By Courtney Ellis
I spent one summer in college working at a camp, guiding whitewater trips down the Wolf River. Before the camp director set me loose to take campers and counselors and the occasional curious parent down the river, I had to get lifeguard and whitewater safety certified.
In May the waters of Wisconsin are still icy cold. The other potential guides and I made it through a day of training at the lake, shivering on the docks between skill demonstrations and distance swims. Then we survived another frigid day, retreating to our cabins for hot showers at lunchtime and again at day’s end.
For our final day in training, we headed to the river to practice in the fast water. The whitewater. Our instructor, a redheaded, stubble-faced thirtysomething, looked us all straight in the eyes and said, “Whitewater is unpredictable. Whitewater can get scary. No matter how good you are in the rapids, sometimes your boat will tip over and you’ll fall in. When that happens, grab something that floats.”
That seemed an obvious thing to do, so I didn’t know why he even bothered to mention it—until my own kayak flipped during a practice run that afternoon. Gasping in the freezing water, I popped up in my life vest, totally disoriented. Should I swim? Should I try to stand up? What had he said again?
The instructor yelled from the riverbank, “Grab the kayak! Grab onto the kayak!”
And I did. And together that big orange floating boat and I made it safely to shore.
Some days I’m on the sunny banks—dry, warm, safe. Other days the preschooler decides he’s done wearing shoes forever, and the baby spikes a fever, and it turns out the project I spent oh-so-much time on is dead in the water, and once again I’m in the river, treading water.
Each of us, on some days, feels as though we’ve been swept away in a rushing river and we don’t know what to do. Maybe your whitewater days come when the kids are acting crazy and your spouse is out of town. Maybe they come when you face another year of singleness and your heart aches for a person with whom to share your life. Maybe you feel swept away by the river when you get the news that the diagnosis isn’t good, or the job isn’t yours, or the money isn’t there. And all hope seems lost.
When your whitewater days come, grab on to Jesus. When everything else is swirling and foaming and sinking and freezing, he’s the thing that floats.
Photograph © Tim Mossholder, used with permission