By Leah Fuller
I was all alone. Well, alone with my paddle, my boat, and my life jacket. A few weeks ago, some friends and I journeyed east to go whitewater canoeing on a few rivers there. The trip was partially for training purposes and partially just for the excitement and challenge of paddling an unknown river and some bigger rapids.
Before we launched, we tried to gather as much information as possible. Where were the big holes or trouble spots? What were the best lines to take? Consistently the response was “Well…you don’t want to swim Grumpy’s,” the entrance rapid. With scouting reports complete, we donned our life jackets and helmets, prepared our canoes and paddles, and headed to the river as our anticipation and tension mounted. I can’t speak for the other members of the group, but I know my heart was pounding loud enough I could hear it over the roar of the water. We quickly planned who would lead out, and I was to bring up the rear, the assumption being that I would surely survive the first onslaught of rapids. My friends departed one by one, carefully making their way to various eddies downriver. Giving myself a pep talk, I took a deep breath and headed into the current.
Almost immediately, I felt a sniper rock jump up and grab the bottom of my boat, and just like that, I was in the water. Self-rescue is a requirement for paddling on any kind of whitewater, so I knew that I needed to grab my canoe, my paddle, and swim for shore. As I began my self-rescue, I faced the daunting reality that I was now swimming Grumpy’s! Surely, it couldn’t be that bad, could it?
My canoe hit a rock, and I found myself spinning in a wave. My ankle made contact with another rock, then my hip and chest. I had become a pinball, careening back and forth, forwards and backwards, under the water and above the water for what seemed like an eternity. It was painful, to say the least. My body recoiled as it was battered on the many rocks in the shallow descent; my vision blurred from water and submersion as I tried desperately to swim to the shore. I was alone! There was no one to help me this time…I thought.
For a brief moment, I became aware of my friend David paddling up next to me, telling me to grab the stern of his boat, but I refused for fear I would capsize him. And I remember my friend Joel encouraging me to keep swimming. Finally, I made it to the shore and collapsed in a heap, shaken and breathless. Tears welled in my eyes as fear, disappointment, frustration, and pain washed over me. It had been brutal, and I wondered if the adventure of continuing down this river would be worth it.
Life feels this way sometimes. Most of us have felt beaten up, disoriented, and pummeled by the pain of life’s circumstances. We feel we can barely catch our breath before the next round of adversity overwhelms us. Oh, Satan is very cunning—capitalizing on our wounds, helping us fixate on the pain, telling us that we’re alone and that nobody cares. It can be difficult during those times to lift our eyes above the waves to find God’s care and plan for us. In fact, we wonder if He is present at all!
Later that evening, our paddling cohort gathered around a campfire to relive our harrowing and heroic tales from the day. As I re-counted my swim through Grumpy’s, I shared my pain and fear, the hurt that it had caused, and how utterly alone I felt in the midst of it. Joel looked at me with deep compassion in his eyes and said, “Leah, didn’t you know that David and I were paddling right next to you the entire time?” Tears filled my eyes as I realized that while I could not see these friends in the midst of the struggle, they stayed beside me, escorting me, making sure that I made it safely to shore, encouraging me to keep swimming the entire time. It was true that there wasn’t much they could do to physically save me from the swim, but they were with me.
Don’t we often struggle to see where God is in the midst of adverse circumstances? He promised He would be with us always, but we can’t always see Him. We can only see and feel the pain and forget Him. Feeling alone in the struggle, we take matters into our own hands to get ourselves to safety. In reality, God is like my paddling friends David and Joel; He is with us, no matter what. We may perceive Him to be afar or even absent, but even when we can’t feel Him or see Him in the midst of the painful trial, He is there. He has not and will not abandon us.
So, when you find yourself struggling to see God in the midst of life’s whitewater rapids, may you experience the reality and comfort of His promise: “I will never forsake you!”
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you…The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (Deuteronomy 31:6, 8).
By Leah Fuller
I often find myself challenged by the very concepts and questions we instructors ask participants. On a recent expedition, two participants gave evidence to prove they were at the correct destination. Despite obvious evidence in several directions, one or two directions had seemed a little less clear. As the two completed their proof, I nodded and asked them, “Are you satisfied that you are at the destination?” The women looked at each other with uncertainty and after a thoughtful moment replied, “Well, we would feel more secure if you would just affirm that we are in the right place.”
How often have I longed for or even sought out affirmation from another in order to gain some form of security for myself? And often I think I need the affirmation because I do not trust that which I know to be true. When it comes to love, words allow me to communicate love to others, and words are a way I desire to receive love from others. Living with our own deep fear of inadequacy, we can start thinking that we need another’s words to confirm our identity or our worth.
I often find myself thinking that God’s silence pronounces a condemnation or judgment of me. I’m not doing enough to please Him, so He is withholding Himself. Let’s face it, I think that about others, too. If I go for a few days without connecting with a good friend, I think she must be upset with me or doesn’t want to be around me anymore. I’ve seen it create insecurity for couples in a new dating relationship. Lack of communication or contact can create fear that maybe the other person has become disinterested or doesn’t care anymore. We can experience silence or lack of communication as rejection.
What if God’s love went beyond words? What if I was secure enough in God’s love for me to know that He is with me even when I cannot hear Him? What if God’s silence is not a condemnation of me, but is instead a communication of His trust in my love? David Benner in his book Opening to God puts it this way: “Intimacy demands that talk be balanced by attentive openness in silence, and only as this happens do we begin to know the deeper communion of shared presence that no longer depends on words.” As we grow in our relationships with God and others, we can learn to trust. We find that love is less about what we do or say and more about who God is and whom He says we are. That lack of communication or contact that once led to insecurity can lead us to the only One who can fully satisfy.
I desire to grow in trusting that being with God is enough. He loves me, period. He doesn’t need to keep saying it for me to trust and know I am fully loved and that His love for me won’t change. 1 John 3:18-20 says it this way: “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in His presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and He knows everything.” (NIV)
If you find yourself struggling to trust that God’s love for you is enough, consider praying the following prayer. I have found it to be helpful for me on this journey.
Jesus, may I know Your love in the depths of my heart. May I trust in truth that I am Your child and I do not need to say or do anything to gain or earn your acceptance and love. Help me to learn to walk in the security of simply being in Your loving presence that is beyond words. And may Your loving presence overflow into my love for others as I learn to love not with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth.
By Joel Bates
I nearly dropped a man to his death the other day. It would have been a close call except that he was harnessed to a rope and I was on belay. I was instructing a high, group initiative. The participant hung upside down from a suspended tire, and I stood beneath him, my hand on the brake. The other members of his group were responsible to hoist him to the upper platform 25’ off the ground. However, his large size and humorous, flailing antics—coupled with the fact that his two daughters were in the group—resulted in the team losing focus at a crucial juncture. I watched him struggling and noted the situation turning from comical to critical for him. Everyone was laughing except him and me. Perilously hanging upside down, his face redden as blood surged to his downcast head, and I remained on belay. When he could not hold on any longer, he suddenly came plummeting toward earth. His belay rope stretched, and I jolted upward, creating a colossal, mid-air collision that rattled my bones.
We found ourselves swinging about four feet off the ground. He hovered there in a prone position with arms outstretched like a limp corpse, held aloft only by that slender belay rope attached to his harness. He slowly lifted his head, cocked it in a sideways glance at me, and smiled a toothy grin. “You didn’t let me fall!” he giggled.
My body ached from the contact. My jaw was sore from colliding with his helmet. I had a scrape on my leg where one of his flailing limbs had strafed it. Looking down at my right hand, I saw a white-knuckle death grip on the rope that was connected to my braking device. Breathless and sober, I responded, “No, I didn’t let you fall.”
You see, two hours earlier, I had explained to the group how we take every precaution to ensure that they won’t fall to the ground during this activity. I had told them how much weight the equipment could hold, detailed how the braking system worked, and quizzed them on the climber’s contract, emphasizing the part where I say, “Belay is ON!”
At this point in the instructions, I had paused for an aside to explain how committed I would be in the role of belayer. The belayer controls the brake and descent of the climber if he falls or needs to descend. The belayer provides the last line of defense against a traumatic, high-angle tragedy occurring. It is true that some belayers get distracted. Some belayers get lazy. Some belayers get hurt or wounded and end up letting go of the rope. However, I promised them with all seriousness that I never would let go. “Even if some crazy gunman comes crashing out of the woods and shoots me, I won’t let go of this rope that is your lifeline!” I promised. And I meant it. In times past, I had proven my word when I was belaying a buddy who, while climbing 30’ above me, inadvertently kicked loose a golf-ball-size rock. Even after it hit me right in the forehead with star-struck force, I didn’t let go of the rope. Then there was the time I had been at the climb site, standing “on belay” for hours in the 100o degree heat as student after student climbed, but I didn’t let go of the rope.
A few days after our mid-air escapade, I was sitting with a friend at a Bible study, pondering social trends, the void of reason therein, and the spiritual impacts on our culture. I have heard about one famous Christian after another renouncing his or her faith. I’ve seen longtime brothers and sisters in Christ compromise their faith at the core. I’ve stood by as the tide of postmodernism and whatever comes after that has washed over our society and the church with its pervasive waves of pernicious lies, stealing away our truth. I recently even had a friend tell me he is a Christian, but he doesn’t really believe that the Bible is relevant anymore.
As I was expressing my consternation in our Bible study, I suddenly remembered myself standing in front of that group of participants the other day and telling them about the commitment I would make to them to stay “on belay.” I suddenly saw not a rope in my hand, but a Bible, and the question hit me like a meteor, “Will I be as committed to hold onto His WORD as I am to hold the belay rope?” Will I stand and grasp my Bible when there are all manner of distractions about me? Will I keep these Holy Scriptures before me even when the days grown long and dry and my strength of heart is failing? Will I hold this powerful Word of God in my hands when it hurts, when I’m injured for it, or when I’m under the gun of oppression? Yes, I will! I must for it is not only my life on the line, but the lives of those for whom I have committed to be on spiritual belay. I won’t drop it! I will stay “On Belay!”
So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. 2Thessalonians 2:15 (ESV)
For the Word of God is living and active. Sharper that any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Hebrews 4:12 (NIV)
Come along side us as we journey in and out of the wilderness, discovering our Creator in creation.