Wild Ride

The water is wild. It is pouring out over the rocks, slamming against the side of our raft and engulfing most of the photograph that I (David) am looking at in this moment. It was taken on a trip down the Ocoee River outside in Chattanooga, Tenn., a few weeks ago. There are six men in this photograph. Each of our faces reveals something about each of our hearts. You see everything from wild enthusiasm to complete panic. Stephen put this trip together. He managed to pull five men together to take a day off from work and family to experience a day in the great outdoors. Three of us had never rafted the Ocoee before, and none of us had done the Olympic Run. The Olympic Run is so called because it was designed for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta. The Ocoee River was home to the rafting events that year. What I am trying to communicate to you is that the world’s finest athletes traveled from all corners of the world to raft this wild and daunting section of the river. Shortly after the Olympic games, various Ocoee outfitters began hosting trips down this portion of the river to experienced—and foolish—rafters and kayakers. Our crew would most certainly be categorized as the latter: foolish, but hungry for adventure.

Upon arrival, we were instructed in basic survival rafting 101 and educated on the nature of the river. We boarded an old bus that would drive us to the point where we would launch out and maneuver our way down the wild river. Shortly into the ride, we were introduced to our guide. His given name was Randy, but he was known on the river and to his colleagues as “Dr. Doom.” Doom (as we would refer to him) was an experienced guide who had been with the outfitter for almost two decades. He was seasoned in his craft and renowned for his antics. This man’s life motto was, “Always remember that if your chin’s on the curb, you ain’t in the gutter.”

Doom was stout, his words were few, his presence was profound, and his eyes were wild. If you didn’t follow his command and found yourself outside the boat, he referred to you throughout the remainder of the day as “Sally.”

The photograph in question was taken moments after we had been dashed against some rocks and turned 360 degrees all in a matter of seconds. When Doom wasn’t shouting, “Left forward three—NOW!” he could be heard laughing while saying, “Ladies, we’re not having fun until I hear helmets slamming against each other!”

It was a wild and amazing ride. I loved it, and it terrified me. It was so similar to my experience of being a father. I love it passionately, and it scares the life out of me. I have been dashed against some serious rocks and flipped around, upside-down and in every direction possible. And I believe I am just getting started. I am on the front side of this ride, as are you. Prepare yourself for a wild, daunting ride. Paddle forward, scream out loud and understand that you’re going to get banged around. Regardless of how much instruction you have on the front end, you may get flipped out of the boat. You may end up on your back, laid out on some rock, clueless as to what to do next. This ride is designed to disrupt you, immerse you, terrify you, excite you and deepen you.

The photograph I am looking at is one of five photographs taken that day by photographers on the side of the river. My expression is very different in each one. In some of the pictures, I am laughing—laughing from the wildness of it all, laughing from pure exhaustion. In one of the pictures, I am staring at a major drop we are approaching. I look terrified. In another, I look content, the kind of contentment one experiences when life comes together. Circumstances came together that amazing day in September. It was the combination of great fellowship, perfect weather and adventure, and we ended the day with a hearty meal. Good food always brings me contentment. The combination of good food and good friends is about as close to perfection as it gets for me.

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Many days I can be found laughing—laughing at the realities that come with parenting my three children. Some days I look terrified—terrified by the idea of loving my wife when we are at odds with one another. At certain times, I am content. I can embrace the fullness of what I have been given—my family, my work, my friends. Other days, I live as if I have none of it. The objective for me has become living with the knowledge that all of my life is not intended to come together.

As my good friend Al says, “Life is broken.” It is futile for us to live in anticipation of life always coming together. It will come together as it did on that day in September on the water. It will again. And then the next day, it will be disrupted. It may even fall apart. The hope is to live fully in the moments of laughter and contentment—and to also be present in the moments of fear and disappointment. We need to remember that every part of it has purpose and meaning. We need to live as if we really believe the greater purpose for us is transformation—to believe that sanctification takes priority over enjoyment.

[Excerpted from Becoming a Dad: A Spiritual, Emotional and Practical Guide (Relevant Books).]

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