“So, how long is that canoe trip tomorrow?” I asked my husband.
“Maybe an hour and a half,” he paused. “They do this all the time. It’ll be fun.” I guess he sensed my hesitation.
The only other time I’ve been on a river was in my twenties on a rafting trip with a guide and a group of college friends. It never crossed my mind that I was signing up for that kind of adventure.
In my mind’s eye, I pictured a relaxing ride winding back and forth on a cool autumn afternoon down the river. Inviting.
Until…. I sat across from my friend who was not going on the trip, as she tried to mentally prepare me for the possibilities that were before me while we waited on the rest of the group who were running late.
“Oh, no. You’ll be on the water at least three hours,” she said. Her eyes shifted back and forth, as she cleared her throat. “And there are some rapids. Didn’t they tell you that?”
“Mmm. No. They forgot to tell me that part.” The Pollyanna image I had was beginning to fade.
My friend’s daughter chimed in. “Oh, they aren’t too bad. Class one, probably.”
“Class one. Not too bad. In a canoe.” My mind rationed back and forth with how I could get out of this commitment.
Yet, I had already said yes to my husband and my kids. I didn’t want them to go it alone.
“Oh, and another thing,” my friend kindly added. “It’s best if you don’t go down in the same canoe as your spouse. It just hasn’t ended well for other couples in the past.”
I could feel my heart thumping in my chest.
All the way to the river, I heard whispering in my head, “You will go in the same canoe as Paul. I want to trust me and get in that boat.”
“Ugh. Lord, please help me.”
I snapped the clips shut down the front of my life jacket and grabbed a paddle.
“You and Paul take that canoe over there,” the leader of the crew said.
“Of course, we will,” I sarcastically thought.
We grabbed the rope to pull the canoe around. Gingerly, I crawled up to the front seat, while Paul hopped in the back to steer.
We weren’t on the river five minutes, when we all realized the water was about half a foot too low.
After climbing over the first fallen tree and then running directly into low lying branches, I shouted again, “Watch out for that…. Oh never, mind,” as we skidded to another stop on the next rock or sandbar.
Finally, we reached some open water to gently float in, and the small voice inside of me began to speak again.
“I created you to be a seer, to look ahead and see what’s coming, and then to communicate that to your husband. You are also to help him carry the load by rowing and adding your strength to his. In order for you to work together, you must stay in sync and communicate. To get down this river together well, you must work in unity, not against each other.”
I paddled a bit more, trying to point out more clearly the hazards I saw ahead. As we continued to make forward progress, the Lord continued.
“Paul’s position is just as important as yours, but different. He is designed to steer the boat, to bear the load of the work, to hop out of the boat and push it when necessary. Both of you are equipped and designed for you to be in these positions. Honor the position I’ve placed you both in.”
If I would not have been paying attention to the obnoxiously large rock in my left Keen, I would have heard the increasing sound of rushing water in front of us. I slipped my shoe off to get rid of the menace at about the same time as I saw one of the teens standing on a rock in the middle of rushing water frantically waving their arms to motion for us to go the right of the jagged rocks like a plane landing on a runway.
Quickly, I slipped my shoe half on, while pressing my knees against the side of the boat to brace myself. My natural reaction was to hold the paddle firmly in front of me, partly from previous experience of rafting in my twenties (which was very different), and partly because we had spent the last thirty some minutes with my husband telling me to hold back, to let him paddle, so he could control the boat better. But as we passed the guide on the rocks, I heard them screaming at me, “Paddle, paddle hard through the rapids.”
Somehow, we traversed the dangerous rocks and water gushing to the bottom of the rapids, only to for me to yell, “There’s a tree…” Bang. “branch,” as we in slow motion flipped the canoe over.
“Catch my shoe. Please grab my shoe,” I screamed as I watched it floating down the river. One of the youthful guys swam to rescue my bobbing sandal. Another grabbed our bag that was now soaked at the bottom of the boat, and secured it with a rope, so we wouldn’t loose it with the next tip over. I’m pretty sure they expected us to get dunked again.
“There aren’t any more rapids like that are there?” I half questioned, half begged the nearest teen.
“Oh, I think this is hardest,” she said reassuringly.
It wasn’t. The next one no one in a canoe made it down without a flip.
I was especially concerned when I saw my daughter standing in the middle of the falls in front of us as they held us back. Her boat had flipped onto of her pinning her to a rock, which I found out after the fact. Adrenaline had been her friend, as she had heaved the boat from her head tossing her glasses with it.
We stopped at sand bar to grab some watermelon and relax. Smiling with satisfaction that we had made it this far. “We’re about halfway,” our guide announced as we climbed back in our canoe.
After about four and half hours with the sun beginning to dip beneath the trees and my body beginning to tremble from exhaustion, I looked over to our guide in the kayak next to us.
“How much longer?”
“When we are done, I guess.”
“Will we back before dark?”
“Hopefully, but if we’re not, then we’re not.”
“There aren’t anymore falls, are there?”
“Oh, there are some at the very end that are really hard, but we are getting off before that because most people are tired by then.”
As I heard that sound of rushing water in front of us yet again, I knew he failed to tell me about the set that were between us and the exit point that weren’t quite as difficult.
I was super tempted to jump out of the boat and walk down the rocks to the place we were getting out. But then I thought of my dear husband in the back, and I knew we had to finish together.
At the top, we suddenly began to flip around to go down backwards, but struggling again the current, we were able to turn it around, only to get stuck on the first rock down.
“Dear Jesus, please don’t let us flip again.”
I pushed with the little strength I had left against the rock, as Paul hung out the opposite side to keep us from going over. The canoe finally began to break free of the rock, and I dug the paddle into the water as hard as I could adding my strength to the man in the back to create momentum in the raging water as we skidded over the last few falls. Cheers went up as we crashed into the churning water at the bottom and floated to a halt.
“We did it. We finally finished.”
Sometimes the things we go through in life are not as advertised.
Yet, once you say yes to the adventure and hop in that boat, you are committed for the whole ride, whatever may come – trees in front of you, sand bars, rocks, rapids, slips and falls.
We can’t control the river. We can only control our reactions to it. You can’t just jump out and say, “I’m done.” No matter what comes, we are in this together.
And when we get to the rapids, that’s the time to really row.
It’s also really important for me to honor the voice behind me and in most cases follow his lead, but there are times I need to make some decisions; yet in that, be clear and communicate what I’m doing. It’s important for me to honor, encourage, and listen to the one steering the boat, and trust he is trying his best to steer us in the right direction.
One of us is designed to be the one steering the boat. It is his design to offer the most strength and make the final decisions on where this boat is going. We both can’t do that. It means disaster if we try.
It’s not that one job is more important than the other, but the one steering has to make those final decisions for the trip to work.
If the one steering will trust the one in the front and listen to what is seen ahead and accept the help, then we will avoid a lot more rocks, branches, and go down the falls easier, but if he doesn’t, we both will suffer.
It only makes things harder if each criticizes the other because we are both just trying to help each other get down the river. The only way to make it down through the hazards of the river in one piece is to value and honor our different design, celebrate it even, and encourage each other to do our best. That’s loving each other well.
When one gets tired, the other pulls more weight for a while and vice versa. We must work together as a team to finish well, accomplishing what we are destined to do.
Will we flip out of the boat? Yes. Yes, we will. Probably a few times. We will hit rocks, get stuck, run into branches, beach on sandbars, slip and possibly fall, and traverse rapids.
Yet we have on our life jackets, we have each other with a helping hand up, and we have a community of people who have been down this river many times before and know it much better than us who are there to offer their wisdom, advice, and help if we are willing to take it. They will be there to cheer us on in the end. We also have some big angels to give us a little push in the right direction.
Obviously, there’s a lot of application to marriage here, but the truth is we live in some very turbulent times. I can hear the rushing water ahead, and I know there are some more rapids coming. The Lord is the one who said to get in the boat, and He will help us get down this river in one piece. Yet, we will make it much easier on ourselves if we work together in unity, honoring the different designs and functions we are made for, and help one another in love.
We are going down this river one way or the other.
So grab that paddle and hop in that boat. It’s the adventure of a lifetime.