Years ago, I was a college kid and spent a summer as a camp counselor at one of my most favorite places – a Christian adventure camp set in scenically stunning mountains where zip lines and 30-foot-high ropes courses, subterranean caves and 50-foot climbing towers, and tons of sports and crafts and play await. And all the while, big and little kids are learning about Jesus and how to depend on Him at every twist and turn, especially when facing the challenges and fears that each adventure provided.
And then there was the white water rafting…
I went rafting six times that summer on what could be a smooth, easy river or an angry, deadly monster.
At the beginning of each trip, counselors and campers learn how to use their safety gear, the importance of the snug fit on the helmets and life jackets. How to use a paddle and how to stroke, how deep to pull, how to turn the boat using just an oar, how to steer through the rapids. Which, depending on recent rainfall and water levels, can be the difference between life and death. Especially when your raft-mates are six semi-focused twelve to seventeen year olds.
You are taught how to safely escape and how to swim to the surface, if needed.
But, all of that changes when you’re in the moment.
The instructors, who guide and follow the boats are incredibly skilled kayakers. They did absolutely everything they were supposed to do in teaching us the fundamentals of rafting and the vital importance of pulling together.
But sometimes, your raft and your crew just struggle… And the fifth trip that summer was almost more than just a struggle.
Sometimes, each person thinks that he or she knows how to navigate.
Sometimes, several people want to be the captain and several people want to relax and not paddle.
Sometimes, it takes a wake-up call for everyone to get their acts together and learn to pull together.
As a team.
And not as individuals.
It isn’t that they didn’t warn us adequately. It isn’t that we didn’t know that the water levels were just below the danger level that would have cancelled our trip for the day. It isn’t that the guides didn’t stand on Dimple Rock and show us precisely where and how to hit the life-stealer so that our raft wouldn’t flip. And it isn’t that we didn’t know that someone had died at Dimple Rock the day before our trip, getting sucked under water and pinned under the logs that lurk below the surface, as had several other people that summer.
But sometimes, all of the warnings don’t feel the same when your raft is next in line to face Dimple. And you know that the attempts to paddle harder and pull together haven’t worked well so far. And you know in your bones that your raft is going to hit the Rock wrong.
And then it does.
When our raft rode up the face of the huge boulder, it flipped on top of all of us after we were thrown out of its safety.
Suddenly the one thing that had offered protection and security in the danger of the rapids had just as suddenly become the exact thing that could suffocate and drown us. And all of the instructions from the start of the trip were swept away with our oars and our raftmates.
When fight-or-flight survival mode kicked in and the overwhelming need to escape the churning and the bubbles and the incredible sucking pull of the vortex and then being trapped under an overturned raft… there is nothing like the feeling of breaking the surface again in freedom and being hauled to safety on top of the same rock that had just threatened your existence.
And then the same raft-full of previously disconnected and disorganized people realizes the absolute need to thank God humbly and hungrily for reaching into the swirling, churning death water and for keeping each of us safe, and to make every whole-hearted effort possible to unify in solidarity, pulling together toward our collective goals.
I’ve thought a lot about that day, especially recently. Because I think we all have been there. Maybe not literally in or under a whitewater raft, but in our own trials and triumphs we’re navigating and battling daily.
When we have recognized the need for us as families and communities to unify and pull together, working toward ends that are greater and higher and better than the means, rather than fracturing into shards of mirrored glass, reflecting the could-have-beens of society instead of the what-we’ve-becomes.
When we have begged the relief of not feeling alone in the rapids of every day, jostled about without knowing where the water will sweep away or where it will smooth out, and wanted the safety of being on the Rock, not under the boulders of stress and anxiety and anger and fear and impatience that start so gently and subtly until they gather momentum and strength as they grow and roll.
When we have pained over our own battered hearts and empathized with the bruises and scars of others, longed for wisdom and clarity to see the reasoning and redemption behind it all, and ached for someone else’s seemingly easier life journey simply because we know neither their troubles nor their desires for our paths.
And even when we drag our minds into consciousness that God alone is the refuge, the lone rock on which we can stand when so much of the rest of our lives is swirling and splashing and crashing around us, we still struggle to bring our own hearts or to help another’s heart to rest in that same awareness.
Even when we wrestle with the knowledge, Biblical or experiential, that God alone is the strongest of strongholds amidst the crumbling boulders of anger and fear and stress, we still falter to release our worries freely into the hands of He whose hand alone can take hold.
Even when we drown in the uncertainty of the future and we tremble at the insecurity of not knowing it to the extent that we so deeply desire to know, we cry out in distress time and again for the comfort and presence of the Lord, who not only has it all in His hands, He has our backs in every battle we face.
But all of these things are so hard to remember when you’re in the throes, when you’re being tossed about in the waves of everything crashing down.
Because we are all in the raft together, some of us pulling together, some are leading, some are resting, and some are fighting for survival.
But we are all being thrown against the rocks and are being tossed about in the waves. All of us.
So God reminds us where He is. All of us. Again. And again. And again. And again.
The Bible is filled with references to His being our Rock and our fortress and our salvation. Over and over again.
Because WE forget, not because He did.
Because the boulders we face loom so much larger and scarier than our faith that needs to remember that even the biggest of boulders can be moved with just a mustard seed.
Because the Light is left in the shadows when we stumble and fall at the base of the wrong rocks.
Because we think our cries are falling on His deaf ears, even though He has told us time and again that He hears us anywhere and everywhere. He just answers us in His own way, which may or may not be in our way.
Because we minimize the hand of God at work, even when His hands work in ways that are different than what we hope and dream and imagine.
Because we do not know the whole picture, His whole story.
Remember His strength, His deliverance, His refuge, His salvation.
And when you just can’t remember it and you just can’t bring your heart to soak it in, read it. Again and again and again.
“The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield and the horn of my salvation.
He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior…
“In my distress I called to the Lord;
I called out to my God.
From his temple he heard my voice;
my cry came to his ears…
“He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
he drew me out of deep waters.
“As for God, his way is perfect:
The Lord’s word is flawless;
he shields all who take refuge in him.
For who is God besides the Lord?
And who is the Rock except our God?
It is God who arms me with strength
and keeps my way secure.
“The Lord lives! Praise be to my Rock!
Exalted be my God, the Rock, my Savior!”
~ 2 Samuel 22:2-3a, 7, 17, 31-33, 47