I honestly didn’t have the first clue what I was getting myself into when I walked up the long stairwell alongside my children. So often I think if we knew what lies ahead, we would probably completely avoid the circumstances that set us up for the wild rides in life that we endure in the first place. This day was no different.
I was completely dry. Our family was here because my youngest son had begged to come for two years and it was his birthday and the only thing he kept asking to do. My participation and presence in this place was a complete labor of love.
And speaking of love, if you don’t already know, I have a genuine, deep love for people. I have come to realize about myself these past few years however, that I don’t love too many people in one place with mass amounts of exposed flesh. I don’t love the idea of small bodies of water that kids are peeing in and spitting out washing over my body. I don’t love bumping into the bare flesh of people that I don’t know and I really don’t love the idea of recycled air all around me during flu season. But because we are all stuck together under the dome of an indoor waterpark, all of these things are completely unavoidable. Some might have walked into that humid room filled with splash pads and water slides, wading pools and waterfalls and have felt they’d found a respite from the cold winter weather… but me, I walked in and all I could see was large quantities of flesh and the flu.
After sitting in a chair overlooking the wave pool for awhile, watching my kids frolic in the fleshy, flu waters, I determined that I needed to deal with my drama and join them (lest I sit mortified with my thoughts of nearly naked bodies and germs for the next several hours). I put my pants and shoes in the locker we had just paid $15 to rent for the afternoon and walked towards my kids in the swimwear that I desperately wished had been a Hazmat suit.
My husband and I followed along and reminded them not to run as we made our way towards the waterslide area. There were sets of steps leading in several different directions so we chose one and joined the line.
* * *
The past few months have been hard. Life hasn’t gone like we expected in a lot of ways. There are things that we have begun that have gotten rocky and feel as if we will never see an end. I know that because God is good there is a light at the end of the tunnel, but for now I’m not able to see that light for myself. I know it’s there though because I know my God. And I know that even though it feels dark, we are still safe.
Psalm 18:28-30 affirms it for me, “For it is you who light my lamp; the Lord my God lightens my darkness. For by you I can run against a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall. This God—his way is perfect; the word of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.“
I’ve been angry too. Mad to be in this place and mad that I don’t know how to get out. I’ve been mad at other people who have impacted the journey that have landed me here, and mad for all the ways I think I should have been rescued by now or forewarned before these things happened. I’ve been working through offense in my heart towards those I hold responsible and even towards those who aren’t responsible at all but somehow feel connected in the midst of all my frustration. When your own sins land you in a mess that’s one thing, but when you find yourself in a mess that was no fault of your own, that’s a whole different story, and one that takes a lot more soul searching to emerge from without bitterness.
I refuse to let other people steal my joy. But that doesn’t mean that I’m going to like the process of what it takes to hold onto it. Sometimes we just have to deal with the fact that we are in a dark tunnel and determine to live knowing that there’s light even when it’s not obvious. I can have joy even in the places that feel scary.
* * *
At the top of the stairs there was a teenager with a whistle and a walkie talkie hoisting giant four-person tubes from a conveyor belt to his right into a pool at the opening of the slide to his left. Groups of people took turns each nestling into his or her own opening of the 4-leaf clover shaped tubes. Every couple of minutes the teen-in-charge would say “have fun” and shove the tube into the entry of a red and yellow abyss.
I had no idea where they were going but imagined the large tube moving down a pipe at a speed a little bit faster than a lazy river. This would be fun.
My husband and I were instructed to be seated in the tube opposite of one another to help counterbalance our family. My boys were between us on each side. All of our legs came together at a hole in the center of the tube and we each grabbed hold of the handles alongside of us.
“Have fun” the pimple-faced youth said as he kicked us over the edge and into the pipeline.
Almost immediately we raced down the tube and soared over an edge that dropped straight downwards. We were barreling so fast that I couldn’t even take stock of what was happening. Suddenly, the tube catapulted up one side of a halfpipe and nearly tipped me over top of my husband as I clung for dear life to the grips on the tube. As fast as we had zipped up the one side we slung across to the other and continued back and forth, up and down across the half-pipe like something out of ESPN’s X-Games.
I began screaming uncontrollably. My voice had asserted itself beyond of my capacity to control it and I yelled over and over and over “I don’t like it! I don’t like it! I don’t like it!” The panic rose from my chest to my throat and my entire body began to tense and tingle.
My kids looked equally stunned and shouted over the rushing sound of swiftly flowing water, “Mom…stop yelling!” Despite their instruction I was unable to regain any semblance of composure as we darted from side to terrifying side of the pipe.
“I don’t like it! I don’t like it! I don’t like it!”, I continued. “I don’t like it!” I was shaking and couldn’t feel my face. “I don’t like it! I don’t like it. ” I thought I was going to burst into tears as my stomach jumped out of my skin over and over and over in what I discovered later that the park refers to as their “six-story funnel of fun.”
Speaking now from experience, I can confidently assert that dropping six stories in a raft with all that you hold dear is not fun. Not fun at all.
“I don’t like it! I don’t like it!” My husband was clearly growing exasperated by my inability to manage any other speech at this point in our 90 second journey. I couldn’t help myself, the same words continued spewing forth in rapid succession with each whipping movement of our raft.
“I don’t like it! I don’t like it! I don’t like it!”
“Well, it doesn’t really matter that you don’t like it Honey!!! Because you’re on it!” He shouted at me across the raft. His face showed both amusement and annoyance, neither of which I was able to address as I continued with the “I don’t like it!” monologues all the way to the end. At the bottom of the pipeline we barreled towards a set of steps where another whistle-clad teenager was waiting with a smile.
“Did you have fun?” he asked as he steadied the raft so we could exit.
“I don’t like it” was all I could manage to say as my husband peeled my shaking, soaked, fleshy self out of the tube and into a chair beside the ride. It was then that we discovered we had just experienced the park’s thrill ride called “The Tornado.”
I’m a month to the safe side of The Tornado experience now, but golly if I don’t still feel stuck in one on plenty of other days. In spite of my exit from the ride that day and 24 glorious hours later from the entire water park as well, I still find myself sometimes wanting to shout “I don’t like it” as I barrel through life on a ride I had no idea I was entering.
I still find myself struggling to catch my breath with experiences that were supposed to be fun but somehow end up sucking the air out of my lungs and color from my cheeks. There are moments in life recently that have felt much like that ride, dizzying, terrifying, and completely unexpected with a total lack of awareness for how long it will go on. And all I want to do is yell “I don’t like it” and exit the ride before it’s over…but just like with the Tornado, an early exit isn’t possible. There’s no lazy river you can select off to one side when the going gets rough, no lever you can pull to slow down the speed, no method available to end the madness, and so we just have to hold on for dear life and ride this thing to the end.
You know what I mean right? Sometimes we just have to hold on for dear life, trust the raft we are on, and ride it down through the crazy tunnel of doom til we get off at the end. We have to know that The Tornado was tested and approved and some engineer out there who specializes in these things determined that we would in fact make it through to the despite feeling as if we could die in the process.
Now I’m not saying that the Lord is a thrill manufacturing engineer, but I do know that the raft he puts me in to ride these things is secure. I know that His word is true and His character is loving and even if I’m shaking in my flesh all the way to the end, He will see me through and I will be ok.
Job 11:13- 18 offers encouragement to this very place in life, “If you prepare your heart, you will stretch out your hands toward him. If iniquity is in your hand, put it far away, and let not injustice dwell in your tents. Surely then you will lift up your face without blemish; you will be secure and will not fear. You will forget your misery; you will remember it as waters that have passed away. And your life will be brighter than the noonday; its darkness will be like the morning. And you will feel secure, because there is hope; you will look around and take your rest in security.“
We may be on a rough and scary ride, but we won’t be abandoned to it. We may not like it, but we will triumph over it. Even when I am stuck and I don’t like it I can know that there is life and light and joy for me because God is good, and He is for me.
“Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” – Psalm 16:9-11