In Colorado, the Arkansas river runs cold. Much colder than it runs in Arkansas. But I hardly noticed as we careened over the frothy swells of white water and around the glossy heads of boulders that jutted above the surface. I was too busy listening for Ryan, our instructor to yell, "Forward two! Forward two!"
The all-day whitewater rafting trip started with a safety talk. We all snugged our yellow helmets on our heads, had a professionally trained rafter tighten the straps on our life vests, and climbed aboard an out-to-pasture school bus where a guy with spacers in his ears told us what to do in the worst case scenarios. It's a good thing they don't have that talk until the bus is moving...
One of the most important things he said was that if you see a rock wall approaching and your guide says paddle, do it. If you lean in and away from the obstacle, you will hit it and maybe fall out. If you don't want that to happen, you have to dig in and paddle hard.
Easy enough, right?
A few hours later, we'd worked our way through a couple rapids and I'd started to notice something. When you look at the river ahead, your mind processes which way you think the water will push you. You plot the course in your head and prepare for the swells and dips it will involve. You're ready for that ride.
Only, that's not what happens. Because behind you is a raftmaster with a rudder paddle who influences the path. When you think the boat will go straight, it moves sideways. When you think it will hit, it evades.
And sometimes, when you think the water should push you forward, it guides you gracefully toward a jagged rock wall. The shadows eat you first, and the gorge looms and you know you're about to get a nasty bump. It would make sense to brace for it.
But then, Ryan yells, "Forward two!" And you have a choice. Either duck, or wedge your paddle in the narrow three-foot gap that separates you and that jagged wall and pull for all you're worth.
I pulled hard. Then again. It didn't make sense. The way the boat was pointed, I might well be hurrying us toward a rocky end. The woman in front obviously thought so as she braced her paddle like a jousting stick and tried to push us off the rock. It didn't work.
But then, just as I was about to close my eyes and rehearse what I would say to the EMTs to ensure I was taken to an in-network hospital, the boat darted forward with a graceful ease, away from the wall and toward the center of the river, now crystal clear and sparkling with sunlight.
Even then I saw the parallel. In life, we let God steer, but we think we know the path we're on. We see some bumps, anticipate others based on the way things flow, and brace ourselves. But then, the path we saw gets lost in the rapids. We're moving in ways we never anticipated. Thrilling ways. Sometimes dangerous ways. And every once in a while, this new path hurtles us toward a rock wall.
It doesn't make sense. I've followed God. I've gone where he's called me. Okay, mostly. But still, when he said row, I rowed and now I'm about to become a smudge on the side of a gorge. Then he calls out to row and hard. Really, God? Are you trying to send me headlong into a rock face? I have a choice. I can do it, I can row and know that if I go out it will be in a blaze of His glory, or He might save me. Or I can try and shove the wall away. I can deny it, I can run for it, I could even jump from the boat if I wanted and float the rest of the way in my trusty life jacket and helmet.
If I base my decision on what I can see, that might be the wisest course. But I can't see the One steering. I don't know what He's doing to direct this course, only what He's asking me to do. There's no time for Him to explain what actions he's taking and how they will impact the position of the boat. I can trust...or not.
And the times when I trust, when I dig in and use my whole core to move forward in the direction I'm told, those times are always a precious. They are sometimes scary as all get out, but they are best.
Thank you, Lord, that you are always with me. Even in gorges, when rocky walls loom, you are there. You see what I can't, you know what I never will, you love me like I can't hardly believe. Your call is ever for your glory, and in that I find the hugest blessing ever. You never try to pitch me from the boat, you want to ride it with me. And thank you that even when I panic, you are with me. When I fail, you are gracious. Give me the courage to row hard wherever you point me. I trust you.