Just try to keep afloat.
Last spring, Darlene thought it would be great for us to take two of our sons and their girlfriends whitewater rafting. In the voice of a thousand memes: “This will be fun,” she said. Darlene signed us up for the Olympic course because it was cheaper. She went whitewater rafting in Colorado on a mission trip during high school, but that was back in the day. As time has passed, I feel compelled to memorialize the experience. First, they detailed every possible fatality that could potentially be experienced on an inflatable raft. Every cautionary scenario was covered, apart from being attacked by a marauding bear. We were told to float on our backs if we capsized. “Don’t fight the water. Just go limp.” They showed us all the rescue techniques, but they were talking so fast I just couldn’t process all the information.
They’ve got nicknames for different parts of the river and when we got to “tombstone rapids,” the next thing I remember, the boat flipped and I was catapulted, completely airborne! Then I found myself under the boat, with one shoe missing and my helmet on backwards. I don’t have any idea how it happened. It was like the twister scene in the “Wizard of Oz,” but instead of the old lady in the rocking chair and the flying cow, my sons and their girlfriends swirled around me like puppies learning the dog paddle. There was no “going limp” for me! I had no idea where my wife was! Kansas, maybe?
Suddenly, I was plucked out of the water and onto a boat of Chinese tourists who didn’t speak a lick of English. It felt like the Olympic course for a totally different reason. I scanned the shore for Darlene. When I finally spotted her, she was about 50 yards away sitting on a boulder in the middle of the river. How did that happen? She didn’t even know. We got back on the raft we started on, but the rest of the trip I kept thinking about all the ways we could have died.
For a moment, I imagined meeting Jesus at the threshold of heaven with a surprised look on His face saying, “What are you doing here? You went rafting!” I know that’s not how it would go down, but that was my divine vision. Darlene came away with a black eye, which made going out in public a little precarious for me. We felt obligated to tell the story to strangers over and over for the next couple of weeks.
Yes, certain experiences in life are metaphors. And this time the lessons were pretty simple: When life gets turned upside down, relax and trust that your family or even strangers will pull you back to safety. The best way to stay in the boat is to keep rowing. And be prepared for the rapids. They’re just a part of the journey.
Matt Tullos is a freelance writer, husband, and father of four sons. He serves as special assistant to the executive at the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.