One summer when I was in high school, I went on a rafting trip with some youth leaders with our 4-H organization. It was the first time any of us had done anything like it, but we were adventurous and after receiving our instructions, went out in our 2-man rafts. All went well and fun and we reached our final “run”-a small waterfall we were instructed to go over head-on. My partner and I were the last of our group to go and attempted to do as we were told, but somehow the raft got hung up on a rock at the last minute, which lent to sending us over the waterfall sideways instead of head on. Of course this dumped us out on the way down, but we were wearing life vests and the river would become shallow enough to walk out of after the falls. However, I couldn’t get to the shallow part. I was caught in the tumble.
The water falling from above shoved me under the plunge pool and disoriented me. I couldn’t seem to find the surface. Not being a strong or experienced swimmer, panic came over me as I rolled beneath the surface without finding ground beneath me to put my feet down, nor air above me to get a breath. My life vest brought my head to the surface and I relieved the ache in my lungs, only to be plunged under once again by the crashing water. Though it was only a few short moments, it felt like an eternity before the tumble seemed to spit me out and I came up under our overturned raft. I pushed it aside and walked to our group and the guide waiting along the shoreline, seeing my partner was just reaching them. They were joking at our poor execution of the falls and totally unaware I felt I’d nearly lost my life. I had too much pride to tell them what my experience had been and laughed it off with them-in fact I think this is the first time I’ve ever told the story.
But I tell it because the tumble, that feeling of being disoriented and trying to catch a breath and find your feet, is exactly the way I felt in the first few months of being here in South Africa. Don’t get me wrong, I have LOVE being here and I’m EXCITED to be here, but you can’t uproot your life and plant it somewhere completely different without some struggles. I didn’t really even see it in the midst of everything, but after I was “spit out,” I recognized the feeling.
Fast forward to now…Right now, in this moment, I’ve had time to sit on the shore in God’s lap and look back on my experience. I’m in shallow water, but the journey has just begun. I have learned a lot about how to steer through the falls, but more importantly, I have learned how to navigate when it doesn’t go as planned. Initially I thought my goal was to get out of the tumble-To have my feet planted and lungs full of oxygen. That was where God wanted me-At peace, secure in my voyage. But that’s not really it. Instead, God revealed to me this: HE is my life vest.
Even if I go over sideways instead of head-on, or get caught in a tumble (and let’s face it, they are often UNAVOIDABLE), He’s with me. He’s got me. He sustains me. He lifts my head and fills my lungs. I don’t have to panic. I can rest in Him no matter what part of the journey I find myself in, because He guides my every step. And I can be assured; He will never, NEVER, let me drown.