I rode my first roller coaster as soon as I reached minimum height. I think I was eleven. I don't really remember. I do remember the clicking sound of the old coaster at Elitch Gardens as we traveled slowly up the wooden rails, and I remember reaching the top and realizing now we were going down. I remember the speedy descent with my hair flying and my hands gripped tightly gripping the bar in front of me. I remember closing my eyes tightly. I remember simultaneous fear and thrill. I remember getting off the ride and wanting to get back in line.
It felt like I could die, but I knew I wouldn't because I trusted the roller coaster designers. That was an exhilarating feeling.
Over the years I've been on a ton of roller coasters. I've been upside down and sideways more times than I could count. I've screamed and gripped the bars in front of me and squeezed the bars in front of me over and over. And then after a while I just didn't care any more.
The thing is, I really don't feeling like I might die. So to assuage my fear, I reminded myself that I wouldn't REALLY die. It only felt that way. Without the thrill of "almost death," I lost interest in roller coasters. Plus, I almost always ended up with a nasty headache. And tickets to amusement parks got super expensive. Riding roller coasters just didn't seem worth the time or money.
In some weird sort of way, my disinterest in roller coasters tells the story of my life adult life. I don't like risk. I don't like getting jerked around. I don't like uncertainty. I want to know and understand everything. As it turns out, roller coasters aren't actually as safe as I thought they were, and neither is life.
I don't want long, slow rides up rickety rails to the top of the track. I don't enjoy death-defying drops at breakneck speeds, gripping the overhead bar, feeling like I might fall out to certain death. And so I stopped going on roller coasters, literally and figuratively. Without adventurous roller coaster rides, literally and figuratively, I lose the feeling of the wind blowing through my hair, the sense that I'm not in control of my life, and the exhilaration of not dying. I also lose the need to trust the roller coaster designers.
Over the years, I've joked that my life was boring and I liked it that way. Definitely no roller coasters in that life. Instead, I craved certainty, stability, control. Even if it meant that I didn't pursue dreams. Pursuit of dreams meant possible failure or rejection. Worse, it meant uncertainty.
A few years ago I lost my dad to a massive heart attack and boring certainty just didn't satisfy me anymore. I chose to chase dusty dreams of teaching and writing. I chose to go back to school, and now I'm riding a roller coaster, zipping around corners, looping around the track upside down, holding tightly to the over-the-head bar that's supposed to keep me from falling out. I don't trust the coaster designer as much as I used to, honestly, and I don't always enjoy the ride. I keep hoping the coaster will stop so I can look at it with a different perspective. It doesn't seem like it will ever slow down.
This summer I hit the scariest part of the track. I had to finish my thesis. I wasn't sure I would get that done, but I did. I got it formatted and turned it in. Brief celebration. The coaster car didn't come off the track.
Off to Boston. I'm holding my breath again as I meet with other teaching associates and publishers. I should be thrilled, but honestly, I think they'll figure out I'm a fraud. I'm gripping the bar. Total white knuckled.
Back to school after Boston to tutor in a new class. These twists and turns are familiar, but I still feel dizzy. I see an upside down loop coming my way as I face unemployment. I apply for jobs all around San Diego. I hear nothing.
I'm reading Sun Stand Still by Steve Furtick right now. Long story short, Furtick advocates a living a life of audacious faith. And that takes risk. Sort of like riding roller coasters and not being absolutely positive that the coaster will stay on the track or the safety bars will keep you from falling out.
As part of his description of audacious faith, Furtick describes "wave jumping," a game he plays with with his three year-old son. Now, I think the ocean can be pretty scary when you're a kid. Cold dark waves come at you with tremendous force, and you figure out pretty quick that they can knock you over. Depending on the strength of the waves, they can actually hold you down under the water.
That's why it seems like a good idea to stand and face the waves and jump when they hit you. I don't know, maybe it lessens the force of the wave.
Anyway, the game goes something like this: Furtick walks out into the ocean with his three-year-old son, Elijah, as far out as his son is comfortable. Right now, Elijah's willing to head out to chest high water. And then when the wave approaches, Elijah lifts his arms straight up. At that point, Furtick grabs Elijah's hands and lifts him up out of the wave, high above the spray of the water, so that Elijah feels safe.
Afterward, when Furtick puts his son back down in the water, Elijah tells his dad, "I'm the Wave Jumper, Daddy." Elijah doesn't quite realize that it's not him doing the jumping, but his dad's strength that enables him to jump.
Elijah loves the game. He gets to hang out with his dad and enjoy the ocean, and he experiences the thrill and risk of the wave without getting knocked down. He totally trusts his dad.
Furtick likens this to living a life of faith. We head out into the ocean with our heavenly Father, facing the waves, and when the waves approach, we lift up our hands, knowing that he will lift us up so that we aren't knocked down and then held under the water by the force of the wave.
How cute, I thought, as I read the story. Elijah knows his dad will rescue him. Elijah knows his dad will take care of him. If he wasn't absolutely positive that his dad were behind him, ready to lift him up out of the wave, he wouldn't have the courage to go out into the ocean. He's only three. He has audacious faith that his dad will take care of him every single time.
I don't live with that audacious faith. When I started school, I waded into the ocean, and every time a paper was due or I had to read something beyond my understanding, I raised up my hands, and God totally lifted me above the wave. I wrote research papers. I learned new concepts. I started teaching. I felt the spray of water in my faith, the wind blowing through my hair.
I can't say this game has been all that much fun. I mean, I'm out in the ocean, and I don't have confidence that God will lift me up out of the wave. I'm not positive the wave won't hold me just a little too long, at which point God will lift me up and ask me what I've learned. I hold my breath and squeeze my eyes tight until the moment the wave hits. At that moment, I sigh with relief and say, "That wasn't so bad."
I think that's how a lot of us live. After a lot of thought, we're willing to step into the ocean, facing the waves. We're a little less willing when the waves are big, but we might head out to our ankles. We're pretty sure we can jump when the waves come if the water only comes to our ankles. Maybe we might even head out to knee-high water. We like the coolness of the water. We're in awe of the strength and the beauty of the ocean.
It's not too exciting. In fact, it's kind of boring, but it's safe.
Chest-high water is another thing. Now we know we can't actually jump the wave on our own strength. We actually might get knocked down. We're not sure that our heavenly father is behind us, ready to lift us up when the wave comes. We've forgotten how much God loves us. We've forgotten how to live with audacious faith.
Some people thrive on excitement. I'm not sure I do. But I'm willing to face the waves when I have to. I just don't have a lot of fun. I don't crave excitement.
And so I finished my thesis on time. The wave crashed over my toes, and God held me up. I didn't even get my face wet.
The thesis finally got reviewed, and it passed. I couldn't see them yet, but the waves of unemployment were heading toward me. Getting jobs is hard enough, but without a degree, it's pretty much impossible. And just at the last minute, God lifted me up, the reviewers approved my thesis, and I graduated. Another wave that didn't knock me down. I didn't even appreciate the arms holding me high, and I didn't celebrate.
I turned in my CV (an academic resume) almost all over town, and I heard nothing. And this time I thought for sure, the waves would knock me over and hold me under. I thought for sure I hadn't done enough, and so why would God lift me out of the oncoming tsunami. Was there a tsunami? I don't know, but the waves seemed enormous.
On Wednesday, after we got back from a restful time in Palm Springs, I met with my ESL mentor at Grossmont. I knew I needed to meet the English chair and turn in another CV. I wasn't sure where the English department had offices, but I thought I remembered from a previous visit. I didn't find the offices, but I found the name of the English chair and her office number. I headed over and paused at a bulletin board with her picture. Would she be there? I walked into the office, past half a dozen empty offices. And there she was, in the last office.
Immediately I walked out of the building, my heart beating rapidly. I sat on a bench outside the building and prayed.
God, I don't know why I would even bother. Classes start next week. She has all the teachers she needs. I'll just look stupid. What will I say? I don't want to do this, God.
And I could hear the words of Jamie Madden at San Diego State, "The answer is always no if you don't ask." Profound words. What if, just moments before, someone called her and said they couldn't take a class? It could happen.
I reached into my purse to get my phone and turn it off. It would be really bad if the phone rang while I was standing there stuttering. No phone. I really didn't want to go back into the office. But what if the answer were yes?
And in the back of my head, I thought of Steve Furtick, his son Elijah, and wave jumping. And so I asked for God's blessings on this adventure, and I walked into the office.
I did not get a job. But I also didn't sound stupid. And the department chair was very sweet. And so I drove home. I felt like the wave had headed toward me, but I faced it and jumped. As I walked out, excited that I had faced the wave, I wanted to yell, "Daddy, I'm a wave jumper!" I refrained, but I was practically skipping as I returned to my car.
A couple hours later, I remembered I didn't know where my phone was and I went looking. I saw a message from Jamie Madden at SDSU. She had called right about the same time I was sitting on the bench, praying, and reaching for my phone. Her message said she had two classes for me at State. I could hardly contain myself, and I called her back immediately. This time I did dance.
I felt like I'd jumped two waves in one day, like God had rescued me from the oncoming tsunami, just like he had always planned to rescue me. Today I got another call from Jamie, and I got one more class. I'm so excited that I'm smiling. I'm planning courses. I'm jumping up and down. Metaphorically. I chose adventure, and when the waves came, I jumped and there’s nothing so exhilarating as jumping high above the waves, the wind in my face, blowing through my hair, feeling the spray of cool water, seeing the force and not getting knocked over.
I'm grateful that I headed into the ocean past my ankles, where I could handle the waves. I'm grateful that God lifted me up. I'm excited about the adventure. Three classes is a lot of work, and 96 papers is a lot to grade. Plus I'll have my ESL internship at Grossmont. And I'm taking two ESL classes to lead to certification. So I'll be busy. When am I not busy.
But I'm excited. I'm celebrating. For some people, this may be wading out in the ocean to their ankles, but to me, this is water way past my waist. To me, this is an adventure. Maybe I even like adventure.
But I don’t have to like adventures to choose them, and I don’t have to like risk to enter into it. The reality is that I chose adventure when I left a safe job with a paycheck every week to go to school. I chose adventure when I left my home in Colorado, married Duane, and headed to California. I chose adventure when I started having kids.
We choose adventures every time we wade into the ocean past our ankles, facing the unknown. We can like them or not—they are certainly more fun when we embrace the unknown. And I suspect I am more fun to be around when I’m not filled with anxiety about the things I’m afraid of.
Last night I was thinking about school and graduation and jobs and how excited I was to have these gifts from God. And then I realized that God would still be God if the reviewers hadn't passed my thesis and if I hadn't gotten jobs at SDSU. And I wouldn't drown under the water even if these things hadn't happened.
A lot of people do what we do and never consider it a spiritual adventure. They get married, have kids, start careers, go to school, etc., and they’re not talking about God. So the spiritual adventure, jumping waves, the roller coaster, whatever you want to call it, isn’t about the stuff we do.
Part of the adventure is not knowing, trusting, heading deeper into the waves, knowing that God is with us. Part of the adventure is the relationship that grows between the creator of the universe and me when I trust him.
And I guess that’s the greatest adventure of all. The one we were made for. The adventure of knowing God, seeking him, following him wherever he leads.