Into The Rapids We Go

I was 24 years old the first time I positioned myself on the tube of a 6-man whitewater raft. I showed up to volunteer as a raft captain on a youth retreat week in Central Oregon. My training to captain the raft came on dry land from an experienced raft guide. He demonstrated what to do and what not to do. Then we practiced as much as can be practiced…in a raft…on dry land.

The next morning a couple dozen raft captains and more than 100 teenagers loaded into church buses to travel from our campground to the place along the river where we would launch. Rafts were unloaded from trailers, then vests and paddles were distributed to captains and students alike.

I remember feelings of excitement and anxiety all at the same time. Four teens were assigned to my raft and together we carried the vessel from the parking lot to the river’s edge. With life vests securely fastened and paddles in hand, we launched. It was a fun and exuberant float for the first 3-4 miles with modest rapids and plenty of warm sunshine. The students and I were having a blast as we navigated a picturesque Central Oregon river in a flotilla of rafts and humanity.

The raft guide gave us a heads up that the most challenging part of the day’s adventure would be toward the end of the trip. The Colorado was the name of a set of several standing-wave rapids, and we needed to be prepared to possibly lose students overboard. We were given instructions on how to respond and especially not to panic. 

As our crew recognized The Colorado ahead, there was a collective mix of excitement and anxiety. To the best of my ability, I prepared those in my charge for the challenge which was coming toward us quickly.

The nose of the raft dipped into the first hole and all I could see in front of us was a wall of water. As our raft began to rapidly ascend that wall, I suddenly found my lap full of teenagers who had been rudely displaced from their positions on the raft. I did the best I could to keep my paddle in the water and our vessel pointed downstream. If the raft turned sideways, I was told we would have much bigger problems. The crew hunkered down in the bottom of the raft and we were able to ride out the rest of the rapids and enter calmer water.

There were sighs of relief and shouts of celebration. We had accomplished something together which was certainly disruptive, but was even more fun and memorable.

Fast forward about 25 years. My wife and I, along with two colleagues, were invited to give leadership on a week-long wilderness experience with a group of teenagers and college students - pinch hitting for the couple who had founded and guided this adventure for several years. About six weeks out from this trip we immersed ourselves in information, lists and trail maps, as well as a last-minute scramble to borrow and purchase the backpacking gear we would need.

We showed up at the Salt Lake City airport, loaded vans and SUV’s with gear and students, then set off for our adventure into the Tetons! I felt like the best I had to offer was execute the plans I was given and return the students home safely. I was fully trusting God that it was not a mistake that I was invited to lead this trip.

What we experienced that summer was some of the most transformational work of God I have witnessed in people’s lives, including my own. I was in awe of God, His creation and the people we shared the experience with. We went on to give leadership to that summer adventure for the next four years. What a gift!

Over the journey of my life, I can look back and see countless times I have felt under-qualified and inadequate for the assignments and relationships I have been invited into. Yet I can see in those relationships and experiences that I never showed up alone. God has always been present with me. And that is His promise to each of us, that He will never leave us. He is always with us. I get to choose each day to trust Him with all my heart. To not lean on my own understanding and expertise. As I daily receive His fellowship and enjoy His presence, His promise is to faithfully lead me on the adventure of my life, through the rapids and over the mountaintops.

Let’s choose to show up each day, even when we feel inadequate or unqualified. I am confident the One who created us and redeemed our lives will always be with us and for us.

Patrick O'Bryan
Restoration Project Chief of Grove Development