...But more on the title later...
Life is a lot like whitewater rafting. Indulge me a moment, even if you've never been. I have been numerous times. Most of the rafting adventures I've taken have been wholly pleasant...sky overhead, open water before, trees, birds, some rapids to excite and break up the monotony. Pure relaxation with a wee bit of adrenaline. THE BEST. But this month in life has been a lot like a particularly scary trip I took a few years back on the New River in West Virginia.
I knew at the beginning of the trip that it was not going to turn out well. Everyone in my raft was a beginner...no biggie? Well, that included the guide. (yikes!) It was maybe one of her first few trips as a guide, so she was sandwiched between two more experienced guides. I had already been dumped into a small whirling eddy and promptly snatched up by my dear friend Reggie. My faith in "Katie" the guide was diminishing with each rapid. I had been on rivers--many of the largest in the Southeast--enough to know some things about when to paddle hard right and what to avoid. It seemed she kept putting us in precarious situations. The clincher came on the rapid known as "Miller's Folly." It is the longest rapid on that stretch of the New River. It is about a 3 or 4 on the rapid scale (don't know the exact name for that). Katie was steering us to the right. The boat ahead and the boat behind were going left. I asked my last fateful question of the day, "Katie, why are the other boats going left and we're not???" She replied that the right pass was easier. Enter sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. We found ourselves pinned against a 12 foot boulder on my side (the right-hand side) of the raft (I was in the very front of a seven man raft). The water was flowing underneath us pretty swiftly, and we really needed to put some weight down on the left and catch the current to move us on. Just as everyone realized we were stuck, Katie yelled for everyone to LEAN RIGHT!!!!! Lean right? I just barely had time to think about what that meant before I found myself kissing the boulder, under the raft and in the water. OH...gurgle...slurp...gurgle...MY...gasp...gurgle...GOD! gasp. Every time I could catch air I looked around for the rescue rope...someone on a rock to help...I looked back at Greg, whose look of panic I will never forget as he bobbed down the river. "Keep your toes up...down river..." I kept telling myself. And then I remembered the phrase that saved my life I really think. "Whenever you see the sky, take a deep breath," Amos the experienced guide had told us on the bus. I remembered it, and DID it. I was in a washing machine of river water, unable to keep my body in any position, trying desperately to keep my toes up...where were my toes? I was completely disoriented...then I saw a huge rock in front of me...I was headed straight for it. Would I bounce off? Would I get lodged somehow and pulled under? I had so many clear thoughts, including asking Jesus to let me die instead of live maimed in some way. I really am not being dramatic for the blog's sake. I really did experience all these things, and had some pretty good late-night panic attacks about it for months afterward. I still get a little sweaty when I see lots of moving water (Niagara Falls was some decent therapy).
No one threw me a rope, but I "swam" through the quarter-mile rapids and made it to the first raft, who pulled me in, choking and spitting and shaking. My boss, Daryl, looked like he was about to cry because his guide wouldn't let him jump in the water to help us. It was too dangerous. They were just going to have to watch us struggle until we came through to safer waters, and pray that we did make it.
(man, that was long story to make a point, wasn't it?)
April has been a lot like that trip. I feel like I've been dumped in the river. I have a Life Vest (capitalization intentional), but not much else but rough waters and lots of gasping when I see the sky and go back under the murky water for some more tumbling. My grandmother's passing, about 20 work events in 30 days, two classes in which everything came due at once, birthdays, births, small-group leading (or lack thereof), prayers, confusion, following, reading, and culminating with a lovely car break-in on the 29th... I have literally felt like I have been rafting without a raft.
Stress and the continual piling on can really take you on a journey. It will make you pray more or hide from everything. Or cry. I have cried remarkably little this month...odd for me, indeed. But God has shown Himself. "I'm your Life Vest, Shelley!" I don't know why we get dumped in the river sometimes, maybe so we'll learn to hang on to the life vest and keep our toes up. We learn the value of our lives, and the lives of those on the sidelines praying and watching us bob in the water. But we have to do some swimming and praying ourselves. I had to DECIDE that God was in control, even though it didn't feel that way. I had to DECLARE that He is working everything out for my good. I had to KNOW that He is God. It has been hard to be still this month...I have been eating in my car, making phone calls between work and dinner and class...trying to keep ties with people who are dear because their lives aren't necessarily stopping because mine has been turned upside down. Whew. I don't know if it's all over, but here's to hoping. I know that God is a good and experienced guide and that all of this contributes to my makeover in His image. Lord, let me see some sky...I need to breathe You in.