A guest post by Ken
The Ocoee River is not a place for beginners. It has a powerful and unforgiving current with large obstacles purposefully placed to instill fear and excitement. Recently I experienced both.
It doesn’t help that we put in and immediately experience a class four rapid called “grumpy”. I think I would have preferred it to be called something a little tamer like “Sneezy” or “Doc”.
I have done this annual trip four or five times before and every time I do it, I promise myself that this will be the last.
As I stare at the first set of rapids thoughts and questions raced. “What have I got myself in to?” “I’m too old for this.” “How much river will I drink this year?” These doubts rattled around inside my rafting helmet and only served to make me a little more anxious.
It’s not that I am new to paddling. I grew up canoing and more recently have taken to kayaking (thanks Tom & Jake). But this is the Ocoee. It is to be respected. It was the site for the 1996 Atlanta Summer Games (whitewater slalom event).
The students with me grinned ear to ear. They seem genuinely excited to be doing this. I forced a smile and tighten my life jacket.
What was it that they knew that I didn’t? Did they not know how big the rocks were, how powerful the current was or how much water can be drank in mere seconds? I am quite certain they were aware of all of these facts.
Then it dawned on me. I was only thinking about myself. I thought my life was in my hands. I knew I did not have nearly enough experience or skill to successfully navigate this aquatic ordeal.
If I were in charge of the boat we were all doomed.
Thankfully I was not the one in charge. There was another who would be interpreting the flow of the river and barking orders to help us safely navigate the hazards. Stan “the man” was his name. He had twenty-two years experience leading groups down the Ocoee River. Stan was not only our guide but the Trip Leader as well. He commanded all the boats that day.
Once I was able to transfer my reliance off myself and onto Stan, I was free to enjoy the day. Suddenly, rapids that had looked menacing now were inviting. There was still a healthy sense of fear, but I knew as long as I listened to my guide and did my part, our boat would be fine.
There were spills along the way, but Stan kept a cool head and we safely made it down the river.
Later as I reflected on how happy I was to be alive, I also thought about how the rafting experience was much like my life. When I think everything rests on my shoulders, fear and anxiety start to take over. But when I realize that there is someone greater than me who is in control and who has been through far worst, I can relax and trust in Him.
God is in control. He knows what the future holds and He has promised to be with me. There are still scary times or things that seem unfair or out of control, but none of those things catch God off guard.
It might have been coincidental, but the final set of rapids we did that day was nick-named “hell hole”. Even after experiencing the mighty Ocoee for over an hour, they took my breath away. But interestingly enough, immediately following “hell hole”, the river widened and it grew calm. There on the other side of the river we would safely pull out boats out onto shore.
Perhaps that’s how life is meant to be. God prepares us for some of our greatest challenges so that we will learn to trust Him. And after going through all that this world has to throw at us, we experience the calm. We land on the far shore and have great stories to share.
One of the things that I look forward to after this life is sitting down and hearing the stories. I am certain of this: the greatest stories will come from those who risked it all and trusted in a loving God. On that day, I want to have a story or two to tell about how God used me in spite of my fears.