I have one and only one experience with white water rafting.
It was an experience that filled me with both excitement and terror all at the same time. It was something I always told myself I wanted to do yet deep in my heart never actually believed I would do. When you live your life in a nice little rotating bubble of the same old same old, it’s easy to tell yourself that you would do something if given the opportunity if you don’t believe you’ll ever actually be in a situation to do it – and that’s where my journey began.
Every year for 5 years, my entire family took a beach vacation. I was utterly obsessed with the beach since childhood and could think of nothing I’d rather do than lie the beach right on the edge of the ocean feeling the warmth of the sun beating down on me as the waves slowly rolled over my body. There’s just something about feeling the power of the water wash over me that is so incredibly healing, but I’d always experienced it from a safe place.
Right at the water’s edge.
Close enough to feel it’s power but not deep enough to risk being overtaken by it.
Then one year, things changed.
As we were getting ready to book our beach house for the 6th year in a row, my dad commented that he was tired of the beach.
“Let’s go somewhere like the Smoky Mountains,” he said.
My husband had said many times that the beach wasn’t his idea of a vacation and he’d like to see Gatlinburg, so I messaged him at work to see what he thought. He was – of course – thrilled with the idea. I quickly found a 5 bedroom cabin perfect for our large party and that was it. We were heading to Tennessee.
None of us had been there before so we were clueless on what we should do, but one of the first things that came up was white water rafting. I think I’d told myself I’d do it for so long if given the opportunity that I didn’t really have a chance to think about what I was getting myself into, so I dove in head first. It wasn’t until we got there that I started to get a little nervous. Then, on the bus ride that took us from the office to the launch site, I really started to freak out as they were explaining all the safety precautions and what we needed to do to stay safe.
They talked about feet getting trapped between rocks. Drowning being one of the number one causes of death in the Smokies and so on and so on. I started to panic. I wanted to back out, but there was really nowhere for me to go except down river.
So I got into the boat.
They told us to stick our feet under the seat in front of us to help keep us from being tossed out of the boat. Well I got in there about shin deep. Our guide laughed and told me I needed to back off a bit and relax so that my knees didn’t get over extended. I didn’t respond, but thought to myself, “I’d rather have a broken knee than be drowned at the bottom of this river!” And before I knew it, there we were. At our first rapid.
My heart pounded and everything in me wished I had never set foot in that boat. I wanted to paddle backward furiously and go back to the bank, but it was too late. Suddenly we were tumbling down this rapid. Being tossed about here and there and there was absolutely no turning back. We were at the mercy of the water, and I was utterly terrified.
But then it was over, and the only emotion left was sheer exhilaration.
I didn’t really think it could get any better, and then our guide told us we were going to “surf” the next few rapids. He explained what was required of us to do so, and we agreed to give it our all. Now I don’t know if there is a technical term for this, and maybe it’s not as difficult as it seemed to that boat full of newbies, but man was it worth the effort.
It was so. very. worth. the pressing in.
Essentially, what “surfing the rapids” was was after we went over it, we had to paddle furiously to turn the boat around and get ourselves back into it only going upriver instead of down this time. There would come a point when you’d get to a certain spot in the rapid, and you could completely stop paddling and you’d just be “stuck” there unless you dislodged yourself from that spot. Like I said, I’m a total newbie, so if you are more experienced, feel free to correct me, but what I remember is this: You get to a certain spot and because of the undercurrent created in the rapid it basically counteracts what’s going on on the surface. It holds you steady, so even though your boat fills to the brim with water (I actually think the boat being filled plays a part, but I can’t remember exactly) and on the surface it seems as though you should be plummeting downstream, you remain steady.
There is no experience I have ever had that is quite like it. I’ve never felt anything so powerful wash over me while I’m in what should be a sinking ship only to be held up and in place by some unseen force. What looked like it should be a sinking ship quickly empties because of what’s holding it up and some tiny hidden bail holes. If you are someone like me who believes in a Creator and intelligent design, you can’t help but see the symbolism here: A boat held steady in a tumultuous situation even when it looks as though it should be tossed about and sank emerging victorious over the rapids. Those on board coming out elated and stronger. Maybe there were times when they thought they would sink. Maybe it was scary at first, but when they pressed in, they found that they could endure the rapids. They could endure whatever tried to over take them…
Because something they couldn’t see was keeping them steady.
So maybe it’s time to be a little bit brave. Maybe it’s time to venture from the shore. Maybe it’s time to put yourself it a place where the waters could overtake you while trusting that what you can’t see is more powerful than what you can.
I mean, don’t get me wrong, we weren’t foolish. We had life jackets and helmets, but we got off the shore and into the water.
Maybe it’s time you do too…