By Ruth Pack
I never knew one could get so attached to a robot.
My daughter was very active in FIRST® robotics during high school, and my husband mentored her team as well. During her senior year they spent hundreds of hours in the machine shop, the computer lab, the conference room, and the competition field designing, funding, building, programming, and competing with their robot Willard.
Willard was a sturdy little fellow weighing in at around 129 lbs., with many capabilities, including the ability to climb up a series of bars to achieve points at the end of each match. Because of Covid restrictions, I wasn’t able to come to the shop to see him practice and had to watch the first few competitions remotely. I will never forget the first time I saw Willard pull himself up to the medium-height bar, then extend his mechanisms to climb up to the high bar, and finally make it to the highest bar, where he swung impressively … then crashed nearly seven feet to the ground.
I was so devastated that I turned off the stream. Here was the culmination of those countless hours and sleepless nights, and it was lying on the floor below the bars. When I talked to one of the mentors later that evening, I said, “It was so awful to see Willard’s fall!” His reply (with a huge grin): “Which one?”
It occurred to me in that moment that A) engineers are just different, and B) instead of being afraid of what can happen, a good engineer designs for it. These students and mentors knew Willard was likely to fall, so they designed him to take the impact and get up again for the next match. Again and again and again. Whereas every instinct in me would have been to prevent him from falling in the first place, I realized that day it wasn’t that they wanted him to fall or didn’t care if he did, but they expected it and had the tools to fix him and get him working again.
God did not design us to sit on the sidelines of life, biting our fingernails in terror of falling.
Watching Willard fall and rise again through the rest of the season reminded me that God did not design us to sit on the sidelines of life, biting our fingernails in terror of falling. Joshua 1:9 says, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” God built us with resilience, with healing mechanisms in our bodies and minds. He gave us teams of friends and family that pick us up and tend to our bumps and bruises to get us back on our feet. He gave us His Word as our user manual, with encouragement and guidance to learn how to get up and, sometimes, how to avoid falling again in the future. He designed us to reach higher, not in a foolhardy way but in confidence that if we are designed by Him and following His directions, we can reach for those higher bars — knowing that if we fall, He will be there to pick us up, fix us up, and put us back out in the field. 1 Peter 5:10 says, “And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”
Throughout the season I also noticed that despite a growing collection of battle scars (after all, robots can’t heal themselves), Willard fell less and less often. Even when we had a new drive team work with him in the offseason, they learned quickly how to keep him aloft, how to control their movements and watch him carefully to time the climbs so he wouldn’t fall. How marvelous that God never passes the joystick to someone else, that He doesn’t need driver training to know how to care for His creations. He is always there, cheering us on, helping us climb higher, and giving us what we need to fulfill the purposes He has for our lives, the purposes He designed us for.
Willard stole all our hearts with those gutsy climbs, and his last climb of the season was textbook perfect. I pray that we would be fearless for God, confident that He designed us to face the challenges ahead of us, to get up when we fall, to climb ever higher, and to do it all to His glory.
Ruth Pack is a wife, mother, worship leader, musician, registered nurse, writer, and former robotics widow who lives in southern New Hampshire.