I spent another precious summer in one of my favorite places on earth: WinShape Camp for Girls. It was there that I had the dreamy privilege of speaking to close to 200 girls every morning – teaching them the Word of God, telling stories, and trying my hardest to help them see Jesus in everything. It reawakened the challenge for myself – to look for Him in the little moments as well as the big. To choose to see Him at work in stories and adventures just as much as in the Word and in worship.
On a day when the sun was brighter than it had been in a solid week (an absolute eternity at camp) and the bright blue sky was filled cotton candy clouds (my all-time favorite), we went white water rafting down the Ocoee River in Tennessee. We sang Taylor Swift, ate turkey + cheese sandwiches, and giggled endlessly on our drive to the guide company.
Our young + bearded guide, Chaz, was giving us the necessary rundown of safety measures and emergency info, and included in this lesson was short list of commands we would need to know on the river. When we would need to paddle, Chaz would call out “forward three”… or two, or one. In some cases the command was “forward all” indicating we should paddle until he changed the command or told us to stop.
But it was the last command he taught us that stuck with me. If Chaz were to call out, “lean in” we were to deliberately and quickly lean our bodies over the raft. Our feet should stay in the locked position, but our bodies should be turned purposely in a different direction. It could happen in a rapid or just on rough water, and he said the command could indicate something good or bad. “We’ll find out when it comes,” he said nonchalantly, clearly showing his comfort with the adventure of the unknown, and continued on with other details.
With a recently dislocated shoulder I was a bit anxious for the adventure, and I was quite intrigued by a command that could be good or bad. A command that we wouldn’t know the seriousness of until it was spoken. It was thrilling, enticing, and somewhat terrifying.
Throughout our time on the class four and five rapids, Chaz called the command to lean in several times. A few of the times we were tossed inward as we leaned, fighting to regain our balance quickly and be ready for the next command.
Even after five miles on the river and endless laughs with the wild + crazy campers on the drive home, I couldn’t shake my obsession with this command to lean in. Loving words + wanting to know them deeply, I looked more to understand this command in the rafting context. Here’s what I found:
“At the sound of this call, crewmembers shift their weight in over the boat so that if they lose their balance, they will fall into, rather than out of, the boat.”
Life is shaky. It’s uncertain and unpredictable. Sometimes we answer the phone and the news on the other end shatters our world. Sometimes we fail tests… or classes. We don’t get into the program, or the baby doesn’t make it to the second trimester, or friends just walk away. Sometimes we’re the one who walked away + we’re broken at the thought that we just don’t care anymore.
The unpredictable can be exciting, too. The stranger in Starbucks asks you to dinner. The internship offers you a full-time position. The business grows, the team wins, you ace the class. You’re reminded that you’re deeply loved + valued + and life just seems as sweet as could be.
It’s easy to be tussled when life gets hard. And it’s easy to forget when life gets easy. It’s like Chaz taught us on the river, the command to lean in happens for the good + the bad, the safe + the risky.
And it’s in these unsettled + celebratory moments that we find out where we’re really leaning. When the boat is tossed and we’re either flung into the rapids below, left gasping for air and reaching back for something stable to grasp – or, though tossed + rejoicing, we’re kept firm in our foundation. Clutching tightly to the promise, secure in what we know to be true. Or rather, in Who we know to be true.