won’t actually occur on national park land, but in Navajo Nation territory, but we still think of the park when we say “Grand Canyon”). And you can watch it live—if you can bear to—this Sunday, June 23 at 8:00 p.m. on Discovery Channel and Discovery.com.

Joe and I were down in Sarasota, Florida—where I grew up—a couple of weeks ago, and we saw Nik practice. Sarasota is a circus town—for years, it was the winter headquarters of Ringling Brothers, and many circus folks made their home there—the Wallendas, the clown Emmett Kelly, and the human cannonballs, the Zacchini Family (I saw all of them in the circus and played with some young Wallendas; my mother remembers the cannon in the Zacchini’s front yard).  Sarasota High School had its own circus, Sailor Circus, which is now called Circus Sarasota and run by the Sarasota County Police Athletic League (several of the performers were my brothers’ and my classmates; I sold peanuts and ice cream for the debate club).

It’s not surprising then that Nik Wallenda trained for the walk in Sarasota’s Nathan Benderson Park, and the local newspaper covered the story extensively (his training finishes today). On the way to the airport to fly home, Joe and I, along with my mom and my brother Greg, stopped at the park to watch him.

There were perhaps 100 people there, taking in Nik traversing a 2” steel cable hoisted 25-30 feet in the air by two cranes spaced 1,080 feet apart, and anchored in dumpsters each packed with 140,000 pounds of sand, according to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. We watched him walk back and forth on the wire, holding on to a long pole for balance, his footsteps steady and unfaltering, even when he squatted down. But—there was no net, no safety harness.

And he won’t have them when he goes across Grand Canyon either. All he’ll have is his pole to cross a tightrope attached to four anchors drilled and cemented into limestone rock on opposite sides of the canyon. The wire will be counterbalanced by hanging weights to stabilize it from windy gusts. Two small cable-deployed metallic baskets will be available in case of an accident.

The walk is 1,250 feet at a height of 1,500 feet. Doesn’t that give you the willies just thinking about it??

Nik Wallenda says wire-walking “is in his blood.” No surprise there. What did surprise me was the coverage given to something else that’s in his blood. The week we were in Sarasota, Nik released his memoir, Balance: A Story of Faith, Family, and Life on the Wire. “That’s clearly the grounding that I stand on,” he said in the interview with the Herald Tribune, speaking about his Christian faith.

When he’s on the wire, Nik keeps his eyes fixed on each step before him—and he also concentrates on the One who walks with him. As he made his way across Horseshoe Falls, the Herald-Tribune article relates, Nik “kept up a steady stream of praise and thanks to his Creator.”

I’m guessing you and I aren’t going to be doing any wire-walking anytime soon, if ever. But we will feel like we’re on a tightrope sometimes as we take on our own hard, scary, seemingly impossible challenges in life. For me, right now, that involves working on three different magazine articles, a book proposal and this blog, and scheduling my show for next year, all while juggling the details of selling of our house and moving 1,200 miles away.

When I had trouble getting to sleep last night, I felt overwhelmed by everything I have to do. But as I finally drifted off, it was with a simple prayer for help and a “thank you” to the same Lord Nik speaks to when he’s on the wire. We’re both entrusting our circumstances and ourselves to the Maker of heaven and earth Who watches over us night and day (Psalm 121).

I hope you are, too.

One comment

  1. Elise Daly Parker says:

    Yes, Penny, I am entrusting it all to Him! What a great story…about you and your upbringing. Amazing how much I don’t know about you though I’ve known you for years. And what an encouragement…even the Wallendas keep their eyes fixed on Him. A message that is coming through over and over again. Bless you!

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