Many years ago, I joined a lively group of women with which I had a joyful history, and we decided to go tubing down the Platte River in Upper Michigan. The day was pleasantly warm and the sun snugged us together as the water and wind were a bit cool.
Then we separated as we each stepped into our own tube. We were given a gentle send off into the river and began a slow and benevolent journey toward Lake Michigan.
We began as a group but slowly divided into sub-groups. One of us had just found out she had breast cancer a few days before our trip. Her trip down the river was quiet and contemplative and most surely was edged in fear. She slowly drifted away from the group--those who were laughing and splashing, talking and sharing stories.
I, too, began to drift away from the group. I kept them within sight but their words became a musical chatter using undefinable words. It was a beautiful background sound.
I noticed a tributary that branched off to the left and gently paddled over to it, still keeping the musical chatter within hearing. I knew that if I took the tributary, I might see, hear and experience things that others would never have exposure to if they chose to stay on the main river.
As I began the float down the tributary, I occasionally got caught in the rushes and had to use my hands, and sometimes feet, to move on. The river never became overwhelming, but there definitely were snigs and snags on the way to Lake Michigan. Rocks and branches seemed to appear suddenly out of the ground, even one with two turtles sunning, and I had to navigate my way around them. As floated on, I sometimes had to stand up in the shallows to move to a different level of water. If I had stayed in that place, my tube would never have floated. I was scratching the bottom of the river.
The water was clearer and the flow more subtle, undisturbed by other tubers. I had the opportunity to see more distinctly the rocks, fish and paraphernalia left behind by others. We were told not to leave anything behind, but sometimes things fell into the water unintentionally, marking our arrival and subsequent trip. We could not act as if we had never been there.
I could lean back over the side of the tube and see the shimmer of the sun through the trees, feeling the wind tenderly caressing me. If I listened closely, I could hear the conversations among birds, the flip of a fish’s tail and the croaking of a family of frogs.
In order to make this trip and risk being separated from my friends, I had to surrender to the river and trust its predictable flow, even though I could not see around each bend. I had to believe that each distraction was purposeful and life-giving. I had to accept that all tributaries eventually led to the Lake, even though they twisted and turned like a highway made for bikers.
Off in the distance, I could hear the laughter and sing-song chatter I had heard before. It became louder. The muffles became words, and I knew that I was close to the end. I could hear the waves tripping over themselves. And as I rounded the bend, I could see my friends--first standing and then jumping into the coolness of the Lake.
I had made it to the end, and I could celebrate! If I had not taken the circuitous route and surrendered myself to the flow, I would have missed so much. Yet, my friends were a backdrop to my life and welcomed me back into their fold, arms outstretched, a mirror image of how God always welcomes us into his arms no matter where we’ve been.
I read a book recently that had a meaningful impact on me called Surrender to Love by David G. Benner. I highly recommend it. It tells of another journey custom made for each person who dares to read it.