When I was seven, I rode Big Thunder Mountain and Space Mountain at Disney World, got terrified out of my Jams and jelly shoes… and that was it. (Jams and jelly shoes—anyone else wear those? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?) From then on, I swore off roller coasters. I successfully avoided the rattling death traps for years, too chicken even to get in line. But the summer I turned sixteen, I got roped into going to Six Flags with a group of friends.
For the first hour or so, I held my ground: I wasn’t there for the roller coasters; I was just there for my friends. I paired up with Geoff, the other kid in our group who was too afraid to ride, and we wandered around the park together. (It occurs to me now that it’s possible Geoff was just pretending to be scared to make me feel less like a loser and to make sure I didn’t spend the day alone…if so, thanks, Geoff. Seriously.)
Meanwhile, the rest of our group tore across the park together, laughing and giddy, seeking adventure. Geoff and I ate some junk food. Talked about Nirvana and the Cranberries. Watched other people line up for rides. Listened to the whoosh of the coasters, the screams of the riders. Studied people when they stumbled off, high-fiving and grinning, weak-kneed and windblown, but not dead. After a while, Geoff and I turned to each other and said, “We’re being lame. We have to at least try one ride. If we hate it, we don’t have to do it again. (Assuming we survive, that is…but let’s not think about that.)”
So we picked the mildest ride we could find, got in line behind a bunch of six-year-olds, and bit our nails down to the quick while we waited. We chose seats somewhere in the middle of the coaster, where it was supposed to be the least scary, and talked each other out of wimping out at the last minute. When the ride jolted us forward, I shut my eyes and gripped the bar so hard my fingers locked up. My insides turned to ice. As we tipped back and ratcheted sloooooooooowly up that first high-as-Mount-Everest incline, I screamed until my vocal chords shredded to bits, took a breath, and then I screamed some more.
We reached the top of the first hill. Time stopped. My heart tried to rocket out of my chest. We started free-falling. My stomach plummeted into my toes; my bladder threatened revolt. I shut my eyes and curled up tight inside myself until I could hardly feel the wind tearing at my face. All I could think was, Please don’t let me die please don’t let me die please don’t let me die.
At last the ride screeched to a halt. I took three seconds to make sure all my body parts were still attached and (most importantly) to make sure my pants were still dry. My vocal chords were destroyed and my fingers seemed permanently glued to the railing, but besides that, I was intact and unharmed. And then, as if I had stepped outside my own body, I watched my head turn to Geoff and listened to my own raspy voice squeak, “That was THE BEST THING EVER! Let’s do it again!”
Geoff nodded eager agreement, his wide eyes mirroring my I’m-terrified-but-still-totally-exhilarated expression. Turns out, we’d both had the time of our lives…but we hadn’t been able to register the joy of the experience until the ride had ended.
Off we sprinted to the next coaster, a scarier one. We had both squandered that first ride, just praying to survive, but we didn’t waste the next one. As the day wore on, we got bolder. I started opening my eyes—just a crack at first, a little timid peep—until eventually, I opened my eyes all the way, almost the whole time. Geoff was the first to let go of the rail and wiggle a few fingers in the air on the way up the inclines. After a few more rides, I threw my hands up and surrendered to the stomach-lurching, bone-rattling thrill. By day’s end Geoff and I had conquered every terrifying ride Six Flags had to offer. We were full-fledged adrenaline junkies.
Sometimes waiting feels motionless, but other times it’s a roller coaster. It hurtles us up and down and all around—from uncertainty to terror to euphoria—till our emotions show signs of whiplash. We’re getting what we want—just kidding, not getting what we want; The Thing is finally happening—nope, not happening at all; God is saying yes—just kidding, He’s saying no—or maybe He’s saying wait—uh, we have no idea what God is saying… But guess what? We get to choose how we ride out our waiting seasons: Will we sit with our eyes shut, teeth clenched, fists tight on the rail, completely missing out, just whispering, “Tell me when it’s over”? Or will we open our eyes and let the ride take us where it will (where God wills), determined to find joy in the twists and turns, to experience exhilaration in the unknown?
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No, it won’t be fun the whole time. It won’t always be peaceful or happy. We’ll have moments when we’ll wish God had buckled us into a different ride. But if we’ll learn to embrace the experience, it will be an adventure. A story—our life story. A life we do not waste. A life we live in the moment, every day—not just in hindsight, when we know how it all turned out. A life we live to the full, without fear: eyes open, heart unguarded, hands raised to heaven.
God’s way is perfect.
All the Lord’s promises prove true.
He is a shield for all who look to him for protection.
For who is God except the Lord?
Who but our God is a solid rock?
God arms me with strength,
and he makes my way perfect.
He makes me as surefooted as a deer,
enabling me to stand on mountain heights…
You have made a wide path for my feet
to keep them from slipping. –Psalm 18:30–33, 36 NLT
But if we embrace the experience of waiting, it will be an adventure. A story—our life story.
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