If you’ve ever stepped onto a raft or slid into a kayak and dared to face the white water then it’s likely you’ve been taught the classic rule of safety known as “nose and toes.” The logic is sound and simple. If you fall out of your vessel grab hold of your life jacket, float on your back, and make sure your nose and your toes are up out of the water.
On a beautiful summer morning I kayaked down the Hiwassee river with a group of college students and adults. The river was fast and cold. Most of the journey personified peace: tranquil scenes, slow moving pace, crystal clear water, grand conversations. The scattered white water presented nerve racking, yet exhilarating commercial breaks. I coasted through the first few rapids without falling. Well over an hour into the journey most of our group had capsized at some point, I proudly had not. Yet.
The water churned, it’s voice grew louder. The fall before us looked deadly (it was not!). One after another I watched people tumble over trying to navigate the 5 foot drop.
- Steer to the right.
- Straighten up.
- There you go.
- You got this Rob.
- HERE WE GO.
My kayak slid right, I leaned right to compensate, but it was too late. Man over board. I need to be clear here, I was in no real danger. But as you may guess, that truth does not truly register in the moment itself.
The water was ice cold, seriously, it was a shock to the senses. It rushed and shoved me down stream. My thumb got caught under a rock which decided to keep part of my nail. In the chaos my natural instinct insisted that I swim, so I tried to swim. The jagged rocks that jut out from the river bed smashed into my shins and elbows and feet. I was being pummeled, beaten by a river. Rolling and bouncing off the rocks I finally remembered “nose and toes.” I grabbed my life jacket, rolled onto my back, lifted my head out of the water, and shot those toes up. If anyone was near me they would have physically heard me screaming to myself, “Nose and Toes Rob! Noes and Toes!”
I made it out of the river with greater wounds to my pride than my body. And I learned a lesson that has stuck with me ever since.
2013 was a tough year. If ever a year of mine could be deemed “capsized” it was 2013. I don’t want this to be dramatically depressing, that isn’t the point. So I’ll be brief and honest.
My grandmother passed away from cancer in February and my wife’s grandmother passed away in November. We welcomed our nephew, Landon, into this world in September and buried him in October. I don’t remember praying for humility, but God certainly gave me plenty of moments that humbled me.
2013 felt like white water from the get go. There were great times, so don’t mistake me for trying to be melodramatic. I have so many things that I’m thankful for from 2013. But this post is about a lesson learned the hard way, one that I share with you now.
Our home battled anxiety, panic, heartbreak, fear, hurt, and loss. And I tried to swim through it all. But I wasn’t in a pool. I had fallen into the rapids.
Every moment that I tried to pretend or ignore the reality of my situation was like trying to swim through white water. Painful and cold and exhausting. My nature called to me “swim fast, control yourself and your surroundings.” But my God called me to lay back, “noes and toes Rob, noes and toes!”
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, don’t rely on your own intelligence. Know Him in all your paths, and He will keep your ways straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6
Here’s the thing; when I laid back in the river and held on to that life jacket I flowed with the current. The water was still freezing and my body still hurt; but I was ok. I wasn’t in control, not even a little; but I was ok.
There is a time to swim. Perhaps that’s where you are in life right now. A time to fight and to be strong and bold as a lion (Proverbs 28:1). If you’re there, then fight on.
There is also a time to stop fighting, lay back, and grab hold of your life vest. Sometimes, to survive the rapids, you need to just get your head above water so you don’t drown. If you find that your life has fallen into the rapids do not be embarrassed or ashamed. Humility is not shameful, humility comes from wisdom (Proverbs 11:2). If your life is moving too fast and the rocks are too painful, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart.”
Lean into God.
Remember, nose and toes my friends, nose and toes!
“Deep calls to deep at the sound of your waterfalls, your waves and rapids have rolled over me.” Psalm 42:7